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Ed Bishop (Part 1)

I was very shocked to hear that Ed Bishop passed away on 8th June 2005, especially as it came only a couple of days after the death of his UFO co-star Michael Billington. By an extraordinary coincidence, Ed’s death was ten years to the day after I interviewed him in his dressing room at the Theatre Royal, Bath for an early issue of SFX. He was at the theatre in a production of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass.

I found Ed to be a real American gentleman and he was even happy to come across to the Future Publishing photographic studio the next day and pose for a picture in the stance of the figure in the SHADO logo. This took longer than expected as we tried different ways of generating the shadow; eventually we discovered that it was physically impossible in a studio setting - and we added it in Photoshop!

Jump straight to Part 2 of this long interview

You're here doing an Arthur Miller play, and I notice you've done a couple of other Miller plays. Are you a fan of Miller?

"Well, I certainly am a fan. I feel that my background is so similar to his. What he writes about, the class of people he writes about in America is my class, my background, my social strata and all the rest of it. For example this play we're doing now, Broken Glass, is set in Brooklyn in 1938. I was born in Brooklyn in 1932 so I was a six-year-old kid when this was happening. You're quite aware at six, with the influences of your parents and all the rest of it. And the messages, the things that he talks about in many, many of his plays were redolent of my family background. Certainly in Death of a Salesman - we had my brother and me, that's all there was - like the Loman brothers. And also in Price which is another famous Arthur Miller play which I've done, there was two brothers involved in that. And the family, always the family. This is very strong in his writing where he uses the family almost as a metaphor for America or the wider world. And he's still writing at 79 these themes which are so powerful and so revealing, and people all over the world identify with them. I saw a production of Death of a Salesman in Norway, in Norwegian, which is the most incomprehensible language in the world. It was so moving, the audience stood up and just raved about it. He just is a man who writes for people to respond to."

I studied a couple of his plays at school. He's a terrific writer who gives good parts that actors can get into.

"He's a man of the theatre; he uses the theatre in an extraordinary fashion. And to be able to finally meet this man at the National Theatre when he came to rehearsals. I was ... devastated. I'm not impressed by celebrity, but I went week at the knees - and I'm in my sixties - to actually meet this man. I thought he would speak in rhyming couplets! And he was just, ‘Hi! How are ya?’; puts you completely at your ease, there's no pretence, no edge, he's Arthur. And it's a wonderful, warm, outgoing humanity. It's not a 'luvvie' thing, it's not showbiz, it's just genuine from the man. The way he helped us in our rehearsal, it was very generous of our director, David Thacker who's really the English director for his work. The two of them have got a relationship which is extraordinary. The mature American and this young English director, they just hit it off, they speak the same language. It's really fantastic. And he was able to talk with us - the author to the actors - and that was a wonderful experience. Gosh."

Do you have any preference for stage acting over film work or TV work?

"I must say, what I really like is motion pictures; working on film. There's an energy about it, there's an immediacy, a pressure with that lens coming into your soul at 8.30 in the morning. You have to tell the girl you love her and maybe you've just met her - there's a hell of a lot of demands, and I like the challenge of films."

Our readers are going to know you best as Ed Straker in UFO. How did you get the part?

"My relationship with Gerry Anderson goes back to Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. I was the voice of Captain Blue. It was just that a girl in my agent's office happened to be on the ball. She represented this black actor by the name of Cy Grant and Gerry and Sylvia wanted to use him."

He was the voice of Lieutenant Green, and one of the Interceptor pilots in UFO, as I recall.

"That's right. And they wanted him to come along and meet them for a part because they thought they would have a black actor. This was back in the early ‘60s. And the girl said, ‘Oh by the way, Mr Anderson, we've just taken on a new, young American actor’ - shows you how long ago it was - ‘a new American actor name of Edward Bishop. And we know how much you like American voices. Would you like to meet him as well?’ He said, ‘Okay, send him out.’ So I went out and auditioned and got the job. And I often wonder what would have happened if that girl had not been on the ball, like that. Just a professional caprice, that's all.

“So we did Captain Scarlet, and then... Gerry's very loyal, if you get along with him, if you understand where he's coming from, and I did. I respected him enormously, the way he worked. He was so professional on Scarlet, I can't tell you. As an example if they had the voice of a guard, maybe only four or five lines - now, nine out of ten professional production companies would have said, ‘Hey Eddie, can you do a funny voice for those four lines?’ But he would job in another actor. And we were all the same professional fee, so there was never any tension about who was making more money than anyone else. I admired Gerry and Sylvia enormously, their attention to detail. They were very attentive, discussed the characters. It was a very rewarding experience. So I got along! Then he did the feature film Doppelganger which in America was called ..."

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.

"That's it! I had a part in that, and then after that they were setting up the UFO thing, and they took my scenes from that film to show Lew Grade and the other power brokers. And when they were setting up SHADO and all the rest of it, they said, ‘By the way, we thought of this guy to play Straker.’ Because in those days Straker was only supposed to be in on a ten day shoot. They thought Straker would only be around for a few days, because I was supposed to be the guy in the office, sending all the guys out to do all the 'zam-bang-wham-dam!' and I would be in the office driving it. Eventually the character sort of took over, and I got out more and more, rolling round and getting wet!"

Was there, among the crew, any mistrust of Gerry because he was seen as this guy who worked with puppets?

"Yes, there's no denying that. We had some very unkind people who came on UFO and would make cheap jokes about, ‘I don't see any strings.’"

It's still going on.

"Yes, it's still going on because of Gerry's background and all the rest of it. I've found that very, very counterproductive and destructive. I just didn't like it at all. There was a feeling of that."

Continue to Part 2 of this long interview, where Ed Bishop discusses more UFO plus Whoops Apocalypse and his appearance on Top of the Pops