Here is an interview with Ed Bishop which appeared in issue #26 (May 1997) of Jigsaw, the official magazine of TASC (Telefantasy Appreciation Society of Canada). This interview was conducted by editor Bob Furnell.
Its Sunday afternoon about 1 o'clock, March 16th, I'm in bed, unWELL, physically but well of spirit. Beside me I have my charming companion Jane, who's going to ask me these questions. I know you've got the original Bob, but it'll help me to get through it, if somebody asks me the questions rather than reading them out. And Jane, is a dynamite photographer and I'll look through and see if there's a couple of pictures that we can send along with this as per your request and so, as they say, we'll get started.
How and when did you get interested in acting?
I got interested in acting when I was a kid in high school in Peakskill, New York about '46 or '47, somewhere in there. I was in love with a girl by the name of Denise Cookson, and she belonged to something called the drama club. I was no good at sports. I was a physical coward and that was a terrible thing to be in America to be afraid of sports, getting hurt. I figured it was more fun joining the drama club and be closer to Denise. They were short of guys, cause everyone else was out breaking their back in the gridiron or something, so I figured drama was safer. And I just kind of got into it and drifted along.
Did you take any formal dramatic training?
Yes I did. I attended the Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts, Theatre Arts division from '56 to '59 and I actually possess a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre, so let's have a little respect here. [Laughs] I won a Fullbright's Scholarship when I graduated from Boston University in '59, which brought me to England and I studied for one year at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. So that was the training I had - 3 years a BU and a year at LAMBDA.
Do you do remember the first role you played and can you tell us about it?
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I played Benjamin Franklin and I was in the second grade at the Drumhill Elementary School in Peakskill, New York. I even remember my first line, which, with a minimum amount of coaching I'd deliver it right now. [Laughs]. I played Benjamin Franklin. All the guys were on stage waiting for me and my cue was,"Here comes Mr. Franklin now, with his wheelbarrow", and all of them said together in unison, "Wheelbarrow?" And I pushed this wheelbarrow on to the stage and said, "Yes sirs my wheelbarrow. I am not above my business. I sometimes push through the streets, in my wheelbarrow, the papers I use here in the shop." I think I was better then. [laughs] Isn't that amazing? I can still remember that.
How did you get the role of Captain Blue in Captain Scarlet and then Commander Straker in UFO?
Well the voice job with Captain Blue was thanks to a very alert individual with the agent I was with at that time, because the agent represented a black actor, Cy Grant. Gerry and Sylvia called at the agent, they wanted to see Cy Grant, they wanted to use him - actually he was the voice of Lt. Green - and this girl said, "oh by the way Mr. Anderson, we've just taken on a new American actor by the name of Edward Bishop, and we know that you like to use a lot of American voices. He's done some radio work. I think you might be interested." And Gerry said, "ok send him along." So I went along merely on that caprice. Just a sort of happy accident. And that was how I got Captain Scarlet. That's how I got to know Gerry. Then I worked in the film "Doppleganger", and from that came UFO. So, it was really just kind of an accident, which is what this business is all about.
How did getting these roles change your life?
Well I don't know. Its very difficult to say now in the twilight of my life, my career, how it changed it; but it certainly did have a big impact on it because obviously UFO is the biggest thing I've done in terms of size, and the availability to the audience, worldwide audience, and all the rest of it. So it certainly has had an impact, but I like to think that I have a professional life and a private life, like everybody else, and the two are more or less watertight, although they have influences on each other. But as you would say they probably have just had an impact.
Were you allowed any input into either of these roles?
Very little. Very little, because Gerry's Century 21 Productions had a very good formal structure, they had their writers, and their directors, and all the rest of it. You were allowed some, but basically fundamentally the characters were etched out pretty fully. You may have made one or two little suggestions - tweaks - but basically not.
Do you remember your first day filming UFO?
