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Weird Norfolk: The eerie night that Norfolk’s lights flickered in unison

PUBLISHED: 09:00 08 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:00 08 September 2018

The big Norfolk dim-out mystery. Date: 29 Nov 1980. Picture: EN Library

The big Norfolk dim-out mystery. Date: 29 Nov 1980. Picture: EN Library

Archant

Remember the so-called Millennial Bug which we were told would bring the world grinding to a standstill and lead to technological apocalypse?

In 1980, Norfolk staged its own Y2K trial run.

The Millennial Bug was classified as a class of computer bug related to the formatting and storage of calendar data for dates beginning in the year 2000. Problems were anticipated because many programs represented four-digit years with only the final two digits — making the year 2000 indistinguishable from 1900.

Of course, nothing significant happened.

In the winter of 1980, however, Norfolk suffered the kind of problems that would be forecast two decades later. On a cold November night at around 7pm, the Great Norfolk Dim Out threw the county into an eerie state of half-light.

Across Norwich, street lights flashed and dimmed, a spectacularly strange sight for anyone with a view across the

city, meanwhile burglar alarms blared on streets and blue lights flashed as the police and emergency services were sent to attend to call after call.

A pensioner became trapped in a life in a care home in Somerleyton Street in Norwich and 50 people were told to leave the ABC Cinema in Prince of Wales Road while technicians fought to bring sufficient power back to the picture house.

Jazz and blues singer George Melly was appearing at Norwich Theatre royal and, just as his audience began to arrive, the lights in the theatre began to flicker and people began to stumble, unable to see the way to their seats until an emergency generator was brought in.

Police radios failed, a spokesman reporting that “it was sheer chaos” (a bobby on the beat saying, far more honestly, “it was darned nuisance”) and all three TV stations went off air just when they were needed most.

Norwich power distribution engineer Len Bacon said: “Several people thought the Martians had come. I don’t remember anything like it happening before.

“It was very strange and eerie, particularly because it affected such a wide area.”

The then Eastern Evening News, deluged with calls from concerned readers, even received a report of UFOs being seen flying over Thorpe, which is where Norwich Power Station was sited. The Dim Out came just weeks before nearby Rendlesham in Suffolk would become the focus for UFO investigators – were alien visitors making a prior trip to check out the lie of the land?

Electricity experts were quick to blame a far more worldly problem, namely the National Grid, which they said had suffered circuit issues.

But the reason why, reamins a mystery. Two faults - both unconnected - happened on 400,000 volt overhead lines within minutes of each other in different parts of East Anglia. “It won’t be an easy job to find out exactly what happened,” said a spokesman, “When they tripped, they tripped lots of other circuits, too, so there is plenty of work to be done. But it was very unusual.”

The locally-based Borderline Science Investigation Group’s publication at the time, The Lantern, noted it had been unable to establish the identity of who had reported seeing the UFOs over Norwich on the night in question, although a “reliable source” later told them that two inmates at Norwich Prison had seen unexplained lights in the sky at around 10.45pm that night.

“They first noticed that their radio was crackling and, upon looking out of the north-facing window, saw a ‘pulsating orange star’ which they compared with a double decker bus seen at about five miles distance,” a Lantern report noted.

“The object was visible for about 30 seconds during which time it executed two manoeuvres both of which consisted of travelling horizontally, and then upwards and backwards at an angle of 44 degrees and then downwards and backwards to finish at the starting point; neither of the witnesses knew about the power failure and the object was seen in the opposite direction of Thorpe.” Strangely, the story was never mentioned again in the pages of either the Eastern Daily Press or Norwich Evening News.

Tony Buck of the East Anglia UFO Group pointed Weird Norfolk in the direction of other research which links ‘dim outs’ in other places in the world with sightings of strange objects in the area hovering near, or directly over, power plants.

There have been incidents similar to that which happened in Norfolk in 1980 in New York, on November 9 in 1965 when, under the cloak of night, the entire eastern seaboard failed at the same time as a private pilot reported seeing a “strange red fireball-type object” in the sky near powerlines.

The power failures were followed by similar dim-outs, and in the year that followed, a surge of similar power failures hit random cities around the world, including London, all of which coincided with UFO sightings.

They hit Toldeo in Ohio, Lima in Peru, London, St Paul in Minnesota, Texas, New Mexic, Buenos Aires in Argentina,

entire regions of southern Italy and Rome.

Some suggest that the

so-called ‘dim outs’ are reconnaissance missions by visitors from other planets to gather information or that power surges actively attract UFO visitors due to surges and dips in power. Look to the skies the next time your lights flicker.

For more Weird Norfolk stories click here.

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