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Gerry_Anderson

Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson MBE, born , is a British producer, director and writer, famous for his futuristic television programmes, particularly those involving specially modified marionettes, a process called "Supermarionation".

His first television production was the 1957 Roberta Leigh children's series The Adventures of Twizzle. His most famous and successful production in this genre came later: Thunderbirds, which was made in 1965. His production company, originally known as AP Films and later renamed Century 21 Productions, was in collaboration with partners Reg Hill, John Read and his then-wife Sylvia Anderson.

He has also written and produced several feature films, although these did not perform as well as expected at the box office. Following a successful move towards live action productions in the 1970s, his long and highly successful association with Lew Grade's ITC (Incorporated Television Company) ended with the second series of Space 1999. After a career lull when a number of new series concepts failed to get off the ground, his career began a new phase in the early 1980s when audience nostalgia for his earlier Supermarionation series (prompted by Saturday morning re-runs in the UK) led to new Anderson productions being commissioned. A number of new projects have resulted including a recent CGI remake of Captain Scarlet entitled Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet.

Biography

Early life

Gerald Alexander Abrahams was born in Kilburn, North London. The family's name was changed by deed poll in 1939. When World War II broke out, Anderson's older brother Lionel volunteered for the RAF and was posted to the United States for training. He often wrote to his family and one of these letters described a USAF airbase called Thunderbird Field, a name that stuck in his brother's memory.

Gerry Anderson began his career in photography and after the war he secured a traineeship with the British Colonial Film Unit. He developed an interest in film editing and moved on to Gainsborough Pictures, where he gained further experience.

In 1947, he was conscripted for national service with the RAF. After completing his military service, he returned to Gainsborough and remained there until the studio folded in 1950. He then worked freelance on a succession of feature films. During this time he married Betty Wrightman and they had two children.

Start of television career

In the mid-1950s Anderson joined independent television production company Polytechnic Studios, as a director, where he met cameraman Arthur Provis. After Polytechnic collapsed, Anderson, Provis, Reg Hill and John Read formed Pentagon Films in 1957; secretary Sylvia Thamm later became Anderson's second wife. Pentagon was wound up soon after and Anderson and Provis formed a new company, AP Films, with Hill and Read as partners. Anderson continued his freelance directing work to keep money coming in.

AP Films' first television venture was produced for Granada Television. Created by Roberta Leigh, The Adventures of Twizzle (1957-1958) was a series for young children about a doll with the ability to 'twizzle' his arms and legs to greater lengths. It was Anderson's first work with puppets, and the start of his long and successful collaborations with puppeteer Christine Glanville, special effects technician Derek Meddings and composer/arranger Barry Gray.

During production of Twizzle, Anderson began an affair with Sylvia Thamm and eventually left his wife and children. Following his divorce, Anderson and Thamm married in November 1960. The Adventures of Twizzle was followed by another low budget puppet series with Leigh, Torchy the Battery Boy (1958-1959). Although the APF puppet productions made the Andersons world famous, Gerry Anderson was always unhappy about working with puppets, and made them primarily as a means of getting a foot in the door with TV networks, hoped to use them as a stepping stone to his desired goal making live action film and TV drama.

AP Films' third series was the children's western fantasy-adventure series Four Feather Falls (1959-1960). During production Provis left the partnership, working once again with Roberta Leigh on Space Patrol, but the company retained the name 'AP Films' for several more years. Four Feather Falls was the first Anderson series to use an early version of the Supermarionation process, though the name hadn't yet been coined.

Despite APF's success with Four Feather Falls, Granada did not commission another series from them, so Anderson took up the offer to direct a film for Anglo-Amalgamated Studios. Crossroads to Crime was a low-budget B-grade crime thriller and although Anderson hoped that its success might enable him to move into mainstream film-making, it failed at the box office.

By this time, APF was in financial trouble and the company was struggling to find a buyer for their new puppet series. They were rescued by a fortuitous meeting with ATV boss Lew Grade who offered to buy the show. This began a long friendship and a very successful professional association between the two men, during which Anderson and his collaborators created some of their best work.

Sylvia's increased role

The new series, Supercar, (1960-1961) was created by Anderson and Reg Hill and marked several important advances for APF. Sylvia Anderson took on a larger role and became a partner in the company. The series was also the official debut of Supermarionation, the electronic system that made the marionettes more lifelike and convincing on screen. The system used the audio signal from the pre-recorded tapes of the actors' voices to trigger solenoids installed in the puppets' heads, enabling the puppets' lips to move in exact synchronisation with the voices of the actors.

