Saturday, 1 September 2007

Supermarionation



I have always been a Gerry Anderson fan. It goes right back to my earliest memories of visiting my grandparents in the very early 1960s and thus being able to watch the new commercial ITV channel on their television set (our home model only received the BBC). I have vague memories of ‘Twizzle’ and ‘Torchy, the Battery Boy’, but at the time, Gerry’s best offering was the futuristic ‘Supercar’ and I loved it. I loved it so much that when it was announced that we would finally get ITV at home I was ecstatic.

So it was that one evening in 1962 I sat down in a frenzy of expectation to watch ‘Supercar’ on our brand new, ITV-receiving television – only to find that it wasn’t on! Its run had ended and in its place was a new show called ‘Fireball XL5’ and I was distraught! But not for long, for as it turned out, the new show was even better with spacecraft, alien worlds, robots and the beautiful Venus to keep me amused.

For the next few years, it is a little known fact that I was secretly Steve Zodiac, my most prized possession being a plastic replica of XL5 (with detachable Fireball Junior) obtained by collecting a number of Lyons Maid ‘Zoom’ ice cream wrappers, closely followed by a vivid and slightly obsessive imagination which involved roping in my schoolmates to play ‘XL5’ in the lunch hour. Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet would follow but nothing really triggers memories of that secret childhood world like Fireball XL5. It is largely responsible for what I am today – a man with a mind still attuned to comics, cult TV and pop music. And the bad points are…um…it all costs so much.

I recently gritted my teeth and bought the entire series of Fireball on DVD and have spent many hours re-living those black and white days of the early 1960s. Some episodes I had no memory of at all but others, like my all time favourite episode, ‘XL5 to H2O’ with the fabulous smoke-firing Aquaphibian were as clear now as they were 40 years ago.

Sure, the increased clarity of DVD has highlighted all the puppet strings and other ‘imperfections’ but it has also revealed the imagination, the attention to detail and the sheer adventure inherent in these shows. It brought a kind of magic into my life which fired the imagination and left an indelible mark.

‘Ready, Venus?’
‘Ready, Steve…’

3 comments:

TR1-Guy said...

Well, it goes without saying, that we all have twins somewhere. Though we may not be physically alike, we certainly are dead-on with our likes and dislikes. Damn, I LOVED XL5 as a kid! I had the flying XL5 model that you launched with this really dangerous rubber-band contraption and I loved every minute of it. So much so, I actually paid like $400 for a "near-mint" version of that model in 1996 and it motivated me to build my own model rocket... a rocket that ended up being over 5-feet tall (nearly 2 meters?) and soared about 1200 feet (400 meters?) into the air. I've got pictures on the web of it here: http://www.tr-one.com/scifi/fireballxl5/photo.htm
Check it out if you have the time. I too bought the DVD set when it was realeased here in the USA a few years back and agree at how fast those memories came back. I don't know if the generation today has these types of memories or not as we had to use our imaginations a lot more (could our kids watch a show with puppets with strings? I think not). Really cool memory and "Go XL5!!"

musicobsessive said...

Y'know, I think it must be an age thing. I'm guessing that you and I were about 7-8 years old and that is a great age for fantasy. I can see it in my 7 year old daughter who has latched onto W.I.T.C.H in exactly the same way that I did with XL5. Perhaps cartoons are now the puppet shows of today?
Great pics by the way. They rather put my small plastic model to shame! Btw, we in the UK NEVER use metres despite the bully boys in Brussels! Good old imperial feet and inches for us.

TR1-Guy said...

Yeah, it is an age thing... agreed.

If I had used my brain for a moment, I would have realized that not only did we Americans pinch your launguage, we stole your measurement system too. Sorry about that! :)

BTW, when the XL5's main engines kick in during the opening sequence, I still get goose bumps to this day. I had to dig the DVDs out and watch it to just prove it to my sons!
Rock on!