Christopher Penfold Interview, Part 1

I haven't picked a very good day
to interview Christopher
Penfold. I'm greeted at the
door of his West London home not
by the man himself but a plumber
who's just taken a break from
wrestling witn an unco-operative
boiler. Before we begin,
Christopher apologises for the fact
that braving the cold outside is only
marginally easier than coming to
terms with the chill inside.

   "I've never been much of a fan of
'Thunderbirds' or indeed of any of
Gerry's puppet shows", he confesses
while pouring enough tea to keep us
warm during the course of the
discussion. "In fact I enjoy them more
now than I did then., Nor do I really
have much of a record of any interest in
science fiction. I think that what I
wanted to do with 'Space: 1999' was to
bring to science fiction a determination
that everything that happened on
screen, in character terms, was going to
be believable. This was because I'd seen
the limits of credibility there were on
the previous puppet shows and indeed
on 'UFO' I wasnted all the chatacters to
behave in a recognisably human way,
except of course when they came fact to
face with paranormal situations. In
everyday life I wanted to humanise it.
In concept that was something Gerry
recognised as a desirable objective."
   Christopher guides me upstairs to the
relative warmth of his tiny study - a
cluttered room which is testament to the
fact he is a busy and successful freelance
   One of his biggest breaks came when
Gerry Anderson invited him to become
story consultant on what was to become
his last truly lavish production.
However, the path from relatively
unknown young writer to this
prestigious job was a complex one.

   "After I left university here I worked
in Australia for three years. I started
off making my living in television and
radio production. I'd been an editor and
a director but I always knew I wanted
to write. I started writing radio scripts
for the ABC in Sydney. I did a lot of
arts features about Australian poets
and home television films about
Australian painters and architects.
Gradually I started to write my own
material and since then I've been
writing full time. This was back in
   "I met Gerry at Elstree Studios where
I was working on what was my first
series as a writer and script editor. It
was called 'Pathfinders' and it was a
nightmare. The basis of the idea was
that it followed the lives of a squadron
of the Pathfinder force in RAF bomber
command. They knew when they joined
the squadron that they had a three
percent chance of surviving and I was
interested in the way that individuals
responded to that kind of pressure.
Although the series deteriorated into
'Tales From The War' some of them
were good stories."
   "Gerry was at Elstree at the time
working on his series 'The Protectors'. I
think everybody expected 'Pathfinders'
to fold and I was actually hired as script
editor three weeks before the first
scheduled day of shooting and there
were still no scripts. Gerry was at
Elstree when 'Pathfinders' was in
production, and I suppose I was the
kind of star of the production because
everybody expected it to fold for lack of
scripts and by dint of working 48 hours
a day it never actually did. That's the
kind of thing that impressed Gerry!"
   "After 'The Pathfinders' I did a
feature film at Elstree. This was a
musical for Cliff Richard called 'Take
Me High'. I haven't seen it for years and
I think I'd be quite embarrassed by it
now. When I was asked to do it I was no
fan of musicals or Cliff Richard. I
enjoyed it though and we all had a
terrific time doing it. During that time
Gerry was having early discussions
about reviving 'UFO' for a second
series. Originally it was going to be
called 'UFO 2' although I remember
other working titles. I think 'The Space
Ark' was one of them. Eventually Gerry
hit upon '1999' which had been a
working title for a long time. Not many
of us liked it but, as working titles tend
to, it stuck. We all felt it was terribly
derivative of '2001: A Space Odyssey'
and of course a lot of people working
with Gerry at the time had also worked
on that."
   "The initial discussions were, I
remember, how to develop the concept
of 'UFO' sufficiently to make it both
recognisable with the first series and
yet a development of it. I think they
were planning to use the same cast.
There was a big moment during a story
discussion when the central idea of
'Space: 1999' was dropped in. I can't
quite remember who it came from. It
may have been Brian Johnson, Keith
Wilson or it may even have been me. I
remember there was a great surge of
excitement for the idea that what was
actually going to happen was that the
moon was going to blast out of orbit. I
think that was probably the moment
when it ceased to be 'UFO' and became
something else. It seemed like a really
good idea." He laughs heartily before
explaining why his job had nearly gone
to an American.
   "Gerry and Sylvia wanted me to work
on it and they were apologetic that ITC
needed an American name script editor.
I was very appreciative of that and I
believe they went to the United States
with the express purpose of finding
somebody with whom I could work. I
was very grateful to them for that. They
found a man who indeed I got on very
well with, and to this day George Bellak
is a very close friend of mine. George
got on extremely well with me but he
very soon failed to get on with Gerry.
George survived long enough to write
the first and second drafts of the story
that eventually became 'Breakaway'
and he then went off back to the United
States. 'The Void Ahead' was his title
for it. In fact, quite a lot of what became
'Breakaway' is actually my work."
   "George had a very much looser
attitude than Gerry towards the
mechanics of science fiction. He was
much more interested in using science
fiction as a vehicle for expanding
awareness about ordinary human
characters. He was much more
interested in human character than
Gerry was. He was less concerned with
the mechanical plot process which
Gerry had in mind, driven largely by
the requirements of multi commercial
break broadcasts. George had much less
patience with that than Gerry himself
did. Also I think that there was a
feeling, probably from Gerry, that

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