British television producer of sf series, including Thunderbirds (1964-66). Gerry Anderson found fame working with puppets and then

moved on to live-action drama and more recently computer-generated animation. While his work was widely seen outside Britain, he has a unique place in British popular culture. His major series, developed with his second wife, Sylvia, were Supercar (1960-62), Fireball XL5 (1962-63), Stingray (1964-65), Thunderbirds (including two spin-off films, Thunderbirds Are GO (Lane 1966) and Thunderbird 6 (Lane 1968)), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68), Joe 90 (1968-69), UFO (1970-73), and Space: 1999 (1975-78). Anderson continues to work, collaborating on the Japanese anime series Firestorm (20002003) and most recently creating Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet (2005), a CGI reboot of his original show. In 1981 his work inspired the founding of the fan organization Fanderson (www.fanderson.org. uk), and in 2001 Anderson received the Order of the British Empire for services to British television. Born in 1929 in north London, Anderson left school at 15, plan-

ning a career in architecture, only to discover that he was allergic to the plaster used to make model buildings. He found alternative employment as a trainee film editor, working first at the Colonial Film Unit and then at Gainsborough Studios. Following national service in the RAF as an air traffic controller, he formed AP Films to make commercials, hoping to graduate to large-scale entertainment. When commissions proved elusive, he reluctantly began making puppet films for children’s television, beginning with The Adventures of Twizzle (1957-58) and Torchy the Battery Boy (1958-59). Anderson recognized that the puppet format had the potential to allow him to develop in miniature themes and ideas he would have liked to see on the big screen. He embraced the medium with a series devised by his own team, a fantasy western called Four Feather Falls (1960). While Anderson had a personal fascination with aviation and the

space race, and caught the spirit of the age of Sputnik, the initial reason for his move into sf was more pragmatic. He soon realized that the one thing puppets do really badly is walk, and that his shows would work better if built around a dramatic device that would allow them to have adventures sitting down. The obvious answer was to develop series around fantastic machines and aircraft, such as the flying car in Supercar, the spacecraft in Fireball XL5, and the supersubmarine in Stingray. Technology remained prominent in Anderson’s programs, with the fantastic rescue craft of Thunderbirds, the space

interceptors and submarine-launched jet fighter in UFO, and the Eagle transporters in Space: 1999. The vehicles were presented as weathered and “lived-in,” adding a new sense of realism to this sort of show. Anderson got round the other major defect of puppets – their immobile hands – by cutting in close-ups of live actors, while an electronic device allowed the puppets’ mouths to be synchronized with actors’ voices. Anderson named this entire puppet process “Supermarionation.” Anderson’s Supermarionation programs were championed by self-

styled British television mogul Lew Grade, who ran the Independent Television Corporation (ITC) and eventually purchased AP Films as a subsidiary. Grade’s budgets permitted exceptionally high production values, most immediately evident in the color film stock used for all programs from 1964 onward. These values were necessary to crack Grade’s target market – the United States – but also aided the longevity of Anderson’s shows beyond that of their contemporaries. When Thunderbirds failed to secure US distribution, Grade commissioned Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, a series about a future battle of nerves between Spectrum, a human military organization, and invisible Martians able to replicate the dead. The hero, Captain Scarlet, was a human agent who had accidentally become indestructible. The show had a complexity and a darkness of tone that belied the youth of its purported target audience. Captain Scarlet broke with Anderson’s earlier work in other ways. From this point on, the puppet heads were in proportion to their bodies and carved with more naturalistic features. Anderson’s next series, Joe 90, had a lighter tone. It followed the adventures of a boy who, thanks to a device invented by his father which could copy brainwaves, is able to operate as a secret agent equipped with skills borrowed from adult brains. Anderson’s run of success ended in 1969 with The Secret Service, a series which featured a puppet version of British comedian Stanley Unwin as a priest/spy. Unwin was famous for a routine in which he lapsed into a gobbledygook language called “Unwinese,” and his character did the same. Grade hated the show, and as soon as he saw samples of the first season he canceled it. In 1960 Anderson had produced and directed a live-action thriller

called Crossroads to Crime. It was not well received, but by the late 1960s Anderson’s success was such that he was able to return to feature film, producing Doppelgänger (aka Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (Robert Parrish 1969)), in which astronauts travel to a newly discovered planet only to find that it is an exact mirror image of Earth. The live-action sf series UFO and Space: 1999 followed, along with

the non-sf The Protectors (1972-74). UFO dealt with near-future resistance to alien incursions onto Earth to harvest organs from humanity. It played well at home and abroad, attracting a particular following in Italy. The American office of ITC complained about the darker and more character-based episodes of the series – they especially disliked an episode called “A Question of Priorities” (1970), in which the lead character’s son died and his marriage fell apart – but they liked the material set on the moon. Anderson appeased them by basing his next project Space: 1999 exclusively on the moon after a nuclear explosion wrenches it out of the Earth’s orbit and sends it careening off into deep space. The show unfolded rather like a British Star Trek, with an ensemble cast on a voyage of discovery. It acquired one of the Star Trek (1966-69) production team, Fred Freiberger, as a producer in its final, second season in place of Sylvia Anderson, from whom Anderson had acrimoniously split. In the 1980s Anderson made a modest comeback with a space-defense

