This is an article about the UFOria convention which appeared in a 1988 issue of the UK magazine "Starburst".
by Stuart ClarkThe work of Gerry Anderson is alive and well, you only have to look around at the videos on sale to realise that, but would a convention totally devoted to his first live action programme U.F.O. really work? I wondered this often in the weeks leading up to the convention but as soon as I arrived at the Conway Halls, Red Lion Square in Holborn, all doubts quickly flew from my mind.
The assembly halls were packed with eager fans. Over four hundred in fact and secretary Babs Heywood told me that they had been forced to send back nearly two hundred registrations because of limitations in space at the venue. Bearing in mind that they could have had six hundred fans in attendance on 18th of June, I think the tentatively announced UFOria weekend for next year is already a fore-gone conclusion.
The guest list was impressive with Gerry and Mary Anderson, Ed Bishop, Dolorez Mantez, Derek Meddings, Tony Barwick, Shane Rimmer and George Sewell.
The convention programme changed throughout the day because of unavoidable situations, but the convention attendees were kept constantly informed of the changes and things flowed smoothly. Unfortunately Ed Bishop was delayed so Shane Rimmer took his place on the panel with George Sewell. Rimmer was humorous, making wisecracks throughout his time on stage, which was mainly answering questions from the floor. When asked what projects he had up and coming he took great delight in telling everyone that he would be going up to Manchester in a brief week's time in order to shoot six episodes of...Coronation Street.
George Sewell's reluctance to attend conventions has often been interpreted as dislike for fans and when he was asked by one attendee whether he thought of fans as nutters a hush fell over the auditorium. Sewell considered his answer carefully before telling the assembled fans that he felt everyone was a nutter in their own field. To clarify his statement he explained that he is as fanatical about the First World War as many fans are about U.F.O., and where is the harm in that?
Five episodes of U.F.O. were shown throughout the day; 'Confetti Check A-OK', 'Court Martial', 'Timelash', 'The Cat With Ten Lives' and 'Close Up'. They were shown on a large screen in the main hall but the blackouts provided for the windows left a lot to be desired.
Dolorez Mantez told the committee that she would do anything they wanted her to as long as she did not have to go on a panel, and so her main duty of the day was to sign autographs. She did tell me, however, of a time whilst filming U.F.O. when she nipped out to get a bite to eat between takes. She left a large sign on her Moonbase console which said 'Gone to Launch'!
All the guests were willing to sign autographs and chat informally to the attendees, but some confessed that as U.F.O. had been made so long ago memories were starting to fade and they found it astounding that the fans knew so much.
Guests continued to talk throughout the day, while eargerly- awaited Ed Bishop had still not arrived.
Just after three o'clock Gerry Anderson and Tony Barwick took the stage and were greeted enthusiastically by the crowd. Barwick talked on the problems he faced whilst writing for U.F.O. and made the surprising remark that he often felt re-writing to meet studio demands made scripts better than originally written. Quite the reverse of what most writers think! He also told of a full script which was lost somewhere between his house and the studio, and never found; treasure hunters start looking.
Anderson answered questions with diplomatic style, and when asked what he thought made his television programmes so popular confessed he did not really know. He did pay tribute to the fans, however, by saying that he was pleased to see the attendees raising money for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Appeal and enjoying themselves without having to get drunk and go on the rampage like certain factions of football fandom.
Concerning the genesis of U.F.O., he stated that at the time the series was envisioned there was a lot of public attention focused on the phenomenon, but a bare two weeks before the show premiered the U.S. Air Force released the findings of a two year investigation and concluded that U.F.O.'s did not exist. He also told how U.F.O. evolved into Space 1999, when after doing extensive modifications to the moonbase concept for the proposed second series of U.F.O. it was suddenly cancelled. The amount of work which had been done, however, was so detailed that Anderson and his team modified it some more and Space 1999 was created.
Ed Bishop finally arrived, and when it was announced that he was in the entry hall, and ready to sign autographs, the main hall emptied with such astounding speed that I found it hard to believe a group of people could move so fast. After the autograph session Ed Bishop took the stage and was greeted for his panel with rapturous applause and cheers from the audience. He first brought the convention up-to-date with his current projects before he spoke with great style and charm about his association with the Anderson programme under debate.
The convention finished with screenings of two more episodes before the assembled mass gradually broke up and went its separate ways. The day had gone well as the guests had been interesting and fresh to listen to. It also proved a great opportunity to see some episodes of the programmes which have yet to be released on video. Whilst looking dated now, the episodes provided great entertainment and after all is said and done, entertainment is still the name of the game.
This article is one page long and includes 2 photographs:
- A 1/4 page photo of Gerry Anderson at UFOria
- A 1/6 page photo of Dolores Mantez signing autographs at UFOria