ROOM 6 @ THE NICE ROOMS presents
Fanderson - The World Of Gerry Anderson:An Interview with Ian Fryer
Date of Article: 20th March 2014
Ian, welcome to The Nice Rooms. By way of introduction and for the benefit of those readers of The Nice Rooms not in the know, what is Fanderson all about?
Fanderson is the official fan organisation for the productions of Gerry Anderson and for Gerry himself. Our official status came from both Gerry himself, from ITC - for whom most of the shows were made - and from ITV.
Gerry was instrumental in the club's formation as it was felt in the early 1980s to be a need for an umbrella organisation
covering the puppet and live action shows made by Gerry and his colleagues.
The club, which is run by volunteers on a non-profit making
basis, has continued ever since; we produce a magazine - FAB - three
times a year, plus events and conventions, plus a highly popular range of
merchandise, including DVDs of rare Anderson productions and CDs of the
Do you yourself have a favourite Gerry Anderson series?
This changes from time to time. I love New Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds but the first season of Space: 1999 remains a stunning achievement.
It was the most expensive TV series ever made (up to that time) The producers had the courage to make a thoughtful, philosophical series about man's place in the universe - Complete with cool spaceships and huge explosions!
I couldn't agree with you more there Ian about the first series of Space 1999 - Definately 'cerebral and incredible'..so..I have to ask..Your thoughts about Series 2?
It's amazing the heat that can be produced by Space: 1999 Year 2 discussions even 40 years later!
The first thing to remember is that at the end of the first season Space: 1999 was dead - definitively cancelled and not coming back. That Gerry was able to convince ITC to revive the series was a minor miracle, but the price was that he lost artistic control. He couldn't work with Sylvia Anderson (Pictured) who was Producer on the first season - The Andersons' marriage broke down irrevocably during this time - and ITC insisted on an American Script Editor.
Unfortunately the only suitable candidate willing to be relocated to the UK was Fred Frieberger, who had the right background but whose ideas and approach were ten years out of date. I must confess I rewatched all of season two a while back and enjoyed it more than I expected.
To keep your sanity the best thing to do is regard them as two different series with the same jumping-off point. My pet theory is that certain key episodes are very poor, but they are the ones most often seen - The Metamorph and The Bringers of Wonder (Part 2)
The general standard is somewhat better - Catacombs of the Moon and The Dorcons are actually pretty good. That having been said, I recently interviewed Nick Tate, who played Captain Alan Carter, and he told me some of the frustrations the actors had to deal with in the second season. As an aside, Space: 1999 got a terrible critical reception both in the US and UK.
British critics were sniffy because... well, pick one or more from:
It's only TV and we don't take that seriously if it's not Play for Today',
Actors performing like puppets' (yawn!) or
Huge, elephantine production' (I paraphrase only slightly), while American critics, particularly within the Science Fiction community, went after the show simply because they were desperate for Star Trek to be revived, and if Space was a success this might not happen.
Fortunately, Space: 1999 has always had a very loyal audience, especially in America, beyond the rest of the Anderson fan base.
This continues to annoy the heck out of me, and perhaps those British critics should have reflected on the fact that Space: 1999 was the only production shooting at Pinewood during that period and single-handedly kept the production facility open.
There - rant over!
The Cast Of Thunderbirds
I read somewhere that Gerry Anderson detested puppets and was embarrassed to be working with them. Surely this can't be right..can it?
Gerry came from a feature film background, working in the editing department at Gainsborough Pictures and later as a freelance sound editor. He set up as an independent producer as a part of the 1950s' 'gold rush' when ITV was formed, with the idea of working on live action productions. The company was about to go bust when they got an offer to make a series, The Adventures of Twizzle. Gerry was shocked to discover that it would be made with marionettes but too desperate to turn it down.
What was typical of Gerry's determination was that he wanted to make
absolutely the best puppet series possible in the hope that someone would
recognise how good they were and give them a live action show to make. Instead,
they were given more puppet series to make. It's interesting to compare the
earliest AP Films puppet series to other shows of the same type around in the
1950s - they really were miles better than stuff like The Woodentops. In the 1980s, when he was making Terrahawks (Pictured) Gerry said he realised that making Science Fiction and puppet series was what made him unique as a producer, so he reconciled himself to the form he worked in. By the 1980s and 90s there weren't many of his generation of producers still working, so he must have had a point.
For me Thunderbirds was THE Gerry Anderson series. I was totally hooked from the start. Wasn't there talk of Gerry Anderson shooting a sequel at some point?
I think Gerry always felt that Thunderbirds ended prematurely, largely because Lew Grade mishandled the American sale of the series.
