Gerry Anderson (April 14th, 1929 - December 26th, 2012) was a British television producer, principal developer of the Supermarionation filming technique and occasional voice actor. He is famous for a number of television shows principally in science fiction and its sub genres. Most of Anderson's programs were pitched primarily at children. Gerry Anderson's shows are typically characterised by their imaginative concepts, pioneering production techniques, ambitious scale and liberal use of explosives. Anderson is also noted for his entrepreneurial skill. His Supermarionation shows were among the first British television shows to be merchandised around the world.
Gerry was born at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, London 14 April 1929, originally named Gerald Alexander Abrahams, and changed by deed pole in 1939 (possibly using the hospital name), after he and his mother badgered his father, though they had used the name previously; Gerry had been receiving anti-semitic taunts at his new school after moving to Neasden. The family did not grow up particularly close, His brother being seven years older and his parents arguing, but never fighting. In his early years Gerry lacked confidence and was a little edgy too. Teachers at Gerry's school classed him as not particularly bright, possible not even average; he had however, displayed creative abilities, making a detailed cardboard heart and writing a short play to use it in. He continued to make things at home too, a kennel and an alarmed chicken coup.
Gerry's brother, Lionel, volunteered for the RAF during World War II and was posted to the, Arizona, USA for training. Lionel would often write to his family, telling them about the RAF, including the USAF and Thunderbird Field. (the latter would stay with Gerry and serve as inspiration later on.) After 38 missions for 515 Squadron Lionel was reported Missing In Action (MIA), and the family were informed by telegram. Mrs Anderson never really got over his death, and Gerry had lost his brother, hero and a friendship that he had formed by sharing the inspirations of flying during Lionel's training and leave, Gerry too would come to realise that he was not indestructible.
Gerry finished school with no academic qualifications, but due to the war and a shortage of pupils there were places available qualified or unqualified, and so Gerry enrolled. Due to a terrible allergy to plaster (a requirement of his architectural studies and one at which he excelled), Gerry could not aspire to become an architect however, another dream was to be involved in the movie industry. Gerry had a distant relative of his father that Gerry had made contact with and arranged an interview. Nothing came of it other than a possibility six months down the line. Gerry was not put off and immediately took a trainee's position for Regent Street gallery before advancing to the Colonial Film Unit (CFU), but not before collecting an abundance of reject slips.
At CFU (famous for its education films and news reels), Gerry got to work with George Pearson, who had acted in only one movie before starting his directing and writing career; as an all rounder, Pearson was something of a mentor to Gerry, covering the basics and ground rules of film making. Gerry had found a vacancy at the hugely independent Gainsbourough Pictures but his career was interrupted.
National Conscription papers calling him in 1947, whereby he would formerly receive training and serve his country should he be needed. Again not proving himself academically in the after training tests, Gerry's Educational Officer looked into his back ground and decided he would be best suited to radio telephone operating and sent to radio school and eventually posted to RAF Manston, Kent, UK. While there Gerry witnessed two accidents in his last year of service. One of which was when a Mosquito (the same type of aircraft hi brother flew), crashed during a celebrational Battle of Britain day. The other when an aircraft's undercarriage was non-functional and delayed landing until it finally had no choice but to land without it. The crew survived and Gerry had recalled this for his first plot for Thunderbirds: Trapped In The Sky.
By government order, Gerry was legally entitled to his old job at Gainsborough Pictures with out prejudice. The problem was that there no longer was a Gainsborough Pictures. Gerry found work at Pinewood Studios, eventually moved on to Elstree Studios and then Shepperton Studios where he dubbed Appointment in London. Having done a tour of duty in the Uk's most prestigious studios, Gerry met and married Betty Wightman and started a faimily, Gerry had been a good provider but had put in too many hours to give their marriage a chance, they eventually divorced. Gery's last employed job was at Polytechnic Films in Buckinghamshire, where he met Arthur Provis who was a camera operator. The company worked on some incidental programs and eventually went into liquidation.
Gerry and Arthur Provis started their own company Polygon Films, bringing along Reg Hill and John Read, Sylvia Thamm was part of the team too. Shooting some commercials (Kellog's Corn Flakes was one, using Enid Bliyton's Noddy,) for a short period but unsuccessful they closed, regrouping under the name AP Films. They were now at Islet Park near the Thames and spent six months earning independent incomes while waiting for the phone to ring. Redifusion Television was looking for a budget company, Roberta Leigh called them to do a puppet series, something which neither Provis nor Anderson were enthralled with.
"Here I was ready to make 'The Ten Commandments' and they were asking us to work with puppets!" -- Anderson
Despite their attitude, they knew it was their chance, and so was born on a very modest budget The Adventures of Twizzle, a children's series about a toy boy with extending limbs. Gerry was ashamed to be associated with puppets, but would later work with Derek Meddings, who would later become synonymous with Gerry's works. Anderson was keen to raise the bar higher with puppet show despite the meagre £450 per episode budget. He had the puppeteers move from behind a backdrop to a raised platform and had the theatre set with a little more detail, took care to irradiate shadows while pioneering the Video Assist which enabled real time viewing of the film on a monitor like a live broadcast. A launch party eventually followed some way into production.
