1 9 6 3 – 1 9 6 4 (UK)
39 x 25 minute episodes
“Gamma rays on! Yobba rays on!”
Usually overlooked, this superior children’s puppet series from the early 1960s is not held in higher esteem, primarily because it reached the screen at the same time as Gerry Anderson’s futuristic adventures were beginning to take off (no pun intended) and shows like Supercar and Fireball XL5 overshadowed it.
The ABC series, created by former Anderson colleague Roberta Leigh, was set in the year 2100 and concerned the adventures of the United Galactic Organisation (UGO), a peacekeeping force formed by the natives of Venus, Mars and Earth.
The crew of Galasphere 347 – a UGO spaceship that spun like a spinning top – comprised bearded human captain Larry Dart, Martian Husky and squeaky-voiced Venusian Slim.
Long-distance travel to outlying planets like Neptune or Pluto required the Galasphere 347 crew to place themselves in cryogenic sleep while a team of robots took over the operation of the ship.
At the New York headquarters, Colonel Raeburn gave the orders, assisted by his Venusian secretary Marla and scientific advisor Professor Haggerty, who was himself assisted by his daughter Cassiopeia.
Husky’s pet Gabbler Bird (of the Martian Gabberdictum species) completed the party.
The puppets of Space Patrol were a step up in quality from Roberta Leigh’s previous series Sara and Hoppity. ‘Walking’ was generally far better accomplished and the puppets were also seen running around and even engaging in fist-fights.
Known as Planet Patrol in the USA to avoid confusion with the 1950s American series of the same name, Space Patrol was filmed in a church hall in Harlesden, North West London, with all 39 episodes written by Leigh herself.
Highlights included ‘Hairy Men of Mars’ (about a war between twin tribes of neurotic Martian hipsters); ‘The Telepathic Robot’ (in which Professor Haggerty invents a robot that is controlled by the human mind); and ‘Time Stands Still’ – a ludicrous caper where the Galasphere crew recover the stolen Mona Lisa and other loot from a fiendish Venusian using a ‘time watch’ from Professor Haggerty that speeds Captain Dart up sixty times normal speed.
For many years it was believed that the entire series had been lost until 1997 when Leigh (pictured below) was approached by a video company about a possible DVD release and discovered that she had a complete set of 16mm prints that she had stored away in a lockup decades earlier and forgotten about.
Roberta Leigh turned her back on television in the early 1970s and returned to writing, eventually publishing over 150 novels (sometimes writing as Janey Scott, Rachel Lindsay, Rozella Lake and Roumelia Lane). She passed away in 2014, aged 87.
Captain Larry Dart
Libby Morris (1)
Ysanne Churchman (2)