Stand By For Action! Claire ‘Moth’ Harris’s Supermarionation Odyssey

Here’s a classic from the archives of Strange Skins Magazine, as our raving reporter Claire ‘Moth’ Harris takes a look at Gerry Anderson’s assorted Supermarionation series.

Here’s a little story for you. When I was 18 years old, my friend Rachael set me up on a blind date with a guy called Andrew. I knew nothing about Andrew, but when I met him he seemed a nice enough; a little shy maybe but surprisingly good looking and dressed in a nice fashionable leather jacket. I do like a bit of leather. Anyway, things were going rather well but at some point in this date, he decided to take off his leather jacket. All that I saw as he unzipped was the fact that he was wearing a t-shirt underneath with the slogan STAND BY FOR ACTION in large friendly letters. I’m sad to say, I punched him. Only later did I discover that he was an enormous fan of Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series and his t-shirt was, of course, quoting the opening lines of Stingray. If you’re reading this Andrew, I’m sorry about the bloody nose and I hope that this feature in some way acts as an apology for my ignorance of the works of Gerry Anderson all those years ago.

Okay, so here’s the deal: I’m going to watch at least one episode of each of Gerry Anderson’s puppet series, from Twizzle right through to Terrahawks, and give my humble opinion on each. It might not be your opinion or even popular opinion but at least it’ll be something new and honest and, I hope, entertaining in one way or another. Stand by for action (and not in a sexual way) – the Moth Supermarionation Odyssey is go!

TWIZZLE (1957-59)
Gerry Anderson’s first puppet series was based on the stories of children’s author Roberta Leigh and concerned the adventures of a frankly weird toy with extendable arms and legs who goes on the run from the toy shop rather than be sold to an obnoxious little girl. He teams up with a cat with freakishly large paws called Footso and they have assorted unchallenging adventures. Only the first episode of Twizzle, called Twizzle and Footso, exists, which is just as well, as I think my brain might have melted if I’d had to watch any more. It’s simplistic, pseudo Andy Pandy stuff, aimed at the pre-school audience and unlikely to provoke even a nostalgic attraction to anyone over 5. To call the puppetry basic is an insult to basic things everywhere. If you really must, you’ll find the sole episode of Twizzle on YouTube. Moving swiftly on…

TORCHY THE BATTERY BOY (1960)
Still more Roberta Leigh living toys shenanigans in Gerry’s second puppet series. Torchy is a toy with a flashlight in his hat who shoots off each week in his sparkler-powered rocket to find other lost toys (let’s just pray he never finds Twizzle). It’s generally regarded to be a tad more sophisticated than Twizzle, largely due to its innuendo-laden script (Pongo the Pirate sings a delightful song about how he loves to ‘pinch and spank’!) but I’d probably take issue with that. Although its production values are clearly superior to its predecessor, it is still the same old Roberta Leigh Noddy in Toyland inspired nonsense. The only sense in which it takes a step forward into the Supermarionation era is with Torchy’s rocket ship, which could be considered the first true bit of Gerry Anderson tech. Gerry and Roberta Twee… er sorry, Leigh parted company after one series of Torchy. Interestingly, she later turned her back on the pre-school material to make Space Patrol, which aired within a few months of – and bears a lot of similarities to – Gerry’s Fireball XL5, of which more later. But first, this…

FOUR FEATHER FALLS (1960)
Four Feather Falls is a sort of missing link between the cutesy tweeness of the Roberta Leigh series and the road that eventually led to Supermarionation. It’s a Wild West tale (Westerns were big on TV in the early 60s, so my Grandpappy tells me) but one which features magic feathers, talking animals and guns that shoot by themselves. Softly-spoken Sheriff Tex Tucker (more alliteration coming soon, folks) saves the grandson of an Indian chief who rewards him with four magic feathers, which he displays on his Stetson in a rather jaunty manner. Two of the feathers give him the powers to talk to his horse and dog (as you do) and the other two make him able to fire his pistols from the holster without touching them. Yep pards, he literally shoots from the hip! With these amazing gifts, Tex saves the clichéd western town of Feather Falls from all manner of black-hat moustachioed bad guys, along with banditos, injuns and other racial stereotypes.

