Classic TV Revisited: UFO

UFO was a 1970 cult sci-fi series in which nasty sterile aliens came to Earth intent on kidnapping humans and trying to steal their organs for transplant. Starring Ed Bishop, George Sewell, Michael Billington, Gabrielle Drake and Wanda Ventham

Why was it so good?
With a plot like that it couldn’t fail, and it was Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s first live action series. Added to that were wobbly spacecraft and some decidedly dodgy haircuts.

How did it begin?
After his puppet triumphs with Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray, Gerry Anderson decided to make a live-action drama. He decided to devise the show after hearing of experiments to keep a dog alive underwater by filling its lungs with a mixture of water and gases.

Sounds cruel?
It probably was. He used the idea as his alien villains breathed water rather than air inside their space helmets.

Who were the heroes?
Ed Bishop had striking white blond hair in a bizarre style as Commander Edward Straker.

What did he do?
He was the head of SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation).

Who else was in it?
Commander Straker’s side-kicks were played by George Sewell, Michael Billington, Gabrielle Drake, Wanda Ventham and dancer Peter Gordeno. There was also an appearance by a fresh-faced Stephanie Beacham and George Cole before his Minder days.

Was the world his lobster?
No, but he was a dodgy dealer like Arthur Daley as his character betrayed the humans to their extra-terrestrial enemies.

Gabrielle Drake

Were there some memorable fashions?
As it was the ’70s they were unforgettable — the female uniforms included silver mini-skirts and purple wigs.

What about the fellas?
They got away with skin-tight uniforms.

Sounds kinky.
No, but it was very sweaty.

Any interesting plots?
How about an alien disguised as a Siamese cat trying to take over the mind of a pilot? Or a deadly moon rock which turned people berserk?

Did it have a glam location?
No, unless you think the old MGM studio in Borehamwood is like Cannes. But it is good enough for Big Brother, EastEnders, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Holby City.

Enough said. The studio was the secret HQ of SHADO with each episode costing £100,000. Aimed at adults, but a favourite with kids, it lasted only 26 episodes before it was sort of morphed into Space: 1999.

Why the renewed interest?
It’s now a cult classic which has generated �6m in DVD sales and other spin-offs in the past three years.

Distinguishing features?
Unidentified flying objects resembling silver pyramids, sexy Barbarella-style women, purple wigs, alien abductions.

Do say: “A cult sci-fi show made for adults but loved by kids, anoraks and the Japanese.”

Don’t say: “How could it possibly be any good compared to Dr Who or Blake’s 7.”

Not to be confused with: Roswell, Space: 1999, Captain Scarlet, Alien, U2, UB40.

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.