Get ready to catch up with SHADO this month as The Horror Channel shows the entire first (and only) series of Gerry Anderson’s classic Seventies sci-fi, UFO, whose second season eventually turned into Space: 1999.
Earth is being visited by aliens from a dying planet in UFO, who are abducting humans and harvesting their organs for their own bodies. Earth’s defence organisation – a secret, high-tech international military agency called SHADO – suspect that a full-blown invasion is being planned. Called into covert action, SHADO wages a spectacular battle to prevent the alien takeover, which must remain hidden from the public.
The series was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and produced by the Andersons and TV mogul Lew Grade back in 1970. It was Gerry’s first real-life production after working with puppets for Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet throughout the Sixties.
“Gerry had spent much of the Sixties wanting to get out of the puppet rut he found himself in,” SciFiNow writer Steve O’Brien says in our Complete Guide To Space: 1999. “His big flesh-and-blood break came in 1970 with UFO, about a secret(ish) military organisation, SHADO, set up to defend Earth from aliens. The series appeared to finally give him the international smash he had always dreamed of (even Thunderbirds hadn’t caught fire in the US).
“With good ratings across the Atlantic, a second series was a given. However, ITC’s New York office had noted that the stories set on SHADO’s moonbase rated noticeably better than the Earth-based episodes. Couldn’t the Andersons retool the series and jettison the Earth locales? Intrigued by the challenge, Gerry got to work, flash-forwarding 20 years and shifting the action to an expanded SHADO moonbase. ‘UFO: 1999’, as it was being dubbed, soon began pre-production, with designer Keith Wilson cooking up designs of the new central set.
“All seemed well, until the Andersons were called in. UFO: 1999 was cancelled. Unwilling to waste the money and man-hours that had already gone into it, the Andersons put forward a fresh proposal, unconnected to UFO. Abe Mantel, ITC’s tough-talking man in New York, was keen, but told the husband-and-wife producers that he didn’t want a series featuring people “having tea in the Midlands”, and forbade any Earth-bound settings. Gerry responded that he would “blow up the Earth” in the opening episode. Mantel warned him that might scare viewers away.
“Okay, I’ll blow up the Moon then,” came the pragmatic response.”
Though just a season long, UFO is one of the best of its genre (read our review here) and combines the remarkable talents of the Andersons with those of special effects director Derek Meddings. It also includes a stellar cast comprising Ed Bishop, Michael Billington and George Sewell.
Now you can revisit (or discover for the first time) all 26 episodes of the series as The Horror Channel shows the cult classic on weekdays at 6pm. Find out more at the website here.
The Horror Channel will be showing UFO weekdays from 6pm starting on 20 October.