Gerry Anderson

Robert Bentz Ashe

gerald Alexander Anderson was born in 1929 in Hampstead, London. With initial ambitions to be an architect, he studied plastering at building school, but the experience was short-lived when it was discovered that he was allergic to plaster. Instead, he went to work in a photographic studio and became increasingly attracted to the idea of working in film. He applied for a job in the Colonial Film Unit, a branch of the Ministry of Information, and was taken on as a trainee. This gave Anderson an insight into every aspect of film production, although he found that he had a considerable talent as an editor and it was in this capacity that he was able to find work at Gainsborough Pictures. He made his film industry debut in 1946 as assistant editor for director Arthur Crabtree and producer Harold Huth on Caravan, a period romantic drama starring Stewart Granger and Jean Kent. He went on to work on Jassy and Snowbound before he was called up in 1947 for National Service in the RAF where he was set to work as a radio telephone operator.

Gerry Anderson
Gerry Anderson 1929 – 2012

He ended his service as a direction finder on an airfield, and resumed his film career in 1949 at Pinewood Studios with work as a dubbing editor on So Long At The Fair, The Clouded Yellow and Anthony Havelock-Allen's Never Take No For An Answer. More work followed on South Of Algiers, Appointment in London, They Who Dare, and A Prize Of Gold before Anderson elected to leave Pinewood, first to join Polytechnic Studios (where he made his directorial debut on a television series called You've Never Seen This) and then, when Polytechnic folded in 1955, to co-found a commercials company, Pentagon Films, with his Polytechnic colleagues Arthur Provis, Reg Hill and John Read. This venture led to the formation of A.P. Films, but little work came their way and Anderson was forced to take on freelance directorial assignments for television.

After six months in business, the partners were approached by Associated Rediffusion executive Suzanne Warner and children's author Roberta Leigh to produce a puppet series, The Adventures Of Twizzle, for the newly-formed Independent TeleVision. Desperate for the work, Anderson and Provis jumped at the contract, resolving to make the best puppet shows they could and hoping to prove that they could make even better live-action features given the chance. Leigh commissioned a second series, Torchy The Battery Boy, before the partners decided to branch out and produce their own show, Four Feather Falls, with backing from Granada Television. This fantasy Western series proved very popular and Anderson forged ahead with plans for a new series, Supercar, but Granada refused to finance the show and APF was left on the verge of bankruptcy.

Willing to accept any project to keep the company going, Anderson readily accepted the opportunity to produce three television commercials for Blue Cars Travel in association with Four Feather Falls voice artist Nicholas Parsons. One of the commercials, Martians, won the Grand Prix Award at the first British Television Commercials Awards in 1961.

AP Films becomes Century 21

At this point, Lew Grade, head of ATV, stepped in and put up the money for a full series of Supercar, which pioneered the sophisticated puppetry technique of Supermarionation. Supercar was sold to American television and Grade immediately commissioned a second season. Longing to move into the 'big league' with major live-action features, Anderson approached Anglo Amalgamated who gave him £16,000 to produce and direct his first feature film, Crossroads To Crime, a live-action thriller, but the failure of Crossroads to Crime in comparison to the success of Supercar resigned Anderson to the fact that his company's immediate future lay with Supermarionation.

Grade continued to finance subsequent APF series, each more elaborate and popular than the last — Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds. In 1966, the incredible success of Thunderbirds led to a major feature film for United Artists, Thunderbirds Are Go, and a sequel the following year, Thunderbird Six.

With the exploitation of the Supermarionation series for merchandising, APF developed into The Century 21 Organisation which incorporated the Century 21 film studios and associated merchandising, publishing, record producing and toy manufacturing arms, enabling Anderson and his partners to ensure quality control over products related to their creations. Century 21 also acquired the merchandising rights for a number of other popular television series and characters, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Tarzan, Bewitched, The Monkees, Topo Gigio, Tingha & Tucker and many of the ITC action adventure series such as The Saint, Man In A Suitcase, The Prisoner, The Champions and Department S.

In the meantime, however, ITC had been unable to sell Thunderbirds in the US and plans for a second season of the series were dropped after only six episodes had been completed, in favour of a completely new series, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, which introduced a new style of perfectly proportioned puppets. Joe90 and The Secret Service followed, but Anderson largely entrusted these to his experienced Century 21 team while he concentrated on making a break from puppet films with Doppelgänger, a live-action feature film for Universal (aka Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun), and UFO, his first live-action series for television. Having finally proven his abilities with full-sized actors, Anderson was then appointed by Grade as producer of the contemporary thriller series The Protectors, a show that became immensely popular with teatime audiences and ran to two seasons. While working on The Protectors on location in Malta, Anderson produced The Investigator, a pilot for a series that would have mixed Supermarionation with live-action.

UFO and beyond

In 1973, an attempt to mount a second season of UFO failed when the series proved to be a ratings failure in the US, but Anderson persuaded Grade not to let the pre-production work on UFO2 go to waste, and instead allow him to transform the concept to create a new series, Space:1999, which ultimately ran for two seasons. In the hiatus between the seasons, Anderson produced The Day After Tomorrow, a pilot for a proposed spin-off series which utilised many design concepts from Space:1999 and some of the series' actors.

When plans for a third season of Space:1999 were cancelled, Anderson temporarily abandoned series television in favour of a lucrative, award-winning advertising career. His marketing company acquired the European merchandising rights to Swedish super-group Abba and he continued to work on proposals for a variety of television series (Rescue 4, Starcruiser 1 and Thunderhawks, among others) and films (Operation Shockwave) which never got much beyond the design stage.

In 1979, Anderson entered into partnership with Sydney Rose to develop a live-action multi-million dollar feature film, 5 Star 5, but the project collapsed just weeks before the scheduled principle photography start date. In 1981, the formation of the Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society, Fanderson, demonstrated the continuing public support for Anderson's productions and directly led to the successful development of a new Anderson marionation series, Terrahawks.

In 1987, Anderson was commissioned by Channel Four youth programme Network 7 to produce Dick Spanner P.I., a series of 22 six-minute segments made entirely in stop-motion animation. He also began planning his next series, a science-fiction cop show titled Space Police, but it was to be another eight years before the project came to fruition as Space Precinct. In the interim, Anderson directed Dire Straits' Calling Elvis video, contributed to the Return To The Forbidden Planet stage show and embarked upon a successful lecture tour of the UK. He reached an advanced stage of production on a 13-part cel-animated series, GFI, in 1993, but the project was abandoned due to technical and financial difficulties with only one episode completed.

Anderson continues to develop new ideas for television and film projects and has recently been concentrating his storytelling talents in a series of children's books about Regor The Rescue Dog. A new space fantasy series, Lavender Castle, a stop-motion animation project created by Anderson in conjunction with fantasy artist Rodney Matthews, is currently in production at the Cosgrove Hall Studios in Manchester. The 26 episode children's series combines traditional stop-motion animation techniques with state-of-the-art computer generated animation and will receive its television premiere in 1998.

Text originally appeared at the Fanderson site