Tonight's episode of Anglia Television's documentary series Science Report is a very special one as it details a top secret plan that reaches to the highest echelons of world government. The story began as an investigation into the so-called "Brain Drain", that is the case of British scientists leaving their home country to work more lucratively abroad, but as they delved further the programme makers discovered that certain of these scientists were vanishing without trace despite their claims to have emigrated for a better job. And perhaps they have emigrated - only not from the country...
The supposed final epsiode in the series Science Report of 1977 was meant to be broadcast on April Fool's Day, and indeed the end credits state clearly a copyright notice dated "April 1st 1977", but due to one of those strikes that punctuated the seventies in the United Kingdom it wasn't shown till June. Because of this, many viewers didn't realise it was all a joke and there was a minor storm in the press for a few days afterward, as if the programme makers were at fault for the gullibility of their viewers.
But how much of it was made up? As the years passed, more people grew convinced that Alternative 3 had been onto something. Actually it was scripted by David Ambrose, intended to be a throwback to the infamous Orson Welles radio adaptation of War of the Worlds which supposedly panicked parts of the United States when it was broadcast, but after that was over nobody believed that there really had been a failed Martian invasion.
So why does this programme remain convincing? Apart from the presenter - a genuine current affairs presenter - it was cast with actors and some are recognisable faces from the time such as Phoebe Nicholls, Richard Marner (now better known for sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!) and Shane Rimmer, the go-to-guy for an American accent in many British productions, which points to a hoax. Rimmer played an astronaut who claimed to have seen an unusual something on the moon which after a lot of plying with alcohol he reveals to be a secret base.
The whole conspiracy, revealed at the end, is that the powers that be have designed a way to leave Planet Earth behind and take the best brains with them. This is because global warming is going to make our world uninhabitable quite soon, a prescient notion for 1977 which offers the air of authenticity. Even if the programme was invented, the conspiracy theorists say, they were definitely stumbling across a very real situation. Whether you accept that or not, Alternative 3 (the title refers to the plot, the third alternative to non-survival) is in places quite eerie, professionally made and, a few wooden line readings apart, has the ring of truth about it. In the days of British television scandal over lies and misdirection, you can bet no one would try anything like this again, and it still seems an awful lot of bother to go to for an April Fool's trick. Music by Brian Eno.