In 1994, Martin Hutchinson was approached by the organisers of the regular Cult TV Weekends to write a feature on Space Patrol for their brochure. Martin had, at that point, already spent some years researching the series, managing to track down and interview a number of the cast and production crew, to produce what was called 'the ultimate lowdown' on the series.
With the permission of Cult TV and Martin himself, we take great pleasure in reproducing the article, cross referenced with his original draft which was slightly edited for space.
'This is Earth. The year 2100. This is the Headquarters of Space Patrol, and men from Earth, Mars and Venus live and work there as Guardians of Peace'.
Few who remember those words can resist a wave of affection for on of the forgotten series of British TV 'Space Patrol' (called 'Planet Patrol' in the US to avoid confusion with their live action Space Patrol series).
I use the word forgotten advisedly as it only seems to have been forgotten by the programme schedulers. Those of us of a certain age remember it very well.
'Space Patrol' was made by Wonderama and is listed as a National Interest Picture Production (detailed credits follow). 39 episodes were shown between 1963 and 1968. It was created, written and co-produced by Roberta Leigh who had also created and written 'Twizzle' and 'Torchy the Battery Boy' which were made by A P Films, the P of which was arthur Provis. When Arthur split from the A of AP Films which was Gerry Anderson, he teamed up with Roberta to make 'Sara and Hoppity' and then 'Space Patrol'. The series even boasted a space consultant - unheard of in any previous sci-fi series.
This was because the series was meant to be educational as well as fun. (there were always lessons - moral and otherwise - in Robertas earlier series). The educational aspect of the series even reflected in the merchandise as the sweet cigarette cards that were available featured artwork of rockets, missiles and satellites that were fact, not fiction rather than scenes from the series.
Sadly 'Space Patrol' hasnt been seen in the UK since 1970 when Harlech TV of Wales last screened it, and their tapes were wiped in 1990. Clips have appeared from time to time but apparently the people who own the rights to the films do not actually have copies of it. Luckily some episodes were made available on Super 8 film and it is through these that some people can still relive the magic of 'Space Patrol'.
'Space Patrol' features the United Galactic Guardians of Peace which has their Headquarters on Earth. In fact it is London as their launch complex is right next to the Telecom Tower. The Guardians of Peace has as its commander Colonel Raeburn who is your actual firm but fair leader. A desk bound Earthman, he relays instructions through his secretary Marla who hails from Venus. Like most sci-fi series there was a wacky genius to provide light relief as well as all manner of gadgets, he was Professor Aloysius ORourke OBrian Haggerty who was usually kept in some sort of order by his raven haired daughter Cassiopeia, who acted as his assistant.
Most of the action takes place in space and to get there we have the Galasphere, number 347 (or 024 in the pilot film). How can one describe a Galasphere? Ah yes, a doughnut with a cigar tube through the hole. (Sorry its the best I can do). It is powered by Meson power and in flight it gives off a sort of melodious trilling. Its top speed is 800, 000 miles per hour and so all the adventures take place within the Solar System and because of the time taken to travel around the crew are put into suspended animation. While they are asleep the running of the Galasphere is undertaken by robots who patrol the craft.
The crew of the Galasphere is made up of a man from each member of United Galactic Organisation, Captain Larry Dart from Earth is in command, blond, bearded and brave, he seeks justice rather than adventure. Husky the Martian, tall and powerful. Always hungry - both for food and fights. Lastly Slim the Venusian, slender and graceful, always correct in speech and deed.
The only other character of note is Gabblerdictum, a Martian parrot. Huskys pet, he/she/it is taught to speak by Professor Haggerty. However, once it starts to speak, getting it to stop isnt always easy.
Although based within the Solar System, the crew find themselves at a planet beyond Pluto in one adventure, and helping beings from Alpha Centauri in another. Much use is made of the asteroids, while Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visited frequently.
Although made in 1962-3 'Space Patrol' appeared sporadically on British TV. In the ABC region (London) the first 26 episodes were shown in 1963 and 4. The next 6 episodes in 1966 and the final 7 in 1968. They were shown on Sundays just after 5.00pm originally. When ABC lost its franchise, the films went to London Weekend Television and later Thames, but they no longer have copies in their archives. They actually wiped all but 10% at the time so we must assume 'Space Patrol' was in the unlucky 90%.
Unfortunately for 'Space Patrol' it went out at the same time as Gerry Andersons 'Fireball XL5' which in some ways was a very similar show. XL5 was shown mid-week, however the high profile of the Anderson shows, plus the bigger budget and therefore arguably better production seems to have swamped its weekend rival. Abroad the series did much better. It was very well received in Australia and the US. In fact Australia transmitted the second season before the UK and the States broadcast it at peak times 5 or 6 evenings a week.
It also achieved the highest ratings of any juvenile series up to that point and was even featured on the cover of the Variety magazine.
The pilot film was made at Shepherds Bush, but Arthur Provis recalls, It was far too small for a series, so when they got the go ahead to do the series the producers hired a disused church in Harlesden High Street which provided them with plenty of space - once theyd taken out the Church Organ. A job which took three days in itself.
The Art Director for the pilot film 'The Swamps of Jupiter' was Ken Ryan, he had come from Hammer Films and he oversaw the design and building of the models (which were done by Derek Freeborn) and the sets. When the series came up he had been offered another film at Hammer which was more in his line so he returned there after installing Roland Whiteside as his replacement. Ken later worked on the Roy Castle Doctor Who film, 'Quatermass and The Pit', and 'The Prisoner'. Later on he became Head of Design at Central TV working on 47 Spitting Image shows. He also taught Production Design at Leeds University. He now lives in semi-retirement. He also remembers that the pace was pretty hectic, the most they worked was two weeks ahead.
There are a number of differences from the pilot film to the rest of the series. Firstly, the This is Earth prologue is omitted, the music is slightly different - as are the sound effects and the Galaspheres number is 024 as opposed to 347.
Roland Whiteside worked on the rest of the series, however he does not regard Space Patrol as a TV show. It was a film, and I have only worked in films. This is a correct description as the series was shot on film.
Roland states that the series was shot in batches of 13 and was quite surprised when the production team rearranged their schedule to suit him. I was teaching Interior Design at the Northern Polytechnic in Hammersmith at the time for 1 day a week and 3 nights. So that meant that for one day I couldnt be there at the shooting. Anyway, they decided to take the day I was teaching as their day off and shot on Saturday instead which was unprecedented.
After leaving the series he worked at Shepperton, Borehamwood and Teddington whilst still teaching part time. He taught Interior Design full time at Kingston Polytechnic until he retired in 1980.
From Roland, we get the information that the models were quite large. The Galasphere was about 3 feet tall. The puppets were larger than usual, being between 2 feet and 2 feet 6 inches. This made for problems with props. Childrens toys couldnt be used as props as they would have been too small. Instead real objects were used. For instance, coffee cups, being small anyway made perfect sized cups. Roland also remembers his assistant carpenter Norman Hornby. I ran into him a few years after we finished the series and I asked him what he was doing. He said hed left carpentry and was managing Twiggy. Twiggy, real name Lesley Hornby was Normans daughter!
Roland continues Norman contributed a great deal in constructing the sets practically single handed (and I dressed them, usually under great pressure of time.
The models were by Derek (Bud) Freeborn who later worked on 'Dr Who' and 'Aliens'. No drawings were ever done to assist the model makers, things were often asked for with only 1 weeks notice so they had to be designed and built in that time. It was inspiration born of panic in a way. I always worked in 3D as I wasnt a draughtsman, he says. The budget was fearfully low, but we managed. Around the corner from his workshop was a Vacuum Forming and Perspex Blowing Firm. So they did some work for us and we did some tooling for them. A lot of the city and spacecraft were made of perspex. In fact, the doughnut part of the Galasphere was 2 vacuum formed parts. Derek remembers the time fondly and misses the family atmosphere. One time when I was working on The Avengers in the Ian Hendry era, we had this set built which had to go up in flames in a controlled way. It was built from asbestos which couldnt be done today. And the plumber came in and said that hed put a couple of extra water hoses in - just in case. In these days of harder unions that wouldnt happen without us asking the plumber, but this guy just went ahead and did it.
A major problem with puppets is walking, they tend to float and an attempt was made to build a robot which had its own walking mechanism. Sadly with the workings it didnt look very good and the cost was prohibitive, prices being around £2,000 each.
All the shows were directed by Frank Goulding and sadly he died in 1991.
