The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Gerry Anderson

This is an edited extract from the commentary that Gerry Anderson made for Breakaway for the Network DVD release in 2005.

My name is Gerry Anderson. I am the creator and producer of Space: 1999.

Space: 1999 started its life as UFO. That was another series I made. What happened was that when UFO was completed, it ran in America on syndication, and it topped the ratings in New York and Los Angeles. These are the two most important markets in America. And as a result the American office of ITC said they wanted a second series. Of course I was delighted, and we started working on the second series, when apparently in America, while we're doing that, the ratings started to drop. And being America, or should I say being show-business in America, panic broke out and they said "stop stop stop, we're not going to make the second series". Well I had done a great deal of work in preparation, and we have built a fairly huge moonbase, which was for the new UFO. And a lot of design work, uniforms and so on. And we'd spent a lot of money. And so I went along to see Lew Grade, who had financed all my shows, and I said "look, it see,s a pity to waste all this money. Why don't you let me twist the script around and turn it into another show?" And he said "yep, I think that's a good idea". And so we started to make a science fiction series which had no title. Eventually I came up with the idea of calling at "Space: 1999". The American office said "I think it's a lousy title". And throughout the production we came up with title after title after title, and they were all rejected. Until finally we got to the point where we have to make the front titles, and the American office said "We can't think of anything better, so you'd better call it Space: 1999"


One of the first things that occurred to me was, with this very large model of moonbase that we had built, we would have to build a lot of sets for the interiors. Corridors, rooms, control centres. With a lot of science fiction films, television series in particular but also on a number of features, the way they get over not having to build every single part of the many sets that they're going to need, is to light the artists and then let the light fall off progressively on the set, so that it goes into black. And in this way of course, that probably saves sixty percent of the building that they would otherwise have to do. Well, I'm not always a happy person, because I tried to everything as best I can and that can be very worrying at times. And on Space: 1999 I thought I can't bear to shoot it like that. But equally, there is no way that we can afford to build all the sets that we're going to require through all the episodes.

And so I came up with the idea of building the "flats", that is to say sections of the walls of the sets that are put together to form the set. I decided we would build the sets "double clad", in other words both sides would be finished. On a normal film set, the side that you see when a show is completed is one side of the flat; on the other side it's just canvas and wooden struts. But on Space: 1999, every single section was built double sided. And we then broke it down. I can't remember the exact figures, but let's say we built ten different types of doorways, perhaps forty sections of plain wall, say ten sections of wall which had windows, some of which were panoramic. And so on and so on. So we ended up really with a giant Lego set. This meant that when we had to film. say in the medical department, the people who make the sets would simply select the pieces that they want, they were pushed together, lock them together, and then bring in loads of medical equipment and hospital beds and so on. And hey presto we had a medical section. And likewise with all the other sets that we required.

[The doors were double-sided, but most set sections were single sided, with plain wood behind. They could be constructed with adjacent sets, but even in the fixed sets of year 2 they were not truly double-sided. The modular sets were designed primarily by Keith Wilson.]

Recruiting Martin Landau and Barbara Bain

Our problems in setting the show up didn't simply relate to the technical problems, of course. We had Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. I remember I went to America with the president of ITC New York [Abe Mandell]. We want to Beverly Hills and stayed in the Beverly Hills Hotel. We hired Cabana 5 which was the one that was central in the pool. And we sat there all day long, sunning ourselves, negotiating to get Martin and Barbara. I met Martin and Barbara at the Beverly Hills Hotel where they had their own cinema. We screened a film called Doppleganger. The American title was Journey To The Far Side of the Sun. And they were very impressed. And I was very surprised they were impressed. But I was very glad. And they said "yes, okay, we would like to do the series".

