The show’s basic premise is that in 1980 (a date indicated in the opening credits), Earth is being visited and attacked by aliens from a dying planet and humans are being covertly harvested for their organs by the aliens. The show’s main cast of characters are members of a secret, high-technology international agency called “SHADO” (an acronym for Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) established to defend Earth and humanity against the mysterious aliens and learn more about them, while at the same time keeping the threat of an alien invasion hidden from the public.
The extraterrestrial spacecraft can readily cross the vast distances between their planet and Earth at many times the speed of light (abbreviated and pronounced as “SOL”; e.g., “SOL one decimal seven” is 1.7 times the speed of light), but are too small to carry more than a few crew members. Their time on station is limited: UFOs can only survive for a couple of days in Earth’s atmosphere before they deteriorate and finally explode. The UFOs can survive for far longer underwater; one episode, “Reflections in the Water”, deals with the discovery of a secret undersea alien base, which shows one UFO flying straight out of an extinct volcano, which Straker describes as “a back door to the Atlantic”. A special underwater version of the standard UFO design is seen in “Sub-Smash”. In flight they are surrounded by horizontally spinning vanes and emit a distinctive pulsing electronic whine that sounds like a “Shoooe-Wheeeh!” (produced by series composer Barry Gray on an ondes Martenot). The craft is armed with a laser-type weapon, and conventional explosive warheads can destroy it. The personal arms of the aliens resemble shiny metal submachine guns; these have a lower rate of fire than those used by SHADO. Later episodes such as “The Cat with Ten Lives” show the aliens using other weapons, such as a small device that paralyses victims.
Notably for science fiction, the alien race is never given a proper name, either by themselves or by human beings; they are simply referred to as “the aliens”. They are humanoid in appearance, and the autopsy of the first alien captured reveals that they are harvesting organs from the bodies of abducted humans to prolong their lifespans. However, the later episode “The Cat with Ten Lives” suggests that these “humanoids” are actually beings subject to alien mind control, and one “alien” body recovered was suspected of being completely “homo sapiens”, “possessed” by one of the alien minds. Their faces are stained green by the hue of liquid breathing, which is believed to cushion their lungs against the extreme acceleration of interstellar flight; this liquid is contained in their helmets. To protect their eyes the aliens wear opaque sclera contact lenses with small pinholes for vision. The show’s opening sequence begins by showing the image of one of these contact lenses being removed from an obviously real eye with a small suction cup, even though the lens is not shown in contact with the eye. The entire lens-removal sequence is shown in the pilot episode.
Only two of the alien suits were made, so at no point in the series are more than two of the aliens seen on screen at any one time. In the episode “Ordeal”, Paul Foster is carried by two aliens while he is wearing an alien space suit, but one of those two aliens is always off-screen when Foster is on-screen.
The alien spacesuit costumes were made of red spandex. At the start of production the alien spacesuits were ornamented with brass chain mesh, as seen in the episode “Survival”. Later this was replaced by silvery panels as in the image. In reality, the dark vertical bands on the sides of the helmets were slits meant to allow the actors to breathe.
To defend against the aliens, a secret organisation called “SHADO”, the Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation, is established. Operating under the cover (as well as under the premises) of the Harlington-Straker Studios movie studio in England, SHADO is headed by Commander Edward Straker (Ed Bishop), a former United States Air Force colonel and astronaut, who poses as the studio’s chief executive.
Establishing the main character as a studio executive was a cost-saving move by the producers: the studio was the actual studio where the series was being filmed, originally the MGM-British Studios and later Pinewood Studios – although the Harlington-Straker studio office block seen throughout the series was actually Neptune House, a building at the former British National Studios in Borehamwood that was owned by Associated TeleVision. Pinewood’s studio buildings and streetscapes were used extensively in later episodes, particularly “Timelash” and “Mindbender”, the latter featuring scenes that showed the behind-the-scenes workings of the “UFO” sets when Straker briefly finds himself hallucinating that he is an actor on a TV series and all his SHADO colleagues are likewise actors. In “The Man Who Came Back”, the main set for “The Devils”, then in production at Pinewood, can be seen in the background of several scenes.