Yes I do. It was the pilot called "Identified". Gerry directed that just to see if he could get the film in the can in 10 days. We had a ten day turnaround and 55 minutes of film had to be shot - that's a lot of finished film to get in the can everyday. The first day we shot the sequence in the Rolls Royce as we we're driving along with Henderson and the other official. If you look at that sequence and you see a very nervous young actor starting on the series, that was me. I was very anxious about it. Sure we all were. It was a big commitment. At that time, I must say, that Straker was only suppose to be in 3 days of the 10 day schedule. I'd sit at the desk and bang out orders and the other guys go out and have all the fun. But eventually Straker, like Frankenstein, I think took over the writers. [Laughs] I think they kinda liked the old fart and they wrote more and more for him.
How much of Ed Bishop was in these characters?
Well I think quite a lot probably, when you start to analyze it. You can only draw upon your own resources, your own experiences, your own memories. I'd say if you had to put it down to 0-100%, I'd say 33 1/3%.
Do you think Commander Straker was sometimes portrayed as being too serious, too aloof or detached from compared to other characters in the series?
Yes I do.
Do you think the character changed or developed as the series progressed?
Yes, but not as much as I would have liked, now looking back on it. I think that inflexibility, the intricacy, the stubbornness if you'd like, probably could of modified a bit more for me, and might of loosen up the format of the series. I don't know. But looking back on it now, I think that solidity was easy currency for say, the writers to write around. You know you get this one guy who's absolutely solid, unequivocal, unfaltering guy, there might been an attraction to write for - and to a certain extent to perform - but, viewing it now, it could of had a little more flexibility. It could of been a little more interesting.
What are your favourite episodes from Captain Scarlet and UFO?
Captain Scarlet I must say I don't recall all that much. It was re-released here recently in the UK - I did catch it again - but I mean the commitment to Scarlet was not as total and complete as obviously the commitment to UFO, because you didn't have to learn any lines, you could wear anything you'd like, we just stood around and we read the lines and we worked on it much like a radio play. So, the commitment of energy and resources was so minimal compared to UFO, that I really didn't follow Scarlet in that sense. But if I had to pick out 1 of the 26 of the UFO episodes... I like "Sub-smash". It had a kind of bizarre immediacy about it. I know that "Confetti Check" and that the flashback sequences with the wife with all of those was more attractive to an actor, but for all facts considered it would be "Sub-smash".
What are your thoughts on the sets and costumes in UFO?
Dynamite. Dynamite! I look at them now and its amazing. I go to these conventions and they show 35mm prints on a big screen and, WOW! I mean the production values, the depth of it is multi-layered and I think its terrific. And all that was down to Sylvia. Sylvia Anderson. She had an eye that was absolutely, no pun intended, that was out of this world. Her eye for colour, for balance and harmony and fabrics - she hand picked all of the extra's in the background, the girls and the fellows, you know for their colour - it was amazing. I respected her in that regard totally.
Do you having any amusing stories or recall any unusual events that happened while either series that you can tell us about?
None that I can tell about. [Laughs] But wherever you get a bunch of people on a film set - we had an average of maybe between 75 and 100 egos, actors, directors, stagehands, electricians, carpenters, etc, and it was like a little city. If naturally you put all those people together you're going to have any number of experiences [laughs] and antidotes that you could fill a book with. A lot of them salacious, you know. A lot of them puerile in nature, but it was a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure.
Can you tell us what some of your co-stars from UFO are up to today? Are you still in contact with any of them?
No I'm not in contact with any of them. But this is not because I don't want to. When we see each other, its as if we've never been parted. This is true of Georgie Sewell, and unfortunately the late Doctor Jackson - Vladic Sheybal. Whenever I saw the gang it was really wonderful. You'd sit down and talk and all the rest of it.
Gabrielle Drake works constantly, but mostly in the theatre. She's out on tour in a wonderful Oscar Wilde play, "Lady Windermere's Fan" - I've just read some wonderful notices for her - she's keeping busy. Georgie Sewell never stops - does a lot of television, and stage. George was in the West End very recently. Mike Billington I think has more or less left the business as far as acting is concerned. The last I heard of him he was in New York teaching at the Lee Strasburg Institute, or some school - he was teaching acting - apparently he found a very good forte in teaching acting. That's about it. I bump into people every once in awhile, and they say "hey I did one of those episodes" - I'm at the National Theatre here in London and know a lot of the people who work there - and people come up to me and say "I had a day on UFO". Things like that. Great fun.
