Here is a transcription of a magazine article which appeared in issue #5 (May 1977) of STARLOG magazine. This article was followed by a 4 page UFO episode guide, which is not transcribed here.
Please note that there are a several factual errors in this article, and here are some corrections for some of the more glaring ones:
There are also some typos and other minor errors in this article, and these have been left intact.
- UFO was not conceived in 1972 -- more like 1968 or years earlier.
- UFO did not stop shooting in 1973 -- it stopped shooting October 1970.
- TIMELASH was not the last show produced -- THE LONG SLEEP was.
- TIMELASH was aired in the USA during its initial run, despite the claim here that CBS refused to air it.
- The Aliens could indeed breathe in our atmosphere, despite what one of the photo captions says. The liquid in their helmets was green, not blue.
- It's Alec Freeman, not Alex!
Before the Moon was blasted out of orbit and sent hurtling through deep space in the year 1999, the Earth fought a desperate secret war. That crucial, quiet struggle took place in the mid-1980's and apparently was successful for our planet. Commander John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha owes a big debt to Commander Ed Straker of SHADO for his one-year war with invading alien forces...
UFO: The Operation Was A Success, But the Patient Died
By Howard ZimmermanIn 1972 the executive-producing husband and wife team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson conceived an idea for a live-action science fiction TV series. Their "line producer" on the project was longtime friend Reg Hill who had worked with them previously on various animated TV series using Hill's computerized invention, Supermarionation. This system allowed for the synchronization of a pre-recorded sound track with the stop-action facial movements of marionettes, giving them an extremely life-like manner.
Using miniature sets and various animation processes, Hill and the Andersons scored big with such shows as Supercar, Fireball XL-5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds.
The live action project was to be their most ambitious undertaking. It was to be packed with action, involving the life and death struggle for survival of the human race. It premiered in September 1972 and stopped shooting the next year with twenty-six episodes in the can. It was called UFO.
The general plot centered on an insidious invasion of mysterious aliens from another plant and the defense efforts of Earth governments. Banded together, they formed a highly sophisticated and multi-faceted organization known as SHADO--Secret Headquarters, Alien Defense Organization. The focal point of operations was Control, located underground, beneath a SHADO-owned movie studio somewhere in England. The head of SHADO was an American military man, Commander Ed Straker (played by Ed Bishop).
Straker was also head of the bogus film studio which conveniently kept him near Control, or rather on top of it, most of the time. Straker's entire office physically descended directly into Control. From there, Straker had access to all of Earth's UFO defenses. The fist line of defense was SID--Space Intruder Detector, the most highly sophisticated computer satellite ever launched. SID's strategic (and classified) orbit allowed it to spot any UFO's heading toward Earth. It would then inform Control of the speed, trajectory, destination, and estimated time of arrival. SID's computers would also decide if the UFO's should be attacked by Moonbase Interceptors of Earth-based forces, such as Skydiver.
Skydiver was an atomic submarine with a jet-fighter attached to its nose. The fighter could be launched from underwater to attack an invader either in the atmosphere or above it. Or, if a UFO made it through air defenses and landed in an ocean, several Skydivers could converge on it and destroy it. If a UFO landed in England (from time to time they did), awesome tank-like vehicles called Mobiles would be dispatched to handle it.
The show was built on fast-paced action, development and exploration of the main characters, suspense, intrigue, sudden betrayal, and graphic spectacular, special effects. Especially special effects.
Precisely because of their prior production experience with puppets and models the special effects proved to be duck soup for Reg Hill and Gerry Anderson. All of the scenes using special effects were filmed in miniature and in slow-motion. Having access to the Models they created for the Supermarionation series, Hill and Anderson used them all (except for the Supercar). Reg Hill interchanged parts and customized new designs. When the old models didn't cover their needs, Hill created new ones. He would hire a free-lance auto designer and together they would draw up schematic plans. From these, plexiglass molds for the models would be manufactured and when these had served their purpose, Hill would use their parts to customize more new ones. Nothing was ever wasted--except in the first few shows.
One of the main effects was a closeup of a UFO being blown to bits. The UFO models spun on their own gyros, and after blowing up a few of them Hill and Anderson decided that this was wasteful, not to mention expensive. A bit of film magic was substituted. They inter-cut a shot of an electrical flash produced by exploding magnesium bits. The outward thrust of the burning pieces was dramatically captured in slow motion to create the effect of a gigantic explosion.
The only full-sized sets were the interiors of Control and Moonbase, and of course, the studios. That proved to be no problem either, as Hill simply took his cameras outside and shot Century 21's Elstree Studios in London, where UFO was actually filmed. There were no full-scale Skydivers, Interceptors, or Mobiles--only cockpit or interior mock-ups.