Typical of Anderson productions, the studio-as-cover idea was both practical and cost-effective for the production and provided a ready-made vehicle for the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. It removed the need to build an expensive exterior set for the SHADO base and combined the all-important “secret” cover (concealment and secrecy are always central themes in Anderson dramas) with the trademark ring of at least nominal plausibility. A studio was a business where unusual events and routines would not be remarkable or even noticed. Comings and goings at odd times, the movement of vehicles, equipment, people and material would not create undue interest and could easily be explained away as set construction, theatrical property, or extras.
Another Anderson “leitmotif” was the concept of the mechanical conveyor, e.g. the automatic boarding tubes of the “Stingray” and the Thunderbird craft. In “UFO”, this appeared in the guise of Straker’s “secret” office, which doubled as a lift (elevator) that takes him down to the SHADO control centre located beneath the studio. The pilots of the space interceptors and the submersible “Sky One” jet interceptor slide down boarding chutes into their craft. The interceptors then rise from their hangar via elevating platforms to a launch pad disguised as a lunar crater. This was a carry-over from the earlier marionette series where it was used due to the difficulty in getting puppets to walk and get them into cockpits.
SHADO has a variety of high-tech hardware and vehicles at its disposal to implement a layered defence of Earth. Early warnings of alien attack would come from “SID”, the Space Intruder Detector, a computerised tracking satellite that constantly scans for UFO incursions. The forward line of defence is “Moonbase“ from which the 3 Lunar “Interceptor“ spacecraft, carrying nuclear missiles, are launched. The second line of defence includes “Skydiver”, a submarine mated with the submersible, undersea-launched “Sky One“ interceptor aircraft, which attacks UFOs in Earth’s atmosphere. The last line of defence are ground units including the armed, Infantry fighting vehicle-like SHADO “Mobiles”, fitted with caterpillar tracks. Special effects, as in all Anderson’s marionette shows, were supervised by Derek Meddings, while the vehicles were designed by Meddings and his assistant, Mike Trim.
The show’s concept was unusually dark for its time: the basic premise was that Earth had not simply been visited by extraterrestrial visitors, but indeed was under brutal alien attack, and that alien invaders were abducting humans to use as involuntary organ transplant donors. A later episode, “The Cat With Ten Lives”, contains a sinister plot point which suggests that the UFO pilots are not humanoid aliens at all, but are in fact human abductees under the control of the alien intelligences, suggesting that, as in “Captain Scarlet”, the aliens, in the words of the character Dr Jackson, “may have no physical being at all and therefore need a container, a vehicle - our bodies”.
The show also featured realistic, believable relationships between the human characters to a far greater extent than usual in a typical science fiction series of the time, showing the clear influence of American programmes like “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek: The Original Series” and British action series such as “Danger Man”. One early episode, “Computer Affair”, suggested an interracial romance between two continuing characters - something that was uncommon in British TV of the period - while others showed the heroes making mistakes with sometimes fatal consequences. Furthermore, relatively few episodes of the series actually had happy or (for the characters) satisfying endings.
The episode “Confetti Check A-OK” is almost entirely devoted to the breakdown of Straker’s marriage under the strain of maintaining the secrecy of the classified nature of his duties. “A Question of Priorities” takes this exploration further, and hinges on Straker having to make the life-or-death choice of whether to divert a SHADO aircraft to deliver life-saving medical supplies to his critically injured son, or allow the aircraft to continue on its mission to attempt a last-chance intercept against an incoming UFO. Two key images from “A Question of Priorities” - Straker’s son being struck down and his ex-wife declaring she never wants to see him again - are repeated in flashback in 2 subsequent episodes, “Sub Smash” and “Mindbender”, suggesting that Straker remains haunted by these unresolved emotional issues.
