Home Article Anderson legends: The life and work of Ed Bishop

Anderson legends: The life and work of Ed Bishop

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George Victor Bishop was born at the Shore Road Hospital in Brooklyn on June 11th 1932, and moved with his family to New York at the age of 7. At the age of 20 he was called up for national service, spending two years working an announcer in the Armed Forces Radio service at St Johns, Newfoundland. After being discharged from the army he briefly attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps by training as a banker, but soon found that that life was not for him. Instead he enrolled in a drama course at Boston University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in the Theater in 1959. From there he won a scholarship to continue his dramatic studies at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and was so inundated by offers of work in the UK that he put his plans to return to the States on hold.

Within a month of leaving LAMDA Bishop made his theatre debut in Croydon in August 1960, and his first television work followed in April 1961 when he appeared in an episode of Drama 61 for Granada Television. After switching to the stage name of Edward (later Ed) Bishop, Ed made his feature film debut in 1961 with an uncredited role as an ambulance attendant in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, although he wouldn’t receive his first big screen credit until 1962 when he played a small role in the Steve McQueen WW2 film The War Lover.

The Saint – The Man Who Liked Lions

As his film career began to take off Ed was very much in demand for theatre work, and returned to the States in 1963 for a short run in several plays on the US stage. On returning to London in 1964 Ed voiced his very first puppet character, the daring space agent Paul Starr in a pilot film produced by the creator of Twizzle and Torchy, Robert Leigh. Staying in the field of childrens sci-fi Ed also provided the voice of the narrator for the cartoon Do-Do The Kid from Outer Space, and narrated the Halas and Batchelor animated short Automania 2000.

While his voiceover career was beginning to take off, Ed continued to make regular television appearances in such shows as Court Martial, The Baron, and four episodes of The Saint. Throughout the mid-to-late 1960s his film career was also beginning to gain traction, with minor roles in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, and as a shuttle pilot in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sadly, most of Ed’s contribution to the latter was cut, and in the finished film his voice cannot be heard in all that remains of his performance.

Captain Scarlet – Dangerous Rendezvous

Ed’s long association with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson began in autumn 1966 when he was hired to provide the voice of Captain Blue in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Captain Blue soon became Captain Scarlet’s regular partner and Ed went on to play the character in all 32 episodes of the show, also providing additional voices in five Captain Scarlet mini-albums produced on the Century 21 records label. The flexibility of the Captain Scarlet recording schedule enabled Ed to pursue other work; on television in 1967 he appeared in Man in a Suitcase, and in 1968 came the feature film Battle Beneath the Earth. Also in 1968 he was cast in the BBC dramatization of The Portrait of a Lady, opposite Suzanne Neve with whom he would later work again in UFO.

UFO – Kill Straker!

The Anderson connection continued in 1968, when Ed was cast as NASA liaison David Poulson in the feature film Doppelganger, better known by its alternative title Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. Despite being a late recast for a role that had originally been given to Thunderbirds regular Peter Dyneley Ed impressed both cast and crew alike with his performance, particularly when called upon to ad lib dialogue opposite George Sewell. Although he only appeared in a handful of scenes, it was his work on Doppelganger that was to land Ed the role that he would become best known for; that of Commander Ed Straker in the 1969 live action series UFO.

As commander of the SHADO organisation, leading Earth’s defences against hostile visitors from an unknown planet, the character of Ed Straker was originally intended to remain confined largely to his office at SHADO Headquarters. Ed’s driven determined portrayal so captured the imagination of the show’s writers however that by the end of production Straker was very much the focus of the entire series, and whole episodes were written specifically to put the character through the wringer physically, mentally and emotionally. Ed rose to the challenge every time, most notably in the episodes dealing with the death of his son, and the earlier breakup of his marriage. When filming on the series was complete, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson gave Ed the parting gifts of Straker’s watch (which he wore for the rest of his life) and one of his wigs (which he did not).

The Protectors – The First Circle

Following completion of UFO Ed continued to find work in the UK, most notably in the James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever as the cheerful technician Klaus Hergisheimer. In October 1971 he once again found himself working for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson when he guest-starred in The Protectors episode The First Circle. This episode, in which Ed played a mentally disturbed Vietnam war veteran, was almost a two-hander between him and Robert Vaughn, and was not only one of the best episodes of the series but also featured one of Ed’s finest performances.

