Three months ago, I took part in a sponsored walk in aid of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a disease, related to dementia, and affects ones mind. Many people with Alzheimer’s have died due to the complication. During the day of the walk, each of us were asked who in particular we were walking for. I walked in aid of two people; one of them was a film/TV producer whose works I admired ever since childhood. His name was Gerry Anderson.
It’s two years since Gerry Anderson’s passing due to Alzheimer’s at the age of 83 and some fans still find it hard to believe that one of the greatest British film/TV producers is already dead. I am one of those fans, even though I’m mature enough to accept that people can’t live forever. But this doesn’t mean Gerry can no longer be hailed a hero. As the old sayings go; A) “his soul’s in paradise” and B) “the good old memories still live on”. This is why I intend to explore why I consider Gerry Anderson to be a genius.
Gerry Anderson’s early productions hark back to my dad’s childhood. He was a fan of The Adventures Of Twizzle, Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds and so forth. More than 25 years later, he and some neighbours and family friends introduced some of the programmes to me and my brother. My God I enjoyed them so much. My brother especially remembers the time he watched Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons and Stingray, hoping the villains would win the battles. Personally I didn’t mind either way. I especially remember when I was ten when Thunderbirds was digitally remastered and each episode was re-broadcast on BBC2. Afterwards the corporation repeated the same procedure with Stingray and Captain Scarlet.
I have always admired the creativity Gerry put into his shows and films and I especially love the way the vehicles are designed. For instance, whenever I watched the launching of Thunderbird 2 in Thunderbirds, I was constantly thrilled by the pod selection and the way the palm trees clear the area. I also love seeing Thunderbird 1 launching out of the swimming pool. I am also amazed at how the characters in Captain Scarlet drive the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle backwards. Another thing I’m hugely fond of is the music. Barry Gray’s music is so thrilling and unforgettable! I used to go to some firework displays and they played the Thunderbirds theme tune.
But I’m also keen on the issues and themes each show covers. Stingray was about exploration of undiscovered items/living things under the sea. Thunderbirds was about the right to live. Captain Scarlet covered the struggles to tackle terrorism. Those three shows are probably the best remembered, but I also remember watching Gerry’s other puppet-based programmes such as Joe 90, Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Terrahawks.
But it isn’t just the marionette-based productions that signal Gerry’s genius. His live-action programmes including U.F.O, The Protectors and Space 1999 deserve some credit. They were produced with a more adult approach. U.F.O contained scenes of adultery, divorce and drug use. There’s one episode I remember (‘A Question Of Priorities’) when Straker was provided limited custody with his son John, following his wife’s divorce. John was to show Straker something, but Mary shooed him, before John could do so, resulting in him getting injured by a car. Then Straker ordered some drugs to make John better, but due to a delay, John died and Mary blamed Straker for the death. Like Captain Scarlet, U.F.O focuses on an emotional war between humans and aliens, who want the humans’ organs in order to save their world. The Protectors is one of Gerry’s most underrated productions. It is also one of very few not to relate to science-fiction, but is actually a present-day-set crime programme about three London-based detectives who are charged for protecting a group of innocents. Somehow, the programme reminded me of Charlie’s Angels and The Professionals. It was about an independent crime-solving organisation and occasionally quite gritty. Space 1999 was about a crew from a scientific research centre on the moon, which is blown out of orbit and hurtling across the universe following a nuclear waste explosion.
There was one other programme Gerry Anderson produced which I remember watching as a kid; Space Precinct. Space Precinct is a contrast between U.F.O and Law & Order. It’s basically a live-action sci-fi police programme set in a fictional solar system which indicates humans and aliens living and working together. Space Precinct was a fantastic contribution to society and signified the racial tolerances that were occurring during the time of its productions. Like certain other sci-fi programmes and films, it predicted that humans and aliens would eventually interact with each other. To me, Space Precinct looked more like an American programme. The atmosphere and locations were epic, even the action scenes were fantastic. Although there was only one series, Space Precinct is an underrated flick which I would definitely recommend you check out.
