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.1 Meteorologist Terrence Meaden also published a book, and organized the world's first circle conference.2 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.3 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.4 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.5 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.6 The breaking story was published the next morning, September 9, while Bower and Chorley made a circle for the cameras, and gave interviews for TV in the afternoon.
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. 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. The Today reporter made no mention of this.7 Delgado changed his mind on Bower and Chorley the following day. He and Andrews showed that the duo's demonstration circle was riddled with signs of fakery, including broken stalks and a dishevelled floor lay.8 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 1987.9 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.10 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.11 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.12
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 workman 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.13 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 in the centre of the large circle and guessed at where the tips were pointing.14
Bower made circles on his own for Schofield's Quest in 1994, then twice for BBC's Countryfile in 1998 and 9.15 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. 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.16 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.17 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.18 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 1978.19 In his book, The Secret History of Crop Circles, Wilson has identified nearly 300 reports of circles before this pivotal year.20 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.21 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.22 However, when he appeared in the Circlespeak documentary in 2001, Bower claimed that he made every circle since 1978 with the same wooden board.23 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.24 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 poll 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.25 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.26 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. 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.27 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.
1 Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews. Circular Evidence: a Detailed Investigation of the Flattened Swirled Crops Phenomenon. London:
Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd., 1989; The Cereologist. Published by Global Circles. Edited by John Sayer.
2 Terrence Meaden. The Circles Effect and its Mysteries. Wiltshire, UK: Artetech, 1989.
3 John Burke. "The Physics of Crop Formations." MUFON Journal (October, 1998): 3-7. Accessed November 2, 2018: http://www.bltresearch.com/published/physics.html.
4 Today, September 9, 1991, page 1.
5 Clas Svahn interview with Doug Bower August 1992. Full transcript: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/clas-svahn-interview.html
6 For Andrews' account of the events that day, see Crop Circles: The Human Experience. Interview with Colin Andrews, by Diane M. Cooper: http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/dec2/andrews.htm.
7 Crop Circles: The Human Experience. Interview with Colin Andrews, by Diane M. Cooper: http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/dec2/andrews.htm.
8 Today, September 10, 1991.
9 Interview with Doug Bower and George Wingfield by DJ Nicky Campbell on Into the Night, BBC Radio 1, Sept 10, 1991.
10 Debate between circle researchers and Bower and Chorley on Up-Front, Granada Television, October 20, 1991.
11 Footage of Ken Brown and Doug Bower's presentation on Crop Circles at Nafferton Hall, Marlborough, July 1993. Filmed by John
MacNish. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AsuIPIaOk_E.
12 Terry Wilson. Men who Conned the World. www.menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com. Accessed December 13, 2018.
13 Story on Bower and Chorley's claims on Coast to Coast, a TVS news program, September 9, 1991:
14 MacNish gives his account of his escapades with Bower and Chorley in: Cropcircle Apocalypse: a Personal Investigation into the Crop Circle Controversy. Ludlow: Circlevision, 1993.
15 Doug Bower's appearance on ITV's Schofield's Quest, 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkGbnUXfh4U; Doug Bower's
appearance on BBC's Countryfile, 1998: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nr0W4r6mdw; Doug Bower's appearance on a special
edition of BBC's Countryfile, January 3, 1999: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VShMwpqTzaY.
16 For an exhaustive analysis of the diagrams that Bower and Chorley presented to the media, see the "Evidence" section of Wilson's site: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/2-evidence.html.
17 Bower and Chorley's claim to the Corhampton formations is analyzed in full on Wilson's site: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/43-case-study-3.html.
18 All of the new photos unveiled at the Ken Brown presentations in 1993 can be found on the "Evidence" section of Wilson's site: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/2-evidence.html.
19 One of the oldest and most credible observations of a pre-1978 circle was published in Nature in 1880, almost a hundred years before Bower and Chorley's alleged start date: John Rand Capron, letter to the editor, Nature 22 (May - October, 1880): 290 - 291.
20 Terry Wilson. The Secret History of Crop Circles: Recording the Phenomenon In Days of Old. Paignton, UK: Terry Wilson, 2015. Many of the cases presented in this book are also presented on Wilson website, "Old Crop Circles": https://oldcropcircles.weebly.com.
21 For a full exploration of the controversy over Bower and Chorley's start date, see the "Support" section of Wilson's website: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/5-support.html.
22 For an example of this claim, see the Clas Svahn Interview: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/clas-svahn-interview.html.
23 Interview with Doug Bower in 2001 for CircleSpeak, a documentary released in 2005:
24 For all the different stories between Doug and Ilene, see the "Keeping the Secret" section of Wilson's site: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/new-35-secrets.html.
25 For an analysis of all the major contradictions in Bower and Chorley's stories, see the "Credibility" section of Wilson's site: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/new-31-credibility.html.
26 See the "Development of the Circles (1978 - 91)" section of Wilson's site: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/new-33-development.html.
27 For a full exploration of Bower and Chorley's possible motives, see the "Summing Up" section of Wilson's site: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/6-summing-up.html.
Terry Wilson. Men Who Conned the World. Accessed Dec 12, 2018: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com.
Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews. Circular Evidence: a Detailed Investigation of the Flattened Swirled Crops Phenomenon. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd., 1989.
Terry Wilson. The Secret History of Crop Circles: Recording the Phenomenon In Days of Old. Paignton, UK: Terry Wilson, 2015.
"The Men Who Conned the World." The original story on Bower and Chorley in Today, London, September 9, 1991, and two follow up articles on September 10 and 11. Reproduced in full at: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/1-testimony.html.
Crop Circles: The Human Experience. Interview with Colin Andrews, by Diane M. Cooper: http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/dec2/andrews.htm.
Interview with David Chorley on CBC radio (Canada), September 9, 1991. Full transcript: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/canadian-radio-interview.html.
Interview with Doug Bower and George Wingfield by DJ Nicky Campbell on Into the Night, BBC Radio 1, Sept 10, 1991: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47IF1DPiiTY.
Debate between crop circle researchers and Bower and Chorley on Up-Front, Granada Television, October 20, 1991. Full transcript: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/up-front-transcript.html.
Clas Svahn interview with Doug Bower August 1992. Full transcript: https://menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com/clas-svahn
John Rand Capron, letter to the editor, Nature 22 (May - October, 1880): 290 - 291.
Story on Bower and Chorley's claims on Coast to Coast, a TVS news program, September 9, 1991: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETprYIAqQ5E.
Two report on Bower and Chorley on ITN News at 5:40, September 9, 1991: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8cE9d20luo and:
Report on Bower and Chorley on South Today, a BBC news program, September 9, 1991: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qzvuqs9Bf7Q.
Bower and Chorley's appearance on Dutch TV channel RTL4, September 1991: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpVks_FMcLo.
Footage of Ken Brown and Doug Bower's presentation on Crop Circles at Nafferton Hall, Marlborough, July 1993. Filmed by John
MacNish. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AsuIPIaOk_E.
Doug Bower's appearance on ITV's Schofield's Quest, 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkGbnUXfh4U.
Doug Bower's appearance on BBC's Countryfile, 1998: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nr0W4r6mdw.
Doug Bower's appearance on a special edition of BBC's Countryfile, January 3, 1999: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VShMwpqTzaY.
Interview with Doug Bower in 2001 for CircleSpeak, a documentary released in 2005: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq3MjnCr30k.
Interview with Doug Bower in Circlemakers, a documentary by Matthew Williams released in 2005:
Special thanks to Terry Wilson for all his work on this case and for reviewing the script of this video for accuracy. Visit his website for an exhaustive debunking of the Bower and Chorley story at www.menwhoconnedtheworld.weebly.com.
Also thank you to Van Hunt for contributing important research: VanHunt.com
Support new videos on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3375417
Think Anomalous is created by Jason Charbonneau. Illustration by Colin Campbell. Music by Josh Chamberland. Animation by Brendan Barr. Sound design by Will Mountain and Josh Chamberland.