The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Zienia Merton Interview Part 3
by Geoff Wright
scanned by Paulo Jorge Morgado

The poor wardrobe had a terrible job trying to keep the uniforms clean and in shape and with the top coming down over the hips, well you just ended up 'hippy'. I always maintained that I didn't think that we should have been in uniform anyway because it wasn't a military base. We used to make up little stories, like... Sandra Benes volunteered for duty on Alpha, to get away from after all the kids in her terribly large family... things like that.. At Cape Canaveral they don't dress in actual uniforms. They dress smartly, but casually. I mean Main Mission and Alpha were still a job, it wasn't an army base. I felt they should have done what is practised in some schools: you could wear what you liked, within reason, as long as it were navy blue and white, or something along those lines. The sleeves were useful though to identify the various sections, but I didn't like the skirts. Again this was thrown in as a sort of, 'Lets see a bit of leg ' sort of thing. I'm not a woman's libber, but I resent it as being there just to titillate an audience.

It was so nice to see the futuristic dresses that Catherine and Barbara wore in the Second Series...

Oh, well you would... Remember that Moonbase Alpha is virtually Colditz. We can't get out... so what are we going to be doing? We'll all be mad on hobbies. We' would have all gone mad otherwise. There's bound to be cases of people not getting on... someone would be bound to be a kleptomaniac! But did you notice that as soon as you got a trouble maker they died. It was always a guest star, but we would be reacting against each other as well. We tried very hard on series one: I would snap at Paul and vice versa. You would under that pressure, you can't be pleasant and lovely all the time.

I can remember a couple of times when Martin has said something to you and you said... 'I'm trying my best, commander...'

Yes, I did it was purposely, I mean he's shouting out orders and I'm not sitting there twiddling my thumbs. So we tried to bring this in. We had things in the beginning because everyone was always seen in Main Mission, some of us should have been seen eating. I think the only time on series one they showed a bedroom, we all had hysterics. We thought 'What?! A Bedroom?!' People actually sharing a bed... Husband and wife they might be... But is this possible on Alpha?

Yes, it was the Anton Zoref episode Force of Life'.

Yes, that's right. But you'd have girlfriends and boyfriends having rows and maybe you'd come off him and you fancied someone else.... that's a normal life. The situation has got to be written though for you to act it out and that's why the first series, although good in content, was very dehumanised,

Also it always seemed to be the same landing party personnel for the planets they encountered.

Oh yes, you'd know it'd be so & so and you also found if an extra person went down with you, then he would be killed off or left behind, as in Testament of Arkadia. I know this is because of writing, but I do think they could have thought a little more about it.

So to go back to your original question, it's very tempting to have a regular series... but not If I were just going to be a glorified extra at the beginning of my career. I've done all that a long tine ago,

Can you ever remember any of the guest artists being a little difficult?

No, the guest artists were smashing and one always tried to make them feel at home. We were the regulars, but they were down just for that one short and they found that they had to be crying or making love to someone, two minutes after eating a sausage roll or something- frightening- so we used to say, 'would you like to come to lunch?' It's just hospitality. I remember meeting Cyd Hayman in the corridor and saying, 'Hello, I'm Zienia Merton, would you like to come to lunch' etc, etc... to make people feel at home. They didn't think "Oh, I'm a guest star." Very few did that.

Actually I got told off by Jeremy Kemp. nicely of course. I was in awe of him and thought he was smashing and I didn't have many scenes with him and I thought he might just think I was pushy or a dreary little extra, trying to chat him up, as I didn't have many scenes with him. So I kept out of the way and we had a party and he said, 'You're very naughty you know... you should make people feel at home, after all this is yours kind of home'. So I explained why I hadn't approached him and I said I knew what we meant and that of course it is an unwritten thing that you do to welcome people.

We did have very bad arrangements at the stages though. There were hardly any dressing rooms, we often had to double up. But I do remember one episode with Christopher Lee and the Kaldorians. The three Kaldorian girls shared my dressing room, which I didn't mind, except they were so big and I was so tiny and I felt like I was intruding. So I said, next time I only want people my size. It's not fair, I said (much laughter)

You see, on the first series, I always had the same dressing room, even if I was away, someone else might use it, but I'd always come back to it. There was none of that on the second series, I was shunted around like no one's business. But I never felt on the first series that I was being hard done by I n sharing my dressing room, after all you have to muck in.

Just to change the subject slightly, are Clifton and Anton currently working?

I may do something now for TV, but it may not be seen for months... Anton has been doing quite a lot of fringe theatre.

What was your reaction to the criticism that 1999 received?

Oh, I think a lot of it was very unfair, because I don't think people realise just how much hard work goes into it.

The constant comparison to Star Trek was a main trouble point.

It's a different thing. OK, they're both about space... but if you saw a prison series on TV, you don't say ... it's not like Porridge or Within these Walls. It was a totally different mentality in Trek to Space, the way we think to the way the American's think. Just to go back to the question of the uniforms. They were smart and crisp, but it was nice, for example in War Games, when the red alert sounded you had people tumbling out of bed and arriving in Main Mission in their pyjamas.

It would of course have been nice if one of us had come into an episode half way through and said, 'Hi, I'm back on duty'. Say Prentis and Clifton were on duty. Just the two of them could have been used much more fully than when we were all present in Main Mission. All the time. And again in Troubled Spirit. we would have been in a corner, saying 'Do you think so & so's gone off his head and has put us in jeopardy?' And at the beginning of that episode at the concert scene, some of us could have said 'God, I can't stand that music, let's go and do something else.' But they came up with the idea of a concert and threw everybody into it. I mean who was In Main Mission that day? I think only Prentis was absent. He can't, run the shop on his own. Everybody could have been used much fuller. Gladys, the continuity lady was marvellous, but of course she doesn't write the scripts.

I can remember a quite funny incident actually involving Caroline Mortimer, who played Dione in Last Enemy, a lovely lady, Caroline. The scene when Commander Koenig asks me to take Dione to my quarters for her to use and for a joke I did a letter to the Commander, as Sandra Benes and said, "When I volunteered for this job, it was on the understanding that I would have a private quarters and I'm not sharing them with a ruddy alien'... and we all had a good laugh about that. But I thought that we kept loosing people so often that there must have been an awful lot of empty bedrooms! But wasn't it nice to see a bedroom, although originally that scene wasn't in the show. They'd under run an awful lot on that episode, so they put it in. I really love things like that though. Like Missing Link, when wardrobe said, 'you're going to be in pyjamas', I thought 'great... I'll get out of that uniform'. Someone just sent me a first season paperback and it's not on the TV episodes, but it starts where we are going to have a play on Alpha and I'm frightened of heights... great... it's nice when people have failings because you can identify with it.

Right, well this is my very last question... you mentioned that you had a 1999 paperback and some Alpha Newsletters... do you have any other 1999 material?

Hundreds of letters, so much stuff from America. I've been sent presents. One girl in America who didn't think that my character had been well treated, wrote her own full length feature involving me. Loads of stuff. I've even got the Alpha game. People are incredible... they send me anything and everything.

Well, thank you, it's been an absolutely terrific interview, thank you.

My pleasure, I have enjoyed it very much, thank you for both interviews