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These are my memories of my friend Ed Bishop, UFOria, UFOria 2 and Fanderson 91, amongst others. I thought I'd share them with everyone, that it would be simple and quick to get down on paper, but as I've been writing I'm finding that one memory is unlocking another, which in turn unlocks another, ad infinitum etc, so here we go.
I first became aware of Ed Bishop when I was around nine or ten years old when UFO was shown on telly in Liverpool, around 1970ish, and from that moment on I definitely had a thing for white haired/blond American guys! I was fascinated by this man's appearance and the way he was as Commander Straker; believe me to a kid of nine or ten this was as good as it got back then. As well as starring as Straker in UFO, Ed was going to be reading a story in the children's popular TV show 'Jackanory' (for those who don't know what that was, it featured a huge armchair in a living room in which the actor would sit to read from the book. This 'living room' was a set, a complete mock up of a 'cosy afternoon by the fire' sort of thing. The actor would read passages from a book and this would be seen over three or four days, depending on how long the story was. The show screened for about half an hour each day and was hugely popular in its time). I was very excited as I thought I'd get to see him again outside of SHADO with his white/blond hair and he wouldn't be Straker – or would he? Jackanory came on, the studio lights went up and there was a dark haired man reading from a book. I was waiting for Ed to come on and then when this dark haired man spoke I realised this WAS Ed, but he was different! He had dark hair and that was when I realised he wasn't Straker, he didn't have white/blond hair in real life. I was still enthralled, don't get me wrong, but disappointed to a little extent when he didn't have 'the hair.'
Then, as it always does, life got in the way of all things UFO and Straker and when the show ended that was it back then, there were no VCR's (not in our house anyway) and DVD's hadn't been invented yet. So school came and went, jobs did the same until in the mid 1980's when UFO was repeated in north Wales where I was living, by the then TV station HTV. It was amazing rewatching the show, and time had definitely not dimmed the performances, the sets or the stories. They were still as vivid and alive then as they were when it was first broadcast. It's a great testament to this show and all the people involved in it that even today in 2011, some 41 years later it still stands the test of time, and it's thanks to the fans, the lifeblood of the series, whose appetite for the show keeps it alive whether through DVD releases, conventions, fan fiction, websites, you name it they do it.
UFO does stand the test of time and I think it always will, not many shows you can say that of in today's TV age. So, in the mid to late 1980's I decided I'd try to write to Ed to tell him how much I enjoyed UFO and what he brought to the role of Straker and to that end I began trying to locate an address for him where I could write and get a photo, and possibly an autograph but couldn't find one, lack of internet in the 'old days.' Because Ed was American I assumed he'd be back in America so I was calling the US to find out his agent's name and spent ages trying to track him/her down, until I came across an agent for him right here in Britain; I was pleasantly surprised to learn he lived here in the UK. Over the years I became friends with that UK agent, the late Joan Gray, a very lovely and helpful person. In turn she was very helpful in getting my letters to Ed and he replied from his Warwickshire home where he lived at the time – I was beside myself to say the least. His letter arrived just as I was leaving for work and I just turned back around and came in again to read the letter, and then re-read it again and again, probably made myself late for work that day but hey, this was more important.
Ed was a very special man, a lovely caring person and sadly just before UFOria 88 his only son Daniel was killed in a car accident. I was probably one of the first people in fandom to know that and the reason I say that is because I was on the phone to Joan and was asking her whether Ed would be working or coming to the con (as you probably know, actors will only be able to attend cons if they are not working). It was a normal call and I didn't expect to hear the devastating news. Joan asked me to hang on a minute and went off the line. I have a feeling that Ed was in her office when I called as I could hear muffled conversation in the background, I felt she was perhaps asking his permission to share this awful news because when she came back she told me that Daniel had been killed in a car accident and it was shortly before his 21st birthday. To say I had a moment where I went white, felt cold from head to toe and was speechless is an understatement, I felt like someone had pulled the floor out from under me. I remember asking Joan to tell Ed how sorry I was and to pass on my condolences. Such words do nothing in the face of such an umitigated tragedy but what else could I say? So those of you who didn't know Ed was carrying this grief with him at UFOria may be surprised to see how professional he was, you'd never know he had this terrible hurt within him. Ed always honoured his commitments and attended the convention, he was lovely, even in the face of the most unimaginable loss.
