The first in a new, occasional series of posts that aims to focus attention on those actors and actresses who you’ve seen in lots of films and TV programmes over the years but can’t quite put a name to that familiar face…
For many, Ed Bishop is Commander Ed Straker in Gerry Anderson’s UFO, A role he got after voicing Captain Blue in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. But Bishop is much more than that. Starting his career after leaving the Army in his native USA, he graduated from Boston University in Theatre Arts. Soon after he won a scholarship to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art from where he graduated in 1959 and almost immediately began getting work in British theatre and film.
His first big screen role came as an ambulance driver in Stanley Kubrick’s controversial Lolita (1962). Roles soon followed in The Mouse On The Moon (1963) and The Bedford Incident (1965). Bishop was soon appearing on British TV in episodes of The Saint and Man In A Suitcase before teaming once again with Kubrick for a role in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Around this time, Bishop started work with Gerry Anderson on Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, a supermarionation show where he was the voice of Captain Blue. Bishop would work with Anderson again a few years later on the cult classic UFO for which he is most known.
The role of Commander Ed Straker required Bishop to dye his dark hair blonde which he did for a while but eventually wore a blonde wig. UFO saw aliens invade Earth in order to harvest human organs for their own survival. Bishop’s character was the head of the secret operation charged with protecting Earth. The series ran for only one series of 26 episodes but has since become a cult favourite among sci-fi fans.
During filming, Bishop was still working in TV and film, often as a “rent-a-yank” (a term he coined with fellow actor Shane Rimmer) playing Doctors and authority figures. In 1971 he had a short, yet uncredited role in Diamonds Are Forever (he had previously had an uncredited appearance in You Only Live Twice) as a scientist who Bond impersonates in order to gain access to his lab.
Moving through into the 1980s, Bishop continued to turn up in supporting roles throughout British TV. The Kenny Everett Television Show; Whoops Apocalypse and a significant role in children’s sci-fi drama Chocky’s Children (below). Radio plays, theatre productions and cameos kept him busy for the remaining years of his life and career before he passed away in 2005 at the age of 72. Always a reliable figure in film and television, Ed Bishop remains a cult figure thanks to his role in UFO and his ability to turn up in virtually any programme or film you happen to be watching.
Face Is Familiar: Ed Bishop 1932-2005