After Space: 1999 ended production in 1977, Gerry developed various projects with echoes of Thunderbirds, such as Rescue 4 - a sort of 'Thunderbirds in Space' idea developed with Space: 1999 year 2 producer Fred Freiberger - and GFI, a 1993 cell animation production which was to have been made in Russia. He also attempted to get Thunderbirds back off the ground various times. He had planned to remake Thunderbirds as a CGI production after completing Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet, but after that series failed to get big ratings (I'm not exaggerating when I say it's a wonderful series, but it failed to get any meaningful support from the ITV management of the time, with whom Gerry had fallen out) he simply couldn't secure the remake rights.
On a related note, I fully expect the new Thunderbirds Are Go series, which is in production in New Zealand right now, to be brilliant. Peter Jackson is part of the production and he is a serious, long term Supermarionation fan. I once asked Gerry if the 2004 Thunderbirds movie had damaged the franchise in any way and he replied that it was bulletproof - I think it's in safe hands right now.
Thunderbird 2 and Thunderbird 5
You touched there on the fact that Gerry had fallen out with ITV management. Are you able to expand on this?
Gerry himself put this in the public domain, so I'm not typing out of turn here. Having invested a large amount of money into New Captain Scarlet, ITV went to Gerry and his production company and asked them to replace the series theme music with an updated version of the original 1967 theme. The costs involved would have been enormous and would have been met by the production company rather than ITV. Gerry refused, knowing that there would be consequences.
At this point it should be said the ITV today is a very
different beast to the one existing in 2005. At the time the company was
getting out of providing children's content on its main channels and had
seemingly lost confidence in screening drama in prime slots, beyond the old
established soap operas. This, plus the dispute with Gerry, meant that ITV
buried New Captain Scarlet in a Saturday Morning slot within the Ministry
of Mayhem show, splitting each episode in two and providing very little
Gerry remained convinced that the show would have been a big hit in the Saturday evening slot Dr. Who did so well in. I tend to agree, as New Captain Scarlet is a wonderful series - in my view preferable to the 1967 original. Gerry put together a new production facility for the 21st Century that could have achieved great things and been his legacy to the British film industry. ITV now have an incredibly positive attitude towards the new Thunderbirds Are Go series, which I fully expect to be brilliant.
New Captain Scarlet Trailer
Is it true that a large number of models used in the shows were either destroyed during shooting or thrown away afterwards?
Some models were destroyed at the end of shooting - just thrown into a skip at the back of the studios. The same happened to many of the puppets - Steve Zodiac from Fireball XL5 was given to a bowling club! A lot were used in subsequent series, which makes for a fun time trying to spot them. The Angel Interceptors were reworked for Joe 90, while the Captain Scarlet puppet became the semi-regular character Agent Blake in The Secret Service. At the time, there was no thought that any of the materials used in the shows might have value so it's surprising the survival rate is as high as it is.
The Secret Service: Image taken from the opening credits
You mentioned a favourite series of mine there: The Secret Service starring the late Professor Humbolt's minimiser and Father Stanley Unwin speaking gobbledegook..Brilliant! ..and yet the 13 episodes were only shown by three regions of the ITV network....Was there a reason for this?
The short answer is that Lew Grade simply didn't like the series, but there are other factors. Lew had such trust in Gerry that he never asked him to make a pilot show but he would take a look at the first few episodes. Gerry often told the story that when Lew saw the first episode of The Secret Service, as soon as he reached the scene in which Father Unwin began speaking in 'Unwinese' he ordered the screening stopped saying 'the Americans would never understand it'.
By this point, Gerry was becoming a victim of his own success as there were so many Supermarionation productions in distribution that even some ITV regions were starting to turn new series down. I did the research a while back and worked out that by 1967, when Captan Scarlet and the Mysterons debuted, every series that Gerry Anderson had ever produced, going back to The Adventures of Twizzle from 1957 was being screened somewhere on the ITV network.
Some regions also rejected Joe 90 in 1968 and when The Secret Service came along it was obvious that the game was up. I do wonder if by this time whether Gerry and the Century 21 team still had the same enthusiasm for the puppet format. The opening sequence both looks and sounds like Songs of Praise, which would send most kids racing outside for a game of footy, while the series plays like The Avengers and would probably have been even better as a fun, live action spy series. Fortunately, Lew Grade agreed that it was time that Gerry moved to live action and UFO was born.
UFO Opening Credits
UFO: Another classic series..Is it true it was filmed at different film studios?
