Gerry TB-1

Gerry Anderson holding the model of
“Thunderbird-1”

2012 has been a tough year for the greats of science fiction with the passing of Ray Bradbury, Ralph McQuarrie, Jean Giraud ‘Moebius’, Harry Harrison and now Gerry Anderson, who recently passed away due to Alzheimer’s disease.

To SF aficionados the works of Gerry Anderson are well known and revered, but I’ve found that a lot of people don’t actually know Gerry’s name in connection with his work.  They grew up on a diet of UFO, Fireball XL-5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, had their minds blown by Space:1999 (most likely because of the iconic 1970s design aesthetic of the ships, sets, etc) and might even have followed up with Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Terrahawks, Space Precinct…  If they didn’t know him from all of those (and more!) TV shows, then they definitely knew him as the guy who brought in “Super Marionation” and all those “creepy puppet” TV shows.

thunderbirds-puppetsGerry’s show productions and the people he hired to make it happen, such as the famous SF model-maker Martin Bower, revolutionized SF on TV. I’d wager that show for show, person for person that more lives have been touched by Gerry than Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek. Obviously, Star Trek has had a much deeper and more heartfelt impact on the world at large than Gerry’s TV shows, but its hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of one of the many shows Gerry created.

Space-1999-DVD-Mega-thin-F

The heavy hitters of Gerry Anderson, in my opinion are  Space:1999, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and UFO.  Their content became a part of my life and imagination without even knowing the TV shows they were from!  I had friends who owned the rather phallic die-cast models of the UFO interceptor spaceship from UFO. I had an Airfix kit of an Alpha interceptor from Captain Scarlet, though didn’t know it was actually from Captain Scarlet till twenty years later – I had to have one because another of my friends had one. Later, I would become inspired to paint in oils by an amateur painting someone had done of a pursuit vehicle from Captain Scarlet.   While I was definitely the target demographic of the TV shows, I am always impressed by how many people, at some point or another, in some way or another connected with Gerry’s TV shows.

To fans, he’s a staple of science fiction and imaginative works. Thunderbirds by itself did more  SF vehicle design and model-making than virtually any other franchise, including Star Wars. Every episode revealed some crazy feature of one of the main Thunderbird craft, or interesting vehicle design – from Penelope’s pink Rolls-Royce FAB-1 to the interchangeable pod vehicles carried by (my fave) Thunderbird-2, but a wide range of civilian, military and experimental vehicles.

Gerry Anderson Vehicles

(L->R) UFO: Interceptor, Captain Scarlet: Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (SPV) and Angel Interceptor

Its rare to see such a wealth of visual design in SF TV shows today, even though they can be rendered with relatively cheap CG technology, but back in the days of Thunderbirds, they had to be made in wood, by one guy with a bunch of friends to help him, usually on a crimped deadline.  They really don’t make TV shows like this anymore.

thunderbird2

Thunderbird-2

To those only slightly familiar with Gerry Anderson, they’ll know him as a sort of TV version of Roger Corman, churning out title after title based on similar concepts – usually with puppets as the only notable point of remembrance.  But this is really the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at the breadth of his work and you’ll see that its branches have grown so incredibly wide and far.

So, Gerry, thanks for all your hard work, marshaling the creative talent and championing them not just once, but again and again and filling our imaginations with worlds that don’t (yet) exist.

F.A.B!

Image Credits: Respective owners