From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life For Sale
From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life
Barzun, Jacques
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Gerry Anderson annuals and books

For a whole generation who grew up during the 1960s, the phrases "Thunderbirds are go!" and "Anything could happen in the next half hour" bring back memories of tea-time television with their puppet heroes. The creator of the series' "Thunderbirds" and "Stingray" from which these phrases came is still making television programmes. He is of course, Gerry Anderson, who has been delighting his many fans for over forty years.

These series gave rise to a variety of memorabilia, much of which is now very collectable and highly sought-after by fans. In this feature, we shall be examining both the large-format hardbacks and annuals and the many novels based around the series.

Success - with strings attached

Born in 1929, Gerry Anderson entered the film industry as Colonial film unit trainee in 1943. In 1955 he co-founded Pentagon Films to make advertisements; and a year, later, founded AP Films when he decided he wanted to be a film producer. As often happens, he fell into what was to become his future career almost by accident.

His production company was not a great success at first, and was near folding when he was asked to make a puppet series for children. He was not enthusiastic about the project, but it was a start, and the result was 52 episodes of "Twizzle", stories about a small boy whose arms and legs extended to great lengths to get himself and his friends out of all sorts of scrapes.

The "Twizzle" series gave rise to the first book connected with Gerry Anderson's television series, "Twizzle Adventure Stories", published in 1959 and followed a year later by "More Twizzle Adventure Stories". Although Gerry Anderson's early television productions are not as popular with collectors as the later programmes, and many Gerry Anderson collectors may not even have been aware that he was associated with 'Twizzle", the books are rare and consequently of some value.

"Twizzle" was a success, and was soon flowed by "Torchy - The Battery Boy". Torchy was a small boy, who had a lamp on head which enabled him to see in the dark. He had adventures with his friends Clinker, the talking money-box, Pom Pom Poodle and Squish the Space Boy among many others. A number of Torchy Gift Books were issued, written by Roberta Leigh and published by the 'Daily Mirror.' They are quite rare.

The next series was "Four Feather Falls", a puppet western series where the gun fighters swivelled guns in their holsters rather than drawing them. This was presumably due to the practical problems in making a puppet quick on the draw. The series was quite successful and another book appeared, "The Four Feather Falls Annual", this time a very scarce item with credits to his wife Sylvia. Two further "Four Feather Falls" annuals were published.

Supercar!

The next series, and one that marks the beginning of most collectors' major interest in Anderson's books, was "Supercar". 26 episodes were made in 1959/60, and "Supercar" is the first television programme that I can ever remember watching. It was the first of the Anderson productions to use 'high tech' props, including "Supercar" itself, which was a flying and amphibious car driven by Mike Mercury. His companions were Mitch the Monkey, the young Jimmy Gibson, Doctor Beaker and Professor Popkiss. The main villain of the stories was Masterspy, a dome-headed Alexei Sayle lookalike.

As with many television-related books, they were published some time after the series was produced. The first Supercar item was "Mike Mercury In Supercar" (1961), which was a slim 44 page large hardback containing strips and stories by Sylvia Anderson featuring Mike Mercury and his friends. Supercar annuals with copyright dates of 1962 and 1963 were also produced. These feature the usual array of strips and stories interspersed with games and puzzles. Surprisingly, perhaps, there are no stills from the television series, a feature that was to make later books very attractive.

I wish I was a spaceman in Fireball XL5...

The series which really caught the imagination of children in the early sixties was "Fireball XL5". 26 episodes were produced in 1961, and the adventures in space of Steve Zodiac, Venus and Robert the Robot coincided neatly with the hotting up of the space race in the early sixties. The latter character, with his memorable catch-phrase, "On our way home", which usually concluded each episode, condemned many of us to being nicknamed "Robot" through our early years.

The spaceship itself, unlike Supercar, actually looked as if it might fly, and the puppetry technique was improved considerably. The four "Fireball XL5" annuals produced are all scarce in Good condition, and eagerly sought by collectors. The first one (1963) is considerably rarer than the others.

