Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
U.F.O. (1970-71)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of U.F.O. (1970-71)
Century 21 Pictures for ITV, tx. (ATV Midlands) 16/9/1970-24/7/1971;
(ITV Network) 18/9/1971-12/2/1972
26 x 60 min episodes, colour
Created byGerry & Sylvia Anderson
ProducersGerry Anderson
 Reg Hill

Cast: Ed Bishop (Commander Ed Straker); Michael Billington (Colonel Paul Foster); George Sewell (Colonel Alec Freeman); Gabrielle Drake (Lieutenant Gay Ellis); Wanda Ventham (Colonel Virginia Lake); Grant Taylor (General James Henderson)

Show full cast and credits

It is the year 1980 and covert military group SHADO commands a fleet of all-terrain vehicles and spacecraft in an ongoing struggle with an alien race, whose members require human organs to sustain their own sterile bodies.

Show full synopsis

When Gerry Anderson's Joe 90 (ITV, 1968-69) proved unpopular and his spy-fi drama The Secret Service (ITV, 1969) was pulled mid-series, Lew Grade (now managing director of Anderson's AP Films) suggested the Thunderbirds (ITV, 1965-66) creator should hang up his marionettes and try a live-action series instead. Anderson did so with his next sci-fi adventure series UFO, which dispensed entirely with Anderson's trademark 'SuperMarionation', but retained its comic-book lustre.

Recycling props (as well as actor George Sewell) from the Anderson-produced sci-fi movie Doppelganger (d. Robert Parrish, 1969), UFO presented an endearingly kitsch vision of the near future, circa 1980. Female employees of the series' secret organisation SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation) were required to wear uniforms (designed by Anderson's then-wife Sylvia) consisting of a metallic miniskirt, silver go-go boots and a huge purple wig, the necessity of which remained a mystery.

UFO adhered to the formula that characterised Anderson's previously successful children's series: a secret government installation run by a close-knit group of men and women mobilises an array of high-tech vehicles to defend earth from an alien menace. Yet episodes were often surprisingly adult in tone, like the rarely-repeated 'The Long Sleep' (tx. 15/3/1973), which was held back for two years and finally aired in a late-night slot because of an LSD sequence. Another episode concentrated entirely on the disintegration of a marriage. Young audiences often lost patience with the series' lack of pace, while critics could rarely resist the temptation to liken the actors' wooden performances to those of Anderson's previous casts.

Although it never achieved the consistent dignity Terry Nation would later bring to sci-fi TV with Blake's 7 (BBC, 1978-81), UFO boasted several memorably entertaining episodes, 'Mindbender' (tx. 13/1/1971), in which an alien mineral causes the icy, peroxide-blonde Commander Straker to believe he is an actor on the set of a sci-fi series. Derek Meddings' special effects proved another highlight. Their impressively detailed miniature landscapes, warbling flying saucers and sleek futuristic aircraft (including Sky One, a jet fighter launched via submarine), proved almost as popular among young male fans as future Crossroads (ITV, 1964-88; 2001-03) manageress Gabrielle Drake, here playing sci-fi pin-up Lt. Gay Ellis.

Fondly remembered by devotees of sci-fi camp, UFO lasted 26 episodes, before Anderson cannibalised his remaining ideas for the show (along with sets and props) for his next live-action sci-fi series, Space: 1999 (ITV, 1975-77).

Alec Worley

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Pressure leak (2:40)
2. Interceptor attack (3:31)
3. Missing, feared dead (2:59)
Complete episode 'Survival' (46:31)
Grade, Lord Lew (1906-1998)
Spooner, Dennis (1932-1986)
Gerry Anderson - Supermarionator