by Lorraine & Charlie Meyer
On September 23, 2007, Charlie and I attended the HD21 event held by Fanderson at Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. We made the trip to England from the U.S. specifically for the event, and we had arrived a few days earlier and stayed at the nearby Bull Hotel in Gerrards Cross. Upon arriving at the Timekeeper's Gate on the day of the event, we were escorted to nearby Theatre 7, a filming site in the episode “Mindbender”. We would view the High Definition screenings in the very room that they filmed scenes from that episode! I cannot describe how exciting it was for us not only to be on the Pinewood Studio property, but also to actually be inside that building. We entered through the door that Ed Bishop used as an exit in “Mindbender”.
We were given a convention gift packet consisting of: ID badges color coded for our respective tour groups (UFO or Space 1999); A 1998 FAB Calendar containing pictures from various Gerry Anderson productions; A 1998 Thunderbirds calendar; a Pinewood map; five cards containing still shots of New Captain Scarlet, Space 1999 (X 2), Thunderbirds, UFO (Patrick Allen in “Timelash”) and a schedule for the day. At this time, we also had the pleasure of meeting Teresa and Paolo from ISOSHADO and some of the other delegates while waiting to enter the actual theatre. After a short wait we were allowed to take our seats in Theatre 7. We took a few pictures of the room before Nick reminded us that photos were not permitted. Nick pointed out the chairs in which Ed and Paul (Mike) sat during the “Mindbender” episode. The theatre layout appeared to be virtually the same but it had obviously been refurbished after 40 years. The seats that were blue in the episode were now red (as were the curtains) and the rug and walls are gray.
Nick explained the schedule and advised us that the calendars provided in our packet were not old stock that they were trying to get rid of. He said they wanted us to have them because they contain excellent pictures. There were two pictures from UFO on the FAB calendar. In addition, he added that they could be used in the year 2010 (I believe) since the dates will coincide!
Nick advised us that Keith Wilson would not be present and that Zienia Merton had to stay home due to problems with her cat sitter. Guests including Gerry Anderson, Shane Rimmer, David Graham, and Dominic Lavery would join us at different points during the day. He introduced the first guest, Fiona Maxwell and explained that she is in charge of, and very actively involved with, the preservation and restoration of all ITC materials.
Ms. Maxwell explained some of the techniques used to improve the quality for high definition including “pan and scan, Spirit Datacine, 5.1 Dolby sound, Edifis Scratchbox, and Smoke for frame-by-frame jumps, splices, and complex repair”. She clarified that “pan and scan” was a technique used to avoid cutting out vital parts of the picture. She explained that by using this technique, one can choose frame by frame what content is included and thereby avoid the wide screen chopped-off look. She mentioned “Technicolor preemptive service” at this point but it wasn’t clear to us what this was for.
Ms. Maxwell noted that Gerry Anderson had the foresight to film with high quality 35mm film and this made transforming to a 16:9 format easier using the “pan and scan” technique. She then provided some before and after examples of various movies/TV shows to demonstrate the improvements that could be made. Examples of improvements that can be done include improvements with color saturation, crispness, and the elimination of scratches and imperfections. The team used as much original material as they could but when necessary, they used the various software/techniques to improve upon the original. Main titles were sometimes taken from other episodes if they were better.
Nick mentioned that Ms. Maxwell has a genuine passion for restoration and preserving the history of movie and television and she welcomed feedback regarding what we had viewed during the session. The dramatic improvements were evident in many productions as they used a sweep bar technique that goes across the screen to show before and after side by side. Charlie and I noted whitening, brightening and sharpening of the images and elimination of artifacts in most cases. We did not note any stretching or compression of the images. Some improvements were marked, others subtler.
After a short break, the UFO episode “Timelash” was shown in High definition in 16:9 format. The majority of the group had voted to view this episode most likely because the episode contains a large number of exterior Pinewood studio location shots that we were going to see on the tour. Each attendee was given a voting card months ago to mail in and choose the “UFO”, “Space 1999” and New Captain Scarlet episodes they wanted to see.
Overall, our opinion of the presentation of “Timelash” was a BIG thumbs up. Considering this is a show filmed in 1969/1970, the High definition presentation was excellent. Add to this the fact that we were watching it in Theatre 7 with UFO/Gerry Anderson fans with a wonderful sound system and, IMHO, it was “the experience of a lifetime.”
Our thoughts regarding the viewing of this episode in the HD 16:9 format: It was clear, crisp with good color especially considering the screen size on which we were viewing it. They did a wonderful job cleaning the scenes up but it cannot be compared to today’s newly made programs in high definition. The comparison instead must be made between the original film in the 4:3 format and the cleaned up version suitable for 16:9 large screen viewing. We did not notice any distortion or disturbing omissions of material. We did notice some graininess that seemed to be limited to the special effects scenes such as when the UFO is hovering over and pursuing Straker’s car. Clear blue sky shots were grainy. Other than that, the picture quality was excellent.
