“Strange But True?” was a British supernatural documentary television series, presented by Michael Aspel. The programme explored supernatural phenomena and unexplained mysteries and was essentially a rip-off of the American show “Unsolved Mysteries”, which is undeniably better in pretty much every conceivable way.
Back when “Strange But True?” originally aired, however, I thought it was awesome. For a young kid raised in an era where people willingly ate Sundog Cheesy Popcorn and happily sat down to watch films starring Steven Seagal, what was not to love? It had it all: Aspel, ghosts, aliens…satanists. I remember finding some of these stories genuinely terrifying at the time, and yet today, looking back, it’s actually quite crap.
Remember the cartoon “Sharky & George”? Well, for some children of the ’90s, it’s one of those childhood classics that people occasionally talk about when they’ve had too much to drink at a party where people are forced to make really awkward small talk — which is every party if you’re me. “Remember ‘Sharky & George’?” they’ll say during the absolutely low point of the evening, expecting to blow people’s minds. “Yeah, good wasn’t it? Remember Sharky? Remember George? That theme tune was mental, wasn’t it? ‘Sharky & George, the crime busters of the sea. Sharky & George, clear up any mystery!'”
But “Sharky & George” was crap. It was an awful Canadian/French programme about two badly animated sea creatures with hats. Fuck “Sharky & George”. It was one of the programmes that you had to sit through until something good came on, the theme tune offering a pittance of solace for taking up your valuable time, your childhood.
“Strange But True?” is pretty much the same: a childhood lie — and those are the worst lies there are. Lying to children — that’s what this programme featuring Michael Aspel did. Michael Aspel lies to children.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a little look at the first episode.
The episode opens with Michael Aspel sporting a polo neck and walking in amongst a series of bookcases delivering a bombastic monologue. “These books explore stories so strange they make even the most skeptical at least wonder,” he tells the camera. “These stories are certainly strange, but are they true?””
Well, Michael, I’m watching this programme under the pretense that the show is called “Strange But True?”, so yeah, they better be true. Although, I should point out that there is a question mark at the end of true, implying that somebody is actually asking Michael’s question.
One of the most notable differences between “Strange But True?” and “Unsolved Mysteries” is the music. The “Unsolved Mysteries” music is genuinely quite creepy whereas the “Strange But True?” music sounds like it’s been lifted from a particularly awful ITV family drama — à la Heartbeat or Wild At Heart. It’s about as sinister as an elderly man almost tripping in the precinct or a middle-aged vet forgetting to buy his wife a birthday present.
And what is that? That’s not eerie. It looks like Ed the Duck.
Michael introduces the programme’s first story, which, in his words, begins with a man “lying on a pile of coal — dead.” This, of course, is how all unsolved mysteries in the UK begin.
The story takes place in the small town of Todemorden, so we can presume that this story is going to be pretty exciting stuff. Need I remind you that Todemorden is the epicenter of UFO activity in the British Isles.
The constable who discovered the man lying on a pile of coal…dead, Alan Godfrey, describes in haunting detail, the cold, lifeless stare on the man’s face: “He had this terrified expression. I can only describe it as — whatever he last saw must’ve really terrified him.”
We’re already off to a really doozy of mystery, aren’t we? Tighten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride, thrill seekers.
The constable continues: “There was no disturbance to the coal. How did he get up there? I couldn’t work out.”
I’m surprised the X-Files never tackled this case. How did he get up on top of the pile of coal without creating a disturbance? Could aliens have been responsible for this sick defiance of coal physics? This is surely the most spine-chilling mystery ever to take place in the British Isles.
Wait, what’s that, there’s more?
Alan Godfrey found individual burn marks on the man’s head and at the back of the neck discovered a rather large weeping burn mark with an unidentifiable ointment rubbed on it. The body was that of a retired miner, Zigmund Adamski, who disappeared 5 days earlier from a town 20 miles away.
The programme leaps at the opportunity to pin these unusual marks on aliens, bizarrely, so what are the chances that aliens could have done this? The coroner, James Turnbull, who at the time had to call an open verdict, has all the answers. “If somebody proved to me that UFO did exist,” Turnbull says, “and that there was one at that time, and that we could associate it with the case, then perhaps […] I’d only raise half an eyebrow.”
“On the moors above Todemorden, by what’s thought to be the highest bus stop in Britain,” Michael explains, with gusto, “is the Deer Play Inn. One night in in 1989, the landlady awoke to an amazing sight.”
What did the woman see? A light that she can’t explain. What does that mean? Aliens, obviously. But all this isn’t important. What is important is why were they by what’s thought to be Britain’s highest bus stop? It all sounds a bit suspicious if you ask me, as if they were planning on catching the bus. But to where I wonder?
Let’s ask some very ’90s-looking teenage girls, some teenage girls who hopped on a wall to catch a glimpse of a UFO, no doubt interrupting their fun of doing ’90s things — listening to alternative music, living the existence of characters from the television show My So-Called Life, smoking jazz cigarettes, etc.
The programme then explains that Alan Godfrey later encountered a UFO six months later as he was driving his car on duty. Alan could not account for fifteen minutes of his time. Under hypnosis through assistance with Manchester-based MUFORA in 1981, he claimed he had been abducted.
Now, “Strange But True?” is a little vague with the facts surrounding Alan’s hypnosis. I don’t want to dismiss his hypnosis with an organisation that includes “UFO” in its name, but…but yeah.
Anyway, Alan explains: “After my initial sighting I did read quite a few science fiction books and it is quite possible that that part of the hypnotic regression had got jumbled up in my mind.”
Well, after watching this programme I’ve read quite a few erotic fiction books and it is quite possible that you unwittingly took part in a giant alien sex orgy. Just saying, Alan. This is just what I’ve read in works of fiction.
The town of Todemorden now has its own observatory, as a nerdy hippy explains. “We recently had reports of lights in the sky,” he says, “which turned out to be a local lazer show.”
He continues: “We have to be careful because we’re in the flight paths of two major airports: Heathrow and Manchester. Locally, Manchester is a problem because we have lights coming in on aircrafts, which gives the impression of UFOs in the sky.”
Okay, enough of this science bastard! Bring on the sensationalist crazies.
“It wasn’t an aircraft,” concludes one very sure man.
There you have it. What do you think? It was certainly a strange story, but was it true? As the programme states, “we’re not going to tell you,” we’re just going to heavily imply that it’s true.
What’s up next on “Strange But True?”? A man who always dresses to the left, but one day discovers that his testicle has moved, as if by the aid of a spirit, and now sits comfortably to the right? A farmer who swears that he locked the gate, but in the morning discovers that the gate is slightly ajar?
The second story of the episode is about a woman who believes she is the reincarnation of somebody’s dead mother. Perhaps that’s not a very good explanation, but the story is arguably more boring than the alien one. This is surprisingly depressing.
I told you. Michael Aspel lies to children and he lied to you. I’m sorry I had to do this, but I couldn’t go on living like this, living this lie. I’m sorry. I know this was a strange article, but let me ask you this, my friends: was it true?