Anything could happen in the next half hour...

The next series holds the distinction of being the first British television series to be made in colour, although for its original showing, this was only of benefit to the American audience. "Stingray" featured the adventures of Troy Tempest and his less able assistant Phones, in their efforts to ward off the attacks of the Aquaphibians, an underwater race who did battle with "Stingray" in their Titan Terror Fish.

Two "Stingray" annuals were produced, both published by City Magazines and AP Films, in 1965 and 1966. The annuals are, unusually, dated on the back covers. They feature the usual selection of stories and strips, with puzzles and some odd 'padding' features of general marine interest. The strips are not particularly well drawn. The 1965 annual has a black and white shot of "Stingray" from the television programme, while the 1966 annual has excellent end-paper colour photographs of "Stingray" and its intrepid pilots. There was also a television storybook, and some hardback and paper-back stories.

Thunderbirds are go

The next series was the immensely popular "Thunderbirds". There were 32 episodes made commencing in 1964, and in addition, two full-length feature films, 'Thunderbirds Are Go" and "Thunderbird 6", both of which were of high quality but not very successful.

The series featured the 'International Rescue' organisation, run by the Tracy family from a small island. The father of the family was Jeff Tracy, and his sons piloted five 'Thunderbirds' which were called in dire emergencies that could not be handled by anyone else. John Tracy was the nfortunate pilot of Thunderbird 5, the orbiting listening station which miraculousiy monitored all the broadcasts of the world for the occasional 'calling International Rescue' to carry across the ether. His brothers, Scott, Virgil, Alan and Gordon piloted the other four Thunderbirds.

The first Thunderbirds annual appeared in 1966, and the last has a cover date of 1973. The early Thunderbirds annuals are of excellent quality, with many features on the Tracy family and colour photographs of the Thunderbirds in action. There was a lot of tongue-in-cheek 'biographical' information, such as in the 1966 annual which informed us that 'Brains', the scientist behind the Thunderbirds organisation, was spending his spare time translating Einstein's theory of relativity into Latin. As well as the annuals, there was also an illustrated large 46-page story book called 'The Target', published by World Distributors.

'TV Century 21' comic was launched in I 965, and featured all the Anderson shows from Supercar onwards. The first 'TV Century 21' annual was published in 1965, and the last one of interest to Anderson collectors appeared in 1969.

"Thunderbirds" also featured the glamorous secret agent, 'Lady Penelope', and her ex-convict made-good chauffeur, 'Parker'. These are two of Anderson's most enduring characters and had an immensely popular interview with Terry Wogan from his hideaway in Brazil.

Lady Penelope soon had her own comic, and the first annual was published in 1966. This was aimed at girl fans, and as well as the usual strips and stories, there were items on cookery and glamour alongside horoscopes and features on the current pop stars. Lady Penelope was also the subject of two scarce novels published by World Distributors

Captain Ochre draws the short straw...

1967 saw the creation of the indestructible "Captain Scarlet", a member of the 'Spectrum' organisation, who defended the earth from the threat of the Martian Mysterons. The Mysterons' key agent was the devious Captain Black, who had been a crack Spectrum agent before being taken over by the Mysterons. The Mysterons themselves seemed to have great powers, but they made the mistake week after week of letting Spectrum know where they were going to strike next Captain Scarlet, and his less forceful partner Captain Blue, were always able to foil them.

The Captain Scarlet series had some new features. The hero carried a gun, and used it frequently. The puppets used were also correctly proportioned, whereas in all the previous series, the puppet heads were much too large for their bodies. This was not considered a problem, initially, as it was obvious that puppets were being used. However, as technological advances were made, it became possible to use smaller transducers in the puppet heads to produce lip synchronisation with the soundtrack of the programme. At the same time, the puppeteers were becoming more professional, and so the logical step was to produce a show where it was less obvious that the actors were mdeed puppets. A criticism of the series was that this meant that any movements which did not look natural looked worse because the overall action was so good.

