Desmond LeslieEccentric Irish aristocrat whose book The Flying Saucers Have Landed underpinned the New Age movement
By The Telegraph
By The Telegraph
DESMOND LESLIE, who has died aged 79, was a celebrated Irish eccentric and self-styled "discologist" best known for his book The Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), which became a key text of the New Age movement.
The prevailing scientific materialism of Leslie's time held no appeal to him, and he turned his attention instead to the world of mysteries. Attracted to ancient history, archaeology and esoteric philosophy, he saw in them evidence of a world view quite different from that of more soberly academic contemporaries.
To Leslie, ancient monuments and artefacts were proof of a sophistication of culture and technology that could not be attributed to the people of their times. The makers, he concluded, were evidently super-human - or came from elsewhere. In the 1950s, there were regular reports of "flying saucers" and of encounters with alien creatures, and Leslie's merger of these accounts with his antiquarian researches led to The Flying Saucers Have Landed.
During his investigations, he wrote to the Californian mystic and ice cream salesman George Adamski, who in the presence of witnesses had encountered blond visitors from Venus and taken photographs of their spacecraft. Adamski replied with pictures and an account of his experiences. Leslie added these to his text, and credited Adamski as co-author.
Leslie asserted that the first inter-planetary vessel had arrived from Venus in 18,617,841 bc. He made no apologies for his precision, saying that "it was calculated from ancient Brahmin tables". Brahmins, he explained, were "exceedingly accurate people". He addressed potential doubters and seekers of proof with matter-of-fact disdain: "Why should they risk a public landing? Their ship would be impounded for evasion of custom duties. Their clothes would be torn off and sold as souvenirs."
The Flying Saucers Have Landed became a bestseller and was translated into 50 languages. To Leslie's gratification, it was denounced by the sort of people he liked to infuriate. Arthur C Clarke attacked it as a "farrago of nonsense"; Professor Bernard Lovell suggested it be "dumped overboard in space".
With his mystical doctrines and cult following, Adamski was an easy target for the sceptics, but Leslie stood by him. In 1954, Leslie visited his co-author in California and enjoyed with him several flying saucer sightings. In a letter from San Diego to his wife, he described seeing "a beautiful golden ship in the sunset, but brighter than the sunset . . . It slowly faded out, the way they do."
Back in London, Leslie joined forces with another Anglo-Irish aristocrat, Brinsley le Poer Trench, who as the 8th Earl of Clancarty later promoted a debate on UFOs in the House of Lords. Together they founded Flying Saucer Review. Contributors included C G Jung, who published his own book on flying saucers in 1959.
Thereafter, Leslie continued to preach the message of the space people. Their intentions, he was at pains to explain, were wholly peaceable. Desmond Arthur Peter Leslie was born on June 29 1921 and grew up at Castle Leslie beside Glaslough in County Monaghan. Glaslough, "the green lake", has been extolled in verse and song. Richard Hayward, the balladeer, sang: For there's no place like lovely Glaslough/In all Monaghan wide. Dean Swift, on the other hand, once wrote in the visitor's book: "Glaslough with rows of books upon its shelves/Written by the Leslies all about themselves."
Desmond's father was the colourful man of letters Sir Shane Leslie, 3rd Bt, who supported the Nationalist cause and habitually wore a saffron kilt. Shane's father, Sir John, had married Leone, one of the three beautiful daughters of Leonard Jerome, of New York. Her sister had married Lord Randolph Churchill, and their son Winston paid regular visits to Castle Leslie until banned by his uncle (a staunch Ulster Unionist) on account of his espousal of Home Rule.
Sir Shane's interests extended from politics to the paranormal - his works include Shane Leslie's Ghost Book (1955) - and his fascination with the latter rubbed off on his younger son. Desmond later recalled that one night at prep school, his dormitory was "suddenly lit by a brilliant green glare" as "an immense green fireball moved slowly across the sky and disappeared behind the Sussex Downs".
After Ampleforth and Trinity College, Dublin, Leslie became a fighter pilot in the RAF, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes during the Second World War; according to family legend, he destroyed several aircraft, most of which he was piloting himself. He celebrated VE day with his cousin, the Prime Minister, at 10 Downing Street.
During the war, Leslie had met Agnes Bernauer, the daughter of a German Jewish impresario (Marlene Dietrich's first employer); they married in August 1945. In 1954, Agnes Bernelle - as she now styled herself - became the first non-stationary nude on the English stage as Salome at St Martin's theatre. A decade later, Leslie caused a sensation by throwing a punch at Bernard Levin during a live transmission of That Was Week That Was (Levin had given Agnes Bernelle an ungenerous review).
For all his enthusiasm for UFOs, Leslie was no zealot and enjoyed all the pleasures of life, imaginative conversation above all. He published several other books, including Hold Back the Night, and The Jesus File. In 1963, he moved back to Castle Leslie, where in a bid to restore its finances he opened a night club, Annabel's on the Bog, and entertained such house guests as Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger. A gifted musician, he also experimented with Musique Concrete, using samples of recorded natural sounds.
Desmond Leslie's first marriage was dissolved in 1969. He married secondly, in 1970, Helen Strong, who survives him, together with his two sons and four daughters.