Articles and Features
A Dark and Scary Place
When the original success of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet finally ground to a halt, it was important that Gerry Anderson and his Century 21 Productions follow with a radically different show, whilst maintaining the excitement and suspense. They failed with the largely overlooked The Secret Service, and received only moderate success with Joe 90. U.F.O. was the change of direction needed. This was Anderson's first foray into live-action on a series (if you discount the live shots of Stanley Unwin in the aforementioned intermediary) after years of puppet serials. This, combined with excellent model work, offered more realism to the plots. In my opinion, U.F.O. was the best of the Gerry Anderson shows. But let's examine how I came to that decision.
After one of many U.F.O. incidents involving the mutilation of human bodies, the secret Earth protection unit, S.H.A.D.O. (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation), is put into operation. It takes ten years to set up, and commences action in 1980 (which sets the plot ten years in the future).
There is a fully automated Moonbase control, with a nearby tracking station satellite, S.I.D. (Space Intruder Detector), for detecting the approach of the alien machines. Three Interceptors, resembling bladeless helicopters with front-loading missiles, are launched from beneath the moon surface to attack. This is the first line of defence. If one manages to penetrate the Earth's atmosphere, S.H.A.D.O. Control is informed. This is a sophisticated complex situated 80 feet beneath the Harlington-Straker working film studios, which employs 400 people. From here operatives can dispatch Skydiver, any one of a fleet of advanced submarines, to the area; the nose of the boat detaches to become an airborne fighter plane, Sky 1, ready to destroy the intruder. Ground forces are conducted by the S.H.A.D.O. Mobiles, heavy but easily manoeuvrable tracked vehicles, with short-range powerful tracking devices and weaponry.
The controlling force of S.H.A.D.O. is Commander Edward Straker, an ex-US Airforce Colonel. A serious and efficient leader sporting platinum blond wig and formal buttonless suits, he is often abrupt without actually shouting, and does not suffer fools. However, he is fiercely protective of his personnel, backing them fully if personal justification warrants the action. This support could mean the difference between no further action being taken and a prompt court martial - and no one can walk away from a top-secret military organisation! Straker was played by American actor Ed Bishop. The majority of his acting experience prior to this was on stage, although he had a bit part in the film 2001 - A Space Odyssey. In 1969 he appeared in the Anderson movie Doppelganger (changed to Journey to the Far Side of the Sun for release stateside), from which many props were reused for U.F.O. In Captain Scarlet, he was the voice of Captain Blue.
Straker's right hand man and S.H.A.D.O.'s second in command is Colonel Alec Freeman. Unfortunately, Freeman's sole purpose seems to be to follow Straker around like a lap dog and to act as a perpetually worried wall for Straker to bounce his ideas and solutions off. The character is so laid-back that it is quite shocking to witness him punching out a thug in Court Martial. Freeman was played by George Sewell, also previously a stage actor, and a co-star in the Doppelganger film. Sewell's talents were later much better displayed in the Special Branch series.
By far the best character in the series is Colonel Paul Foster, and that is ironic because he almost missed out on being auditioned. There is more of an affinity with Foster for what he endures and because he is introduced into S.H.A.D.O. rather than already being established.
In Exposed he is a pilot for the Ventura Aircraft Corporation. Whilst testing an experimental jet, he inadvertently flies into a dogfight between a U.F.O. and Sky 1. His co-pilot dies in the crash, and Foster is ridiculed and threatened every step of the way by undercover S.H.A.D.O. personnel, especially when it is established that he has reported U.F.O. sightings before. But it all turns out to be an elaborate test before accepting him into the organisation. Foster often seems to be the jinx of the team, experiencing several unpleasant situations over the 26 stories. In Survival he is abandoned, thought dead, on the moon surface; in Court Martial he is sentenced to death for selling S.H.A.D.O. information to the press, only for it to materialise that his apartment had been bugged to gain film studio industrial secrets; and in Ordeal he is kidnapped by the aliens and placed inside a liquid-filled helmet for the journey into space, before we discover that he has passed out at a fitness centre and dreamed the entire thing!
