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Gerry Anderson (1929 - )
Date of Birth: 14 April 1929
* = television
In 1960s Britain, there were only two things that mattered to any young science fiction fan - Doctor Who (1963 - 1989) and Gerry Anderson. At the time, of course, we barely knew who Anderson was, but we were very familiar with his works - those finely detailed models, those puppets with the strange, bouncing gait and eerily blank expressions, the stirring theme tunes. And of course, the explosions. A Gerry Anderson explosion was a thing of wonder to many a pre-teen in the 60s who revelled in a succession of increasingly sophisticated puppet operas that indulged every young boy's (and a few young girl's) fantasies about technology, power and action.
As we grew up, we started to realise that these marvellous shows were all the brainchild of one man, a softly spoken, constantly self-deprecating and always witty and entertaining producer named Gerry Anderson. Born in 1929, in Hamsptead, London, Anderson developed a desire to become an architect, showing early a fascination with design and construction. His ambitions were curtailed when he attended a plastering at building school only to find that was allergic to plaster.
Giving up any archtectural dreams he had, Anderson got a job at a photographic studio were he started to develop a love of photography and film. Deciding that this was the career path for him, he applied for and was offered a post at the Colonial Film Unit of the Ministry of Information and was soon working on information films as a trainee. It was an invaluable apprenticeship for Anderson who learned much about the entire process of film-making, from pre-production, through shooting, to post-production.
Anderson put his experience to further use when he joined the prestigious Gainsborough Pictures, who gave him a chance to hone his already considerable skills as an editor. One of his tasks at the studio was to help with the re-edit of The Wicked Lady (1945), assisting in hiding star Margaret Lockwood's décolletage for American audiences.
Anderson's fledgling film career was temporarily disrupted in 1947 when he was called up for National Service, a duty he served in the RAF as a radio telephone operator and later a direction finder on an airfield. During his time in the services, he developed an enduring love for aircraft that would come in very useful later in his career.
In 1949, his National Service at an end, Anderson found work as a dubbing editor at Pinewood Studios before moving on to Polytechnic Studios where he was offered the chance to direct, taking charge of an episode of the television series You've Never Seen This (1955). Polytechnic went bankrupt that same year and Anderson decided to set up his own company, in partnership with three of his Polytechnic colleagues, Arthur Provis, Reg Hill and John Read. Pentagon Films was set up to create television adverts (one of which, Blue Cars – Martians (1960) won an award) but Anderson and Provis had bigger plans. They wanted to get into producing proper series and shows and to this end set up A.P. Films, basing their operations in an Edwardian mansion at Islet Park in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
But the team found work hard to come by and Anderson was forced to accept a hired-gun directing gig on Harry Alan Towers' TV show Martin Kane, Private Investigator to pay the bills and barely six months into its career, A.P. Films was on the verge of bankruptcy. Salvation came in the shape of Suzanne Warner, a television merchandising consultant (still a rare thing in those days) who was currently representing Associated-Rediffusion. She knew of a new children's television show being put together by novelist Roberta Leigh and urged the partners to bid for the sub-contract to produce the show. There was just one catch - it involved puppets.
Although neither Anderson nor Provis ever saw themselves as making puppet shows for children, they weren't really in a position to turn the work down and they accepted the gig, creating The Adventures of Twizzle (1957 – 1959). Anderson had decided that if he had to work with puppets, he'd make the best puppet show that the meagre budget, resources and technology would allow and the show was well-received by the public. So much so in fact, that A.P. Films were approached to create a second show with Leigh, Torchy, the Battery Boy (1957 - 1959).
Encouraged by their successes, Anderson and Provis pressed on with their own puppet show, the fantasy Western Four Feather Falls (1960) which was financed by Granada, rapidly emerging as one of the most powerful of the new Independent Television franchisees. Again it was success and the team decided to try science fiction with their next project, Supercar – but this time, Granada were wary and refused to fund the project, again leaving AP Films financially vulnerable.
The company was kept afloat by commercial work and by Anderson striking a deal with Anglo Amalgamated to shoot a feature film, Crossroads To Crime, for a measly £16,000. The film wasn't a success, however, and Anderson realised that although live-action is what he really wanted to do, puppets was where the future – if indeed the company had one – lay.
