About century 21 film props

Gerry Anderson quote: "Here's this set . . . filled with all kinds of computers and what was then futuristic equipment. What we did was we had our company which used to build all this gear. The Managing Director was a man by the name of Don Fagan, and the wonderful thing was whatever props he made were all electrically operated and they always worked perfectly, which was marvelous! . . . Here again are a row of Don Fagan's electronic props all behaving themselves as usual. You can imagine if these things had gone wrong during shooting and production would have been held up: it would have been a very costly problem. But, they always worked as did Derek Medding's UFO going through the shot there!"

from Gerry Anderson's commentary on the UFO: Identified DVD

The S.H.A.D.O. Control Room and Moonbase Control Sphere sets were extensively dressed with hi-tech consoles, monitors and wall units built by Century 21 Film Props. However, certain pieces of equipment - most notably the Video Phone on Commander Straker's desk - were reused from Doppelganger. Don Fagan (Managing Director), Brian Morrison (Works Manager), Richard Barnett, Terry Curtis, Richard Wilson built dozens of new pieces of instrumentation for UFO. For the Moonbase Control Sphere set alone they provided a modular central console fitted with a disguised 11 inch video monitor, two modular Tracker consoles with two disguised 11 inch video monitors on each, a bank of eight digital counters capable of random running, changing colour and settling to a pre-determined readout, and 55 instrument cases which were stacked around the walls in banks of five.

Terry Curtis (please see below) remembers how the instrumentation for the SHADO Control Room was created. "We became friendly with some people involved with IBM, and they would let us have stuff that they were slinging out. We would use it to dress the sets and computer panels and it all looked very realistic. All of those computer spools that you see in UFO in S.H.A.D.O.'s Control Room were all old IBM bits and pieces that we'd got hold of because we knew they were just chucking them out. We didn't even have to pay for them."

Commander Straker and Ayshea
Space Tracker Joan Harrington at her Tracker Console

"Don Fagan and all the Century 21 Props team worked at Bourne End not far from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, UK. When the series was in pre-production we all went to the studios at MGM to put it altogether. We built and designed the things at our workshop, but then installed it all and saw that everything worked in the studio. We were quite proud of our technical achievements on those sets, particularly where the monitors were concerned."

"In all of the scripts for UFO there were references to characters talking directly to television monitors - like when Straker was talking to someone on Moonbase. Now the problem was that it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to film and clearly capture an image from a television screen. It goes all blurry and you see strobe lines going up and down. As these scenes were going to be a regular part of the series in every episode, something needed to be done to ensure that they could film these screens. That image had to be nice and clear because sometimes the dialogue between the two characters was important to the story, and not just the simple sort of ‘Moonbase over and out’ type of stuff."

"Now, without getting too technical, light on a television screen works at a different pulse rate to the rate that a camera can film it, so that's why you get those black strobe lines going up and down. I put together this little gizmo like a little shutter with a ‘magic eye' in it and a light. Half of it was silver and half of it was black."

"The image meant to be seen on the screen was run through a briefcase with the controls and the gizmo in it, and then back onto the monitors. It changed the rate of the pulse of light to match the cameras so that it could be filmed. I was only responsible for the mechanical side really, but it was a bit of a breakthrough."

SHADO Magnetic Tape Storage Units
Lt. Nina Barry and Colonel Alec Freeman

"The only other people doing something similar were some of the big American companies and they were building their own generators to make the pulses match, but ours was done through a briefcase. I think the light pulsed in 50 per second cycles so we could film it. Usually it was 48, I think, but that difference was enough to make the picture strobe. I was on the set a couple of times to operate it, but in the end I think someone else got the hang of how to use it."

NB: The above is an extract from a truly excellent book, “The Complete Book of Gerry Anderson’s UFO” by Chris Bentley.

Don Fagan

Gerry Anderson quote: "Here's this set . . . filled with all kinds of computers and what was then futuristic equipment. What we did was we had our company which used to build all this gear. The Managing Director was a man by the name of Don Fagan, and the wonderful thing was whatever props he made were all electrically operated and they always worked perfectly, which was marvelous!" . . . "Here again are a row of Don Fagan's electronic props all behaving themselves as usual. You can imagine if these things had gone wrong during shooting and production would have been held up: it would have been a very costly problem. But, they always worked as did Derek Medding's UFO going through the shot there!"

from Gerry Anderson's commentary on the UFO: Identified DVD.

Don Fagan (right) speaking with Mr Morrison (left) - thanks to Terry Curtis

Terry Curtis

Terry Curtis was about about twenty years old when he created the puppet head of Captain Blue for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons as a sculptor for A.P. Films — first in the art department and later in the puppet workshop. Terry spent over three years producing puppet heads for the company, including but not limited to Rick O'Shea, Hank Marvin, Captain Blue, and Professor McClaine.

Terry grew up in North Devon, where he studied for a diploma course in art at college. The course would normally take about two years to complete; however, Terry completed it in a couple of terms. His head tutor at college then encouraged him in his sculpting work and suggested Terry might find a suitable job in the film industry. He moved to Bray to stay with his uncle and went looking for a job at the nearby studios; Terry eventually found a job at Hammer Studios in Bray with Les Bowie, where he did some matt paintings.

Terry then went to A.P. Films on the Slough Trading Estate, where Bob Bell offered him a job in the art department. The first project that Terry was given was to produce a sarcophagus for the Thunderbirds episode "The Uninvited", at which point Sylvia Anderson looked through his portfolio and asked Curtis if he would like to have a go at some sculpting work. Curtis then joined John Brown and John Blundall in the puppet workshop, seeing it as a new challenge for himself. When Terry moved into the puppet workshop, all of the main character heads had been made; the individual episode heads remained.

As well as making puppets, Terry made props for UFO. When Century 21 closed in 1969, Terry was asked if there was anything he would like to keep, as everything was going to be put in skips. Despite considering his time as a sculptor, Terry chose not to keep anything. He later made props for Space: 1999.

Terry Curtis now lives on the beautiful island of Madeira with his wife, Sue.

Terry Curtis (courtesy of Jeff Smart)