S.H.A.D.O.CON

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

UFO, Gerry Anderson’s first live-action television production at the end of a decade where he and his then-wife Sylvia redefined quality children’s TV in a run of Supermarionation series such as Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, was met with some indifference and disinterest when it debuted on UK TV in 1970. But the series – you don’t need us to remind you that it tells of the top secret organisation S.H.A.D.O. (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation), operating beneath an unassuming English film studio, waging a secret war against a race of hostile aliens but we’ll do it anyway – has over the years seen its reputation growing steadily as it’s discovered, explored and appreciated by new generations of admirers. UFO is now properly regarded not only as Gerry Anderson’s finest creative endeavour but also as a true landmark in the history of British television science fiction.

 

Fans of UFO enjoyed the rare opportunity to meet and celebrate the series in a dedicated UFO min-con in the airy and friendly environment of Derby’s Quad venue on June 3rd. S.H.A.D.O.Con, organised by the Markers Universal group, allowed the show’s fans to watch selected classic episodes from the series’ 26-week run in the venue’s impressive Sir John Hurt Theatre following by Q&A sessions with surviving cast and crew alongside the usual autograph and photograph sessions. Sadly most of UFO’s most famous names – Gerry Anderson himself, stars Ed Bishop, George Sewell and Michael Billington – are no longer with us but nevertheless, an interesting selection of guests were on hand to discuss their careers in general and their work on specific episodes of UFO. Veteran Anderson director Alan Perry took to the stage following a screening of his episode ‘The Dalotek Affair’ (Perry directed five episodes from the series, including ‘The Responsibility Seat and ‘Kill Straker!’, generally regarded as two of the strongest episodes from the first filming block), 1970s icon Ayshea Brough (who played S.H.A.D.O. operative Lt Johnson), actor Gary Raymond who guest-starred alongside Derren Nesbitt in ‘The Man Who Came Back’ and actors  Michael Jayston and Susan Jameson who appeared in ‘The Sound of Silence’. Keith Alexander, S.H.A.D.O. HQ’s long-suffering radio operative Lt Keith Ford, made his first convention appearance via Skype from his home in Australia and the legendary Shane Rimmer (best known to Anderson fans as the voice of Scott Tracy in Thunderbirds), now a pin-sharp octogenarian, delighted the audience with his memories of Gerry Anderson, Ed Bishop and, poignantly, the late Sir Roger Moore with whom he worked on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

In the Dealers Room, a small range of UFO merchandise was available for collectors but perhaps of most interest were the impressive range of custom-built models on display, ranging from a huge replica of the iconic Skydiver supersub, an impressive Moonbase shuttle and S.H.A.D.O. interceptors and Ground Mobiles of various sizes and hues. Also on display were rare concept design documents and drawings and a wide range of contemporary publicity material – lovely to look at, of course, but strictly no touchee!

At lunchtime, a trio of radio-controlled S.H.A.D.O. mobiles navigated an impromptu obstacle course outside the Quad and the event rounded off, a little later than scheduled, with the closing ceremony and prize raffle.

 

UFO ran for just one series so its fan following is never going to enjoy the same profile as that of more enduring franchises such as Star Trek or Doctor Who. Yet it’s heartening to see that, nearly fifty years after it was made and first screened, the series is still able to attract an impressive turn-out of devotees and that surviving cast and crew are still willing and able to share their memories of their involvement in one of TV’s finest genre productions.


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