TWO middle-aged likely lads used to meet every Friday at the
Percy Hobbs pub near Winchester to sit in their usual corner,
sipping ale and showing each other their latest watercolours.
But, on a lovely
summer day 20 years ago, they changed the routine. Clutching their
cheese rolls and pints of ale, they strode
out to look at the surrounding cornfields.
And that was when Doug Bower and
Dave Chorley became two of the most successful con artists the world has ever seen.
Doug looked at the rolling fields of corn and recalled a story
he had read when he and his wife Ilene had emigrated to Australia
in 1958, staying for eight years. Mysterious circles had appeared
like alien graffiti in a field of corn in Queensland, and
it had started speculation of spacecraft landings and UFOs.
'How would you like a bit of a laugh,' he
asked Dave. They went to Doug's picture-framing shop in Southampton, picked up
the iron bar he used to secure the door and
returned in the night to the cornfields. While Dave stood on one end of the 5Ft
bar, Doug pulled it around in a circle, bending the corn carefully as he went.
For two years the growing number of circles - usually 80ft across - appearing in
these flat fields excited little comment.
Dave wanted to quit but Doug promised
him that, one day, there would be traffic
jams and hundreds of people lined up to
see their crop circles while policemen tried
to hold them back.
He was right. Today, there are still credulous people who believe that
Landed, leaving behind the evidence of
their arrival engraved in the corn.
Some 40 books have been written about
the phenomenon, notably Patrick Delgado's bestseller 'Circular Evidence'.
Farmers have made small fortunes charging
enthusiasts from all over the world entry
fees to see the latest manifestation that
time-travellers have left their calling-cards.
Explanations of the increasingly elaborate geometric patterns have ranged from
spiralling wind vortices to rutting hedgehogs dementedly running round in circles.
For 13 years, Doug and Dave laughed as
the experts stepped deeper and deeper
into the mire 'explaining' the beautiful patterns to an ever-growing army of pilgrims.
For the first seven years Doug
and Dave didn't even tell their
wives that they were responsible
for a craze that had gripped the
Dave died two years ago and
Doug, now 74, stands alone, looking out over the Devil's Punchbowl at Cheesefoot Head, a 200ft
green hollow in an area of out-standing natural beauty near
Winchester in Hampshire.
After two years of
obscurity this was the
turning point for us .' he
says, a fond light in his eyes, his calm centre
quickening with excitement.
'I realised that for people to
really take note of our circles we
needed a site with a viewpoint, so
people could sit having picnics
and look down in wonder on our
One day I was driving past with
Ilene and I noticed that corn was
being planted here for the first
time. Dave and I couldn't walt for
the crop to grow. One summer
night we came here and made a
'Twenty-four hours later it was
on the television news.'
Along came the 'experts'. It
became an obsession for them, for
the public and for the two likely
'Eventually,' says Doug, 'we we
found ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder
with the experts as thousands of people lay down in the
circles to absorb the "cosmic energy".
'I've been making nature recordings at night for
25 years, so offered to keep my eyes open for more circles.
We'd make a circle at night, then ring up the experts
the next morning to say I'd spotted another one. We did
200, mostly around Warminster in Wiltshire because it is a
well known centre for UFO sightings.'
When an Oxford meteorologist came up with a theory that
downward-spiralling winds were creating a vortex that
flattened crops with its circular movement they
were pushed into more elaborate
designs, with dead straight passages linking circles and
decorative 'ladders' that, coincidentally,
resembled designs made by the
Hopi indians of North America.
Doug used to sketch them out
in his studio workshop, then they
would take their plank and rope
to a cornfield. Doug would walk
around with the rope in ever increasing circles and make a
passageway leading to another identical circle.
To keep the passage line
straight, Dong used a baseball
cap with a hole in the visor. A
wire, twisted so that it formed a
circle, dangled over his left eye.
He would look through this 'sight'
to help him move in a straight line
to where the pair would repeat
the first circle.
Unlike the copy-cat pranksters
who would use stilts to avoid leaving
tell-tale access tracks, they
simply moved in a high-stepping, loping course
that left no trace.
