The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Gerry Anderson

This is an edited extract of the commentary that Gerry Anderson made for Dragon's Domain for the Network DVD release in 2005.

Hi, my name is Gerry Anderson. I am the creator and producer of Space: 1999. This episode is called Dragon's Domain, which I think you'll find very interesting to watch. And perhaps the most important thing I should tell you is the film was originally shot on 35mm colour film. But it has now been upgraded to high definition.

Making Space: 1999 presented us with all kinds of difficulties. It was, I think, really like all the shows I seem to make. It was very complicated, and it was very, very, expensive. One of the areas where we spent a huge amount of money was on sets, although my idea of using Lego-type components to make sets, tear them down and re-erect them as something else, worked very well. And we got, as I'm sure you can see, very spectacular results, which we could not otherwise afforded, had we gone the conventional route. However, having said that, we still have to land on alien planets. And when we landed on an alien planet, then there was no alternative, we had to build the interiors, and of course sometimes the planet surfaces themselves. And this was very, very difficult. I think what came home to me very very quickly, was that we live in a remarkable world. Keith Wilson was the art director, and I would say to him "on this planet, we want to see vegetation and flowers that are definitely alien, nothing like anything we've seen on Earth". And of course we found that, whatever we designed, was already in existence. I would say "We have trees that have huge flowers, maybe a foot across. And then we would find that such a tree existed in the Amazon. When it came to plants, unless they had a base, with stalks and leaves, they didn't look like plants. One couldn't recognize them as plants. It looked like someone else. So Keith had a tremendously difficult job to cope with that, and I think it is remarkably well. Nevertheless, these sets were very expensive to build. The planet surfaces meant that soil and sand and rocks had to be brought into the studio. As soon as we finished shooting, they all had to be taken out. The stage needed to be cleaned up ready for the next set to go up. So that was just one of the many problems.

ITC was a British company. It was the distribution company of Lew Grade, who financed all my shows. It had a subsidiary in New York. The people who work for Lew in New York, they were American, of course. They had a worrying task, because what is satisfactory in our country, is not necessarily satisfactory in America. Lew used to rely on them to advise on what aspects of the show we were currently making would be successful in America. And what aspects of the shows would not be acceptable. And one of the major problems was the British voices. If we had an actor who spoke frightfully well, and I'm thinking of say Prentis Hancock who is one of the crew on Moonbase Alpha Control, that would be acceptable. But cockney, unless it was driven to an extreme, was not acceptable in America. In fact, when they heard a cockney accent, they are used to thank the people they're watching were Australian. And also we had to be careful to avoid mid-Atlantic accents. The so-called mid-Atlantic accents were unacceptable here, and they were equally unacceptable in the States. So it was always a question of judgement. Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were, of course, there was no problem. They were perfect for America. They'd been seen in this country over and over again on Mission Impossible. So they they they were fine. But the English actors we had to be very careful with. Zienia Merton had a sort of slight accent which was neither American or English, and that helped her to get by. Nick Tate, another person who featured in the film regularly, he was Australian. So it was easy for him just to go the extra mile, and to a very believable American accent. [Tate used an Australian accent, which the Andersons asked him to exaggerate] But these are things we have to watch constantly. The people in the American office, who were obviously trying to do their best for the show, were constantly in touch. Saying what would work and what wouldn't work. So I wouldn't blame them at all. Because we were in London, making an expensive show. We had to shoot each episode in 20 days. It really was very, very difficult to take on board their comments. Sometimes their comments came when they had seen a show that we had sent over. Of course, it was too late then to do anything about it.


One of the things that comes to mind, having made it quite clear what the American office was doing, what their job was. The president of ITC [Abe Mandell] came over, while we were in production. And we put three of the latest finished shows in the theatre, for him to see. He went went off and saw about three hours of our productions. When he came back, I thought he was going to say "Gerry, they're absolutely terrific". Instead of which, he came back absolutely white as a sheet. I remember saying "Abe, what's the problem?" "I've just seen three shows, Gerry. And there's not one monster in any of them." I was completely thrown. I said "Monsters?" He said "Don't you know, in America, it's the thing. Anything that's any good has got monsters in it. People love monsters." So I said "You want us to put monsters in from now on?" He said "absolutely, as quick as you can."

He went back to America. And a couple of days, we have got every monster maker in the country on our payroll. There were men running up and down the corridors in rubber suits. And rehearsing various parts they were going to play as monsters. And we put monsters in some of the shows. I think it was about three months later, Abe came back. And I said "ok, there are three of the latest pictures in the theatre for you to see". And he went over, and three hours later he came back, and again he was white as sheet. I can see he was very angry. I said "now what?". He said "Gerry, you've got monsters in the shows." I was just stunned. I said "Well, of course we got monsters in the shows. When you were last over, you asked that we should put monsters in the shows". And he said "Yes, but I that was then. Monsters are out of fashion now on America". Well, I give that as an example of how people were trying to help. Well meaning can really damage a show. I have to tell you that today, I'm talking about 2005, I will not tolerate anybody giving advice or trying to help. I make a stipulation that I'm the only one to make decisions, and never again will I make a show where I have other people involved.