So how do you feel about being so closely associated with a character such as Commander Straker? Do you think it has helped or harmed your career?
I really couldn't say if its helped my career. I don't think its harmed it. I had a very good press notice a little while ago. I did a play up in Leister, England - we did Arthur Miller's "The Price" - and some critic said, "...and Ed Bishop sadly still remembered for Commander Straker in UFO...", and then he went on to be very complimentary, but I don't regard it as anything to be sad about. [Laughs] In fact you did a performance. I was a consenting adult. I signed the contract. I took the money. I did the best I could. And I must say that some of the actors in the series do want to disassociate themselves from the series - they don't want anything to do with it, because they thought; oh I don't know, that it was less than successful or something like that. I've never done anything that I've been ashamed of, or l look back on it and say "Gee that was a turkey, I don't want to talk about it."
When watching Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons I always thought the voice of Captain Scarlet sounded like Cary Grant, was this intentional on the part of the actor voicing the character?
You know, when we were recording it, I thought the voice sounded like Cary Grant [laughs]. I don't know. We sat down on the very first day, a bunch of us guys sitting around, and Francis - who's still doing very well - he's doing a lot of theatre now - and he also produces, and he also directs, so he's really expanded himself - but he started to read in this kind of this,"S-I-G Ca-a-ptin Blue", [laughs] - I can't do it - and I thought he was doing it as a joke! And I thought Gerry, or Reg, or Tony Barwick would come out and say "oh, I think we'll elbow that", but nobody said anything. So we recorded the first episode, and he did it, and I thought it was a wonderful, courageous piece of acting. But yes there was a certain similarity. I thought it was very good. I liked it.
Captain Scarlet is often cited as being more violent and realistic than any other of Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation series - do you agree or disagree?
I neither agree or disagree. I must say I haven't watch that much of it to say whether it is or not. You say realistic - on a interesting note, was that they did a lot of research. Cause they thought Captain Scarlet was going to be, socko!, that it was going to displace Thunderbirds. They made the puppets as realistic as possible. And that's what put the audience off. Isn't that interesting? They liked the clunky, the obvious bit about Thunderbirds. They felt more relaxed with it. Interesting market research they did, cause they thought that Supermarionation was going to be it. But it was too realistic, and as a result it was not as successful as the other works.
You've worked with Gerry Anderson on 3 of his series (Captain Scarlet, Doppleganger and UFO), what was working for Gerry Anderson like?
Well it was a very pleasant experience, otherwise we wouldn't have repeated it. I had a lot of respect for Gerry for what he did. The loyalty he inspired and the team he had - the directors, the writers, they came with him. I liked him as a producer, and there was no tension between us. If there were tension it was created. We did have one or two areas of where you might call mild disagreement, and I would air my view, and he would air his view - if it got up to him - if we didn't settle it at the director level. I think there were one or two issues that went up to Gerry and he had to come down from the producers office, but yah, I got along with him. He liked my work, and I liked his. That's all I can say.
So how would you compare these 3 projects?
How would I could compare them? I don't know if it would be possible to compare doing the voiceover for a puppet and appearing in a feature film, then appearing in a series. It' all acting yes, but its varied obviously. As I said, we all just stood around and read our scripts into a microphone on the Scarlet. Actually I took over for a character. There was an actor Charles Dynely - and its his voice on Thunderbirds doing the famous countdown - and he was cast in this part to play this character and they sent the rushes out to the States. They said this actor Charles Dynely is very close to an actor, Pat Wymark. They even looked very similar, and they thought they should recast it and shoot it with somebody new. Charles was part of Gerry's stable, and he had no hard feelings about it. It was just one of those things. Then he brought in me, and I know he tested Shane Rimmer and a couple of other people, and I got the job. They just wanted a younger man in Doppleganger. And then when they were casting for the part of Straker, they showed Lew Grade and all the mandarins at ITC, my footage in "Doppleganger" and I got the part as a result of that. You can see how these things are accidental. Accidently getting the voice in Captain Scarlet and then being a cast replacement in "Doppleganger" and led to "UFO". Life is funny. That's very profound. [Laughs]
Can you tell us anything about the plans by Australian company to bring back UFO?
