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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gerry Anderson, Rest In Peace

I didn't bother with sporting heroes when I was growing up. My heroes were people with powerful imaginations who could take me into a realm of escapism. People like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Leo Baxendale... and Gerry Anderson.

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 first Gerry Anderson show I remember, vaguely, was Supercar, transmitted in the very early sixties. His next project, Fireball XL5, entrenched itself deeper into my memory, from its captivating title sequence to its fantastic theme song Fireball, sung by Don Spencer over the closing credits. This was followed by Stingray, which had impact from its opening titles, again, through to another great song, Aqua Marina, over the end credits, sung by Gary Miller.

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
Another important aspect to the shows was that they portrayed an optimistic future. A 21st Century where the world was mostly at peace with itself, with threats mainly coming from space aliens or undersea races that would be dealt with quickly and securely. For those of us growing up in the 1960s this was all part of the zeitgeist of a clean, bright tomorrow. We know differently now of course, in the realities of our dark and bitter 21st Century, but such lack of pessimism back then was, I believe, extremely beneficial to our childhoods and Gerry Anderson was a positive influence in that. 

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:


Unknown said...

Out of all the cosmic series, Dr Who, Star Trek etc., I still think series 1 of Space 1999 dwarfs them all. More inventive, with a tougher, more nightmarish message.

Anonymous said...

While many of his contemparories were lauded, the likes of Gene Roddenberry and Ray Harryhausen, to name just two, Gerry Anderson's reputation was unfairly low-key in comparison. Maybe its something to do with being British or because his creations only found success on tv screen or printed page and never made it big in the movies, but he certainly made his mark internationally with kids of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s generations.
Maybe my one near experience with gerry anderson sums it up. I was at a sci-fi/comic mart in Manchester (or maybe Birmingham) in the mid 2000s. I noticed 2 elderly gentlemen at a small table, they were certainly not attracting attention to themselves, no one was visiting them. It dawned on me me who they were; Gerry Anderson and Francis Matthews (the voice of the 1960s Captain Scarlet, this was around the time that the new Captain Scarlett was on tv, they were probably there to promote the show). I watched that little table over the next hour or so thinking there must be Anderson fans there, most of the visitors there were adults, the right age group to have watched Gerry Anderson's shows in their heyday, but still no one visited.
It felt that this man was now totally anonymous. There were no big banners, or videos, no fanfare, just 2 old men sat behind a little table with a few toys and books on display.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, I also remember seeing Gerry Anderson at a Memorabilia Show at the NEC around that time. Like you said, with little interest from the many attendees. (I must admit though that I didn't approach him either. Wish I had now, but I'm not one to buy autographs so I never approached any of the guests at that show.)

There does seem to be some stigma attached to producing children's media, as though it's inferior to 'grown up' stuff. (We get the same attitude in comics from some quarters.) I notice that some of the larger comics news websites haven't even mentioned Gerry's passing.

Chris, I'm afraid Space:1999 never did a thing for me. I didn't care for the casting for one thing, and found the stories quite dull, but it's probably more of an age thing as I was 16 when it first transmitted so it didn't grab me as it might have done had I been younger.

Joe S. Walker said...

Sad news. As you say, he created a whole fantasy world that was exactly right for its time and audience. (I was thinking yesterday, has anyone else ever tried to make puppet shows recreating the Supermarionation style? I can't think of any...)

Lew Stringer said...

There was Space Patrol in the 1960s but that didn't use the same technique. Then there was the 'Team America World Police' spoof movie.

Anonymous said...

The Orbitz commercials on TV a few years ago appeared to be an homage to Thunderbirds. I think the creators of "Team America: World Police" openly acknowledged the influence from Anderson's marionation shows.

Unknown said...

Also part of the Stargate SG-1 episode '200' did a supermarionation style spoof of the series.

Andy J said...

These fab shows and the artwork and toys they spawned helped fuel my young imagination growing up - I still have fond memories sitting at the foot of the stairs creating Thunderbird craft on the back of the long strips of cardboard found in Kit Kat packets. Such sad news - And not long after the sad news of Patrick Moore's passing. :(

Anonymous said...

Even in glorious monochrome, the Anderson adventure series of the 60s were pure magic. FAB!

John Parker said...

Good post,Lew. I never liked Space :1999 either. It's the puppet shows that stick in my mind. There's doesn't seem to be much mention of Four Feather Falls around though The Guardian did mention it.Nicholas Parsons as Tex Tucker! I only remember the repeats,of course. There was a FFF annual in our house which I read numerous times. Happy days back in the 60s.

Anonymous said...

Ofcourse Gerry Anderson deserves the plaudits at this time for all his achievements, but, I have just been watching Roberta Leigh's Paul Starr. I was frankly amazed by the quality of the work. I always liked the look and feel of the 80's Terrahawks show and I thought it was a leap forward technically from some of the limitations of Anderson's shows in the 60's, even if it was obviously constrained by a small budget, but I see many of the supposed innovations had already been realised almost 20 years earlier on Paul Starr. Im not taking anything away from any of Mr Anderson's puppet series, because they all achieved some success over the decades, because he is obviously regarded as the king of this genre.

Lew Stringer said...

I'm afraid I've never heard of Paul Starr and I only saw a couple of episodes of Terrahawks as I was older than its target audience by then. I wasn't aware Terrahawks was considered innovative. I always thought such praise was mainly focused on Anderson's 1960s output (and rightly so).

Anonymous said...

Paul Starr was a space-themed puppet show created by Roberta Leigh in 1964. She also created, wrote and produced the Space Patrol tv show in the 60's. There was a big connection with Gerry Anderson because she was the author of Torchy the Battery Boy which Anderson directed. Also the voice of Paul Starr was provided by Ed Bishop, who 5 years later would star in Anderson's UFO series. What is amazing about Paul Starr is that you do not see the puppet strings and the mouth movements are superior to the supermarionation shows.
There is a high quality video of the pilot on youtube in 3 parts. Well worth watching if you have 25 minutes to spare.

Tim Perkins said...

Fantastic tribute Blog for Gerry Anderson and his wonderful creations, Lew.

A massive influence on us all I suppose from that era, certainly me.

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