Debunking the Bower & Chorley Story: why Crop Circles aren’t all Hoaxes


There are many people hoaxing crop circles today, but two artists from Hampshire,
England are the only ones who claim to have been making them in the late 70s and 80s. In the early 1990s, Doug Bower and David Chorley told a
British paper that they started the phenomenon in 1978, and made every formation found in the next nine years. But though the media bought the story,
the men’s claims do not stand up to scrutiny: here’s why Bower and Chorley could not possibly
have made all the circles they took credit for, and why hundreds of formations around
the world are still left unexplained. 1990 was a big year in circle research, or cereology. The formations in southern England –
where most of the world’s circles appeared – increased in size and complexity,
and researchers made a number of important firsts: pioneers such as Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews
had just published the first books on circles, and John Michell founded the first journal. Meteorologist Terrence Meaden also published a book,
and organized the world’s first circle conference. The phenomenon made news around the world,
and was presented as a compelling mystery. Viewed from the ground,
real formations had a number of key features that seemed unlikely to occur in circles
made by strictly mechanical means: stalks that were bent at the ground, not broken,
and curved with the flow of the lay. Scientists had just discovered that flattened
plants had elongated growth nodes that were often blown open from inside,
and some plants were also found superficially charred. These features indicated the use of a “fierce and quick”
heat, but there was no evidence of a human presence: no footprints in formations, even on wet and muddy
ground, and no paths of trampled crop in the field. Nevertheless, in early September, 1991, two artists
from Hampshire, England told the London paper, Today, that they had hoaxed the whole phenomenon
by laying crop with wooden boards. Inspired by the famous Australian
“Saucer Nest” of 1966, Doug Bower said that in 1978, he convinced
David Chorley, his drinking buddy, to fake a UFO landing site near Cheesefoot Head,
a natural amphitheatre in Hampshire. The men said they made at least ten more
that summer, and 25 – 30 a year from then on: all of those before 1987, and many after, though
there were other hoaxers making circles then as well. After the boom in cereological
research in the early 1990s, they felt that the joke had gone too far, and told Today. The paper had the men create an elaborate
insect-like formation in a field of wheat, then invited Delgado to inspect it, as if they’d found it. Soon after Delgado said that he was
impressed with his preliminary tests, Bower and Chorley appeared from behind the bushes. That afternoon, they went to Delgado’s house,
where they were joined by Colin Andrews, and made their case for having
invented the crop circle phenomenon. Andrews did not accept their story,
but Delgado agreed that he’d been fooled, and stated plainly that the crop
circle mystery had been solved. The breaking story was published
the next morning, September 9th, while Bower and Chorley made a circle for the cameras,
and gave interviews for TV in the afternoon. Bower: Well how on Earth intelligent people of that sort,
professors, et cetera, can just walk into a cornfield and see some flattened corn,
and make all this out of it over the years. I mean we’re as standard as anyone else. Chorley: We used to laugh, we used to
talk to each other when we’re doing this, but all it is is flattened corn. If you walk in you
flattened it, the only difference was the shapes. Narrator: Today published two more
articles in the next two days, and newspapers, radio stations, and TV news
programs shared the story around the world. It was impossible to miss the news that week:
the circles had been debunked. But cereologists disagreed,
and there was some debate in the media. Science Editor: Well, it may be that they’re, that
the hoax is, not that they made the corn circles, but in fact they didn’t make the corn circles. We just don’t know at this stage whether they
can make circles in the way they say or not. One thing though is sure: that some of the circles, I think, they’d find it very difficult to
explain how they did make them. Narrator: When Andrews first met
the duo at Delgado’s house, he asked them how they made the
formation pictured on the cover of his book, Circular Evidence, which had a ring
of crops laid radially outwards. Although they initially said that they’d made that circle, Andrews claimed that Bower and Chorley
just looked at each other in silence, then admitted that they hadn’t. However, the Today reporter made no mention of this. Delgado changed his mind on Bower
and Chorley the following day. Delgado: I’m waiting for some hard evidence.
