Gerry Anderson's UFO
“This show is going to be even better than Thunderbirds.”
Gerry Anderson, creator of The Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, and Stingray, decided to ditch his puppetry and marionette work to use live actors. Yes, real live actors, and so it happened that the UFO series was born in 1970. It was a real flop but gained a cult status over the years thanks to some incredible effects, intriguing storylines and above all, gorgeous women in silver mini skirts and purple wigs.
The premise of the show
Supposedly in the year 1980, a secret military organization named SHADO (Supreme Headquarter Alien Defense Organization) becomes operational. With a fleet of Submarines, Mobile transporters, and Moon-based Intercepters, its purpose is to defend the Earth against Alien invaders who are harvesting human organs in order to implant them into their own dying bodies. This infestation is unwelcome. The action takes place above, below (sea level) and in space as the members of SHADO attempt to discover these creature diabolical plans for earthly conquest. Lead by Commander Striker, Alec Freeman and Lt Ellis at Moonbase, how can they fail
Space sirens in sexy short skirts, satin stockings and silver stillettos
SHADO's main headquarters is hidden deep beneath a BBC studio that is responsible for Teletubbies, and In The Night Garden, in other words a very bizarre frame of mind when it comes to televisual presentation. SHADO has a base on the moon known affectionately as The Little White Moon Golf Balls joined by Corridors (TLWMGBJBC). On this Moon base thingy the women wear silver skirts that are shorter than the average in order to see lots of legs, and of course occasionally they wear silver catsuits to appease the bored male staff. The male staff spend most of their day waiting for the computer SID (Space Intruder Detector) to inform them that a UFO is on its way. Staff play 3D chess, talk on telephones, drink coffee, smoke and read glossy magazines. It’s a glamorous life. The staff are primarily female and have to pass the "gorgeous" test in order to become a member of the crew. The females rarely step outside into the vacuum of space and wear purple wigs to avoid dangerous radiation from the nasty fumes of space. The leader of the Moon crew is a gorgeous sultry babe named Lt Gay-Less, who has perfectly manicured fingers and lipstick covered lips. Her eyeshadow is blue with Egyptian eyelashes and brows and at one point she even strips in front of a male crew member. This shameless display has been attributed to space sickness, the effect of being trapped in space for long periods of time. The strip sequence has become a notorious well documented event that may attribute to the fact the pilot episode received highest ratings. Gerry Anderson was well aware of the effect that this would have on the viewing public. The show has been labelled sexist as a result but most fans would not agree as the sight of Gabrielle Drake's body is enough to boost not only ratings but hot blooded male target audience's temperatures.
Men in tights
All the male staff wear blue for no apparent reason although Paul is rather partial to a silver number when the mood suits him. This gives him a chance to occasionally unzip his front when he is chatting up female operatives on the telephone, inviting them for snacks and a night cap. The night cap is also usually designed in silver. When SID echoes his voice on the monitor the male staff jump into tubes as a form of exercise. They land safely in the Interruptor vehicles where one single missile is prepared to engage the alien invaders. The crew lose a lot of sleep worrying whether their missile will actually hit the target. Often the missile misses and this has caused stress and morbid anxiety among the crew as they would rather not be blown away by aliens, especially on their day off. The crew are rather short staffed and when they lose a crew member it effects their salary cap, not to mention their night cap (did I mention this was in silver?).
The crew suffer from morbid intense boredom. Sometimes the crew lean on desks to pass away the time or sit in luxurious comfy chairs. The comfy chairs are notorious for putting the crew to sleep as they are never comfortable on their plastic mattresses that squeak everytime they pass gas. The plastic mattresses also have a tendency to rupture from all the zips in the costumes so it is never a comfortable experience by any standards. Streaker always gets the luxury suite and this annoys all of the crew, and he always get a lovely multi coloured wall display, whether on the moon or on Earth.
Streaker turned the display into a sugar glass window ready to jump through at the nearest opportunity when things get too much and he wants to get home quickly and secretly. Paul tested this theory out on one occasion and jumped through. On the other side there was a parking lot, affirming a new theory that this was simply Streaker's way of beating his staff to the car park in order to drive home first and beat the traffic.