After this episode, the “Space 1999” tour group departed for their escorted Pinewood tour. Our “UFO” group remained in Theatre 7 to view a 16:9 episode of Thunderbirds “Trapped in the Sky”. We haven’t viewed “Thunderbirds” in many years so perhaps asking someone more familiar with the original source material would be more valuable, but our overall impression with the picture quality was that it was remarkably clear and vivid. Some close up scenes were grainy. There was no evident distortion in the picture. I would like to ask other Fanderson members that viewed the episode if they felt the same.
After this episode, we were supposed to leave for our “UFO tour” but the red team (Space 1999 tour) turned up missing! Seems that Chris Bentley was taking them on an extended tour. That left us encouraged that he would do the same for us! Nick suggested that we go ahead and watch the New Captain Scarlet episode “Enigma” and wait for their return. Originally on the schedule was the episode “Mercury Falling”. I am not sure why they changed it but any NCS episode was fine by us. “Enigma” on a giant screen in High def, Dolby surround sound sitting in Theatre 7 in Pinewood Studio – what more is there to say??? We love NCS and seeing it on the big screen with the sound blasting was wonderful. Nick prepared us ahead of time by informing us that Gerry had requested that they “crank the sound up really loud” to get the full effect. It worked. I believe everyone present enjoyed this viewing.
The “Space 1999” group finally materialized and we were off on our exciting studio tour. Our expectations were not high regarding viewing actual filming sites due to the time that had passed since the original episodes were filmed. We were both very pleasantly surprised! As we stepped outside the building, the excitement was palpable. Chris Bentley was our tour guide and was thoroughly prepared with detailed information regarding each of the stops we made. We were reminded again that Pinewood Studios forbid taking pictures on the lot. The group respected Pinewood’s request in that regard. A Fanderson group photo was taken with the 007 stage in the background and I believe it will be posted on the Fanderson website at some point.
We will describe, from memory, the tour that we took. We have to emphasize at this point that these are just descriptions of buildings and streets and cannot recount the feeling of actually being present as Chris recalled scenes filmed there. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a similar event in the future and actually walk around the studio property with other fans, we would both highly recommend taking the tour. Chris provided extensive details regarding not only scenes from “UFO” but also from other productions such as James Bond movies, “Space 1999” and some recently filmed movies. He was also available to answer questions.
We began on Goldfinger Avenue right outside Theatre 7 and proceeded left past the water tower that is evident in “Timelash”. On the map, it is pictured in the lower right corner picture as a big blue tower and remains fairly unchanged since original “UFO” filming. In this picture, you will note the hand on a cart and the gentleman with a turban. They are walking down Goldfinger Avenue heading west from the Theatre 7 area.
As the tour continued, we turned left and headed down Studio drive. Chris pointed out the queue tents that were set up where people wait to be members of the studio audiences for TV shows in TV Studios 1 and 2. The one tent now obscures the area where Michael Billington chases Ed up onto the ladder in “Timelash”. As we walked down Studio drive, we came upon Car Park 4. Chris informed us that while UFO was filming, the buildings now known as TV Studio 1 and 2 were actually J and K sound stages. These were the original UFO soundstages. They are very recognizable with one exception. The formerly flat roof onto which Ed climbs the ladder/takes the elevator to shoot at the UFO is now pitched (slanted). Chris said the ladder has been removed but the bolt holes are still visible. On the map, the ladder would have been on the green section labeled “TV Complex” and it was located on the south side.
The television shows “Weakest Link” and “My Family” were taping in TV studio 1 and 2 so we were not able to enter them. Chris informed us that Car Park 4 was the site of several outdoor scenes in “Timelash” such as the hovercraft scene and the scene where Virginia Lake stopped to shoot at Turner’s tires. The entrance between TV Studio 1 & 2 is very recognizable in the “Timelash” scenes and in the bottom right corner of the map you can see Foster and the security officers running out from the front door of that building. It looks very similar now. The caravan with carnival items that Ed opens up in “Timelash” had been filmed between TV Studio 2 and sheds 19-28. Behind Sheds 19-28, there is the North lot where some of the back lot scenes were set up. The cobbled street still remains and is labeled on the map. Note that these items are from memory and no notes were taken or recordings were made so we can only promise that we tried our best to make it accurate.
In this area (Car Park 4/TV studios 1 & 2) watch “Timelash” and note:
When watching “Mindbender” we noted:
We headed North down Broccoli Road. As we stopped at the intersection of Broccoli road and 007 Drive, Chris discussed the extensive history of the 007 stage. It is an impressively large sound stage and has an interesting history including several fires. This is the approximate area where our group photo was taken. 007 Drive is the back end of Soundstages J and K and in “Mindbender” this is the street in which Ed passes the bicyclist with the turban. Chris mentioned many interesting filming facts on this street:
We proceeded to Goldfinger Avenue at the end of 007 drive to the Covered Way near soundstages A, B, C and D. Some notable items:
Again, additional facts were mentioned, far too many to recall so I am just hitting on the highlights. We proceeded to the Stanley Kubrick building. Bourne Ultimatum was on a sign above the door. Chris said that the New Captain Scarlet offices had occupied sections of this building.