Another episode, “The Square Triangle”, centres on a woman and her lover who plan to murder her husband. When they accidentally kill an alien from a downed UFO instead, SHADO intervenes and doses the guilty pair with amnesia drugs. (This was decades ahead of a similar story device in “Men in Black”, and it was one that was deployed for similar reasons.) Straker realises, however, that the drugs will not affect their basic motivation and, worse, he cannot reveal the truth to local legal authorities. The end credits of this episode run over a scene set in the near future, showing the woman visiting her husband’s grave and then walking away to meet her lover.
Some critics complained that the emphasis on down-to-earth relationships weakened the show’s science fiction premise and were also a means of saving money on special effects. The money-saving argument might have been true to a limited extent, but the Andersons made a virtue of necessity. They had always hoped to direct live-action TV drama, and although the marionette shows helped them develop impressive skills in effects and scripting, they had always considered them as essentially being a way of keeping in work and earning money while they tried to break into “real” TV drama. Others countered that the characters were more well-rounded than in other science fiction shows and that science fiction concepts and special effects in themselves did not preclude realistic action and interaction and believable, emotionally engaging plots. Ultimately, the mix of dark human drama with traditional science fiction adventure is probably the reason for the enduring cult popularity of “UFO” and what sets it apart from the rest of TV SF series. For example, the time-freeze plot of the episode “Timelash” is similar to “The Outer Limits” episode “The Premonition”. But “UFO” adds a drama twist: Straker repeatedly injects a drug (X 50 stimulant) to remain awake during the time freeze, which results in him being hospitalised in SHADO’s medical centre. The ending not only shows him lying in bed recovering from the harmful effects of drug use, but has a subtext that the plot of the episode may, in fact, have been a drug-induced delusion.
“UFO” confused broadcasters in both Britain and the United States, who could not decide if it was a programme for adults or for children - In the UK, the first series was originally shown in the 5.15pm ‘tea-time’ slot on Saturdays, and on Saturday mornings during an early repeat, by both London Weekend and the-then South-East franchisee, Southern Television, which began broadcasting the first series almost two months before the London area. The fact that the companies associated with the Andersons, such as APFilms and Century 21, were primarily associated with children’s programming did not help matters. This confusion and erratic broadcast schedules are considered contributing factors in its cancellation, although “UFO” is credited with opening the door to moderately successful runs of later live-action, adult-oriented programming by Anderson such as “The Protectors” and “Space: 1999”.
The special effects, supervised by Derek Meddings, were of the highest quality and outstanding for their day, given the relatively limited resources at the production’s disposal.
In a refinement of the underwater effect developed for “Stingray”, Meddings’ team devised a disconcerting effect - a double-walled visor for the alien space helmets, which could be gradually filled from the bottom up with green-dyed water. When filmed from the appropriate angle it produced a very convincing illusion of the helmet filling up and submerging the wearer’s head.
Second series and “Space: 1999”Edit
Two years after the 26 episodes were completed, the series was syndicated on American television and the ratings were initially promising enough to prompt ITC to commission a second season of “UFO”. As the Moon-based episodes appeared to have proven more popular than the Earth-based stories, ITC insisted that in the new season, the action would take place entirely on the Moon. Gerry Anderson proposed a format in which SHADO Moonbase had been greatly enlarged to become the organisation’s main headquarters, and pre-production on “UFO 2” began with extensive research and design for the new Moonbase. These developments were not without precedent in the earlier episodes: a subplot of “Kill Straker!” sees Straker negotiating with SHADO’s financial supporters for funding to build more moonbases within 10 years. However, when ratings for the syndicated broadcasts in America dropped towards the end of the run, ITC cancelled the second season plans. Unwilling to let the “UFO 2” pre-production work go to waste, Anderson instead offered ITC a new series idea, unrelated to “UFO”, in which the Moon would be blown out of Earth orbit taking the Moonbase survivors with it. This proposal developed into “Space: 1999”.
