The Academic Hoaxer

He caused a repainting of a submarine fleet

Reginald Jones, professor of natural philosophy at Aberdeen University and scientific adviser to successive British governments, is one of the world’s most successful practical jokers. His feats range from persuading a distinguished academic to drop his telephone into a bucket of water to tricking German Bombers on to a wrong flight path.

When he was a research fellow at Oxford in the 1930s, he telephoned an eminent doctor of philosophy several times and hung up as soon as he would receive the phone to answer. Then he called again, this time as a telephone engineer reporting a fault on the line. When the doctor agreed that there must be one, Jones suggested that ‘a leak to earth’ was the cause. His victim co-operated in all sorts of suggested remedies-from tapping the phone with his fountain pen to standing on one leg and hitting the receiver with rubber. Finally, Jones made the man lower his phone into a bucket of water.

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Professor Jones’ jokes are never malicious, and have sometimes been beneficial for his country. When he worked for Air Ministry Intelligence during the war, he discovered that the Germans were using directional beams from the Continent to guide their bombers on to British targets.

A less original scientist would have jammed the beans, but Jones had one signal duplicated and sent out from London. The result was that the German planes went off course and dropped their bombs on to empty fields.

Another of Jones’ wartime hoaxes concerned a navigational device called H2S, which helped Allied bombers to seek out U-boats. The Germans realized that the RAF had something new, but Jones put them off the scent. He ‘invented an infra-red beam to locate submarines and made sure that news of it was fed to the enemy. The entire U-boat fleet was repainted with special paint to counteract the non-existent rays.

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