To the casual observer, Harlington-Straker Studios may seem like any other bustling film studio you might expect to find in England, but only a select few know its true purpose; to provide cover for the underground headquarters of the SHADO organisation!
While SHADO keeps the Earth safe from Aliens below ground, the Harlington-Straker Studios complex remains busy “up top” churning out a variety of films, television series and commercials. The studio opened in the early 1970s, and has been headed by former air force colonel Ed Straker ever since. There has been some conjecture in fan circles (and also from Ed Bishop himself) as to who the mysterious ‘Harlington’ may have been, but the episode E.S.P. establishes that the name originates from the location of the studio itself; Harlington West in Wessex, 40 miles outside London.
Most of those who work at the studio have no idea that it provides cover for the vital work of SHADO; we learn in Identified that “four hundred people work up there, and not one of them knows all this exists!” This is of course not completely true, as it would include people such as secretaries Miss Ealand and Miss Holland, both of whom are fully aware of the SHADO HQ complex and its role in protecting the Earth despite most of their duties having to do with the running of the studio. Some operatives divide their time between the studio and SHADO HQ; construction manager Louis Graham, seen working on the studio lot in Exposed, is also attached to SHADO HQ as an electronics man. Several other senior SHADO operatives have also been known to spend time working in the film studio, most notably Paul Foster in the episode Court Martial and John Grey in The Man Who Came Back. These senior operatives use a voice-print recognition device to access SHADO HQ via Ed Straker’s office opposite Stage 7 – and if Straker is busy or his office is underground, Miss Ealand can lock the connecting door to keep unexpected visitors out. Other SHADO personnel gain access to the underground HQ through concealed entrances hidden around the studio, while an emergency lift exit from Commander Straker’s office in SHADO HQ leads to Office Block A at Stages 1 and 2.
Although SHADO security is generally second-to-none, several attempts by industrial spies to gain information from Harlington-Straker Studios itself (as seen in Court Martial and The Responsibility Seat) have occasionally caused a security breach. However, such instances are rare, and the film studio cover seems well-suited to mask the organisation’s clandestine activities. A good example of this, located just around the corner from the studio, is Mayland Hospital. A seemingly ordinary medical establishment on the outside, this is where captured Aliens are brought (in a seemingly ordinary ambulance) before being transferred to SHADO HQ via an underground connecting corridor.
Despite his role as SHADO’s Commander-in-Chief Ed Straker does manage to balance this with his duties as the chief executive of Harlington-Straker, and appears to be a popular figure around the studio. In Conflict, one director praises Straker’s “policy of non-interference”, suggesting he largely leaves films to sort themselves out after he gives approval for them to enter production. However, he occasionally sits in on the viewing of rushes, has been known to give scripts sent to the studio a browse before passing them on the script department, and even assists with insurance claims should any accidents befall a production. However, as seen in Mindbender and Court Martial, SHADO business will always take precedence over that of the studio – but those directors and actors who cross him will discover that he can be as formidable an opponent as head of the studio as he is of the Aliens SHADO fights.
Visitors to the studio may find much of interest on the backlot, including replica streets and building facades seen in previous productions. They may also notice several futuristic-looking vehicles in regular use around the complex, including a hovercraft and orange one-man buggies, plus the blue jeeps that are also used by SHADO when necessary. The Carpenter’s Shop is always busy, while the Property Department (both seen in Timelash) holds a vast assortment of costumes and props, including some props originally built for several 1960s and 1970s productions such as the films Carry On Screaming! and Deadlier Than the Male, and the television series The Persuaders!.
The output of Harlington-Straker Studios can include anything from a dog food commercial (The Cat With Ten Lives) to movies like The Rebels of Santa Domingo and a World War 2 film. A romantic period drama is being shot on J or K Stage during Timelash, while Ed Straker (unwisely) takes his son Johnny to watch the filming of a woman being strangled for an unknown production in A Question of Priorities. The studio always appears to be busy and its productions have attracted such big name stars as Howard Byrne (starring in a troubled television series being produced on Stages Five and Six in Mindbender) and Sir Esmond (surname unknown) who played a general in a film that was being shot on D Stage during a deleted scene from The Man Who Came Back.
We learn almost nothing regarding how the general public perceive Harlington-Straker Studios based on its output, but in his first UFO novelisation (known as Flesh Hunters in the US but just UFO in the UK and other regions) Robert Miall posited the idea that perhaps the studio isn’t producing the greatest films of all time – and yet, amusingly, the public lap it all up anyway. While not reflected in the television series this conversation between Alec Freeman and Paul Foster goes some way towards explaining the possible in-universe thinking behind using the studio as a cover for SHADO, while also hinting that the success (or disastrous lack thereof) of Harlington-Straker might all be one big source of frustration for Ed Straker. If the studio really was churning out flop after flop, it’s rather a shame that we never really got to see those disasters reflected on screen!
“Can you think of a better camouflage than a film company? Any time we need complex equipment or anything really way out, we just wheel it in. The bigger and stranger the load that comes in through the gates, the more the locals shrug their shoulders and say it’s just those maniacs at Harlington-Straker getting involved in another expensive flop.”
“And we specialize in flops?”
“Twice we made a profit.” Freeman’s jaw acquired a couple of extra, temporary, good-humoured creases. “Two terrible films – I swear it, really terrible. And they went over big at the box office. Commander Straker was furious.”