Friday, March 30, 2012

George Sewell [1924-2007]

Welcome to FAB FRIDAY and all things fantastic from the world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

It's nice to pause and pay tribute to those that have come before us. Some actors and actresses spent just a short span of time within the Anderson universe, but there contributions were no less important.

London born actor George Sewell [1924-2007] was the unconventional-looking hero from the classic series UFO. He was the third key component within the male triumvirate that was Ed Bishop as Commander Ed Straker, Michael Billington as Colonel Paul Foster and Sewell's own Colonel Alec Freeman. Together they each brought their respective, collective personalities to the series and all offered a nice contrast to one another. In fact, while Freeman had the gritty, tough exterior of a real man's man, he was often the softer foil to Ed Straker's sometimes inflexible and hard-nosed leadership. Freeman was also Straker's closest confidante for seventeen [17] episodes. His final appearance was the superb UFO Ep17, Sub-Smash. Sewell was replaced by sex kitten Wanda Ventham whom he actually shared a scene with in the very first episode, Identified.

The late Ed Bishop recalled the winds of change on the series in Fanderson's FAB #62. "George's character got kind of marginalised, because he started out in the first couple of episodes as a kind of romantic, kidding person. And I don't know whether Sylvia thought that she would take him into a romantic mode, but George wasn't very happy with that."

It was during a six month hiatus between Borehamwood and Pinewood Studios that the ITC American division requested the debonair Sewell be dismissed from the series. He was not conventionally good-looking in the mold of James Bond in the opinion of financiers.

In a candid interview with Gerry Anderson in FAB #62, the man behind UFO offered some revealing remarks on the unfortunate departure of Sewell from UFO. Anderson indicated the head of ITC in New York, Abe Mandel, actually made the call to remove Sewell, calling Mandel "pretty ruthless at times." Mandel told Anderson, "The guy with the pock-marked face - get rid of him." Anderson submits he had to make the move based on Mandel's decision. Anderson was very concerned about informing Sewell of the reason and never told Sewell worried he might be "hurt." Anderson had a very sensitive way with everyone under his wing. So he essentially lied, once again proving sometimes we lie to spare people a greater pain.

Anderson eventually spoke with Ed Bishop who was a great friend to Sewell. He asked Bishop shortly before his passing for his advice regarding the Sewell story after finally explaining it to him. Anderson asked Bishop if he should reveal the truth behind Sewell's move off the show to Sewell. He wondered if the time had come to be honest and perhaps get it off his chest. After much consideration, Bishop advised, "No, it's better to let sleeping dogs lie." That's quite revealing about the kind of men that Bishop and Anderson were. Anderson said, "So I never mentioned it to George and now both of them are no longer with us."

Following Sub-Smash, Sewell would no longer be with UFO. When filming resumed at Pinewood Studios the beautiful Wanda Ventham became his replacement. Sewell never knew the reason for his replacement and his absence from those final nine episodes. Sewell was never completely clear on the reasons for his dismissal and friends within the series kept it tight and close to the vest. Legend has it, Sewell was never told why and it was not discussed until after his passing. Whether he remained in the dark on it or not is unknown.

He was the last surviving lead man from the UFO series when he passed away at 82.

Sewell also appeared in Gerry Anderson's Doppelganger [1969], known as Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun in the US, as EUROSEC security chief Mark Neuman. Anderson knew he wanted both Bishop and Sewell for his UFO series after their appearance in that film.

Science fiction fans would also be interested to learn Sewell appeared opposite Sylvester McCoy in one of the most popular Doctor Who entries in its franchise history, Remembrance Of The Daleks [1988] as Ratcliffe. The episode ranked #14 in The Mighty 200! Doctor Who episodes as compiled in Doctor Who Magazine #413 [2009]. That entry was up against some pretty stiff competition too.

His work in film and television was vast including director Mike Hodges' classic Get Carter [1971] starring Michael Caine. Furthermore, the popular Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy [2011] film was not only based on the John le Carre book from 1974, but the TV series that followed the book in 1979. Sewell played the part of Mendel in the seven part series opposite Obi Wan Kenobi himself, Alec Guinness and including Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart.

For all of the many details on this man's sizable life I would refer you to Fanderson magazine FAB #57.

Today, we honor the man and his work within the world of Anderson noting it was five years ago this coming week, Sewell passed away on April 1, 2007. It's no fooling around to say his impact on UFO was significant.


jdigriz said...

I'm sorry to hear of the story behind his removal from U.F.O. I thought he did great work as Col. Freeman. He could also kick some ass at a moment's notice, as seen on the "Court Martial" episode. Thanks for the tribute.

SFF said...

Hello jdigriz. I know it. It's a sad little story. At least I felt the same way hearing it.

Honestly, you're right, the man was no shrinking violet. He was indeed a tough guy, but the television business is ruthless to be sure.

I thought the story was interesting and seemed a good time to share it.
Thanks and all the best.

Anonymous said...

George Sewell was superb as Colonel Freeman. It's a great shame that the New York head of ITC demanded Sewell's departure from UFO. It's a moving story.
Sewell was also superb as Ratcliffe in ' Remembrance'. Strangely enough I came across this website by chance and I had just watched the particular Dr.Who story.

SFF said...

Indeed, an unfortunate subplot behind the scenes, but, as you mention and everyone knows, it takes nothing from the man's achievements or anything away from the kind of man he was. Thank you.