Network On Air Screens ‘Gerry Anderson Day’ Special
By @Roger Crow
Gerry Anderson, in case you didn’t know it, was a genius. In a world where every TV Western and spy angle had been exploited, and sci-fi sagas were two-a-penny, Anderson’s USP was to tell gripping stories… with puppets. Yes, the likes of Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Four Feather Falls were primitive, but those vintage TV classics would eventually pave the way for some of the best TV ever made.
Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, and Joe 90 were all beautifully crafted. And yes they were ripe for lampooning, with every satirist of the 1960s sending up the likes of the Thunderbirds crew, Lady Penelope and Parker. Not all of Anderson’s shows worked. Stanley Unwin vehicle The Secret Service was cancelled after a few episodes because producer Lew Grade thought the American audiences would have no clue about Unwin’s gobbledegook dialogue. That was perhaps the least of the show’s problems. It was just an incredibly odd mix of live action and animation, as I was reminded of during a recent screening.
But thankfully there were more hits than misses. And that solid gold collection of tunes, including the bombastic Thunderbirds theme, pop classic Captain Scarlet, and the ever wondrous Joe 90, fast tracks me back to my youth every time. Take a bow Barry Gray.
By the 1970s, Anderson moved into live action, with assorted projects including the film Doppelgänger, and TV series UFO. The latter is still loved by millions, while the Dinky toy merch goes for quite a sum if in mint condition and the box of course.
When an ambitious second season was scrapped, Anderson used the sets and props for Space: 1999, a glorious, at times melancholic saga of a lunar base in the eponymous year blown out of Earth’s orbit. Made in the wake of 2001: A Space Odyssey, there were times it spent too much time being cerebral rather than sexy, though watching it again, many of the series one episodes are a fascinating study of existential angst. That cast list is to die for. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Ian McShane, Brian Blessed and countless other famous faces pop up in guest appearances. And the effects are still out of this world, with geniuses like Brian Johnson flexing their creative muscles before working on genre classics Alien and The Empire Strikes Back.
Season two was a different beast, with a funky theme tune, and sexy shape-shifting alien Maya (the dreamy Catherine Schell) joining the cast.
Gerry also crafted spy saga The Protectors with future 1999 star Tony Anholt, and Robert Vaughn. The stories were hit and miss, and a Vaughn-directed episode ranks as one of the worst, but that killer theme ‘Avenues and Alleyways’ sung by Tony Christie, and occasional repeats have given it an extended lifespan. That and the fact it’s also heaving with great guest stars, including Eartha Kitt, John Thaw, and James Bolam
By the 1980s, Anderson invested a fortune on Terrahawks, an often bizarre series which boasted Windsor Davies’s vocals as the leader of military robot spheres, the Zeroids. Oh, and a cast of wire-free puppets. Though often fascinating, it was a pale imitation of Thunderbirds. And cheap and cheerful robot detective series Dick Spanner was also an intriguing curio which filled a gap during the maverick Channel 4 days of Network 7.
In 2004, a live action Thunderbirds movie failed to take off, largely because it sidelined most of the key characters. Without Anderson’s touch, it lacked a much needed magic.
I had a great chat with Gerry when a CG revamp of Captain Scarlet graced Saturday morning ITV in the mid-noughties. He wasn’t happy the series hadn’t been shown prime time, and little wonder. It was terrific stuff that was usually split into two halves during Ministry of Mayhem, while rising star Holly Willoughby kept the kids entertained.
When he died in 2012, the showbiz world lost one of its brightest stars. However, Anderson’s legacy continued when super fan Peter Jackson backed an impressive CG reboot of Thunderbirds.
I’m thrilled that Network Distributing is honouring the great man’s birthday with a streaming ‘watchalong’ from 7pm on the first Gerry Anderson Day. It’s a long overdue tribute to one of Blighty’s brightest stars, so a FAB night should be had by all.
Gerry Anderson WatchParty was on Network on Air