In fact, when I watched the series as a child, I never found any difficulty in believing any of the puppet characters from "Fireball XL5"to "Captain Scarlet", and I think most children felt the same. Perhaps it is only in hindsight that the faults in the programmes, which were, of course, meant for children, are more apparent. The "Captain Scarlet" books produced were also of a high standard, made more attractive by the many colour stills and cross-section plans of vehicles.

Hey Joe...

In 1968, "Joe 90" appeared on television. Joe was a nine-year-old schoolboy who was able to gain expert knowledge on any subject via 'The Mousetrap', a high technology invention of his uncle. The series was generally well-received by new Anderson fans, but less so by children who had grown up 'with "Stingray" and "Thunderbirds". Perhaps the nine-year-old schoolboy hero was a bit young for the fans of the earlier series. Three large annual-sized books were produced, as well as two storybooks and some paperbacks.

The next series was "The Secret Service", which was only broadcast in certain ITV reglons. For the first time, Anderson attempted to mix puppets with real actors, and the result was not a great success. The series featured Stanley Unwin as the unlikely secret agent, Father Unwin, who baffled anyone who questioned him with his well-known brand of nonsensical monologue. Reading the two books published for the series, it is not perhaps surprising that it was a failure. The stories are too light, and the Father Unwin character too foolish to make for compulsive viewing.

Intruder alert...

The voice of Captain Blue surfaced again in the character of Ed Straker, played by the actor Ed Bishop, in the under-rated series "UFO". Ed Straker was the head of SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation), a secret government organisation which fought off invading UFOs from Mars. The series was not really aimed at children, and had some very imaginative, and sometimes surreal, storylines. It was also the first time that Anderson went into any detail about the background of his characters, who in previous series, were generally either good or bad.

The moody and obsessive Ed Straker broke this mould and gave "UFO" a surprising bite which, combined with the excellent production and special effects, help to make it second only to "Thunderbirds" in popularity with collectors. When it was first shown, however, "UFO" was never given a prime-time viewing slot, and so did not create a great deal of interest. It is attracting favour again now, as it is being re-broadcast this year in many ITV regions. Surprisingly, after nearly twenty years, it still looks good on television.

The only "UFO" books produced were two paperback novelisations of television stories written by Robert Miall, and one annual, dated 1971 on the spine.

Anderson was the producer for a 'no puppets' show, "The Protectors", made in 1971. This was a run-of-the-mill secret agent series featuring Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo in "The Man From Uncle"), and Nyree Dawn Porter. This series was actually quite popular, but it is not really a Gerry Anderson series in the sense that it did not have his touch with 'high-tech' props and special effects.

"Space 1999" also suffered at the hands of the programme planners, being given a Saturday morning slot for most of the episodes. The series did not attract a great deal of interest. The ideas seemed very similar to those in "Star Trek", but the characters did not come over nearly as well. Five annuals were produced, which, with the exception of the last one (1979), are all quite common. A set of paperbacks was also issued, the later ones being a bit more collectable as they contained photographs from the series.

The late 1970s were barren years for Gerry Anderson productions, but he bounced back in 1982 with the well-produced "Terrahawks". This featured Doctor Tiger Ninestein and the Terrahawks who do battle with 'Zelda', a wicked witch character bent on world domination. Although older Gerry Anderson fans were largely unimpressed, it appears he reached a new audience of young children with the series.

The latest Gerry Anderson production is "Space Police". A problem that he has encountered with this, and most of his other projects, is financial backing. As an independent producer working outside the established television networks, it has been difficult, with each series, to get interest from television companies. However in the meantime, the popularity of his earlier shows is increasing all the time, so snap up those spin-off books while you still can!

"I'm not trying to sell you anything boy" - Ed Straker

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