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Prentis Hancock

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PRENTIS HANCOCK is not particularly interested in Science Fiction, which is surprising for an actor who has worked on so many cult Fantasy series, from Space:1999 to Doctor Who, Chocky and The New Avengers.

Hancock began acting as an amateur in Scotland, and enjoyed it so much he applied to drama school. His first professional work was Henry IV, for which he was paid nineteen pounds. Television followed, with a Thirty Minute Theatre, then Last of the Mohicans, Z-Cars, Softly, Softly, Colditz and Spy Trap.

Doctor Who

His Science Fiction debut was a Doctor Who story, which he recalls with surprising clarity. "I played a reporter in Spearhead from Space; I was in one scene asking a couple of questions. That was the changeover from Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee, and there was a studio strike at Television Centre which meant that we had to go on location to Evesham where the BBC trains its engineers. The story concerned things falling to Earth from Space, and I remember there was something in the sky all day while we were filming. It wasn't a weather balloon; we all thought it was a UFO!

"I then did Planet of the Daleks [playing hot-headed Thal Vabed, where the Daleks got me. It was good fun working with the Daleks, and I had a chance in the studio to get inside one. The sad thing was in those days there was no rehearse / record; you had two days in the studio back-to-back for two episodes, rehearsing with the cameras and then when you were most knackered in the evening you recorded the show. The BBC used to allow an hour and a half tape time for a normal show, and Doctor Who, because of the special effects, got two hours, and you needed it. They never wanted to go into overtime because it was so expensive.

"When I came to do Planet of Evil two or three years later [playing hot-headed Morestran Salamar] it was very familiar stuff. When it was shown, you could see me on both channels over four weeks playing a space controller! I filmed Space:1999 first, and Planet of Evil came along a while later."

Hancock's fourth and final guest role in Who was as the Captain of the Guard in The Ribos Operation. "I was flattered into doing that by the director, George Spenton-Foster. He said he had an unplayable part and only I could play it! We were all covered in Mongolian furs, which got very hot in the studio."

How did he feel Tom Baker's Doctor compared with Jon Pertwee's? "It was just a different style, and I happened to like both of them. For me, Tom was the definitive Doctor and Jon was a lovely Doctor. I think Tom got a bit worried that they were still writing for Jon; Jon used to have more one-liners."

Space:1999

Hancock's most prolific work in a Fantasy series was playing Paul Morrow in the first season of Space:1999. He was offered the part by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson without auditioning, and was fourth to be cast, after Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Barry Morse. Did he read any scripts or storylines before accepting? "No. I trusted Gerry and Sylvia; I'd done a two-part episode of The Protectors [Warn] with them, which was a good hijack story."

Hancock claims to have been reasonably happy with the part, despite feelings that the leads should have been 'fleshed out' more. "Interrelationships of characters is what sells a series, like with Softly Softly, Hill Street Blues or LA Law. I did a showreel of my own work a couple of years ago, and found I had half a dozen 1999 episodes. I realised that Paul Morrow was always there in a scene, but it was a bit thin on the ground on him actually getting involved.

"One episode they would hint at Morrow's relationship with Sandra, but the next week it was completely ignored. We needed a firm line all the time with some build-up. They came to me one day and said, 'We've got a real character episode for you this week Prentis', and I thought, 'Great!'. It was one line in a conference in which a Space voyage was mentioned in which my father had died! And that was my characterization. There's a saying in America, 'It ain't on the stage if it ain't on the page', and I think that's right — you've got to have the raw materials there in a script, the bricks and straw. However, there are huge difficulties with a cast that size to give them all screen time and credibility. There were three stars, plus two guest stars, plus the other regulars, and trying to divide fifty minutes amongst them is tough."

A Long Haul

Some of the first season of Space:1999 was filmed during the miners' strike of 1974, which almost brought British industry to a stand-still. The country was working to a three day week, although the 1999 unit did manage to work five days. "We had petrol coupons to get to work in the morning and our own power system was brought down from Birmingham so we weren't on the National Grid. All the stuff that had been pre-recorded for the monitors in the background had to be redone because it wouldn't match. There were enormous logistical problems all the time and the series took much longer to make than originally scheduled. It was supposed to take eleven months and in the end it took fifteen. Gerry decided very wisely to break halfway through and we had a three week holiday."

Despite the long haul, Hancock believes there was a good relationship among the crew, and recalls the filming of Space Brain, during which the sets of Moonbase Alpha were flooded with foam. "We had machines from Heathrow Airport that lay foam down quickly and can take it back up quickly. Charlie Crichton [the director] was there shouting, 'More foam, more foam!' and we were there in it dressed in spacesuits and it was going over our heads and it was getting very skiddy in there. At the end of a long afternoon Charlie was wading in and pulling people around and directing them!"

When asked to name his favourite episodes, he lists three contenders. "One that was nice for me was The Last Sunset in which I ate the magic mushrooms and lost my marbles. I also liked The Black Sun, mainly because it showed people in a survival situation. You also saw people off duty; I played chess with Kano, and played a guitar and they used a piece of music as the soundtrack. Breakaway I thought was very good: it had a lot to do, introducing the regular characters and the whole situation. It worked well."

