I was saddened by the news that Gerry Anderson passed away yesterday, December 26th, at the age of 83. For those of us of a certain age, Mr.Anderson was a huge influence on our childhoods, bringing us excitement and entertainment with his Supermarionation TV shows.
|A SUPERCAR toy I had for Christmas 1964.|
The thing about the series produced by Gerry Anderson (and his then-wife Sylvia Anderson) was that although they were puppet shows aimed at children and the basic premise was quite simple (heroes of a security organization investigate mysteries/tackle bad guys) the actual storylines and direction treated its audience in a mature manner. Yes, there was sometimes the goofy comic relief (Zoony the Lazoon in Fireball XL5 for example) but the stories were solidly written adventure shows.
|From TV21 International Extra, 1965|
Without Gerry Anderson there would of course be no TV Century 21, the standout adventure comic of the 1960s. The comic was a co-production between City Magazines and Anderson's Century 21 Productions so Gerry was 'hands on' in many respects. (Even one of his top writers, Alan Fennell, was the editor of TV21.) This led to a highly successful spin-off comic for girls, Lady Penelope in 1966 and, in 1969, the not as-successful but still enjoyable Joe 90 Top Secret.
Gerry Anderson's biggest hit was Thunderbirds, debuting in 1965 with hour-length episodes (as opposed to the other series' half hours). This was also the only Anderson series to have a movie spin-off (two in fact). In 1966, TV21 ran a photo-strip adaptation of the first movie, Thunderbirds Are Go...
Captain Scarlet was the next production, screening in 1967. With more sophisticated puppets and a darker edge to the stories (alien Mysterons killing people to resurrect them as their terrorist duplicates) it lacked some of the optimism of previous shows. However, many young viewers such as myself saw this as a necessary development. The Anderson shows were growing with us. By 1970, and the debut of Anderson's first live-action series UFO, his faithful audience were ready for a series with more adult appeal.
|Art by Mike Noble.|
Gerry Anderson continued with productions such as The Protectors and Space 1999 and, when his original audience had moved on, he returned to stories for a new generation with series such as Terrahawks. In 2005 a revamped Captain Scarlet arrived on ITV with brand new stories under the name Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet, featuring CGI animation. The series was badly served by ITV, with each episode chopped into two segments as part of a Saturday morning TV show along with other items.
It's saddening that Gerry Anderson is no longer with us but he leaves us with a fantastic amount of truly great TV shows. All of his Supermarionation series have been released on DVD over the years, along with UFO and other shows. I would also recommend the sometimes-overlooked New Captain Scarlet series which came out on DVD several years ago. Some sets may no longer be available but I'm sure they'll all be re-released eventually. As for the comics inspired by his TV shows, several Century 21 books are available reprinting strips from TV21 and Countdown.
Mr.Anderson was diagnosed with mixed dementia two years ago and his condition became worse in recent months. A distressing condition for the sufferer and the family. May he now rest in peace.
Below: Me with some of my Thunderbirds (and other) toys (and my dog Judy) back in the summer of 1966. Happy days.
Reader Iain Henderson has reminded me what an unusual version of Thunderbird 5 that toy in the photo was. It bore little resemblance to the satellite of the TV series, adding flashing lights and wheels as it moved around the floor with its battery-powered 'bump-n-go' action. I still have the toy in its box so here's a few photographs of it I took this evening: