Gerry Anderson’s UFO (ITC 1969-1970). Series Introduction

Gerry Anderson’s first foray into television live action drama was this fondly remembered series, created by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and Reg Hill.

UFO is set some ten years in the future and depicts a world coming under increasing attack from a mysterious race of aliens.  In the opening episode we learn that they are harvesting organs from their human victims although their ultimate aims remain nebulous.

In order to combat this threat, a secret global organisation called SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation) is established.  SHADO has various bases but the key one is located underneath the Harlington-Straker film studios in the UK.

SHADO’s commander is Ed Straker (Ed Bishop) who juggles a public job as chief executive of the film studio whilst in private he leads SHADO’s continuing battle against the alien menace.

His second-in-command is Colonel Alec Freeman (George Sewell) whilst Colonel Paul Foster (Michael Billington) is a new recruit introduced in the fourth episode Exposed.

L-R Ed Straker (Ed Bishop), Paul Foster (Michael Billington) and Alec Freeman (George Sewell)
L-R Ed Straker (Ed Bishop), Paul Foster (Michael Billington) and Alec Freeman (George Sewell)

Incoming UFO’s are initially tracked by supercomputer SID (Space Intruder Detector).  The forward line of defence is launched from Moonbase, which has three Interceptor spacecraft fitted with nuclear warheads.  The Moonbase operations are co-ordinated by Lt Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake), Lt Joan Harrington (Antonia Ellis) and Lt Nina Barry (Dolores Mantez) amongst others.

moobase
L-R Nina Barry (Dolores Mantez), Joan Harrington (Antonia Ellis) and Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake)

If the UFOs manage to evade the Interceptors and penetrate the Earths atmosphere then SHADO calls upon various other forms of defence, including the submarine Skydiver which can launch the interceptor aircraft Sky One, whilst Mobile land vehicles can also be called upon if the UFO has made a successful landing.

Sky One
Sky One

Although Gerry Anderson had, until this time, been responsible for a series of successful children’s Supermarionation series (Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet) UFO was very much a move into a more adult form of storytelling, despite the fact that visually it had much in common with his Supermarionation series.

As with those series, special effects were supervised by Derek Meddings whilst the various vehicles were designed by Meddings along with his assistant Michael Trim.  The model-work and effects were the clearest links to the previous Anderson shows, but the story content was much darker (although elements of Captain Scarlet had probably begun this process).

The concept of human beings being forcibly used as organ donors is a fairly horrifying concept whilst later episodes such as The Long Sleep and Timelash are notable examples of stories that delve a little deeper than many sci-fi series of the same period.  Timelash, for example, sees Straker inject himself with a drug (X 50 stimulant) in order to stay awake during the mysterious time freeze with the result that it’s not clear what part of the story actually happened and what may be a result of his drug-induced dreams.

A UFO in the woods
A UFO in the woods

Elsewhere in the series there was more emphasis placed on human relationships than was often seen in science fiction programmes of the time.  Although it may seem somewhat stilted and naive today, the interracial relationship in The Computer Affair was noteworthy at the time of its original broadcast whilst several episodes (Confetti Check A-OK and A Question of Priorities) show exactly how Straker is unable to juggle the demands of his secret job and his family life.

Whilst these, and other examples are laudable, it’s undeniable that UFO’s sexual politics were fairly underdeveloped as very often women are simply used as eye-candy, which can be either amusing (particularly Alec Freeman’s various toe-curling chat up lines) or irritating, depending on your point of view.

Totally gratuitous eye-candy.  Sorry.
Totally gratuitous eye-candy. Sorry.

But while parts of the series have badly dated (and the mystery of the purple wigs was never explained) there is much to enjoy across the 26 episodes of UFO.  So as I begin a rewatch of the series, I’ll blog a short review of every story which will hopefully capture some of the key points of each episode.

7 thoughts on “Gerry Anderson’s UFO (ITC 1969-1970). Series Introduction

    • Actually, I believe that is actress Diana Reeves, who was never seen in the series, her part either being cut, or this was just a publicity photo for the series. And yes, Anouska Hempel does appear in the series.

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  1. LOVE this series. I’ve never been a fan of the puppet series, but I really love the mix of live action and model shots in this Anderson series. The title sequence and theme tune are awesome. Would love to learn the reason why the moonbase personal had purple wigs though LOL.

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    • The purple wigs were part of the uniform. Back in the 1960s (and 70s for that matter,) wigs were worn by women sometimes as a fashion statement. I think Sylvia Anderson surmised, given the fashion trend at the time of production, the wearing of wigs in the near future would play a bigger part in the dress and fashion sense of women.

      Another factor may have been wearing wigs as part of the female uniforms on Moonbase would have protected them from radiation, preventing hair loss among female personnel. The latter pure speculation on my part, given male personnel wore no kind of head gear nor wigs. But then Central Command was manned my females and never seemed totally secure from what lay outside.

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  2. I pretty much agree with your overview of UFO. My first exposure to Science Fiction was via Gerry Anderson in the mid to late 1960s through the puppet shows he produced. The only other exception was Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants but Gerry got there first. Despite that, UFO was probably the live action sci-fi series where I begin to think about Science Fiction a little deeper.

    UFO would have been the logical show to what because the same vehicles, the space ships would not have been out of place in his other shows. In fact UFO came after Gerry’s live action movie ‘ Journey to the Far Side of the Sun’ or ‘Dopplegander’ as it is now commonly known now. That is quite clear when you see the Movie.

    Even though I was aware of Star Trek at the time, that was a Show I would not begin watching until three years after UFO was originally broadcast.

    Liked by 1 person

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