Vince Thurkettle –
the original interview

Vince Thurkettle lived and worked in Rendlesham Forest at the time of the UFO incident and knew how bright the Orford Ness lighthouse could appear between the trees – that’s it, just over his shoulder and above the blue on-screen clock. Click on the picture to see a 1.6 MB QuickTime file of my interview with him, showing multiple flashes. To download my entire report, click here (20MB file). Note to broadcasters: The BBC library reference number for the original footage is CIN LISC 713022.

Rendlesham forester Vince Thurkettle and the Orford Ness lighthouse


Above is a still from my interview for BBC TV’s Breakfast Time programme with forester Vince Thurkettle, who was the first to propose that the flashing light seen between the trees by the US airmen was the Orford Ness lighthouse. The interview was broadcast on the morning of 1983 October 7, five days after the story first hit the headlines in the News of the World. It shows the Orford Ness lighthouse flashing as seen from near the eastern edge of the forest, in the same direction that the US airmen saw their flashing UFO. You can download a movie file of the interview by clicking on the picture above, or see the entire report by clicking here. Copyright remains with the BBC.

The interview

We filmed the interview in the area where Vince had been shown the supposed ‘landing marks’ on the forest floor some weeks after the event. By the time of my visit in 1983, though, the trees in the area had been cleared and any sign of the landing site was long gone. A daytime view of this area as it appeared in 1983 can be seen here.

The interview starts with Vince’s voice played over a direct shot of the lighthouse flashing. The darkness between flashes was edited out for televisual reasons, but once he is in shot the flash rate is unedited. This is a transcript of Vince’s words as broadcast:

VINCE (out of vision): ‘It is a pulsing white light that illuminates the forest…’

Vince then appears in shot with the lighthouse flashing over his shoulder at its true rate of once every 5 seconds.

VINCE: (in vision) ‘…and if that wasn’t the light they saw then what they’re saying is that within their line of vision there were two pulsing white lights illuminating the forest.’

The shot then cuts away to me doing those annoying nods. Vince continues to speak.

VINCE: ‘The other thing is the height. It appeared to them to move along at ground level, never going very high. Now this again – behind me was a standing tree crop. As they moved through the crop the light would appear to move away in front of them at ground level.’

Fade in eerie music and cut to a direct shot of the lighthouse flashing, again with the darkness edited out, and my concluding voiceover.

Comparison with Colonel Halt’s description

The following year a crucial piece of confirming evidence was released in the form of Colonel Halt’s real-time audio tape of his UFO encounter in the forest. On the tape, one of Halt’s team is heard pointing out the flashing light: ‘Straight ahead, in between the trees – there it is again. Watch – straight ahead, off my flashlight there, sir. There it is’. (This exchange can be found at the bottom of page 2 of my transcript of the tape.) The five-second interval between the words ‘there it is again’ and ‘there it is’ synchronizes exactly with the flashes of the lighthouse. Want confirmation? Listen to this section of the tape with a 5-second beep added by Brian Dunning of the skeptoid.com website; or download a copy of the Halt tape from here and compare it with the video clip for yourself.

On his tape, Halt described the light seen through an image intensifier called a Starscope as having ‘a hollow centre, a dark centre… it’s like a pupil of an eye looking at you’.Is this how the light looks to you on this TV footage?

Even though Halt and his men were looking in the direction of Orford Ness, and the lighthouse would have been easily visible to them from where they were standing, they never mentioned the lighthouse, only a flashing UFO.

For a longer and more recent interview with Vince from a BBC TV documentary called Britain’s Closest Encounter see here.

Vince repeated his story for the BBC on the 40th anniversary of the case — see here.

Further notes

•  Vince Thurkettle and I met up with Col Halt in the forest in 2009 February for a German TV programme – see here. We all got on fine!

•  The lighthouse subsequently went through two changes of bulb, ending up about eight times fainter than when the UFO sighting occurred, as well as being whiter in colour –see the sidebar headed ‘How bright was the light’ on this page. Even so, it could still appear distinctly orange – see this footage taken in 2008 by film-maker Adrian Frearson (scroll down to ‘Orfordness lighthouse test shots’).

It was finally switched off in the summer of 2013 and was demolished in 2020. For close-ups taken on Orford Ness itself, see this page.

•  Vince has confirmed for me in writing that he, too, had once been fooled by the lighthouse: ‘You say the beam was “startling” – and yes it was. I will have told you that my first sight of the beam in the forest at night was a shock as I thought we had deer poachers out “lamping” deer. A brilliant light amongst the trees, which came and went. It took me a few minutes hiding, in case they shot at me, wondering why I couldn't hear the engine of the poacher's vehicle before I suddenly figured it was the lighthouse. I then felt a fool and was glad I had not gone to get the Head Forester for help with the poachers as I had thought to do!’ So much for those who assert that the lighthouse beam could not possibly have been mistaken for anything else.

Content last revised: 2021 January

© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved