Friday, June 3, 2011

Ed Bishop, Michael Billington & David Tomblin [2005]

FAB FRIDAY is written in honor of three of Anderson's finest collaborators.

I write this tribute to late UFO stars Ed Bishop [1932-2005], Michael Billington [1941-2005] and UFO and Space:1999 director David Tomblin [1931-2005]. As a fan of all things Gerry Anderson these are three of the finest that contributed to his visionary world. Strangely, all three men passed in the summer of 2005 beginning six years ago today.

Space:1999 remains forever imprinted on my earliest memories. Space:1999 essentially enhanced and fortified the development of my love for science fiction. Truth of the matter, UFO arrived a few years prior to my true science fiction awareness. As a result, UFO was completely off my radar until many years later and as my investigation of Thunderbirds morphed into FAB FRIDAY and a re-evaluation of Space:1999 took place, UFO became a natural, necessary part of the Gerry Anderson equation. UFO, of course, bridged the years between Thunderbirds and Space:1999 becoming Anderson's first exploration into televised live action science fiction. More importantly, UFO, as we know, became a proto-type for Space:1999's creation. A greenlit UFO Season Two gradually morphed into what would become Space:1999. UFO certainly stands on its own as a fully imagined science fiction universe. UFO was an original. Today, we can only imagine what a second season of UFO might have brought us, as much as we can imagine what might have been for Space:1999 following Year Two.

Looking back, in a wholly bizarre coincidence the talented Ed Bishop and the equally charismatic Michael Billington passed away just days apart. The two strong, handsome leading men were the face of UFO. The commanding Ed Bishop was a charmer with those electric blue eyes. Billington was a science fiction hunk to some.

There were other interesting parallels along the way. Both Bishop and Billington enjoyed bit parts in James Bond. Both landed small parts to become part of 007 lore. Gerry Anderson offered some of his own thoughts on Ed Bishop in the Fanderson-generated UFO Documentary.

This is Ed Bishop's everso brief appearance in You Only Live Twice [1967]. Call it UFO meets Thunderbirds. Funnily enough, Bishop [UFO] and actor Shane Rimmer [Thunderbirds], both classics heralding from the Gerry Anderson universe, share the screen for a brief time.

This is a far more entertaining sequence between Ed Bishop and Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever [1971]. Meet Klaus Hergersheimer, G Section, checking radiation shields.

Perhaps it was a natural partnership born of an international chemistry in UFO. The Brit [Billington] and the Yank [Bishop], Britain and America, working together to fight a common enemy. It spoke to us as fans. It spoke to our comfort zone politically and globally during a fairly intense political climate with the rise of the Soviet Union following World War II. It was the natural order of things to witness two strong allies represented and embodied by these two fine men. It wasn't until UFO, Episode 4, Exposed, that the face of UFO was essentially established. Actor George Sewell was a pleasure to watch as actors go, but it's safe to say Bishop and Billington were essentially the historical face of UFO. Michael Billington joined the series and remained on board until the show concluded twenty-two entries later. For further details on Bishop and Billington, see the end of an anlaysis on UFO, Episode 2, Computer Affair. Bishop and Billington were the two major players that established the right tone and chemistry for the series as it progressed. The fact these were good-looking men never hurt.

Michael Billington died on June 3rd, 2005 at age 63. Billington preceded Ed Bishop's passing which took place five days later on June 8th, 2005 at age 72. Here is a brief commentary on Billington by Gerry Anderson himself extracted from the UFO Documentary.

This is Michael Billington's infamous Russian agent role in the James Bond classic The Spy Who Loved Me [1977]. Shane Rimmer of Thunderbirds acclaim appeared later in the same film. It is also a well-known fact that Billington was one of the most oft screen-tested men for the role of James Bond in the history of the 007 franchise.

Not only is Billington in Bond, but he beds my all-time favorite Bond girl, Barbara Bach, a.k.a. Agent Triple X. She's not Triple R or Triple PG for sure. She's damn Triple X and well-deserving of the title. How hot is that?!

On a related note, later that summer, another untimely passing ocurred with the loss of director David Tomblin. He was first a producer of The Prisoner [1967-1968]. Tomblin was notable for some of the strongest entries in the UFO [1970-1971] series as writer and director of Episode 19, The Cat With Ten Lives and Episode 23, Reflections In The Water. He would script the final installment, Episode 26, The Long Sleep. He was critical to injecting a sophistication into the maturing UFO storylines. He followed UFO with The Protectors [1972-1974] directing Series Two, Episode 22, Wheels. He was also the man behind some of the strongest installments in the Space:1999 [1975-1978] cannon including Another Time, Another Place, Force Of Life, The Infernal Machine and The Testament Of Arkadia. He eventually became one of the world's most sought after second unit directors for filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Richard Attenborough. He worked on a massive list of films noted at the end of my analysis of Space:1999, Episode 9, Force Of Life.

These three men all passed on in 2005 and with their departure left behind an abundance of wonderful science fiction memories.

I didn't fully comprehend their input within the world of Gerry Anderson until much later. I suppose this is the beauty of television and film and the advent of home media. The opportunity for discovery or rediscovery is at our fingertips. The legacy of Bishop, Billington and Tomblin, like so many others, remains ripe for unearthing. For me, these men brought to life new worlds and new ideas in science fiction. Their genuine talents are conveyed with sincerity and credibility. Bishop, Billington and Tomblin may have passed away six years ago, but their spirit lives on through these wonderful productions. The way I see it, it's never too late to remember.


le0pard13 said...

I love that Klaus Hergersheimer bit from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER! Wonderful highlight for these fine gentlemen, SFF. Well done!

SFF said...

Right. You have to love Klaus

I agree.

I thought people would enjoy those bit clips. Why not.

Thank you my friend.

John Kenneth Muir said...


A beautiful post, remembering three great talents.

Bishop and Billington, as you note, represented the continuing faces of UFO, and did so brilliantly. Even today, their work really holds up well. Sometimes, it seems, Bishop held the whole show together through his force of will. He was a charismatic performer, in my opinion.

And Tomblin was an amazing director, and one of my favorites. The work he did on "Force of Life," to name just one show, was gorgeous and cinematic. Every time I watch that episode of 1999, I admire the prologue, with the camera flipping upside down. Tomblin had great style, to be sure.

An excellent tribute...still sad that we've lost all three of these great ones.


SFF said...

Amen John.

I get the same pleasure from watching UFO & Space:1999 that I do from watching Star Trek: TOS.

There is just something in these shows, a kind of retro magic.

These three were a big part of why those series were so good. I agree with you too that Bishop was indeed a force of life to use an expression.

Thank you my friend. Amen to that!