Walter M. Jefferies

Designer of the 'Star Trek' starship 'Enterprise'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Walter Matthew Jefferies, art director and production designer: born Lebanon, Pennsylvania 12 August 1921; married; died Los Angeles 21 July 2003.

As designer of the original USS Enterprise, Walter M. Jefferies launched Star Trek on a five-year mission "to boldly go where no man has gone before", seeking new life forms and civilisations in outer space, in the process encountering aliens such as the Klingons and the Romulans. It became a trek through 79 episodes and has spawned four television spin-offs, one cartoon series and 10 feature films.

Originally designated the NCC-1701, Jefferies' Enterprise became an icon of 1960s television, although the series was a flop when first aired on the American networks in 1966. It found a cult following only after going into syndication on local stations and eventually became a worldwide hit, spurred on by the first Moon landing, in 1969.

The ship itself - in the story, a 190,000-ton Constellation class cruiser belonging to the newly formed United Federation of Planets - was made distinctive by its saucer-shaped primary hull, separate engineering section and twin warp nacelles. "I decided that whatever we came up with had to be instantly recognisable," said Jefferies.

As well as creating the Enterprise and its shuttlecraft, Jefferies designed sets, props, the D-7 battle cruiser and the Klingon logo. Over the years, his contribution has been reverentially acknowledged with on-screen references to the ship's engineering tubes as the "Jefferies Tubes" and other salutations.

The latest television incarnation, Enterprise, a prequel set 150 years earlier than the 23rd-century original, features the starship Enterprise, the NX-01, which is based on Jefferies's concept drawings for the first series. Jefferies never worked on any of the television spin-offs or films, in which the ship's design evolved, and he rued the fact that his Navy-style bridge was turned into "the lobby of the Hilton".

In fact, his bridge was used as the blueprint for the design of the US Navy master communications centre at Naval Air Station San Diego, extending his influence beyond the "Trekkies" whose loyalty made Star Trek and its successors a cult phenomenon. Those fans also successfully lobbied the White House to change the name of the first space shuttle orbiter from Constitution to Enterprise.

Walter Matthew Jefferies was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, in 1921, and started building model aircraft as a child after his family moved to Richmond, Virginia, when his father became chief engineer at a power plant there. Serving with the Army Air Corps during the Second World War, "Matt" Jefferies was a flight test engineer and co-piloted B-17 bombers. He was awarded both the Bronze Star and Air Medal.

Later, he and two of his three brothers, Philip and John, worked as art directors in Hollywood. Jefferies' first film was the US Air Force melodrama Bombers B-52 (retitled No Sleep Till Dawn in Britain, 1957) and he followed it by working on The Old Man and the Sea (1958), The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) and the Second World War drama Never So Few (1959).

Jefferies subsequently became a production designer for television series such as The Untouchables, Ben Casey, Mission: Impossible, Little House on the Prairie and Dallas. But it was his work on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry and starring William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as the pointy-eared Vulcan Mr Spock, that brought him wider recognition. In June, he was guest of honour at the premiere of a special documentary about him that is set to be included in the forthcoming Star Trek: Generations DVD.

Anthony Hayward