Joe 90 is a 1968 television series concerning the adventures of a nine-year-old boy, Joe McClaine, set in the years 2012-13. Devised by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, a single season of thirty 25-minute episodes was completed, and it was the last show to be made exclusively using a form of puppetry called "Supermarionation". It was created for Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment by Century 21 Productions (by this time also under Grade's ownership), and was first broadcast on the British ITV network by Associated TeleVision.
father and computer expert, Professor Ian McClaine, is the inventor of the BIG RAT, (B
ransfer), a device that allows knowledge and experience to be copied from the minds of top experts in their fields to another person. Mac's friend, Sam Loover, a secret agent
for the World Intelligence Network (WIN), persuades Mac to let Joe use the machine to work for WIN. After the requisite skill is transferred, and provided Joe is wearing special spectacles
containing hidden electrodes
, he is able to fly jet fighters
, perform surgery, and so on, while appearing innocent in the eyes of his enemies.
There is some inconsistency as to why Joe is called "90." According to the promotional information, when Joe joined World Intelligence Network (WIN) there were 89 agents based in London, making him the 90th. However, in the episode "Project 90
" the BIG RAT is designated project 90
and Joe is named after this.
As in Anderson's previous series, the show regularly featured rescue operations, secret worldwide organizations, complicated gadgetry, terrorism, and threats to the entire world. Professor McClaine, for example, drove an exotic flying car. The puppets featured were of the more accurately proportioned variety first seen in Captain Scarlet
. Puppets from the preceding series were re-used for Joe 90
, with the exceptions of the Captain Scarlet
and Captain Blue
marionettes. Also, some new puppets were constructed, including those for Joe and Mac. Many of the puppets also had versions with tanned complexions to portray darker-skinned people.
The darker and more violent style consciously introduced with Captain Scarlet continued into Joe 90. A typical example features Professor McClaine being kidnapped, held hostage and menaced with a drill in the episode "Project 90". This provoked criticism that the scenarios were inappropriate for a nine-year-old boy, although Mac explains his reservations in the pilot episode. The child hero is far more engaging for its intended audience, as well as allowing him to infiltrate places without arousing suspicion. In this way, it also predates other espionage films featuring children, such as Spy Kids.
To add to the realism, the voice of Joe was provided by boy actor Len Jones, rather than a young woman actress as was usually the case. Mac was voiced by Rupert Davies (best known for playing Maigret) and Sylvia Anderson voiced their long-suffering housekeeper, Mrs Harris. The character of Joe 90 was innocent and childlike without his glasses, but often quite adult-sounding, and occasionally patronising when wearing his glasses, due to the expert nature of the brain patterns he was using. As a normal boy he would address his father as "Dad", but with his glasses the name would be "Mac".
The series assumed that the Cold War would not continue into the 21st century (dismissing the theft by Joe of a Russian fighter plane in the first episode as merely a speculative scenario), although villains in the series often had Slavic accents. Episodes featuring such adversaries included "International Concerto", "Business Holiday", "Arctic Adventure" and "The Professional".
The show featured a theme tune and incidental music composed by Barry Gray, who also composed music for other Anderson productions.
For the series' original run, each episode began with a zoom-in shot of Joe's WIN glasses accompanied by a male voiceover. His words were, "These are Joe 90's special glasses. Without them, he's a boy; wearing them, he's an expert." This line served not only to establish the background to the series, but to warn young fans not to imitate Joe's exploits.
Various Joe 90
and activity books
were released at the time of the original broadcast.
In the 1990s a general public interest in the old classic TV series of the 1960s and 70s included repeats of all of Anderson's (made in colour) series. Joe 90 was among them. A short-lived comic was released and his adventures were also published in the cartoon supplement of The Sunday Times.
In May 2003 the BBC reported that a film version of the series was to be made.
- Format by — Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson
- Characters created by — Joeseph Herbert, Sylvia Anderson
- Writers — Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Tony Barwick, Shane Rimmer, David Lane, Desmond Saunders, Keith Wilson, Pat Dunlop, Donald James, John Lucarotti
- Script Editor — Tony Barwick
- Producer — David Lane
- Executive Producer — Reg Hill
- Production Controller — Desmond Saunders
- Production Manager — Frank Hollands
- Directors — Desmond Saunders, Alan Perry, Leo Eaton, Ken Turner, Peter Anderson, Brian Heard
- Music Composed and Directed by — Barry Gray
- Supervising Visual Effects Director — Derek Meddings
- Senior Visual Effects Director — Jimmy Elliot
- Visual Effects Directors — Shaun Whittacker-Cook, Bill Camp
- Puppet Coordinator — Mary Turner
- Puppet Operators — Charmaine Wood, Wanda Webb, Rowena White
- Lighting Cameramen — Julien Lugrin, Paddy Seale
- Supervising Art Director — Bob Bell
- Art Directors — Grenville Nott, Keith Wilson
- BIG RAT by — Century 21 Film Props