One of Anderson's most successful ventures was inaugurated during the production of Supercar —the establishment of AP Films (Merchandising) Ltd, a separate company set up to handle the licensing of merchandising rights for APF properties; it was headed by Keith Shackleton (not the wildlife artist and TV presenter of the same name) an old friend of Anderson's from their National Service days.

APF's innovative merchandising made them a world leader in the field and they licensed a huge range of toys, books, magazines and related items. The worldwide popularity of their TV shows was coupled with astute marketing, and the combination made APF one of the most successful merchandising ventures of the decade. The die-cast metal toys from series such as Thunderbirds were hugely popular at the time and they now number among the most collectible toys of their kind. Models from almost all their series have been produced ever since by companies throughout the world, notably in Japan, where the Anderson series have a dedicated following.

APF's next series was the futuristic space adventure Fireball XL5 (1962) and it was the company's biggest success yet, becoming the first Anderson series sold to a US TV network (NBC) — a rarity for British TV programmes at that time. After the completion of the series, Lew Grade offered to buy AP Films. Although Anderson was initially reluctant, the deal eventually went ahead, with Grade becoming managing director, and the Andersons, Hill and Read becoming directors of the company.

Shortly after the buy-out, APF began production on a new puppet series, Stingray (1964), the first British children's TV series to be filmed in colour. For the new production APF moved to new studios in Slough. The new and bigger facilities allowed them to make major improvements in special effects, notably in the underwater sequences, as well as advances in puppetry, with the use of a variety of interchangeable heads for each character to convey different expressions.

Thunderbirds

APF's next project for ATV was based on a mining disaster that occurred in West Germany in October 1963. This real-life drama inspired Anderson to create a new programme format about a rescue organisation, which eventually became his most famous and popular series, Thunderbirds (1964-1966). The dramatic title was inspired by the letter Anderson's older brother Lionel had written to his family during World War II.

Grade was very enthusiastic about the concept and agreed to back a series of 25-minute episodes (the same length as Stingray), so the Andersons scripted a pilot episode, "Trapped in the Sky", and began production. Gerry initially wanted actress Fenella Fielding to perform the voice of Lady Penelope, but Sylvia convinced her husband to let her play the role. Thunderbirds also marked the start of a long professional association with actor Shane Rimmer, who voiced Scott Tracy.

Production on Thunderbirds had been underway for several months when Grade saw the completed 25-minute version of "Trapped in the Sky". He was so excited by the result that he insisted that the episodes be extended to fifty minutes. With a substantial increase in budget, the production was restructured to expand episodes already filmed or in pre-production, and create new 50-minute scripts for the remainder. Grade and others were so convinced that Thunderbirds would be a success that a feature-film version of the series was proposed even before the pilot episode went to air.

APF—now renamed Century 21 Productions—enjoyed its greatest success with Thunderbirds and the series made the Andersons world-famous. The 32-episode series was not initially successful in the United States because it was only given a limited release, although it later became hugely successful in syndication). But it was a major hit with young audiences in the UK, Australia and other countries and retains a huge and dedicated international following that spans several generations.

During the production of Thunderbirds the Andersons' marriage began to come under increasing strain, and the company also had a setback when the Thunderbirds Are GO feature film flopped. According to interviews published since, Anderson has said that he considered divorce, but this was halted when Sylvia announced that she was pregnant. Their son, Gerry Anderson Jr was born in July 1967.

By that time, production had started on a new series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967), which saw the advent of more realistic puppet characters which, thanks to improvements in electronics which allowed miniaturisation of the lip-sync mechanisms, could now be built closer to normal human proportions.

Century 21's second feature film, Thunderbird 6, was an even bigger failure than the first, and the problems were compounded by their next (and penultimate) Supermarionation series, Joe 90 (1968). This series returned to more 'kid-friendly' territory, depicting the adventures of a young boy who is also a secret agent and whose scientist father uses a supercomputer called 'BIG RAT' which can 'program' Joe with special knowledge and abilities for his missions. Its relatively poor reception made it the last of the classic Anderson marionette shows.

On August 29th 2008, it was announced by UK Newspaper The Sun, that there are plans to make a new computer generated series of Thunderbirds. Gerry Anderson is in talks with ITV for the rights to the original series.

