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Gerry Anderson (1929-2012)

He wasn’t an animator – he was a pioneering television puppeteer – but he influenced everyone who grew up watching his unique TV productions. Gerry Anderson passed away yesterday at the age of 83.

Anderson was the creator of numerous hit sci-fi marionette-puppet shows including Supercar, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet, not to mention the entirely live action series Space 1999 with Martin Landau.

Anderson began his career as a photographer, but apparently lucked into British children’s TV production which was emerging in 1956. His first puppet show was The Adventures of Twizzle in 1957. Twizzle was a little boy doll, who could stretch to great lengths to save the day.

Beginning with Supercar in 1961, Anderson’s “Supermarionation” sci-fi shows continued pratically into the 1980s without stop. Personally, I loved these shows as a kid. The opening titles and their jazzy soundtracks were cool. Usually they were syndicated to local channels in the US, but Fireball XL5 was telecast on NBC Saturday Mornings in 1963-65 – the only Anderson show to do so. I loved that show.

Anderson’s puppets were the inspiration for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police (2004). Below is an excellent British documentary (from 2000) about Anderson’s career with some great clips from his various series:

  • R.I.P. Space: 1999 caught me at a crucial time in my youth and I’ve never been the same since (that’s meant as praise, by the way).

  • Stéphane Dumas

    R.I.P Gerry and thanks for Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, UFO, Space 1999.

    I spotted some clips on Youtube of tribute to Fireball XL5 and Stingray.

    There even a Thunderbirds fanfilm, who to my eyes, looks more good then the 2004 live-action movie with Jonathan Frakes.

  • Michel Van

    this hurt’s
    So many Artist died this year
    like Moebius, Harry Harrison, Tony Scott
    and now Gerry Anderson

    He enlighten my Childhood, with bright beautifully light.
    He gave me wonderful dreams called:
    Stingray, Thunderbird, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Döppelganger, UFO, Space:1999, Terrahawk…

    Thank you, mr Anderson for all this !

    my deepest condolence to the Anderson Family

  • dbenson

    Wallace and Grommit frequently reference “Thunderbirds” — not so much as an easy pop culture quote but as the shining dream for any tinkerer who grew up on Anderson shows.

    Persuasively massive hardware, shot at convincing angles and accompanied by thundering kettledrums. Who cares if it’s all for an insanely inefficient auto park, or to save walking five steps to a vehicle? Who cares if the stories are never up to the visuals? It’s COOL, dammit!


  • Nik

    I still have my Fireball XL5 lunchbox. Thanks for all the great work, Mr. Anderson!

  • Frank Ziegler

    He was my biggest influence. His kids shows were full of great visuals and music. As I kid I always felt like I was watching some big budget hollywood action film each week on tv…for free! As many have pointed out over the years, characters and logic were usually given short shrift, but it never seemed to take away from the fun, at least for me. Loved his live stuff as well. Especially U.F.O. He was one of a kind.

  • Anderson’s puppet shows (and UFO and JOURNEY/DOPPELGANGER) were so massively clunky, wrong, and weird, they were some of the best things ever. CAPTAIN SCARLET is beautifully twisted nonsense that never fails to deliver a massive toy explosion money shot at the end of every episode. I have the series on DVD.

  • David

    Wow. Bummer.

    Met Gerry at a American Cinematheque event when the DVD’s were being released. He signed my Thunderbirds book. I loved those shows from when I was a child.

  • Oliver

    Gerry Anderson — the man who was offered *$750,000* by Hollywood simply to utter a few words of endorsement for Jonathan Frakes’ live-action movie adaptation of ‘Thunderbirds’ (a project which Anderson had had nothing to do with).

    Not only did he refuse, he accurately described it as “the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life.”


  • Fleischer Fan

    “Thunderbirds” never really played in my neck of the States but “Supercar” & “Fireball XL-5” were required viewing. I can remember taping the theme song to “XL-5” on a little tape recorded I got one for Christmas (in the days before cassettes).

    Gerry Anderson brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people. Rest in peace.

  • Dutch Uncle

    I watched Fireball XL5 every Saturday morning. Captain Scarlet managed to include shades of gray and moral relativism, and the ever-dangerous question of who watches the watchmen, even if (as a children’s show) it always had to wind up the “right” way. Mr. Anderson’s stories probably had more influence on a generation of filmmakers than any of them would care to admit.

  • RIP. Certainly one of the most idiosyncratic figures in television history – he really did pave his own path.

    By the way, as well as his live action puppetry, Anderson produced three animated series: Dick Spanner, Lavender Castle (both stop motion) and a CGI mo-cap revival of Captian Scarlet.

  • Thank you for paying tribute to Gerry Anderson considering that he produced genre shows that featured no animation other than the strings that manipulated the marionettes and miniature aircraft seen onscreen.

    There are so many elements that made Anderson’s shows successful. From Barry Gray’s stirring music to Derek Medding’s special effects work, Anderson knew how to get the best out of the people who worked for him. Together, they created lasting memories of soaring spaceships and dashing rescues that influenced so many people.

    His legacy will certainly continue for generations to come as newer generations are introduced to shows like Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5 and Space:1999.

  • Ken Layton

    Supercar was the first of his programs I watched and loved. Then came the great Fireball XL5. I was absolutely thrilled with those two shows.

  • Robert Schaad

    RIP Gerry. Glad I picked up the UK postage stamps from a few years ago…

  • The Anderson shows definitely paved the way for special effects in movies like “Superman” and many others, particularly in the use of miniatures.

    Surely Mr. Anderson must have chuckled at this Dudley Moore / Peter Cook spoof of Supermarionation shows…

  • Godspeed Mister Anderson.

  • Quincy Thomas

    Wrote an article about him in Puppetry International this Fall/Winter. The man has been inspiring me ever since I was a child. No one will ever change our lives the way he did.

  • Ed Thompson

    I don’t know that I have anything new to say here, but I want to add my voice to those paying tribute to Gerry Anderson. I think I watched all of his SuperAnimation shows, as well as Space 1999, and I loved them all. For me, Fireball XL5 will especially hold a special place in my heart, as it came just as the space race was going on and it proved, at least to me, that mankind’s future was out in the stars. I want to thank everyone involved in Gerry’s shows for their work and for showing me a future filled with bright possibilities.

  • Through his vision we dared to dream big! I really wanted to be a space man. From Neil to Major Tom, we cruised the universe of imagination.

    I wish I was a space man.
    The fastest guy alive.
    I’d fly you round the universe,
    In Fireball XL-5.
    Way out in space together,
    Compass of the sky,
    My heart would be a fireball,
    A fireball,
    Every time I gazed into your starry eyes.

    We’d take the path to Jupiter,
    And maybe very soon.
    We’d cruise along the Milky Way,
    And land upon the moon.
    To our wonderland of stardust,
    We’ll zoom our way to Mars,
    My heart would be a fireball,
    A fireball,
    If you would be my Venus of the stars.

  • nick kent

    Stingray in reruns was my first encounter as a child and I was mesmerized. I think the next one I saw was UFO in reruns. I eventually discovered there were quite a few series and while one might criticize one aspect or another they are just packed with creativity and ingenuity.

    It’s worth noting that the puppet series played in 1960s Japan and had a huge impact on subsequent pop culture.