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1971: Year of the Drake

Author: • Apr 19th, 2008 •

Category: David Cronenberg, fashion, features, film, Iain Sinclair, Lead Story, science fiction, YouTube

Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

From outer space to inner…
LEFT: Gabrielle Drake in UFO. RIGHT: Ms Drake in Crash!.

Pringle: [In Crash!] you were playing opposite a professional actress, so it wasn’t as though it was purely a documentary.

Ballard: Yes, that was… oh, what was the name of the actress? A rather pretty actress, I suppose she’s now in her 50s. Gabrielle Drake! She briefly appeared as a mysterious woman that I drove around with. It was fun.

David Pringle, “The SFX Interview with J. G. Ballard”, 1996.

The film was based on my interest in the car crash — as it emerged through the pages of The Atrocity Exhibition. It was made in the early 70s. With Gabrielle Drake. She was quite a serious actress in her early days, but then she moved off into Crossroads or something. She was very sweet. I met her a few times on the set, as it were, chasing around multi-storey car-parks in Watford.

J.G. Ballard, interviewed by Iain Sinclair in Crash: David Cronenberg’s Post-mortem on J.G. Ballard’s “Trajectory of Fate”, 1999.

At the terminal risk of coming on like a refugee from io9, this post is in honour of the actor Gabrielle Drake, the most beautiful and stylish woman to ever appear in SF film or TV. How could so many American boys waste their sci-fi wet dreams on Carrie Fisher in Star Wars, especially given that Ms Drake, playing Lt. Gay Ellis in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s UFO TV series, had much, much cooler hair and clothes than Princess Leia. Give me Gay’s sexy purple wig and slinky silver spandex catsuit over Leia’s ridiculous side-buns and risible toga-cum-kimono any day of the week.

As for technical ability, well, Ms Drake is a well-respected Shakespearean actress! But if that doesn’t impress, consider that in the role of Lt. Ellis she was required to not only portray a character who lacks confidence but to also invest that character with a determination to overcome her self-doubt and rebirth herself as a dynamic officer type. Plus she convincingly portrayed unrequited love for a fellow officer, unrequited love being a difficult task for any actor and a far cry from Leia’s cartoonish are-they-or-aren’t-they “bromance” with that pansy Luke Skywalker. Also, any glance at UFO can tell you that Ms Drake’s eyes say so much, a riot of organic semiology fluttering beneath the candy, subtlety beyond compare.

Ms Drake also had the enormous good taste, the good sense, during the UFO era (1970-71) to work with none other than the Sage of Shepperton himself, starring opposite JGB in Harley Cokliss’s short film, Crash! (1971). She performs admirably, playing the very first Ballardian woman-catalyst on film, beautiful but utterly doomed, stripped of identity in the face of an encroaching technological landscape, her coquettish sexuality reduced to literally nothing more than a hood ornament: Ms Drake makes us believe it all in Crash!. I very much doubt that Ms Fisher would be able to switch from space opera to inner space with such ease, skill and grace. And as for Ms Drake vs. either Rosanna Arquette or Holly Hunter in the other Crash, the Cronenberg version, well again there really is no contest, is there? It’s got to be Gabrielle all the way down the line, and then some. (Weiss’s cypher-woman looked the part but she clearly couldn’t act).

Ballard and Gabrielle Drake, sister of the mythologised singer/songwriter Nick Drake. Colonials all. Ex-pats, with memories of tropical splendour, marooned among the concrete atolls of Watford. The Drakes had grown up in Burma. Gabrielle’s parents had been evacuated from Rangoon to India when the Japanese invaded. She recalls her father composing “an entire comic operetta about an Englishman who was based out East”. (Ballard, paying his respects to the earlier film, used the name Gabrielle for the character in Crash who would be played by Rosanna Arquette.)

Iain Sinclair, David Cronenberg’s Post-mortem on J.G. Ballard’s “Trajectory of Fate”, 1999.

To further demonstrate Ms Drake’s versatility in that magical year of 1971, I have interpolated stills of her in the UFO series with screengrabs of her in Crash!. There are also YouTube clips of both works towards the end. And I must thank The Diary of a Mad Natural Historian for alerting me to the existence of Gabrielle on Flickr, from which the stills were lifted. For more, visit Poletti’s “The Ladies of UFO” set.

NOTE: See the Noise blog for a warm interview with Ms Drake, in which she remembers her brother and his music.

SIX DEGREES OF J.G. BALLARD: Ms Drake is connected to JGB in other ways. In 1970 Ballard received his first screen credit (misspelled as “J.B. Ballard”), providing the story for Val Guest’s prehistoric potboiler, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. In 1972, just one year after UFO and Crash!, Guest directed Au Pair Girls, starring none other than Ms Drake, who appeared, gulp, naked as the day she was born.


Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

ABOVE: Gabrielle Drake in UFO.

Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

ABOVE: Gabrielle Drake in Crash!.

Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

ABOVE: Gabrielle Drake in UFO.

Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

ABOVE: Gabrielle Drake in Crash!.

Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

ABOVE: Gabrielle Drake in UFO.

Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

ABOVE: Gabrielle Drake in Crash!.

Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

ABOVE: Gabrielle Drake in UFO.

Ballardian: Gabrielle Drake

ABOVE: Gabrielle Drake in Crash!.


ABOVE: a clip from UFO, featuring Ms Drake dubbed into German.

ABOVE: Crash! by Harley Cokliss, starring Ms Drake.

ABOVE: opening sequence of UFO.

ABOVE: a montage of clips from UFO.

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30 Responses »

  1. Sounds like someone’s smitten, to me, Simon. She’s certainly beautiful enough to be a surrealist, wife of “James Ballard” so to speak. All the surrealist women were beautiful: Leonara Carrington, Meret Oppenheimer, Dorothea Tanning, Lee Miller. Gabrielle Drake is in good company.

  2. Smitten, indeed! But one can see why. Those big, ahh, grey eyes. Actually, as well as the surrealist women, Gabby is part of a long line of vivacious 1960s SF women, including Barbara Feldon as Agent 99, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, Monica Vitti as Modesty Blaise, etc. Fun times!

  3. Glad I was of service w/ the link to Poletti – his Flickrstream is worth keeping an eye on. Screencaps from interesting movies, 3D modeling, animation, much good stuff. A blog you may be interested in (since I see City of Sound in the blogroll) is Adam Greenfield’s Speedbird – a focus on ubiquitous urban computing. Thank you for the Autogeddon post – I never would have known about the Drake/Ballard connection without it.

    I share your smittitude. I watched UFO way back when; I had a head start on most of my peers in the Anderson appreciation department. I think I need UFO on DVD…

  4. UFO is on DVD?! Oh my.

    The wig, the eyes…

  5. >UFO is on DVD?! Oh my.

    >The wig, the eyes

    The whole series is indeed out on DVD and amazing is just as beserker as you remember. Wonderfully weird stuff.

  6. Oh dear, I’ve realised I’ve done a great disservice to Jenny Agutter in Logan’s Run when I said that “Gabrielle Drake is the most beautiful and stylish woman to ever appear in SF film or TV”.

    How about “equal most”?

  7. nick drake’s sister.

    let’s not forget anna karina

  8. Anna Karina, of course — Alphaville! OK, I was a bit rash with my sweeping statement… (but Anna does not wear a purple wig.)

    Re: Nick Drake. In the post, I’ve linked to an interview where Gabrielle talks about Nick.

  9. Drake schmrake!

    Purple wig? Bare breasts, a twig skirt and a lemur eagle monkey thing anyone? The women of surrealism may not quite have the beauty, but they have the eroticism.

    Ive tried to provide a link to a Dorothea Tanning self-portrait but I don’t know how. I’m sure everyone’s seen it anyhoo.


  10. I seem to have known all along how to provide said link to the oldest living surrealist. I was into surrealist painting long before JGB – that’s how I got into his stuff. I don’t know much about sf in any media so I don’t know much about the women you’re talking about. There. I’ve said it. I’m out of the closet.

    I suppose I’d rather spend a night with your purple haired beauty afterall … Dorothea’s lemur eagle monkey would only get in the way, anyway.


  11. Ian! Thanks for the link. I look forward to reading about Dorothea, lemur eagle monkey and all.

  12. No mention of the fact that she was Nick Drake’s sister?
    Legendary doomed folk-singer of the seventies.
    More popular now than he ever was alive.

  13. In fact, there are two mentions of Nick Drake in this post:

    “Ballard and Gabrielle Drake, sister of the mythologised singer/songwriter Nick Drake. Colonials all. Ex-pats, with memories of tropical splendour, marooned among the concrete atolls of Watford.”


    “NOTE: See the Noise blog for a warm interview with Ms Drake, in which she remembers her brother and his music.”

  14. Oh right, sorry. Read a bit too quickly.
    Some time ago I was watching UFO episodes while playing his music over them.
    Great site, anyway. Keep it up!

  15. sorry for my european, but let’s not forget one of the greatest face-as-a-a-painting actress in what could be an alternative SF Film : Delphine Seurig in ”Last Year at Marienbad”…

  16. well, ballard considers marienbad an SF film, so i guess you’re in…

  17. Lowering the tone somewhat, my first memory of G. Drake was as the “girlfriend” of Canadian comic Kelly Monteith in “The Kelly Monteith Show”.

    Kelly Monteith is a rather bizarre phenomenon to recall. Incredibly unfunny, pulled out of nowhere, had at least 3 series in the BBC2 9 O’Clock slot, and then disappeared back into nowhere. I think I am possibly the only person who remembers him.