It’s best to keep a sense of perspective over the times in which this was made rather than take offense. Tex Tucker is voiced by none other than Nicholas Parsons, though you’d never know it from just hearing him speak, with his singing voice provided by Michael Holliday. Yep folks, he’s one of them thar Roy Rogers style singing cowboys. The female voices in Four Feather Falls are all provided by the then Mrs Parsons, Denise Bryer. And if that name sounds familiar, she’ll crop up again twenty some years later as the voices of Zelda and Mary Falconer in Terrahawks. Four Feather Falls is a very definite step forward from Twizzle and Torchy. You can actually watch more than one episode without falling into a coma. The puppetry is a good deal better too. Sure, you can still see the strings, but they no longer look like they’re made out of garden twine and the characters don’t float in mid-air any more.

SUPERCAR (1961-62)
This is more like it! Supercar (pronounced syoopacaah if the theme song is anything to go by) ticks all the boxes for a classic Gerry Anderson series. Amazing vehicle easily marketable as a toy – check! Square jawed hero with huge eyebrows and alliterative name – check! Top Secret Supercar isn’t really a car at all; it’s a sort of vaguely car-shaped plane-cum-submarine controlled by ace pilot Mike Mercury, who looks like the love-child of Adrian Brody and Noel Gallagher and talks with a smooth Canadian burr, indicating that Anderson was already making the move towards trans-Atlantic sales for his series. The vehicle is serviced by Dr Beaker who, voiced by David Graham and speaking with a slight nervous stammer, is an obvious precursor of Brains from Thunderbirds.

Women’s Lib mustn’t have been a big deal in whichever future Supercar is set because there are no significant female characters. Sylvia Anderson is one of the voice artistes, but she voices young Jimmy Gibson, who competes with his pet monkey Mitch for the most annoying character trophy. This really feels like a Gerry Anderson show in a way that none of its predecessors did. The music is even by Barry Gray, whose bombastic sounds would go on to define the Supermarionation era. However, for all its similar help-and-rescue themes, this is no Thunderbirds. It’s still pretty basic stuff in terms of storytelling and not a million miles ahead of Four Feather Falls in its artistic sophistication. Having said that, it’s the first of the series chronologically that I feel I could sit down and watch every episode. There’s a great sense of fun in Supercar that carries over into all of the Supermarionation shows.

FIREBALL XL5 (1962-63)
It’s worth noting that from Supercar right up till Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons every Supermarionation series was named after a vehicle or vehicles. Gerry Anderson had obviously noticed that he was onto a major winner with the hi-tech adventures of Supercar; not only were puppets easier to show convincingly at the controls of a plane, rocket or submarine than walking about the place, but there was obvious marketing potential for toys and models. Fireball XL5 takes puppetry into techno overload (technoverload?) with spacecraft, hoverbikes, ray guns, robots, futuristic cities and much more. It’s a toy manufacturers dream and all a little boy’s Christmas’s rolled into one. Piloting the titular spacecraft is hunky Steve Zodiac, a square-jawed Buster Crabbe-a-like with even bigger eyebrows than Mike Mercury (do you think he was any relation to Freddie?).

Steve is an old fashioned all-American ‘shoot first; ask questions later; then shoot some more’ type of hero. He’s frequently seen to open fire on an unarmed opponent, gunning down whole roomfuls of evil aliens. It seems a bit morally dubious by today’s standards in a TV show aimed at children but hell, this was the early 60s, before peace and love had been invented, man. Accompanying Steve on his killing spr… er, fun space adventures are Prof. Matt Matic, a goggle-eyed boffin voiced by – you guessed it – David Graham and Dr Venus, an expert in space medicine, all Bridget Bardot-ish Gallic vowels and blonde perm. Sylvia Anderson voices her with a passable French accent. Though it’s nice to see a female crew member this time round, she does seem to spend as much time making coffee and darning socks as she does practicing space medicine. Dr Venus has a pet alien Lazoon called Zooney. He’s supposed to be cute, but he has a voice which is quite frankly disturbing.

