The Puppet Master Has His Strings Cut
Farewell, then, to Gerry Anderson, the hero of any boy born after the war. The creator of Supercar, Fireball XL5 (1962), Stingray (1964), Thunderbirds (1965), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967) and Joe 90 changed puppetry from Muffin The Mule-type shows to something any kid with an interest in Eagle cutaways could get their teeth into. Chief among these was Thunderbirds, the pop-art SF rescue vehicle show obsessed with mechanics and sleek engineering that became a worldwide hit. The heroic Tracy brothers took their names from American astronauts, and saved monorails and jets from crashing over 32 double-length episodes while Lady Penelope and her cockney butler Parker bombed around Monte Carlo in a pink Rolls Royce.
Anderson’s shows created merchandising here at a time when it was virtually unheard of, and the shows have never really been off the air, with a successful big screen puppet outing following. Despite this, he did badly out of his creations thanks to avaricious TV companies, and never received his due. Worse still, just when the taste for Thunderbirds had returned to a new peak in the 1980s, Working Title managed to screw up the franchise by handing the big budget live-action movie version to Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek, who turned in a kiddie action film that made the former puppets appear more animated.
With their large heads and peculiar way of walking, the characters were much loved and parodied, on stage, on TV and here by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, but their legacy was mishandled and they never returned, although the music was superbly remixed in a series of dance-floor tracks.