Protected by a crack team of computers
The Moon crew are protected from organ hunting aliens by sleek ships known as Interrupters who only have three shots to stop the craft. Generally the first missile always misses the alien craft, the second missile fires immediately and usually misses, then the third missile will either hit the UFO and cause a fiery explosion, or it will also miss and the UFO will head on its merry way to Earth to cause chaos and destruction. The blunder will usually be attributed to human error but often the computers themselves are blamed and as punishment are made to sit in the corner and spew out paper receipts. The staff will spend hours pondering how the UFO escaped and yet will always come to the conclusion that it is all the computers fault.
On Earth, there is a fleet of submarines known as Skyclimbers and it is in these sleek vessels that the pilots are able to escape from the humdrum of a stuffy little sub where one spends their entire day staring at radar screens, looking up periscopes, looking up mini skirts, and acting over serious. The women on the sub are permitted to wear the same string vests as the males but they are forced to wear a bra much to the chagrin of the crew. Landed UFO's are hunted like animals by bush bashing tanks known as Modems. These stocky beasts have weaponry such as radar dishes that emit piercing sounds to pierce the eardrums of aliens within earshot.
Streaker commands his motley crew
SHADO is run by the extremely serious and quite disturbed Commander Ed Streaker, and he has a General to contend with who is interminably angry and difficult to get on with and he is known as Blames Henpecked, or the grumpy old bugger with no sense of humour. Streaker's second in command is the Colonel Alice Freedom, who is always dressed very snappy and sharp and is quite a heavy built man who is not to be messed with, nor is Colonel Paul Coster.
Streaker was played by the incredibly talented American actor Ed Bishop, sadly deceased, but this is his main claim to fame. Also deceased is Mike Billington who played Paul, who was also in a Shames Blonde film. These were the fellers of the team and female fans were very caught up with their bravado and derring do during the show. The male fans were more interested in the female personnel, namely Gabrielle Drake as Gay-Less and Wanda Ventham as Virginia Cake, who were both, how does one put this, space babes.
Colonel Virginia Cake is part of the earth bound SHADO staff and is there to assist when needed. Cake is a feisty lady who often argues with Streaker and at one point runs around the base in a purple shirt with the top buttons undone. It is believed that she had forgotten to do up her buttons, but many have stated that the buttons were left undone in order to boost the shows waning ratings, and show as much cleavage as is humanly possible. In any case the episode was a memorable one and is one of the most popular. It may be due to the guest cast and script that this is so, but most fans have openly stated that it is the purple shirt of Virginia Cake that has led to this conclusion. Many fans have further stated that it is not the actual shirt that is to blame for the episode's popularity but the lack of the top buttons on the shirt. It is firmly believed that Gerry Anderson tore the buttons off of the shirt as a statement for the declining lack of creativity from his wife and costume designer Sylvia, after a particularly strong public argument. Sylvia has openly denied this, following the divorce, and in a statement made to the press stated; "the actual shirt never had any top buttons and Gerry in all his wisdom did not consider adding any." Gerry retorted to this comment in a press release stating "Sylvia purposely left the buttons off the shirt to be controversial and in order to make a statement about the decline in economy where buttons are getting too expensive in the future." The fact that most of the crew ran around in zips and velcro tights further cements the ludicrous nature of each statement, and it is clear that the buttons were left off as a final nail in the coffin in the traumatic divorce that ensued.
A close inspection of the shirt actually shows there are buttons but they are undone so none of these statements ring true today. The shirt now hangs in the Smithsonian museum and is visited by thousands daily. The actress has tried to get in the shirt at conventions as part of a wild publicity stunt but was unable to even squeeze into the belt let alone the tight shirt that used to cut across the bust. In any case it certainly is a nice photo that adorned the press release of the series.
Episodes to gawk at
There were only 26 episodes and of these only 6 showed close ups of bare legs, 8 showed women wearing the same dress, 9 featured the crew smoking in space, 12 featured padding of stock footage directly lifted from the pilot episode, 15 featured an argument between Streaker and the General, and all 26 featured a bottom wiggling as a female operative walked down a corridor.
