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Obituary: Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson

Obituary by Jack Foley

THUNDERBIRDS creator Gerry Anderson has died at the age of 83.

The man behind countless puppet superheroes, including Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Stingray, passed away on Boxing Day (2012).

His son, Jamie Anderson, announced the news on his website, saying that his father died peacefully in his sleep at noon. Anderson had suffered from Alzheimer’s since 2010 and the disease had worsened in recent months, according to Jamie.

Born Gerald Alexander Abrahams on April 14, 1929, in London, Anderson was educated at Kingsgate infants school in Kilburn and Braintcroft junior and senior schools in Neasden before winning a scholarship to Willesden County Grammar School.

Although his ancestral name was Bieloglovski, this was changed to ‘Abrahams’ by a British immigration official in 1895, before Anderson’s mother changed it again to ‘Anderson’ because she liked the sound of it.

At the advent of World War II, Anderson’s older brother Lionel volunteered for the RAF and was posted to the US for training, during which time he wrote numerous letters home and described a USAF airbase called Thunderbird Field, which stuck in Gerry’s memory.

Nevertheless, he began his career in photography and, after the war, secured a traineeship with the British Colonial Film Unit, where he developed an interest in film editing and moved on to Gainsborough Pictures to gain further experience.

He was conscripted for national service with the RAF in 1947 but returned to Gainsborough after completing his military service and then worked freelance on a succession of feature films, during which time he married Betty Wrightman. They had two children, Joy and Linda.

Anderson then took the first steps towards his future fame by setting up his own TV and production company, only to find work hard to come by, so when he was approached to make a puppet show called The Adventures Of Twizzle in 1957 he decided to accept.

A second puppet series, Torchy The Battery Boy, soon followed and the positive reaction to his wooden creations persuaded him to stick with marionettes.

A 1960 series called Supercar saw Anderson’s trademark values of mystery and futuristic adventure begin to form, while also enabling him to perfect his production technique called Supermarionation.

Fireball XL5 and Stingray followed and were also hits before Anderson finally came up with the idea for Thunderbirds – arguably his best known and most enduring creation – in 1963 while listening to a radio report about a team of rescuers rushing to a collapsed mine in Germany.

Hence, International Rescue was born with characters and rescue vehicles that would continue to inspire generation after generation of children.

Anderson made the programmes with his second wife Sylvia, who provided the voice of the Tracy brothers’ London agent Lady Penelope, and he filmed the episodes in a studio on a trading estate in Slough, Berkshire, thereby making a mockery of the international locations his characters often found themselves in.

The success of Thunderbirds led to two feature films and a toy empire and set Anderson up for life, giving him the creative freedom to pursue whatever he wanted.

This he did with Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons and Joe 90.

However, by the turn of the ’70s bad investments and a number of stalled projects left Anderson himself broke and he also divorced Sylvia. But he never gave up on his passion for science fiction and adventure and was to enjoy a couple more successes, including his longed for live action.

Hence, he came up with the ideas for the series UFO, The Protectors, Space: 1999 and Space Precinct, all of which enjoyed varying degrees of success without quite managing to revisit the same level of acclaim and popularity as Thunderbirds.

He also returned to puppetry in the 1980s with Terrahawks but was not involved when Thunderbirds was transformed into a live-action Hollywood movie in 2004, which promptly flopped.

Anderson was made an MBE in 2001 and is survived by his third wife Mary and four children.

Tributes have been paid by countless contemporaries via Twitter.

Among them, Neil Gaiman wrote: “Gerry Anderson made my childhood better. (My favorite Thunderbird was 4, Gordon’s, because I could legitimately play with it in the bath.)”

While Eddie Izzard Tweeted: “Sad news – Gerry Anderson dies. But what great creation Thunderbirds was, as it fueled the imagination of a generation.”

And Brian Cox wrote: “Sad to hear of death of Gerry Anderson. Thunderbirds still regular viewing in our house, and I remember Space 1999 with particular fondness.”

Anderson’s son has also asked for donations in his father’s memory be made to The Alzheimer’s Society.