  18. Thanks, Phil — this chap sounds like the model for Alan Partridge, based on your description!

  19. Actually Simon, I think he was the opposite of AP – a very nice modest man, just not very funny. Inevitably I googled him, and equally inevitably he’s got a website called http://www.kellymontieth.com

    Gabrielle played his haughty British girlfriend, who obviously had nothing but contempt for this useless North American loser (Kelly’s Schtick, as you’ll garner from his website) but would flash bits of bare flesh at him with her back to camera.

    My abiding memory of him was a sketch where he manged to lock himself out of his hotel room, completely naked, and then posited himself at reception with a fire extinguisher clamped to his privates. I was only 10 years old at the time, and couldn’t understand the rationale underpinning the sketch, not anticipating that I would re-enact the entire sequence myself on at least two further occasions before I reached the age of 30.

  20. Sorry, thats http://www.kellymonteith.com (e before i).

  21. The really erotic part of this wonderful page are the UFO snippets with sexually charged space combat. Awesome! Now that I have seen those scenes that left so many traces in my brain when I was 12 or so, isn’t UFO the S-f version of the Battle of Britain? The aliens are the evil Luftwaffe, while SHADO is RAF. You always have the interceptors pulling down those evil space tops in the end, like Dornier and Heinkels. Who is Straker, then? Hugh Dowding?

  22. Drake was nice, but, have none of ever heard of Wanda Ventham?? She was every spotty teenagers wet dream!! Well, she was mine!

  23. No – but we have heard of Wanda Bentham!

  24. These are stunning photos from ‘UFO’ of the fabulously beautiful Gabby Drake. Especially the still in the tight white sweater – from the episode ‘Close Up’, I believe – with those luminous eyes.

    A classically-trained actress who still works in the theatre, she also makes some personal appearances at science fiction conventions. And still looks every bit as beautiful. Jenny Agutter (and Wendy Padbury!) notwithstanding, Gabrielle Drake remains the sexiest girl who ever appeared in a science fiction series.

  25. I was very happy to find that this film version of Crash exists and has been made available being a fan of Gabrielle Drake. I do find it rather odd however that no mention is made of the fact that this is not the full version of what was planed. In one of the first mentions saw of this film on the internet a site belowing to the British Film Institute mentioned it and told how the BBC had pulled the plug on it when they got word of where it was headed. But no mention is made of exactly where that was in this blog.
    My only other complaint is about the rather snide remark Mr. Ballard makes about Gabrielle having worked in Crossroads. He and others might want to remember it is not easy being a actor as it is a writer. A writer creates their own work. But the actor is at the mercy of others and work is often not easy to find. I think Michael Caine said it best when he said, ” When a actor has achieved a certain lifestyle it if often necessary to take certain jobs to maintain that lifestyle.” So Gabrielle Drake is still a serious actress and if Mr. Ballard would like to to do something more meaning full than Crossroads he might try writing it for her himself.
    Now if someone would just dig up Gabrielle’s short Red, The British Hero, and Cross Now and put them on YouTube.

  26. You find it rather odd it wasn’t mentioned, James? That’s because I had no idea! I can’t mention it if I don’t know about it. As to your ‘only other complaint’, Ballard wouldn’t have been the first one who had wondered with Gabrielle Drake has been up to since. Also, I would guess that he has, many times, written ‘something more meaning full than Crossroads’!

  27. Gentlemen/Ladies

    Your comments are mixed. Gabrielle Drake may not be the greatest actor in the world, She, however, has a legacy. I refer to “Au Pair Girls” . The film was poor, but Miss Drake has recorded for history (i.e. her childern,gran-childern), how beautiful she was. Her family will drop their jaws. She has recorded for all time how beautiful she is.

  28. […] artists” everywhere, and Simon Sellars offers a breathless hymn to her various talents here at […]

  29. visit

  30. Well its taken me a few years to get back to this mostly because who ever said that anything put on the Internet stays there forever does not know what he talking about. I tried to find the site I had seen the bit about the BBC pulling the plug on the TV version of CRASH! that Ballard and Drake did together under director Cokliss but no luck so then I started checking everything else I could think of. Finally I again started check the British Film Institute website but check other ways than trying to find the now missing blog. And I found another way to back up that Crash! was to be longer. If you check the listing for Crash! there are links to things like the cast and music etc and one for Transmission which I skipped because other than the showing we now have on YouTube as Towards Crash! it was not shown. However checking under Transmission I got the following info. A transmission date of 12/02/1971 is given. Series/Slot is listed as Review. Start time is give as 20:30 and Stop time as 21:15. Those times work out as 8:30 PM GMT and 9:15 PM GMT time. Note the lenght of time as listed under Duration which is 45 minutes which match the time between the start and stop time. 45 minutes. The clips we see in the YouTube video only run slightly over 18 minutes so that proves there was to be more or is more if the BBC did not pull the plug on the production.

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