History’s Greatest Hoaxes Episodes

History’s Greatest Hoaxes proves beyond question the old adage; you can fool some of the people some of the time…

Episode 1

The Hitler Diaries

In the 1980’s, one of the most extraordinary discoveries of the 20th century was made – the personal diary of none other than Adolf Hitler.

It caused a sensation. The German magazine De Stern picked up the serialisation rights for a cool 6 million dollars in their own country; the Sunday Times grabbed them eagerly in the UK.

A pity then that they turned out to be the work of notorious Konrad Kujua, a Stuttgart forger with an uncanny ability to copy the Fuhrer’s handwriting. Cue copious amounts of egg on face. This is the whole story of the hoax, the people behind it and the way it was exposed.

In addition, it provides a chilling insight into the burgeoning market for Nazi memorabilia at the time and how men like Kujua went to extraordinary lengths to satisfy the worldwide demand.


Episode 2

Piltdown Man

The endless quest to conclusively connect man with the ape seemed to have come to an end in the year 1912 with the discovery of a skull and jawbone in a quarry near the small village of Piltdown in Sussex. The scientific and academic world went into a frenzy.

It was not until 1953 that they were proved to a cleverly aged human skull, the jawbone of orang-utan and the teeth of a chimpanzee. The quest to uncover the identity of the hoaxer who fooled some very clever people for 40 years is told in this episode, as is the theory that it was a practical joke that actually set the study of human evolution back many years and had a lasting, damaging effect on our understanding of the subject.


Episode 3

The War of the Worlds Broadcast

An inadvertent hoax perhaps? Or a very clever ploy that made an unknown 23 year old New York City radio producer famous overnight?

Either way, Orson Welles’s infamous broadcast adaption of the HG Wells story on Halloween 1938 sent America into a tailspin as millions became convinced that Earth really was being invaded by aliens from Mars. It is one of the most extraordinary tales in broadcasting history and we’ll show how and why in this episode.


Episode 4

Papillon: True or False?

This is one of the great hoax-or-not hoax stories; the best-selling book by Henry Charrierre, which told of his life on the Penal colony island of French Guiana was ‘exposed’ as a novel, not a biography, by Gerrard de Villiers in 1970.

But Charrierre refused to accept that he’d been rumbled and tried to get De Villiers’s book ‘Papillon Pinned’ banned, despite the very compelling proof facing him, not least that provided by other prisoners on the island. McQueen and Hoffman were great in the film anyway, but the Papillon ‘hoax’ story is just as entertaining.

The historical sub plots to this fascinating episode are the harsh – some say inhuman – conditions on Devil’s Island which gave birth to the book, fact or fiction, and the wider story of the penal colony system.


Episode 5

The Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster – Nessie, one of Scotland’s most famous tourist attractions even though nobody can prove conclusively that they’ve actually seen it. Since the first ‘sighting’ in 1933, this most elusive example of cryptozoology has fascinated the world – and attracted any number of hoaxers out to convince everyone that they have the final proof that Nessie exists.
And it’s not going away any time soon, because the last 10 years have seen Nessie sightings hit record levels and this is despite the fact that the world’s most dedicated Nessie-hunter has finally decided to quit because he now thinks the monster doesn’t exist. (We’ll talk to him in this episode, by the way).
What we’ll do here is get the latest thoughts on some of the many examples of photographic evidence that have emerged – some actually quite clever and compelling, others…well, less so.

As we said, some evidence is more convincing than others…
So here are the latest thoughts on the Spray Photograph, the Surgeon’s Photograph, the Italian newspaper report that Nessie had been killed by a direct hit from a bomber, the MacNab ‘humps’, the discovery of Nessie’s ‘body’, and the ‘monster’ created for a TV documentary.
How and why did they do it? What do the locals make of it all? And most intriguing of all – what actual scientific chance is there that there may be ‘something’ lurking in the depths of the Loch?


Episode 6

The Alien Autopsy Film

How did a film, presented by a dubious producer based in London and purporting to show an autopsy being performed on a dead alien, come to convince large parts of the UFO-hungry public that it was authentic?

Why did his reluctance to have the film authenticated and his string of broken promises not raise alarm bells? What’s the real story behind a hoax that travelled the world and was itself the subject of a hoax some years later?

We’re going to investigate and find out. Not only that, we’re going to place this infamous hoax in its proper context, because it came at a time of resurgent interest in the subject of extra-terrestrial invasion, which at least in part explained the success of films like Independence Day. We’ll also look at the notorious Roswell Incident, which gave birth to the Alien Autopsy film.