The music was extreme jazz bordering on progressive rock (see Prog Archives) which could hardly be surprising as the series aired in the 1970s in the peak prog rock era, though King Crimson's Robert Fripp was unavailable to play at the time. Most episodes featured a jazz fusion soundtrack though one specific episode featured The Beatles' "Get Back" at a wild swinging party. The mini skirts and flairs along with platform shoes would give a clue as to the fashion of the times although the series was supposed to be set in the future which was the 1980s. The future did not turn out exactly as depicted in the series but that was a part of the series charm. there was a running theme of 70s high fashion and ultra colourful sets, particularly the gaudy household furniture. Most of the series was filmed indoors at Pinewood Studios but some outdoor locations broke up the monotony of pristine walls and psychedelic carpets. The outdoor sets have been located and UFO fanatics, with too much money and too much time on their hands, go on a pilgrimage to visit these abandoned sets annually.
IDENTIKIT: Ten years following the initial first UFO incident, SHADO is preparing to become an operational unit. Unfortunately it is stopped dead in its tracks by a woman with a nasty vendetta as she plans to blow up half of Siberia. This provokes a UFO attack determined to protect the continent from destruction. Streaker and his crew must race against time to save what is left of the country. An Alien is captured in the carnage and its body is brought back to SHADO HQ, though due to a terrible misjudgement in how much pain is tolerable for the species, the alien screams, convulses, writhes and finally dies as spasms overwhelm its frail body. Streaker is distraught and holds a funeral for the alien though refuses to shed a single tear.
COMPUTER GLARE: A UFO smashes bang whallop into an Interceptor and all hell breaks loose. Lt Gay-Less is reprimanded although she blames the computer, which in turn blames her after it has blamed many other crew members for its error. Hal 9000 decides to take the computer to trial and acts as part of it’s prosecutor. Data intervenes however and proves that he really is a man. Pinocchio also intervenes and after proving he is a real boy, the computer self destructs.
FLIGHT CLUB: A SHADO operative named Paul Pope is blackmailed by an Alien in order that some flight plan data may be transmitted to their space craft. The data is to allow their space crafts to fly over the Moon undetected so that they may begin some road work without being interrupted. The aliens set up a road sign stating that they are busy constructing new roads on the Moon. Streaker is not happy, Virginia is furious and Gay is annoyed. Paul Pope is very embarrassed about this and decides to get revenge by aiming a handheld rocket launcher at the alien’s cat.
SUPPOSED: A test pilot thinks he has had a UFO encounter but the doctor, Sackson, tries to convince him otherwise. From there the plot really thickens as the poor officer is attacked by a gorgeous short karate expert. After she has embarrassed the living suitcase of Paul, he goes on a spree to clear his tainted image. When Streaker finds out, he tracks the officer down and aims a pistol that only operates by sound, in an effort to pierce his eardrums and damage his earing irreparably.
COMIC FLICK: A SHADO space craft is destroyed without any reason. When paul attempts the same entry pattern he is almost destroyed without reason. James wants to tear Streaker a new one for no reason. Meanwhile, Lt Gay-Less appears on screen in a bikini for a reason.
SIR RIVAL: An Alien shoots a hole in a Moonbase window. Paul forces his crew to reconstruct the window. A UFO is discovered in a crater minding its business. Streaker tells Paul to go and find out what its business is. Paul meets the alien and they become lifetime pals. Unfortunately the relationship is short lived after an argument about who has the best looking gun.
THE DALEK AFFAIR: A tiny UFO craft destroys a lunar module by emitting sonic waves of sound. It turns out that the craft has been transmitting radiowaves of The Partridge Family. These songs are so potent that the aliens are using the soundwaves to emit sound emissions on a high wave frequency causing ultimate destruction. Meanwhile the Daleks have discovered this and are on their way to wreak havoc upon the unwitting aliens who had no idea Daleks hated cheesy 70s sitcoms.
A QUESTION OF VARIETIES: Streaker's son is involved in a harrowing accident involving a tree, a fence, the ground and a moving vehicle. His parents blamed the toy boat in his hands but Streaker blames himself. The boy badly needs medication so Streaker orders a SHADO vehicle to take the cough medicine to the hospital. The problem is a UFO is sighted in exactly the same region and the SHADO vehicle is diverted to shake up the UFO that has already landed. The alien finds a blind lady which is fortuitous as she has no idea the intruder is an alien despite the pungent smell and a tattle tale parrot. The parrot tries to warn the lady but the alien knocks it off its perch.