Supercar (1960 - 1962), and AP Films, were saved by the intervention of Lew Grade, head of ATV, who financed not only the entire series but also the development of a new puppetry technique that Anderson was planning which came to be known as Supermarionation. For the first time, Anderson enjoyed US success when Grade sold Supercar to American television and it did well enough for Grade to commission a second season. Grade would prove to be a long-time supporter and financer of Anderson's projects.
The partnership spawned the space opera Fireball XL5 (1962) and the underwater adventure series Stingray (1963 - 1965), both of which pushed the Supermarionation envelope, but the best was still to come. Thunderbirds (1964 - 1966) refined many of the techniques that Anderson and his team had already developed became a fully-fledged cult, essential viewing for kids everywhere in the 1960s and way beyond, the show constantly being revived, re-run and remade well into the new millennium. Initially conceived as another half hour show, Grade was so impressed by what he saw of the early episodes that he rustled up some more money to allow Anderson to expand them to hour long episodes. The success of the show led to two big screen adventures, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968).
AP Films at this time morphed into The Century 21 Organisation, an umbrella for all of the production and merchandising enterprises that Anderson was overseeing - Century 21 Productions would handle the filming of new series while other arms of the organisation handled publishing, merchandising and licensing agreements.
Although Thunderbirds had been a huge success, both at home and in the States, the second season was curtailed after just six episodes when Anderson decided to move on to a new show, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967 - 1968), which showed off some of the new leaps in Supermarionation technology that the Century 21 team had been working on. Introducing perfectly proportioned puppets and a darker tone, the series was another hit and led to the less intense (and far less violent) Joe 90 (1968) and The Secret Service (1969).
But throughout, Anderson had been hankering to make live action and he was busy developing a new film project, Doppelganger (1969), for Universal. The film was no great shakes – it's central idea is a good one but is badly handled – but it paved the way for Anderson finest achievement, his first live-action TV series, the excellent UFO (1970 - 1971).
UFO proved that Anderson was able to mix the breathless action and superb effects work of the Supermarionation shows with the real actors and led Grade to finance Anderson's first non-genre show in many years, the slick thriller series The Protectors (1972 - 1973), another huge success with British viewers. The show was filmed in Malta, as was The Investigator (1972), a pilot for a series that would have mixed Supermarionation with live-action but which never appeared.
A second series of UFO seemed likely given the success of the first batch of episodes in the UK, but the show flopped in the States and future plans were aborted. Instead, a lot of the designs and ideas for the planned UFO 2 were recycled into a brand new series, the Anglo-Italian Space: 1999 (1975 - 1979). The first season was again a hit, but things went horribly wrong with season two, production of which was handed over to former Star Trek producer Fred Freiberger who failed to grasp what the show was about. It didn't last much longer, though it certainly lasted longer than a proposed new series, Into Infinity, which produced just one pilot episode, The Day After Tomorrow, before vanishing for good.
With Space: 1999 now dead and Into Infinity still-born, Anderson returned to advertising and made money by overseeing the merchandising rights to Swedish pop group Abba. All the while, he continued to develop ideas for shows and films with tantalising titles like Rescue 4, Starcruiser 1, Thunderhawks and Operation Shockwave, none of which were ever made.
The closest he got to getting one of these shows off the ground was in 1979 when he teamed up with producer Sydney Rose to work on the live-action feature film 5 Star 5. But the project collapsed just weeks before photography was due to begin.
When a group of Anderson's devoted supporters founded the fan club Fanderson in 1981, Anderson realised that there was still a market – and a good deal of affection – for his work and he started looking around for a new project. He teamed up with producer Christopher Burr to create Terrahawks which employed an entirely new style of puppetry and which was a hit with a young audience who had never had their own Gerry Anderson puppet show.
A series of short stop-motion adventures for Dick Spanner, P.I. (1987) followed before Anderson resurrected a project that had been floating around for nearly a decade. A pilot episode of a show called Space Police, titled Star Laws, had been doing the rounds of conventions but had failed to make it past the pilot stage. When other projects, including the cel-animated GFI, fell by the wayside, Anderson revived the Space Police concept, renamed it Space Precinct and found backing from Mentorn Television. It was a far cry from his classic days and the show, badly developed and poorly written, died after just one series.
