Mon
Dec 31 2012 6:00pm
F.A.B. Thunderbirds Creator Gerry Anderson, 1929-2012

In remembrance of Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson, 1929-2012

Gerry Anderson might not have been quite as enormous an influence on American childhoods as he was on British, but as so much Brit TV SF is enjoyed on these shores and mentioned here on Tor.com, I wanted to take a little time to celebrate the life of one of the greatest of all SF TV creators.

Gerry Anderson, who died on December 26, 2012 created and co-created so many of my favorite childhood shows—Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, UFO and perhaps the best-known in the USA, Space: 1999. His resume is of course rather longer than that—he entertained a generation or two long before mine, and several after—I watched most of those shows as reruns in the 1970s. If he’d only ever made Thunderbirds, Anderson would remain wildly influential. With its benign secret organization International Rescue righting disasters around the world, Anderson introduced a whole new level of explosive spectacle to viewers. Watching the five main Thunderbird vehicles initiated in this young viewer a lifetime of love for cool SF hardware. (And I always wondered whether Irwin Allen got the idea for his 1974 disaster movie The Towering Inferno from the Thunderbirds episode “Terror in New York City” in which a scheme to move the Empire State Building to a new site goes badly wrong.) Seriously, Anderson invented the whole “disaster” genre—every single episode of Thunderbirds came up with creative new ways for blowing things up. The effects were created by longtime collaborator Derek Meddings, who would go on to create similar for the James Bond films.

In Captain Scarlet, Anderson introduced a darker world in which the alien-battling lead character couldn’t die, an idea Russell .T Davies nicked for Doctor Who years later when he decided Captain Jack would have similar attributes when he headed up Torchwood. Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet (and various other SF shows such as Stingray and Joe 90) were filmed in Supermarionation, sophisticated puppets that populated a world of amazing vehicles and state-of-the-art special effects. With UFO in 1969, Anderson moved over to live action and created a show about a secret alien invasion of Earth in which the antagonists harvested human body parts. Set partly on Earth, partly on a defensive moonbase populated by purple-wigged space babes, UFO managed to be lurid, creepy and bizarre. Anderson’s science was never hard exactly, but his fiction was always fantastic.

Even as a kid, I thought Space: 1999 was set too early. I was watching in 1975 and 1976—how could we advance to the level of fabulous technology seen in this show in so short a time when we weren’t even going to the moon any more? Indeed, the premise of this show is ludicrous—it involves the moon being blown out of Earth’s orbit and being sent on an interstellar journey on which the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha encounter many and various alien threats and wonders. But you can’t watch Space: 1999 that way—the secret to enjoying it is to take it all as metaphor. If you view it as the story of humanity searching for a home and surviving against the odds in a hostile universe, this show suddenly gets very interesting indeed. Also, it looks like nothing else ever seen on TV— the production design (especially in the first season) by Keith Wilson and effects by Brian Johnson are superlative. Special kudos to the great Martin Landau, who plays the commander of Alpha as a man under intense pressure while remaining heroic.

Gerry Anderson discovered and gave employment to so many extraordinary creative talents—Derek Meddings, Brian Johnson, Barry Gray, Keith Wilson, Johnny Byrne, Christopher Penfold to name just a few of those individuals who have had a massive effect on my own creative (and therefore professional) life.

Without Gerry Anderson, the face of British SF would have looked very different, and he is irreplaceable. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Gerry for all the talent you facilitated, for all the wonderful childhood memories and all the creative seeds you planted. Godpseed, sir.


Nick Abadzis is an internationally published British cartoonist and writer. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. For more info and comics and drawings, please visit: http://abadzone.tumblr.com/, http://cigarlovespipe.tumblr.com/, and http://hugotate.tumblr.com/

10 comments
Alan Brown
1. AlanBrown
I remember how excited I was to see Thunderbirds episodes on TV as a youngster. The puppets were kind of goofy, but the use of models and puppets allowed the film makers to create some big, exciting action scenes that otherwise wouldn't have been possible with the special effects technologies and budgets of the time.
pilgrimsoul
2. pilgrimsoul
LOVED Thunderbirds! I didn't care that Virgil was made out of plastic. My teenage self adored him.
Also the selflessness of International Rescue has tremendous appeal. I wish such an organization existed.
j p
3. sps49
I only watched U.F.O. and Space:1999, and was amazed at the worlds depicted on those shows.

There were definitely some crap episodes of both, especially my beloved U.F.O., but the good ones made viewers sit up and notice.

The U.F.O. theme still gets my blood up!
Paul Howie
4. FluffyPanda
@3: If the UFO theme gets you going, listen to Stingray:
http://youtu.be/E06cNv55jTs

"Stand by for action!" ...
dum du du dum, dum dum, dum du du dum, dum dum...
"Anything could happen in the next half hour" (how right that was)...
"Stingray! Stingray! Stingray!" duh, duh, duh duuuh.

1964 and I still think that stands as one of the all-time great opening themes, just for pure adrenaline extraction.
Michael Grosberg
5. Michael_GR
My earliest memory of watching anything on TV - from about the age of four or five (around 1980) - is watching the first Stingray compilation movie. Of course it took me ages to find out what it was - I only remembered puppets and a submarine being swallowed by a large fish. But from that moment on Gerry Anderson pretty much defined my childhood and cemented my early interest in aviation and space. I have a box full of drawing I made in kindergarten (thanks mom for keeping them!) and they are full of thunderbirds spacecraft.

And of course one must acknowledge his habit of building intricate models and then blowing them up! Thunderbirds wasn't just a sci-fi show, it was also the Brainiac and Mythbusters of its time.
pilgrimsoul
7. Narmitaj
I saw Thunderbirds pretty much as it came out in the 1960s (I say pretty much as I wasn't living in the UK, so I don't know the delay).

I remember a TV episode where a runaway motorway buildermachine was threatening a city. It pulverised the landscape ahead and extruded multi-lane tarmac out the back complete with painted white lines and even, I think, street lighting. A metaphor for something.

Also, I used to get the tremendous comic book/future newspaper, TV21. It had a front page headline & photo of some cool machine, some "news" articles about life in 2067 (or rather, 100 years after whichever specific issue), and comic strips of the likes of Thunderbirds, Zero-X, Stingray, Fireball XL5 and so on, many drawn by the excellent Frank Bellamy. Here's the first of three pages of a long overview of TV21, with plenty of illustrations. Pity the text and the pictures are so titchy.

And there's the SUPERTHUNDERSTINGCAR 1960s spoof by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmvrFg-EhmI
Nick Abadzis
8. Nick_Abadzis
Barry Gray's music was indeed also a huge part of the appeal of most of the Anderson shows, Space: 1999 being his masterpiece. He really caught the show's mood of "cosmic sorrow" and gave grandeur and scope and a sense of the vastness of space to the Alphans' plight. The Zero X theme from the first Thunderbirds movie is another favorite.
pilgrimsoul
9. the jaybird
I guess my heart will be a fireball.
Nick Abadzis
10. Nick_Abadzis
Gerry's son Jamie Anderson has made his eulogy for his Dad available here:
http://www.jamieanderson.me.uk/my-eulogy-for-gerry-anderson-my-dad/

Moving words - thanks for letting us read them, Jamie.
pilgrimsoul
11. PkPOP
One of Gerry Anderson's underrated but great creations "Dick Spanner P.I." - stop motion comedy series that Fandersons will enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iehxeWlwh44&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PLaYzABfurgW0JxF2Za0Z1ZMcgzzLNB9vB

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