The world of children’s TV was transformed by Gerry Anderson’s Super-Marionation technique. Jacqui Morley reports on the man behind the magic.
Gerry Anderson, 83, who revolutionised children’s TV in the 1960s and 1970s, kept his sense of timing to the very last.
He died while the world was still at play - young boys and grown men alike playing with the toys and collectables he helped create, families watching films his innovative animation techniques helped inspire.
America gave us super heroes in comic book and then big screen form. But Britain had Gerry Anderson MBE - the man who created Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy, Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90, TerraHawks and more. Including live action series Space 1999 starring Martin Landau.
Blackpool played its part in the life and times of a pioneer whose superheroes - not to mention Lady Penelope and Aqua Marina - fired the imaginations of millions of young viewers in the 1960s and 70s.
It was on the Golden Mile, at what is now the SeaLife centre, where a Space 1999 show opened in 1978 and ran for three years. It later transferred to the Pleasure Beach - before finally moving to Alton Towers.
It was here, too, where one of his greatest fans David Nightingale established Thunderbooks in the Palladium buildings on Waterloo Road - before relocating a year later to a bigger base on Lytham Road - with Gerry’s blessing.
David recalls Gerry’s generosity of spirit in paying his own way, hotel and travel costs, to support the shop’s opening. “He knew we were just starting out and struggling,” he admits. “It was his thank you for the help I had given him earlier with the exhibition.”
The pair met many times over the years - David attending a 30th anniversary Anderson celebration last year, Gerry in failing health (he had developed Alzheimers) but on fine form, signing autographs and recalling the early days. “We had a lovely lunch together. He was only lost to me - via Alzheimers - after moving into a home.”
Born in 1956, the year Gerry was commissioned for his first puppet children’s TV series, Adventures of Twizzle, David was hooked on Anderson’s creations from the first. “Thunderbirds was the big one - but I loved the others too.”
He met his hero in 1981 after getting a call from the management of the Space 1999 centre on the Golden Mile. “I was told there’s someone here who wants to meet you.”
It was Gerry Anderson over in Blackpool as the seafront exhibition neared the end of its three year tenure. With Gerry’s funds low, after a costly divorce and other complications, David mucked in with the move, enlisting a small army of fans and volunteers. He also bagged his first autograph from his childhood hero - and last year claimed another on the same cherished Thunderbirds annual.
He was thrilled to meet Gerry and describes him as a “gracious and generous” man who never saw himself as a puppeteer, or special effects technician. “He was a good producer, able to spot talent and nurture it. Some of his finds have gone on to further greatness. One worked on Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, another who designed Thunderbirds went on to work on Superman and the first Batman with Michael Keaton. One chap, who came to Blackpool to show a short film, was spotted by Gerry and became his special fx director. He’s just worked on Sky Fall. And Barry Gray, who lived in Blackpool, wrote the music for all the big themes, Thunderbirds and co.”
Gerry pushed the boundaries of modern animation and computer technology to new heights. Until he came along Muffin the Mule and Spotty Dog was about as good as it got for David’s generation. Thunderbirds also inspired Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park.
Gerry, who started out in the Ministry of Information’s Colonial Film Unit, became a prolific producer of some of the most iconic TV series in the world and devised the Super Marionation technique, combining puppets with special effects. He later teamed up with the son of former Tower owner Trevor Hemmings - Craig - to work on a TV space action series Lavender Castle.
Today super fan David combines his specialist shop with online trade (www.startrader.co.uk) with sales in China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
He added: “We get people coming in saying my five year old has just started watching on DVD.
“I’ve always liked the print material, the mini albums from the 60s, mainly adaptations of the episodes, particularly from Thunderbirds with original voice artists on the linkings.
“Gerry was the British Disney - and way ahead of the field on merchandising.
“We also met up last March at the National Space Centre. I told him you really don’t know how big an influence you were on millions of young people.
“‘I never got paid enough,’ he replied. And he was right.”