Venturing into live action

Anderson's next project took the special effects expertise built up over previous TV projects and combined it with live action. Century 21's third feature film, Doppelgänger (1969) (aka Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) was a dark, Twilight Zone style sci-fi project about an astronaut who travels to a newly discovered planet on the opposite side of the sun, which proves to be an exact mirror-image of Earth. It starred American actor Roy Thinnes, famed at the time for his role as the protagonist in the American television series The Invaders. Although it was not a major commercial success, Doppelganger was nominated for an Academy Award for its superb special effects.

Century 21's return to television was the abortive series The Secret Service, which this time mixed live action with Supermarionation. The series was inspired by Anderson's love of British comedian Stanley Unwin, who was known for his nonsense language, 'Unwinese', which he created and used on radio, in film and most famously on the 1968 Small Faces LP Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. Despite Anderson's track record and Unwin's popularity, the series was cancelled before its first screening; Lew Grade considered that it would be incomprehensible to American audiences, and thus unsellable. Only 13 episodes were produced, and the series was only shown in a handful of broadcast areas in the UK. Most Anderson fans only got to see it when it was finally released on VHS in the mid-90s.

In 1969 the Andersons began production of a new TV series, UFO, Century 21's first full live-action television series. This sci-fi action-adventure series starred American-born actor Ed Bishop (also the voice of Captain Blue in 'Captain Scarlet & The Mysterons') as Commander Straker, head of a secret defence organisation set up to counter an alien invasion. UFO was decidedly more adult in tone than any of the previous puppet series, and it mixed the classic Century 21 futuristic action-adventure and special effects with some very serious dramatic elements. UFO was moderately successful on first release, but built up a strong cult following over the years, although it too fell short of the global success of Thunderbirds and was the last series made under the Century 21 Productions banner.

The Bond that never was

During production of UFO Gerry Anderson was approached directly by Harry Saltzman (at the time co-producer of the James Bond film series with Albert "Cubby" Broccoli), and invited to write and produce the next film in the series which was to be Moonraker. Collaborating with Tony Barwick to provide the characterisation, whilst he himself focused on the action sequences, Anderson wrote and delivered a treatment to Saltzman. Saltzman was enthusiastic, but then broke the news that he and Broccoli were parting ways. Offered £20,000 for the treatment, Anderson refused, fearing that if he accepted he would not be at the helm when it was made; as it turned out, the next Bond film to be made - some years later - was entitled The Spy Who Loved Me. Anderson started legal proceedings against Broccoli for plagiarism of story elements but withdrew the action shortly after, nervous of the legal might lined up against him. He relinquished the treatment, and received £3,000 in compensation.

Breaking ties

By this time the relationship between the Andersons had deteriorated. Although produced under the aegis of a new company, Group Three Productions (the three being both of the Andersons and Reg Hill), Gerry decided not to work with his wife on his next project, the ITC action series The Protectors. It was one of Anderson's few non-original projects. Lew Grade himself was heavily involved in the programme, and cast both the lead actors, Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter. The production was difficult for Anderson, who clashed with the famously difficult Vaughn. There were also many logistical problems arising from the Europe-wide filming of the show, but it was very successful in both the UK and America.

Space:1999

Following The Protectors, Anderson worked on several new projects, none of which he was able to realise. A proposed second series of UFO was shelved, and a return to puppetry, in a television pilot for a series called The Investigator, failed to find a buyer. Elements of the abandoned second series of UFO were eventually turned into what became the most expensive television series ever made at the time, .

Another futuristic sci-fi adventure, it was based on the implausible premise that a huge thermonuclear explosion on the Moon's surface (caused by dumping of nuclear waste) projected it out of orbit and into interstellar space. It starred American husband-and-wife actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who had gained international TV fame in Mission: Impossible. They were cast at the insistence of Grade, and against Sylvia Anderson's strenuous objections.

Separation, and moving on

The Andersons' marriage broke down irrevocably during the first series of Space: 1999 in 1975; Gerry announced his intention to separate on the evening of the wrap party. Sylvia severed her ties with Group Three, and to alleviate his financial plight, Gerry Anderson sold his share of the profits from the APF/Century 21 shows and their holiday home in Portugal to Lew Grade in return for a one-off payment. It was a decision he later bitterly regretted because he could not have then foreseen the huge value the shows would have when eventually released on home video.

Between making the two series of Space: 1999, Anderson produced a one-off television special, The Day After Tomorrow (also known as Into Infinity), about two spacefaring families en route to Alpha Centauri, for an NBC series of programmes illustrating current scientific theory for popular consumption. While making this project Anderson met Mary Robins, a secretary working at the studios; they began a relationship and were married in April 1981.