He is friendly and easy-going, and only occasionally loses his temper. He appears to be the most useful and adaptable operative in S.H.A.D.O., being Moonbase Commander, and often seen as on-the-scene director of the S.H.A.D.O. mobiles, as well as a flexible agent. Foster was played by Michael Billington. When auditioning took place Rose Tobias Shaw, casting for the programme, recalled speaking with him about a small part in The Prisoner. As far as the show is concerned it was a fortunate twist of fate; without the acting talents of Billington and Bishop, it would have been severely lacking in style. Dismiss those critics who at the time condemned the acting as more wooden than the puppets of other Anderson projects. This was on the whole just 'clever' critiquè.
Standard Moonbase operations are conducted by three female personnel, adorned with tight-fitting silver jumpsuits and short purple wigs, with striking make-up to match.
They were: Lt. Gay Ellis, played by Gabrielle Drake (who went on to play a regular part in the soap Crossroads); Lt. Nina Barry, played by Delorez Mantez (who incidently appeared in the pilot episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)); and Lt. Joan Harrington, played by Antonia Ellis. Other regular characters include: Lt. Ford (Keith Alexander) - S.H.A.D.O. communications coordinator); Miss Ealand (Norma Ronald) - Straker's secretary, who controls the door-seal mechanism when his office descends to S.H.A.D.O. control. Doctor Jackson (Vladek Sheybal) is a S.H.A.D.O. doctor and psychiatrist. Judging the character over several stories, I never really knew how to take him; at times he was the caring professional, then he would suddenly metamorphose into a dangerous and argumentative man with the necessary authority. He is even seen to be an assistant to General Henderson in Court Martial. Jackson comes across as being rather creepy, and thus I was always half expecting him to be some sort of spy.
General Henderson (Grant Taylor) is present at the birth of S.H.A.D.O. In Identified, the pilot episode, he is an authoritative but reasonable official. However, in every subsequent story in which he appears he is a loud and brash individual who screams and shouts like a spoilt child every chance he gets. He exists only to make Straker's life a misery, as the S.H.A.D.O. commander is answerable directly to him. Every time Straker wants something considerable achieved - usually a substantial financial request - he is fought every step of the way. It is a constant battle of wits and words, and it usually involves a moral victory being won. This is a much-needed opposite to Straker, the twist being that this opposite works for the same side. As little is known about the aliens themselves, there is no bad guy as such - only a bad race!
Through a gradual process over the entire series, we learn several snippets of information about the aliens. They are humanoid. They have green skin as a result of sustained breathing of watery liquids from the face plates of their red helmets. This is to prevent bodily stresses otherwise experienced when travelling great distances through space. A bioatrophillic compound in the liquid prevents the hair discolouring. Hardened white lenses similarly protect the eyes. They have a weak muscular structure (a fact which never seems to translate to the fight sequences), and a body temperature three degrees paranormal. The aliens constantly send raiding parties, in squat circular U.F.O.s with glassy exteriors, towards the Earth with the sole intention of obtaining human organs required to prevent their own race from dying out. In Identified, an alien survivor of a U.F.O. crash is returned to S.H.A.D.O. Control, where it is discovered that the subject has many transplanted body organs. The same alien ages to death without its protective environment, in a transformation scene involving two actors; this is because of the effect the Earth's atmosphere has on them. Even the U.F.O.s themselves disintegrate if on Earth any longer than approximately two days. The facial appearance of the aliens is striking, offering a haunting malevolence, which is best displayed in The Sound of Silence.
It is also discovered that the aliens have several technological abilities. In E.S.P. a man whose wife is killed has his powers enhanced by the aliens for destructive purposes. In Kill Straker, Foster is programmed with a series of emitted sound pulses and flashes of light. Initially, he disrupts S.H.A.D.O. by reporting Straker's decisions as incompetent, before attempting to kill him on Moonbase. Mindbender sees an alien rock, purposely left on the moon surface, effect the minds of any who handle it. There are nice scenes in this story where Straker sees the entire SHADO operation as a movie being filmed by the studios, and it is an ideal opportunity to show off the various sets. In Timelash, the aliens give a S.H.A.D.O. operative the ability to freeze a millionth of a second in time, in exchange for his help. Straker, also outside of that moment, is forced to track down and stop the man. Reflections in the Water sees Straker and Foster discovering an undersea replica of S.H.A.D.O. control, along with doubles of themselves, learning voice syncopation for recorded radio commands. Also, in this story it is learned that the aliens have some sort of ability to shape the molecular structure of water.
