Ed Bishop

In 1970 Gerry Anderson screened his first attempt at a live action show
. The series is set in 1980, a time when humans on our planet our being kidnapped by aliens. Our only hope comes in the shape of Ed Straker (played by Ed Bishop). Carlton video have started to release the original series and Keri Allan met with Bishop recently to hear some of his memories of the show...

Keri Allan: How did you get the role of Straker?

Ed Bishop: Well I had worked for Gerry Anderson previously. He had done a puppet series called Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. So that was the first job I did, I was just doing a voice of the puppet, and so after that he did a feature film called Doppelganger, and I was involved in that, so we had a track record. So when he was casting UFO he bore me in mind, and that's how I got the part!

KA: Do you have an interest in sci-fi then, with all the work you have done in the area?

EB: No, not really. (laughs) I don't have an overwhelming interest in the subject. It was an acting job. John Wayne hated horses, he hated the countryside, he was an actor and worked with horses he though of his paycheque and got in the saddle. I mean actors have to do this.

KA: For the role of Straker you had to dye your hair at the beginning, did you have a choice in this?

EB: Well the visual side of the series was done by Sylvia Anderson, Gerry's wife at the time, and I trusted her implicitly. She was involved in the puppet series, and the feature film we did she had her own artistic opinion, and when it came to UFO I just trusted her because she had a wonderful eye for colour and style. If she told me to 'wear this' I would wear it, I never gave any great consideration to that, as long as she recommended it I assumed I would look good in it.

So they said I should dye my hair - and if you've ever dyed your hair you know that every two weeks the roots start to come through. So the first couple of months I would have to go down and get my hair dyed and it was really terrible and I said is there any other alternative we can do and they suggested the full head wig in the end, which was a lot better. I think it helped the whole look of the thing, the presentation.

KA: Quite a few magazines have quoted you as one of the most stylish guys of all time, how do you feel about that?

EB: Well I'd go along with that! (laughs) Yeah, I think seriously the look of the show, I mean c'mon with those girls with the purple hair, and those fishnet things they wore, yeah I think all the uniforms and the presentation was (stylish) certainly. I think on that level we are superior to Star Trek - the uniforms there were like surplus long johns or something, but they kind of beat us in other areas it has to be admitted.

KA: How do you think you compare to Trek and other similar shows?

EB: Well obviously you cannot argue with the success that Star Trek had. It was a wonderful series, the scripts were stronger the concept was a heck of a lot better, as the guy said every episode, its mission was to go and seek new worlds. Whilst we were locked to the one enemy, the aliens, and I think that was a little constricting, they'd come in and we'd have to scramble the aeroplanes, it was a bit like the battle of Britain. Sometimes they would get through and sometimes they would take over somebody, our format was a little tighter, maybe a little too tight, and we got strangled by it. But there's no arguing about the popularity on a cult level.

I keep going to conventions and getting fan mail from all over the world, its extraordinary. Its partially to do with sci-fi as it does stretch the imagination. Westerns and the cop genre come and go, but I think sci-fi sticks around. These new DVD's also help. I went down a few weeks ago to the famous Abbey Road Studio, and provided the commentary for what was my favourite episode which was why they picked it, Subsmash, and then Gerry came along and he did the commentary for another episode. I don't how they technically do it, but it looks like its live, so fresh, so clean, its really very exciting.

KA: Did it bring back a lot of memories doing that?

EB: Yeah, it did. I don't know whether everything I said in the commentary they will leave in! (laughs) I mean the distance of time, we finished in '69, its now 2002, its almost 40 years! And yeah, well of course a lot of the actors are no longer with us, I haven't seen them, I don't watch them or anything, so to see them on that DVD format was just terrific.

KA: So what was your fondest memories of working on UFO?

EB: My fondest memory would have to be the camaraderie of the actors and crew, with Gerry and Sylvia on all of their productions you were made to feel like a part of a family, and they somehow brought that together. They brought all the directors from the puppets with them. Most of the actors had worked with them before, so you had a continuity of relationships, a familiarity and that I remember. So there was a certain amount of reassurance and comfort there. You had to know your lines, you had to hit your mark, all the technicians had to know their job, it was a lot of pressure but the camaraderie and familiarity helped to ease that considerably.

KA: What about fans, did you have many female admirers?

EB: Yes, I have to say Straker does. I go to these conventions, and people come up and there's always a little look, a little hesitation, whether they can take the passage of time or not. That image on the screen is 35 years old, and time moves on, so I think that whatever attraction they saw was largely for Straker back then.

KA: Do you think you'll get another generation of fans with the release on DVD?

EB: I think so 'cos when they released them on the videos, there was quite a bit of interest. With these DVDs being superior I think you are right, there will be another generation. They did them on laser disc, which I never saw, but they were very big in Japan, they were very expensive, but this DVD is not. And I think a lot of people will go out and out of curiosity pick these things up and perhaps see them in a new light.

KA: So what happen to the second series? There was talk of one wasn't there?

EB: Yes we got to literally within a whisker of making another series. We made 26 episodes, but unfortunately the viewing figures were not right. So unfortunately if you don't make it in America you don't make it. I don't know if that's a good thing or not, but that's the fact. So what happens at the end of the series when it was being shown the figures dropped. They were in preparation for making another series as he figures were good, and then they plummeted down. CBS cancelled it, and so Gerry revamped UFO into Space 1999. I didn't watch a great deal of those episodes because I'm not a big sci-fi fan, but those I did watch I could see bits of equipment, our old scenery and costumes that were from UFO.

KA: What did you do after that then? I heard you worked on 2001 at one point in your career didn't you?

EB: The first job I ever did of any consequence was working with Kubrick on Lolita. And I had a tiny part in that, then he called back to work on 2001, I had a much bigger part in that, but unfortunately it was part of the great chunk of film that got cut out because it was running too long. I took part in the documentary about the making of 2001, not too long ago and there were rumours that Warner Bros. would release the original version, with everything in it, so I'll keep my fingers crossed. It was a very enjoyable experience working with Kubrick, obviously he was one of the few geniuses around. And to see my stuff restored after all this time would also be great.

KA: So what are you up to at the moment?

EB: Well I regard myself now as an old age pensioner - I'm semi-retired. All my children now are all grown up and I've got grandchildren up and running, there's not so much pressure. I used to tear around, and pull my hair out if I didn't get jobs a few years ago but my life is more relaxed. I don't have so many responsibilities. I still do radio, and voice-overs, commentary work and stuff like that, but I'm not sure whether I want to do something more arduous (laughs) but that's not to say I'm not open for offers! Try me!

KA: If UFO was to be remade, who would you want to play you?

EB: Me! (Laughs) Why not, I'm still here? I can still remember my lines. There was a serious effort about six months ago - I'm sure its gone away now - but a German investment banker was interested in making a feature film. He had a few meetings with Gerry Anderson, but I don't think they could get it together. But, yeah, I was in the frame for that, so if anyone out there wants to get a little money together, they can get me very cheap!

KA: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Lisa Denton at Cathy Beck Communications

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