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The astronaut who blasted off from down under

See Space: 1999 in Australia guide

The astronaut who blasted off from down under

TV Times (Australia), 15 January, 1977; p30-31

Nick Tate can thank his lucky stars - and his own determination and belief in himself as an actor - for hie leading role in the British science-fiction series Space: 1999. Lance Peters in London takes up Tate's success story.

Nick Tate, 35, blond hair, unpretentious, with sort of Aussie Robert Redford looks, son of two or Australia's most beloved and talented theatricals - Neva Carr Glynn and John Tate - hag hit the American TV big time. By working in England.

As astronaut Alan Carter on the science fiction series Space: 1999, whose 48 one-hour episodes were filmed at Pinewood Studios, he gets about five-thousand worshipful fan letters week, mostly from American teenage sci-fi fans who thank Tate and Space: 1999 the greatest things to happen out of this world since Star Trek.

The two American stare of Space: 1999 - Martin Landau and Barbara Bain - who vent from Mission: Impossible to mission highly improbable in the space series - also get fan mail, but not as much their captain from down under.

Perhaps it's the combination of Aussie aggressiveness and Tate's own youthful blond headed vulnerability that starts the fans writing with avowals of of earthy, undying love for their outer space hero, but as yet his popularity is not world-wide.

In the U.S. where Space: 1999 is syndicated from coast to coast at good, early evening viewing times, they love the whole weird, gimmicky, imaginative, mind-blowing sci-fi concept. And why not? The Americans, after all, were - with the Russians - mainly responsible for transferring science-fiction into fact.

But in the UK, where the series is filmed, the program hag been relegated to Saturday morning viewing on London Weekend Television, because British viewers, it seems, prefer the past to the future.

Nevertheless, Tate feels on top of the world. He recently won the Australian Film Award for the best Australian film actor for his work in the film Devil's Playground, playing a very earthy teaching brother.

After completion of the space series, he has been invited to star in a new Australian movie, a thriller written by Cliff Green and produced by Pat Lovell, titled Summerfield.

He has also been offered two important roles in two American movies to be made in Britain, and he has just bought the film rights to an Australian novel, which he hopes to produce in Australia in the near future.

But it hasn't been easy. Or quick.

Tate first left Sydney for London in 1965 with the same starry ambition that has prompted a myriad Of Australian actors to travel there. He stayed in London for four years until 1969, and in that tine he appeared in small roles in 13 TV productions, ranging from Dixon of Dock Green through Z Cars and Troubleshooters, played in repertory theatre in different parts of the British Isles, all that accounted for much less than half his working time.

So he did other to keep off hie dole. He worked a demonstrator at the Ideal Homes Exhibition, for a flat-letting agency, sold thermal installations, double-glazing, did life guarding at the Oasis swimming pool and did lots of market research around Golders Green (middle class) and Islington (working class) in London, interviewing house wives about their birth control habits (or lack of then).

One day in Piccadilly he bumped into an actor friend who asked the usual actor's question: "Working or resting?"

Tate confessed: "Times are rough, mate."

The friend told him he leaving a good job in a Soho strip club, the Nell Gwyn, for a repertory job, and that Tate could take it over if he interested. He was - "Seventeen quid a week in warm strip club was preferable to freezing, trudging the wintry streets as a market researcher."

He stayed there for a year as "stage manager", ringing the curtain up and down, putting the girls' props out, putting their music tapes on and improvising when they didn't turn up for work (which was often).

Tate returned to Sydney in 1969 to play in the stage production of the Canterbury Tales, and didn't stop working for three years. He played hie own father, John Tate's, TV son in the Dynasty series, appeared in all the Crawford police series, in Thomas Keneally's An Awful Rose at the Jane Street Theatre and in David Williamson's Don's Party at the Old Tote, in which he scored a hit as Don.

Then he played the lead in the TV pilot for Artransa titled The Chaser. Tate felt it was the best piece of Australian TV he had done, but commercial networks wouldn't buy it.

