Interviewer: Joe Beedell - March 29 1986
This Issue of "SiG" really does seem to have a "UFO" thread running through it, doesn't it? Last Issue we promised a dual interview with Messrs. Bishop and Sewell - two of the major stars in the series.
After our mammoth chat with Tony Barwick last time round, we've decided to let George have his say next time round...!
One of the most popular guests at the Fanderson Conventions held to date is Ed Bishop. Here he is, in conversation with Joe Beedell at the Shepperton Moat House Hotel on Saturday, 29th March, 1986, During "Galacticon '86".
"SiG": You must have one of the most recognized voices in the world...!
Ed: A lot of people have said that to me... I have got what they call a 'tin ear'; I have no music sense at all. I can't get through "Happy Birthday" unless you help me with a piano, or drums or something, and I can't hear what I sound like so good.
An amazing thing happened to me once; I was in Berwick Street market, buying some chicken and was talking to the barrow man when I guy walked by, came back and said, "Excuse me, aren't you Ed Bishop who does those BBC radio plays?" I said I was and he said, "I recognise your voice." It was really spooky.
I must say I consider it an asset because, around 1976-77, 'voiceovers' started up very big here when commercial radio began and a lot of actors tried to get into it. American accents seemed to be what they wanted for them so I got in on the ground floor. They have enabled me to pick and choose the other work as you don't have to worry where the rent money's coming from.
"SiG": Was it mainly because of your voice that you were picked to be the voice of Captain Blue?
Ed: I would think so because the balance between Francis Matthew's very English thing, and my voice, and Cy Grant (who's a black actor) and Charles Tingwel (who's an Australian), was a kind of mixture.
Do you remember how long dubbing the voices took?
We took all day to do four episodes. We would do two episodes in the morning, have lunch, then we'd do two episodes in the afternoon. The one thing I liked about it, as always with Gerry's productions, was his attention to detail. We would read the scripts and then they would fit the puppets to match our voices, match our inflections. If you read a line a certain way, and it sounded interesting, they would adjust. How they did it, I don't know because I was never very aware of the technical side of the thing but they would make the puppet reflect that certain inflection of voice. That was an example of technology assisting acting. Tony Barwick wrote a lot of great scripts for "Captain Scarlet".
Do you ever catch the re-runs?
Unfortunately for me they're out early mornings. It's a bad time for me because we live in a very old farmhouse which is constantly needing renovation and repairs. I'm a great D.I.Y. enthusiast and, when I'm not working, I have my time mapped out pretty carefully; I've always got projects! I have caught it - it's fun because you have an almost 'spooky' recall of exactly when you did it, what you were talking about before we did the take.
After you left "Captain Scarlet", what did you do?
We only worked on "Captain Scarlet" one day a month. We're talking now 1966/67 and I was appearing in a prestigious and controversial production of "MacBird", which concerned the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, with Joan Littlewood in the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. We were making £15:00 a week in the theatre and I was earning £120:00 a week working on "Captain Scarlet"!
That was another wonderful thing; all the actors were paid exactly the same: £30:00 a script. It didn't matter whether you played the lead, or cam on and said one tiny little part, every actor got the same money. In so many productions it creeps in, where somebody realises he's making more money than someone else, and that creates bad feelings. Gerry and Reg Hill, and probably the rest of the Century 21 production crew did the same, were aware of it so every actor got the same. It was great. There again, the puppets enabled me to do the theatre thing, you see.
How did you get your start in acting?
I had always been interested in acting. Maybe it's because I went to the movies a lot when I was a kid. In High School, or Elementary School in my day, I sort of fancied a girl by the name of Elsie Cookson. She joined this drama group and they were looking for guys. I figured there weren't too many guys, they were all out playing football, so I'd get a part and that's what happened. Six characters in search of an author, that was the sort of thing I did.
From there I became very interested in the process of it. In my home town there was a little amateur theatre group and, no matter where I went later on in the Army, you could always find a drama group.