But Anderson was now well and truly back and he followed the disappointment of Space Precinct with the altogether better Lavender Castle, a stop-motion space saga for children that Anderson developed with renowned fantasy artist Rodney Matthews.
At the time of writing (mid-2004) Anderson has distanced himself from
the live-action Thunderbirds
(2004) movie, overseen a CGI remake of Captain
Scarlet and been working on a new TV show, Eternity
and an anime series, FireStorm.
1957 - 1959
1957 - 1959
Four Feather Falls (co-producer, director)
1960 – 1962
Lyons Maid - Fireball XL5: 1 television commercial (director) *
Lyons Maid - Fireball XL5: 2 television commercial (director) *
Lyons Maid - Fireball XL5: 3 television commercial (director) *
1963 – 1965
1964 – 1966
Lyons Maid - Thunderbirds: 2 television commercial (director) *
Lyons Maid - Thunderbirds: 3 television commercial (director) *
Lyons Maid - Thunderbirds: 4 television commercial (director) *
1967 - 1968
Lyons Maid - Thunderbirds: 5 television commercial (director) *
Kellogg's - Captain Scarlet: 1 television commercial (director) *
Kellogg's - Captain Scarlet: 2 television commercial (director) *
Lyons Maid - Captain Scarlet: 1 television commercial (director) *
Lyons Maid - Captain Scarlet: 2 television commercial (director) *
Lyons Maid - Joe 90 television commercial (director) *
6 (producer, script)
Kellogg's - Joe 90: 1 television commercial (director) *
Kellogg's - Joe 90: 2 television commercial (director) *
Service (creator, scripts) *
1970 - 1971
1975 - 1977
Jif Dessert Toppings - Alien Attack television commercial (producer) *
Space Police: Star Laws (producer, script)
Tennants Pilsner Lager - Lou Tennant: 1 television commercial (director) *
Tennants Pilsner Lager - Lou Tennant: 2 television commercial (director) *
Tennants Pilsner Lager - Lou Tennant: 3 television commercial (director) *
Tennants Pilsner Lager - Lou Tennant: 4 television commercial (director) *
Dire Straits: Calling Elvis (21 August 1991) (performer (himself)) *
Nestlé Kitkat - Scott Takes a Break television commercial (director) *
The UFO Documentary (performer (himself))
Weetabix - Stingray television commercial (director) *
SF:UK: Sex Machines (8 April 2001) (performer (himself)) *
Top 10 TV Sci-Fi (performer (himself)) *
Zippy and George's Puppet Legends (performer (himself)) *
Jassy (2nd assistant editor (as Gerald Anderson))
Snowbound (2nd assistant editor (as Gerald Anderson))
The Small Miracle (dubbing editor)
South of Algiers (sound editor (as Gerald Anderson))
They Who Dare (sound editor (as Gerald Anderson))
You've Never Seen This: 4 October 1955 (director) *
Blue Cars - Gambler television commercial (director) *
Crossroads to Crime (producer, director)
Crossplot (visual effects producer (uncredited))
1972 – 1973
Animato no.40 (Winter 1998 / Spring 1999 (USA)
Broadcast (1 May 1998) pp.86-87 (pp.S6-S7 (UK)
Cinefantastique vol.36 no.4 (August / September 2004)
City Limits no.242 (22 May 1986) p.53 (UK)
Creation November 1999 p.16 (UK)
Cult TV vol.1 no.1 August 1997 pp.22-26 (UK)
Screen International no.390 (16 April 1983) p.27 (UK)
Screen International no.988 (16 December 1994) p.6
Screen International no.870 (14 August 1992) p.4 (UK)
Screen International no.991 (20 January 1995) pp.24,
Starburst no.101 (January 1987) pp.16-19 (UK)
Starburst no.102 (February 1987) pp.37-39 (UK)
Starburst no.200 (April 1995) pp.18-21 (UK)
Television Weekly no.16 (6 May 1983) p.22 (UK)
Televisual January 1988 p.30 (UK)
Time Out no.992 (23 August 1989) pp.24-26 (UK)
TV Zone no.111 (February 1999pp.28-29 (UK)
National Film Theatre Programmes October 2000 p.8
Last Updated: 1 January, 2009
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