Another chance to see… Alternative 3 

14 October 2021


Anglia, 20 June 1977

Sometimes an April Fool can misfire with unexpected results producing an impact well beyond the anticipation of its creators.

‘Alternative 3’ caused a degree of panic when it was quietly slipped into the ITV schedule at 9.10pm on 20 June 1977, a slot regularly occupied by occasional documentaries, it’s billing in that week’s TVTimes giving very little indication of what was in store. The programme had started out as an investigation to the mysterious disappearances of high profile names in the world of science. This led on to suggestions of a human colonisation on the Moon (the Apollo missions only really having been a bit of PR on NASA’s part, man had already reached the moon in 1962) with the imminent move of that colonisation to Mars, all being supported by credible encrypted video and film images from the surface of the red planet that had been ‘obtained’ by various means.

There was also an interview with an ex-Apollo astronaut who had been silenced by the authorities after his Lunar Module had landed in the wrong place, he and his accomplice having been convinced by the authorities that they ‘really didn’t see anything’ during the ship’s descent. This was accompanied by reports of imminent climatic and seismic events across the globe suggesting that mankind’s occupation of our planet was a little too finite for comfort. It was of course an April Fool’s prank complete with a disclaimer as such at the start of the closing titles, a spoof documentary that was thwarted by the politics of the ITV network.



The programme was made by Anglia Television in Norwich. Anglia was one of the smaller players in ITV, its most worthy contributions to the network being the Survival wildlife series and the occasional one-off drama (back in those days known as ‘single plays’), but it’s more likely to be remembered for Sale Of The Century (“FROM NORWICH, IT’S THE QUIZ OF THE WEEK!”). Being one of the regional companies Anglia had to fight hard for network placings for its output, the major players such as Thames, ATV and Granada dominating the scene and only occasionally letting the regions have a go at peak time on the layout. Alternative 3 was intended for transmission on 1st April 1977 but the big boys of the network had other ideas, eventually finding a vacant slot on 20 June and I’m sure this is where the programme made its real impact, albeit unintentionally.

Had it been broadcast as intended on 1 April 1 it’s likely it would have been seen for what it really was. The story goes that it was to have been granted a late night slot in the schedules. However, its placing on 20 June in a regular documentary slot between a Party Political Broadcast and News at Ten gave it instant gravitas.

We’re accustomed to spoof documentaries now but in 1977 they were almost unheard of and this caused a mild panic, not quite the (reputed but in fact non-existent) panic in the streets caused by Orson Wells’ American radio broadcast of War Of The Worlds, but enough to render many viewers being disturbed and frightened to the point of not actually noticing the prominent closing credit ‘PRODUCED BY ANGLIA TELEVISION, NORWICH, ENGLAND, 1 APRIL 1977’ complete with the cast of actors involved.

Even the papers were asking questions the next day, many acknowledging the 1 April link but passing it off as a red herring. Three years later a book of the same title was published claiming the April Fool itself to be a fake (“Of course, the authorities wanted you all to believe it was an April Fool’s stunt, but…”), claiming that the only way the documentary could have been allowed transmission was for it to pretend to be a docu-drama. The show has been broadcast in Australia and Canada, but remains unseen in the USA.

It looks very dated and almost quaint by today’s standards, but for one hour and possibly the next twenty-four it did have viewers wondering what the hell was really going on out there.

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You Say

2 responses to this article

Paul Mason 18 October 2021 at 4:58 am

Although a little before my time was the infamousPanorama feature about the either bumper or failed spaghetti crop in Italy, fronted by Richard Dimblebyon BBCtv in 1 April 1957. Not everyone was amused by this prank by a serious journalist, but I think the stuffiness of the BBC was starting to fade.

Harald Stelsen 21 October 2021 at 2:58 am

What gave it away to the discerning viewer was that the whole program including studio items were on film and this did not have the “live” appearance of videotape of an actual documentary program.

And we all have to remember that just as for any program content on the Independent Television service, prior approval of the program to be broadcast as well as the actual transmission of the program was under the control of the IBA, so it was most improbable that any true exposee was being documented.

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