Alternative 3 - fact or fiction?

‘Alternative 3’ was a British television programme broadcast by Anglia Television (ATV) in 1977. It was planned to be broadcast on April 1st that year but due to scheduling problems, was eventually broadcast in June. Its original broadcast date was a big clue to its actual nature. ‘Alternative 3’ was designed and written as a spoof, as a fictional story posing as a serious science documentary.

The programme begins by investigating a British ‘brain drain’, a mysterious exodus of leading British scientists and engineers who are leaving the country, supposedly to take up lucrative new posts abroad, but are never seen again. Some send back regular postcards but when the relatives try and visit the places abroad where the persons are supposedly living, they discover that their loved one is not living there at all; their correspondence was faked.

The programme then moves into an even more sinister area. Senior scientists in the UK admit to the investigative reporters that mysterious but extremely powerful groups at the top levels of government have worked out that the Earth is heading for a climate collapse due to the greenhouse effect (note that it is in a programme broadcast in 1977). These groups have concluded that in the next century-or-so, only a small fraction of the current human population will be able to live on Earth’s surface, due to the climate collapse.

These secret, powerful groups assess the grim situation and come up with three alternatives in how to deal with the looming, global disaster:

Alternative 1: A drastic reduction in the global, human population.

Alternative 2: The relocation of a fraction of humanity into underground bases and subterranean cities.

Alternative 3: The establishment of human colonies on the Moon and Mars.

The programme focusses particularly on the third alternative (hence the title). It talks about the possibility that the Russians and Americans agreed to work on Moon and Mars bases together, which would explain the strange lack of a major war between the superpowers for so many decades. The programme expands on this idea by suggesting that Russia and America have been developing a moon base on the far side of the moon. It also suggests that the British brain drain was because the cream of the scientific crop were being recruited to develop a Mars base and in some cases, relocating to the new base on Mars to continue their work developing a human colony.

The programme had a huge effect. After it was aired, thousands of people wrote in or phoned in, alarmed at the programme’s content. It made the papers, with many of the U.K.’s broadsheets and ‘red top’ rags discussing the programme’s contents. Although the programme makers repeatedly insisted that they had created a piece of fiction, many people became convinced that the programme’s writers had either knowingly reported on something they knew to be true, and disguised it as fiction, or had unwittingly written something as fiction that was, in fact, cold, hard, fact.

I really enjoyed ‘Alternative 3’; it’s lots of fun to watch. It is available on YouTube but I’m not sure of the copyright situation, so although I've embedded it here (you'd find it anyway even if I didn't), I’d recommend people buy the 2007 DVD re-release from SODA Pictures instead. That version also includes a very interesting interview with the writers of the programme.

In the interview on the DVD release, the programme's writers insist that they did write the programme as a piece of fiction but they then go on to admit that at least one of its elements were impressively prescient. As one of them states, the idea that Earth’s climate would deteriorate due to the greenhouse effect was an idea only known in scientific research circles at that time. The writer concerned admitted that he had to really dig the theory out of the scientific papers and press releases to construct its nature and meaning.

The programme also included several instances of clandestine, ‘spies crippling whistleblowers with paranoia drugs’ events, along with examples of the elite doing its best not to let the ‘Alternative 3’ truth get out. On this subject, in the interview, one of the writers tells several fascinating stories.

Firstly, the writer explains that 'Alternative 3' has never been shown in the United States. The U.S. networks refused, point-blank, to show it. Secondly the programme was shown once in Australia and caused an uproar. When the Australian Prime Minister found out about its broadcast, he passed a law that the programme would never be shown again; an actual law! Thirdly, the programme was shown in Japan and was very popular there; it was broadcast many times. Eventually, a Japanese television crew asked the writer if they could interview him, while he was working in the States. The writer and recommended they stay at the Riviera in Las Vegas. The Japanese crew took the advice and made a last-minute change to their hotel accommodation. On the night they were going to stay at the MGM Grand, their original booking, the floor of their hotel burnt down. The Japanese crew then contact the writer, asking to interview him on the Saturday. The writer said he was busy that day, out on location, but he was happy to meet them on Sunday. The Japanese crew agreed and changed their flight booking back to Japan. On the Sunday, they found out that their original flight had crashed the night before. As the writer states in the interview, by the time he met the Japanese television crew that Sunday, they earnestly believed he was at the centre of the biggest cover-up in history. Considering what had happened, it was hardly surprising.

How true is the message of ‘Alternative 3’? Did its writers stumble on something that was/is actually going on? In the next blog article, I’ll look into this and try and separate fact from fiction. As with all my other articles, I’ll do my very best to combine solid, scientific fact with rational logic and see what that produces.