The Co-Producers were Roberta Leigh and Arthur Provis and I have already outlined how they got together to work on 'Space Patrol'. Roberta also wrote all the scripts and Arthur was cameraman. Arthur tells that when the organ was removed from the Church in Harlesden, there was ample room. They built a gantry and the sets were on wheels so they could be moved underneath the puppeteers. He prefers making films rather than going around arguing with people over money. Roberta recall working with some really nice people like the Grangers (Martin and Heather) and Joan Garrick who between them worked the puppets. As we shall see later the voices were recorded in her attic and her son, who was her original inspiration to write childrens stories, sometimes helped. It was a marvellous show to work on, I sometimes wish we could do it again in colour.
In fact Roberta and Arthurs next collaboration was in colour. They filmed a pilot show called 'Paul Starr' which is very James Bondish in feel. After that they went their seperate ways. Roberta carried on in her highly successful career as a romantic novelist but still has ideas for other shows. Arthur continued making films, TV work and commercials and is now, like a lot of people with 'Space Patrol' in semi-retirement. He still gets work, quite a lot of it abroad where he does a lot of commercials.
The futuristic setting gave the designers free rein to use their imaginations. Arthur Provis and the Design Team went around photographing futuristic buildings and copying some of them on the sets. Hence the appearance of the Telecom Tower which was being built at the time. "There's also a building from Munic in there somewhere" he states.
There are no cars as such in London in 2100, there are travel tubes with vehicles in. Perspex again was used for the tubes, and the original idea was for the vehicles to be propelled by compressed air. This didn't quite work out as planned, and it was deemed necessary to pull the cars through the tubes by use of clear nylon wires.
The focus was the Galasphere. Three arms connected the cigar-shaped tube to the 'doughnut' shaped centre. The bottom was pointed, but opened up like a tripod to form landing gear. When travelling through space, Primary Drive was used, but in emergencies Meson Power was initiated and the top of the cigar tube extended slightly to show that the Meson Power was being utilised. The ship had a force field and could project an electro magnetic field. Armament was limited as the galasphere was essentially a patrol ship. If any rough stuff was in the offing, then the Galactic Army was called in. Contact with Earth and other ships was by solar beam.
Smaller items of hardware were the plastifoam gums, which enshrouded their targets in a plastic sheet. There was also a gun which dissolved it, but in one instance Husky ate his way out. The usual laser/ray guns were in evidence and so was a Hoverjet. This was used for getting around on planets when walking was not recommended. They were emblazoned with the words 'Space Patrol - Hover Jet' (how this was explained in the US where the series was called Planet Patrol is unclear!)
The two most useful items were the Molung and Electran. The Molung (short for Mobile Lung) was a perspex cylinder placed over the head with a plastic tube attached to an air bottle. This took the place of a space helmet. The Electran was an Electric Translator; if an alien was talking to the wearer they would set the button to the right setting for the alien species (J for Jupiter, S for Saturn etc), and it translated their words into English - handily, anything the wearer said was translated into the alien's tongue.
Dick Vosburgh is an American who came to the UK in 1949 to attend RADA. He began writing for radio in 1953 and then for TV. He has written for people such as Bob Hope, Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Rory Bremner and Russ Abbot. A regular on Radio, mainly dealing with film and musical topics. His stage musicals have won many awards, including two Tonys.
Libby Morris is Canadian, and came to the UK in 1955. She trained as a classical singer before becoming involved in writing, producing and performing in University revues. She has appeared all over the world in her own one-woman show, and has appeared in films and TV - including Spatz, Give Us A Clue and Casualty.
Murray Kash spends most of his time in Toronto where he lives with his wife (when she's not in London), who just happens to be... Libby Morris!
Ronnie Stevens is a stalwart of British theatre, films and TV. He appeared in over 40 films, including many of the Carry Ons. His TV credits include Fresh Fields, Yes Prime Minister, Van Der Valk and Rumpole of the Bailey.
Recently I have been able to question three of the voice artistes about Space Patrol - their comments are, to say the least, interesting. Dick Vosburgh mainly supplied the voice of Space Captain Larry Dart - the hero of the series - although as we know he supplied others.
Dick Vosburgh had been suggested for the part of Larry Dart to Roberta Leigh due to his extensive experience in voice-overs. When he arrived to meet Roberta, her first comment was "You've got a beard!" The character of Dart also had one, so we can surmise from this that the puppets had been made before the actors had been cast.