I want to see them do what they claim they have done in front of me,
in front of television cameras for all the world to see that their claims are untrue. Narrator: He and Andrews showed that the duo’s
demonstration circle was riddled with signs of fakery, including broken stalks and a dishevelled floor lay. Cereologists continued to challenge the men’s
claims in their later media appearances: in a debate with Bower on
BBC Radio 1, George Wingfield, founding member of the Center for Crop
Circle Studies, accused the men of lying, and revealed that Bower was known in the circle
community since at least the summer of 1987. In a later debate, Wingfield
suggested that Bower and Chorley were hired by the UK government to provide
a public resolution to the crop circle mystery. Whether this was true or not, the men’s story
did afford some resolution, if only in the media. Within a year, the narrative was presented as fact, and
those who doubted it were increasingly marginalized. Still, when Bower presented his case with skeptic
Ken Brown at a public meeting in Marlborough in 1993, the audience was very eager to debate. Audience Member: So you could have quite easily
have seen the circles just like everybody else. Say you went up there on one of your
jobs to do painting, or whatever, and you saw it so you took a photograph.
Doesn’t prove you made it, that’s the point. Ken Brown (offscreen): No, that’s true.
No, doesn’t prove you made it. Audience Member: I don’t know how many
people have tried to a piece of wheat at the node. How did you manage to bend the stalks? Audience Member: I went into that circle, I spent six
hours on my hands and knees looking for imprints. There was absolutely not one single footprint. Audience Member: No mention is made of any
of the curious luminosities or the strange effects on cameras, on batteries, and so on which have
been very widely reported. (audience applause) Or are we expected to dismiss everything that farmers
have said about circles having appeared before? Audience Member: We’ve been shown,
and I’m sure Steve everybody here tonight, very little proof of anything that you’ve done. Why have you never taken a photograph
of halfway through a formation? Brown: The evidence is there.
I saw it there I saw it there. I saw… Audience Responder (offscreen): There is no evidence Brown: Alright, well, all these, let me call it stuff then.
All this stuff that you see… Audience Member: But what about
all the money the police work had spent? Take personally to Collin Andrews and the rest of them? You maliciously led them astray.
You maliciously let them spend money. Bower (offscreen, sarcastic):
Oh, my heart bleeds for them. Audience Member: No, but it’s true.
That cost a lot of money. Bower: It’s not us who conned the world
as the Today headline stated. We fooled the world, yes, but we didn’t con them.
We conned them out of nothing. Audience Member: You’re a vandal! You have maliciously vandalized
hundreds of acres of farmers fields. Narrator: Chorley stopped doing
interviews in 1992, and died in 96, but Bower gave sporadic talks and
demonstrations into the mid 2000s. He died in 2018. It was a hit with the media, but Bower and Chorley’s
story rests on scant and shaky evidence, and contradicts a number of known facts. On his website, Men Who Conned the World, Terry Wilson offers a exhaustive
debunking of the Bower and Chorley story – the following analysis owes heavily to his work. Bower and Chorley gave multiple demonstrations
of their circle-making skills in 1991 and 2, and Bower gave several more alone after that. In all demonstrations, they proved to be crude
workmen with highly underdeveloped techniques, and they invariably failed to reproduce
the quality of work in genuine circles. Viewed up close, the plants in their creations
looked nothing like the ones found in real formations: they were broken at the base, not bent,
and they had no stretched nodes or burn marks. They were also piled up in bunches, and not flattened
to the ground, or curved with the flow of the lay. Neither of the men explained how they were able
to achieve these effects in their previous circles. Their first public creation –
an aborted attempt at an insectogram – had a connecting rod that was
misaligned with the centres of the circles. In 1992, a former BBC producer named
John MacNish watched Bower and Chorley make a larger formation at East Meon, Hampshire,
and said that they made lots of mistakes: Bower laid the connecting line before the second circle, and stopped where he wanted it to meet the circle’s
outer edge, instead of continuing to the centre. Then he simply guessed where to lay the
second circle, and started it off centre. The three satellite circles were also misaligned. Rather than measuring the required angles, Bower simply placed a wooden cross
at the centre of the large circle and guessed at where the tips were pointing. Bower made circles on his own for Schofield’s Quest
in 1994, then twice for BBC’s Countryfile in 1998 and 9. In his second appearance, he attempted to
recreate a simple circle found 10 years prior. Apparently confusing the diameter with the radius, Bower made the circle twice as large
as it should have been, then gave up, asking another team of hoaxers on set – including
John Lundberg of the Circlemakers – to finish the job. Reporter: Well, the big problem is
as you can see that it’s got light. I think what we’ve got to do is get
some help from the next generation. How about it lads? You gonna give us a hand? Circlemaker: Finish flattening this?
