Return to
TV
section


Space Patrol

Space Patrol was the creation of Roberta Leigh, a children`s writer who branched into television in the mid 1950's. It's well documented fact that it was Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis who translated her ideas into puppet films, and thus set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the state of the art techniques of Thunderbirds and the other Anderson shows.

Roberta Leigh and Space Patrol Along the way, Roberta, and later Arthur provis, parted company with Gerry. In 1960, Roberta and Arthur made their own series for Independent Television, Sara and Hoppity, which told the tale of a little girl who befriends a broken wooden doll. From Sara and Hoppity to Space Patrol was a conceptual leap for Roberta Leigh; it was as if Enid Blyton has forsaken Noddy for Dan Dare (to maintain the British kids'-stuff references).

From the cozy, fairytale whimsy of her earlier creations, Roberta sent her imagination to the dizzy reaches of the 22nd century, to create probably the most imaginative sci-fi concept that had been seen on television at the time. Filmed in two blocks of episodes during 1962, Space Patrol debuted the following year, at varying times throughout the ITV regions.

The series dispensed with the stock cliché of winged rocketships that had been the staple of everything since Buck Rogers, and put in their place a gyroscopic vehicle, propelled by 'meson power' and launched from the roof of an incredible futurist skyscraper in the heart of 22nd-century New York. Galasphere 347 is best described as an interplanetary spinning top; and as it cruises through space it plays a little electronic tune - the 'theme music' to the series.

Its the series's music that gives Space Patrol much of its atmosphere - not that one can actually describe any of the pulsating rhythmical blips that make up the soundtrack as music in the strictest sense. Another key atmospheric ingredient is the amount of darkness in the series. Planet sets, especially the jungles of Jupiter and Uranus, are dramatically lit; even the control room at Space Headquarters has an almost film noir quality that's further enhanced by the exterior scenes, where the sky appears permanently threatening and overcast.

The galasphere is the featured vehicle of Space Patrol, its crew comprising men from Earth, Mars, and Venus, who patrol the limits of the known Solar System on behalf of the United Galactic Organisation, a peacekeeping force with a remit similar to that of Star Trek's Federation. Earthman Larry Dart is the ship's captain, and a radical departure from the cleancut square-jawed appearance of almost every other outer space hero, before or since, looking, with his Vandyke beard and bobbed hair, not unlike an interplanetary Richard the Lionheart.

Dart's loyal crewmembers are Husky and Slim, the former being a gravel-voiced Martian, and another trendsetter in the hair styling department, sporting a punk look about thirteen years too early. Husky`s chief characteristics are his obsession with food - Martian sausage preferably - and his habit of mixing up his words, coming out with expressions like "ridicule" or "fantasticacious." He can`t quite get to grips with idiomatic expressions, either. When a dangerous situation has been narrowly averted, Husky will invariably remark, "That was a close hair-cut."

Elfin Slim is typical of all the members of the Venusian race, in that he's tiny, has three fingers and a pointy head, and unlike Husky is utterly fastidious in his spoken English. Slim's dialogue wouldn't sound out of place coming from Mr Spock. "My apprehension is considerable, Captain," is a typical Slim remark.

Space Patrol Husky excepted, the most interesting characters in Space Patrol are to be found back on Earth, where we encounter the fraught relationship between UGO supremo Colonel Raeburn and the wayward genius that is Professor Haggerty.

Colonel Raeburn is probably not well remembered for his role in the series. But in the course of the 39 episodes, we learn more about him than any other character. Of course, he epitomizes the typical no-nonsense, tough talking boss, but on the other hand, he's not above cracking cruel jokes, at the expense of Dart and his men, and he practically bristles in the presence of the temperamental Haggery. Raeburn and Haggerty spend half the time male bonding, going on shooting expeditions or entertaining each other to lunch, and the rest of the time trading snide insults. Raeburn really only cares about one thing: the plants in his window box. The efficient running of Space Patrol is largely down to Raeburn`s Venusian secretary Marla. Marla, who is fond of reminding us that a Venusian has "the facility never to forget," gets things sorted for the Colonel without him having to ask.

Perhaps the real star of Space Patrol is the eccentric Professor Haggerty - or to give him his full moniker, Aloysius O`Brian O`Rourke Haggerty. Straight out of Father Ted, Haggerty comes complete with mellow brogue courtesy of comedy actor Ronnie Stevens. He`s a sort of freelance brainiac whose expertise is frequently called upon by the Space Patrol crew to sort out every conceivable problem from wayward asteroids to shrinking spacemen.

Long thought a lost series due to the usual habit of wiping video tapes or scrapping old film cans on the part of British television producers, 16mm prints were found in the estate of creator Leigh and the entire series has been released on home video (on PAL, at least, given the series's audience).

Site and all content Copyrighted 2011 Todd Frye.