However, the SFX department was very much still alive and would soon take over all the space available at Stirling Road for Gerry’s next show – UFO.
UFO was made with live actors at MGM British Studios Borehamwood – until those studios closed. UFO was in fact the last production made at MGM before the gates closed for good in 1970. (The stages sat empty for three years until the site was turned into a storage facility. It remained in use by Christian Salvesen until 1986. The whole site was then cleared and a Sainsbury’s distribution centre was built where the stages once stood, with a housing estate occupying the old back lot. In 2019 this was demolished and new warehousing was built. In 2020 some of this was replaced with a data centre.)
This closure was not entirely unexpected but the timing was poor. It left Gerry in the lurch with 9 more episodes to film. After a few months of renegotiating contracts and bookings, the series was completed at Pinewood. 26 episodes were made in 1969 and 1970. The show appeared to be doing well in America, then ratings dropped and the second series was cancelled. The Stirling Road studios were closed for good and sold off.
The end of Stirling Road…
For reasons nobody understood at the time, a contractor was booked by ATV to destroy all the props, models and sets that filled every inch of the Stirling Road studios. Some of the crew witnessed this and were understandably heartbroken by seeing this pointless destruction. One can only assume that Lew Grade didn’t want anyone to take these invaluable objects away and set up a new company. Having said that, one or two vehicles and spacecraft did appear (with a repaint) in the occasional episode of Dr Who and some of the more iconic puppets had already been saved. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single original Thunderbird remaining… unless, of course, you know different!
In 1971, Mars occupied some of the units for their computer department and in 1972 Sovrin, a medical plastics manufacturer, took over most of the buildings in the road. They were there till 2015.
In 1983 the far left shed and associated offices were taken over by Slough Exhibitions, a small business that manufactured exhibition stands. Shortly afterwards, the owner joined the Maidenhead Players, a theatre group which I also belonged to at the time. We used to build and paint our scenery in a run down old outhouse on the edge of Braywick Park in Maidenhead. Ian, the new member, said he had some far more suitable premises so for the next year or two we built our sets in his factory on Sunday afternoons. Although the building looked oddly familiar I didn’t make the connection with Century 21. The previous time I had made a visit was in 1967 aged 13 so maybe that’s understandable.
One day I asked him what the catwalk was for that ran along the centre of the building. He said, ‘Didn’t you know? This is where they used to film Thunderbirds.’ I was stunned and extremely impressed but apart from that there wasn’t any evidence of its former occupants to be seen. The curious thing is – I have seen no photograph of anything being filmed in stage 6 that shows a catwalk in the centre of the roof. Can you shed any light on this mystery? It is apparently where they filmed the flying sequences for UFO so maybe it was added for that. Anyway, Ian believed it had been left by Century 21 and it’s hard to see what else it might have been used for.
It was always surprising that these simple buildings had lasted so long on the Trading Estate. By the 21st Century – the era they had created on film – they were surrounded by huge, high-tech offices and factory units and their demise was sadly inevitable.
The buildings were demolished in 2016.
Derek Meddings, under whose leadership an extraordinarily influential special effects department had been created over the previous decade, moved on to work on several major features. These included Tim Burton’s Batman, the Superman movies and all the Bond movies from Live and Let Die to Goldeneye. He even worked with Pink Floyd on their tour in 1975. After a long career in which he won a Special Achievement Academy Award he sadly died aged only 64 in 1995.
Following the demise of Stirling Road, Gerry formed a new company along with Sylvia and Reg Hill called Group Three.