Filmed In Supermarionation

For children of the 1960s and early 1970s, their world view and unbridled optimism came from snapshots of things to come seen across a particular niche genre of television production. Against the backdrop of the real world ‘cold war’, here was a multi-faceted universe where English-speaking life on Earth can also be found under the seas, a united world government was a pretty neat idea with no tyranny in sight, and people invested in saving life simply because it was the right thing to do. “Filmed in Supermarionation: A History of the Future” is the story of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet empire, minus any spin.

Slough’s Trading Estate in the 1960s was the home to a production company that created television shows such as Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Fireball XL5 and Joe 90. This account begins with the revelation of a two-line advertisement in a local paper, and concludes on the day the puppet studios closed in 1969. From AP Films to the Century 21 Organisation, this was a fiction factory that has no equal in the UK.

Filmed in SupermarionationI have to declare a personal interest in Stephen La Rivière’s new book – I volunteered to do some proof reading and copy editing for this new tome. So many accounts of the Anderson series are awful in their research – most of them being books with the term “Cult TV” in their title (the writers and publishers who ride roughshod over our registered trademark do the same with the facts in their publications). So, whilst there are people who have a far more encyclopaedic knowledge of the Century 21 canon, I hope that I have a good overview of what is true and what is false in these worlds.

First off, this is a paperback – it could have been a hardback, but that would have meant losing all the internal colour images, such is the financial pressure on the budgets of small publishing houses.  Given that Anderson series are colourful, even when they were filmed in monochrome, this was a logical and correct decision.

It’s over 40 years since this marionette-making operation closed down, and in that time, there has been an almost-insatiable production line of books that ate up all available imagery. The fact that around half the pictures here present are new to me (and I think I probably own virtually all the texts on this subject area that have been published), then this gives you an idea of the deep-cover research that has been carried out to bring you this historical summation of what has gone before.

The APF and Century 21 productions took a host of talented individuals who created a suite of shows that were far greater than the sum of their parts. The recent Blu-ray release of Thunderbirds has demonstrated how timeless these productions have become; they have been future-proofed to a degree that even the latest High Definition technology can be utilised to bring even more of an experience to the viewer.  This book details how and why this was possible: the devotion to duty of everyone involved in these productions.  As Sylvia Anderson said at the Cult TV Festival 2001, “(our shows were) more than the work of just one man or one person”. She was absolutely correct on this, and hearing from some of the unsung heroes interviewed for this book puts this into sharp focus.

You know that you’re dealing with a triumph of research right from page 12, where the newspaper advert that brought Sylvia Thamm (later Anderson) into the fold is reproduced. The text goes to great lengths not to spin any value judgements into what is written, preferring to deal with just the facts, rather than any “OK”-magazine-style revelations which, frankly, have nothing to do with any serious analysis of the productions in question.

The text is succinct without any flab, and breezes along, with a novel-style narrative that feels almost like the treatment for a biopic. It dispenses with any directory-style episode guides or production outlines, which these days can easily be found elsewhere for those so inclined.  This is an essential purchase for any fan of the Anderson productions who wants a forensic analysis, via 208 pages, of what is likely to be the truth within the myriad of opinions.

The book can be purchased at the official Filmed in Supermarionation website. The website reveals one of the only perplexing aspects to this publication. The cover for the title you’ll see there is not the one which actually adorns the book, and that you see illustrated on this page.  A stylish montage of images has been dropped in favour of just the one picture of Thunderbird 3 being filmed in its launch bay. This is NOT a book about Thunderbirds on its own. Arguably Mr Tracy and the gang may be the most popular of the shows, but given the scope of this title, it’s a total nonsense to just have the one image. Indeed, the main image loses nothing from what would have been supporting pictures all around it, executed in a balanced design. The only reason for this that makes any sense is that it must have been a production error!