Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gerry Anderson

To anybody over the age of fifty Gerry Anderson would have been an important part of their cultural childhood. Just as the theme music to Robinson Crusoe, The Monkees, White Horses and The Banana Splits were the soundtrack to our summer holidays in the late sixties, early seventies so the 5....4....3....2....1....Thunderbirds are Go! announcements were part of our school term television habits, up there with Blue Peter, Magpie, Tom Tom and The Magic Roundabout. For anybody who doesn't recall Tom Tom it was a sort of Tomorrows World for kids but with various experiments and games thrown in and was made by BBC Bristol.

I suspect most people's memories of Andersons Supermarionation series were Thunderbirds, Joe 90, Stingray and Capitain Scarlet, later on there would be Space 1999 and before there was Fireball XL5. You would be hard pressed to find a child from that era who didn't own at least one piece of memorabilia from the Anderson oeuvre. My first experience of an Anderson production however was the now long forgotten series 'The Adventures of Twizzle' and by coincidence although my wife was never a fan of the 'boys' series that Anderson produced she was a Twizzle fan and we still have a copy of the original book that the 1957-58 television series was based on. Twizzle was a boy who lived in a toyshop and who could extend his arms and legs to ridiculous lengths, the series was a bit hit among my peers.


Twizzle - yes, that's a boy!



Thunderbirds was one of the most popular home grown series of the 1960's and was repeated on and off right through to the 1990's. There were problems at various times due to broadcasting rights but the enduring popularity of the series was best summed up by the fact that when the series did get an airing in 1992 it led to an unprecedented demand for models of Tracy Island which led to Blue Peter demonstrating how to make a model of said island.

The interesting thing for me is how different the British approach to science fiction was to American produced science fiction - at least on the big screen. From the fifties onwards most if not all American sci-fi was a badly disguised propaganda war against Communism whereas with Anderson there were bigger themes hiding among what was essentially a childrens programme. There were episodes of Thunderbirds that dealt with deforestation, nuclear power, genetically modified animals, exploitation of the planets resources and of course, in a legacy from Empire, slitty eyed villains. 

Fireball XL5 was set in the year 2063 and featured an organisation called World Space Patrol, Thunderbirds were an organisation operating within and outside the law, a world police force for greater good, In Stingray the main organisation is called WASP (the World Aqunaut Security Patrol) who are based in Marineville off the Californian coast, in Captain Scarlet and The Myserons the action takes place on Cloudbase in 2067 where the main peace keeping organisation are called Spectrum. Joe 90, the final series produced using marionettes actually takes place in 2012 and 2013 and features WIN (World Intelligence Network).  All five of the six series that featured Supermarionation had as their central storyline an organisation running the world for the greater good, this was absorbed by children and parents alike without a second thought.

The morning after my brothers 21st birthday party I put a VHS copy of a Thunderbirds episode on for those who needed a slow introduction into a Sunday in May 1983. The initial response was one of mockery, the old 'you can see the strings' heckling but then after about ten minutes the room fell silent and the first episode was followed by a second and then a third, people who didn't have older brothers and therefore possibly weren't exposed to the genius of Gerry Anderson were lapping it up.

The weird thing about Gerry Anderson's death is that it is only a few weeks since a client handed me their published review of the year, a chunky magazine setting out how far they had come in the past twelve months and where the company would be hoping to go in the next year of so. There in the middle is a photograph of the CEO with Gerry Anderson who had joined during the year as a business partner, alongside a photocopy of his handwritten endorsement for the product on offer.

In an era where television seems to be about more rather than less and CGI often dominates Sci-Fi I'm glad I lived through a childhood where so many pleasures could be had by something that was so easy on the eye to watch and enjoy.



8 comments:

A Northern Bloke said...

I was introduced to all of this via Fireball XL5. Without "Googling" it I can remember :-

I wish I was a spaceman,
The fastest guy alive,
I'd travel through the universe,
In Fireball XL5.

My heart would be a fireball,
A fireball,
And you would be my Venus of the stars.


OMG, I never thought I'd type those words anywhere, let alone on t'interweb!

Span Ows said...

Love Thunderbirds and have enjoyed at least 2 revivals (the same early 80s one you mention but also in the mid/late 90s (I think). The first episode I saw was the giant alligators one (One of the last episodes of the first season according to Wiki)

Saw the film about the mission to Mars (when there were strange stone formations that turned out to be snake-like aliens) when I bought some old videos for my lads in the late 1990s...loved it!

btw, in your post you should have a pause for effect, not a comma:

5...4...3... etc :-)

Span Ows said...

P.S. Don't recall Twizzle at all.

Paul said...

I'm impressed Shy, you've held onto that for nearly fifty years!

Shy - you are right and I have updated the 5,4 etc so it is more Thunderbirds and less Manfred Mann.

Very few people can remember Twizzle!

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