In 1973 Ed moved to Los Angeles in an attempt to re-establish himself in the USA, but this proved unsuccessful as he found he was now just one American actor in a country already full of them. During this period Ed added another classic science fiction credit to his CV when he voiced the Prosecutor in the animated Star Trek episode The Magicks of Megas-Tu, while a significant low point came with a lead role in the 1974 sexploitation movie Pets. However, upon returning to the UK Ed was very quickly able to pick up where he had left off with appearances in hit series like Thriller, Colditz and The Professionals, and also read the Jay Williams novel The Hawkstone on the BBC children’s series Jackanory. He continued his association with Gerry Anderson by providing narration for the 1975 film The Day After Tomorrow, and also lent his voice to the Jif dessert topping commercial Alien Attack. In 1978 he worked again with Robert Vaughn on the feature film Brass Target, and with UFO guest star and future Terrahawks voice artist Windsor Davies in an episode of the BBC’s It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

With his uniquely distinctive voice Ed was always very much in demand for audiobook and voiceover work, with regular roles in the radio dramas The Archers and Waggoners Walk, and in one-off radio sci fi plays such as The Caves of Steel and the 1983 Journey into Space special The Return from Mars. His biggest success in radio came in 1977, when he was cast as Philip Marlowe in a series of six Radio 4 adaptations of the famous Raymond Chandler mystery novels. This radio work often brought Ed back into contact with many of the voice artists he had worked on Captain Scarlet, such as Shane Rimmer, David Healy, and Paul Maxwell.

Whoops Apocalypse – How to Get Rid of It

Throughout the 1980s Ed remained a familiar face and voice on British television in everything from the comedy series Whoops Apocalyse and The Two Ronnies, the children’s drama serial Chocky’s Children, a bizarre one-off puppet sci-fi special Stainless Steel and the Star Spies, and the horrific BBC dramas Threads and The Mad Death. He even made one of his most bizarre television appearances on a 1981 edition of Top of the Pops, when the group Landscape performed their latest single, Norman Bates. By this time nostalgia for the Gerry Anderson shows was in full swing, and when TVS repeated UFO as part of their Late Night Late programme during 1988 Ed was on hand to reminisce about his time on the show.

Although Ed would never return to the role of Commander Straker, Captain Blue received a new lease of life in the early 1990s when he recorded narration for audio adaptations of eight episodes of the original Captain Scarlet television series – although sadly these recordings would mostly remain on the shelf for the next twenty years until they received CD releases through Fanderson and Big Finish. Ed reprised Captain Blue again in 1999 in the CGI short film Captain Scarlet and the Return of the Mysterons, and yet again for the 2001 DVD documentary Captain Scarlet S.I.G., as well as in several commercials and toys.

Captain Scarlet S.I.G.

Ed was a regular and popular guest at TV and film conventions around the world, and was beloved by many fans for how kind and generous he was towards anyone who wanted to meet him. Always strongly opposed to conflict he attended and organised protests and demonstrations against the bombing of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, while 1993 he gatecrashed an arms fair in Aldershot while dressed as General Pinochet. In the early 2000s screen acting roles began to dry up a little, but in 2003 Ed finally got to lend his voice to the world of Doctor Who when he played the ruthless General Flint opposite David Collings’ Doctor in the Big Finish audio drama Full Fathom Five.

Ed Bishop passed away on June 2nd 2005 after contracting a chest infection whilst in hospital undergoing treatment for leukemia, just three days before his 73rd birthday and 5 days after the death of his UFO co-star Michael Billington. His final screen appearance, recorded just a few months before his passing, was alongside fellow Anderson stalwart Shane Rimmer in the BBC docu-drama Hiroshima.

In a career spanning nearly 45 years Ed Bishop amassed more than one hundred and fifty stage and screen credits, and lent his voice to dozens of radio productions, but he always knew that the role he would be best remembered for was that of Ed Straker in UFO. With UFO now more than half a century old, and his role as Straker being for many people the highlight of the series, it’s clear that Ed Bishop’s work will live on and be appreciated for a very long time to come.

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