There are other similar examples which all demonstrate a single important point: the continuity in U.F.O. is virtually non-existent. Seldom do the aliens learn from their mistakes, and never do they repeat or adapt any plan with a modicum of success. Refections in the Water suggests that they possess complete details of S.H.A.D.O.'s defences; why, therefore, do they not totally destroy the S.I.D. satellite, and send in excess of three U.F.O.s on any one occasion, when they know full well Moonbase has only three operational Interceptors? I used to imagine that perhaps the aliens harboured some sort of memory defect which prevented them as a race from immediate progression. It's a nice idea, but surely machines would enable them to store the relevant information? S.H.A.D.O. learns from each outing, but accomplishes little or nothing to alleviate any encroaching problem - as if by destroying a single U.F.O. it is wiping out an entire race's knowledge of the situation. Oh, well, maybe this continuity problem was discussed at the programme's conception, and it was decided that it would make for a tiresome series if the episodes were too alike. I learned early on to judge each story on its own merit.
Whereas the puppet shows had been aimed primarily at a young viewing public (although they have undoubtedly been enjoyed by generations of adults, even if they will not admit to it!), U.F.O. was targeted at an older audience. The plots contained many adult 'real life' problems and personal dilemmas which considerably aided in making the central characters - particularly Straker and Foster - more earthy. For example, in Survival, Foster is abandoned on the moon surface. Freeman is given the unenviable task of relaying the news to Foster's girlfriend. When the man shows up alive and well at the end she breaks off the relationship, explaining that she can't live with the emotional stress of never knowing what he is doing and whether he is alive or dead. In Confetti Check A-O.K., we see the early break-up of Straker's marriage after his wife witnesses him leaving the home of a female S.H.A.D.O. operative, and he is unable to detail the classified information. Similarly, A Question of Priorities, sees Straker's son involved in a road accident. Straker uses a S.H.A.D.O. transporter to save his life, but it is diverted by Freeman when an alien decides to defect. The boy dies as a result, and Straker's ex-wife blames him personally. In Sub-smash, Straker is forced to confront his claustrophobia when he and others are trapped aboard the incapacitated Skydiver. The examples of personal tragedies are endless. And these situations did not only involve SHADO personnel; in The Square Triangle, an alien intrudes upon a couple's plot to kill the woman's husband.
Anderson and co. were not afraid to investigate controversial issues. Several ethically taboo subjects were explored over the 26 episodes. In some stories, Dr Jackson administers an amnesiac drug by hypodermic when security is breached. There is also a more dangerous mind-enhancing serum which in The Long Sleep actually kills that story's main character. The same thing happens to an alien in the pilot episode. The Long Sleep included realistically filmed drug trip sequences shown in slow motion, with tinted film and echoing sound. Also, there is a man seen to age to death, and an attempted rape. All this led to some ITV stations withholding the story. Racial prejudice rears its ugly head, too. In Survival, Mark Bradley is offered Foster's position as Moonbase Commander, which he initially turns down because he is black. However, as Straker points out, racial prejudice burned itself out five years ago. As this story is set in the futuristic year of 1981 (!), that would have made the year of final attrition 1976. Sexism is alive and kicking in UFO, but I don't consider it to be intentional; after all, three young women run Moonbase. I can't help suppressing a snigger, though, when it seems Straker finds it impossible to enter a room containing a woman without asking her for a cup of coffee!
The series was devised by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, with producer Reg Hill, the tried and tested trio. Script editor Tony Barwick wrote twelve of the episodes himself, including some of the outstanding plots. David Lane, who had previously worked as producer on Joe 90, directed many of the stories, along with Ken Turner and Alan Perry. Theme and incidental music was by Barry Gray, who displayed his versatility by introducing a very different, sixties keyboard-orientated score, as opposed to jazz influences on the Supermarionation shows. Whereas sets for previous Anderson shows had to be built to a strict scale, this first foray into live action meant that Art Director Bob Bell was able to purchase many life size props in standard shops, giving the scene crew a slightly easier life. All interior live action shots were done at MGM Studios, Borehamwood. The exterior shots of the Harlington-Straker Film Studios and the surrounding lots were filmed at ATV, MGM and Elstree.