Reporter: I’m begging. Circlemaker: Yeah, why not?
Reporter: I’m exhausted. Bower: The biggest laugh of the century this is. Narrator: In the time it took Bower to lay a single circle, the hoaxers – all of whom had only
learned the craft in the early 1990s – made this complex formation, and finished with
enough time to help Bower after they were done. For all of their claimed experience, Bower and
Chorley made a lot of very amateur mistakes, and were outperformed by relative rookies. As proof of their past creations, Bower and Chorley relied heavily on what they
alleged were the plans from previous circles. However, only one of the diagrams they showed to
journalists matched the corresponding formation, or reflected an awareness of its geometry. Others were crude approximations, at best. In this drawing of the quintuplet at Cheesefoot Head,
the central circle is much too large, and the peripheral ones too close together. The circles in this sketch don’t make an equilateral
triangle as they did in the formation at Corhampton. Bower’s painting of the East Meon
formation had a much larger central circle, much smaller terminal ones,
and an inverted arc on the “Indalo” figure. Some of Bower’s diagrams appear to be based
on aerial photos of pre-existing formations. Bower’s painting of the world’s first pictogram
in 1990 is off the mark in many ways, but it includes a connection between
the smaller circle and the central path. From the ground, it was clear that
there was no connection there, but in photos, the tram lines running down the
centre of the formation make it look as if there were. Why would Bower have included this illusory connection
if he made the formation, and knew it wasn’t there? Clearly, he was working from a
photo of someone else’s work. Other evidence seems only to have been
contrived for photo ops and talking points, like the strange cut-out model of a 1991 insectogram,
or Bower’s hoaxing hat, both pictured in Today. Bower claimed that a ring suspended from
his brim helped him keep straight in the field, but the ring would move in whatever
direction he turned his head, so looking through it would be no different
than simply looking straight ahead. It’s telling that no working hoaxers use the same tool, not least because it would be
impossible to see through it in the night. The men’s only convincing evidence were six photos
of a formation previously unknown to cereologists, supposedly taken in 1980, but not unveiled until 1993. Bower also displayed four new photos that he claimed
showed known circles at Westbury that same year. Strangely, the men never once mentioned these
photos in their first two years in the public eye, and never thought to show them as evidence
as they made their case on television. But even if the photos are authentic, they don’t prove that the duo actually
made the circles they depict: at best, it proves they visited them. Wilson has also shown that Bower’s
Westbury photos weren’t taken in 1980, and depict a different set of circles in the same field. However one judges the evidence in its favour, Bower and Chorley’s narrative clashes
with a number of established facts. First among them is the fact that the circle phenomenon
was already at least a century old by 1978. In his book, The Secret History of Crop Circles, Wilson has identified nearly 300 reports
of circles before this pivotal year. Though they were not widely publicized, people had
been finding and photographing circles in Europe, Australia, and North America throughout
the 1960s, and finds made local news. Eventually, the duo and their supporters
were forced to acknowledge this, after repeatedly denying that there had been
circles in England before their first one in 1978. At the meetings in Marlborough and London, Bower claimed with Brown that he and
Chorley started making circles before 1976. After this, however, Bower went right back to
claiming he began in 1978, but other key supporters, including Brown and Lundberg, continued to insist
that the men started more than two years earlier. Bower and Chorley were also wrong about
how the circles got the attention of the media. They claimed that the first time they made a
circle in the amphitheatre at Cheesefoot Head, Delgado found it, and they said that
