As this year is Space Precinct‘s 20th Anniversary, we’re looking to give you insights into the show and how it developed. We’ve already told you how Space Police might have developed with Jim Henson and Gerry Anderson producing the full series. But today one of our guest bloggers – Mr Richard James – is back! He previously told us about how Space Precinct changed his life, and now he’s back to tell us about a day in the life of a creon.
“Mostly, I remember the early mornings. An early call might mean catching a lift from Lou Hirsch (Romek) at 6 o’clock to arrive at 7.15. Upon arrival at Pinewood Studios (just imagine driving through that famous arch to get to work!), it was straight into makeup. Firstly, a balaclava-like hood was pulled over our head – this also incorporated our neckpiece. Onto this, the chin and mouthpiece was glued with a foul smelling medical-grade adhesive called ‘Prosaid’. The opening for the mouth was then glued to our own lips, the most uncomfortable part of the whole process! Perhaps just twenty minutes later, our chins on, we were essentially ready for whenever we were needed on set.
Depending on how the day was shaping up, you might well have some time to kill. Now was the chance to nip down to the production offices for your copy of the next couple of episodes and flick through them to see just how much Orrin was to feature over the next few weeks! Pink and yellow pages were distributed regularly – these are the amendments to the shooting script, usually added or changed scenes or new pieces of dialogue to learn. You may well have time to head down to the editing suites to see how the last few episodes were shaping up. I remember director, John Glen, was particularly welcoming and would always stop for a few minutes to show you the scene he was working on. Of course, I was always eager to see how Orrin’s stuff was looking!
By now, it might well be getting close to lunch time, and you may still not have got on set. This is standard procedure in the tv and film industry. It’s never certain quite how the day will proceed (particularly on such a complex series), but the production office would rather have you in the building, ready to go at the drop of a hat, rather than risk having you at home for the morning. Luckily, with so many people under the same roof (the production offices were in the same block as the studios) there was always someone to talk to. And there was always some gossip from another production working elsewhere. Stories about Julia Roberts in ‘Mary Shelley’ or Sean Connery in ‘First Knight’. Neither of which, of course, I can repeat here…
Lunch over, it was back in the makeup chair to see how things were holding up. If, over lunch, a bit of tuna sandwich had fallen down to lodge between your chin and the prosthetic, tough! Now the lips would be glued again, sealing that little parcel of tuna in for the rest of the afternoon. Now, just maybe, you might get on set. I was always very aware, as I walked through the studio doors, that I was the lucky one. I may have just spent the morning hanging out with my fellow aliens, or chatting with the editing assistants but the crews on set had been working. And, usually, so had Ted Shakelford (Brogan, the lead). I’m often asked what it was like working with ‘the Americans’. I must say I found them very approachable, but it was clear they were a little bemused by us Brits and our sense of humour. After a quick ‘camera rehearsal’, essentially a runthrough of the scene to set the action, it was time for another quick break while the lights and camera equipment were moved. This was often more than enough time for a cup of coffee and a chat with the crew. Once we were ready to go, the ‘head’ section of our masks was placed into position, the eyes were wired and ready to go, and any little loose bits were reapplied with dreaded Prosaid.
So, what was it like wearing that mask? Hot, yes. Uncomfortable, yes. Restrictive, certainly. But also, for me at least, rather fun. Each scene would require a quick chat with your operator. Would Orrin be surprised in this scene? Or angry? Whatever, your operator would need to know. Standing behind the camera, they would need to operate the eyes and facial ‘muscles’ so as to match your performance. At its best, there was real synchronicity. As I climbed into the cockpit of the Police Cruiser, or took my position behind Orrin’s desk in the Station House, there was always time for a quick quip or bit of banter before the cameras rolled. I remember feeling part of a family, a group of people all working hard to produce a show to the best of their abilities, often against adversity.
Your day finished, now it was time to head back into makeup. As you might imagine, it was even quicker to remove the prosthetic than to put it on. Perhaps as little as ten minutes later, you would be back in your dressing room, hanging up your police shirt for another day. Frankly, as time went on, we learned how to cut corners. If we had a scene with no dialogue, we would convince the makeup artists that we didn’t need to have our lips glued! ‘Honestly’, we would say, ‘We’re just in the background with our mouths closed!’ Eventually, they relented. I also remember that we were eventually able to work out exactly how long it would take us to get to the pub for lunch and still be back in time for the first scene of the afternoon – all dressed up and ready to go!
Then it was time to head home. I always felt I was leaving something exciting behind me as I stepped through the doors at the end of the day. The evening would be spent learning lines for the next day (or, frankly, the day after that – I rarely worked two days on the trot), and maybe reading about the series in the latest issue of Starburst.
A few years later, I was to find myself back at L&M Block to film a very small part in the movie ‘The Wolf Man’. I had a trailer to myself in the car park just outside (I have a good agent!), and found myself staring wistfully at the building in front of me, as if trying to raise ghosts from the past.
If you managed to speak to me at Andercon, you will know that I, like all of you, am a fan. Of sci-fi, of Gerry Anderson, and yes, even of Space Precinct. Perhaps that’s why the memories are still so sharp. Because I was determined to remember every moment.”
Photos courtesy of Richard James