Well, strictly speaking UFO was filmed at three studios, as Derek Meddings' effects unit was filming model work at the Century 21 Studios in Slough while live action was being shot, initially at MGM-Borhamwood Studios. MGM decided to close this facility while UFO was still in production, necessitating a five month break in filming until studio space was available to make the last nine episodes at Pinewood.The rumour I heard (and I can't speak as to its truth) is that Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey took so long to film that it single-handedly made Borehamwood uneconomical, as it used virtually the whole studio for a huge length of time, and as this was an MGM production they weren't getting anything in studio rentals for it.
The huge cave set for the final episode of The Prisoner used one small set while the 2001 sets dwarved everything else. The enforced break gave the producers time to reflect on what they had done so far, with the result that the final nine episodes have a different feel to them. They are much faster-paced and present Ed Straker very much as an action hero instead of the cigar-smoking boss he is in early stories. There were also some cast changes, with George Sewell leaving - He was never told this, but ITC's American office thought he was too ugly - and Wanda Ventham (Pictured Below) came in to replace him. Also, directors were hired who had worked on other ITC action series and were able to shoot faster and produce a pacier end product. In a way that's the tragedy of UFO - by the time the series was ending every episode was a winner and it came within an ace of being picked up for a second series by one of the American Networks.
Wanda Ventham (Mother of Benedict Cumberbatch)
Do the original 'sets' from Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray still exist? If not, why not? What happened to them?
The survival rate for Supermationation props and sets is, sadly, extremely low. It is said to be in single figures.
The following site has some details: http://www.gerryandersonprops.com/models.php
The puppet survival rate is much better, though still not as high as we'd all like. Sets would be cannibalised for the next series, so the Space City control room from Fireball XL5 formed the basis of the Marineville control room in Stingray. Largely, though, the sets were simply destroyed, their last resting place being a skip at the rear of the studios in Slough where the local kids would try to pinch things.
I was recently talking to a fascinating chap whose first job for Gerry Anderson was destroying the Terrahawks sets in the 1980s. Storage costs money and there was no market for old sets and props in the sixties, so away they went!
Ian, what are your thoughts about the fast paced live action series The Protectors?
The Protectors was rather unloved for many years, even by Gerry himself. It was the only series Gerry ever produced that he didn't help create himself, making it virtually under orders from Lew Grade. Attitudes towards the series changed rather when decent quality DVDs became available, first via Carlton and now from Network. The best episodes are at least as good as any other ITC live action series (except Gerry's own UFO and Space: 1999) and it's certainly better than other Lew Grade filmed series of the time, Jason King and The Adventurer.These latter two shows are downright tired, all concerned with doing the same old thing and papering over the cracks with humour.
Tony Anholt - Robert Vaughan - Nyree Dawn-Porter
The Protectors actually took its plots seriously and had a big enough budget to do some serious filming all over Europe. Robert Vaughn is a very subtle actor and doesn't overplay which is very much in the show's favour. Shadbolt is generally agreed to be the best episode, the scenes between Vaughn and the much-missed Tom Bell being scintillating, but the general standard is very high. The Protectors is also a great show for petrolheads. I wrote an article last year about all the cars featured in the series which include classics such as the Jensen Interceptor, Volvo P1800SE, Citroen SM and even a lovely kit car based on the Mini called the Mini Gem. Oh, and the music's great, too!
The music of the Gerry Anderson series is consistently excellent right through. Do the original master tapes still exist today?
Barry Gray (Pictured) had a very distinctive style of composition which meant that music from some series could be reused later. This came in very handy when Space: 1999 was being scored. By then Musicians' Union regulations meant that only a certain number of episodes could be fully scored.This isn't as silly as it sounds; it helped prevent musicians being injured due to being pressured to perform over-long sessions.
Along with Music Editor Alan Willis, Barry was able to recommend pieces from his own archive to use in episodes where there was nothing suitable he had composed especially for the series. Fortunately for posterity, Barry Gray was a meticulous note taker and the majority of his master tapes and scores survive. This means that Ralph Titterton, archivist of the Gray estate, has been able to gather together a huge amount of material.
Fanderson has worked to transfer much of this material to digital formats and release it in limited editions. Due to the terms of our licenses these CDs are available to club members only, but the master tapes we have produced have been the basis for several commercial releases. The latest Fanderson CD is an expanded version of our previous release of the Supercar score, the first of Barry's scores to be in the style that served him (and us) until Space: 1999. Aside from our own releases, it's also worth checking out Trunk Records' Stand By For Adverts which gathers together Berry Gray's work in advertising and is really terrific fun. Altogether now... 'Booth's Dry Gin!'
Ian, are there any Fun Facts you can share with readers of The Nice Rooms?
Did you ever ever meet with Gerry Anderson?
Ian Fryer & Fanderson