That's what I tell my daughters today. I have four children and two of them have joined local drama groups which, even if you don't become a professional actor, are great fun; you get out and meet people. There's a lot of stress in getting ready for the opening night, everybody remembering their lines and something always goes wrong: the set falls down, the dress tears, but it's part of the fun of it and I always recommend it to people. It's well to start out as an amateur and see how you like it, see how get along.
When did you first come to this country?
In 1960 when I graduated from Boston University Theatre Division and I won a U.S. Fulbright Scholarship. I was very pleased about it as it paid for my study at LAMDA for one year. People at LAMDA suggested that I might try to get work here, so I got busy. I got into one play which went into the West End, did another, and I just got busy. It was easier to get a work permit in those days and, by that time, two or three years after, I was married to an English girl and that was it! It just started because I got busy and, touch wood, I've worked as a professional actor ever since. Paid the bills by golly, which amazes, constantly amazes me...!
When did you receive the offer to do the part of David Poulsen in "Doppelganger"?
Well, after "Scarlet", and it was not under the best kind of situation as I replaced another actor. I don't recall his name, but he was much older than I was and a lot of the scenes had to be played with Patrick Wymark, who has now since passed on. This other actor was very similar to Patrick so you had two so similar, kind of middle aged men. I think they looked at the rushes but, nothing to do with the guy's acting ability, just said they thought it should be recast with a younger man and that's why Gerry called me in. I wasn't the first thought for that, and that's an exclusive too, I don't think I ever said that to anyone.
Did you meet George Sewell on the set of "Doppelganger"? Did you become friends from the part?
Yes, but even before that George had worked for the Theatre Royal, Stratford East and Joan Littlewood. When I was working there he had come to the theatre, so I'd met him but I did get to know him mostly on "Doppelganger" then, of course, on "UFO". He was a great guy. To meet someone who's really genuine with in this world of artifice in the theatre - it's a business not noted for its sincerity...
Did it come to you as a surprise that you were picked as Ed Straker?
I suppose you could say I was surprised. I'll never forget where I was. The next door neighbor was building a garage and this truck came up with about four million bricks on it! My neighbor says, "Ed, would you mind giving me a hand unloading these bricks?" I said, "OK," but my heart wasn't in it, I must admit. It was hot, sweltering hot.
We started unloading these wretched bricks and after about 40 minutes my wife came to the door and says, "Ed, there's a telephone call for you." I went in and it was Gerry Anderson's secretary - "Can you get out to Pinewood Studios immediately? Gerry Anderson wants to see you right now." I said, "Yes!" I was never so glad to get rid of those bricks and I went out with joy in my heart but I had to look like I was sorry: "Hey, fellas, I'm sorry, it was a call. I've got to go right out to Pinewood Studios." I rushed in, had a shower, and saw Gerry. I didn't know what it was all about but he outlined this whole thing. I was really surprised as he unveiled it for me - I thought, "I'm glad I left the bricks... for this I'll leave the bricks!"
Do you remember any funny stories?
We worked for 17 months on that series and we had a very tight schedule - they had to get five minutes a day of finished film in the can, so we didn't have a lot of time for a lot of laughs, you know. If you're shooting a big feature, a Bond picture (Roger Moore is a great trickster), you can do jokes, but jokes are money and time is money. We had a lot of funny things go wrong. George Sewell was the resident joker. He had a terrific wit, a Londoner, I don't know whether George is a real Cockney or not...
His wit was like a machine gun and I was kinda the straight man. A little bit of Straker must have rubbed off on me - I was very starchy. Those guys... Michael Billington - he was quite a lad! I liked him a lot... we all got along very, very well. We had one or two people, a couple female actresses, who came out to do guest shots, who were pains in the neck, for one reason or another. Again, it sounds like I'm Gerry Anderson's P.P. man, I'm sure it was because of him. How you behave and inter-act on the set depends on the boss. From that point of view, we were a happy unit.
