At the age of 8 I had to miss out on some of Gerry Anderson’s previous show UFO because I was not allowed to stay up and see the late night ‘adult’ episodes. I was gutted. Subsequently, when I first got wind of Space:1999, I was feverishly gulping every clue as to what it would be like. The biggest of these was the Dinky Toys model of the main spacecraft – The Eagle Transporter. Once out of it’s ‘bubble’ pack I flew this model all around the house and observed it from every angle, completely hypnotised. I also bought one of the paperback novelisations, with some pictures on the front, including the head and shoulders of Doctor Russell (Barbara Bain) in a dream-like moment from one episode. I was desperate to know more, but it was not until I saw the actual first episode that I really understood and came to love the show.
I watched ‘Breakaway’, that first episode, at my Nan’s house because she had the biggest TV screen. I sat in front of it staring, with my Nan and Grandad in reverential silence behind me. One of the reasons for the silence was that I had decided to record the whole thing on audio cassette (this being a pre-video age) so that I could re-live it later. The whole experience had echoes of the first moon landing when as schoolchildren we were all allowed to sit and watch on the biggest screen the school could muster. Now it was the next stage of the adventure – from crude reality, to vivid dramatisation.
In the story, Moonbase Alpha was the Earth’s permanent and mostly self-sufficient base on the moon. A sprawling complex where three hundred or so scientists and astronauts presided over space science, and the biggest man made nuclear waste dump. Unfortunately the nuclear waste exploded, sending the moon and its crew on a journey into space adventures.
The show’s creator Gerry Anderson seemed to be playing a kind of weird game of tag with ITC’s American office, where they would say he should do something but by the time it was done they wanted something else. During the first run of his previous show UFO, he was told it was getting great ratings, and they wanted a second series with more shows based on the moon. By the end of the programme’s run they’d changed their minds and said the ratings weren’t good enough. Eventually this moon oriented version of UFO (‘UFO:1999’) got re-vamped into Space:1999.
As well as boasting the biggest budget for such a TV show ever, it followed the Lew Grade formula of gathering a wealth of talent that TV companies around the world would find hard to resist syndicating. The promotional material drew attention to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the husband and wife team behind Thunderbirds, and also Barry Gray, their music supremo. Also heavily promoted was the presence of husband and wife team Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in the starring roles of moonbase Commander John Koenig, and medical officer Doctor Helena Russell. Another one of Gerry Anderson’s headaches was the Hollywood negotiation for this famous team, who he had been advised were critical for the show to be picked up by networks across the States. Despite their presence the show never achieved the coverage it was intended to.
By the time the show was broadcasting I was determined not to miss out on any of the fun, and I collected every piece of Space:1999 trivia and merchandising that I could. My collection swelled after a trip to see my Aunt in California in 1976, where I obtained my Space:1999 lunchbox, and sent off for sew-on Alpha Moonbase patches, amongst many other items.
A second season of the show was commissioned, but the budget was dramatically reduced, and several stylistic changes were made, again to satisfy advice coming from ITC’s American office. Where the first series had attempted to capture the majesty of space in the spirit of 2001:A Space Odyssey, the second series attempted to be more of a mainstream adventure show. Unfortunately it is not regarded as having succeeded, and I personally find it a little difficult to enjoy compared to the original.
In 1980 I got my ultimate memorabilia of the show after I read that theatrical costumiers Bermans and Nathans were going to be selling off outfits from the show one Saturday morning. My mother and I conspired to move all the clocks in the house forward an hour to trick my brother into driving us there very early. We were second in the queue and I bought 8 outfits (tops and trousers). They’ve seen a lot of action since then as I have used them as costumes for the Adventures of Parsley, my TV Themes band.
In recently re-mastered digital glory, the first season remains a testament to man’s exploration of the ideas of space travel. Whilst sometimes having mixed success in examining the deepest intellectual challenges of philosophical science fiction, it successfully created an imaginative and complete vision of a future world that was spectacular to watch.