The death of the astronaut Neil Armstrong has set me thinking about moon stories and the fact that there are still many conspiracy theorists who do not believe that anybody has really landed on it and the whole story is simply an elaborate fabrication. I firmly believe that Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but a story I was told many years ago by a journalist I worked with illustrates the fact that lunar fakery did happen. I was in my twenties, a junior reporter chatting late in the evening to an experienced editor who was seeing out his last days as a kind of executive. He was in a confessional mood, told me about the break up of his marriage, the guilt he felt and many other stories. He had worked in Africa editing a group of newspapers ( I do not remember which country ) and thought he would make a special splash with the first photographs of the surface of the moon sent back from one of the unmanned craft that preceeded Armstrong's historic first steps on the rocky surface. I suppose it would have been 1959. The editor advertised widely that his newspapers would have the "first pictures of the moon's surface ever seen in Africa". Space was allocated on the front pages and he sat down with the picture editor to wait for the images to arrive from an agency wire. It was a long time before anything came through and when the images did arrive they were so poor they could not be printed. If they waited much longer they would have to publish the papers with blank spaces.
"I looked at the picture editor, and he looked at me. We were desperate. Then, more or less at the same time, we saw that on a table there was a packet of ryvita. That settled it. We took some shots, mudied them up a bit, and put them in. Africa's first pictures of the surface of the moon was actually a close up of the surface of a ryvita crispbread." I was sworn to secrecy about this, and I have held off until now when I think the distance is safe enough. If there is a newspaper archivist out there somewhere it would be interesting to track down the original. It is a story Evelyn Waugh, author of Scoop would have been proud to have invented. I have no doubt it is as true as the reports of Armstrong's landing on the moon.