[The above story relates to filming the second series in 1976]

Typical example of producers problems - I'm talking about myself now, of course - is that with this episode, we had to show a space graveyard. Which comprises many space ships of different designs, hanging motionless in space. And the shot itself was simple enough. All these ships had to be designed and built. And that put a great strain on our model workshops, because they had their hands full, doing things for other episodes. But again I gave the okay, and somehow they managed to make all these ships. And they were then hung up in the studio against a space background and photographed. [For this episode, the load on the studio model makers was eased as the spaceships were either existing models from previous episodes, or outsourced to an external model builder, Martin Bower.]

This particular film that you're watching had a monster, but that was not because of the request from New York. We just had a good story which happened to feature a monster, and I thought yes, we'll make it. My job as producer can be quite difficult, because if I read a script, I'm actually visualising the action as I'm reading it. In other words, I'm like a person watching the film already made, I can hear the music, I can hear the special effects sounds, I can hear the dialogue. I can visualise the action. So I could find myself reading a script, and thinking "my god, that's going to look good". And then realising it's also going to be a huge problem to make. And then I'm completely torn. I have the choice of slicing up the script, and reducing the important moments, or to dump the script and get another one written. So I go through this battle every time. And I'm afraid without fail, the part of me that wants to make the film, wins the day. With some trepidation, okay let's go ahead on this one. And this was one of those pictures.

I think everybody on this production had their own problems that they had to overcome. And I think many of my problems were overcome simply by the excellent relationship I had with all the members of the crew. And I knew - I have to confess that I took advantage of this - I knew that if I let a script go through that was virtually impossible on first reading to film, I knew that everybody would try their level best to put it up on the screen. I can't really remember, looking back, any one script where they finally said "Gerry, we simply can't do this". Somehow they managed to get through. Had you have come to the studio when we were filming this, you would actually see a lot of very, very tired faces. People working such long hours and under such pressure. But it was that element that made these pictures so memorable, and the fact that they lasted so long.

Barry Gray

As with nearly all my shows, Barry Gray wrote the music. Barry sadly died some time ago, but his work lives on. As my series are repeated, so people are reminded of his music. Barry was always very helpful, he was a very clever man. I first came across Barry when I made my very first television series made with puppets, it was called The Adventures of Twizzle. And it really was a a preschool program. The woman who wrote the show, her name was Roberta Leigh. She used to quote unquote write the music and the songs. In fact what she did, she is to hum the tunes into a tape recorder and sing the songs. This is where I first met Barry. He would take her tape, and he would listen to - I'm sure she won't mind me saying this - this out of tune humming, which nevertheless conveyed the music she wanted to have in the show. Barry would then orchestrate it. When one heard Barry's orchestration, it was quite remarkable, compared to what we have heard previously with Roberta humming a tune. I made The Adventures of Twizzle and also another show called Torchy the Battery Boy, both for the same person. Barry orchestrated the music, in the same way on both. I thought that Barry was a very clever arranger, but I didn't realize that he was also a composer. One day, I said to Barry "Do you reckon you could compose music?". He got very offended, and he said "compose, of course I can compose music; I am a composer". First of all, what are you doing orchestrating this stuff? He said, "I'm an orchestrate as well". Then he told me that he could play nine instruments to the level required for him necessary to play in a symphony orchestra. He was also very interested in recording of music. In his home, he had what, at the time, was very very advanced; he had a twenty four track recorder. He was very proud of the fact that a lot of a simple pieces of music he could actually record at home. But as we all know, Barry wrote the music for Space: 1999, and in common with Barry's work, it brought the picture to life when the sound track was put on.

Death's Other Dominion

There were other problems that nobody could possibly have expected. I can't recall the name of the episode right now, but we had an episode where we had to have a snow planet [Death's Other Dominion]. The whole planet was covered in snow. I remember speaking to Keith Wilson. He said "I don't know how we're going to do this. The script's gone into production. I have to think of a way". He came back a couple of days later, and he said "I found a way. What we'll do, we'll make the rocks and the caves out of chicken wire" - this is wire that can be bent around very easily into different shapes. "I have been in touch with the company who specialize in pumping foam into cavity walls in houses, to keep them warm. It's a very good insulator. They have said that, if we build a set, they will come in and spray the whole set with this foam, which then sets, as hard as icing on a cake. And you can light it and it will withstand the temperatures. The problem will be over".

