FAB:the genius of Gerry Anderson

12 01 2011

Hard on the heels of Nick Park’s plasticine Academy Award winning duo Wallace and Gromit, who featured on the 2010 Christmas stamps, comes Royal Mail’s first collection of the New Year, celebrating five decades of futuristic, supermarionation, puppetry by Gerry Anderson (1929- ).

The stamp series entitled, FAB: The Genius of Gerry Anderson, is comprised of images from six of his iconic children’s TV series dating back to Supercar, ‘the marvel of the age’, which first appeared on ATV way back in January 1961.

Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 are all first class while Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray feature on the 97p stamps.  

A miniature sheet of motion stamps has also been issued, created through a micro-lenticular printing process, which recreates the famous 5,4,3,2,1, countdown from the opening scenes of the Thunderbirds  series.  Apparently an animation effect is caused by tilting them backwards and forwards!

As a child, Gerry Andserson’s creativity and ingenuity had a great effect on me and when I first saw the stamps, featured on the front page of The Times (11.01.11) no less, I was immediately transported back to a Saturday morning in January 1962.

I was eight years old again, hair neatly parted, standing in a pair of gleaming Startrite shoes that I could see my face in, dressed in a smart blazer, white shirt and short grey trousers hoisted up by the classic striped (green and gold if I remember rightly) elasticated snake belt, or was it the Dan Dare,Pilot of the Future’, braces on that occasion?

It was Mum’s works outing, from the Viyella factory at that time I think, and we were waiting on the platform at Hucknall Central Station for a train to London.

The highlight of our day out in the capital city was to be a performance, on ice, of the Wizard of Oz at the Empire Pool Wembley.  To be honest I could take or leave Dorothy and her gang following the yellow brick road but I was really excited about the performance for another reason – something I had read about in a recent copy of TV Comic…       

TV Comic was a brightly coloured children’s weekly,  which as its name suggests featured stories based on popular TV series of the time. It had started up in 1951 and amazingly continued in publication until 1984, 1,697 issues later!

As I recall, back in the early ‘60s, Popeye featured on the front cover with the Milky Bar Kid on the back page. Also included in its inside pages were the comic strip adventures of Supercar, based on Gerry Anderson’s phenomenally popular new puppet series.

I had read in TV Comic that test pilot Mike Mercury would be making a special guest appearance in Supercar as part of the Wizard of Oz ice show.  That was all that I was interested in.

I was relieved to find the official programme at the Empire Pool contained a personal message from Mike Mercury confirming that the ice show would be a first chance for me to see Supercar in real life. There was also an invitation to join the Supercar Club by completing a form and sending it in with a postal order for 2/6 (whatever happened to postal orders?) which I later did, receiving a treasured Supercar pilot’s licence (signed by Mike) and badge in return.

I waited with bated breath and growing impatience throughout interminable ice dances and songs until the finale when, eventually, Mike Mercury and the real life Supercar  emerged from the wings, and glided across the ice, to transport Dorothy back to Kansas no doubt. It was awesome!

It didn’t matter to me, or thousands like me,  that the Supercar TV series was in black and white and that the puppet strings were clearly visible, it was magically hi-tech as far as we were concerned.

Supercar may have been Gerry Anderson’s breakthrough show and certainly the first in his sci-fi catalogue but I also remember with some affection three of his earlier productions: Twizzle (1957-59), who wore a pixie hat and was able to extend and ‘twizzle’ his arms and legs, Torchy the Battery Boy (1958-59), who had a battery inside him and a lamp in his head, and Four Feather Falls (1960) a western.

Four Feather Falls was a favourite of mine. Sheriff Tex Tucker wore four magic feathers in his hat band which allowed his guns to swivel in their holsters and fire themselves.

Supercar was followed, in 1962, by Fireball XL5 (also in black and white), a spaceship commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol.  He was partnered by the glamorous Dr Venus, a space medic, and my favourite character, from the series, the transparent robot Robert.

Supercar could travel on land, sea or in the air and Fireball XL5 was a spacecraft. In 1965 Gerry Anderson introduced us to Stingray, an underwater combat submarine, in the first British TV series to be filmed in colour. 

Stingray was piloted by the square-jawed Captain Troy Tempest, a ringer for Hollywood actor James Garner, and the love interest was provided by the beautiful, mysterious and mute Marina who could breathe underwater.

She was the subject of the haunting themes song, Aqua Marina, which accompanied the series and was originally thought to be based on Brigitte Bardot but was apparently modelled Gerry’s wife, Sylvia.

In 1965, Anderson’s block buster series Thunderbirds was first aired. The show revolved around the Tracy family, father Jeff and his five sons: Scott (pilot of T1), Virgil (pilot of T2), Alan (astronaut – T3), Gordon (aquanaut – T4) and John (space station astronaut – T5).

They operated out of the uncharted Tracy Island, as the International Rescue team, saving the world from a whole series of natural and man-made disasters. They were ably assisted in matters technical by Brains, a scientific genius in a pair of oversized spectacles.

But for me the stars of the show were the London-based agent and international socialite, Lady Penelope, and her cockney butler-cum- chauffeur, Parker. Lady P, with her Marilyn Monroe style looks, lived in a stately home (a miniature copy of Stourhead House, the National Trust property in Wiltshire) and was chauffeured around in pink Rolls Royce, with the licence plate FAB1, full of James Bond style gizmos including retractable machine guns.         

Thunderbirds was always going to be a difficult act to follow, as demonstrated in 2000 when its lasting popularity led to a relaunch , accompanied by a whole range of themed merchandise, making it a Christmas best seller.     

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons first appeared on our screens in 1967 followed by Joe 90 in 1968, but good as they were it was rather a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show as far as I was concerned. I was well into my teens by then, developing other interests, and had rather outgrown the tried and tested Gerry Anderson formula.

However I’m sure that for children brought up on those shows, they carried every bit as much glamour and excitement as the earlier series had for me.

Gerry Anderson and his marionettes are an important part of the heritage of children’s TV and his work thoroughly deserves to be recognised by Royal Mail with this special edition of stamps.      






6 responses

12 01 2011

I bet the Startrite shoes were from Stallards or the Co-op on Ogle Street. Alas, they are long gone along with Viyella and the railway station. Do you know where the name Viyella originates?

12 01 2011

The shoes were probably from Stallards and the shirt from Viyella!
“Viyella”: an artefact made by weaving, felting, knitting or crocheting natural or synthetic fibres – apparently!

13 01 2011

I envy your ability to recall such detail of obviously a very happy childhood. Long may it last – the memory I mean!!

13 01 2011

I guess there is still something of the child in me. Why else would I be writing about Supercar and Thunderbirds? It’s amazing how easy it is to authenticate one’s memories. I remembered the trip to the ice show very well but by using Google, within a matter of seconds, I came up with a press report & photograph of Supercar’s appearance in the show and a copy of the programme with those details of how to join the Supercar Club. I vividly remember talking my Mum into sending off the postal order and receiving the licence & badge. I also had a model of Supercar (like the image in the post). Scary that it would be an antique now and probably worth quite a bit in mint condition and in its box. I used to play with my toys though!

19 01 2011

Pete says you missed “Space Patrol”.

22 01 2011

I vaguely remember Space Patrol although I don’t think it was out of the Gerry Anderson stable!

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