Leigh was thrilled and doubled the budget for a new series Torchy the Battery Boy. Anderson would take on more crew, one of which would improve the puppets. Christine Glanville made them at home in her garage, her father shaping the bodies of wood and her mother making the costumes. Granville made the heads lighter by using a resinous mixture of cork dust for finer detail, and thiner wires were also put to use. Reg Hill again upgraded the sets. Leigh again overjoyed with the result ordered another series only to be rejected. The team was experimenting on improving puppets via electronic lip-sync mechanisms using a solenoid valve placed in the puppets head and fed with power from a fine tungsten wire (1/5,000 of an inch). Anderson wanted to make his own production, he and Provis had a disagreement over the purchase of Islet Park and they split amicably with Provis going on to make Space Patrol with Leigh who had set up her own company.
Four Feather Falls with Tex Tucker and his magic guns, along with his faithful friends, a talking dog and talking horse, was to be shot using Supermarionation. It was on the front page of TV Times magazine to introduce its audience to this new style. Anderson and his team raising the standards bar even higher ensuring it would be received favourably with Granada who had ordered the series only after Anderson had showed them the pilot. The show was a success but surprisingly there was no follow up order and the team would have to look elsewhere.
In a few short years Gerry Anderson and his talented team produced some of the most creative works; leading the audience in to suspense and leaving the competition in its wake!
A spell of adds for an actor Nicholas Parsons who had voiced for AP and rising through the ranks of TV kept a little cash coming but things were looking poor once again, despite having won a Grand Prix award at the British Television Commercials Awards. A colleague put Anderson on to ATV where he contacted Lew Grade; Anderson had had no dealings or even heard of Grade, but arranged a meeting whereupon a deal was made for Supercar, after Grade had tried to obtain the show for half of the £3,000 per episode that APF were asking. It was a huge success and AP Films had 'set' its genre. Supercar was distributed across the USA and eventually ran up a total of 107 stations airing and $750,000 in eight weeks.
Fireball XL5 (1962-1963)
AP Films were asked to make a support movie (Crossroads to Crime), by Anglo-Amalgimated. It did nothing to raise the profile of AP Films, and the company stood back for some time as far as live action films were concerned. After the production of Supercar had finished, Anderson and the team started working on its last black and white production. Fireball XL5 was based mostly off-world, space was the new arena, further advancing technology and deep penetration into Sci-Fi. Craft travelling at Space Velocity 7, oxygen pills, and at one point light speed. This innovative series brought further acclaim and Grade too was impressed with the 39 shows of 30 mins each.
Widowed Jeff Tracey with his five sons and international agents; financed with his own wealth; designed by himself and his trusted friend Brains. A plethora of special effects, unique craft and equipment all to the benefit of mankind all over the world. The audience grew and grew up with what would be the last of the productions under the AP Films banner before changing to Century 21 Productions.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-1968)
With smaller solenoids in the puppets the heads where decreased in size. Borrowing a craft from a Thunderbirds episode, a crew goes on a mission to Mars and mistakenly razes the Mysterons home to the ground. Non stop action and more hi-tec equipment has the audience packed in front of the television for 25mins per episode.
Joe 90 (1968-1969)
Hi-tech futuristic gifted spy (nine year old Joe), steals a Russian aircraft in the cold war under the enhancement of B.I.G.R.A.T. (Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Transfer). Anderson and the APF gang had by now perfected production techniques and while quality stories were ensured then quality production was a given. The Anderson recipe for watchablility meant audiences were assured of entertainment. Gadgetry, espionage and rescues were par for the course.
Supermarionation, a combination of creative talented minds and a number of well put together plots had brought the company a long way. The time had come for Anderson and his team to once again attempt at live action. Doppleganger was a very respectable production, giving the team confidence to move away from puppets but keeping to their safe Sci-Fi genre. UFO, The Protectors, Space 1999 were all hits and a credit to those that had a hand in there production.
After forty years, the theme tune to Thunderbirds with its count down intro has stayed the test of time and even made its way on to the ring tone list of cell phones. Probably the most significant production was a comic tie-in, TV Century 21. During the mid 60's it sold 1,300,000 copies a week in partnership with its sister title Lady Penelope, a publishing record that remains unbroken.
Thanks to the imagination and foresight of Gerry Anderson, the ability to reinvent the science fiction in a way that would captivate the minds of children today and into the future; what originally began as a crude TV made puppet theatre, became timeless creations, spanning three generations (and counting), an international fan base and a continuing merchandising empire. The global legacy of supermarionation and the inspirational live acting series, will remain intact far into the future, the basis of which stems from a model career, with strings attached!
On December 26th 2012, Gerry died peacefully in his sleep from dementia at the age of 83. Even though he was now gone, his legacy of television would continue to live on.