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The EnlightenmentPuppetmaster: The Fab World of Gerry Anderson
POSTED BY TERENCE NUZUM, November 23, 2011    Share

The fabulous world of Gerry Anderson all started way back in 1957, after the company he was working for, Polytechnic, folded. He and fellow co-workers cameraman Arthur Provis,Reg Hill, and John Read then formed AP films. After saving money and getting funding AP films produced their first puppet series The Adventures of Twizzle for Granada Television. The kids show about "Twizzle", a boy who could extend his arms and legs to great lengths, lasted until 1958. While producing and working on Twizzle Gerry met and began an affair with a secretary named Sylvia Thamm. Anderson subsequently left his wife and children for Thamm and began a long working and loving relationship. After several other Twizzle type puppet shows, a failed live action crime thriller and hot off inventing a process dubbed "Supermarionation" that allowed the marionettes mouths, via solenoid motors, to be synchronized with the dialogue, Anderson created what was to be the beginning of a marionette craze, Supercar!

"Its the Marvel of the age!"

Supercar (39 episodes) ran from 1961 till 1962 and was Anderson's first major puppet masterpiece. It was the first to use Supermarionation and included many other trademarks that would go on to be Anderson series staples like "the launch sequence" in the credits which would be used all the way up until Space: 1999. Supercar follows the adventures of Mike Mercury and his friends and their Supercar which saves the world and lives on numerous occasions. The characters are all cliched types but like all Gerry Anderson series, it's the characters that allow you to fall in love with the show. Somehow even though the episodes are only 22 minutes long, Anderson and crew manage to form an emotional bond to such cardboard characters. Mike Mercury the hero is a test pilot for Supercar. Supercar is a experimental vehicle that was similtanously a car/boat/plane/ or rocket depending on its emergency. Professor Beaker and Professor Popkiss are the two scientists who invent this wonderful vehicle and ten year old Jimmy Gibson was a Supercar miracle rescue survivor and Mitch was his annoying pet monkey. The Villains were the fiendishly wonderful Masterspy (who looks like a Kingpin puppet) and his crony the slimy Peter Lorre homage Zarin. Between Masterspy,Zarin, world disasters, and Mitch's hijinks, Supercar and company had their hands full for 39 episodes.

Supercar is early Anderson so it's full of firsts that are done better later but it's still thoroughly entrancing. One of the firsts is the stereotypical hero character, followed by the dodding professor types, and finally the comedy relief animal (thankfully the animal characters were dropped by Stingray). The slimy Peter Lorre villain stereotype Zarin is another that was redone for later series like Stingray. The episodes are always fast paced and fun as the locals change and perils are never repeated. One of the best and most shocking for its time episodes is "Sky's The Limit". In it Masterspy and some goons storm the Supercar base and have a shoot out with Mike Mercury and friends. For a kids show it's level of action and gun use seems something that what have been taboo then and now especially considering the Jimmy character was 10 years old and in the way of gunfire!

The Supercar is the shows star with its various functions. From one episode to the next it's going underwater, in the air, on land, and even in caverns. Supercar and its gadgets, cast of characters, and marvelous adventures were a hit and would be perfected in what is perhaps the best of Gerry Anderson's puppet series Fireball XL5.

"Ok Venus? Ok Steve. Right! Let's Go"

Fireball XL5 started like Supercar with the huge super AP logo and blaring triumphant music but from frame one things were much different. Fireball was an exciting, weird, and amazing adventure every week. The aliens were aplenty, the dangers greater, and the gadgets even more outlandish. Gerry and Sylvia had now married and their collaborative creativity was at full force here. With Sylvia now having a hand at production chores and Anderson overseeing the tone and look of the show, Fireball was an artistic success that felt like it was already close to taking puppet shows beyond their grade school audience. The black and white camera work to this day is amazing at times evoking film noir blacks and greys. Too bad this would be their last black and white series.

Fireball-XL5 follows the adventures of brave pilot Steve Zodiac, the blonde bombshell Doctor Venus, oddball Professor Matt Matic, Robert the Robot (voiced by Gerry Anderson in his sole vocal work), and the extremely annoying Zoonie the lazoon an alien pet that is almost as bad as Supercar's Mitch. Zodiac is your typical Leslie Neilson via Forbidden Planet/Captain Kirk hero character who amusingly seems to solve every trap by escaping from his bonds and blasting to death every alien in the room. Doctor Venus is a refreshing female character because she does more than just scream and fall into traps or make the men coffee, she actually is a scientist. Robert the robot is virtually non-existent and seems to be on the show for comedy relief. He is a fascinating visual though, all glass and diodes. Prof. Matic falls into the same cliche as Supercar's Beaker and Popkiss except he's much more lovably absentminded because he's not a complete buffoon. Besides all the cool alien planets, space spies, and constantly original looking aliens Fireball had characters that you never wanted to leave. The ship Fireball itself is pure retro 50's cool and one upped Supercar in sleekness which would be a habit starting with the next series and it's super fab submarine Stingray.

"Anything could happen in the next half hour!"

Supercar covered earth, Fireball-XL5 spanned space, so it was time for the great underwater abyss that is the ocean. Stingray seemed like a step down from the innovation of Fireball -XL5. With lame characters and mundane scripts the only thing it had going for it was a sleek super cool submarine and the notoriety of being the first of Anderson's series to be shot in color and in fact the first British children's series ever to be shot in color hitherto. Stingray did seem to sport a grandeur missing from Fireball and Supercar, a sense of largeness. This is all due to AP's newer and bigger studio. The underwater special effects were achieved surprisingly simple by shooting a dry set through an aquarium glass. The scenes filmed above water were large tanks of water filled with blue tint and dye. The tanks were cleverly overfilled to spill over to avoid the pesky tank edge from showing.

Stingray told the tales of experimental Sub Stingray and its mission carried out by Captain Troy Tempest, Lt. "Phones" Schnieder, fiery redheaded Lt. Alanta Shore, and mute slave girl Marina. Unlike Fireball the villain remained the same for the most part. King Titan looked like a cross between Zeus and The Creature From The Black Lagoon. His henchman another fishman, but one who has been altered to look semi-human, oddly resembles Peter Lorre just like Supercar's Zarin. When there is a different villain they seem to be uninspired and appear to be just refurbished older series puppets. One would think that with the chance to do tons of underwater creatures, an unlimited puppet show would have a plethora. Oddly and disappointingly Stingay has maybe one. The show did have its share of interestingly trippy imaginary and dream episodes. The heady 1960's were just around the corner and with them Gerry Anderson's most famous series Thunderbirds!

to be continued....

"The Enlightenment" is ©2011 by Terence Nuzum. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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