Gerry Anderson RIP
Gerry Anderson, the legendary sci-fi creator behind more nostalgia-fuelling shows than possibly any other individual ever, sadly passed away yesterday, aged 83.
Anderson, whose most famous shows included the marionette-starring Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, as well as live action shows such as UFO, Space: 1999 and The Protectors, entertained audiences for at least five generations from his first TV hit The Adventures Of Twizzle in 1957 to the revamped (and highly impressive) CG version of Captain Scarlet in 2005.
His son Jamie Anderson announced the news on his website, saying his father died peacefully in his sleep at noon on Wednesday. Anderson had suffered from Alzheimer’s since 2010 and the disease had worsened in recent months, his son Jamie said.
SFX is deeply saddened by this news and our wishes are with Gerry Anderson’s family and close friends. Thank you, Gerry for so, so many great memories. And for some of the greatest acronyms ever invented.
Anderson was always a delight to interview with a sly sense of humour and some fast-held views and opinions. He was a great supporter of our events and the magazine, and we spoke with him a number of times. We’re proud to have awarded him a lifetime achievement award at one of the SFX Weekenders where he graciously turned up to receive and charm the crowds.
As a tribute, we’re reposting one of our final interviews with him from 2009. It concentrates on Fireball XL-5 but offers some wonderful insights into how he created his shows and also details some wonderful projects which sadly we will now never get to see. We really wish we did have £8 million to spare…
Be warned! Gerry Anderson is after your money. If you’ve got £8 million to spare, he’d like to hear from you…
Anderson, cheekily drops this bombshell as he chats to SFX about the release of a special edition boxset of his 1962 show Fireball XL5. “I’m working on a new show called A Christmas Miracle,” he reveals. “It’s a science fiction Christmas story, with character designs by artist Rodney Mathews. It’s going to be CGI. I’m very excited about it, but unfortunately I didn’t think about this before the recession. So everybody I talk to, I’m asking… well, I’m thinking about you now. Maybe you’ve got $8 million tucked away somewhere you could invest?”
Sadly, no. Not likely on an SFX wage. But I assure him that I’ll ask around. “Just don’t take too big a cut yourself for making the introduction,” he deadpans.
Anderson is in a jovial mood, and he’s clearly delighted to be able to enthuse about the Fireball boxset. Although he admits that Network Video must take the credit for the mind-boggling selection of extras that comes with the boxset, he’s clearly very excited of one of the bonus features.
“They’ve had one of the episodes colourised,” he enthuses. “Now, I’ve seen some of the earlier attempts at colourising, and I thought, ‘Blimey… not very good!’ This one that they’ve done – which has taken a long time and cost a fortune – looks brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I have never been one of these people who say, ‘If something’s been shot in black and white then it shouldn’t be in colour; it’s made in black and white for a reason.’ Well the only reason Fireball XL5 was made in black and white was because we didn’t have colour. And also, I feel that people who feel that way, no problem: it’s available in black and white. It’s there for them.”
Is it tempting, though, in this age of CG FX to go even further, and paint out all the wires from his puppet shows? “I don’t think it’s practical, cost wise. And I’m not quite sure how the puppets would look. I think it might be quite comical. If you’ve got wires, you know why they’re walking with a peculiar gait. If you take the wires out, then I think people would think – instead of ‘Great, there’s no wires!’ – they’d be thinking, ‘That’s a bloody funny walk he’s got!” So I think it might be counterproductive as well as being horrendously expensive.”
Asked why he thinks the appeal of Fireball has endured enough to make this box set possible, Anderson admits to be mystified. “I have to tell you, as the creator (I love the word creator – I often say, ‘I am not God, but I am the creator’)… but as the creator of all of these shows, I am probably as baffled as anybody else. I mean, I am eternally grateful, and I love them all, but when I look at some of the older shows myself, I think. ‘Bloody Hell, I wish I could remake that!’ But the fact is, who am I to complain? I mean, I’m very lucky that people like my shows, and I dare not question it too much.
“Some of the early shows, when I’m forced to watch them… when I say forced to watch, I mean that I’m someone who’s always thinking of tomorrow, so I tend to turn my back on what I’ve made. But then, sometimes, there’s a reason, rather like with Fireball now, that I have to look at one and remind myself. And I look at them and think, ‘Christ, that was really quite amazing for the time that it was made.’”
Anderson reckons that the format for Fireball XL5 was probably thrashed out in about three weeks, and it was very much a product of its time. “In the case of Fireball, we were living in an era where people were talking about the possibility of people going into space and landing on the moon. It was very exciting, the possibility of going into space and flying around the universe. Of course that idea appealed to me. And there have always been wars going on, since I was a kid, somewhere in the world, between one religion and another. Conflict is very easy to put into a series. So I started thinking, ‘What if we had a rocket flying around the universe, why would they be there?’ Answer: ‘To police the area; to keep the peace.’ And from there, of course, we knew enough about rocketry that Fireball had to have a pointed nose and it had to carry a lot of fuel, and the fact that it had to be propelled by a lot of thrust. So it was relatively easy, not by me, but for people like [model maker] Derek Meddings, to draw a good looking rocket ship. I remember at the time, it was said that the Russians were intending to launch their rockets horizontally, instead of vertically, and so I thought, that’s a good idea, we’ll be right up to date. But of course, it didn’t turn out that way.”
Back in the present, Anderson is still hoping there’s life in his excellent CG version of Captain Scarlet. “We are in the talking stages of talking to a new American distributor, and hopefully we’ll be signing in a week or two. And then it might start all over again. And if it takes off in America, it could become a big hit.”
Then, of course, there’s the big screen version of his ’70s live action show, UFO. “I was told about that by ITV America, by a very thoughtful person who phoned me and said, ‘Gerry we’ve acquired the rights to remake UFO, and I didn’t want you to get a shock and suddenly read the press announcement. So I’m ringing you to forewarn you.’ Which was a very kind thing to do. It’s going to be a very big picture. It’s got a lot of very talented people involved. And they’ve talked about the possibility of me being an advisor on the picture. That really is as far as we’ve got. And I’d like to think that I could help them, because a lot of remakes don’t live up to the original. So I would like to be involved. Not to interfere I know too much about the creative process to interfere, that puts people off. But just internal chats to express my views, and people can take it, or leave it, or modify it. Hopefully, it might dribble through…”
So hopefully, it’ll be a better experience for than the Thunderbirds movie, on which he wasn’t consulted at all. “The Thunderbirds movie, and you can print this, I thought was an utter load of crap. Universal Pictures had learned during the production that people were constantly asking, ‘Well, why isn’t Gerry involved?’ And just before the premiere – a couple of weeks before the premiere – they offered me three quarters of a million dollars to attend the premiere and help them promote the picture. And I turned it down. I could have done with money, but I couldn’t bring myself to become a prostitute.”