Disappearances at SHADO Control: the revolving cast of UFO

“We’re about to disappear forever?” “It depends what order the viewer watches the show in.”

When re-watching UFO in production order (or the similar ITC Recommended order) many established characters suddenly disappear without explanation after the seventeenth episode. The reason for so many departures among the regular cast following the episode Sub-Smash was that production on the series had been interrupted for nine months due to the closure of the MGM Studios in Borehamwood. Since none of the regular cast were under contract to the series the actors had had to look elsewhere for work during the hiatus, and among the most notable names who were unable to return to the series when production resumed at Pinewood Studios were George Sewell (Alec Freeman), Gabrielle Drake (Lt Ellis), Antonia Ellis (Lt Harrington), Norma Ronald (Miss Ealand), Keith Alexander (Lt Ford), Gary Myers (Captain Waterman), Jeremy Wilkin (Lt Maxwell), Jon Kelley (Lt Masters), and Georgina Moon (Lt Sylvia Howell). In the case of George Sewell, his inability to return to the series due to other work conveniently negated having to explain to the actor that Abe Mandell of ITC America had instructed the Century 21 team to “get rid of the guy with the pock-marked face”.

However, not all of the show’s cast disappearances were the result of the break in production. One of the earliest departures from the series was that of Maxwell Shaw as Doctor Shroeder, who had been seen as SHADO’s chief medical officer in the first three produced episodes of the series. Shaw’s departure was not due to a problem with his performance but rather the result of a heart condition necessitating surgery. The creation of Doctors Jackson and Frazer in Exposed provided two characters who were able to take on SHADO medical matters during his absence (with Jackson ultimately becoming one of the show’s most popular characters) but Shaw did return to the series to make one final appearance as Shroeder in the episode E.S.P. (and the character received one final mention in Sub-Smash.)

Peter Gordeno, cast as Skydiver Captain Peter Carlin and prominently featured in six of the first eight episodes produced, was dropped from the series on the orders of Lew Grade as the result of an old contract dispute between Peter and Lew’s brother in the early 1960s. Another prominent character in early episodes was Harry Baird as interceptor pilot Mark Bradley, who disappeared from the series after the fifth filmed episode, Exposed. Baird’s departure was due to his frustration at the lack of advance notice regarding which actors would be working in which episodes, although he subsequently returned to the series in the episodes E.S.P. and Kill Straker!, to deliver dialogue scripted for an unnamed astronaut.

Lt Masters returned in the Pinewood episode Destruction.

Several of these ‘disappeared’ actors later returned to the series in other ways; Gary Myers turned up again as Captain Waterman in the episode Mindbender via reused footage from an earlier episode. Footage of the interior of the launch control building from Doppelganger also gave Jeremy Wilkin a return appearance (albeit not as his UFO character of Lt Gordon Maxwell) in The Man Who Came Back, which was also one of many Pinewood-produced episodes he provided background voices for. Keith Alexander (Lt Ford) can be heard as the voice of an interceptor pilot and a mobile driver in The Sound of Silence, an episode in which Jon Kelley (Lt Masters) also voices the pilot of Sky One and another mobile driver. Kelley was back aboard Skydiver in person for one final on-screen appearance as Masters in the episode Destruction, indicating that the show would have continued to use former cast members whenever they were available. Likewise, Norma Ronald returned as Miss Ealand for the episodes Timelash and Mindbender after having been covered by Lois Maxwell as Miss Holland in The Cat With Ten Lives and The Man Who Came Back during Ronald’s pregnancy.

On the show’s first transmission however UFO was shown in a largely random order, meaning that some later-produced episodes were brought to the front of the run and some earlier ones were pushed back – creating the illusion that characters like Colonel Freeman, Lt Ford and Lt Ellis never left the series at all!

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

Leave a comment

Prepare for life on Moonbase Alpha

UFO: The Complete Comic Collection

Related Articles