At this point, we stood near L and M stages and Chris informed us that “Doppelganger” aka “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun” was filmed here. “Space 1999” was filmed on L stage. There is a scene in “Cat With Ten Lives” where Regan comes around the side of M stage to get into Foster’s car. Foster is seen leaving a building later in this episode. We believe the building is the J/K front entrance. They then show him coming around the side of M stage and going to his car to encounter Regan. The subsequent fight scene between the two was actually filmed in the adjacent area (R stage area that was formerly a Mexican village set).
Behind L and M stages is the building used to depict “Harville Hospital” in “The Long Sleep”. (See map upper right corner) Black Park is immediately behind it and we could hear and see bicyclists going by on the paths behind the fence. As you face the building, you can easily recognize the front of the “hospital”, the steps heading up and the railing of the bridge that connects the two sides. Ed and Dr. Jackson talk on that bridge and then head to Catherine Fraser’s room. Chris went into more detail about other uses for the building including the right upper floor being the dressing room suite for Martin Landau and Barbara Bain during Space 1999.
We then proceeded to L stage. We were permitted to enter the soundstage that was unoccupied. This is where they filmed “Doppelganger” and “Space 1999”. Chris described various locations within the building for “Space 1999” sets. The building itself was all brick outside, with very thick entry doors and a hollow interior with massive ceiling space and hardwood floors. The walls were soundproofed with padding. It was an amazing structure and, more notably, the sound in the building was non-reverberating.
We proceeded to the Paddock tank and U stage. Chris discussed the filming of several projects near the Paddock tank including recent productions.
We then proceeded to Heatherden Hall to see location sites for “The Long Sleep”, “Psychobombs” and “Mindbender”. In “TLS” Straker and Catherine Fraser talk outside by a bench. This is pictured on the map in the upper left corner. In “Psychobombs”, Foster and Simmons flirt on a bridge. This picture is in the lower left corner. In “Mindbender”, Ed exits Heatherden Hall through a French door and sees a SHADO mobile going by. This filming site is on the inside of the building now since they added the “Gatsby Room” for the filming of “The Great Gatsby”. The original picture is on the map, lower left and the French doors, columns and steps remain the same. We would be returning to the gardens and to Heatherden Hall later for a buffet, so we proceeded to the Double Lodge, which can be pictured on the bottom of the map. It is located along the main road exit.
The Timekeeper’s gate, through which we all entered in the morning, is located on Studio drive and is labeled on the map as “Security/Reception”. Chris said that this is the gate at which Regan talks to the guard in “The Cat with Ten Lives”. We headed back to the Theatre at this point since over 2 hours had elapsed!! As I had stated previously, we had no idea there would be so many great sites still there to see.
We returned to Theatre 7 and Gerry Anderson came in for a brief Q & A session but spent the majority of the time discussing a “Dick Spanner” project and a new children’s project that he will be working on. He said it would be similar to “Lavender Castle”. He talked a bit about the politics of the entertainment business and touched upon remakes of Thunderbirds and UFO. He did not, however, go into any detail and stressed that ownership of the material is a main problem. I would refer any questions about future projects from Gerry Anderson to Fanderson since they have the most current and accurate information.
Shane Rimmer and David Graham were present at this session although they sat in the back. We were able to meet with them and they were kind enough to allow autographs and pictures in front of the doors at Theatre 7. I believe it was Shane Rimmer’s wife who helped get autographs and assisted in picture taking. She was very courteous, helpful and understanding.
Then we headed back to Heatherden Hall for a lovely buffet, and we were allowed to walk the gardens freely. This was truly a highlight of the day for us. Charlie and I walked along the location sites for “TLS” and the “Mindbender” garden locations and took some pictures in the garden area. We were able to view an ivy-covered version of the bridge from “Psychobombs” from the front and one side. Heatherden Hall itself was an impressive building and, as a “UFO” filming location, it was the perfect venue to end a perfect day. We discussed the day and agreed that we were truly amazed at how many sites there were to appreciate on this tour!
We were exhausted from travel but managed to enjoy pleasant conversation with other Fanderson members. After the buffet, a raffle was drawn for UFO/NCS/Space 1999 Dioramas. I believe there were 12 in all. We had purchased a few additional raffle tickets for the charity. We have never won anything in our lives so it was exciting when the first number chosen by Nick was ours!! We selected a UFO/Interceptor diorama but hadn’t considered the difficulties we might face with airport security due to the wiring underneath and size of the diorama. Nevertheless, we were determined to bring it home. I really enjoyed the curious looks that we received when we placed it on two hotel reception desks and the Virgin Airways counter. Security had to look it over carefully but eventually let us proceed. The last task was to fit it in the overhead bin. Charlie knew that if he didn’t get it into the bin, I’d have given it his airplane seat. LOL The diorama made it home safe and sound.
Thank you again to Nick Williams, Chris Bentley, and Gerry Anderson and to all of the Fanderson staff and the guests that made this event possible. Charlie and I agreed that we would absolutely consider attending a similar event in the future. We would also stress that attendance at the event is really the only true way to fully appreciate the experience. Being present in the actual places where the scenes were filmed was amazing.
Lorraine and Charlie