This is an interview with Ed Bishop which appeared in issue#55 (February 1982) of the American magazine "Starlog".
Over the past 10 years, his stern, no-nonsense character known as Commander Straker has become a cult hero to fans of the syndicated Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series, UFO . In real life, however, the only thing that Ed Bishop shares in common with his TV counterpart is his dedication to his work.
Commander Straker Speaks!
an interview with ED BISHOP
By DAVID HIRSH
The Brooklyn-born actor began his professional career on July 15, 1961, when he performed the role of a gregarious, happy-go- lucky American sailor in the play Look Homeward Angel at the Pembroke Theater in Croydon, England. Bishop had arrived in the United Kingdom sometime earlier, having received a Fulbright Scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) after studying drama for two years at Boston University.
He had every intention of returning to the States after the LAMDA training, but additional work in such plays as Bye, Bye Birdie , Little Mary Sunshine and the West End (England's Broadway) production of Look Homeward Angel temporarily postponed these plans. Eventually, Bishop did return to the States for the Broadway production of The Rehearsal (in which he performed with an English accent) and the Boston production of Man and Superman . The latter play brought him back to England in 1964 when it went on international tour.
Besides his stage work, Bishop's early years in England included appearances in such films as Steve McQueen's The War Lover and Richard Lester's Mouse in the Moon (in which Bishop played an American astronaut).
Working with PuppetsBishop has his agent to thank for landing the role of the voice of Captain Blue in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's 1967 puppet series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterions . "There was an actor in the series named Cy Grant," Bishop recalls. "We happened to have the same agent and Sylvia Anderson had called to ask about him. The girl at the agency said, "You people use a lot of Americans on your shows and we have this American actor." Sylvia told her to send me along. It's just as simple as that."
For the next eight months, Bishop reported to the recording studio twice each month to tape two episodes a day. "We did an episode in the morning and an episode after lunch. They were very, very relaxed sessions," he reports. "We would all gather in the studio and record together. This was one of the innovations of Gerry's work. Normally, other puppet programs would do the puppets first and then have the actors match their voices to the puppets. Gerry's people made the puppets work to the persona of the actor. They were really done at a high professional standard. We were all amazed by it."
Once the actors and actresses had been selected to supply the character voices, the next step was to create the puppet characters themselves. Since the characters for Captain Scarlet were to have a very real human appearance, many of the puppets were designed after their real-life counterparts. Although Captain Blue resembles Bishop (blue eyes and all), the puppet was given blond hair, a move which may have influenced the look of Commander Straker two years later.
"When we finished the series," Bishop remembers with a smile, "I asked Gerry if I could have the puppet as a souvenir. I was told that the puppet had cost about 500 guineas, which is roughly 3 or 4,000 pounds sterling today, because of the electronics incorporated into the thing." Did Bishop ever get the puppet? "No," he confesses with a laugh.
Following Captain Scarlet , Bishop continued his work in SF- films with roles in 2001: A Space Odyssey , Battle Beneath the Earth and the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice .
He then returned to work on Gerry Anderson's first live- action, theatrical production, Doppelganger (known in the U.S. as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun ).
"As a matter of fact, I was not in the original casting," Bishop explains. "I took over the part of David Poulson after they had been shooting it for about a week. They were looking at the dailies and they found some problem in that this guy they had originally cast looked and sounded so similar to Patrick Wymark (in the role of Jason Webb). I was brought in with Shane Rimmer (who did the voice of Scott Tracy in Thunderbirds ) and we tested for the director, Robert Parrish."
Commander StrakerSurprisingly, despite the fact that his TV series UFO went into production in 1969, just after Doppelganger , at no time during the filming of the movie did Anderson ever discuss the series with Bishop. Thinking back, Bishop recalls the day he was asked to play Commander Straker : "My next door neighbor was building a garage and he asked me if I'd help him unload about 4,000 bricks off this truck. It was a hot summer's day and we were sweating to death when my phone rang. It was Gerry Anderson's office asking me to come out immediately to Pinewood. I asked the girl what it was about and she just replied, "Something to your advantage."
"Now, you can't deny a call like that and it was a hell of a lot better than the bricks. So, I hopped into the car and shot out to the studio and met Gerry. He really had the project more or less sewn up by then. He had shown Lew Grade the rushes of Doppelganger and Grade had approved the casting of the central character. Of course, I was delighted!" (For a complete rundown of UFO plus a complete episode guide, see STARLOG #5.)
Sylvia Anderson was in charge of designing the entire "Century 21 Look" of UFO . With her team of artists and costume designers, they set about creating the appearance of SHADO's commander-in-chief. This process included the transformation of Bishop's own light brown hair into the familiar short-cropped platinum-blond style. "We started out cutting my own hair and coloring it, but every 10 days I'd have to get the roots done and I was worried about the damage to my own hair the heavy bleaching would cause. I asked if there was any alternative and they ended up making this sort of helmet/wig. There were about three made because one was in the cleaners all the time," Bishop laughs.
During the following months, Bishop found his fictional life as Ed Straker to be an interesting one. "Straker was certainly single-minded - dedicated almost to the point of obsession. In fact, I think there are probably people like him and they are very necessary. Theirs is not a very pleasant job, but they get it done.
"I guess if you analyze the SHADO set-up, it's kind of a fascist organization with a law unto itself...answerable to practically no one. Anarchic, despotic, but somehow, it was working for the total good."
Initially, the series was shot at the MGM Studios in Borehamwood, shooting site for the Kubrick classic, 2001 . The studio was shut down at the end of 1969, forcing the UFO production company to postpone shooting after 18 episodes and look for a new home. Bishop feels that some of the best episodes were among the last eight shot at Pinewood Studios after the four-month shutdown.