We were then told by their agent that we would not be able to see them, or speak to them again, until a deal was signed. And as far as I remember we spent about a week sitting by the pool, outside cabana 5, and there was a messenger going backwards and forwards from us to their agent and back again. Of course, they were very big stars and they had a very good agent. And he made our life a misery, because every time we made an offer he turned it down and said he wanted twice as much. And there are all sorts of things that they wanted in the agreement. One of the things I did, trying to entice them, was to say that we would run them back and forth to the studio to a house in London which we work hire especially for them. And we would provide them with a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. Of course, being in America, that probably impressed them. But that wasn't the end of it, anyway. The deal-making went on all week, the messenger was flying backwards and forwards. And we were, in the main, making all the concessions. Every time we had to make a major concession, we had to ring Lew Grade in London, who was putting up the money, to say is this ok, can we carry on. But towards the end, he was getting a bit touchy about the whole thing. Because he could see it was going to cost a fortune. And then we called Lew and said "ok, we have a deal on the money that you've agreed" and he said "right, sign it".

And shortly afterwards the messenger came back, with the immortal words that the agent says "there is one more point". The last point they made, or the extra point they made, related to more cost. And the man I was with, the president of New York office of ITC, sat there and said "Gerry, we can't give up at this stage. We've been through all of us, and we're damn nearly there. If we can only agree to this last point, we have a deal". And he looked at his watch, and he said "Gerry, it's 11:30 in London at night. Lew always goes to bed at nine o'clock". He said "if we phone him he will go absolutely berserk". There's a long silence and he suddenly said "to hell with it. I'm going to call him". And he stood up, and he marched, with me in hot pursuit, to his bungalow in the grounds. And I was thinking "Got, this guy is brave, Lew will tear him to pieces". We got his bungalow and he dialled the number. I was standing by the side of him, he had the telephone to his ear, and I could hear the bell ringing in London. The tension was terrible. Then I heard a sleepy voice of Lew Grade saying "hello". And this guy said "Lew. Gerry wants to speak to you" and he thrust this red hot receiver into my hand. And I was confronted with Lew. It was a terrible shock. I didn't expect it. But fortunately I got on well with Lew, he trusted me, I'd made a lot of films for him. He was very kind, and I explained the situation. And he said "Okay, but this is the last concession I'm going to make". And so we were able to get Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.

Before we made Space: 1999, there was a series called The Fugitive, an American series, which starred Barry Morse as the man who was hunting down the fugitive, who we the audience knew was innocent. As far as I remember, having been caught he would be facing the death penalty. Barry Morse played a very, very tough, and very, very hard role in that series. I used to love the series and I used to love watching Barry Morse. I thought I'll get Barry Morse, and that was a much more easier negotiation, because it took place in England, and we were able to talk to the agent eyeball to eyeball. Barry Morse was interested in doing the show, and so Barry Morse became the third lead.

Communication Posts

We had posts, square posts, which stood at intersections of corridors. These had a television monitor inset on each facet of the square. And of course the idea was, it became very obvious when people saw the film, that anybody at any place on moonbase could talk to anybody else. And central control could talk to everybody simultaneously. The only problem we had was that, when Space: 1999 was made, we shot on 35mm, but the speed of the stock was very slow by comparison with today. And the colour pictures were not very bright. Consequently we couldn't get enough light to film the monitors. So we sadly had to use black and white pictures throughout.

Filming Breakaway

The filming began. They sent an American script writer over to write the first episode [George Bellak], because.... I'm sure there'll be some Americans watching this DVD. And let me just say this, we English people love good American shows. There's no doubt about it, the Americans make wonderful movies and wonderful television series. But it's just rather sad that they think that they're the only ones that can do it. It was quite difficult to deal with them. But the series went into production and unfortunately we landed with not only an American writer for the first episode, but also with an American director. His name I will not mention [Lee H Katzin], but I was told that he was a finest pilot director in America. That is to say, he specialized in making the first episode of any new television series, so as to set the pattern. He arrived, and he was a nice enough guy, we got on well. And he went on the floor, and I said to him "look you know, we've got four weeks to shoot this picture, that's double the normal length of time we allow for an episode, but we want you to do a really good job". And he started shooting. And he shot, and he shot, and he shot. A month went by and he still hadn't finished, and I had to give him extra time. And finally he completed the film and then took the next plane back to America.