In mid-1973 with a pocketful of money from all the work in Australia, Tate headed back to London, mainly to gee his father, who was living there.

This time he bumped into John McCallum in Piccadilly. Same question: "Working or resting?" Tate replied: "A bit of both."

McCallum revealed he was on his way to lunch with Bruce Gyngell, who was then deputy managing director of Sir Lew Grade's Associated Television (ATV) and Incorporated Television Company (ITC). He later mentioned Tate's presence in London to Gyngell, who promptly dictated letters to several TV producers warmly recommending him for casting consideration.

It seems that Gyngell had been delighted with Tate's performance in the unsuccessful pilot The Chaser, made when Gyngell was in charge at Artransa.

Two of the people Gynge11 sent letters to were Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. co-producers of many TV series, including the sci-fi animation and live-action Thunderbird series. They just happened to be casting for Space: 1999. Tate was invited along. He had a long interview with Michael Barnes, the director, which produced no sparks.

He asked to gee Sylvia, the co-producer. Barnes replied she too busy to see him. Tate stood hie ground. He said that Bruce Gyngell had written specially to Sylvia about him and emphasized that he should see her.

In view of the fact that ITC was backing the Aeries, a word from Gyngell should have carried weight. But Barnes was adamant - "She's too busy to see you, and anyway, I'm doing the casting!"

Tate even more adamant - "I'm not leaving till I see her!"

Sylvia agreed to gee Tate for two minutes after a half hour. He waited, and then was ushered into the producer's office. Present were Sylvia and Anderson and Lee Katzin, the main American director of the series.

Tate handed hie press book to Katzin. It contained all the good reviews he had ever received and none of the bad. Katzin read it avidly.

Tate chatted to them for over an hour. They seemed impressed. He left the interview with the role of an astronaut named Collins who was going to killed in the first episode.

He wasn't satisfied. He told them that he had hoped to get one of the main continuing roles. They shrugged. Pushy Aussie. He should been satisfied.

He learnt his part, was painfully fitted with some contact lenses to show radiation burns in hie eyes, was fitted by wardrobe and resigned himself to the role - two weeks' work better than none - when he was again called into the producers office.

Sylvia said "Look, Nick. As you know we start Monday but we haven't cast the chief astronaut part of Catani, an Italian. Would you like to read for it?"

That was it! Now he was within an inch of one of the leads in an international aeries. Stardom plus security was on the way. Or was it? They wanted him to read in an Italian accent. He pulled out his best Aussie/Italian voice which sounded quite ridiculous.

They said: "Thank you much, Nick". Which meant in polite English, "Beat it!"

But Lee Katzin took him aside and said "Look, I know you can do this, Nick. What other accents can you do? I mean, this guy doesn't have to be Italian."

Tate grinned and read the same part again. Three times. With a German accent, then French, then Czech. They said: "Thank you very much, Nick."

Then Katzin came to the rescue again - "Why don't you read it in Australian?"

Sylvia and Gerry chimed in: "No!, no, no! You can't do it in Australian. It sounds too much like cockney. The Americans would think it was cockney. Too confusing."

That got Tate's back up. He shouted at them; "Bloody hell! Australians not a cockney ! Don't you know an Aussie cells a spade a spade? An Aussie is an aggressive. arrogant character, who can bloody well command men at any given moment and go off on his own like an army commando!"

"This man is perfect... an Australian man is perfect for the part of the chief astronaut! A cockney is servile. He'll stand back and open the door for the governor. I mean, that's the international image for those two people. You tell me, which of those would be better for an astronaut?"

Katzin said: "Sonofabitch! He's right you know! I think we should let him read it again!" He gave Tate the thumbs up under the table - "Go ahead ocker." [Ocker is a rough, stereotypical Australian]

So Tate read it! He really went for it. Not an ocker character but an moderately accented, aggressive but vulnerable Nick Tate sort of person. With lots of Aussie guts.

He got the part. Astronaut Captain Alan Carter, an Aussie in international Space: 1999. The rest is ... if not history, science fact.