“UFO” had a large ensemble cast, and many of its members would come and go during the course of the series, with a number of actors - most notably George Sewell and Gabrielle Drake - leaving the series during the production break that occurred when the series had to change studios midway through production. It is established early on that SHADO personnel rotate between positions, so the occasional disappearance of characters - some of whom would later return in other positions - fits in with the concept of the series. Also, due to the scheduling of the series, which did not reflect the production order, some episodes featuring departed cast members were not actually aired until late in the series, giving the impression that no major cast changes occurred. Among the major actors, only Ed Bishop appeared in all episodes. These are the major recurring characters in the series:
Commander Edward StrakerEdit
Commander in Chief Edward Straker, portrayed by Ed Bishop, is a former United States Air Force Colonel, pilot and astronaut originally from Boston, Massachusetts, who organised SHADO following a series of UFO attacks in 1970. Straker masquerades as the head of Harlington-Straker Film Studios, SHADO Headquarters being located directly below the studio. He might or might not have been involved with the United States Air Force’s Project Blue Book; this is never made clear in any of the instalments.
He was married to Mary Nightingale in 1970, but they soon divorced after the birth of John, their son. Timeframes are never given for events before the series, but it would be reasonable to presume that their marriage had ended by the end of the flashback presented in “Confetti Check A-OK”. As if perhaps to show her opinion of Straker and his cold attitude, Mary registered their son as John Rutland, after his new stepfather, played by Philip Madoc.
In “A Question of Priorities”, John was later seriously injured when he was hit by a car and Straker, against his own rules, used a SHADO aircraft in order to fly in antibiotic drugs from America. But when his second-in-command, Col. Freeman, was forced to divert the plane in order to investigate some curious UFO-related events in Ireland, Straker’s sense of duty prevented him from informing and overruling him as to the plane’s original mission. The drugs arrived too late at the hospital, and John died. His ex-wife blamed him for their son’s death, and in the waiting room spat angrily at him, “I “never” want to see you again!”
In other sci-fi series, a character must face a challenge and overcome it, though the problem is invariably solved by hour’s end after which all is well. In contrast, the UFO series makes it clear that Ed Straker has had to completely sacrifice his personal life for the organisation, and that although he has learned to live with the fact, he has never forgotten the suffering it has caused to him and people he loved most. Moreover, it is repeatedly demonstrated that there is no realistic prospect of Straker’s circumstances ever improving, though if circumstances were different he would undoubtedly embrace change. Straker’s underlying tension and unhappiness is the foundation of his wounded character, exemplified most powerfully in the “Confetti Check A-OK” episode. The overall effect of Straker’s regularly referenced back story is to transform what could have been a stereotypical sci-fi character into one who is 3-dimensional, complex and sympathetic.
One relatively consistent element of Straker’s character is that he refuses to drink alcohol even though he has a fully stocked bar in his SHADO office. The very first instalment, “Identified”, refers to him possessing the willpower to avoid alcohol, yet in “Confetti Check A-OK”, he drinks champagne at his own wedding, and later to commemorate his wife’s pregnancy. Some fans have suggested he might be a recovering alcoholic. Interestingly, his friend Alec Freeman remarks in the episode “Identified”, “Sometimes I think drinking requires “more” self-control”. However, Straker is fond of cigars, and he can be seen smoking in some episodes. Straker suffers from claustrophobia, a fact known only to the SHADO doctors and Alec Freeman. This was a major sub-plot in the episode “Sub Smash”.
Col. Paul J. FosterEdit
Colonel Paul Foster (portrayed by Michael Billington) is introduced in the second episode, “Exposed”. A former test pilot, his plane was critically damaged when SHADO’s Sky One intercepted and destroyed a UFO in close proximity to Foster’s jet. His subsequent persistent investigation of the incident threatened to expose SHADO’s existence and Straker considered having him killed, but instead was impressed enough with Foster to offer him a position with SHADO. Foster appears to be something of a protégé of Straker’s, as he is shown in a number of major positions. He is Moonbase commander for a time (substituting for Lt. Ellis), is assigned to Skydiver for several months, and also receives a position of authority at SHADO HQ. He masquerades as one of Straker’s film producers in the studio and enjoyed a brief relationship with Col. Virginia Lake. Foster has the unique distinction of having once befriended one of the aliens, though he could not prevent the alien from being killed by SHADO personnel; his overall demeanour became noticeably more cynical after this event, which the instalment “Survival” chronicled.