I would also recommend some of Gerry’s feature films; Thunderbirds Are Go, Thunderbird 6 and Doppelganger also known as Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun. This one is a unique movie concerning a fictional planet which is a mirror image of the earth and at the other end of the sun, hence the title ‘Doppelganger’. The film is in the same boat as Fahrenheit 451 and can be challenging to watch, but it is very cleverly scripted. As for the two Thunderbirds movies, they’re not as brilliant as the show, but are still fun to watch. Plus, they are way better than that live-action version, which was directed by Jonathan Frakes. That is not the worst thing about the movie, but it left poor old Gerry out of production. No wonder he called it a load of crap. Relating back to the other two movies, did I mention that there’s a cool song in Thunderbirds Are Go that Cliff Richard sings? It’s called ‘Shooting Star’ and it certainly got me into the groove.
Throughout his productions, Gerry has experimented with various formats including Supermarionation, live-action, stop-motion (Dick Spanner P.I, Lavender Castle), anime (Firestorm) and CGI animation (Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet). Many of his productions have covered a variety of social and emotional issues such as terrorism (Captain Scarlet, U.F.O), the environment (Stingray, Thunderbirds, Space 1999), crime (The Protectors, Dick Spanner P.I, Space Precinct) endangered lives, natural disasters, family matters (Thunderbirds, U.F.O) and sometimes politics.
It’s amazing that even though only 14 years after Thunderbirds’ remaster, the show and certain other shows by Gerry Anderson are not receiving much credit nowadays. If not them, why are shows like The Good Life, The Office and Friends getting so much attention? They’ve finished ages ago. So why not any of Gerry’s stuff? The material produced by Disney includes plenty of things for both children and adults. That’s the same with Gerry’s works. In fact, I believe his productions have left a huge impact on many people. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police was heavily inspired by the puppet shows. The Nintendo 64 game, Star Fox, was also inspired by Gerry Anderson, hence the way the characters’ mouths move when they speak. Even Aardman Animations referenced Thunderbirds when they made Wallace & Gromit; in A Close Shave, Wallace uses Thunderbirds style slides to get to his motorbike. And yet, who can forget the rotating pond? Speaking of Disney, I always wonder in Ron Clements and John Muskers were Gerry Anderson fans. For instance, the bond between Prince Eric and Ariel in The Little Mermaid reminds me of the bond between Troy Tempest and Marina in Stingray. Plus, considering the maturity of the dialogue in Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and so forth, it’s the same as in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
There are a few of Gerry Anderson’s productions I never watched, but let’s face it, there are a lot he’s contributed to. These include The Adventures Of Twizzle, Torchy The Battery Boy, Four Feather Falls, The Secret Service and Firestorm, plus what is probably regarded as one of the most forgotten about feature films in film history, that is Crossroads To Crime. Funny thing; I recently watched a short documentary on YouTube, based on the making of and the producers views on the film and their reactions made me laugh. Yet, it sounds understandable that they had a bad experience with Crossroads To Crime, but for some reason, I obtain a desire to watch Crossroads To Crime at some point. I don’t think it’s ever been broadcast on the television, not even BBCs 1 & 2. I felt the same way when I first heard of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Yet I’ve seen it and I understand why it was hated, but I find it hard to hate whatsoever.
Gerry Anderson is one such film/TV producer who should never be forgotten. He should receive as much praise as Walt Disney, Stanley Kubrick, David Lean and various other film-makers. I am extremely glad I saw some of his stuff and I’m sure my future kids will too. In fact, before his death, Gerry planned to produce a CGI series adaptation of Thunderbirds. In 2005, he did the same with Captain Scarlet. Having seen a few episodes of the remake, I have to admit it isn’t as brilliant as the original series, but among many CG cartoons from that period, Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet is one of the most unique. I wonder what Gerry Anderson’s New Thunderbirds will be like; probably not as memorable as the original, but I’m sure it’ll be way better than that movie.
Gerry, though you are gone, you were and always will be a genius!