The final member of the crew is a Perspex robot called Robert, who speaks like a Tomb Cyberman and has a nice line in Lost in Space arm-flailing (before either of those programmes was ever invented). There’s also an irritable Scottish engineer called Jock – a full 5 years before Star Trek was ever heard of. Back at HQ is Commander Zero, a gruff talking crewcut. He has an assistant called Lieutenant Ninety, who in one episode has a son called Joe. Hong on a minute… Joe Ninety? Where have I heard that before? The science of Fireball XL5 is pretty screwed up even by 1962 standards. Steve and his crew seem happy to go for a space walk without a pressure suit, just wearing their civvies. How do they breathe? It’s hard to take, but Prof. Matic’s cute space doggy-paddle technique makes it almost acceptable. The stories are also incredibly literal; when they encounter Space Pirates, they’re actual pirates in space; when they encounter Space Gypsies, they’re actual gypsies in space. It’s got a delightfully naive storybook logic that constantly reminds you this was meant for kids and not for you. Finally, Fireball XL5 has a groovy theme song sung by Don Spencer. Those of a certain age will remember Don from his time on Play School in the 1970s. The Aussie guy with the two spider glove puppets? Yes, that Don Spencer!

STINGRAY (1964-1965)
On the surface (no pun intended) Stingray is Fireball XL5 under the sea. Yes it is. There are loads of similarities – Marineville is just Space City; Colonel Shaw is Colonel Zero in a wheelchair; Marina looks like Ursula Andress, Venus looks like Bridget Bardot. See what I mean? No? Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about. The Fireball XL5 episode XL5 into H2O is even a sort of blue-print for Stingray – it’s even got an Aquaphibian in it, or at least their bulbous-headed cousin. Of course, Stingray has one major advantage over its predecessors – it’s in colour! And not just any old colour – Videcolour! Y’know, the kind of colour that you can see? Don’t you just hate those programmes made in the infra red or ultra violet spectrum? And boy, can you see the colour in Stingray! It’s so garish it’s practically burned on your retina. I’m sure I was still seeing an after-image of Troy Tempest for several days after the episodes I watched.

Stingray is also the first of these series that I have any prior memory of. I wasn’t around in the 60s, but ITV used to repeat it during the school holidays in the 70s and, of course, it turned up on BBC2 during the Gerry Anderson renaissance in the 90s. I always used to sympathise with Col. Shaw’s daughter Atlanta (voiced by erstwhile Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell) who obviously had her eyes set on hunky James Garner lookalike Troy Tempest from the beginning, but found her nose pushed out of joint with the arrival of Marina, who was supposed to be every unreconstructed male’s idea of the perfect woman in the 60s, in that she looked like Ursula Andress but couldn’t talk back. To me, Marina always looked a bit vacant; like all the lights were on but the tank was completely devoid of fish. She might have had her very own song crooned at the end of every show, but it was the shot of Atlanta pining over a photo of Troy on her vanity cabinet that always touched me. Stingray has a rather tight cast of characters; there’s Troy Tempest and his southern fried radio operator Phones; Marina and Atlanta; Col. Shaw and… that’s it. There are no more regular characters. Thankfully, this means there’s no annoying Mitch the Monkey or Zooney the Lazoon style ‘cute’ pet, although they could easily have lumbered Marina with Gus the Guppy or some such.

The main problem with Stingray is that the episodes are very samey; there are many different undersea races that turn up, but they’re all essentially variations on the old Aquaphibians. Stingray is also hugely over-shadowed by the series that followed it, which isn’t its fault, but is an unavoidable fact. With the gift of retrospect, it’s hard not to see Stingray as an intermediary point between the raw energy of Fireball XL5 and the sheer class of Thunderbirds. That might seem unfair, but Thunderbirds was such a mahoussive cultural phenomenon that Stingray – and in that case every other Gerry Anderson series – was always going to end up playing second fiddle.