it made the news within 24 hours. However, Delgado has always been clear about visiting
his first formation – a triplet set – a year later in 1981, and it was two weeks after this
before the first major media reports. Whatever the true timeline of events, it’s clear that
the circles were there long before Bower and Chorley. The men’s stories are riddled with
other inaccuracies and contradictions. For example, Bower has repeatedly claimed that he
and Chorley made their first circles with an iron bar he took from his studio doors, and once he
said he used this bar for the first two years. However, when he appeared in the
Circlespeak documentary in 2001, Bower claimed that he made every circle
since 1978 with the same wooden board. Bower: That’s the one we started with. 1978, that stick. Narrator: Doug and his wife Ilene have come
up with several different stories to explain how she discovered his hobby and
how she first confronted him about it. The men also gave six different reasons for why
they decided to come to the media when they did. To explain how he avoided leaving tracks
between detached circles of “grapeshot,” Bower claimed that he simply jumped
between them, and later that he pole-vaulted, despite the fact that both would have
been impossible in most cases. He claimed that he was once hit in
the head and knocked unconscious by a frozen chunk of discharge from an airplane toilet, despite the fact that airplanes don’t
discharge their waste in the air, and that if he’d actually been hit in the head
by falling ice, he’d likely have been killed. After critics pointed this out to him, Bower changed his story to say that the
discharge was melted when it hit him. Clearly, not all these stories can be true.
He was lying some of the time, at least. It’s clear that most of Bower and
Chorley’s knowledge was derived from Delgado and Andrews’ Circular Evidence, one of the only books on crop
circles available at the time. For example, Bower said that
he made his first circle in 1978 – the first formation to appear in the book’s catalogue – and that it was a single circle,
as the book’s photo would suggest. However, the accompanying description clearly
states that there were four satellite circles, and that the farmhand had found
a circle there two years prior. And yet, Bower and Chorley maintained that
they only started making satellite circles in 1983 as a way of confounding Dr. Meaden. Bower also claimed that he made the
first formation of 1989 in mid June, while remarking that it was a lull year for circles. Because no books at the time gave
detailed coverage of the 1989 season, it would have appeared to laypeople that
this was indeed a slow year for circles. However, there were nearly 100 circles in May alone, and at least 3 in June before Bower’s – they just
weren’t discussed in the news, or the popular literature. It’s clear that Bower did not have any inside knowledge
of the circles beyond what he gleaned from books, talks, and a little bit of research. Bower and Chorley were poor
circle-makers who rested their case on little more than some crudely faked
plans and a few unremarkable photos. They also made a staggering number of
inaccurate and contradictory statements, and failed to explain how circles had been
found before they started making them. Though it’s possible that Bower and Chorley
made some of the English circles before 1991, it’s clear that they were not the
inventors of the phenomenon. This means that there are hundreds, if not thousands of
formations all over the world still left unaccounted for. It’s likely that Bower and Chorley
only contrived their story in order to claim a ₤10,000 prize offered by the
Sunday Mirror, for which they were rejected. However, the men confessed to first offering the story to
the Daily Mirror, the daily version of the Sunday Mirror, and to collecting ₤3000 each
from later media appearances. Some cereologists, however, still believe that
money may have come from other sources. Despite facing accusations of fraud and conspiracy, Bower and Chorley stuck to their account
of events for the rest of their lives. Whether they were paid shills,
fortune seekers, or practical jokers, there’s no denying that they
successfully conned the world. (Sources listed in the video description.)

Eugene Islam

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