Peter Gordeno (1939-2008)

The actor, dancer, singer and choreographer Peter Gordeno, Captain Peter Carlin in UFO, died on 18th October 2008.

Born Peter Gordenho in Rangoon, Burma, he was raised in Calcutta by his Scots-Burmese mother after his Italian-American father was killed during the war. In India he discovered his talent for dancing, performing professionally despite his lack of formal training. Wanting to pursue his career, he moved to England, taking on a variety of menial jobs to make ends meet and changing his professional name to Peter Gordeno when he landed his first role on the London stage. This was as a dancer in the 1959 revue Blue Magic at the Prince of Wales Theatre, starring legendary comedian Tommy Cooper and singer Shirley Bassey.

His career soon took off and he moved on to the London production of West Side Story, initially as a dancer before being promoted to the acting role of Bernado. Further theatre roles followed, and by now he wasn’t just dancing in the chorus, he was a principal dancer. Encouraged by the television producer Ernest Maxim, Gordeno also pursued a singing career, his recordings including the 1961 single ‘You’re Following Me’, accompanied by the John Barry Orchestra.

He got his TV break in 1964 with a regular engagement on The Kathy Kirby Show which involved not just dancing, but choreographing the dance troupe and singing alongside the star. More TV work followed, both in Britain and Europe, and he took small roles in two British films: the b-movie Secrets Of A Windmill Girl in 1966, on which he was also choreographer, and the 1968 swinging London picture The Touchables.

UFO, though, was Peter Gordeno’s first major dramatic acting role. He was first noticed by Sylvia Anderson, who saw him as a guest on the BBC ‘s record review programme Juke Box Jury. Gordeno admitted to terrible nerves handling his first UFOdialogue scenes and appreciated being talked through his first episode, Identified, by director Gerry Anderson. He also got to perform action scenes during the episode’s opening sequence of a woodland encounter with aliens. Gordeno’s dance training and physical fitness enabled him to literally throw himself into these scenes, performing largely without the aid of a stuntman.

He was at the height of his British popularity during the filming of UFO, his punishing schedule involving leaving the set at MGM-Borehamwood each evening and being transported to Brighton, where he was performing on stage nightly with his dance troupe. After appearing in six episodes – Identified, Computer Affair, Flight Path, Exposed, Conflict and A Question Of Priorities – he was convinced by his agent to leave the series to avoid typecasting.

The producers were pleased with his performance, and publicised Peter Carlin as one of the shows main characters. Even though he acted in less than a quarter of the stories, Peter Gordeno remained closely associated with the series thanks to his appearance in the show’s opening credits and various publicity spin offs such as the UFO comic strip in Countdown. After leaving UFO he returned to dancing, singing and choreography, performing all over the world, including three seasons in Las Vegas. He went back in front of the cameras in 1988 when he starred in Derek Ford’s low budget SF horror movie Urge To Kill, which was filmed in Peter Gordeno’s own house. Despite a great deal of publicity in the Daily Star, thanks to the glamour models in the cast, the film failed to gain a general release and remains difficult to see.

In 1992 he took a cameo role in the Carry On revival movie Carry On Columbus, for which he also provided the choreography, but his career was cut short by the diagnosis of cancer. Unable to work as he had been used to, Gordeno worked instead on a musical based on his life story, entitled Mayanmar, more recently retitled The Golden Land, which was showcased in 2000 and remains in active development.

In October 2000 he also attended the Fanderson convention Century 21, during which he impressed everyone with his friendliness and good humour and memorably gave an impromptu dance masterclass during the Saturday night disco. Our sincerest condolences go out to Peter’s wife Angie and their three children.

Originally published in FAB 61.