The hows and whys of

animated flamemarble column
animated flamemarble column
Supermarionation

– Humble Beginnings –

Marc J. Frattasio

gerry Anderson commenced a long career in the television and motion picture industry when he went to work as a projectionist for the English Ministry of Information at the age of 17. This job eventually led to a position as an assistant editor with Gainsborough Studios. After a brief period as a radio operator in the Royal Air Force, Gerry took a job with Pinewood Studios as a dubbing editor. Television had become very popular during mid 1950s and was offering serious competition with the motion picture industry for the very first time. As television seemed to be the thing to get into, Gerry Anderson left Pinewood Studios to go to work for a small company called Polytechnic Studios which had been established to produce television programs. Unfortunately, Polytechnic Studios proved to be a failure and soon went out of business. In the aftermath of this event, Gerry Anderson decided that it was time to strike out in business on his own.

AP Productions is established

During late 1956 or early 1957, Gerry Anderson and a friend from Polytechnic Studios by the name of Arthur Provis pooled their meagre financial resources to form a film production company which they named Anderson Provis Productions or AP Productions for short. AP Productions started on a shoestring. The company set up operations in cheap quarters located in a flood prone converted mansion on the banks of the Thames River in Maidenhead.

The original staff of AP Productions included business manager Gerry Anderson, cameraman Arthur Provis, designer Reg Hill, technician John Read, and secretary Sylvia Thamm. With the exception of Sylvia Thamm, everyone at the company had come from Polytechnic Studios. Arthur Provis, Reg Hill, and John Read had all worked together after the second world war making military training films. As a result, each man possessed considerable experience with miniatures, animation and trick photography. Although none of them realized it at the time, these special skills would prove to be most valuable to AP Productions as time went on.

The early years at AP

Sylvia Thamm grew up in England and moved to the United States after she married an American soldier. This marriage, the first of three, did not work out and she eventually moved back to England. Although Sylvia Thamm was originally hired to be a secretary, she proved to be multi-talented and later assumed many production responsibilities. Eventually she married Gerry Anderson. During the Supermarionation years Sylvia Anderson was co-producer of each television series and feature film. She also designed many of the fashions worn by the puppets and was responsible for character development as well as being a voice artist herself.

Gerry Anderson, Arthur Provis, Reg Hill, John Read, and Sylvia Thamm sat in their offices at Maidenhead and waited for business to come to them. Naturally, nothing happened. After nearly six months of nothing the money began to run out and AP Productions seemed likely to follow Polytechnic Studios into oblivion. Then, just as the end seemed imminent, a children's book author by the name of Roberta Leigh approached the company with a job. Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis's great relief turned into equally great disappointment after they discovered that Roberta Leigh did not want them to produce a live action television series or film but instead wanted a series of 15 minute puppet shows based upon her popular 'Twizzle' book character. Desperate for income and hoping that Roberta Leigh's The Adventures of Twizzle television series would keep the company solvent until something better came along, AP Productions took on the job.

This fateful decision put the Andersons on the path that would lead to Supermarionation. Indeed, the entire Anderson marionette empire of the 1960s grew out of this one 'temporary' measure that was only intended to keep AP Productions in business until something better came around. Nobody associated with the company ever thought that The Adventures of Twizzle would ever lead to anything other than a short-term paycheck.

Puppet makers and puppeteers were now required by AP Productions so feelers went out to the British model theater community. The company hired Joy Laurie, who was experienced with children's television puppet programs, to supervise all aspects of puppetry for The Adventures of Twizzle. Joy in turn brought on her good friend Christine Glanville, who was a talented artist, sculptor, and puppeteer.

The Adventures of Twizzle also required miniature sets and props. Designer Reg Hill felt he needed some help so AP Productions approached Les Bowie with an offer. Les Bowie was an established miniature effects technician who had developed a favorable reputation at Anglo-Scottish Pictures for his work on various fantasy pictures. Les Bowie had no interest in doing the unsophisticated class of work presented to him by AP Productions. However, he had a young assistant working for him who had a growing family and a need for a little additional income. This man was Derek Meddings. Derek agreed to work for AP Productions on a part time basis around his normal schedule at Anglo-Scottish Pictures. Also, the puppet production required a musical score of course, so a man named Barry Gray was brought on for this purpose. Barry Gray composed the music for The Adventures of Twizzle by listening to tunes that had been hummed into a portable tape recorder by Roberta Leigh.

Christine Glanville, Derek Meddings, and Barry Gray would all stay on with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson through the end of the Supermarionation era. These three people became the nucleus of the Supermarionation establishment during the 1960s. Christine Glanville would eventually become puppetry supervisor, Derek Meddings the special effects director, and Barry Gray would go on to compose the musical scores for every Supermarionation television and film production.

One of the most important and fateful business decisions made by AP Productions was to film The Adventures of Twizzle using string marionettes. The marionettes, having 'proper' legs and arms, presented a greater degree of sophistication than the glove puppets typically used in other children's television programs of the time. The decision to use string marionettes on The Adventures of Twizzle paved the way for the realistic Supermarionation puppeteering techniques that would be used in the future.

Twizzle & Cy.
Twizzle [right] gets arrested

The marionettes used in The Adventures of Twizzle were all made by Christine Glanville with the assistance of her parents. These puppets were actually built in the garage workshop of her parent's home as space was at a premium in the Maidenhead studios. The heads and bodies of these early puppets lacked the sophistication of later Supermarionation characters. They were very simple things with heads made from plastic wood or paper mache and bodies that were sometimes made from wood. These early puppets did not even have movable eyes or mouths. Speaking was indicated by bobbing the 'speaking' puppet's head up and down! The puppets were strung with highly visible black carpet thread.

Derek Meddings created the simple sets, backdrops, and props used in The Adventures of Twizzle from painted wood and cardboard cut-outs. Probably the most sophisticated miniature prop built for this series was a crude flat-sided toy tow truck introduced in the fourth episode, The Breakdown Van. This tow truck was the primitive ancestor of many wonderful model vehicles to come from Derek Meddings in the future.

The budget of The Adventures of Twizzle was so low (about $800 per episode) and the production schedule so tight that the scenery and props often had to be built in the same converted ballroom where the filming took place. As this was only a part time job for Derek Meddings, he usually performed his work at night or on weekends. However, filming often dragged on through the night so Derek frequently had to work on building scenery and props while filming was going on all around him.

Although everyone at AP Productions was concerned that The Adventures of Twizzle would prove to be an embarrassing flop, it actually did pretty well when introduced to British television during November 1957. In large part, this was because AP Productions had elected to use the more realistic marionette puppets instead of the simple glove puppets typically used in competing children's television programs. Another important factor in the commercial success of The Adventures of Twizzle was that overhead bridges were used for the puppeteers to stand on while they manipulated the marionettes. These overhead bridges permitted the sets below to be made fully three dimensional. This of course provided a greater degree of realism than the typical puppet program's plain painted backdrop. These three dimensional sets were able to be illuminated and filmed just like a 'real live' film production, further enhancing realism. Viewers had never before seen a children's puppet television program done with such sophistication and they liked it.

This page published originally at the Supermarionation sfx WebSite
text ©1996 Marc J. Frattasio