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Imagine "Thunderbirds" with people instead of puppets
May 31, 2013 9:38 PM   Subscribe

UFO is a 1970 British science fiction television series about a secret military organization which defends the Earth from Alien invaders. The series was created by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson, who previously created the "Supermarionation" puppet TV series in the 1960's (Thunderbirds, Fireball XL-5), and would later create Space: 1999. The production is highly stylized, from the cars, hair styles, and future fashions to Ebert-worthy parties of the future, mesh space shirts and groovy theme music.

The series is set in what would have been ten years in the future -- the early 1980's. It had been discovered that Aliens are coming to Earth and kidnapping people for unknown reasons. A secret military defense organization named SHADO ("Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation") is set up and is just becoming operational in the first episode.

SHADO's main headquarters is secretly hidden beneath a London film studio, and many SHADO personnel double as film studio employees as a cover. SHADO also has a base on the moon ("Moonbase") and a fleet of submarines ("Skydiver"). Incoming UFO's are detected by an Earth orbiting satellite ("Space Intruder Detector", or "SID"). An initial interception attempt is made in space with three Interceptors launched from Moonbase. A second attempt is made in the Earth's atmosphere with a fighter plane ("Sky One") launched from Skydiver. Landed UFO's are tracked down with ground Mobiles.

ufoseries.com has an exhaustive collection of UFO-related information and links.

previously, previously, and previously.
posted by Room 641-A (44 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
And one of the best TV theme music intros ever.
posted by davidmsc at 9:45 PM on May 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Agreed! I keep expecting the cast to jump out and start doing the frug.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:50 PM on May 31, 2013


Wow, so weird seeing it in color.
posted by Runes at 9:56 PM on May 31, 2013


Thank you Gerry & Sylvia Anderson for Lt. Gay Ellis and her aluminized mylar miniskirt.
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:01 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I should have mentioned Col. Ellis and crew in the "pop culture crushes" thread. I saw this as a kid and loved it to death. I recently watched it as an adult and it was still fun, but Straker is such a tightly-wound asshole. I guess running a movie studio AND a secret elite military base is more stressful than my childhood dreams would have it. Also, you'd think the aliens would send, I dunno, four ufos at a time since the three interceptors have only one missile each.
posted by gamera at 10:30 PM on May 31, 2013


My favorite UFO fact: Space: 1999 began development as a second season of UFO, flashing forward two decades and focusing on the (now much larger) moon base.
posted by The Tensor at 10:45 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do they ever get Ghost Armor, Heavy Plasma, or a Blaster Launcher in the series? They involve a lot of research but the results are well worth the effort.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:46 PM on May 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


One of my favouritest toys as a kid was a diecast Moonbase Interceptor. Between this, Thunderbirds and Space 1999 the Andersons pretty much programmed my childhood and damn it was good. The future was going to be so cool!
posted by N-stoff at 10:47 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do they ever get Ghost Armor, Heavy Plasma, or a Blaster Launcher in the series? They involve a lot of research but the results are well worth the effort.

Hah!
posted by Slackermagee at 11:00 PM on May 31, 2013


Anyone remember the live-action Thunderbirds movie from 2004, starring Bill Paxton?

It was terrible.
posted by vhsiv at 11:06 PM on May 31, 2013


From here:

Ed Bishop's television credits range from OUT OF THE UNKNOWN to FRENCH & SAUNDERS to THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES. "I'm just known by the directors: 'Where can I get an American actor? Oh yeah, Ed Bishop!' I've even been on TOP of the POPS!"

Doing what, exactly? "There was this group called Landscape. I may be wrong but I think they only had one hit, a song called 'Norman Bates'. It went. "My name is Noooorman Bates, I'm just a nooooormal guy... ba ba ba ba ba ba'. At the beginning of the song there was a voice drawling, 'Did Norman really kill the girl at the Bates Motel? To answer that question we must go back, back to a time when Norman saw his mother in bed with her lover. This so disturbed Norman...' and so on. When they got on TOP of the POPS they had to get a guy to say all of this. Dial Ed Bishop! Jimmy Saville was the DJ," the actor laughs.
posted by quarsan at 11:56 PM on May 31, 2013


My favourite bit of UFO trivia is that Gabriella Drake is (was) Nick Drake's sister.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:08 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


And one of the best TV theme music intros ever.
Don't forget that the theme from Fireball XL-5 became a moderate hit on the UK charts some time back (I have it as a ringtone on my cell - i"m such a geek) .