Special Effects were again created by Derek Meddings and his team at the Century 21 Studios in Slough. The impressive models were constructed in the same way as on Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. The basic shapes were built, then detailed using components from hundreds of model kits, and dirtied to age them. They worked on explosions and bullet shot effects, and designed, in conjunction with the Ford Motor Company, three full-size futuristic Deloreon gull-wing-door cars. U.F.O. had an increased budget of nearly £100,000 per episode - as opposed to £38,000 on Thunderbirds - and this is evident in the high production values of the show. Although Sylvia Anderson's Century 21 fashions are very attractive, they are the only prominent factor to date the show. This is exacerbated in the typical swinging sixties party scene in Ordeal. Guest stars to have appeared in U.F.O. include, Jean Marsh, Windsor Davies, Philip Madoc, Patrick Mower, Christopher Timothy, George Cole, Michael Jayston and Tessa Wyatt.
The outstanding stories are, the aforementioned Court Martial, in which we discover the purpose of the glass pane of swirling colours in Straker's office to be an emergency escape route to the surface; The Sound of Silence, which has a little of everything, and displays the malevolent look of an alien to good effect; Survival, in which Foster and an alien fight for their very existence on the moon surface; Ordeal, where Foster appears to be the subject of alien abduction; and Sub-smash, an excellent emotional rescue. This Century 21 production was a more than worthy contribution to ITC's network of potential classics. U.F.O. premièred in September 1970. In many ITV regions it received fragmented screenings, sometimes taking two and a half years to cover every story. Some UK regions have never seen the entire season. The programme received favourable reviews, and viewing figures were picking up to impressive levels in the USA when U.F.O. came to the end of its 26 episode run. Another season was planned, this time centred mainly on Moonbase, but this finally materialised as an entirely new serial ... Space 1999. Oh, well, you can't have everything!
Feature by Ty Power first appeared in DreamWatch magazine in 1995.
Bibliographies & Book Reviews
A Dark and Scary Place
James Herbert was born in 1943 in the East End of London. After leaving art school at 20 and entering the advertising industry, it took him only six years to reach the position of art director. The Rats was written in his spare time as a much needed creative outlet. While Herbert never expected this to be published, the book was an immediate success, filling a gap in the horror literary market. The Rats has since been reprinted well over 20 times, and sold millions of copies. A major ingredient of his outstanding success was undoubtedly constant and progressive originality. Each book was a major departure from his last; this helped Herbert to sell 54 million copies of his books worldwide, and become an international best-selling author. James Herbert was awarded the O.B.E. for Services to Literature by the Queen in 2010. He was awarded the World Grand Master of Horror the same year. He died in 2013 aged 69. This bibliography covers the entirety of his fiction novels.
THE RATS, (c) 1974, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450042774.
The bestseller that started it all. In this first venture, originally intended as a thriller rather than all-out horror, huge black rates emerge from hiding to attack people at random. The killings are swift and sure. The problem quickly escalates, and the people begin to panic. A state of emergency is declared. The authorities consider evacuating London. Harris is an art teacher who becomes embroiled in the fight back against the rats. This leads him to the cellar of the house where it all started, and to a startling discovery. An excellent first novel, open-ended as most horror tales are.
THE FOG, (c) 1975, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450042782.
A story of scientific disaster. Fifteen years ago Professor Broadmeyer at the Ministry of Defence, while working on bacteriological warfare, mutated an organism known as mycoplasma. It was self-reproducing, using only carbon dioxide taken from the air. It attacked healthy brain cells in man and animals, causing extreme madness and finally death. It was sealed beneath the ground. Now it has escaped through major cracks in the earth, and is wreaking havoc on its way through several small towns. However, the wind is carrying it ever closer to the larger populated areas.