Ed was the original gentleman. He always had time for UFO and his fans, always! He was never too tired to sign an autograph or pose for a photo and when the suggestion of a convention purely for UFO - UFOria came up I was very happy to be on the organising committee, and in a brief moment of creativity I suggested the designs for the UFOria badge and the flyers. I was back then, also a committee member of Fanderson – the Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society and it was through them that most of us on that committee came together to organise UFOria 88 (and the sequel a few years later in Manchester – UFOria 2). Organising a convention of this scale took a long time, around two years in the planning, with long trips up and down the motorways to London for committee meetings on freezers, you'd know them as buses but boy were they cold!. The first ever UFO convention, solely for this incredible show was a total one off at the time, no-one as far as we knew, had ever organised and/or held a convention for UFO and we were pumped to say the least. Having it all come together so successfully was a great achievement, all monies raised went to charity and we really took a long time to come down off that massive high we were on, analysing the day, talking about it until daylight the next day, things like that. It was amazing and I still feel good remembering the day.
So, to the big day itself. I had stayed over with some of the other organising committee members in London, travelling down the previous day from north Wales as I didn't want to be held up by pesky traffic so it was decided we'd all meet up the day before and go to London on the day of the convention (or con). We all travelled together to the con location at Red Lion Square on the tube, we all wore various UFO costumes from what I can remember but my costume was pieced together from various sources, my black Straker jacket (made for me by my mum from photographs of Straker in Court Martial) and teamed with a beige turtle neck jumper and black ski pants over some black ankle boots I'd bought which were slightly too big but were the only ones I could get at the time to complete the look, they were those old ankle boots with the elastic sides in them, I'm sure you remember them as they were all the rage in the late 60's and early '70's – just the right time for UFO (even though it was set in the 1980's). I'd also gotten hold of a black briefcase; every inch the SHADO Exec! It wasn't hard to imagine ourselves travelling to Harlington Straker Studios in the guise of studio employees, but we knew that on arrival we'd be going straight down to basement level to the real deal: SHADO HQ.
You'll probably know if you've ever attended a con just how fast the time goes. You seem to arrive and then the next minute it's time to go home again and UFOria was no different, it was a complete blur, but I remember vividly waiting for Ed in the murk of a cold and rather windy day.
He was arriving by taxi and had been held up somewhere so he was the last person to arrive. I was lucky enough to be able to take a couple of photos of Ed as he got out of the taxi and met up right away with Dolores Mantez (Nina Barry) and George Sewell (Alec Freeman).
These shots are very precious now as Ed and George are no longer with us, but at the time the atmosphere was amazing, they were all so happy to meet up again and you can see the joy and warmth in their faces in those shots, especially Ed as he turns right into my camera as if to say: 'Look at these guys, can you believe this?'
You know what amazed me though was the fact that I didn't drop the camera but went straight into paparazzi mode; I guess we can all stop being a klutz when important matters are to hand!
I took this picture of Ed just after someone had walked in front of the camera and I'd told him off for doing that, you can see Ed smirking slightly because of it.
Once we got Ed, Dolores and George back inside, a couple us walked together in front of Ed as he was reminiscing with everyone walking with and just behind him. With Ed walking and talking in that wonderful voice it was easy to imagine, just for a moment, that we were being followed down the corridors of SHADO by Commander Straker giving his orders out.
Although many memories are lost and things pass in the many years since UFOria, that was one of the memories which stays with me always because it was a magical time, a fantastical time and when memories are made up of such things they never leave the psyche. Another such memory is the debacle of the lunch taxi, this stays with me for a lot of other reasons which are not magical or fantastical but because it threatened to undo all the careful planning we'd put into place to ensure we had our guests and attendees all fed and watered and back in the conference hall for the afternoon shift. I had been tasked with getting Ed and as many of the other guests as would reasonably fit into a black cab from the con to the hotel for lunch. So, Ed, Dolores, George and a few other people all piled into the taxi and as I was going to get in the driver shouts: 'Oi, can't take any more, six is the limit' – everyone, including my hero all turned slowly and stared at me as if as one. Talk about a ground open up and swallow me moment!