themed puppet show called Terrahawks (1983-86), a fantasy animation called Dick Spanner PI (1987), and a number of visually inventive commercials. In 1991 the BBC began a nationwide re-screening of Thunderbirds, and the show attracted an entirely new audience. Christmas 1992 brought brawls in toy shops over the remaining supplies of Thunderbirds toys. Anderson built on this resurgence of public interest with the live-action series Space Precinct (1994-95) and a stop-motion animated series, Lavender Castle (produced 1996-98, broadcast 19992000), but these shows failed to match the achievement or capture the public interest of his classic work. Part of the secret of Anderson’s success was the stability of the AP

Films team. His classic series were produced with essentially the same group of writers, designers, and film crew. At the heart of his output was his own work with Sylvia, with whom he devised the format and characters, and wrote the pilot episode. Sylvia Anderson had joined AP Films as a production assistant and married Anderson in 1960. She also designed costumes and voiced characters, most famously Thunderbirds’ Lady Penelope. Whether live-action or Supermarionation, Anderson’s programs

had a distinctive style – a mix of technology and the character play necessary to bring the drama to life with all the tricks of suspense filmmaking to keep the audience engaged. The whole package was bound together by the music of Barry Gray. Along the way, Anderson created a distinctive future architecture, though the limits of the medium required that the streets and cities depicted were decidedly underpopulated. Anderson’s heroes frequently operated

from elaborate secret bases concealed under innocuous buildings. This was, in part, to avoid the necessity of creating a suitable exterior set. Anderson’s vision of the future was every bit as humanist as that of

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. He strove to bring ethnic and gender diversity to his stories and to avoid obvious stereotyping of his villains. While ahead of the competition, Anderson’s shows remain “of their time” and tend to place female characters in a subordinate role. In Stingray, Marina, the female lead, is a mute mermaid, and the presentation of female characters in the live-action UFO was notoriously demeaning. Anderson’s picture of the future routinely included numerous cooperative organizations aligned with a world government: a line projected forward from the postwar creation of the UN in 1945 to a better tomorrow. There is a World Aquanaut Sea Patrol in Stingray, a world president in Captain Scarlet, and a World Intelligence Network in Joe 90. “Survival” (1971), an episode of the near-future UFO, even implied that racism had finally died out on Earth back in the 1970s. It is possible to identify Cold War concerns in Anderson’s stories,

including enemies within, heroic agents, and nuclear weapons, but perhaps his most enduring theme was the necessity of the human component of the machine. This was especially obvious in Thunderbirds, a series built around the adventures of an international rescue organization operated in secret by a multimillionaire ex-astronaut and manned by his five sons, in which the action was typically driven by missions to rescue people from technology which had overreached itself. The courage of the Thunderbirds team rather than the technology saved the day. Never a great businessman, Anderson sold his rights to Thunderbirds

and most other Supermarionation shows in the mid-1970s and was powerless to prevent attempts to update or edit his work. In the 1980s Thunderbirds inspired a Japanese anime version, Thunderbirds 2086 (1982), and the 1990s saw both a heavily edited version in the USA with new music and dialogue and Turbocharged Thunderbirds (1994-95), in which live-action teenagers interacted with the puppets. More recently, Universal released a live-action film of Thunderbirds (Frakes 2004). Anderson had no role in the project and the film did not do well. Meanwhile, Anderson worked on the new version of Captain Scarlet, which pleased fans, maintained interest in the original series, and justified a second season, despite an unhelpful Saturday morning slot. The impact of Anderson’s sf is difficult to quantify. Veterans of his

productions brought their know-how to a string of Hollywood sf

films: Derek Meddings worked on special effects for four Bond movies, Superman (Donner 1978) and its first two sequels, and Batman (Burton 1989); and Brian Johnson similarly contributed to Alien (Scott 1979), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner 1980) and Aliens (Cameron 1986). For his viewers, Anderson was the gateway to the world of sf. His stories were not merely experienced on television but had their associated ranges of toys, candy, books, records, comics, clothing, and dressing-up costumes. They remain a reference point for comedians, advertisers, and other filmmakers. Homages to Thunderbirds can be found in Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit film A Close Shave (1995); the cult sitcom Spaced (1999-2001); and Team America: World Police (Parker 2004). A toy Thunderbird 2 rests in a case in London’s Science Museum as an icon of life in the 1960s. This imaginary vehicle was also used as an image of Britishness in the montages at the Millennium Dome, Greenwich, in 2000, and in the foyer of the British Council, Britain’s cultural diplomacy agency, from 2002 to 2004.