A second series of Space: 1999 went into production in 1976 with American producer Fred Freiberger brought in to replace Sylvia Anderson. According to The Space:1999 Documentary, produced by Kindred Productions for Fanderson, the second series was successful enough that a third almost happened; however, the documentary features Martin Landau stating that the idea was killed because Lew Grade needed money to help finance and promote his pet feature film project Raise The Titanic. Consequently, the budget that would have paid for the third series was redirected into that movie project (which subsequently flopped at the box office). This marked the end of Anderson's association with ATV.

By the late 1970s, Anderson's life and career was at a low point - he was in financial difficulty, found it hard to get work, and perhaps most devastatingly, became estranged from his young son after receiving a note written by him stating that he didn't want to see Gerry any more. Anderson suspected that Sylvia was behind this, but there was little he could do, and he would have no contact with his son for over twenty years.

1980s resurgence

In 1981, episodes of many of Anderson's Supermarionation series were combined and edited together as films. These aired under the title Supermarionation Sci-Fi Theatre.

In the early 1980s, Anderson and businessman Christopher Burr formed a new partnership, Anderson Burr Pictures Ltd. The new company's first production was based on an unrealised concept devised by Anderson in the late seventies for a Japanese cartoon series. Terrahawks marked Anderson's return to working with puppets, but rather than marionettes, this series used a new system dubbed 'Supermacromation', which used highly sophisticated glove puppets -- an approach undoubtedly inspired by the great advances in this form of puppetry made by Jim Henson and his colleagues.

It featured another reuse of the Captain Scarlet/UFO formula of a secret organization defending against aliens. Terrahawks was successful, running from 1983 to 1986 in the UK and only fell short of a four year US syndication deal by one season when the show was cancelled, scrapping attempts at making it more well known. Terrahawks retains a cult following to this day, regarded by some as being at times a "black comedy" version of many of Anderson's older series in addition to being a straight science fiction series. In equal contrast however, it is regarded by some fans as an unwise rehash of many of the visual concepts of Thunderbirds on a fraction of the budget, Anderson has claimed on record he'd rather forget the show.

Anderson hoped to continue his renewed success with a series called Space Police a new show mixing live-action and puppets. A pilot film was made with Shane Rimmer, but it took almost ten years to get the concept to the screen. In the meantime, Anderson and Burr produced the cult stop-motion animated series Dick Spanner, which enjoyed many showings on Britain's Channel 4 in the late eighties and early nineties. It was the final project completed by Anderson Burr. Anderson then joined the Moving Picture Company as a commercials director, and provided special effects direction for the hit musical comedy Return to the Forbidden Planet.

1990s - a new audience

The cult appeal of Thunderbirds and the other Supermarionation series grew steadily over the years and was celebrated by comedy and stage productions such as the hit two-man stage revue Thunderbirds FAB. In the early nineties, ITC began releasing home video versions of the Supermarionation shows, and the profile of the shows was further enhanced by productions such as the Dire Straits music video for their single Calling Elvis, which was made as an affectionate Thunderbirds pastiche (with Anderson co-producing), and by Lady Penelope and Parker appearing in a successful series of UK advertisements for an insurance company.

In 1991 Gerry asked journalist and author Simon Archer to write his biography, following an interview by the latter for a series of articles for Century 21 magazine. In September that same year in the UK BBC2 began a repeat showing of Thunderbirds, which rivalled the success of its original run a generation before. This was also surprisingly the series' network television premiere, having never been shown nationally by ITV. It became so popular in Britain that toy manufacturers Matchbox were unable to keep up with the demand for the Tracy Island playset, leading children's show Blue Peter to broadcast a segment showing children how to construct their own. The fan base for the Anderson shows was now worldwide and growing steadily, and Anderson found himself in demand for personal and media appearances.

In response to this greater demand Anderson performed a successful one-man show in 1992, which Simon Archer had written and constructed. Entitled An Evening with Gerry Anderson, it took the form of an illustrated lecture in which he talked about his career, and his most popular shows. He also made numerous media and personal appearances to tie in with revivals and DVD releases of Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.

By 1993 the interviews with Archer had generated so much more material than was required for the biography that a book was published of Gerry Anderson trivia "Gerry Anderson's FAB Facts". Archer was killed in a car crash on London's M25 on his way to the publishers to collect one of the first print run to present to Anderson, and the book later had to be withdrawn from sale and thousands of copies destroyed as a result of a copyright dispute with ITC America.