The script writers gave you quite a character to work with...
We had some really first class writers. Actually the series was divided in half; we shot 17 episodes at M.G.M. and, after a break for about three or four months, the remaining nine episodes were shot at Pinewood. During that three or four months they hired new writers, new directors and the pace of the show increased enormously. The nine that were shot at Pinewood were really good script. We came within half-an-inch of making another 26 because CBS almost picked up the option.
Plans were laid to make a second series...?
Oh, yes, they got into advanced preparation. I was in Los Angeles at the time and Gerry wrote me a letter and said they'd not got the green light, but the amber light. They were getting the old sets out of storage, Tony Barwick was writing some scripts, they were doing some pre-production. Everybody thought that CBS would pick up the option, but they didn't. I have a feeling that if we had gone in we would probably still be making them. What we learned was it was too late, the timing was wrong. The resistance of the American networks to the series had nothing to do with its artistic qualities, simply was that it was an import. You can understand their point of view - the technicians, writers, directors and actors in America said, "We can make our own TV series here. Why bring over as foreign product?" This was true, not only of "UFO", but several other series at that time - "The Protectors", the "Champions".
We did come very close to making another block of 26, and I think it would have been like "M*A*S*H"... I just think we would've caught the imagination and gone on and on, but we'll never know...
You had to wear a blonde wig at some stage during the making of the show, didn't you?
We started out with my own hair. They would dye it and cut it. That got to be a bit of a production because I had to keep going to the 'beauty parlour' to have my hair dyed. That got to be a time-consuming thing, so in the end they just gave me this full wig, which I still have, by the way.
When "UFO" ceased, what did you do?
To be candid with you I did very little because I'd been out of circulation as an actor for about 17 months. The people who'd employed me before said, "Oh, well, Ed's now played the lead in a TV series; he's not interested in the kind of work that we have for him," which is bread and butter type stuff, schools radio, radio plays, the sort of things an actor makes a living at. I was in a very difficult position and sat around for about a year. I just couldn't support myself. It's not as it I had rich parents or a hoard of money in the bank. I just sat and waited for the 'phone to ring and lived off what I'd saved from the series. I went back to America and got some work there but, generally speaking, it was a pretty lean period.
You did a voice-over on an episode of the animated "Star Trek", didn't you?
Yes. I was out on the coast and made a crappy movie and did some work like this thing and TV commercial things.
My wife and I had just decided whether we wanted to sell the house and go to L.A. and live there. We decided life was better, for the kids certainly, in England, so we came back. The day I flew out of Los Angeles they called me back on that animated series to do some more, who knows...
Did you get to meet any of the stars from "Star Trek"?
No. They did their voice-overs in an entirely different studio. I don't know whether they were even shooting when I was there.
I came back to England, got a new agent, and stopped that process where I just waited for parts and became what they call a 'jobbing actor' again. If the 'phone rings, if I'm available and the money's right, I'll do it. In America you can't - they're very status conscious. You're a 'this size' actor, you can go no lower. You're a feature player, you can't do small parts. You are a second-feature player, you can't do this. So a star may sit on his butt for three to four years, waiting for a script to come along. It's alright if you've money in the bank but, if you've got four young kids, you can't. I like it better because you keep moving all over the place, doing different stage, radio etc. It makes life far more interesting.
Have you worked with any of the co-stars from "UFO" since the series?
Dolores Mantez has left the business; she's married and got a child. I've bumped into George once or twice and got involved in a "This Is Your Life" on him, but I haven't worked with him. I've seen Patrick Allen around, guested with one or two of the guests, but permanent staff, Michael Billington, no - it's amazing that, isn't it?
Some episodes were deliberately put into a late night slot because they were considered too strong for a young audience...
Yes, there was one about drugs.
"The Long Sleep", with Tessa Wyatt which showed a great deal of vulnerability in the Straker character...
