Supermarionation
– Introduction
Penny's portrait

between 1956 and 1969 the Britain based company AP Films aka Century 21 – helmed by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson – produced a series of ten puppet series. In close cooperation with a team coordinated by the Andersons, company co-founders John Read and Reg Hill developed a number of innovative puppeteering techniques (generally referred to as Supermarionation) which allowed the studio to build and use increasingly lifelike puppets. The company played out the similarity between puppet and human to extremes, basing the puppetfaces on those of wellknown real life stars such as James Garner, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Adam Faith and eventually [as a persistent rumour has it] the artists who supplied the voices; Sylvia, for instance, has been quoted to be the physical and vocal inspiration for Lady Penelope.

In 1965, two years before switching to the Century21 moniker, AP Films hit TV screens all over the Western world with its seventh series Thunderbirds.

By this time Keith Shackleton governed a true merchandising imperium that could rival Disney's. Comic strips based on the series and biographies of the 'stars' appeared in the Lady Penelope, TV21 and TV2000 magazines amplifying the suggestion these were flesh and blood people rather than fiberglass puppets.

Eventually, the skillfull mix of Supermarionation technology, Oscar laureate Derek Meddings' superb special effects, Barry Gray's invigorating music, and the use of meticulous miniature sets and costumes resulted in something akin to live action cinema. Even more so, since each episode was recorded on 35mm film. By the time of the then Century21 Captain Scarlet series, the productions had grown so sophisticated that both actors and locations could not be distinguished from the real thing.

Ultimately, the studio threw out the typically laborious process of securing dramatic backdrop and key players needed to tell a story. Instead, it simply created them.


Thunderbirds made quite a splash in its day, spawned two feature films, and has been turning up in internationally televised repeats and popvideo cameos. Even today, its creators will readily admit that it marked the unchallenged pinnacle of Supermarionation.

Maybe it was the series hour-length format – originally, Thunderbirds was to be just another half-hour series, just as Stingray and Supercar had been before it; only on the insistance of financial backer Lew Grade was the property developed into hour long episodes by padding out the first measly 10 scripts that were available – maybe it was the lucky combination of characters and hardware, maybe it was Supermarionation peaking [recognizably puppet yet human enough to be real within dramatic conventions]. Who knows. Fact is, Thunderbirds captivated the minds of countless youths in the 60's and sparked off a remarkable fanFollowing both on the net and outside it.

My 30 year+ fascination with Supermarionation in general and Thunderbirds in particular inspired me to organize a festival which included screenings of the pilots from each series on the cinema screen, a complete 'on-request' video library on multiple outlets, and an exhibition of puppets and merchandising memorabilia.


Occasionally, I get eMail asking about Space Patrol [aka Planet Patrol]; it seems people confuse it with, for example, Fireball XL5. Strictly speaking, this is not a Supermarionation series nor a Gerry Anderson production. However, from what can be inferred from its homepage [now defunct] Wikipedia entry, it was made by Arthur Provis and Roberta Leigh – two former Anderson associates – and it seems like it was done with some form of electro­nically controlled puppets.


So as to surprise, entice and generally enchant, the internal links of this site are designed to divulge the information in a more or less structured way as you venture deeper into it; if you haven't already tried one of the links above, I suggest reading Supermarionation's history and dipping your toe in a few links from there.

Should you find any graphic, listing or other data you like, feel free to copy it for your own uses; the Net is for everybody [or should be in any case]. If you decide to do so, then please make mention of appropriate copyrights or acknowledgements, though.

Some hints

If you don't want to wade through all the pages to discover the other links, here site map is a sitemap

At the bottom of each page you'll find a smaller copy of the picture of Lady P. shown at the top Penny's icon which will bring you back here, flanked by the sitemap icon indicated above.

You'll find this icon clickable map in the caption of some of the illustrations; these images are client-side clickable maps.

One caveat

The pages on this site have many links – however, you'll only meet them once per page from the top down and they merely link to the same spot from different places – don't follow them all at once or you'll lose your way.


This site tries to conform to w3c rules for separation of style, content and behaviour through the use of CSS, HTML and the w3c DOM. Tables, for example, are now only used for tabulated data whereas before I used them [like every other web designer] to layout images and blocks of text on the page. Likewise, the <center> tag has been replaced by appropriate style definitions, as have <br> tags which were used to create white space.

This means that only modern browsers can render this site as it is meant to be seen. I could have tried to cater for both branches but – as is so often the case in matters of this sort – that would have resulted in unacceptable compromises wherein old browsers would have been stretched to their rendering limits and new ones would have been needlessly limited. Not to mention the horribly complicated HTML and JavaScript code this would have necessitated.