Perhaps the show's most impressive special effect was the undersea launching of Skydiver's jet fighter. Again, it was done in miniature with cameras shooting into a ten-foot square water tank. The Skydiver model sat at the bottom on the "ocean floor." The jet was outfitted with special smokeless engines that gave off a bright flame under water. On radio command, the "jet" engines would ignite, and the plane would leave Skydiver travelling along a concealed rail. Then the jet would be lifted upward, guided by invisible wires attached to the nose and both wings. In a dramatic burst, the jet would break the surface (followed by above-water cameras) and soar into the air.
Preparations for miniature effects of this sort frequently take months of planning, days of actual set-up, and are shot in a matter of several second. The final screen effect is grand and impressive due to the slow motion effect and other optical enhancements added in the film lab.
The model Mobiles were a foot long and weighted twenty pounds each. Hill found that certain of their parts could easily be used to customize new models. He also made extensive use of the Thunderbird models.
Aside from the special effects, one of the most interesting aspects of the series was the mystery-shrouded aliens. They were constantly kidnapping Earth people for a variety of purposes. They converted them into mindless tools to be used against SHADO, took their internal organs to help wounded aliens, controlled them telepathically, and turned them into living bombs.
In one episode an alien was captured, but viewers never found out what Control learned before he died. Only one deep-space probe was launched to determine the alien's home planet; it failed. The aliens knew about and infiltrated SHADO almost at will, but how they did it was never made clear. They were humanoid, but breathed a blue liquid (or at least the captured-and-converted Earthmen did). They never attacked in overwhelming force and yet continually succeeded in penetrating Earth's defenses. In short, many questions remained unanswered about the alien force when the show was cancelled.
In the last episode produced, "Timelash," the invaders used a device that froze the passage of time; a potent weapon in the hands of the enemy. Straker was forced to keep injecting himself with stimulants to keep his body from falling into suspended animation. In an incredibly tense ending, he managed to single-handedly destroy the UFO that caused the effect. Oddly enough, this last show caused the series' only censorship controversy. Apparently the sight of Commander Straker "shooting up" like an addict was too much for the CBS censors. The episode never aired until the series was re-run in syndication.
UFO has been in syndication for several years, and is enjoying growing popularity. The fact that this show is the direct ancestor of Space:1999 has something to do with it, but curiosity alone is not the full explanation. UFO started out with all the ingredients necessary for popularity. Perhaps, as they say, the public wasn't ready for it five years ago. There's a new audience seeing it now and if we can judge by the thousands of requests this magazine has received for a UFO episode guide they are enjoying it as much as its deep space descendant.
This article is 4 pages long and featured these 7 photos:
- Color photo of Straker, Freeman and Ford in SHADO HQ -- Caption: "Commander Ed Straker (standing left) and Colonel Alex Freeman (right) confer at the communications console in Control, SHADO's underground headquarters. UFO information was channeled thru here."
- B&W photo of a SHADO Mobile in the forest -- Caption: "Even though UFO was a 'live-action' show, the key to its initial success was the use of special effects and miniaturization. The Mobile pictured below is only 12" long."
- B&W photo of Moonbase -- Caption: "Unlike Moonbase Alpha, Shado's Moonbase was a small installation. So small in fact, that even though it was located on the near side of the Moon, it was undetectable from the Earth by ordinary means."
- B&W photo of Interceptors ready for takeoff -- Caption: "Three Moonbase interceptors rest on their launching pads just prior to take-off. The strange looking object attached to the nose of each one is a space torpedo. Interceptors were used as SHADO's first line of defense against deep-space UFO attacks on either Moonbase or the Earth."
- B&W photo of Alien holding gun in forest -- Caption: "Although the UFO's occupants were physically humanoid, they were unable to breathe in our atmosphere. Instead they 'breathed' a dark blue liquid which circulated through their space suits. Captured humans were occasionally converted into liquid-breathers and added to the alien invasion forces."
- B&W Photo of Lt. Ellis and Harrington -- Caption: "Lieutenant Gay Ellis (standing) was in charge of SHADO's Moonbase operations. Joan Harrington (seated) is monitoring a radar relay from the computer satellite SID---Space Intruder Detector. The scope shows a formation of UFO's on their way to Earth."
- Color photo of UFO landed in forest -- Caption: "A UFO has successfully penetrated SHADO's defenses and landed in Canada. It was always a tense situation when this occurred. Mobile ground forces had to be immediately dispatched before the aliens could cause damage or endanger the populace."