He was obsessed and he had to get rid of it. The thing I'm looking forward to seeing it, I think, an Italian movie where they've taken three "UFO" episodes and spliced them together and made one long feature film.
Was it an Italian company or was it made here, in England?
It was made here. ITC originally sanctioned it. I'd love to see that; the idea of melding three episodes into one.
What other TV work followed - "Whoops Apocalypse" as Jay Garrick...?
Before then I did "A Portrait of a Lady" with Richard Chamberlain, "The Way We Live Now" with Colin Blakely, "Out of the Unknown", ATV thrillers, the 'rabies' thing for the BBC, Francis Derbridge series for the BBC (six episodes), that series the BBC did about the kids who helped Sherlock Holmes, a lot of television and films. I was very, very consistently busy. Then, of course, "Whoops Apocalypse", that was very popular.
Did you enjoy doing something comical for a change?
Yes, it was wonderful, I loved it. We had a live audience and I enjoyed that enormously.
Some fans, who went to see the shooting, told me you and Barry Morse got together and reminisced about your days on the two Gerry Anderson shows you'd both done, "UFO" and "Space:1999"...
Yes, Barry is a very interesting guy. He's very articulate and got a great sense of recall. He'll mention "Oh, whatever became of so-and-so." You remember somebody you know, back and forth, back and forth, so we had great fun there.
What happened with the film of "Whoops Apocalypse"? What's the character you played?
The same guy, a fast newsreader, only he's called Wink Pearlman instead of Jay Garrick. As a matter of fact I think they've got a couple of other newsreaders in there, but they've expanded everything for the film. It was great fun.
Is John Cleese in it?
No, they got over an American actor to play the acrobat. Loosely the format is still the same: there's this international terrorist acrobat, a lot of "Whoops Apocalypse"-style black comedy! I had worked with Loretta Swit's husband and I didn't know he was married to her. You talk of actors and he says "My wife is going to England to make a movie." I said, "Is that right? What's her name?" When he told me I fell about, "My God, you're married to her - wonderful!" He described the film she was doing, "Whoops Apocalypse" and when I got back to England they called me in to do it and it was fine.
What was the job you did with her husband?
We did a TV movie called "The Fifth Missile" about the accidental firing of a nuclear missile with David Soul and Sam Waterson, very exciting stuff. I had a very nice part as an Admiral.
You played next to Sandra Dickenson in a science-fiction radio play?
Yes, they were very clever. It was a private eye and he had this little character, from outer space, who could turn into anything from a chain saw, to a tank, to a submarine - unfortunately it never caught on. Sandra Dickenson is a wonderful person. I worked a couple of other radio plays with her but I don't think I've ever done any stage or TV with her.
Is there anything in the future you're likely to be working on?
They're doing a sequel to "The Winds of War", two years shooting it. I met somebody last year and they asked me if I'd do a part sometime in August (1986 - Ed.).
You always get a great reception at the Fanderson Conventions...
Yeah, well, I think it's because they are all fans of Gerry.
I think the reason you keep being asked back is because you're such an excellent guest!
Actually, I can't understand why they don't ask Michael Billington or Gabrielle. I'm sure Michael would love to be a guest as a Convention.
He's done a lot of TV work - "Hart To Hart".
That's right. he went to L.A. and lived there for some time, doing quite well and he comes back here and lands a series ("The Collectors" - Ed.). Maybe he'll turn up at one of the Fanderson Conventions in the future. If he does, and I don't, give him my regards. Tell him Ed Bishop says, "Hello!"
Thank you for taking the time to talk and I wish you every success with your future projects,
Joe Beedell would like to thank Jo Banks, of the Galacticon Committee, for arranging the interview and Lynda Craney for its preparation for submission to "SiG".
Photographs: 3 photos of Captain Blue.
Confrontation between Straker and General Henderson
Transcribed for the SHADO Library and Archives by D.A. Rorabaugh from materials donated by Amelia and Ed Rodgers.
Ed Bishop Page