OATMEAL: Paul attends a 60s psychedelic wild party and gets totally wasted. His girlfriend sends him off to a health farm. Paul decides to use the sauna and is attacked by Aliens. They kill everyone except Paul who they drag to their psychedelic space craft. After they show him a rather cheesy light display, they let him go. They fill his space helmet with green cordial first and dump him off at SHADO moonbase. Gay is rather partial to green cordial so takes off Paul’s helmet so she can taste the liquid.
THE RESPONSE OF SMELLY FEET: SHADO is suffering a security leak and Streaker’s feel tare beginning to emit foul odours. Streaker finds a gorgeous reporter and asks if his feet really are that bad to which she replies by holding her nose. They begin an affair in Streaker’s apartment. A car chase ensures over a broken vase and they finally end up in Streaker’;s bedroom. She strips but he hands her her dress and tells her to get out when he learns that she really does think his feet smell.
THE SQUARE QUADRANGLE: A woman with her lover plan a cold blooded murder of her husband. He arrives home and she shoots but it is not him. An alien lies dead on the floor. The lover leaves and the woman cries and panics. Paul finds the alien and takes the lover and the woman back to SHADO to be hypnotised. Streaker sends Alice to erase their memories. The woman panics and shoots out the window. Paul tells the crew to reconstruct every piece.
FORT MARTIAN: Paul is sentenced to death in a trial over a security leak. Doctor Sackson interrogates Paul. Paul denies everything. Streaker attacks Sackson who denies everything. The other officers are put through intense interrogation but blame the cat. The cat is attacked by dogs and blames the script editor.
CLOSE CUP: SHADO plans to follow a UFO back to its alien world and take holiday snaps using an amazing but faulty telescopic camera. The probe launches and the UFO follows it like a lost puppy. The faulty telescopic camera takes dozens of incredible pictures. Streaker is excited when he sees the results but the camera is faulty. Streaker is even more excited when he sees Gay-Less’s leg on the monitor but the equipment is also faulty.
CONFETTI SPECK OBEY: Streaker has a flash back. Alice shares the same flashback. Streaker’s marriage starts out fine and dandy but not everything is all sugar and spice and snips and tails. His wife has Streaker followed over a terrible ironic turn of events. They argue over which suit case is the trendiest and unfortunately his wife falls down the steps. He finally meets his baby through a glass portal in an old hospital with ugly nurses.
I.C.P. A UFO crashes smack bang into a house destroying a woman and the family cat. The husband of the woman inside has ICP power and works out why the cat was killed. He also figures out what SHADO is and sends a detailed script to Streaker detailing the next series. When Streaker finds out the next series will be a new series based on a Moonbase that is blasted out of orbit he is annoyed as it is scientifically impossible. He is even more furious when he finds out he is not in the new series and shoots the man in an old abandoned barn.
KILL BILL AFTER STREAKER! A UFO sends weird red and green laser effects at Paul and he yells “Kill Streaker!”. Paul attempts to bump his commander off in a silver suit. Streaker does not like Paul’s silver suit and attempts to kill him so he does not have to look at it anymore. Paul takes offense at this and yells “Kill!” a few times. They face off in a shooting gallery in order to try and win a prize but as always the sideshow attraction is rigged.
SUB-BASH: A UFO blows an Atlantic Liner out of the water. Streaker and Paul investigate in an old claustrophobic sub. The UFO tries to shoot the sub out of the water. They damage it and the sub teeters on a precipice. A rescue plane attempts rescue but is shot down and joins the sub also teetering on a precipice. Streaker has hallucinations and sees his son’s car accident and his baby’s birth, and therefore gets confused. Nina Ballerina gets stuck in an air tube and panics. When Streaker frees her she hugs him and cries, and Streaker panics.
THE MOUND OF SLY LICE: A UFO lands. Paul checks out a horse ranch and meets a horse loving girl. He thinks she is pretty but she is not. A dog is discovered lying dead near a tree. A hippy is discovered lying dead near a tree. A Ufo is seen lifting from the water but is shot down by a blue tank. It leaves behind a bomb that will destroy the lake and cause national panic.