Lt. Gay EllisEdit
Most often seen as Moonbase commander during the first half of the series, Lt. Ellis (Gabrielle Drake) is occasionally portrayed as lacking self-confidence, and at other times as a take-charge officer. She is briefly reassigned to SHADO HQ when it is suggested that she may be romantically involved with Interceptor pilot Mark Bradley (“Computer Affair”). She also appears to be attracted to Ed Straker, though nothing comes of this.
Col. Alec E. FreemanEdit
SHADO’s first officer until about the three-quarter point in the series (when actor George Sewell left following the change of studios, being later unavailable when series production resumed at Pinewood studios). In the French-dubbed version, Freeman is Canadian - Straker sometimes calls him amicably “The Canadian”. However, his nationality was never mentioned in the English-language show and his original British accent makes a Canadian origin doubtful. Initially depicted in the pilot episode, “Identified”, as being a cheerful ladies’ man in his early 40s, Freeman is thereafter a much more strait-laced, more serious character who is Straker’s right-hand man and, occasionally, his muscle. Everybody’s pal at SHADO, Freeman takes a sardonic attitude towards some of the things Straker and SHADO must do to survive, and once submitted his resignation in protest over a decision (“Computer Affair”). Straker’s closest friend and best man at his wedding, Freeman was the very first operative recruited into SHADO by Straker, as seen in “Confetti Check A-OK”. His pre-SHADO background includes a history as a combat pilot as well as in air force Intelligence (for which country was unspecified). Freeman finds standing in for Straker difficult in “The Responsibility Seat”, but in other episodes, such as “Close Up”, he has become confident at handling control in Straker’s absence. He appears to have overseen the training of Paul Foster following his recruitment to SHADO in the episode “Exposed” and formed a friendship with the new officer, as they are seen out at dinner in “The Dalotek Affair”. Freeman is a key figure for scenes with Straker in the MGM Borehamwood episodes, but besides the episodes “Identified”, “Computer Affair”, “Flight Path”, “E.S.P”., “Confetti Check A-OK”, and “Court-Martial”, he is largely a SHADO control-based senior figure, unlike Foster and, later, Straker himself, having no further background character development.
Gen. James L. HendersonEdit
Henderson (Grant Taylor), Straker’s superior officer, serves as the president of the International Astrophysical Commission, which is a front for SHADO and is responsible for obtaining funds and equipment from various governments to keep SHADO operational. Straker and Henderson butt heads frequently over the needs of SHADO and economic realities.
It can be inferred that Straker and Henderson became somewhat estranged after Henderson is injured in the car crash following a UFO attack in the pilot “Identified”. Also, Henderson is ‘passed over’ as first choice for SHADO commander due to his age. Straker also impressed the United Nations delegation committee (especially the French representative, Duvalle) with his presentation as Henderson’s deputy by urging the necessity for SHADO to be set up. Straker is then chosen as the first commander, though Henderson offers him the opportunity to decline, as depicted in “Confetti Check A-OK”, and we are led to believe Henderson effectively rammed the post of SHADO commander down Straker’s throat in “Confetti Check A-OK”. This presumably has the effect of straining their relationship and causing friction between the two men.
Over time Henderson appears more and more resentful of Straker. Episodes such as “Conflict”, “Court-Martial”, and “Mindbender” particularly highlight their personality clashes. However, later episodes such as “Destruction”, where they share a working breakfast in Straker’s office, and “Timelash”, where Henderson refers to Straker as “SHADO’s most important piece of manpower.”, suggests a remaining bond of friendship.
Col. Virginia LakeEdit
Col. Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham) first appears in the opening episode of the series (“Identified”), as a SHADO scientist and a target of Alec Freeman’s romantic attention. A computer specialist, she was a member of the “Eutronics” tracking device design team. Lake, like Paul Foster, is a comparatively recent addition to SHADO: both Col. John Grey (Gary Raymond) & Col. Craig Collins (guest star Derren Nesbitt) are shown as being of longer experience and senior within SHADO to both Lake and Foster. She was romantically involved with Foster for a time, and later served as Moonbase commander. During the last quarter of the series, Lake returns to take over the post of SHADO first officer, replacing Freeman. She initially has a somewhat tense working relationship with Straker, though by the end of the series they appear to have grown close and she is seen comforting him in the final scene of the final episode, “The Long Sleep”.
