Wilfred Greatorex may not be a name familiar to many Anderson fans, since it doesn’t appear on any completed Anderson production. However, he created (or co-created) several highly successful television series over the course of his life, including Secret Army, Man at the Top, 1990, Hine – and most relevant to the Anderson story, The Plane Makers and The Power Game.
Both series starred Patrick Wymark as the scheming Sir John Wilder, alongside Jack Watling as his dangerously loyal Smithers-esque assistant Don Henderson, and Barbara Murray as Lady Pamela Wilder. 1963’s The Plane Makers saw Wilder as the managing director of aircraft company Scott Furlong Ltd, with the series culminating in a disastrous sequence of events that would see Wilder relegated to serving on the board of a merchant bank, where we find him at the start of the 1965 follow-up series The Power Game. Now bored with this role, he seizes with both hands the opportunity to become joint managing director of building firm Bligh Construction – but finds himself in direct conflict with members of the Bligh family, including Caswell (Clifford Evans) and his son Kenneth (Peter Barkworth). With the two shows combined running to six seasons and ninety-seven episodes from February 1963 to April 1969, John Wilder was soon one of British television’s most popular characters – even if he could often be a very nasty piece of work.
The connection between a pair of boardroom drama series and the Anderson universe may at first be hard to spot, but Gerry and Sylvia Anderson were avid viewers of both shows, and from the mid-1960s onwards Greatorex’s influence could be prominently felt in several of their productions. The earliest indications of this can be found in the 1966 feature film Thunderbirds are Go, with a guest puppet that has clearly been modelled on Patrick Wymark and appears in a setting that Wilder was often to be found in. Seen as the chairman of the Zero-X enquiry board, this puppet returned for another boardroom scene in Thunderbird 6, and still survives to this day.
It was with 1969’s Doppelgänger (more widely known today by its American title of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) that the Andersons were able to more directly indulge their Power Game interest, most notably with the casting of the star of both shows Patrick Wymark as EUROSEC director Jason Webb. “I wanted Patrick in the picture because of what I’d seen him do on television,” recalled Anderson in his biography What Made Thunderbirds Go! “I loved him. He was a gentle, friendly man, and a bloody good actor.”
Jason Webb is essentially John Wilder in all but name, with even the Doppelgänger press book describing the character as ‘John Wilder (2069 model)’, and although he takes third billing on the film’s credits behind Roy Thinnes and Ian Hendry Patrick Wymark really is the star of the film. As with John Wilder, Jason Webb is usually to be found either in important meetings that can’t even start unless everyone has a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other, or back in his office plotting, counter-plotting and plotting a counter-counter-plot to a counter-plot that his opponent hasn’t even plotted yet – while always able to turn even the biggest of personal and professional disasters to his advantage. For long time Power Game fans, seeing such an obvious clone of Wilder finally being forced to grapple with the more complex existential implications of the film’s duplicate planet is a very satisfying way to conclude the film – particularly as it came so close to the end of Wymark’s own life, with the star passing away at the age of just forty-four in October 1970.
Once work on Doppelgänger was completed, the Andersons collaborated with Greatorex himself on a new feature film project, to be titled Youth is Wasted on the Young. Although the project stalled due to scripting problems, the story’s central concept about an aging dictator plotting to have his brain transplanted into a younger body would inspire a key motivation for the alien antagonists in the Andersons’ next television series; UFO.
It is also here that we see the greatest thematic comparison between The Power Game and an Anderson production, as the frosty relationship between Commander Ed Straker and General Henderson is very similar to the rivalry between John Wilder and Caswell Bligh in The Power Game. Both sets of characters base their rivalry in similar backgrounds; General Henderson was surely in line to be Commander of SHADO before the injuries he received in a car crash forced him ‘upstairs’, necessitating his replacement with the younger Ed Straker – while in The Power Game, Caswell Bligh is forced to forfeit his control over Bligh Construction after taking the chairmanship of the National Export Board, and thus inadvertently allowing Wilder the chance to seize control of the business he created. Meanwhile, as much as he might like to, Wilder/Straker can’t dismiss the concerns and interest of Bligh/Henderson entirely since the latter still has powerful financial and political influence over his activities. Although each relationship was often a friendly rivalry, there was always the potential for things to get very bloody – and for both sides to fight dirty if it suited their interests. The Wilder/Bligh rivalry was even resonating in the Anderson universe several years after UFO, in John Koenig’s thorny working relationship with Commissioner Simmonds in Space:1999.
It wasn’t only in the casting of Patrick Wymark that the Andersons would pay homage to the Power Game characters. Having cast Wymark to play Jason Webb, it must have made sense to try to get the actress who played Wymark’s television secretary Kay Lingard to play Webb’s secretary Pam Kirby – so they did! Actress Norma Ronald appeared in the film alongside Wymark, before being hired as Ed Straker’s secretary Miss Ealand for UFO. Although Ronald’s presence is more keenly felt in The Plane Makers and the first two seasons of The Power Game than it is in Doppelgänger or UFO, Miss Lingard, Miss Kirby and Miss Ealand are basically the same character; the point of entry from the outside world into the office of our main character, steadfastly loyal no matter how much he snaps at her, and sometimes serving as his sounding board when he has alienated everyone else around him.
George Sewell was also likely hired for his role in Doppelgänger thanks to his recurring role in the first two seasons of The Power Game as charismatic construction engineer Frank Hagadan. While certainly steelier in Doppelgänger as EUROSEC security chief Mark Neuman, it is as Alec Freeman in UFO that Sewell got the chance to step outside the more traditional ‘coppers and villains’ roles he was perhaps best known for. Initially and clumsily introduced in Identified as a rampant womaniser (perhaps inspired by The Power Game’s romantic subplot of Hagadan’s affair with Pamela Wilder), Freeman was quickly redefined as a voice of morality against some of Straker’s tougher decisions, in much the same way that Don Henderson frequently was to John Wilder.
Other regular members of the Power Game cast to appear in UFO included Philip Madoc (Rutland in A Question of Priorities and the Captain in Destruction), Robin Bailey (Kofax in Exposed), Michael Jayston (Russell Stone in The Sound of Silence), and Deborah Grant (Linda Simmonds in The Psychobombs), while Ann Firbank (who temporarily replaced Barbara Murray as Pamela Wilder during series three of The Plane Makers) guested in Space:1999’s final episode The Dorcons. Even Neptune House, the building often seen in UFO as the main offices of Harlington-Straker Studios (as well as a EUROSEC building in Doppelgänger) has a connection to the world of Wilder – having previously appeared as the exterior of both Scott Furlong and Bligh Construction!
“I admired his knack of writing about political matters in a compelling way,” recalled Gerry Anderson about Greatorex’s work, and it’s clear that that admiration was also an inspiration on much of the Andersons’ work of the late Sixties and early Seventies, particularly UFO. At a time when the Andersons were aiming to produce more adult-oriented content, the success of The Plane Makers and The Power Game provided a template for the kind of direction they wanted to take their stories; a greater focus on human interest drama, romantic entanglements, and power struggles at home and abroad. Obviously if you’re looking for sci-fi action then these shows will leave you bitterly disappointed (beyond the various Anderson and Doctor Who-related guest appearances), but if you’re in the mood for a superbly compelling pair of 1960s television dramas that feature great British actors yelling at each other across desks, The Plane Makers and The Power Game are hard to top – and for Anderson fans, they represent a very interesting look into the one of the strongest influences on Gerry and Sylvia’s earliest live-action sci-fi productions.