I began remonstrating with him that these were important people, and I had visions of Ed getting out of the taxi and going on his own, I have no idea why I thought that but the more heated this was getting the more it was delaying us getting to the hotel and a committee member had to go with the guests so someone had to get out, even though there was room in the cab for all of us. Trust me to get the jobsworth on the day eh? Eventually someone else got out and into another cab, while we all agreed that the driver was just being awkward as we headed to the hotel, and yes I got to sit opposite Ed all the way – sigh. Anyway, digressing mildly there, the lunch passed without further incident except for me sitting next to Ed and being expected to eat, I mean come on, it was almost impossible to breathe sitting there right next to him and you want me to eat as well?
You know, Ed was nothing like Straker at all! It took me ages to watch UFO again after meeting him. I had been told that would happen but thought I knew better, but stone me if it wasn't true after all. Straker was, as Ed was always keen to point out, a real hard ass.
The con was a particularly happy time for me because I'd been writing to Ed beforehand and he'd been writing back and so we had become, by the time UFOria came around, pen-friends I'd guess but from that first meeting he would always give me a hug when we met at other conventions and ask how I was and we'd chat for a while. I even got to interview him on stage for Fanderson 91 in Leeds, Yorkshire – what a day that was, I was so nervous but got over it eventually. Another mild digression if I may, after UFOria we had been able to get tickets to go to Ed's house to see a play called 'The Enchanted' he'd produced in his back garden. We, being myself and two friends, and he was very pleased to see us.
I presented him with a glass paperweight from the three of us and the photo of him, George and Dolores at the con to which he replied: 'George! The old farrt' [sic]. Not what we'd expected to hear and we laughed out loud at that and laughter was a great part of the evening. You're wondering why we gave Ed a paperweight I guess, well Ed had told us previously, probably at UFOria that someone had nicked the one he had on his desk when he played Commander Straker and he was very unhappy about that because he'd had it for years, and took it to conventions for people to see as it had been on Straker's desk and he thought people would get a kick out of seeing it, never for a minute thinking it would get stolen. Ed's paperweight from the show was a simple plain glass ball paperweight (like a crystal ball). So trying to replace that for him at that time was nigh on impossible as crystal balls were so expensive and we didn't have a lot of money to spend on it. I ended up walking around store after store in Wales and Chester looking for a replacement but couldn't get one so I settled on one which had a small ribbon of purple and black twisting through it, it was a lovely piece and Ed was so taken aback by the gift. I still remember his expression of disbelief that we'd even tried to replace the item. Anyway, the play was great fun, set in this wonderful green field of a back garden rolling away and in the distance, the hills of the midlands of England.
Ed came up upon the three of us as we were deep in discussion about something or other and made the three of us jump, he roared laughing and so did we after I'd slapped him on his arm for making us jump; he did it on purpose, he was full of fun, a really nice guy to be around and I miss him so much because he was one of a kind and they don't make them like Ed Bishop anymore.
When we finally came down from the dizzy heights of being with Ed again we all headed back to one friend's home in Northampton but stopped on the way to get a cup of tea if there was anywhere open. A kindly Little Chef franchise was just shutting up shop and we asked if there was any chance of getting tea for three weary but very happy travellers and they said yes, so they were very good to us as well.
We finally got back to Northampton sometime in the early hours of the next day. We found it very hard to get to sleep that night to say the least, but we managed it eventually. What a fantastic day and fantastic memories to boot. The 'old farrt' [sic] comment, to this day, still makes me smile.
Ed was a fantastic actor, there's no denying that fact. He made the craft look easy when it is anything but. He was so under-rated and understated that is beggars belief he was not more widely known than he was, perhaps Ed was happy with that, he considered himself a jobbing actor and I think he enjoyed the life he had as an actor.