THUNDERBIRDS (1965-6)
FIVE! (Crash zoom on my two hands on the keyboard) FOUR! (Close up of my worried eyes as I wonder what to type next) THREE! (My empty desk because I’ve gone off to make a cup of tea) TWO! (Me frantically trying to recover this file because Windows has randomly decided to shut down and install updates) ONE! THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO! Which ISN’T the title of the programme! It never was! Same way that Monkey was never called Monkey Magic; Roobarb was never called Roobarb and Custard and Star Fleet was never called X Bomber (not in the UK, at least). Geddit, bloke down the pub who thinks he knows everything about kid’s TV? Only the first feature film was called Thunderbirds Are Go, and more recently the EXTREME computer generated TO THE MAX revival version. We’ll be discussing the former in due course; the latter, not at all. So, what’s to say about Thunderbirds that hasn’t been said a million times before?

Well, it’s not without reason that it’s widely known as the best of the Supermarionation series. Sir Lou Grade hit the nail on the head when he famously said to Gerry Anderson, “This is not a television series – this is a feature film!” Every single episode has an epic widescreen grandeur that literally no other television series – let alone another puppet series – has ever even come close to matching. Irwin Allen spent millions of dollars of Hollywood money trying to put disasters on the screen that ended up looking far less impressive than those depicted in Thunderbirds. Every explosion, every crash landing and every take-off is literally operatic in its scale and detail. And that might have been the lot of Thunderbirds, if Lou Grade hadn’t asked Anderson to upgrade (no pun intended) the series from 25 minute episodes to 50 minute episodes. The additional material added to the first 11 stories that were already in the can was chiefly character stuff, almost accidentally progressing Thunderbirds from a whambang kids’ show about rockets and things exploding into an altogether more sophisticated form of family entertainment. The characters in the show are so much more a part of the appeal of Thunderbirds than their equivalents in Stingray and Fireball XL5. Ask someone about those shows and they’ll invariably remember the tech, but ask someone about Thunderbirds and, sure, they’ll remember the tech, but they’ll also remember Lady Penelope, Parker, Brains and the Tracey boys – though they may not be able to name them all (Scott, Virgil, Alan, erm… Ringo? Timmy the Dog?).

Thunderbirds is Gerry Anderson’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. You’ll get people who, to be wilfully obscure, will say they prefer Supercar or The Secret Service but, when all is said and done, there is a reason why 50 years later Thunderbirds is still remembered as his best work. Sometimes the stars align and the end product is just magical. The series is the perfect combination of action, character, humour and charm; the latter two being the elements that fall flat in the recent computer generated Thunderbirds Are Go and even more so in the ghastly 2004 movie. Perhaps if they’d just revived the classic original series in both cases, they might have had another big hit like the 1990s renaissance on their hands. At time of writing, there’s a lot of buzz about some crowd-funded shorts that are being made based on the old Thunderbirds story records and utilising the traditional puppetry techniques. I need to go and check if I can still contribute to these puppies, ‘cos it would do my rapidly-approaching-middle-aged heart proud to see Supermarionation on the screen again. Of course, the final episode of the original series wasn’t the last to be seen of the Supermarionated Thunderbirds. Hell no, there were two big screen movies, which met with varying degrees of box office success but both of which are tremendous fun (I’ll be honest, Thunderbird 6 is my fave).

CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS (1967-1968)
Captain Scarlet is indestructible. You are not. Do not try to imitate him… especially not his accent. I mean, seriously – people will think you’ve had a stroke. DA-DUM-DUM, DUM-DUM-DE-DUM! After Thunderbirds, the series that I best remember from my misspent childhood is Captain Scarlet, probably because it was repeated such a lot during the 70s and early 80s. My brother used to have an Airfix model of the Angel Interceptor; in fact he had several because, with their pointy nose and flimsy wings, they were very prone to breaking. I never saw a difference in the puppets between the two series when I was a kid, but watching them back-to-back now, it’s quite clear that there were major changes in design and modelling between Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. The puppets are sleeker, more accurately proportioned and they avoid every conceivable opportunity to have them walk! Cars, lifts, moving walkways, moving furniture – anything that negates the curious bobbing walk associated with the marionette is employed at some point in this series.

