Peter Gordeno: Dancer and singer who had a starring role in the sci-fi series 'UFO'

Tuesday 28 October 2008 01:00

In the late 1960s, when he was at the height of his fame as a dancer and singer, Peter Gordeno was cast in an acting role and propelled to international stardom as Capt Peter Carlin in UFO, the first live-action television production from the producers of the puppet series Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

"Gerry and Sylvia Anderson are sticking their necks out by giving me this chance," said Gordeno at the time. "I've had no drama training, but I had no training as a dancer or as a singer, and I mastered choreography on my own." It was a measure of the performer's star quality that he is remembered as one of the stalwarts of the cult sci-fi drama, despite appearing in only seven episodes of the 26-part series after his agent feared that he might become typecast in the role.

As Carlin (1970-71), he was one of those under the leadership of Commander Ed Straker (played by Ed Bishop), in the near-future, 1980, when green-skinned, liquid-breathing aliens were kidnapping humans for body parts. The team, which also included Col Alec Freeman (George Sewell) and Col Paul Foster (Michael Billington), operated from SHADO, the Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation, in an underground base outside London, and kept in touch with the planet's first line of defence, on Moonbase, and its SkyDiver submarine fleet. Alongside the inevitable gadgetry, Gabrielle Drake, Wanda Ventham and Ayshea Brough wore white cat suits and purple wigs in a programme that was the epitome of sci-fi camp.

Carlin was commander of the submarine SkyDiver and pilot of its interceptor aircraft, Sky One. He joined SHADO in the hope of discovering what had happened to his sister, who vanished after they discovered a UFO together, and eventually learned that her organs had been harvested.

The programme was – unusually for live-action television sci-fi – expensively made and full of high production values, as well as adult themes. However, it fell victim to its own sophistication, baffling British television executives as to whether it was aimed at children or adults, and ITV failed to network UFO, with different regions showing it at varying times. Nevertheless, it was an iconic 1970s sci-fi series and became a hit when screened in the United States. Gordeno later made appearances at fan conventions.

Born Peter Godenho in Rangoon, Burma, in 1939, he and his Scottish-Burmese mother left the country after his father, an Italian-American, was killed during the Second World War. He was brought up in Calcutta and his talent for dancing led him to perform in a cabaret act in India with the English dancer Yvonne Scott.

In search of greater recognition and opportunity, Godenho moved to Britain – where he changed his professional name to Gordeno – and took filler jobs in a plastics factory, a petrol station and a coffee bar. Then he met a showgirl who told him about an audition for dancers in Blue Magic (Prince of Wales Theatre, 1959), a West End revue starring Shirley Bassey. He became one of the two male dancers in the chorus and subsequently performed in the London production of West Side Story (Her Majesty's Theatre, 1959-61), in which he eventually took over the role of Bernardo, and the musical Do Re Mi (alongside Max Bygraves, Prince of Wales Theatre, 1961). Gordeno also began performing in cabaret and was asked to appear on television as a regular in The Kathy Kirby Show (1964-65), in which he was given the chance to choreograph the dance numbers and sing alongside the popular female singer.

This led Gordeno to put together his own troupe of dancers and he was seen in a string of television variety shows over almost 20 years. They included Boxing Night Out (hosted by the comedians Mike and Bernie Winters, 1964), Cilla at the Savoy (1966), The Blackpool Show (1966), The Saturday Crowd (a regular in the show as dancer, singer and choreographer, 1969), A Royal Club Night (1976) and Leslie Crowther's Scrapbook (1979). He also had small roles in the films Secrets of a Windmill Girl (1966) and The Touchables (1968), as well as acting the shaman (doctor-priest) in Carry On Columbus (1992), played one of the muleteers in the West End stage production of Man of La Mancha (Piccadilly Theatre, 1968) and took his stage act all over the world, including three seasons at the Riviera, Las Vegas.

As a singer, Gordeno recorded singles including "You're Following Me" (1961) with the John Barry Orchestra. He also choreographed the West End musical Passion Flower Hotel (with music by John Barry, Piccadilly Theatre, 1965) and stage routines for his manager Gordon Mills' other stars such as Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones.

A musical based on Gordeno's rags-to-riches life is currently in development. His two sons are the songwriter Peter Gordeno, who has worked with Seal and last year's X Factor winner, Leon Jackson, and the West End club owner Jeremy Gordeno.

Anthony Hayward

Peter Godenho (Peter Gordeno), dancer, choreographer, singer and actor: born Rangoon, Burma 20 June 1939; married Angie Wallace (two sons, one daughter); died London 18 October 2008.

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