With the exciting news that Gerry Anderson and Tony Barwick’s long-forgotten 1970s space fantasy movie script Five Star Five is getting a new release of life with a new novelisation and accompanying audiobook, we caught up with author Richard James to discuss the challenges of adapting the original ‘lost’ work for a twenty-first century audience…
My association with the worlds of Gerry Anderson began in 1994, when I was cast as Officer Orrin in Gerry’s last live action series, Space Precinct. After an almost twenty year hiatus, I was fortunate enough to find myself friends with Gerry’s son, Jamie, and my involvement in the Anderson universe was rekindled. As Jamie forged ahead with bringing his father’s legacy to the forefront of people’s minds again, I found myself co-hosting the Gerry Anderson Podcast and providing voices for many projects based on Gerry’s work such as an animated You Tube series, Planet Of Bones, and the spy-fi audio adventure First Action Bureau.
Alongside this, came the opportunity to revisit my Space Precinct days, novelising the unfilmed pilot episode Demeter City and providing four new adventures for the officers of Precinct 88 in the collection, Space Precinct: Revisited. More recently, Jamie presented me with a one hundred and twenty four page script that he felt was ripe for adaptation.
Five Star Five came hot on the heels of Gerry’s success with Space: 1999 and clearly owes a lot to the big box office success of the late 1970s, Star Wars. Pitched as The Magnificent Seven in space, the story follows a space freighter captain as he assembles a rag-tag team to repel an invasion by the Zargons. The effects-laden extravaganza got as far as pre-production at the UK’s Bray Studios before finance for the movie collapsed. Until now, the script has languished in a drawer.
I had previously read an excerpt via the Gerry Anderson website and was immediately struck by the pace and excitement of the opening scenes. It was something I was determined to retain in the novelisation. I regarded Five Star Five as something of an historical record, and I felt duty bound to preserve it as best I could.
As I read through the script, I was surprised to see it full of humour as well as the expected thrills; the result, no doubt, of the involvement of regular Anderson collaborator, Tony Barwick. It’s true to say that a few of the gags had dated badly, and I make no apology for using more delicate language in places and even dropping a very clunky romance scene entirely. In the late seventies it was accepted that a leading male character would almost certainly be irresistible to any female. In this case, I was determined that, while Colonel Zana might well have a soft spot for John Lovell, there would be no hanky panky in outer space. Thus, a scene in which Lovell seduces the colonel after, only moments before, lamenting the death of his wife, is now a scene in which he is persuaded to join the efforts against the Zargons in his wife’s memory. It’s only a small exchange, but it seems to ring more true.
Likewise, Lovell’s attitude to the boy Jhy needed another look. As part of a travelling space community, Jhy was originally given a name that could be considered inappropriate today. Times will always change, and I think it only right that, where we have the opportunity, we make things more palatable for a modern audience without casting aspersions on the original writer’s motives.
It’s true that the story itself is pretty straight forward, but it is populated by some colourful characters and takes place across many different locations. While the wise-cracking freighter captain and his simian co-pilot might not be an original pairing (think Han Solo and Chewbacca), it has a completely different dynamic. Clarence the chimp frequently has the upper hand over his captain, and Lovell is often as incompetent as he is charming. It’s a difference I sought to highlight.
I suspect Rudy the gigantic robot was included with one eye on the resulting merchandise opportunities, but he seems a noble figure, in some ways the noblest of them all. Where Lovell has to be perpetually reminded to do the right thing, Rudy seems to have a conscience hardwired into his metal brain. I can imagine many a moist eye at his eventual fate.
Never one to waste a good idea, it was interesting to see Gerry playing with ideas and themes that also surface in other series. Fans of Space Precinct, for example, will recognise Sumara’s ‘psychic judo’ from the episode Two Against The Rock, and there may even be something of Thunderbirds’ Tracy brothers in Lovell’s band, each a specialist in their particular field, uniting to defeat a foe.
In many respects, the novel wrote itself. The action sequences seemed to lift off the page and it’s easy to imagine effects supremo Derek Meddings turning his hand to the explosive finale. I simply stepped in every now and then to give the story a nudge, tidy up the action or to provide the odd pithy gag.
Who knows how Five Star Five would have been remembered had it been released as a film? As a classic or as a mild curiosity from the late 1970s? Well, with this novelisation, you finally get to make up your own mind.
5 Star 5 is now available to order in hardback book form or on CD in an enhanced audiobook featuring music and classic sound FX, read by Terrahawks and New Captain Scarlet voice artist Robbie Stevens, with delivery expected June 2021.