It’s also a lot darker than I remember. Perhaps I simply didn’t appreciate the significance of death when I was a nipper, but there’s a lot of it in Captain Scarlet. The Mysterons are terrorists, there’s no two ways about it; they blow up entire buildings and aircraft, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of people. Even Captain Scarlet himself is killed in the first story and replaced with an indestructible Mysteron duplicate, which somehow manages to retain his heroic integrity. Spoilers, by the way; but, y’know, it was 1967, get over it. For all its ever-so-slightly po-faced style, Captain Scarlet has a memorable set of characters. Captain Scarlet himself is a likeable character, even if he does speak like Cary Grant having a seizure. Captain Blue sports the unmistakable smooth Canadian tones of Ed Bishop, later to take a starring role in Gerry Anderson’s live action UFO, and Lieutenant Green, voiced by erstwhile calypso singer Cy Grant, is the first regular black character in a Supermarionation show.

In charge of it all, from the impressive vantage point of Cloud Base, is Colonel White – are you detecting a theme here? Speaking of themes, this series sports a groovy little number by a prefabricated outfit called The Spectrum. It’s a very post-Beatles affair, though still penned by Anderson stalwart Barry Gray, which was expected to create a stir in the pop charts. Sadly, it didn’t, but it’s still a fondly remembered TV theme. I think I prefer version one to version two though. Captain Scarlet also has a lot more female characters than any of the previous show in the form of the five ace pilots known collectively as the Destiny Angels. They’re also a decidedly multinational bunch; there’s the British Rhapsody, American Symphony (white) and Melody (black), French Destiny and Japanese Harmony. It’s not without reason that Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons is second only to Thunderbirds in the public consciousness; it’s a hell of a series with plenty to recommend it, but on repeated viewing, it’s rather droll and sterile. It could certainly have benefitted from a few more gags.

JOE 90 (1968-1969)
From the smug vantage point of hindsight, it’s easy to level accusations of childishness at Joe 90. It does, after all, revolve around a child. But the Andersons were merely reacting to changes in their core audience. As a teenager, I used to read Marvel’s Marvel’s Return of the Jedi Weekly here in the UK and was horrified when one issue it very suddenly became all kiddified, bringing in Power Pack as a back-up strip and having competitions where you could win a Fisher Price jumbo jet (or something), but I now realise that Marvel UK were adapting to changes in their demographic – comics had become more of a kids’ thing and, as a commercial enterprise, they were altering to meet that audience. The same is true of Joe 90. Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet had a broad family appeal; Thunderbirds was first broadcast at 7pm, so it was aimed firmly at an audience of all ages. But subsequent repeats were on a Saturday morning – a slot traditionally reserved for kids’ TV. The comic TV Century 21 was a quality product with a huge following, but it was unquestionably a kids’ comic. Puppets had enjoyed a brief day in the sun as primetime entertainment, but it was on the wane and the Andersons saw that. Hence their next Supermarionation series to be produced was a lot more child friendly.

I like Joe 90 a lot. Okay, so the premise doesn’t exactly stand up to light; it’d be an irresponsible father indeed who sends his 10 year-old son on missions of international espionage, but in fairness this issue is tackled in the first episode and from time to time in the rest of the series. The technological concept is a strong one; the idea of a spy who can take on the skills and talents of another person was good enough for Joss Whedon to rip it off many years later in Dollhouse. In many ways – and I’m getting a bit controversial here folks – Joe 90 is technically superior to the more highly-regarded Captain Scarlet. The puppets represent the technical pinnacle of Supermarionation. They may lack the charm of the chunkier Thunderbirds puppets, but their movement is exceptional. Also, Derek Meddings’ special effects are at an all-time high. For some reason Joe 90 tends to get lumped into any conversation on the decline and fall of Supermarionation. Okay, scrub that – I know why: it’s because the series is about a kid and, apart from Joe’s dad’s freakish flying car and the BIG RAT machine, there is no great focus on tech. My reasoning is that a lot of Anderson fans are men-children who like big machines and people taking things incredibly seriously (hello, Captain Scarlet) so the idea of a speccy geek boy having adventures cuts a little too close to home. Maybe I’m being harsh? Aww, screw ‘em; I like it.