The renewed interest enabled Anderson to return to television production, but several projects including GFI (an animated update of Thunderbirds) did not make it into production. Finally, in 1994, Anderson was able to get the long-shelved Space Police project into production as Space Precinct. It was followed by Lavender Castle, a children's sci-fi fantasy series combining stop-motion animation and computer-generated imagery.

In the meantime, the biography, which had been set aside since Simon Archer's death had been picked up again and was completed by Stan Nicholls from Archer's original notes and manuscript, finally being published in 1996 shortly before Lavender Castle went into production.

Around this time Gerry was reunited with his elder son, Gerry Jr., at which time it was suggested that Sylvia had been responsible for the enforced estrangement. This reinforced Anderson's already powerful feelings of animosity towards his ex-wife.

2000 onward

By December 1999, Anderson was working on plans for a computer animated sequel to Captain Scarlet, and test reels were displayed by Gerry at a few fan conventions. Some of the test sequences from these reels were later available for a period as elements in publicity reels available on the website of the production company engaged to make them (the Moving Picture Company or MPC in Soho, London, where Gerry had previously worked). These early test reels had the visual design and characters looking very much as they had in the original show, although the vehicle designs had been somewhat modernised. Several years after the initial tests the project evolved into the remake Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet, by which time the entire appearance had been very much updated. Gerry Anderson was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2001.

Along with his then business partner John Needham, Anderson created another new series entitled Firestorm which was financed by Japanese investors and featured anime style animation. The project was not a happy one for any of the parties involved, and other planned shows with the Japanese backers, including Eternity failed to come to fruition. Firestorm has yet to be shown on UK television. Anderson and Needham parted company in 2003.

Anderson was originally approached to be involved in a live-action feature film adaptation of Thunderbirds as far back as 1996, but was actually turned away by the producers of the 2004 film Thunderbirds, directed by Jonathan Frakes, after first being invited to meet with them. He distanced himself overtly from the project, later turning down an offer of $750,000 simply to write an endorsement of the film shortly before its release; Sylvia Anderson, however, did become involved and received a "special thanks" credit in the film. The film itself received poor critical reviews and was a box-office failure in America.

Anderson later praised the execution of the puppet-based political satire Team America: World Police, which used many familiar supermarionation style effects familiar to many long time fans of Anderson's work, it was produced by Matt Stone and Trey Parker

After Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet finally premiered in the UK in February 2005. The show cost £23,000,000 to produce (the most expensive children's programme ever to be made in the UK) and was warmly received by the fan community. However it was missed by many due to poor scheduling and pre-publicity by ITV. Although many companies invested in producing toys and merchandise, the lack of exposure given to the series by ITV inevitably failed to produce the excitement that accompanied the original series and disappointing sales followed. The accompanying comic lasted only six editions before being scrapped by its publishers. Followers of the show await with interest on how the show will re-coup its hefty investment while Gerry's displeasure at ITV's handling of the show was widely reported.

2005 also saw the 40th Anniversary of Thunderbirds. A wide range of merchandise was produced to celebrate the landmark, though poor scheduling of the series on the BBC failed to re-ignite the usual following of the show.

In 2006, ITV announced it would re-run the entire series on its fledgling CITV Channel, a digital service available on cable, satellite and the Freeview service. With fewer than 50,000 viewers, it seems that, once again, New Captain Scarlet is destined to be seen by very few people.

The series is however filmed in the High Definition format and it is hoped that the show will find a place on the new services.

ITV4, another digital service, also ran repeats of UFO and Space: 1999 attracting a very small, but loyal following. Anderson is currently (end of 2007) believed to be working on a new project entitled Lightspeed, about which very little is publicly known and on a possible new edition of the UFO series.

Gerry Anderson productions

TV series (and broadcast dates)

Feature films

Miscellanies

  • The Investigator (pilot episode - never broadcast)
  • The Day After Tomorrow (a.k.a. Into Infinity) (1976)
  • Space Police (pilot episode - never broadcast)
  • GFI (pilot episode - never broadcast)

Gerry Anderson had no involvement in the 2004 live action film version of Thunderbirds, although Sylvia Anderson served as a consultant on that project.

In addition, a number of UK comics featured strips that were closely based around Anderson's creations. These started with TV Comic during the early 1960s followed by TV Century 21 and its various sister publications Lady Penelope, TV Tornado, Solo and Joe 90. Later there was Countdown (later TV Action) during the 1970s. There were also a number of tie-in annuals that were produced each year featuring Anderson's TV shows.

References

External links

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