THE SURVIVOR, (c) 1976, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450032418.
David Keller is the only survivor of a 747 air disaster. Strange and seemingly unrelated horrific events follow, and a mystic tries to convince him that the spirits of the passengers remain. Initially sceptical, he is eventually forced to trace each step of the events leading up to the crash. Is he responsible? This is when he learns the importance of his involvement. But the dead are walking.
FLUKE, (c) 1977, NEL (UK) 0450053253.
A story of reincarnation. Fluke is a mongrel dog who comforts a dying tramp - the end of a wasted life. He tries to explain to the man that this is not necessarily the end, by telling the story of how sporadic memories of another existence persisted until finally he realised he had lived a past life - as a man. Originally, Herbert's regular publisher was unhappy with this offering, as it was a departure from the horror for which he was by now well known, but finally relented.
LAIR, (c) 1978, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450053288.
In this first sequel to The Rats, the mutant two-headed white rat, which survived at the conclusion of the first, grows steadily stronger. It is fed by the lower-class black rats, who bring sustenance to the cellar room. But the mutant remembers the taste of human flesh. This time the hero of the piece is Pender, an experienced exterminator with the firm Ratkill.
THE SPEAR, (c) 1979, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450043003.
Steadman investigates the disappearance of a Mossad agent, and is caught up in the rise of neo-Nazi cultists as they plan to unleash the ancient evil power of the spear on the world. The relic from Man's primal past is uncovered in the present day . Herbert ties in Hitler's interest in the occult.
THE DARK, (c) 1980, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450049701.
In Willow Road, horrific events have occurred over a number of years - mainly killings and mutilation. All are unexplained. Jessica Keller, the daughter of a leading scientist of psychic research is investigating. It leads her to Beechwood, an ancient house which was utilised in the past by Kirkhope, who believed in evil, inherent in man, as a useable power.
THE JONAH, (c) 1981, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450053164.
Kelso is dogged with constant bad luck throughout his life; supposed accidents of death being visited upon any people foolish enough to get close to him - whether friend or enemy. He is sent to investigate drugs smuggling in a coastal town, but he finds a dangerous organisation which puts his very sanity at stake. Each alternate chapter leaves the present and describes an unfortunate and terrifying event in his past. For me, this is the best of the bunch so far from Herbert.
SHRINE, (c) 1983, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450056597.
A deaf-mute girl called Alice is visited by a vision in white, claiming to be the immaculate conception. Alice is cured and begins to perform miracles. The site soon becomes a shrine for hoards of sick and crippled pilgrims. But the supposedly innocent little girl is possessed by a corrupt and centuries-old evil force, and the people have stumbled into a merciless trap.
DOMAIN, (c) 1984, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450058220.
In this secon sequel to The Rats, a long-expected nuclear holocaust wreaks devastation on London. Those few people who are not killed or mutilated are driven underground, where there is a slim possibility of survival from the poisonous ashes. The rats know that man is weak and vulnerable, and so emerge from hiding to roam the ruined streets. They seek out the scattered survivors and begin a series of attacks, thereby slowly but surely taking control of the city. The results of the holocaust are very realistically and vividly described, many times relegating the problem of the rats almost to an afterthought.
MOON, (c) 1985, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450389995.
Childes is a reluctant psychic, who feels the presence of a psychopathic serial killer. Periodic images flashing in his mind's eye, supply him with information on the killer's increasingly inventive methods of mutilation, even to the extent of raw human organs being consumed. But he does not know the identity. The killer can feel Childes' presence in his head, and is out to get him.
THE MAGIC COTTAGE, (c) 1986, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450409376.
Mike Stringer and Midge Gudgeon purchase Gramarye, a cottage in Cantrip, a small and remote area deep in the heart of the New Forest, Hampshire. Here they discover the building to be possessed of genuine magic, which materialises in many various forms: forest animals are drawn to the place; Midge's painting and Mike's music improve by unnatural degrees; and their emotions, particularly their love for each other, is enhanced. But there is also a bad magic presence: attacking bats, unholy creatures and, worst of all, the insane sect who want the cottage for themselves, and plan to get it.
SEPULCHRE, (c) 1987, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450426688.
