In my post The Gogglebox And What It Did For Me, I ended with the title sequence for UFO. Clearly, it’s a personal view, but I can’t watch that without a sense of anticipation and excitement – even if I’m not actually going to watch an episode. In case you didn’t catch it last time, click here to see it again (anyone spot the inappropriate apostrophe?).
Now, I do know it looks dated, but it was 1970 and the whole world looked different then. My responses, of course, are conditioned and based on how I felt seeing it as a seven year old in 1970. It should be said that, at the time, those reactions were based largely on the action played out when the UFOs of the title approached the Earth.
When the alert was sounded and the Interceptors were launched from the moon, there was no climbing aboard.
Why would you when your employer has provided a slide for you to use?
The same was true if the UFOs entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Skydiver (the submarine with a jet fighter attached to the front of it – and why not?) was launched, but not until the pilot used his slide to board the fighter, Sky One.
Not, I’m sure, that the pilots referred to them as slides. But, hey, that’s an exciting way to start the process of going to fight aliens, isn’t it?
If you didn’t spot the slides in the titles, watch it again.
If we throw in the presence of a moon base, gull wing cars, the creepy soulless voice of SID (Space Intruder Detector – they knew how to make titles fit acronyms in those days) and Barry Gray’s music there was plenty to get the pulse racing. It was only as I got older that I realised some of the costumes were designed to get pulses racing as well.
This was Gerry Anderson taking things just a little bit further than he’d been able to before. After producing classics like Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet, he was finally given the chance to produce a show with real people in it, not puppets.
To be fair, I was never overly enthused about Ed Bishop as the lead. Undoubtedly, a fine actor, for my money his best role was as the voice of Captain Blue. He never seemed quite right as head of SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation – they really liked their acronyms in those days) – or maybe it was the blond wig that put me off.
And wigs were important, as you may have spotted from the scenes on Moonbase. Of course, we didn’t get a colour TV until several years later, so I didn’t know they were purple, but even in black and white you knew they weren’t natural hair colours.
It could be argued that some of the clothing worn fit in with some fetishists fantasies, though in some instances, a combination of crimplene and acrylic seemed to be the order of the day.
Or that staple of many a seaside holiday in the 1960s – a string vest…
It has to be said that UFO was not simply a version of Thunderbirds without the puppets – although it was only when watching a re-run in the ’90s that I realised that. In spite of the models (disappointingly, Skydiver wasn’t real) created in the same way as those for the Supermarionation shows, the themes covered were much more grown up (not adult – don’t want you to get the wrong idea).
Aside from Ed Bishop, the most notable cast members were:
- Michael Billington – for me, very much the action hero of the series, but who also has the claim to fame of being the actor auditioned more often for James Bond than any other. I suspect he would have done a good job
- George Sewell – playing Ed Bishop’s sidekick for most of the series, but went on to play the lead in Special Branch a couple of years later
- Wanda Ventham – in those days a very much in demand actress, who seemed to be all over the place, playing supporting roles in programmes like The Saint but also the lead in a couple of series in the ‘70s. These days she’s better known as Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum
- Gabrielle Drake – who played the Moonbase commander (unusual in those days to see a female in charge of anything). Another actress seen a lot (to be fair, a lot was seen of her as well) in the ‘60s and ‘70s – no doubt the focus of many adolescent fantasies
- Gary Myers – to be fair, I had to look the name up, but as well as playing an Interceptor pilot and, later, commander of Skydiver, he was very recognisable as the original Milk Tray man.
As very often happened, the series was shelved because the American market didn’t buy it, though there was interest in developing a second series as long as there was more emphasis on the moon base. That didn’t come off, but (and Hugh will be delighted to hear this), it did lead to the development of another TV series.
For now, though, I’ll leave you with what I always felt was a somewhat creepy end credit sequence to UFO.