He had wanted an opportunity to do some weird voices and this job provided it. He even supplied his own special effects for doing robot voices. "I put my head in a waste paper basket", he says.
The voices were recorded in Roberta Leigh's attic and her youngest son was sometimes brought in to supply voices, andLibby Morris usually ended up doing lizards.
"The scripts were read as seen, there was hardly any chance for rehearsal, and we were paid on the day". Dick recalls, "I remember that we were doing perhaps eight a day. Ronnie (Stevens) thought this was too fast and he faked a coughing fit. We even timed it to stretch it out a bit".
"I actually got respect from my children for doing something that they could watch and enjoy". (One of his daughters - Tilly - is an in-demand actress herself these days) My mother used to watch the show in the States where it was shown as Planet Patrol. It was very popular over there and was shown 5 or 6 times a week - around tea-time I think, in New York. I was very happy with Space Patrol despite its low budget and I have only happy memories of working on it".
Ronnie Stevens played three major characters in Space Patrol. Professor Haggerty, and two of the three crew of Galasphere 347 - Slim the Venusian and Husky the Martian.
His involvement in the show begain in an ordinary way. "I auditioned for the part" he says, and despite the number of different voices he did "I never got confused over them." Regarding the scripts he says "a few suggestions were sometimes made about the dialogue."
Ronnie confirms that the voices were recorded first - 'the usual procedure' - and he was not involved in any of the filming, having no idea where it was filmed. He can remember however, the recording booth in Roberta Leigh's attic. "She had improvised one constructed out of old blankets on a skeletal frame." When asked if he was happy with the series he says, "Reasonably so, for a show which was made as cheaply as possible."
My main recollection of the job was that Roberta Leigh's cook made the most delicious Viennese Apple Pie." A sentiment shared by Dick Vosburgh but, "there were too many cloves".
Libby Morris, the only female voice artiste had to do all the female voices. Notably Marla the Venusian secretary and Cassiopeia, Professor Haggerty's daughter. However, it is her portrayal of Gabblerdictum, the Martian Parrot, that she received the most praise. She recalls the "coughing fit" incident with amusement. Like Dick Vosburgh, she had been recommended to Roberta Leigh and accepted the job. She had experience of voice-overs and has done some since "But not a TV series though".
She recalls the recording sessions "took place in 1962 - I think - and we worked morning and afternoon for some weeks."
With such a small group of actors doing so many different voices the odd mistake was bound to happen. Libby says, "I think I might have mixed up the voices once or twice, but nothing serious happened."
Roberta Leigh describes the recordings - "The room was a party and games room on the top floor of my house. It was a pleasant room about 60 feet long and decorated like a fairground. The sessions were always supervised by myself and Frank Goulding."
'Space Patrol' was, and is, an excellent series. One of its strengths was the continuity, all the scripts being written by the same person, so everything was kept clear and concise. The characters were well-defined and the aliens weren't as outlandish as in some other space series.
What let the series down was the fact that it was up against 'Fireball XL5'. Whilst not in direct competition the two series, being similar as they were, would be bound to be compared. Anderson's 'XL5, having the higher budget and higher profile won out, and 'Space Patrol' was swamped. Fireball was in all the shops, and TV advertising helped there. 'Space Patrol' was more down to earth, keeping within Solar System boundaries and not straying too far into the realms of incredibility. It is a much loved and missed series and if prints could be found, would benefit from a TV showing or video release. Its fans are loyal (and include Midge Ure in their number), and any showing of 'Space Patro'l, like the fleeting glimpse we had on BBC's 'Telly Addicts' in 1993, is appreciated. Hopefully, prints will turn up one day, and once again we will all be able to marvel at the exploits of Larry Dart and his crew.
Thanks are due to numerous people in the production of this view of 'Space Patrol', some for information, material and sharing memories of working on the show. And above all their time. So thanks to Roberta Leigh, Arthur and Barbara Provis, Dick Vosburgh, Derek Freeborn, Gerry Hughes, Roland Whiteside, Ken Ryan, Alex Geairns, Libby Morris, Ronnie Stevens, Keith Ansell, Andrew Pixley and Lynn Simpson.
If I've forgotten anybody, sorry.
Article copyright Martin Hutchinson / Cult TV and reproduced with permission.
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