THE SECRET SERVICE (1969)
Okay, how do I review The Secret Service without using some variation or other of the phrase ‘what the hell were they thinking?’ Hmm, it’s a tricky one because that is the phrase that leaps immediately to mind when one considers the premise of the series. An elderly clergyman who talks partly gibberish and drives a Victorian vintage roadster is actually a secret agent for an organisation called BISHOP (British Intelligence Service Headquarters Operation Priest) and goes on various covert missions with his verger shrunk to miniature scale and kept in a high-tech briefcase. You know, when you say it like that, it’s hard to imagine how it wasn’t a hit! Stanley Unwin, for those of you who’ve never heard of him, was an old music hall comedian who was a familiar face on British TV in the 60s and 70s, more often than not in the guise of Professor Stanley Unwin, where he would dress in a white lab coat and spout his own brand of pseudo-scientific gobbledygook called ‘Unwinese’. The idea of him as a comedy Vicar in a kid-friendly sitcom probably seemed like a commercially sound one in the late sixties, but to combine that with a Joe 90 style spy-lite Supermarionation series was a quite frankly bonkers concept!

And therein lies The Secret Service’s problem; it’s a one-gag pitch. The need to serve the spy fiction conceit means that it can never explore its full comedy potential, and the need to support its comedy conceit means that it’s never truly convincing as a spy thriller. The Secret Service is hamstrung by its own concept. The plots are essentially Joe 90 rejects, but whereas Joe 90 only had to deal with the idea of the hero being a schoolboy, this has to deal with the idea of the hero being an elderly gubbins-spouting comedy vicar. It’s a conceit that demands comedy business – but like all routines that originated in the music hall, that comedy business is the same every week. Perhaps The Secret Service’s worst crime is that it replaces some of the more complex outdoor puppet scenes with live actors, taking you right out of the action and jarring horribly with the Supermarionation scenes! Watching a couple of episodes of The Secret Service is fun, don’t get me wrong there, but it’s incredibly repetitive. Even at just 13 episodes, the series seems to drag interminably. It’s not surprising that Lew Grade pulled an early plug on this bloody great clunker and allowed the Andersons to concentrate on live action.

TERRAHAWKS (1983-1986)
‘Terrahawks: this is an emergency! Stay on this channel!’ Okay, so there’ll be those of you who, at this very moment, are throwing your Corgi toys out of the pram and bleating, “Terrahawks? In a feature about Supermarionation? Doesn’t she realise it’s SuperMACROmation!’ Well yes, of course I do, but I’ve just decided to extend my odyssey a bit; stop off on one more island of wonderment before I return home to a hero’s welcome. Y’know, like the man said, ‘Expect the Unexpected.’ I’m a child of the 80s; I was born in the 70s but the 80s is my crib. I saw Saturday morning and school holiday repeats of Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90, but the only Gerry Anderson series I experienced fresh from the oven was Terrahawks. After their long association with ITC Entertainment ended, the Andersons spent many years doing very little apart from getting divorced… or at least that’s how it looked to the outside world; in truth, Gerry was spending all that time trying to get new projects off the ground, which he did eventually with Terrahawks. Taking a leaf out of Jim Henson’s book, Gerry (with his new business partner Christopher Burr) ditched the old marionettes in favour of large scale glove puppets which he dubbed Supermacromation. This came with both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, the facial articulation of the puppets is superb and with their expensive glass eyes they sometimes look spookily real. On the negative side they’re even less mobile than the string puppets and disproportionate in a way that even Mike Mercury (remember him?) would struggle to match.

