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Five shows that reused UFO computer props

Following completion of UFO Century 21 Props were able to recoup some of the series’ production costs by hiring out the show’s various computers and consoles to many television and film productions throughout the 1970s. Although it’s unlikely the average viewer would have noticed this at the time, the advent of home media has made it obvious just how often these props were reused. Here are five famous TV series of the 1970s where you might just have seen ex-SHADO equipment.

#5 – Space:1999

Although Space:1999 occasionally reused props from UFO (Miss Ealand’s typewriter appeared in several early episodes of the show, and Nina Barry’s binoculars from the episode Mindbender appeared in Commander Koenig’s hands on more than one occasion) it was rare to see any reused computer props since Moonbase Alpha had a markedly different visual style from UFO. However, the interior of the Ultra Probe from the episode Dragon’s Domain features several elements of the Skydiver set, including some very familiar tape machines…

…that eagle-eyed viewers may very well recognise from appearances in earlier Supermarionation series!

Which means they basically had a more successful career than anyone else pictured here.

#4 – Star Maidens

This mid-1970s Anglo-German ‘sci-fi sex comedy’ series was produced around the same time as Space:1999, and has more in common with that series than it does UFO. It has a similar visual style to 1999’s – most likely due to the fact that Keith Wilson was production designer on both shows –, uses many of the show’s more recognisable sound effects, and also features several actors who appeared in 1999, as well as future Roj Blake himself Gareth Thomas.

Although Star Maidens incorporated many specially-built computer props these were often supplemented by consoles from UFO. Much of the equipment in Professor Evans’ lab was previously seen in SHADO Control and in the final episode of the series an alien spaceship’s interior consists entirely of a bank of panels from UFO’s Moonbase control sphere, the Lunar Module’s control panel, and Victor Bergman’s sphere prop from Space:1999.

The old Mk IV Recorder console being operated by UFO/1999 extra Alan Harris. We don’t think he was sold with the props, but you never know.


#3 – The New Avengers

The valiant John Steed, along with Mike Gambit and Purdey, returned to our screens in the mid-1970s to continue his battle against England’s most infamous villains – only now these diabolical masterminds could be found making use of SHADO technology in four episodes of the show!

More often than not The New Avengers used these props as background dressing, with a notable exception in the episode Angels of Death where Lieutenant Ford’s desk is used as a remote control for an electronic deathtrap into which Steed and Purdey have been lured.

“It’s just something I installed in my spare time, sir.”

#2 – The Muppet Show

UFO set elements were often seen in two regular sketches on the popular ATV series. The first of these was the Muppet Labs sketch, starring Dr Bunsen Honeydew and his hapless assistant Beaker as they attempted valiantly to push back the boundaries of science until science pushed back twice as hard. The sketch wouldn’t be given a permanent set until the show’s third season, and so for the first two seasons Bunsen and Beaker would present their revolutionary inventions (such as the nuclear shaver, the electric nose warmer, and the all-important gorilla detector) while standing in front of two computer banks from Skydiver and a Moonbase console (which changed between the first and second seasons).

Season two of The Muppet Show saw the debut of the ever-popular Pigs in Space sketch, and the set of the Swinetrek bridge incorporated several sections of the Moonbase control sphere (most notably the curved banks of coloured lights which were mounted near the doors) which remained until the show ended production after its fifth season.

Also the Swinetrek evidently stopped off at Moonbase Alpha to borrow this portable nuclear generator too. There’s a crossover we’d like to see!

#1 – Doctor Who

Of all the shows on this list, Doctor Who made by far the most frequent use of the SHADO consoles with no less than 21 serials produced between 1971 and 1985 featuring some piece of equipment familiar to UFO fans. The most notable example can be found in the 1973 story The Green Death, in which the control room of the meglomaniacal computer B.O.S.S. was constructed almost entirely from elements of the Skydiver, SHADO Control and Moonbase sets.

The final appearance of any UFO consoles in Doctor Who came in 1985, when several panels from the Moonbase control sphere appeared on the wall of Davros’ lair in Revelation of the Daleks.

“Do not call me by my name on an open channel!”

By the beginning of the 1980s the UFO computer props, with their spools of spinning tapes, randomly blinking lights and painfully slow printouts must have seemed more than a little low-tech to contemporary audiences, and it’s no wonder they were quietly retired. However, it’s a testament to the craftsmanship that went into their production that some of these props continued to function up to fifteen years after they were first built, and it’s always fun to spot them lurking in the background of various show and films.

Let us know in the comments below if you’re aware of any other notable appearances of SHADO tech!

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.

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