Project F.A.R is a collaboration between David Appleyard and Jon Cannon.
Graphic design by Jon Cannon -www. joncannon.co.uk
A moment in time and space…
In late 2017, Central Bedfordshire Council commissioned us to commemorate the new and growing town of Kings Reach.
Concept, to document the new town from the air – capture it at that point – which morphed into a different project, inspired by the discovery of Frank Arthur Russell.
In 1957, Biggleswade was the UFO capital of Britain. Close encounters were reported by scores of eye witnesses, with terrified drivers and curious school children all saying the same thing: a series of lights would flash in the sky for about four minutes, before suddenly shooting off in a shower of sparks. Newspapers sent journalists from far and wide, the British Government began investigating and space-age home guard patrols were established in the event of a full-scale invasion.
The origin of these lights was much more terrestrial – the back garden of a bungalow on Holme Crescent, Biggleswade. The owner of the bungalow was Frank Russell, a welder by trade, with a side-line in hoaxes. Frank had heard that Biggleswade’s local officials were trying to get more people to the town.
Frank had form with this kind of thing: in 1950, he’d built a one-man submarine in his garden, 6 feet 6 inches long, which he told reporters from as far as New York he was intending to use to search for the lost continent of Atlantis, straight face. The newspapers lapped it up.
This time, Frank aimed higher. He’d already been making model space ships, out of wire and aluminium foil. Now he decided to put these ships to use. He inserted a couple of flashing lights and a clockwork mechanism. He attached them to RAF surplus weather balloons, which lifted them up to 600 feet, at which point a firework would shoot the whole thing off at incredible speed.
Frank’s methods worked. By the end of 1957,
the whole town was talking about these strange objects. Newspapers were coming to Biggleswade from far and wide to report on the phenomena. Even papers across the Atlantic were talking about this small town. The mystery went on until the Biggleswade Summer Fete in 1958. Frank revealed the story in a letter to the local paper (apparently, even his wife didn’t know), and his UFOs joined the parade. The same newspapers reported it, as a ‘joke from outer space’.
Yet in 1959, Frank disappeared from view. He’s not on the internet. There’s no Wikipedia page about him, no local history talks. His is a story that’s unknown.
Project FAR – part space-agency and part art project – sought to uncover the myth of Frank Arthur Russell and place it at the centre of the new town, and by using the methods of the man himself.
In the middle of the new town square, there is now a physical monument to Frank, a permanent reminder of Biggleswade’s greatest inventor. The otherworldly object is made of the RAF surplus that Frank enjoyed making use of: the nose-cone of a Tornado’s external fuel tank.
Second, we launched our own balloon into space (April 2018), attached to a time-delay camera, to document the town as it is now.
What impact will it have? Will it work? Who knows. All we hope is that one person, in one of these houses, might hear about Frank, and be inspired to start tinkering in their own garage, plotting on their laptop, to create something equally mischievous, joyful and human. Perhaps, if our mission works, that person will go on to make Biggleswade internationally famous once again.
PS We know what you’re thinking. This is too good to be true, right? An internationally famous welder, making flying saucers in his back garden? An amateur submarine builder and art provocateur, of whom the only evidence for is a few grainy photos, who doesn’t exist on the internet? We’ve made it up, surely, fabricated the old photos, dyed the paper with tea-bags like a school history project. We can assure you that it’s true, every word. But even if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter. As long as people believe it, believe that you can have big, bold, intergalactic dreams wherever you are, it’s done the job. Every town needs a story.