The American Influence

Space:1999 has often been criticized of being 'too Americanized', and Gerry Anderson has gone on record stating that there were numerous pressures to gear the series to the whims of the American audience. Was Prentis Hancock aware of the pressures at the time? "I don't think it was too Americanized, but it was aiming absolutely for an American market and had American stars. If that's what you're aiming for, then what else can you do? Occasionally we got feedback on what the Americans thought, but I don't know how much they had tested it on the market. A lot of people I've met subsequently assumed it was made in America.

"I personally think it is a great shame that the series had a long shelf life: it didn't come off the studio floor and get onto a screen fast. No doubt there were very good reasons, but the faster it could have got networked in the States the better. Subsequently that never happened and it got syndicated to death — in some states it was double stripped, which meant that it was being shown ten times a week, going out morning and evening! It would have been wonderful if it could have been straight into a prime slot here and in America, which I'm sure is what Lew Grade and Gerry Anderson wanted to happen. But for some reason it didn't.:'

The series did attract a lot of attention for its impressive list of guest stars, many of whom had international reputations. Were there any names that Hancock was particularly pleased to be working with? "It was nice to see Julian Glover having worked closely with him in Spy Trap, and there's always a kick from working with people like Christopher Lee and Joan Collins, who you've known before entering the business. I think within the business there's less awe and wonder than you might expect; we're just doing our job really. When you have to be there at six in the morning it's a great leveller!"

Special Effects

Another major selling point was the breathtaking special effects, the quality of which had never been seen in a television series before. Hancock claims the actors encountered few problems working alongside the effects, and he personally found that aspect of the production fascinating. "One day Clifton Jones [who played Kano] and I decided to go over to Bray Studios and see what happened and watched Brian Johnson and the team at work. They were in a draughty studio with black drapes doing these stunning shots with one Eagle which was about three feet long. When you saw about fourteen Eagles coming into shot that was all done with the one model filmed with a high speed camera re-shot again and again. I enjoyed learning the other sides of the business and seeing how things worked.

"When it had been edited together there was a first cast and crew showing at studio seven in Pinewood and I remember we came out and one of the special effects guys, who'd worked with Gerry for years on the puppet shows, said, 'You see, it does work better with actors!"'

When the show was renewed for a second year, Paul Morrow had disappeared without trace from Moonbase Alpha, along with Victor Bergman and David Kano. "It started happening before

I knew anything about it. A lot of people used to come to my local on the King's Road and have a drink after the show and they were asking me, 'What's going on?'.

I didn't know. They'd brought in Freddie Frieberger — who I was actually introduced to when I was doing some re-voicing on the series — and I think he was trying to save money. We were the most expensive television series ever made, and there were immense problems in the industry at that time."

The New Avengers

Fans of The New Avengers may also recall Prentis Hancock from the episode Sleeper, in which he played Bart, a member of a gang that had knocked the whole of London unconscious with sleeping gas. "That was filmed in and around London; they inter-cut between the quadrangle at Brunel University in Uxbridge and Becton and the East End and West End and some of it was done on the backlot at Pinewood. We were all over the place. We avoided seeing the public in shot, but there was one day we were in the centre of Covent Garden in Charlotte Street and the First Assistant got a policeman to shut the road off, but they hadn't asked permission officially! That's a serious offence, and an inspector turned up from Bow Street and reprimanded the policeman for doing it and we were thrown off."

Despite his lack of interest in the genre, Prentis Hancock is more than happy to appear at Science Fiction conventions when he is available. This year alone he has attended a Fanderson event and is booked to attend a Doctor Who convention in the autumn. He hasn't left the future behind him just yet...

Captions:

A fur-clad Prentis Hancock in the Doctor Who story The Ribos Operation

Prentis Hancock as the neurotic Salamar in the Doctor Who story Planet of Evil

Prentis Hancock at a recent Fanderson convention

Getting to grips with Commander Koenig in Space:1999


Doctor Who Compact Discs


On offer from Silva Screen Records... 10 copies of The Curse of Fenric soundtrack and 10 copies of Myths and Other Legends! Both these new releases feature the music of composer Mark Ayres, best known for his work on Doctor Who.

The Curse of Fenric not only includes virtually every second of music from the extended Doctor Who story of the same name, but also Mark's own, interesting arrangement of the Who theme. Myths and Other Legends features Mark's work for the Myth Maker video interview series, plus a couple of intriguing 'audition' tracks he submitted to the BBC.

Answer these three questions correctly, and you're in with a chance of winning a CD!

1) Besides The Curse of Fenric, for which other Doctor Who stories has Mark Ayres composed music?

2) Who composed the Doctor Who theme?

3) Who was responsible for the original, haunting arrangement of the Doctor Who theme?

Answers on a postcard to:

TV Zone (MythCurse)

PO Box 371

LONDON SW14 8JL

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  • APA 6th ed.: Richardson, David (issue 22 (September 1991)). Prentis Hancock. TV Zone p. 20.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Richardson, David. "Prentis Hancock." TV Zone [add city] issue 22 (September 1991), 20. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Richardson, David. "Prentis Hancock." TV Zone, edition, sec., issue 22 (September 1991)
  • Turabian: Richardson, David. "Prentis Hancock." TV Zone, issue 22 (September 1991), section, 20 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Prentis Hancock | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Prentis_Hancock | work=TV Zone | pages=20 | date=issue 22 (September 1991) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=9 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Prentis Hancock | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Prentis_Hancock | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=9 December 2019}}</ref>