Great post ! UFO was a fave TV show when I was a teen.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 12:19 AM on June 1, 2013


Oh yeah - and best future purple hairdos evah!
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 12:20 AM on June 1, 2013


"There was this group called Landscape. I may be wrong but I think they only had one hit, a song called 'Norman Bates'.

Nope - this was their one hit. But what a hit..
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:40 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajnLs4NQ3ek (SLYT)

Norman Bates, by Landscape reached Number 40 in the UK charts in May 1981. Ed comes in at about 2:40.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:40 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Though familiar with Space:1999 and Thunderbirds, I hadn't heard of UFO until I read Brad Hick's essay about the series a few years ago. He noted that here was this hugely expensive secret force dedicated to fighting the UFO menace, but was it actually worth having it considering the size of the threat:
So now, after ten years and billions of dollars, they can finally document just how much danger Earth has been in all this time. And how much of a threat are the aliens? They send one to three ships, every one to four months. Each of those ships kills and/or kidnaps two to three people, apparently for medical and/or scientific purposes. Over the course of the first roughly year of the program, the size of the "invasion" never wavers. And now SHADO has an even bigger problem, one that almost no other SF TV series has thought to address: would the world's governments still think it was worth untold billions of dollars a year and the risk of however many lives on a still-risky space program to prevent maybe a dozen deaths a year? Do we actually have to care that we're being invaded? Or would we be better off spending that money to help people who got burned in the space investment bubble, not to mention all the people who didn't even get that much benefit out of it.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:13 AM on June 1, 2013


Also, in retrospect UFO has to have been an inspiration for the XCOM games.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:14 AM on June 1, 2013


Le sigh.

I watched too many formative shows in my childhood. I firmly blame Batgirl for my love of women in tight fitting stretchy outfits.

I blame UFO for programming me to think obviously fake hair colors are an extreme addition of hotness.

This is my psyche.

Pity me.
posted by Samizdata at 1:21 AM on June 1, 2013


so NOW I know how to ask a woman on a date. You lose AskMe.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 1:35 AM on June 1, 2013


For better or worse, I absolutely cannot hear the names Gerry and Sylvia together without thinking of the "mole couple" from MST3K.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:15 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Norman Bates, by Landscape reached Number 40 in the UK charts in May 1981. Ed comes in at about 2:40.

A cover version by Covenant actually made its way through the L.A. goth club scene around 2006, as well.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:20 AM on June 1, 2013


UFO the series was indeed one of the inspirations for UFO: Enemy Unknown (as XCOM: UFO Defense was originally known).
posted by Asimo at 2:24 AM on June 1, 2013


Before UFO, there was The Secret Service - a hybrid supermarionation/live action espionage TV series featuring Stanley Unwin. Lew Grade cancelled the series due to a poor test screening (so it never made it to the USA, and was broadcast only in the UK). Here is the DVD trailer. This is the opening theme featuring an introductory scene for The Deadly Whisper. A Barry Gray Orchestra recording session for The Secret Service.

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson produced the live action feature film Doppelgänger (Journey to the Far Side of the Sun). Actors, costumes, props, location and music were used for the UFO TV series. Here's the movie trailer.
posted by plokent at 2:40 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was late to discover this (found it 6 months ago). Unreal. Awesome. Sylvia Anderson's set design is crazy good. Wacked out awesome show.

And must be mentioned, Gabrielle Drake (Nick's sister) was beyond cute in that getup. :-)
posted by parki at 4:17 AM on June 1, 2013


Pssst. Many UFO episodes are on YouTube. A great one is Mindbender, where the aliens try to convince Straker he is an actor in a TV series called UFO!
posted by wittgenstein at 4:31 AM on June 1, 2013


Yet another factoid: Col Virginia Lake is played by Wanda Ventham, who is none other than the mother of Benedict Cumberbatch.
posted by arzakh at 4:58 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


So was the Peter Graves look-alike thing an attempt to cash in on him, or was Peter Graves cashing in on an earlier "look"?

Mylar miniskirts and purple hair forever!
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:24 AM on June 1, 2013


"Anyone remember the live-action Thunderbirds movie from 2004, starring Bill Paxton?

