Where To Start With... Gerry Anderson
First airing in 1965, Gerry Anderson's classic sci-fi series Thunderbirds was one of several programmes produced by AP Films to feature the famous marionette puppets for which Anderson and his wife Sylvia have become known. Based around the adventures of the Tracy family and their secret organisation International Rescue, Thunderbirds became one of the most popular children's TV shows of its era and even though only 32 episodes of the original series were ever made, the show was exported to more than 30 countries and numerous repeats on a variety of networks have allowed Thunderbirds to be enjoyed by several generations over the last four decades.
In April this year, ITV began airing a new, rebooted version of the classic TV show, but this time they've dispensed with the puppets and the new series is a computer generated animation featuring a voice cast that includes Rosamund Pike as Lady Penelope and Fonejacker creator Kayvan Novak, who provides voice duties for International Rescue's bespectacled engineer, Brains.
Although the decision to ditch the 'supermarionation' method of the original series has disappointed some of the show's more traditionalist fans, the new series has performed well with audiences for ITV and introduced a new generation to the Tracy family, featureing all of their iconic vehicles and best-known characters, including Lady Penelope's loyal manservant Parker – voiced here, as in the original series, by David Graham – as well as International Rescue's chief nemesis and all round villain, The Hood.
Thunderbirds Are Go! arrives on DVD on Monday June 22nd and you can watch a trailer for the new series below, but in the meantime we've picked some of Gerry Anderson's best creations as an introduction to one of the television's most unique talents. It's going to get a bit nostalgic...
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Although it wasn't the first of Gerry Anderson's shows to feature his famous puppets – that honour belongs to the short-lived series Supercar – Stingray was the first to be a hit with TV audiences and was also the first of his shows to be filmed in colour. Much like Thunderbirds, the action revolves around a secret organisation known as WASP (World Aquanaut Security Patrol) and its star was the submarine commander Troy Tempest, voiced by Don Mason.
Tempest was assisted by his second in command, Phones, as well as a strange mermaid princess named Marina, a mute with the ability to breathe underwater. Stingray ran for 39 episodes and its success led to Anderson being commissioned to create another show in the same vein, and so Thunderbirds was born.
After the success of Thunderbirds and Stingray, Gerry and Silvia Anderson were on a bit of a roll and their next project, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, saw their puppets facing a new enemy. As the lead agent of an organisation called Spectrum, the central character essentially becomes immortal after an encounter with the mysterious Martian race and, after humans attack one of their cities on Mars, the Mysterons are out for revenge. Which is fair enough, really...
Although you never get to see these mysterious creatures, they are represented on Earth by the terrifying Captain Black, a former Spectrum agent and the mission leader from the Mars attack, whom the Mysterons reconstruct after he is killed in battle and reprogram to carry out their nefarious deeds.
First broadcast in 1968, Joe 90 carried the Gerry Anderson formula forward with a new hero, this time a nine-year-old boy named Joe McClaine whose scientist father has invented a device capable of transferring human knowledge from one brain to another. The result is a child that is equipped with all the knowledge of the world's best military leaders an scientific minds. Being a kid also makes him the perfect spy for the World Intelligence Agency, since nobody would suspect a nine-year-old of espionage.
While not as successful as some of the Andersons' earlier series, it has developed a cult following over the years and any fan of Gerry Anderson's work would list Joe 90 as being up there with his best.
Anderson made the jump to live action series with UFO, first aired in 1970 and running until the following year, following up with his first non-science fiction show The Protectors in 1972. His third live action series was the last to be produced in partnership with Sylvia Anderson and, at the time, was the most expensive television programme ever aired on British television.
Entitled Space: 1999, the series ran for 48 episodes over two years from 1975 to 1977, starring Martin Landau and Barbara Bain as two of the employees on Moon Base Alpha, a colony substation in a lunar crater that is sent free-falling into space when a nuclear explosion knocks the moon out of the earth's orbit. The base's crew drift deeper and deeper into unknown space and encounter strange aliens, including a woman who is able to transform herself into any form she wishes.
Anderson's ventures into cinema were not as successful as his TV work, but one of the best is this odd sci-fi movie from 1968 starring Roy Thinnes as Colonel Glenn Ross, an astronaut sent on a mission to investigate a new planet hidden in our solar system on the opposite side of the sun.
The mission suffers technical difficulties, causing Ross to lose consciousness. When he awakes, he finds himself being interrogated by what he thinks are his employers, only to discover that he is in fact on the new planet, an exact but opposite replica of the Earth featuring doubles of all the people on his home planet. It wasn't a huge hit, but it is still available and has developed into a bit of a cult classic among die-hard sci-fi fans.