This week’s guest blog comes from Richard James who played Officer Orrin in Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct.
“The release of Paul Cotrulia’s ‘Space Precinct Legacy’ last month set me thinking. I’m sure there can’t be many people whose lives were changed by a TV series, but Space Precinct did it for me.
I had just left drama school in 1992 and had spent the first year or so struggling as a professional actor. A couple of days’ work here and there had not proven enough to keep me solvent or happy, and I was on the verge of giving it all up. When I got the call.
I was to go to Pinewood Studios to audition for a new Gerry Anderson live-action tv series, then called ‘Space Police’. The audition was no different to any other I had attended, except rather more was at stake; a regular role in the most expensive tv series ever made. A whole year’s work at Pinewood studios with a British sci-fi legend.
Looking back, there was no particular reason why I should have been cast as Officer Orrin. I can’t believe my audition was any better than anyone else’s, obviously my looks weren’t too important (I spent 24 episodes under prosthetic makeup!), and I even ended up being revoiced for the series. Perhaps I was just in the right place at the right time. And thank heavens for that!
After my initial audition I had my ‘life cast’ session with Richard Gregory, head of creature design on the series. This entailed me having my head encased in a strange silicon based substance; a procedure that some find uncomfortable but that I actually found quite soothing. It was Richard who told me, in the absence of any news from my agent, that I was basically on a ‘short list of one’ for the role.
It was time to get excited.
Sure enough, the offer was made some days later, and I was off on the adventure of a lifetime. Despite not getting off to a particularly auspicious start (the battery pack for my character’s eyes caught fire in my back pocket on my first day’s filming!), I was determined to enjoy every day. I was lucky enough to be cast alongside the gorgeous Simone Bendix, with whom I had recently spent three years training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and quickly made new friends among the cast – feeling a particular kinship with the other actors playing aliens on the show. I learnt lots from the likes of Rob Thirtle and Andy Dawson; how to move and use my body in such a way as to bring these strange creatures to life. Officers Orrin and Romek (and earlier, Beezle) were quickly established as the ‘comic relief’ of the series.
I decided that Orrin still lived with his mother in Demeter City, and was (perhaps like myself!) rather particular in his ways. I was always careful to wear my police jacket zipped up to the same height each episode.
That year at Pinewood brought me face to face with many of my heroes. Being a big Bond fan, I was delighted to work with director John Glen, and was particularly flattered to be asked to play other characters in his episodes (Coe Barner in ‘Illegal’ and Pike in ‘Deadline’).
Other memories include being treated to a private performance of one of Richard III’s soliloquies by Steven Berkoff, being profiled in a Radio Times feature, scaring the pants off a whole generation of children as the vampire-like Enil Kmada (‘Predator and Prey’) and meeting a twelve year old fan dressed as Officer Orrin at a ‘Fanderson’ convention in Watford.
I’m often asked, what was Gerry Anderson like? I was slightly in awe of him, if truth be told, and perhaps this prevented me from making any particular attempts to get to know him well, but I found him to be a softly spoken, rather reserved man. He was rarely on set, and more often found in his office with his nose to the grindstone. In fact, over recent years I have had to re-evaluate my impression of him. If, at the time, I found him rather detached, it’s only now that I realise he was simply concerned with keeping the show on the road. I can now understand that the gripes and grumbles of a young actor must have been way down his list of concerns, and that (as we have learned from Paul Cotrulia’s documentary) I was lucky enough simply to receive a pay cheque every week!
We all know the show had its problems and it’s not the most loved of Gerry’s series, but for me it has a different legacy. Space Precinct was unusual in that the whole creative team were assembled under one roof, and it was in the production corridors of L&M Block at Pinewood Studios that I met my now wife and mother of my two children, Charlotte Serpell, who was assistant editor on the series.
So, I shall forever be grateful to Gerry. He took a young actor on the verge of throwing in the towel and set him off on a career that has, thus far, lasted twenty years. He gave me experiences beyond my imagination (if you’ve never fired a blaster in anger, you haven’t lived!), and he introduced me to the woman who would, in time, take me as her husband make me a father.
Now that’s some legacy.”