One of his more remarkable performances for me was his role in a BBC drama about rabies in Britain; it was called 'The Mad Death.' In it, Ed plays a businessman who tends to a fox he has knocked over in the road, it responds by biting him and in turn giving him rabies. His shocking portrayal of a man in the grip of this terrible disease is very real and the rawness he brought to that part is very upsetting because he just made it so convincing. One of the more disturbing scenes was where Ed's character imagines himself submerged in a bath of water; he is completely under the water, no air, no noise, just silence. The camera takes in the long shot of this bath and Ed in it under the water, then comes in inch by agonising inch to a full face close up of Ed, eyes open under the water. The stillness and the gravity of that scene is one I have never forgotten, it was so powerful. Ed was asked at a later convention how he managed to do that and his answer was simple: concentration, and a good pair of lungs.
One of my great loves is theatre, and back in the late 1980's and early 1990's Ed was quite active in the theatre and on telly in a fair few adverts and TV shows. I'll recall the 'Ed in Theatre' days in a mo, but who remembers Cadbury's Chocolate Wispa bar as the rather 'out of it' President? A great little gem that. He also did an advert for Kellogg's Corn Flakes all done up in a fetching green and white outfit. I'm sure he did a lot more adverts but I can't recall all of them (age and memory are two strange bedfellows at the best of times I'm sure some will agree) but I must have them on tape somewhere but because they've been locked up in boxes since I moved house then I don't know if I'd ever find them again, let alone whether they'd play. That was the start of a fascination for the voice, and to hear his dulcet tones coming out of the telly would sometimes threaten to give me whiplash as I heard the voice and spun round to see if it was a visual appearance or audio. That voice was unmistakable wasn't it? I also had the tedious job of waiting for programmes to end so I could catch an Ed advert, how daft eh? But you know what that's all we did back then to get these ads' sitting by the VCR (again no DVD's or recorders), once we had them all recorded, it was great having them to watch and listen to at our leisure. Ed's telly appearances were also recorded, one in particular was the sitcom 'Just Good Friends' where the two lead characters Vince & Penny had been just good friends for years, and recently having met up again years later Vince wanted to be more involved with her but Penny wasn't sure. In Ed's episode Vince has agreed to meet Penny atop The Eiffel Tower and he'd be wearing a beige raincoat. When Ed appears all we see first is his arm come into shot and lean on the railing. Penny, seeing the arm covered in beige starts telling this man, without looking at him, how she feels about him and goes into a lengthy speech. At the end the man turns around, and says something inappropriate (can't remember what I'm sorry to say, it's that age and memory thing again) it's not Vince – it's Ed – complete with pork pie hat, which he raises as he speaks, and horrible thick black rimmed glasses. Cue huge laughter from the audience! It is a funny scene but it's the only time I've ever seen anyone transform Ed into a horrible looking man. This appearance, as well as all the others, was again thanks to Joan Gray who I was still in contact with to see if Ed was doing anything new and whether any more upcoming appearances/adverts/telly/theatre were in the pipeline. Joan was so kind, indeed she was one of a kind; an agent who was happy to share with me Ed's professional schedule because she knew I genuinely loved supporting him wherever he was.
I saw Ed about three times in theatre over that period, I can't recall one of the theatres but one was in London, The Donmar Warehouse where the stage was set at the bottom of what I can only describe as an audience 'pit.' The stage was at the bottom and arranged on a kind of semi circular platform and Actors & Production came through the audience to take to the stage, a very intimate and enthralling atmosphere to be sure.
I can't remember the name of the play, it could have been Of Mice & Men because there was a character called Lenny in it and this guy had work clothes on and was in a small garage type of set up, but the last theatre appearance I saw Ed in was in Leicester around 1991/92 in a theatre right next to a shopping mall and this mall was huge, it was around Christmas and inside there were great big reindeers suspended high above the shoppers. You had to go in to shop right? Come on, it was Christmas and it was a lovely atmosphere. Doubt that 'elf 'n' safety' would allow such things to be suspended above shoppers these days, how times change. Anyway, after a mild digression there, a few of us went into the theatre to see this play called The Price by Arthur Miller.
