Gerry Anderson‘s work was made and shown at a time of technological optimism: the Jet Age was making way for the Space Age, NASA’s Apollo moon shot programme was under way, Concorde was about to fly, and Harold Wilson was telling us how the “white heat of technology” would propel us all towards a wonderful future. Gerry Anderson’s television programmes were part and parcel of this: bold and daring exploration, adventures and rescues, powered by amazing futuristic vehicles and spacecraft, each delivering moments of wonder. While the likes of Stingray and Fireball XL5 look naive and dated, the production values in later efforts like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet were incredible for their time, and portrayed worlds to inspire a generation of children into science and engineering.
It’s easy to poke fun at the Anderson productions with their shaky marionettes, but Anderson himself detested the puppets, forced upon him by financial pressures and, later, by Lew Grade‘s insistence on sticking to a popular formula. By the time Anderson progressed to the live-actor series UFO, television science fiction was falling out of favour with public and media alike, while ironically the US market rejected the darker, human-interest story lines in the series.
Anderson’s last major work is probably my favourite: Space: 1999, in its first series (the second series was wrecked by Fred Freiburger) combined incredible model-work and visuals with metaphysical imagination-filled stories (with, admittedly, some sacrifice of scientific accuracy). A couple of years later, a movie called Star Wars premiered, and the rest is history.
Calling Anderson’s work iconic is a massive understatement. For my generation, it created our world and defined our future.