[This is an early type spray polyurethane foam, called urea-formaldehyde foam (UFFI). It began to be widely used in Britain after the Arab-Israeli war raised energy prices and encouraged people to insulate their homes. When it is cured it is chemically inert, but during application and for some days after it releases formaldehyde, which is a strong irritant to eyes, skin and the respiratory system. It is particularly problematic in poorly ventilated- or well insulated- homes. After a few days, the material cures and formaldehyde levels are negligible. The US banned the use of UFFI in 1982, but even today it is still legal in the UK.]

The set was designed and was duly assembled in wire, first of all. Then the truck arrived. The men came in with this huge length of hose. The motor started and, lo and behold, they were spraying what looked like snow. It was settling on the wire netting, and at the end of a number of hours of work, we had our ice planet. We were all very pleased. Until we went on the stage the next morning. The whole stage reeked of formaldehyde. It made our eyes water. I said we can't get access to work here. They were due to come on to the stage in about three days. So we put on the extractors on the stage; these are giant fans on the roof. And we left the doors open. The next day it was better, but not good enough. We then called in experts who took air samples, and declared that the amount of formaldehyde in the air was safe.

So I went and told Martin and Barbara, who by this time, were quite worried about the whole thing. It's just been declared safe. She said "by whom?" I said "by experts in formaldehyde". She said "well, yeah, but that's under English law. I want to know what they say under American law". So we had to send the make-up of this foam to America, to some institute or other, and declare roughly how many square yards we had on the stage. What the ventilation was like, and also we sent them the results of the English test. Back came the answer. That under English law, the amount of formaldehyde in the air is considered to be safe. Under American law, it is not considered to be safe. Martin and Barbara came in to see me and they were very apologetic." We understand the problem. We understand the difficulty you're in. But there's no way you can ask us to go on the stage, when our own countrymen have reported that it is unsafe". So we were faced with a major drama.

Now one of the sequences required in that particular episode, and on that particular set, featured Brian Blessed and John Shrapnel. Brian Blessed is a tough guy, a mountain climber. He's like man mountain himself. And a very fine actor, John Shrapnel. I called them in my office and said "look, guys, we're in terrible, terrible, trouble. Would you be prepared to work on that, on the grounds that the English tests we've carried out say that is quite safe. Without even thinking, they said "absolutely, Gerry". So we have to shoot the scenes out of order, and Brian and John did their work on the stage, and never complained. They were absolutely marvellous. And by the time we had finished the sequence with them, the smell had gone, and the formaldehyde had disappeared. And then Barbara and Martin came in. Martin Landau smiled at them both and said, very warmly, "I think you guys are crazy, but thanks." And Martin and Barbara came on, and we continued filming. Once again, we got through and we weren't held up.

The dragon

The sequences that involve the monster, even today in my view, look very good. Very exciting, and very frightening. I've just finished making a new series called the New Captain Scarlet, which is made wholly in CGI, computer generated images. The only reason I mention that is, now when I look back on Space: 1999, I look at this sequence with the monster, and I really just wonder how we ever managed to put it together without the aid of computers.

I can tell you what I remember about this particular show, and this particular sequence, was that the monster was made by Keith Wilson and his model makers. The monster itself, the tentacles were made of a rubbery material. They had to keep their shape, and yet they have to be capable of being pulled about by fine wires. We had to find wires that could take weight of those tentacles, and move them, and yet were fine enough not to photograph. What I just said is an impossibility. You can't put a wire in a shot and expect not to see it. There was a lot of work done on the set, with the camera operator talking to the special effects man, and getting him to paint the wires to match the background, so they wouldn't be seen. The late Frank Watts, our cinematographer, he had to light very, very carefully to make sure they weren't seen. We had to shoot the whole sequence of shots, that when cut together with people's reactions to the monster, made an exciting sequence. I do remember there were a lot of people working behind the set, and in the monster's mouth. When somebody was pulled towards the monster, the actor and the director would work together to make it look as if he was being pulled by the tentacle. As soon as he went through the hole, people out of picture would grab hold of him, or her, and they will fall over, and they would slide them up a slope until they disappeared. When the monster disgorged the remains, people behind the set would put the remains a human body, especially made obviously, onto the slide. It would slide down, and out of the monster's mouth onto the floor.

We had to use a lots of smoke, and steam, and what in trade we used to call ansels. Ansels were a circular piece of hardboard with lots of different shapes cut into them. This would spin in front of the light. It would spin either quickly or slowly, but it would cause the light to change on the set, and bring it to life. So we had lots of ansels being used. When you watch it now, I hope haven't spoiled it for you. I don't think I have; I've seen it many times. Looking at it as I'm recording this commentary, it still looks good today, despite the fact that we were using old technology at the time.

[The term "ansels" (if we heard correctly) seems to refer to what are also called "gobos", which are used in theatrical lighting to cast patterns of shadows.]