Capt. Peter CarlinEdit
During the first third of the series, Carlin (Peter Gordeno) is the commander of the submarine Skydiver and pilot of its interceptor aircraft, Sky One. In 1970, Carlin and his sister found a UFO and were attacked; he was shot and wounded and his sister vanished. He joined SHADO in hopes of finding out what happened to his sister, and eventually learned that her organs had been harvested (“Identified”). Originally intended as a major regular character, Carlin appears only in “Identified”, “Computer Affair”, “Flight Path”, “A Question of Priorities”, “Exposed”, and “Conflict”. It is rumoured Peter Gordeno’s agent decided to pull the actor out of the series; a few scripts such as ‘Ordeal’ were apparently originally written for Carlin but re-drafted to then feature Paul Foster instead. The main role of Skydiver commander and Sky One pilot was passed on to Capt. Lew Waterman thereafter.
Lt. Nina BarryEdit
One of Straker’s first recruits into SHADO (and in the unenviable position of being mistaken for the “other woman” whom Mary Nightingale blamed for Straker’s estrangement from her), Barry (Dolores Mantez) works as a space tracker at Moonbase and later replaces Lt. Ellis as its commanding officer. She also serves aboard Skydiver at one point (“Sub Smash”). One of several women attracted to Straker, she is the second most frequently appearing character in the series, appearing in 23 of 26 episodes. Bishop and Mantez had a relationship in real life.
Capt. Lew WatermanEdit
Initially an Interceptor pilot on the Moon, Waterman (Gary Myers) is later promoted to captain and replaces Peter Carlin as commanding officer of Skydiver and pilot of Sky One. He becomes a close friend of Paul Foster, as suggested in “Ordeal”. Given Gerry Anderson’s business dealings in the 1960s with MCA-owned Universal, his name could well be a parody of that of veteran agent and studio head Lew Wasserman. Despite being described as a main character, he is involved in very few episodes.
Lt. Keith FordEdit
Former television interviewer who became a founding member of SHADO and its main communications officer. Actor Keith Alexander left the series after the production break, so the character disappears at the two-thirds mark of the series.
Lt. Ayshea JohnsonEdit
A SHADO headquarters officer in most episodes. Initially seen doing miscellaneous tasks stationed at a computer console, Johnson (Ayshea Brough) is the woman seen turning in her seat to smile and wave at an (offscreen) Col. Alec Freeman in the opening credits, which consisted of stock footage from “Identified;” she later becomes SHADO’s communications officer following the departure of Lt. Ford. In her final appearance, she is stationed at Moonbase (“Mindbender”). Highly observant, she provides crucial information in the episode “The Cat with Ten Lives”. NB: this character’s full name is given in episode scripts but only referred to once on screen, in “The Sound Of Silence”. In the credits she is identified only as Ayshea (as is the actress).
Dr. Douglas JacksonEdit
SHADO psychiatrist and science officer. A somewhat sinister-looking figure who sometimes appears to have his own agenda, Jackson (Vladek Sheybal) serves a number of capacities within SHADO, including acting as prosecution officer during the court-martial of Paul Foster. When Foster escapes custody after falsely being found guilty, Jackson successfully convinces General Henderson to have his guards use tranquiliser darts in their pursuit, rather than shooting to kill. It is implied that “Douglas Jackson” is not the character’s birth name, as he speaks with a strong Eastern European accent. His origins, however, are never explored. In voice overs on the DVD Ed bishop commented that the actor had a much better pedigree than anyone else on camera and he must have wondered what his agent had gotten him into.
Lt. Joan HarringtonEdit
Another Moonbase Space Tracker, Harrington (Antonia Ellis) was one of the organisation’s earliest recruits, as seen in “Confetti Check A-OK”.
