Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thunderbirds' creator rockets into history

If you grew up watching TV in the '60s, you know the phrase, "Thunderbirds are go!" The man behind the British children's series Thunderbirds, Gerry Anderson, died Boxing Day in England at the age of 83. Anderson's mix of James Bond adventure and classic marionette puppetry was presented in "Supermarionation," a made up word that made everything seem super cool. The basic innovation was some sort of magnet hooked up to the mouths of the puppets, enabling the lips to move at exactly the same time actors spoke their lines.
Supercar. More fab than a '62 Fairlane
I loved all of Anderson's TV offerings, with Supercar (1960-61) an early favourite. Supercar was basically a car that could drive through falling rocks. What more do you want from a car?
Anderson's BBC output likely turned up in Canada before it reached America. Fireball XL5 (1962) was more space age and the first sold to a U.S. network (NBC). Stingray (1964) came next and was the first of these in colour. Set in the year 2065, the super sub was featured in 39 episodes. The captain was square-jawed Troy Tempest, modeled after actor James Garner!  A mute slave girl named Marina temps Tempest; she was modeled after Brigitte Bardot. Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny in the Bond films) was a voice actress on this series.
The closing theme song, "Aqua Marina," haunts me still. It was bizarre and confusing to hear this quasi-romantic ballad and see Marina jiggling about when you are seven. Go back to the sub! The guys behind the inappropriately racy puppet parody Team America must have been big Stingray fans.
Stingray chased by sub-gobbling fish
All of this led to Thunderbirds (1964-66), which introduced a large ensemble cast of puppet stars, including Lady Penelope and all those Tracy siblings. The real stars were the cool rockets which burst out of various well-manicured landscapes, all to exciting drum-beat music. Kids in my neighbourhood snapped up as many spin off models and toy rockets as we could talk our parents into buying.
Sharing in the success of these shows was Anderson's second wife Sylvia, co-creator of Thunderbirds (as well as the voice of Lady Penelope). Their marriage was no longer a go when Gerry announced he was splitting from his wife at the wrap party for the couple's live action series Space 1999 (1975). Way to bring the party down, Gerry!
Karma's a bitch, and Anderson never enjoyed the same success he did in the '60s with his Supermarionation series. He and his creative team provided plenty of thrills for children on both sides of the pond and they all deserve some sort of fly past salute today. Thunderbirds are go!
Post a Comment