Another blog and another sad memory. As the years go by, we all know there will be people passing. This last week another great influence on my young life passed away. When I was growing up, I was fortunate like many to see some amazing sci-fi television. One man who created such shows was Gerry Anderson. When I first started this blog, I wrote about all the shows he had given us. But, that is what the internet is for. There are many websites, fan sites and official ones that document both his shows and his progress. For me, I decided to concentrate on just four shows and what they meant to me.
The first show I found quite explosive was Thunderbirds. Although I was only 4 or 5, I do remember the show the first time round. It was dramatic, exciting, a fantasy and to the young, captivating. It had everything and more. A secret base, a family who wanted to help others and rescue craft the like of which had never been seen before. The stories pitted the Tracey family against natural and man-made disasters each week. Their craft became icons as much as the show itself. No one could miss a Thunderbird when it was shown. The show also had unforgettable music. Barry Gray’s theme was an integral part of the show. He had written other theme tunes for Anderson in the past, Supercar, Fireball and Stingray to name a few. I would sit just watching the scenes when one of the Thunderbird’s was launched. It just worked. Of course there was merchandise, Dinkey toys, books, comics and more. I collected the lot. One other thing to mention. All of these shows had one other unique element. The cast were, to the main, puppets. Anderson invented supermarionation a technique of controlling puppets to a finer degree than ever before. Each show refined how much further they could make the puppets look real.
The second show which captured me was Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Captain Scarlet was basically good against evil, but with a twist. If you really look at it, the first episode showed an Earth mission to Mars. The mission found a city run by the Mysterons. As they approached, the Mysterons appeared to be ready to attack. Captain Black, attacked first and destroyed them and the city. Now the Mysterons had a secret. They could rebuild themselves and their city. They decided to take over Captain Black and make him their agent to have revenge on mankind. To make such a concept and to show it to the young was bold indeed. Plus, Captain Scarlet became indestructible. It was said every show he was but we were not indestructible. Again, I was glued to the television. Spectrum had base was called Cloudbase, an aircraft carrier of sorts that flew, rather than sail on water. Aircraft that had women pilots, the Angels. It just had so much. Like shows before, merchandise became an off-shoot. My parents brought me a Captain Scarlet hat, gun and I joined young Spectrum. Everything was S.I.G. (Spectrum Is Green). Once more it sparked my mind. I wanted to design an armored vehicle or a supersonic jet.
The third show was Anderson’s first live action. In others words real people. UFO was really different. When Anderson got the chance to work with actors he famously put it, they could walk properly, talk properly and pick things up. UFO was about aliens coming to Earth to harvest human organs. Against the aliens was Shado, a secret organisation with yet again, amazing equipment. It was detail that made these shows. Another Gray theme tune, punchy quick and memorable. UFO was filmed in the early 70’s and set in the 80’s. It was Anderson’s first attempt to show he could reach other audiences. It still featured amazing craft, such as Skydiver a submarine which could launch a small fighter from under the sea. A moonbase which had interceptors that could attack the alien spacecraft. It also had well crafted scripts and in what was a very clever move, used a studio as a cover for Shado. The studio was of course where it was all filmed. In one episode, Mindbender, the aliens had the head of Shado, Commander Straker think he was just in a television show. To me, this was a venture into sci-fi that could send chills down your spine.
My final show was Space:1999. This was as close to pure sci-fi as Anderson could get. Bigger budgets, bigger cast and a number of notable guests. The premise of the show was once based in some fact. Nuclear waste was an issue in 1999 and it was being dumped on the far side of the Moon. It caused an explosion throwing the Moon out of orbit. Now the purest of course complained this could not happen. I did not care. It was brilliant. Once more, the sets, scenes, models and special effects were of movie quality. Anderson really pushed the boat out on this show. Moonbase Alpha had 300 people thrown into various dangers just like other shows. Gray composed the main theme as before for the first series. It was Lew Grade’s attempt to break into the American market. The first series had real sci-fi stories, mysterious forces at work pushing the Alphans along. It was one of the most expensive UK shows at the time. A second series was produced, changes made to attract a bigger American market. It lost a little of its British appeal. The show still had good sci-fi of course, but it produced more episodes like Star Trek.
There are many more shows that both Gerry and Sylvia Anderson produced all had various effects on both myself and British television. The shows I mentioned, they all opened my mind a little more each time. When Thunderbirds was shown again on BBC, it went nationwide. ITV never did that the first time. What happened was a storm. A whole new generation found the show. The merchandise could not keep pace. Blue Peter had to step in and teach children and their parents, how to build a Tracey Island. That is the appeal of these shows. A new generation will see them every 10 years or so. Some shows can never age, Gerry Anderson must have understood this when he created these. Yes, they will look ‘dated’ in the sense the puppets move oddly, but they can never date. These shows gave me memories like many other things. When you look at the Eagle spacecraft, NASA would give billions to have just one of them. A ship way ahead of its time, capable of going into space, landing on planets, carrying people in comfort and more. It still looks great today. That’s the test of time.
Every time we lose another person it is sad, however we have amazing memories to watch, listen or read about. With Gerry Anderson we have a life time of shows to watch time and again. I grew up with all these, it helped fire my imagination. Space, science, fiction, fantasy, sports, radio, television and books. That was me. Many people helped teach me to which I am thankful.
So the tagline, instead of RIP, just one word which never meant anything but to fans it meant everything. FAB Gerry Anderson.