Interviewer: Peter Griffiths - December 1996
In the early '70s, Commander Ed Straker and his SHADO team were all that stood between Earth and the ever-present threat of alien invasion. 25 years later, Ed Bishop is still pleased to be associated with the series, and his role as Straker...
This wasn't your first Gerry Anderson series, was it?
No, I'd done a feature film and the voice of Captain Blue in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons for Gerry, and as a direct result I got the UFO part. The original idea was that I would only be in an episode for three out of the 10 shootings days. Straker was supposed to stay in the office and hammer out orders and bang on the table, sending the guys out to drive the spaceships and the girls to change their costumes! But the writers liked the hard-arsed old guy, so they started to bring him into other situations. He'd get out onto Moonbase and into submarines and things.
Do you think the Commander developed much over the course of the series?
He loosened up when he was cut more slack by the writers, but whether he developed into a full flesh and blood person, I have my reservations! Had we gone to another series - which we came within almost half an inch of doing - I think it all would have become much more rounded and a tremendous success, because we had all learned a great deal. I once read a book about the making of Star Trek which detailed out how much time they spent in preparation before they actually started filming. They worked everything out, and as a result, it had a more developed relationship between the characters.
But Straker had a little background provided - the separation from his wife, for example.
It goes back to the writers, becoming interested in the character and his motivation, and the flashback device they used was quite good. I've heard criticism, perhaps correctly, that although those episodes might have been very good, and a delight for an actor, they produced an element that was alien to the central thrust of the series. It was probably unwise in retrospect.
UFO is well remembered for its futuristic fashions. Were they popular on set?
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson were married at the time, and she was the creative force behind the fashions. She had a wonderful eye for colour and fabric, and faces as well. She personally cast the operatives in the background of most of the episodes. I trusted her implicitly. If she said, 'Put this on,' I did so without hesitation. The costumes were very flattering, and the girls' were too - so I'm told.
When UFO originally aired, it seemed the network didn't know what to do with it.
There was an episode or two, showing people injecting themselves with drugs, that were shown in a later time slot, but I can understand that, frankly. In general, we were almost totally ignored. I don't think the TV Times covered us once in our entire run, and I note with interest that the Radio Times has barely mentioned us, even on their Sci-Fi page, during this current repeat run! But I know that it's got some popularity from my mail, especially on the Internet. I've even had a professional enquiry from a production company in Australia who are negotiating to shoot a feature film based on UFO.
You're obviously still happy to be associated with the series.
I'm a professional actor, and UFO was obviously the biggest thing I'd ever done. It was a challenge, interesting, and certainly different, and I don't get tired of talking about it. There are some actors who were involved in the production who no longer take an interest in it, seeing it as water under the bridge, but so much hard work was put into it. That said, I have one daughter who is a policewoman and another who is training to be a geriatic nurse, and they are the people who really do things for society. But I'm flattered, and indeed humbled, that people are still interested.
Transcribed for the SHADO Library and Archives by D.A. Rorabaugh from materials donated by Amelia and Ed Rodgers.