"During that time, Gerry had a complete revamp. The final episodes were very fast moving. The acting, the dialogue, the cutting were all a lot quicker and the storylines much stronger. They stretched the brain buds a lot more with time warps and such. We got away from being stuck on Moonbase with guys scrambling down the laundry chutes each week. We got out of the studio a lot more and on location. The storylines were into the more mind-bending aspects of science-fiction, which I do enjoy watching whenever I do go to science-fiction films, which isn't a great deal.
"I wouldn't call myself a science-fiction fan any more than a western fan, but I like both Close Encounters of the Third Kind and High Noon . I like movies in general. It's just that I rarely go to the movies."
It is interesting to note that two of the Pinewood-produced UFO episodes were of such an adult nature that they were pre- empted from the program's late afternoon time slot. Both "Timelash" and "The Long Sleep" (which was pre-empted in the United States during its first run on CBS) contained heavy drug-use scenes involving major characters and were deemed unsuitable for the projected young audience.
"Oh, I think the networks were right in doing what they did," comments the actor. "The series was packaged as a children's show here in England. The repeats were shown at 9:00 Sunday morning. Definitely a children's slot. Looking at it now, as a father of four, I think it was a wise move. They did, in fact, show these episodes in England, but very late at night. About 11:30."
Of the 26 episodes shot, Bishop likes to single out the episode called "Mindbender." In that story, SHADO HQ is transformed into a film set when Straker falls under alien mind control. The Commander is seen wandering from Skydiver to Moonbase control with lights and camera crews clearly visible.
"That episode was a lot of fun," Bishop says with dry sarcasm. "It was like trying to comb your hair with five mirrors. I kept forgetting which camera to look in. I remember hacking through on that."
After "UFO"Despite the fact that CBS picked up the option for a second season, SHADO HQ closed down in 1970 and the cast and crew dispersed. Rest was certainly not on Bishop's mind as he joined Gerry Anderson the following year to guest star as a Vietnam veteran who suffers a mental breakdown in "The First Circle" episode of The Protectors , with Robert Vaughn and Tony Anholt. Bishop also spent some time job hunting in California where he did some voices for Filmation's Star Trek Animated series. "As a matter of fact," he points out, "I was just about to leave when I did that job. When I got back to England, they called me up to do some more, but obviously, I was here so it didn't work out."
Bishop joined his former UFO co-star, Michael Billington, in the film Silver Dream Racer (which Billington wrote), and appeared with Shane Rimmer in the cast of Sean Connery's last James Bond adventure, Diamonds Are Forever . Since that time, Bishop has found himself working from time to time for BBC Radio and doing voice-overs for commercials. He played the immortal gumshoe, Phillip Marlowe, in six 90-minute radio dramas some years back; he did the narration for Gerry Anderson's 1975 NBC-TV special, The Day After Tomorrow and the voice of a puppet character in the 1977 Jif Dessert Topping commercial Alien Attack .
"Gerry is a very loyal person," Bishop explains. "I'd work for him again at the drop of a hat."
Of all the media in which he has performed, Bishop enjoys filmmaking the most. "I love working on location. Film people speak a language all their own. There's a certain camaraderie when you're working on a picture. It's like no other feeling in the world. I've worked with French, German, English and American crews and they're all the same. They crack the same jokes. It's a fraternity and everybody respects everyone else. I love the difficulty of it... shooting in the rain and snow. I was on one picture where it got so cold that the cameras froze! Love all the hard work, doing the stunts. I love the magic.
"I would say radio would be my next favorite, then stage, and lastly, TV. The scripts you get today on TV are like moving wallpaper... very unrewarding."
Bishop recently completed shooting a six-part TV mini-series for London Weekend Television entitled Whoops, Apocalypse! He plays an Edward R. Murrow/Walter Cronkite-type TV news commentator named Jay Garrick who reports on the state of the world after an accidental nuclear attack in this black comedy. "During the course of the program they keep cutting away from the story to the newsroom to bring you (the audience) up to date on things. Barry Morse is also in the series. We swapped many a story about our work with Gerry Anderson. Barry plays Cyclops, the president of the Universe. We did it in front of an audience and they really enjoyed it."
Ed Bishop is clearly pleased with his success since UFO . "Right now I do a lot of voice-over commercial work. About three to five jobs a week. I'm probably among the busiest dozen or so voice-over actors in England. It's what I fall back on if there isn't any acting work or if I don't want to do a particular job. A man's success in this business is not measured by what he's done, but by what he can afford to turn down. And commercials have been very good to me."
This article is three pages long and features these 6 photos:
- A 1/6 page color photo of Straker & Lake in TIMELASH next to a 1/8 page color photo of Straker on Moonbase. Caption: Left: "Col. Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham) and Cmdr. Ed Straker (Ed Bishop) find themselves battling a traitorous SHADO officer who can control time at will in the UFO episode, 'Timelash.' A large portion of the episode was filmed on the studio backlot. Below: Some UFO episodes brought the Commander to Moonbase to confront the alien menace."
- A 3/8 page B&W photo of Ed Bishop with crewcut next to a 3/8 page B&W photo of the Captain Blue puppet. Caption: "Left: Bishop wore his own hair color when he played Colonel Stewart to George Kennedy's General Patton in Brass Target for the 1979 MGM film. Above: Note the resemblance in the face of Captain Blue from Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ."
- Two 3/8 page B&W photos of Ed in subsequent movie roles. Caption: Besides the tough heroes, Bishop has played his share of unbalanced fellows. In 'The First Circle' episode of The Protectors (top), he was a Vietnam vet and in Pets (above), a 1973 film made in the U.S.A., he appeared as a man who 'collects' young ladies."