The Sumerians have left a legacy from a past age: the secret of immortality, etched in runes. Kline has the power, but maintains it by drawing the very life's essence from innocent parties. Halloran is a psychic, employed in Kline's service as his bodyguard. At Neath, Kline's ancient house, Halloran learns his connection with the old man's secret, and the price Kline must pay for his power: to harbour a secret far more terrible than his own.
HAUNTED, (c) 1988, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450493555.
David Ash travels to a house called Edbrook, to investigate psychic disturbances. During his three-night stay, he is victim to constant mind games. He converses with the family which had occupied the house years before - now all dead, and Christina, the schizophrenic daughter. Moreover, he faces the lifetime enigma of his own past.
CREED, (c) 1990, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450547434
Joe Creed is a sleazy paparazzo photographer. While secretly photographing a celebrity's funeral, he notices another watching man. When the gathered mourners move away, the man approaches and desecrates the grave, chanting incantations. The man sees the snapping Creed and leaves - only to return to Creed's house, attempting to obtain the film. From this oint Creed is drawn into a world of demons and nightmare situations, where it is difficult to separate illusion and imagination from reality. A promotional trailer for this book was filmed and shown at selected cinemas.
PORTENT, (c) 1992, NEL (UK) ISBN 0450588858.
At various locations around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef, San Francisco, the Gulf of Mexico, and Grenada, in the West Indies, there are sightings of bright circular light, with a periphery of rainbow hues. Each sighting is proceeded by a seemingly natural major disaster - earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. Two children have the power to affect the future of the planet. A hermit in Scotland harbours an extraordinary secret. However, a New Orleans cult has plans to kill them.
THE GHOSTS OF SLEATH, (c) 1994, HarperCollins (UK) ISBN 0006475973.
Psychic investigator David Ash (last present in Haunted) searches for a scientific explanation for a haunting. He may find love, but the past will certainly find him. A Gothic tale of drowned children.
'48, (c) 1996, HarperCollins (UK) ISBN 0006476007.
A fast-paced chase novel set in London just after the Second World War. Adolf Hitler had unleashed the Blood Death at the end of the war and by 1948 everyone in Britain had died except those with the blood group AB Negative, which are somehow immune. American pilot Hoke is one such person, and a slowly-dying group of Fascists are after his blood.
OTHERS, (c) 1999, Pan Macmillan (UK) ISBN 0330376128
Nick Dismas is a private investigator - given a unique second chance - who investigates the cruel experiments involving badly disabled people at the Perfect Rest home for the elderly. Written in the first person, this tale has shades of The Island of Dr Moreau. Unnerving.
ONCE, (c) 2001, Pan Macmillan (UK) ISBN 0330376136.
This is 'A scary tale of Faere Folkis & Evildoers, of Lovers & Erotic Passion, of Horror & Belief. Written only for adults.' Thom is the main character in this novel, which returns to Shrine and The Magic Cottage territory. Accompanying the graphic horror, there is eroticism and dark humour. Matters turn cataclysmic, with a black magic conclusion straight out of a Dennis Wheatley book. Rumbo returns from Fluke - now in the form of a fox.
NOBODY TRUE, (c) 2003, Pan Macmillan (UK) ISBN 0330411675.
Jim True has out-of-body experiences, but returns one time to find he has been murdered. This is a journey of self-discovery, as Jim attempts to uncover the truth. He finds out along the way that nobody close to him is 'true'. This is also written in the first person. Who wouldn't want to know what people really think about them? Insecurity personified - and a recipe for conflict.
THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL, (c) 2006, Pan Macmillan (UK) ISBN 9780330411684.
Remembered for the well in the basement, this 600 page-turner follows Gabe and Eve, who have recently lost their five year-old child and move into a house with a violent and sinister past that is reflecting on the present.
ASH, (c) 2012, Pan Macmillan (UK) ISBN 9780230706965.
David Ash is back as a completion to his journey, and a not fully realised confrontation with the troublesome evil spirit of his sister. This is more than just a ghost story. It's just as much of a conspiracy theory incorporating the Inner Court of missing dignatories. Intriguing and full of suspense.
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