The basic set-up is clearly in the Thunderbirds mould; a family (though not literally here) of heroic characters defend the Earth from the forces of a marauding android witch called Zelda. They have a host of toy-friendly vehicles that emerge from various parts of their remote luxurious base. Sound familiar? Well, Thunderbirds was clearly Gerry’s biggest hit, so giving it an 80s makeover made solid commercial sense. Assisting the human heroes are the Zeroids; a bunch of ball-shaped robots with distinctive personalities. Oh yeah, Terrahawks is big on the ‘distinctive’ personalities – or should we be honest and call them stereotypes? Yeah, I know it was a long time ago, but it was the 80s and they should really have known better. By 1983, Barry Gray had retired, soon to join the big orchestra in the sky, so music duties for Terrahawks went to Richard Harvey and – in contrast to a lot of music from the 80s – it stands up really well. I have to confess to even being a fan of ‘SOS International Rescue’, the pop single released by Kate Kestrel, who was a pop star as well as being one of the two pilots of Hawkwing (maybe they heard Hawkwing, thought she said Hawkwind and signed her up for a record contract). One thing no-one could accuse Terrahawks of is taking itself seriously; it’s silly and just gets sillier as the three series go on. It’s hard to know if it would have continued in this vein, as ITV essentially killed it off by shifting it from its mid-week slot to a Saturday morning graveyard. And that’s it for the Supermarionation / Supermacromation work of Sir Gerald of Anderson (he wasn’t really knighted but he bloody well should have been for all the money he brought into the UK).

Most of the rest of his work was live action, but there are a few other animated series that I’d like to give a brief mention to, even though they don’t really fall under the remit of this feature. Between the live action series UFO and Space: 1999, Anderson produced a pilot for another Supermarionation series called The Investigator, which can be found on the Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson DVD. It uses the same method as The Secret Service in combining live action and Supermarionation, but in a much more interesting and believable way. Telling the tale of a pair of teens who are shrunk down to puppet size to perform secret missions, it’s much better than The Secret Service but was sadly never picked up for a full series. After Terrahawks had bit the bullet, the partnership of Gerry Anderson and Christopher Burr backed a series of 22 short stop-frame animations featuring the robot detective Dick Spanner. This was basically the work of animator Terry Adlam, but the AnderBurr partnership produced the show. Dick Spanner was shown as part of an interminable Channel 4 Sunday morning arts programme called Network 7. It was one of a raft of pretentious mid-80s ‘yoof’ programmes that are probably virtually unwatchable these days. Needless to say, Dick Spanner was the only good thing on it. Network 7 got into trouble for showing naked models rolling around in paint on a Sunday morning (or something) and was canned, so that was the end of Dick Spanner, though a ‘lost’ episode crops up on The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson.

In 1997, Gerry Anderson produced the stop-frame animated series Lavender Castle for British animation specialists Cosgrove Hall. Lavender Castle was co-created by fantasy artist Rodney Matthews and his look can be seen throughout the design of the series. It was shown on ITV’s kids’ slot (when terrestrial channels still had kids’ slots) and although I missed it at the time, I caught up later on DVD; it’s all very sweet and pretty to look at, but it lacks any real depth. Also destined for CITV was Anderson’s last completed TV project, the CGI animated The New Captain Scarlet. If you’ve never seen it, I’d recommend giving it a try; it’s a lot better than you’d expect. Just don’t expect it to be exactly like the Supermarionated version, because it isn’t. A fitting end to Gerry’s genius. So, that’s REALLY it for Gerry Anderson. It’s a shame that the rights to so much of his work is caught up in contractual wrangling and that his son/clone Jamie Anderson (a creative chap in his own right) isn’t able to fully exploit its potential. Instead we get the RADICAL Thunderbirds Are Go DUDE. *Shudder* – maybe Twizzle wasn’t so bad after all.

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