Yah in a word, its down. They couldn't get the money.
In the new series you were to play General Straker, no doubt taking over where General Henderson left off, how do you feel about recreating the role?
Well I feel delighted. I think there's enough mileage in me, and in the character, that it could be reprised. Sure. I would look forward to it very much.
Do you think a new series of UFO would succeed today?
I would think yes. With all the technology that is available now, and the lower production costs, I would of thought there would of been some potential out there. And if it was handled right, and maybe you took it in a completely opposite direction, but I think anything whether its imaginative enough could be a success.
To what do you attribute the lasting popularity of shows like Captain Scarlet and UFO?
I just think its like the genre. Its like the western. Its like the war genre. Now you've got science fiction. They all come in and they go out. Its like the tide - it comes in and it goes out. Now sci-fi is the hottest thing under the sun, and in a few years maybe the western will come back. I mean look at the sixties. They had "Wagon Train, Bonanza," and all those things. But I just think its a question of popular taste.
Tell us about some of the projects you've done since UFO?
Oh wow. We finished that in '69 and its now '97, so I've done an awful lot of stuff. Mostly what happened to me was the advent, or the arrival, in England, of commercial radio in '75/76. And, I got in the ground floor on that industry to do voice overs. I don't know, but I guess 'butch' American voices were in at that time, and still pretty well much is in advertizing. So I made a lot of money - I did very well, which made me able to pick and chose the things I did in films, or stage, because I had a family - four children - mortgage and everything, you have to make a living. Now that I was making a good living just on voiceovers alone, I could say, "now, I don't like this film unless you pay me this much", or "I'm not interested in that play", so that was able to help out a considerable amount.
You appeared in episodes of "Take A Letter Mr Jones" with John Inman and Rula Lenska in addition to "French & Saunders" - what were they like to work with? And, do enjoy doing comedy roles for change as opposed to serious drama?
Well in the short answer, yes I enjoy doing comedy very much. I like working in the comedic form. What were they like? You know that's a tough one. I've worked with a lot of stars from Sean Connery to Roger Moore to French & Saunders to Joanna Lumely, and those people as a whole, they don't walk on water. They're very ordinary people, except that they've got a extraordinary gift, or quirk. I've worked with Richard Wilson, who's now a very big name here in England with "One Foot In The Grave" - he's a household name now - and he was a director - he had a very good career, but totally undistinguished in terms in stopping traffic, but now he can't even walk into a restaurant. I did a little fringe play a little while ago -about 4 or 5 years ago - with Leslie Joseph who's now in a sitcom here in the UK, "Birds Of A Feather", and she opens supermarkets, she's a household name. I can't open a paper without it mentioning her. But before that she was a struggling actress, and then she catapulted into the public arena. So for the most part, the general rule, people of the ilk, if you like - stars - are really just ordinary people who've some extraordinary happenstance occurred to them in their professional careers. Its like someone winning the lottery. Still the same person although the suit may cost more money that they're wearing.
Have you done any television in the United States that we'd be familiar with? If not, would you interested in doing American television?
Yes I'd be interested in doing American television. Australian television. Anybody's television. [Laughs] I just returned from Italy working on RAI, Italian television. Most of the stuff I've made here like UFO, and practically everything you shoot in the UK, eventually ends up either syndicated or networked. I've recently done "Broken Glass", this new Arthur Miller play that was shown in America on a network deal. Yah, everything I do more or less ends up there. But sure I'd like to work in America.
Would you like to do another series again?
Yah. Yah, I'd perfectly willing to do another series of any kind. A nice sitcom - [Laughs] - about an old actor making a comeback. [Laughs]
Have you ever been to Canada?
Yes. Yes, I lived in Buffalo for a couple of years when I got out of the army. I was in love with a girl by the name of Alice Moore, and she lived in Toronto. Actually, when I was in the army, I was stationed in St. John's Newfoundland, '52 to '54, and I was a radio disc jockey on VOUS, Hepperal Airforce Base. "Army Corporal Eddie Bishop spinning the kind of songs you wanna hear between now and 4 am tomorrow morning..." Nah anyways... So yes I know Canada. I use to listen to the CBC a lot.