All the stuff that was shot was put into the cutting room, and they cut it all together. And the moment came when I was able to see the first episode, without music, and without sound effects, of course. And it ran for in excess of two hours. Double the length. Well of course, this was an absolute disaster. We were in a panic, and so was New York; particularly New York because they put this guy in. Anyway, the fact was the film had been shot, it was over-length, and I had to put it right. I went into the cutting room and I started to make massive cuts, cutting up whole sequences, until finally the film ran so that one could just about understand the story. But it was still over-length. So I had to write new sequences that would enable me to cut the film further, and yet keep the story legible and understandable. So I went in my office, I wrote the new connecting scenes; from what I remember, I think there were about seventeen scenes. And I personally went back on the floor. And all this had to be done at a great hurry, because production was held up. I shot the additional material, as far as I remember, I shot it in about three days. And then there was a monumental amount of work went on in the cutting room. The picture was finished on length. All the special effects were brought in, the sound was laid. and. A personal personally. Yes according. In the coming theatre where the engineers. Six or the other. And the film was completed, the music recorded. And we went into the dubbing theatre, where the engineers mixed all the soundtracks together. And the film was completed. It was immediately dispatched to New York. I had to sit a couple of days, twiddling my thumbs, waiting to hear what the New York office had to say.

[The additional scenes were written by Christopher Penfold, and the director was Dave Lane. Gerry Anderson was closely involved in both, of course. Additional filming took months, in between filming other episodes.]

And then at last, my secretary told me that the president of the New York office was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. My heart was beating very fast. He said something like "Gerry. You're a miracle man. I've just seen the picture. It is absolutely fantastic." And he said, furthermore, the protectionist who showed the picture to me, who had spent his life looking at all kinds of productions, feature films, television series, documentaries and so on. He came into the theatre, and he said "I really hope you don't mind me saying this, but I think this is really not a television series at all, this is a feature film." It was one moment in my life where I just felt so relieved, so happy, and so proud, it's difficult for me to put it in words.

Filming television

The other problem was, in those days, when you started a film camera and aimed at any television set or computer, the picture used to roll. In other words it gradually rise up, and you would see the bar between the frames go up, then you'd see the next frame. Generally speaking, at the time, people accepted that was the way you had to watch a movie or television picture on a screen. So we devised a situation where fittings made for the film camera, so that when the film camera got up to speed, the film camera would actually create the time base for the television system. And as the film camera came up to speed, somebody would shout "lock", and that meant that the pictures were locked. Of course if you see Space: 1999, or I should say watching Space: 1999, closely at the pictures on the television screens don't roll, they're all perfectly steady. [The device is called a phase adjuster or sync box]

Special effects

One of the things that was very important to the series was, of course, the special effects. And the special effects director was Brian Johnson. He was the one who designed the Eagle, that is the main ship that was used by the people on moonbase. It was a big surprise because, instead of being streamlined like an aircraft, it was built from tubular steel. But I quickly realized, of course, in space there's a vacuum and therefore no resistance. Anything can hurtle through space, no matter what shape it as. And in fact the Eagle was ideal for the work it was going to do, and of course it was wildly different from anything that had been made and presented on a science fiction show, television or feature film.

Brian did a great job. When we made explosions in space, Brian put the explosive charge in the roof of the studio. And behind the charge, the studio roof was printed black. And the camera, of course, was pointing vertically up, towards the charge, which was in the centre of the screen. When the charge was detonated, the sparks and debris that were affected by gravity fell straight towards the camera. When the picture was put the right way up on the screen, it meant we were looking at an explosion where, as the explosion took place, all the debris flew in a straight line towards the camera. As it would do, for explosion in space; and so that was another very important contribution to the realism of the film.