Ealand (Norma Ronald) is a SHADO operative masquerading as Straker’s movie studio secretary. She is the first line of defence against anyone entering SHADO HQ via Straker’s office/elevator. The character is not seen in most of the post-studio change episodes, being replaced in two episodes by a Miss Holland, played by Lois Maxwell.
Lt. Mark BradleyEdit
Bradley (Harry Baird) is a Caribbean-born Interceptor pilot based on the Moon. He becomes romantically involved with Lt. Ellis for a time, leading to a temporary assignment at SHADO HQ on Earth, and later briefly assumes the position of Moonbase commander. Baird left the series after filming four episodes, but appeared in stock footage in several later episodes.
One of the female Moonbase operatives, Joanna, was played by Shakira Caine, who later married actor Michael Caine. Producer Gerry Anderson later said that he had lost his temper with her so badly on the set of “UFO” that he always feared the idea of running into Michael Caine at some actors’ function, and being punched on the nose by him.
Look of the showEdit
- It is never explained why female Moonbase personnel uniformly wore mauve or purple wigs, silver catsuits, and extensive eye make-up (although it has been suggested in the novelisation of the show that it was to combat static electricity) and their unusual apparel is never discussed in the series. Gerry Anderson has commented that it made them look more futuristic and that it filmed better under the bright lights, while Sylvia Anderson said she believed wigs would become accepted components of military uniforms by the 1980s. But whenever female Moonbase personnel visited Earth (as Ellis and Barry did from time to time), their lunar uniforms and wigs were never worn.
- Ed Bishop, who had dark hair in real life, initially bleached his hair for Straker’s unique white-haired look. He later began wearing a white wig when the bleaching began damaging his hair. Straker’s unusual look may have been an attempt to make Bishop look like Captain Blue, the character he voiced in “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”. Bishop, until not long before his death, possessed one of the wigs he wore on the show and took great delight in displaying it at science fiction conventions and on TV programmes. In the episode “Mindbender”, Stuart Damon is seen wearing the same white wig, although deliberately ill fitting, in a dream sequence segment. Bishop also kept a Certina watch that was specially made for his character. Straker’s look was one of the inspirations behind “The Fast Show” character ‘Jazz Club’s’ Louis Balfour.
- Many other male characters in the series also wore wigs, again because the Andersons felt that they would become fashionable for both sexes by the 1980s. Early episodes in which Michael Billington does not wear a wig can be identified by his receding hairline and long sideburns.
- On both “Skydiver” and Moonbase, SHADO pilots enter their interceptor craft by sliding down tubes. This is an allusion to the Andersons’ earlier series, “Thunderbirds”, which had the characters reaching their craft in similar fashion. This was due to the difficulty in getting a puppet into a cockpit easily and in a natural way.
- Ed Straker’s dramatic gas turbine car, resembling somewhat the 1970 Citroën SM, was, in fact, based on the chassis of a humble Ford Zephyr with a specially built aluminium body shell. There appear to have been only two cars made for the series, a prominently featured brown/gold car and a purple car with a larger hood opening. It appears that at some point in production the brown car was damaged because in some shots, it can be seen that one of the headlight openings has been covered in tape, one of the wheels has been replaced by a mismatched wheel, and the lead characters start using the purple car more frequently.
- The SHADO HQ and Moonbase control consoles, computer units, lighting panels and spacesuits make numerous appearances in later TV shows of the 1970s such as “Doctor Who”, “Timeslip”, “Doomwatch”, “The Tomorrow People”, “The Goodies”, “The New Avengers”, “Star Maidens”, and “Blake’s 7”, as well as feature films such as “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Carry On Loving”, and “Confessions of a Pop Performer”. An alien spacesuit can also be seen in the Children’s Film Foundation film “Kadoyng”.
- Sylvia Anderson, having had made a pair of very sheer trousers for actor Patrick Allen to wear in the episode “Timelash”, later regretted not having had the nerve to ask him to wear a jockstrap underneath, and commented on the DVD release of the series that “you should not be able to tell which side anybody’s ‘packet’ is on”.