THE GNAT WITH TEN WIVES: On his way driving home, pilot Jane Reason and his wife, are stopped dead by a vicious gnat in the middle of the road. Suddenly aliens appear out of the shadows and abduct Jane and his wife Elroy. Daughter Judy is also abducted by the Aliens. Reason is thrown out and given the mind of a gnat. UFOs are on their way to destroy the Moonbase with their gnat controlled weapon!
DISC FUNCTION: Streaker checks out a UFO incident with a ship. He finds out that the ship has decided that it would be a good idea to dump all their oil into a deep Atlantic abyss. The Aliens know the ship's schedule and realise all life on Earth may yet be exterminated and this really makes them very happy.
THE MAN WHO BLAMED SMACK: SID is hit by an Alien torpedo and spins helplessly in space. Dollins is chosen to pilot the repair chip but he has been acting like a weirdo upsetting even his main squeeze. He comes back after being killed and spooks a blind man. The blind man believes he needs to get out more and Dollins agrees so he goes for a space walk. In space he meets Streaker and they engage in a battle of the wills.
THE PSYCHOTRONS: Streaker is told that SHADO must surrender all of its weapons to communist aliens. Three random citizens are turned into bombs. They methodically indulge in attempting to blow up everything with a dollar value. First one blows up a very expensive sub. Second one blows up a health farm. Third one attempts to blow up SHADO.
INSPECTIONS IN THE DAUGHTER: The sub crew discovers an underwater Alien dome. Streaker and Paul swim around it and look through the window. They see a traitor from SHADO and interrogate him the next day. Paul finds a way into the dome and tries to kill Streaker. They fight and then make their way to the SHADO duplicate room. They see a TARDIS and begin to get scared. Later a massive UFO attack takes place but is stopped by a jet and 3 tanks.
TIMETRASH: Streaker hangs out with Virginia Cake at SHADO HQ. They find out everything is frozen in time. They go for a tour of the studio backlot and find a tourist hell bent in destroying them. The tourist tries to strangle Virginia but her top button pops off. She spends the rest of the time trying to keep her blouse closed but Streaker makes sure she has lots of running scenes. Meanwhile a UFO appears and aims a high pressured air hose at Streaker. Streaker blows it up with a missile launcher despite warnings from his doctor.
MINDGENDER: Two SHADO personnel blokes start hallucinating that they are trapped in old B movies. The first thinks he is in a spaghetti western and tries to shoot Streaker and Paul with an air rifle. The second thinks he is in an old Outer Limits episode from the TV show and begins to see Aliens in SHADO HQ. Later Streaker starts hallucinating that he is only an actor in a short lived TV show called UFO. Unfortunately the show is cancelled and replaced by a new show called Disgrace:1999.
THE WRONG SHEEP: A young woman comes out of a 6 year coma. Streaker meets her and hears her tale of meeting a hippy, tripping in an old barn, seeing aliens and stealing a piece of a bomb. Her hippy friend returns from the dead and gives her a drug so she can remember the bomb’s whereabouts. Streaker and Paul heads off to undo the bomb that is destined to destroy the planet. The series ends on a high note as Streaker learns how drugs can induce memory and help to prevent death. The sheep turns up in the episode at the very end as a rather poignant symbolic allegory of how Streaker feels.
Cancellation by the miserable ratings board
The show was cancelled some say due to falling ratings but many believe it was due to the over emphasised details of the female anatomy which were not allowed in the year it was made, 1970. In any case it was a great series and there should be more like them.
One reason was due to the oncoming onslaught of new space shows such as the short lived but amazingly popular "Space Precint" and the incredibly lame but even more popular "Space:1999" The latter was the next project for the Andersons and of course it was a success. The aliens in UFO were never seen again although some have speculated that one such alien has appeared in disguise in one of the "Star Wars" films. In fact a UFO movie was scheduled to be released in 2011 and was cancelled due to the unimaginative approach to the publicity department. The website was pulled when it should have been pushed and it featured far too many flashy images that the average computer could not keep up with.
The series has yet to be released worldwide on Blu-Ray and due to poor sales in the ratings of the Gerry Anderson DVDs it is unlikely that the series will see the light of day on the blue boxes.