Any Martian watching them at work would have
been sorely bemused. For Doug and Dave, they were magical
'It was just pure enjoyment,' he recalls, 'on those
beautiful summer nights for two artistic people under the
stars amid all those cornfields. We were both 19th Century people
really. We were in another world.
'I don't consider being on a planet for 60 years is much use if
you don't leave your mark. We didn't want to make publicity. We just wanted to
make fools of the experts who were springing up
'My wife said Dave and I were
like chalk and cheese, but we
were a team in tune with nature.'
But while they fooled the
experts, they were keeping
secrets much closer to home.
For seven years Ilene was kept
in the dark,' says Doug, and his
gentle, humorous face saddens
because they've been married for
50 years and he loves her dearly.'I
was such a perfectionist you see,
and keeping the secret was all a
part of that.'
Doug and Ilene had met at a village wedding party in 1948 and he
had wooed her with bunches of
sweet peas he had grown himself
and of his lovely watercolour paintings.
At first Ilene had been surprised, and then delighted to find
the rich sense of humour behind
Doug's serious face. But over the
years of their happy but childless
marriage, she had grown used to
the twinkle in his eye and
accepted those 'boys-night-out
She never for a moment
thought he could be seeing another woman, but
she was his bookkeeper and became increasingly
puzzled by the frequency with
which his car needed servicing. When she realised
there was 26,000 miles a year on the clock at a time when
their Saturday picnic excursions were getting shorter and shorter, she
asked for an explanation.
It was then he confessed that he was
the strictly earthbound creator of the now famous crop
circles. She was unconvinced. It just didn't seem possible.
He dumped an enormous pile of crop circle cuttings in front of her
together with his original designs. When that didn't work he persuaded
her to design a crop circle and took her with him while he created
it in a cornfield. It became their shared secret for another six
years until Doug and Dave
attempted to confess to the world
in 1991 through a newspaper
By then he had even created a
crop circle next to the home of
former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey. The great man
photographed it and the picture
was used in the Daily Mail under
the headline 'Healey's Comet'.
The day before his confession, Doug had the good grace to go
round to Patrick Delgado's to warn
him. It was the worst day of Delgado's life, but he accepted defeat
Enough was enough, and it was
time to come clean. What Doug
didn't reckon on was the dogged
persistence of the crop-circle
fanatics. When he confessed some
branded him a liar and went on
looking for UFOs as imitators
continued to create crop circles
at the rate of 50 every summer.
When Dave was in hospital dying of
cancer, Doug promised him that he would never stop
trying to convince the world that they had
been responsible for the world-famous hoax.
Last Sunday, true to his word, he appeared on a
BBC1 TV Country File Special on Crop Circles, telling the
world once again that the only aliens, as the
corn grew high as an elephant's eye, were Doug and Dave.
Yet there is a curious twist to
this engaging tale. Doug Bower,
the man who debunked the UFO
hunters and made monkeys out of the self-appointed
experts, believes we have been visited
by aliens. "I think I was programmed
to do all this," he says. Some force
made me sitb down and plan these
designs. When I went to my village school as a boy
in Upham, ten miles from Southhampton,
there was a local man who'd go to
the pub every night and on his
way home he'd take off every garden gate and leave it further up
He was a practical joker and it
rubbed off on me. He was my hero. The
circles were my chance to
But if you ask me do I believe in
UFOs, I'd have to say yes. I've
seen one. I was out in the forest
when I saw five lights stationary
in the sky and bright as car headlamps.
'It's obvious that in all those millions of planets
we saw out there in the night sky there must be people out there.
'I think a planet died millions of years ago and we had a visit
from its former inhabitants. There
must be space craft buried in the sand somewhere.'
It is impossible to decide if he is joking. 'Other people made money
out of the corn circles,' he smiles. 'The experts, the farmers
who charged entry, but all Dave and I got was a really big laugh.
'But its been a wonderful experience and I wouldn't have missed
it for the world.'
This world and all those out
From the Daily Mail, Friday January 8, 1999