It was terrible.
"

I found this while I was putting together this post:
Team America: World Police, a 2004 movie by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is inspired by and uses the same style of puppetry as Thunderbirds. Stone and Parker, however, dubbed their version of the technique "Supercrappymation" since the strings controlling the puppets were intentionally left visible. Coincidentally that same year, a live-action Thunderbirds movie, directed by Jonathan Frakes, with computer effects was made, attempting to mimic the popular children's movie Spy Kids.[citation needed] The live-action Thunderbirds film was met with poor reviews, and Team America: World Police creators Stone and Parker slated Frakes's live-action approach as "a terrible miscalculation": "I mean, if you aren’t using puppets, then you ain’t got nothin’. They sure didn’t have a story."
posted by Room 641-A at 6:24 AM on June 1, 2013


And remember: it's pronounced "u-foe."
posted by No Robots at 6:34 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the appropriate place to mention what I am sure you will all agree is the single best Metafilter secret santa present ever. MsVader combed through my entire Mefi history, found this two-year-old comment about my love for UFO in a Space:1999 post, and decided to get me...a UFO lunchbox. Sky 1 on the front, Straker+Interceptor on the back, and random scenes including fishnet-clad Skydiver personnel on the sides. Thanks again, MsVader!
posted by googly at 6:42 AM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I knew we were on a slippery slope to UFO posts.
posted by that's how you get ants at 6:49 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, you'd think the aliens would send, I dunno, four ufos at a time since the three interceptors have only one missile each.

I vaguely recall a rousing conclusion where the aliens finally decide to send in a big fleet of ufos, and blow a lot of stuff up. It was excellent.
posted by ovvl at 7:31 AM on June 1, 2013


One of my favorite moments is when Straker tells a black SHADO agent to shut up because they abolished racism like five years ago.

My inner 14 year old is also compelled to note that the most important thing about the mesh shirts the Skydiver crew wore is that all the crew wore them. Including the lady crew.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:36 AM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did a fairly good version, too...
posted by Graygorey at 7:50 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Gabrielle (/swoon) talks about Nick in A Skin Too Few.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 8:23 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The prospect of men with hairy chests and semi-exposed nipples under fishnet kept me watching that show when it would emerge periodically, out of order, in patchy UHF syndication in the US.

Well...the purple wigs did help, too.
posted by sonascope at 8:31 AM on June 1, 2013


After watching the intro, I have a sudden urge to dive down a garbage chute. Best way of getting around ever.
posted by arcticseal at 8:44 AM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I loved UFO when I was a boy. I had toys, built versions of scenes out of Legos and Tinkertoys, even wrote fanfic in 3rd grade.
Thanks for the memory-rush post.
posted by doctornemo at 10:37 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If anyone wants to reify their UFO nostalgia, this free model of Skydiver 1 might fit the bill.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 11:56 AM on June 1, 2013


One thing I always wondered about SHADO was that the captain of SkyDiver was also the interceptor pilot.

I mean, captaining a submarine crew and flying a swimming jet that hunts aliens are two REALLY distinct skills sets, and even as a kid watching reruns in the 80s I wondered why the SD fleet didn't have dedicated interceptor pilots like on Moonbase.

Unless SHADO is more like Team Zissou than I imagined.:
STRAKER: I want you for SHADO, Paul.

FOSTER: I'm not sure I have the skillset.

STRAKER: None of us do. Ellis used to be a bus driver. Freeman was a substitute teacher. We're a pack of strays, don't you get it?
This week, special guest star Seu Jorge as Safety Officer Pele dos Santos. "Leve-me até a lua, E deixe-me brincar por entre as estrelas. Deixe-me ver como é a primavera Em Jupiter e Marte…"

Interns share a pistol.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:49 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like many, I loved this show and Space 1999. So tempted to pull out the DVDs today.

There's also a pastiche Dr Who novel that I recall being quite good.
posted by Mezentian at 5:10 PM on June 1, 2013


I felt that UFO found its true voice only in the last few episodes, where a twilight-zone twist was added to the usual stories. Standouts in this regard are Timelash and Mindbender. (Sub-Smash is good too.)

The creepy Ligeti-esque music over the end credits deserves mention too. Still sends a chill up my spine as the alien world enters the frame at the end.

Tangentially, in 5th grade I saved all summer to buy the die-cast metal Dinky toy of the Moonbase Interceptor. I take it to school to show it off, and it goes missing from my locker. Then I find out what happened to it in art class--the upper classmen made a stop-motion film of it being burned/bent/destroyed. To this day, 35 years later, I still never let my stuff out of my sight when I'm not at home. It was that traumatic.
posted by jabah at 6:27 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


1980!


God, I loved this show when I was ten years old. I wish it made sense.
posted by Naberius at 11:55 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


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