Friday, March 18, 2016

Godspeed Sylvia Anderson

Sylvia Anderson, who with her husband Gerry Anderson collaborated on a number of TV shows between 1960 and 1981, died on March 15 2016 at the age of 88. Mrs. Anderson did not simply co-create and produce many of the shows, but she also served as a writer, costume designer, art director, and even voice artist. In addition to her other duties on the shows, she was the voices of Jimmy Gibson on Supercar, Doctor Venus on Fireball XL5, Lady Penelope on Thunderbirds, and Melody Angel on Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

Sylvia Anderson was born Sylvia Thomas on March 27 1927 in South London. Her father was a boxing champion. Her mother was a dressmaker. She graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in sociology and political science. She emigrated to the United States with her first husband, an American, where she worked for a time as a freelance journalist. In 1955 she returned to the United Kingdom. In 1957 she joined Polytechnic Films as an office assistant. It was there that she met Gerry Anderson, who was working as an editor and director there. After the demise of Polytechnic Films, Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis founded AP Films. Sylvia Thomas was one of the company's board of directors from the beginning. Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Thomas later married.

Sylvia Anderson's first credit on a series would be for "Continuity" on Four Feather Falls in 1960. A Western puppet series, it was the first on which Gerry Anderson  used an early version of what would later be termed Supermarionation, the technique he would use on all of his puppet series. As the Sixties progressed Mrs. Anderson prove pivotal to the various Supermarionation shows produced by her and her husband. She was credited as dialogue director on Supercar, and as script supervisor on Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds. She served as costume designer on Thunderbirds and was responsible for the look of the characters on the show. As mentioned earlier, she even served as a voice artist on various shows, playing Jimmy Gibson on Supercar, Doctor Venus on Fireball XL5, Lady Penelope on Thunderbirds, and Melody Angel on Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

More importantly, Sylvia Anderson co-created most of the Supermarionation shows. She was the co-creator of Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90, and The Secret Service. She served as a writer on Supercar. She served as a producer on Stingray and the two Thunderbirds feature films, Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6. Mrs. Anderson also worked on various live action projects in the Fifties and Sixties. She was credited with "Continuity" on Gerry Anderson's 1960 live action feature film Crossroads to Crime. She not only co-created the live action series UFO, but also served as a producer and costume designer. She also served as the producer on Gerry Anderson's 1969 feature film Doppelgänger (known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun in the United States).

In the Seventies Sylvia Anderson co-created the cult TV show Space: 1999 and served as producer on its first series. Sadly, it was with the first series of Space: 1999 that the Andersons' marriage failed. The two separated with the end of the first series, and she left their production company. They divorced in 1981.

Afterwards Sylvia Anderson was Head of Production at a video company that produced everything from music programmes to children's specials. She then went to work for HBO as a Original Programming representative in the United Kingdom. She stayed with HBO for thirty years. She also wrote a novel, Love and Hisses, published in 1983,and her biography, Yes M'Lady, published in 1991. It was revised and re-published as My FAB Years in 2007.  In 1994 she reprised her role as Lady Penelope on an episode of Absolutely Fabulous.

While Gerry Anderson's name remains closely associated with the Supermarionation shows of the Sixties, the fact is that they might not have been possible without Sylvia Anderson. It's not just that she made invaluable contributions to the shows, but that she was absolutely vital to them. She truly was a co-creator of many of the shows. And while Gerry Anderson handled the hardware and special effects side of the shows, it was Sylvia Anderson who handled the costumes, plotlines, characters, dialogue, and voices. In fact, it was Sylvia Anderson who convinced Lord Lew Grade to allow them to expand their shows to a full hour, as she felt a half hour was insufficient for character and plot development.

What makes Sylvia Anderson all the more remarkable is that she was not simply talented as a producer and writer. She was also talented as a costume designer and voice artist. The costumes for Thunderbirds remain among the best remembered of this day. As to Mrs. Anderson's work as a voice artist, there is a good reason Lady Penelope remains the most famous character to emerge from the Supermarionation shows. The simple fact is that Sylvia Anderson had a real talent for bring characters to life vocally. What is more, she could voice a variety of characters, from the posh Lady Penelope to an inquisitive little boy like Jimmy Gibson. Sylvia Anderson was an immensely talented woman who really deserves more credit than she has often gotten.

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