- The futuristic, gull-winged cars driven by the Ed Straker and Paul Foster characters were originally built for the Anderson movie “Doppelgänger” (US title: “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun”). During the shooting of the “UFO” series, David Lowe and Sydney Carlton raised funds to form a company called “The Explorer Motor Company”, dedicated to the mass production of these cars for sale to the public. A plastic mould was made of the Straker car, in preparation for mass production, but the company never got off the ground.
- Both Ed Bishop and Michael Billington commented that the futuristic cars were “impossible to drive” (partly because the steering wheel was designed for looks, rather than functionality). Also, the gull-wing doors did not open automatically. Every shot in which the car door was seen to open automatically had to be arranged so that a prop man could run up to the car, just outside of the frame, open the door, and hold it open while Ed Bishop stepped out. In certain episodes (most notably “Court Martial”) the prop man can be seen.
- The show also made limited use of American models, which were unfamiliar to British viewers. These supposedly futuristic vehicles included a 1965 Ford Galaxie station wagon and an Oldsmobile Toronado. American viewers found these appearances rather amusing.
- The episode “Survival” shows that SHADO’s Moonbase is in the Mare Imbrium, or in the northeast part of it, according to a map that Foster and an alien studied while they were stranded on the surface. The map is a real one.
- On the Carlton DVD commentary for the first episode, Gerry Anderson noted that perhaps the programme’s most dated aspect was its tobacco and alcohol consumption. To be fair, however, in the 1980 of real life England and America, there was still plenty of smoking indoors, as well as executives with bars in their offices. Straker has a futuristic home bar in his office, which dispenses whisky, bourbon whiskey, vodka, etc., from which Col. Freeman partakes fairly regularly. While he himself does not drink, Straker is regularly seen smoking in SHADO headquarters, his tobacco of choice being either a cigarette or what appears to be a slim panatela cigar complete with cigarette holder. And despite the high-tech milieu and enclosed environments, smoking is seen throughout the show, as was par for course in 1970s British television drama. As a consequence, some of the sequences in the bunker of SHADO HQ are seen through a slight smoky fog. Similarly many of the medical staff smoke whilst on duty, and smoking is even permitted on board the closed environment of the Skydiver, where Capt. Carlin is shown idly flicking through magazines with a cigarette in hand. Most striking of all, Moonbase personnel also light up frequently.
- The Trimphone, a British model of telephone designed in the 1960s, was featured prominently in the series.
- The machine typing out information in the intro is, or is based on, an IBM Selectric electric typewriter (likely a Mag Card or Mag Tape model) in action, using an Orator element. The first Selectric was released in 1961, eight years before the series was produced.
- ”UFO”, which was filmed in 1969 and 1970, made a number of predictions about what life in the 1980s would be like, some of which have come true. Among the innovations predicted by the series:
- Spacecraft launched from an aircraft as in the episode “Computer Affair”.
- Extensive use of computers in day-to-day life, even to the extent of predicting and analysing human behaviour.
- Electronic fingerprint scanning and identification against a database.
- Voice print identification systems; also, vocal analysis used to identify individuals in the same way as fingerprints.
- Metadata and a space observatory (called an “electron telescope”), as in the episode “Close Up”.
- The episode “Survival” indicates that racial prejudice will have “burned itself out” on Earth in the mid-1970s, a prediction which did not come true.
- That cars would drive on the right-hand side of the road in the UK and be converted to left-hand drive, another prediction, which did not come true.
- ”UFO” also featured episodes dealing with issues that would become topical in later years, such as space debris and the disposal of toxic waste.
- Cordless telephones. (The 3 telephones on Straker’s office desk had no cords between the handsets and the base.)
- Miniature music players - In “Court Martial”, Straker’s secretary has one playing on her desk.
- Liposuction - In “Ordeal”, the doctor threatens, “When all else fails, I’ll remove that blab around your middle surgically!”
- Winglets - An aircraft appears with winglets on the nose, in “A Question of Priorities”.