Friday, December 28, 2012

Gerry Anderson: Master of Puppets

Gerry Anderson, the producer renowned for such series featuring marionettes such as Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds and such live action series as U.F.O. and Space: 1999, died on 26 December 2012 at the age of 83. Two years ago he had been diagnosed with mixed dementia.

Gerry Anderson was born Gerald Abrahams on 14 April 1929 Feltham, Middlesex. He spent his early years in Neasden in north London. At the beginning of World War II he was evacuated to Northamptonshire.  It was in 1939 that his mother changed the family's name to "Anderson." Gerry Anderson attended Willesden County Grammar School with the intention of becoming a plasterer. Unfortunately, he had to forego his chosen profession when he found out that he was allergic to plaster. He then became a trainee with Colonial Films. Following his National Service as a radio operator for the RAF, Mr. Anderson became an assistant at Gainsborough Studios.  At Gainsborough Studios he served as an assistant editor on such films as The Wicked Lady (1945), Caravan (1946), Jassy (1947), and Jassy (1947).  He worked in the sound department on the Gainsborough movie So Long at the Fair (1950).  After Gainsborough closed he worked in the sound department of films from other companies, such as Never Take No for an Answer (1951), Appointment in London (1953), South of Algiers (1953), They Who Dare (1954), and A Prize of Gold (1955).

It was towards the mid-Fifties that he joined  Polytechnic Studios, where he met cameraman Arthur Provis. After Polytechnic Studios closed, Gerry Anderson founded Pentagon Films with Reg Hill, Arthur Provis, and John Read, with the goal of producing commercials. Pentagon Films did not last long and in 1957 Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis founded AP Films. In the Fifties with AP Films, Mr. Anderson produced the TV shows The Adventures of Twizzle, Torchy, the Battery Boy and Four Feather Falls, as well as the movie Crossroads to Crime (which was also his first live-action credit as a producer and director).  In addition to his work with AP Films, Mr. Anderson also directed an episode of The New Adventures of Martin Kane.

It was on the Western puppet series Four Feather Falls that Gerry Anderson used an early version of what would later be termed Supermarionation, the technique he would use on all of his puppet series.  Throughout the Sixties, Mr. Anderson created and produced a number of programmes using Supermarionation, including what may have been his biggest hit, Thunderbirds. Starting with Supercar in 1961, Gerry Anderson's series included Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90, and The Secret Service. His Supermationation shows proved very successful, sometimes in the Untied States as well as the United Kingdom in which they first aired. Fireball XL5 aired on NBC on Saturday morning in the 1963-1964 season, while Thuderbirds was widely syndicated throughout the United States. Thunderbirds would prove so successful that two movie were spun off from it: Thunderbirds Are GO (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968). Despite his success, Gerry Anderson was a bit embarrassed to be working with puppets and viewed it only as a stepping stone to live action television programmes and films. It was then in 1969 that he produced the live action science fiction film Doppelgänger.  In 1970 he produced his first live action show, the science fiction series U.F.O.

The next series on which Gerry Anderson worked was one which he did not create, the live action programme The Protectors. While the series would prove successful, Mr. Anderson's experience on the show was not pleasant, clashing often with series star Robert Vaughn and having to deal with filming across Europe. It was following The Protectors that Mr. Anderson produced what might be his most famous series after Thunderbirds, the live action science fantasy Space: 1999. While the show would only last two seasons, it would develop a cult following that has lasted to this day. Between the two series of Space: 1999, Gerry Anderson produced the television special Into Infinity.

The Eighties would see Gerry Anderson return to working with puppets with the show Terrahawks. He also served as a producer on the series Dick Spanner. In the Nineties he produced Space Precinct and Lavender Castle. In 2005 he served as executive producer on a revival of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, simply called Captain Scarlet.

While Gerry Anderson had originally disliked working with puppets, as he grew older he changed his mind. He said later in his life, "It would be very churlish for me now to denigrate the puppets that brought me so much success. I’ve slowly changed my attitude. Now I’m really very grateful to these little things that I strung up, um, that strung themselves up, for my benefit." Indeed, Gerry Anderson had no reason to be ashamed of his Supermarionation productions. They were imaginative and interesting in a way adults that as well as children would find them entertaining. If Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds are remembered to this day, it is because they captured the excitement of possible futures in ways some live action science fiction series never had. With varying degrees of success, the same can be said of Gerry Anderson's live action projects. Regardless of what one thinks of Doppelgänger, U.FO., and Space: 1999 (I personally like them--especially series one of Space: 1999), I think many would have to admit that they were different from any other science fiction movies or TV shows. Gerry Anderson was a true original, who created magic with his programmes, such magic that one didn't even mind when he or she saw the strings.

1 comment:

KC said...

I watched Thunderbirds Are GO! last night. It still blows me away how lavish those Anderson shows were. Maybe not so much Fireball XL5, but man, Thunderbirds was gorgeous. Wonderful costumes, sets--everything executed with class.