Brian did many things on the series. And some of the stuff, obviously, were left to assistants of his, for speed. But there's always an amusing situation on every show, and one day the insurance assessor came into my office. And he said "Gerry, I've dealt with you for years, you're a very honest man. You always make fair claims and we always pay out. But I can't pay out this one." I said, "what is it?" He said, "One of the guys in the special effects department put an explosive charge in an Eagle. And he flew it on a wire into shot. And then detonated the explosion, and blew the bloody thing to pieces. He's made an insurance claim, for a new Eagle." I couldn't stop laughing. It's like somebody who owns a house, setting fire to it, and then ringing the insurance company, saying "I've set fire to my house and I want to make a claim." It was as ridiculous as that. So of course there, were lighter moments. [No special effects models were destroyed in this way. There were several Eagle models, and all survive to this day. One was badly damaged in the fire scene in Space Warp, so possibly the story is related to that incident]

Blowing up the moon

One of the many difficulties about making Space: 1999, was that the president of the American office phoned me. And said "Gerry, you will need our support for the series, because we advise Lew Grade, your boss, on what is, and what is not, acceptable for America. So I have to tell you" he said "when you made UFO you had one episode, the story was made on Earth, or based on Earth." It was about Straker's home life, and his child who was killed in a motor accident. That's just so happened, that was my favourite episode. But the American office said "If you're going to make Space: 1999, I'm telling you Gerry, we don't want any one episode shot down on Earth. Every single episode must be shot in space. So I said "well, seems I've got no alternative. If that's what I have to do to make the series, ok. I'll give you my word for it that I won't make any shows where the story is on Earth." And the guy I was talking [Abe Mandell] to said "No, no, no, Gerry, it's not as easy as that. I mean, I'm not going to take your word for it. I want you to ring me tomorrow and tell me how you've decided to make the show, so that it's impossible for you to have a story on Earth." So, of course, I laid awake all night, trying to think of how I could get out of this one. And the following day I phoned New York and I said "Okay, what if I blow the Moon out of Earth orbit? With all the people aboard." And he said "Okay, you've got it. Go ahead." So this really was how the story line was formed. I think a lot of people think that these things are well planned and written in advance, and so forth and so on, but that's not always the case. Space: 1999 had a very rocky start, as I've just described.

Filming Landau and Bain

Martin Landau, understandably, wanted to have on the screen a Californian tan. It made him look like rugged and tough, and good looking. And there was no problem with that. But Barbara Bain, who was going to work alongside him, throughout the series, she wanted the make-up people to make her very white, and pale and interesting. Of course, when they stood together in the two-shot, our cinematographer, the late Frank Watts, a very clever man, he tried to light them, but it was almost impossible, because if the photograph sequence that he made went to the laboratories, and they tried to grade it- If they graded for Barbara Bain, then in her white make-up, they had to keep the light down. Consequently, Martin Landau looked almost black. And if they graded for him, in other words, putting more light on to him, then Barbara Bain would almost look transparent. And so there was a great deal of difficulty in lighting the two. Eventually, there was a compromise, she had to reduce her desire to look pale and interesting. And Martin Landau had to compromise on his Californian tan. And Frank Watts had to tear his hair out, every time there was a two-shot. But he somehow managed it.

Speaking of Frank Watts. Normally, anybody lighting a scene for anything, a feature film or a television series, wouldn't try ant ricks with the camera. Because every day's filming costs an absolute fortune. The stars, the crew, the equipment, the lights, the electricians, the stage itself. If anything went wrong, it would be an absolute financial disaster. But Frank Watts, he built a box, that he put on the side of the camera, next to the lens. And he was able to, from that box, project all sorts of backgrounds and weird effects. So a lot of the special effects were actually done, on the day, inside the camera. Very, very, daring. I don't think anybody else would try it. But Frank did it. And he always succeeded.