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The Dawn of Space: 1999

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Based on the initially promising ratings of Gerry Anderson’s first live action television series, UFO, Lew Grade was keen to build upon the show’s success and commissioned a second series in late 1972. Pre-production work began on expanding the world of UFO, including the design of a larger SHADO Moonbase.

However, the ratings on UFO during its syndicated run in America took a slight dip causing ITC to get cold feet and cancel the second series. Gerry felt that too much work had gone into developing the new designs and promised ITC’s Abe Mandell a way of utilising them for an entirely new television series. Mandell and ITC New York had one stipulation. The series could not take place on Earth. It was felt that the more earthbound episodes of UFO were less popular than those which took place predominantly on Moonbase. Gerry was allowed to start production on the promise that the first episode of the series would see the Moon and all the people on it blasted out of orbit. Thus, the unique and astounding basis of Space: 1999 was born.

Eagle
Chris Thompson’s artwork based on an early design for the Eagle.

This requirement was, however, the first of many contributions (or interferences as many would come to interpret them) made by ITC New York. The next was the idea of casting Mission Impossible stars Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in the leading roles of the series. Gerry and Sylvia had done all they could to entice the American stars but what it then came down to was negotiating their fee. Gerry often told the story of how Landau and Bain insisted on more money, but they were already pushing the limit of what Lew Grade was prepared to pay. Gerry and Abe Mandell were at their hotel in Beverly Hills, hours away from the period for negotiation coming to a close. It was 11pm in London. Lew Grade always went to bed at 9pm. Abe Mandell didn’t dare to phone him up and ask for more money. More time passed and eventually Mandell took the brave step and called Lew. To Gerry’s surprise, Mandell then immediately thrust the phone into his hand, forcing Gerry to be the one to ask a disgruntled Grade to make one last bid to get Martin Landau and Barbara Bain on board. The deal was done and the stars of Space: 1999 were flown over to the UK where production began in December 1973 at Pinewood Studios, funded by ITC and RAI Italian TV Broadcasting.

Gerry Anderson and Martin Landau on set.

With a £3 million budget for the series, only the best would do to bring Britain’s most expensive television series at that time to life. Brian Johnson headed up the special effects team based at Bray Studios. It was his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey that influenced a great deal of the shots his team created for Space: 1999. Keith Wilson, who had previously assisted Bob Bell on the Supermarionation series, designed for the series. Rudi Gernreich, the renowned Austrian fashion designer and friend to series star Barbara Bain, was responsible for designing the unisex uniforms worn on Moonbase Alpha.

Despite the talented staff working on the production, the first episode was incredibly difficult to complete. George Bellak who had been responsible for developing many of Space: 1999’s key concepts had initially submitted a 90-minute script titled ‘The Void Ahead’. This was re-written entirely by Christopher Penfold with the title ‘Turning-Point’. The original schedule allotted 12 days for the principal photography of each episode, but what eventually became ‘Breakaway’ ended up taking 25 days. Director Lee H. Katzin’s initial cut ran for over 2 hours and prompted Gerry Anderson himself to rewrite scenes to cut down the episode. Reshoots were then carried out following the production of the episode ‘Black Sun’.

Space: 1999 first premiered in Melbourne, Australia on July 28th 1975. Five weeks later the series began transmission in the UK. Despite the series failing to achieve a sale to any of the American networks, the series is still considered by fans all over the world as a great piece of science fiction television with the stunning production values for which Gerry Anderson is always remembered.

What did you think of Space: 1999? Would you have preferred to have seen a second series of UFO? Leave a comment down below with your thoughts.

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