This is my 300th post on this blog and it is perhaps fitting that it pays tribute to a man that looms large in my childhood – Gerry Anderson, who died over the Christmas period.
Most will know his work through the iconic ‘Thunderbirds’ but my link goes back further to the dimly remembered late 50s collaboration with children’s writer, Roberta Leigh that produced the strangeness of ‘Twizzle’ and ‘Torchy the Battery Boy’, made with puppets so weird that it doesn’t bear thinking about. Although these shows were my initial contact with Gerry’s puppet world, it was ‘Fireball XL5’ that really captured my imagination. I was besotted with this programme and although the delights of ‘Stingray’, ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Captain Scarlet’ were to follow, XL5 remains my first love. Even today its shiny monochrome world of space adventure still beguiles me.
There is a definable element that pervades the work of Gerry Anderson, from the scariness of ‘Twizzle’ via the live action ‘Space 1999’ and ‘UFO’ to the hand puppets of ‘Terrahawks’ (a million miles away from Sooty) and that thing is integrity. Everything Gerry touched was stamped with the motto, ‘If you are going to do it, do it well’. All his products had a sheen of quality, whether it was the tightly drawn scripts, the truly awe-inspiring modelling or the cutting edge special effects. The live action 2004 ‘Thunderbirds’ movie, which Anderson had no hand in and from which he rightly distanced himself, didn’t have it – and it shows.
This reach for quality can be seen again in the 2005 re-imagining of Captain Scarlet, created using CGI technology. The series of 26 x 25 minute episodes cost an astronomical £23M but the end result is worth every penny. The scripts are fast paced and the visuals as inventive and spectacular as always. Unforgivably, ITV refused to promote the new show and list it as a stand alone but buried it in amongst an existing Saturday morning kids’ show which cut it into two halves with games and adverts between them. It sank without trace.