Ed was in it as you know, another good looking American guy – Michael J. Shannon (Major Kiley in We'll Meet Again a wartime TV drama) – I liked him too and so I was in seventh heaven when they played the brothers in this play together. Also in the play was Roy Barraclough (from Coronation Street) who played the lawyer. I sat in the middle of the front row and the theatre was not full but you could sit anywhere you wanted to really. Ed acknowledged us at the end of the play, although he spotted us as soon as walked on stage, and I mouthed up at him how good it was, it really was too. So amazing to see Ed in person acting as opposed to seeing him on telly.
Afterwards we met up in the bar and I took along the photo of Fanderson 91 (I'll recall this convention in another report as this one is getting longer by the hour) in which I'd interviewed him on stage and he signed that picture for me 'In memory of a very happy con' I was so happy I could have burst right there.
Michael J. Shannon came out then to talk to Ed and Ed introduced us to him with a certain measure of pride that we'd come all the way from Maidstone (where we were living then) to Leicester to see him in this play, Michael was impressed which made Ed smile so much, it was a fun night. Michael J Shannon is just as good looking in real life as he is on telly ladies, let me tell you. I must have had photos taken there I must have but I cannot find them. When my life took an unexpected detour in 1992 a lot of things got left behind, and sadly I think those photos must have been too, yet I still have the happy convention one which Ed signed. Because of that detour I lost contact with fandom totally, and did not attend another convention until the last time I saw Ed, which was at a con in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex in 2002, just three short years before he passed away. I wasn't feeling particularly well that day and was almost not going to go but did and you know what? I'm so thankful I did but little did I know that would be the very last time I would ever see him. Although Ed and I had been out of touch with each other for over ten years his first words to me were: 'I haven't seen you for ages, how are you?' and hugged me. Ed was blessed, not only with devastatingly handsome good looks but a thin wiry frame and an amazing memory; he also had a gentle and loving way about him, kind, caring and genuine. What a shame he has gone!
I remember remarking to my husband at this last con that Ed looked very tired, and I hate to say it now but he looked all of his then 69 years, but I didn't know anything was wrong with him then you see. It was only later, in talking to others who knew him that Ed had been diagnosed with leukaemia in 1992. 1992 was a horrible year for many reasons for me, it was the year that my life was forced to go in a totally different direction to the one I was steering and it was the year when we also lost Vladek Sheybal (Dr Jackson).
I was concerned for Ed's health when I heard in 2005 that his close friend Joan Gray had died suddenly. Suffice it to say that I know from my own experiences with cancer in the family that any emotional upset is not good and was fearful for Ed even though I was in contact with him by email at this time. I was compiling a website for Vladek Sheybal, and Ed was providing his memories of working with him on UFO. Ed was dictating his thoughts for me and I'd recently had the tape from him. I wrote him, thanking him for doing that for me and he was happy to do it he said.
Then I got the news about Joan, and I immediately emailed Ed with any support I could offer but by this time he said he was bereft and floundering as she had been his one constant in the many years of his life when he was acting, and because of that she had become a close friend. I felt absolutely helpless. I felt for him so much because I knew how strong their friendship was. I'd never met Joan but I'd had many phone calls and correspondence with her over the years and she was always as kind as Ed, always as caring and as gentle a soul in many ways as Ed. It seemed only natural to me that these two people would become close friends throughout their lives; they seemed so similar in nature.
You know Ed passed away exactly three months after Joan passed, and I feel in my own heart (although I was not close family so I can't say for certain) that her passing was the start of his own ill health returning.
I do know that he died in a London hospital from complications arising from a chest infection, but was made aware of this only after he had passed away. I think about him most days as I do Joan. They were very special people to me, very dear friends and I miss them both every day.
The last time I visited Ed at his Warwickshire home was for the play he produced in his back garden, it is so sad to think that the next time I go to this lovely place it will be to visit his grave in order to pay my respects. At least now he is resting in peace with his beloved son Daniel.
For me Ed was one of the finest actors of his generation and a damn good man both on and off screen. Ed, of course, was not just this fantastic actor; he was also a family man, a loving father, husband and grandfather. His family must, it goes without saying, miss him dreadfully and I am always mindful of their feelings and I keep them in my thoughts and prayers.
Ed Bishop, one by whom other actors are measured and some fall way short, and I do speak from experience.
Ed Bishop Page
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