Are you aware that there is a very large and active film and television industry in Vancouver? "The X Files" and "Millennium" are filmed here. Would you consider working in Vancouver?
Well as I've said, I've already said that. I'll work anywhere. I knew that the Canadian industry was thriving - I've got a friend of mine up in Toronto who's busy all the time - and I know a lot Canadian actors here in the UK who were part of the North American actors pool here, and they're now shooting back to Canada to do little projects, whereas before they use to go to Hollywood to pick up something. I would certainly do something in Canada. I travel. I live with a suitcase packed.
What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
I use to. I use to. I use to be very interested in D.I.Y. [Ed. do it yourself] work. But, I had a very large old house in Warwickshire, a little village in Warwickshire, which I spent years D.I.Y-ing every spare minute was devoted to this thing, but as a result of a divorce after 33 years, so as a result of that, I no longer do what I did. So, I don't really have any hobbies. I read, watch a little television, walk, but I don't physically do anything like that.
Have you done any directing or producing, or is this even something that interests you?
Well I haven't professionally done any directing or producing. Well I did - I got together and organized a reading of a play, which is what a lot of actors do to get a property aired - and I was in a little Clifford O'Dettes play that I was interested in a couple of years back. I got a couple of actors together. I rented a theatre and we held a reading, but nothing came of it. But I really don't even have the desire to do anything like that. I just enjoy what I do.
Besides television, what other mediums have you worked in and which do you prefer?
Well I've worked in just about every medium that its possible to work in - I'm doing these new CD-ROMs now, I do voices on these various characters - but the medium that I really prefer is motion pictures. I just love being on a film set, usually on location. There's a buzz about it. People say "ah well its not live!" you know and all the rest of it, but I'm at this moment at the Royal National Theatre in Arthur Miller's "Death of A Salesman". The audience never gets bored. They sit there. They never shout at you, "louder" or, "get off". But when you're working on a film, you have your director, if it's not working he just says cut. No, no, no. You're doing that wrong Eddie. If you know what I'm saying, there's this immediacy there. People say you miss the immediacy of the audience. You got a film crew, 50, 75 or 100 guys, that's your fellow professionals. They're all looking at you. They're all doing their craft. The carpenters built your set, the electricians has put up the lights, the lighting man has lit it for you, the cameraman is looking at you - and as an actor you've got to get on with your job. You can't let those guys down.
You've been associated with several science fiction series and movies during your career; what's your opinion of science fiction, of science fiction television series? Is it a genre you watch?
No. I don't have any interest in it, or desire to watch it. I do dip in and out of it - this is going to sound horrendous I know, but I really must say it. I really don't understand the excitement generated by "The X Files". I've met a couple of those people from the series - they're charming actors - but, I just don't understand it. I just don't understand the fascination for the genre.
How do you feel for being remembered for a role you portrayed over 25 years ago?
I don't mind at all.
What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to continue to be in the entertainment industry?
Yes I do plan to continue - until they find out about me, I shall carry on. [Laughs] As I said, I'm booked now for about a year when we finish this play at the National Theatre on the 22nd of April. I have a couple of things in the wind, which are not signed, sealed and delivered. But I've been about over 30 years a professional actor, and I hope to carry on for another 30.
Finally, is there anything you'd like to say to your fans in Canada and to the fans of UFO?
Well.... here we tend to get mawkish - as I've said I'm not a fan of sci-fi, but I really mean this - I say this all the time - I am humbled by the thought of something that I did all those years ago, in the course of my professional life, is applauded and people are interested in it and write to me, and want to meet with me at conventions and listen to me etc. I am generally truly humbled by that. I have an eldest daughter whose a policewoman, and I think she does more for society to help out the world than myself for example, the sort of narcissistic actor who does something like this. Or, brings entertainment to people. But in terms of social of necessity - take a nurse or a doctor or a teacher, somebody like that who's really helping people out in society; I am genuinely humbled and greatful to all these folks and I just like to give back as much as I possibly can and I hope that this interview will indicate that.