- ANDERSON, Gerry
- (1929-) and SYLVIA (? -) UK tv producers and writers; GA was also an animator and SA a voice artist. They will forever be remembered for a succession of 1960s children's puppet adventure shows on tv that occasionally dealt with sf themes on a far more extensive scale than contemporary adult programming. GA's first two series, The Adventures of Twizzle (1958) and Torchy the Battery Boy (1959), were fairly conventional 15min puppet shows, albeit featuring characters whose gimmicks (extensible arms, electrical powers) were notionally scientific. The Western series Four Feather Falls (1960) began his run of SuperMarionation shows, its magical feathers giving it a fantastical touch. With the half-hour series SUPERCAR (1961-2) GA was joined by his wife SA - who would provide female voices for and write for subsequent series - and came up with the format that continued for eight years in FIREBALL XL5 (1962-3), STINGRAY (1964-5), THUNDERBIRDS (1965-6) and CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS (1967-8). All these feature a wonderful vehicle from the 21st century, an ongoing struggle with evil forces, a catchy score suitable for spin-off records, impressively designed miniature sets, a quasi-military organization of good guys, and a family-like regular cast with a square-jawed hero, a stammering boffin, a non-weedy girl, a crusty chief and a sidekick, and usually a mysterious master villain with a bumbling accomplice. Stingray was the first in colour, and introduced marginally more adult characterizations: Mike Mercury and Steve Zodiac, the heroes of Supercar and Fireball XL5, were never as bad-tempered as Troy Tempest in Stingray could be, and they would certainly never have been caught up in a three-way romance. Thunderbirds experimented with a 50min running time and a less confrontational plot premise - the Tracy family were rescuing innocents, not fighting ALIENS as Troy Tempest had done and Captain Scarlet would do - and became perhaps the highlight of the As' career, spinning off two feature films, Thunderbirds are Go (1966) and Thunderbird Six (1968), and creating a set of characters - Lady Penelope, Parker, the Hood, Brains and Jeff Tracy and his sons - who would remain identifiable enough to crop up in tv commercials as late as the early 1990s, when the series was also rerun on UK tv by the BBC. Captain Scarlet, returning to the half-hour format, tried for a more realistic approach by scaling down the exaggerated features of the puppets and adding a premise - spun off from Thunderbirds are Go - about a war between Earth and the Mysterons of Mars that was less clear-cut than previous conflicts insofar as Earth (admittedly by accident) was the initial aggressor. Also, the device of resurrecting dead personnel and equipment for use in battle raised the level of violence beyond the cosy destructiveness of the earlier shows. In 1994 a new GA live-action tv production appeared in syndication in the US, Space Precinct, described by him as a New York cop show transferred to outer space, and received a not very favourable critical reception. Captain Scarlet was as far as the As' format could be stretched, and their subsequent puppet shows - JOE 90 (1968-9) and The Secret Service (1969) - were far less successful. The first, focusing on a boy genius, appeared childish to audiences who had become used to the increasing maturity of each new show - who had in effect grown up with SuperMarionation. The second, using live actors alongside puppets, was seen by few and cancelled mid-season. The As had already produced a live-action film, DOPPELGANGER (1969; vt Journey to the Far Side of the Sun), by the time they determined to abandon tv puppets altogether and marry their skills with miniature effects to real-life actors - who, unfortunately, were almost always accused of being as wooden as their predecessors - in UFO (1970-73). This was a marginally more realistic rerun of Captain Scarlet with elements also of The INVADERS (1967-8), in which a secret organization tried to fight off a plague of flying saucers. After a nondescript non-sf series, The Protectors (1972-4), the As launched on their most elaborate venture yet, SPACE 1999 (1975-7), an internationally cast and impressively mounted attempt to produce a show with both mass and cult appeal along the lines of STAR TREK. It is frequently and not entirely without justification remembered as the worst sf series ever aired. During its run the As divorced, and GA, who remained on the series, gradually lost control to his varied UK and US backers. Subsequently GA went back to puppetry with TERRAHAWKS (1983-6), a feeble imitation of his 1960s triumphs, and worked extensively in commercials, some re-using characters from his earlier shows. In their heyday, the SuperMarionation shows - which overlapped to a degree, creating a detailed 21st-century Universe as a backdrop - gave birth to TV 21, a successful and well drawn COMIC, along with toys, games, annuals, books and other now-valued ephemera.See also: TELEVISION.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. Academic. 2011.