How the legend of Gerry Anderson lives on, as fans celebrate life and works of the Thunderbirds creator
Live streams, TV marathons, news announcements and more are forming part of the first international Gerry Anderson Day on 14th April.
"Walt Disney is not here, Jim Henson is not here.... there are so many influential figures in pop culture where their no longer being with us doesn't mean the end, by any means."
TV and film producer/director/writer Gerry Anderson passed away on 26th December 2012, but what he left behind was an incredible body of work that includes some of the most iconic and influential series of the 1960s and 1970s: perhaps most notably the action-packed Supermarionation exploits of Thunderbirds (1965-66), but also its puppet predecessor Stingray (1964-65) and his later live-action efforts UFO (1970-73) and Space: 1999 (1975-1977).
Today – 14th April, 2021 – fans across the globe are celebrating his life and works as part of the first international Gerry Anderson Day, a campaign led by Gerry's son Jamie who now acts as head of his late father's company Anderson Entertainment. Since 2018, Jamie has hosted the weekly Gerry Anderson Podcast alongside actor Richard James – a veteran of another Anderson series, Space Precinct (1994-95) – and regularly interviews not just creative talent who worked on his father's productions but also notable fans who have in some way been inspired by the shows and movies. It was these interviews, Jamie says, that initially saw his thoughts turn to a worldwide fan celebration.
"Through the process of doing the podcast, I speak to so many people who are in their line of work because of some fascination with Anderson – people like David Parker at the European Space Agency, who credits Journey to the Far Side of the Sun [a 1969 film, also known as Doppelgänger, which was co-written by Gerry] with his getting fascinated by space exploration.
"So I thought it would be worthy of a day all about Dad and and the legacy – not just one show, or one character. This is a six-decade career and it's had a massive impact internationally. So it's a day to introduce new people to Anderson, to reawaken interest, and to celebrate the shows and their effect not just on entertainment but everywhere else."
It didn't take long on the day itself for #GerryAndersonDay to be among the top Twitter trends – for the past few years, there's been a similar occurrence each Boxing Day to mark the anniversary of Gerry's passing, with #CheersGerryAnderson trending for hours as aficionados raise a glass and share their affection for and memories of his works.
"I think there's a sense among fans that maybe they owe Dad something, and a lot of them do say that," Jamie suggests. "But for somebody to actually take the time and write a thoughtful message or email or tweet, it is really quite remarkable. And when people do it in in such massive numbers – the volume of tweets that go out every day, it's quite something, especially for someone who is no longer here, and hasn't made a television show since 2005. It's just an example of the impact."
A recurring question to guests on the Gerry Anderson Podcast is... what does Anderson mean to them? Jamie had hoped to "distil the Gerry Anderson formula" and get to the root of its appeal by way of these interviews, but admits he finds it difficult to narrow down what it is about his father's work that makes it so very special. Is it the brilliant, bombastic music by composer Barry Gray that featured on many of Gerry's best-loved shows? The explosive visuals provided by special effects designer Derek Meddings and his team on the Supermarionation shows? Or is it something else, something more intangible?
"There's so many different things," he says. "I mean, there's some broad brushstrokes: it's aspirational, it's looking to the future, with the gadgets, the gizmos, the vehicles. The music is a repeated thing. It is surprising how few people refer to the characters, particularly with regards to the puppet years. It seems to be live-action when people start then associating with the characters much more.
"I think the best I can say is at the core of it is technology and some kind of universal justice. There is right and wrong, and good triumphing over evil. Dad wanted to distil it for years – he was always being asked by people what the secret was and he'd always just shrug his shoulders. I mean, clearly he himself was a huge part of that secret, and then from there it's all the people he worked with, and the ideas, and the zeitgeist of whatever decade he was creating in."
Included in the celebrations on Gerry Anderson Day is the release of new material to streaming platform BritBox, with newly-produced introductions to classic Anderson episodes featuring archive audio of the man himself, plus UK fans can enjoy a five-hour marathon of everything from Supercar (1961-62) to New Captain Scarlet (2005) via Network on Air, those in North America can take part in a 24-hour marathon featuring the likes of Fireball XL5 (1962-63), Joe 90 (1968-69) and Terrahawks (1983-86) among other classics via Shout Factory, while at 10pm, Forces TV will be broadcasting an episode of UFO voted the fans' favourite.
The day itself was also prefaced by a very exciting announcement for Thunderbirds fans in particular, with Anderson Entertainment collaborating with Big Finish on new audiobook adaptations of classic Thunderbirds novels from the 1960s, with further releases based on other Anderson series also in development. With actor David Graham, aged 96, having opted to retire from voicing the role of Lady Penelope's loyal butler and chauffeur Parker, the role will be assumed by Jon Culshaw, with Genevieve Gaunt (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) playing Lady P herself.
"I was certainly a committed Anderson fan, though I’m not sure I ever expected to be playing some of those characters – and yet that’s exactly what’s happened," says Culshaw. "I’ve voiced a number of editions of the Century 21 Tech Talk podcast, which looks at some of the hardware featured across many Anderson shows, as Commander Ed Straker from UFO and as Jeff Tracy from Thunderbirds.
"I’m again playing Jeff Tracy, along with Parker, in this series of audiobooks. I love taking on that Jeff Tracy voice so brilliantly created by Peter Dyneley. Jeff really does have the most heroic voice you’ve ever heard. I love doing Parker too, though he’s a complete contrast, which, I suspect, is the main reason I enjoy doing them both.
"I’m also flattered and delighted that the original Parker, David Graham, has contributed a very generous foreword for this audio book in which he says that, at the age of 96, perhaps it’s time to relax a bit and hand over the reins to a new set of actors. It’s a great honour to be inheriting his chauffeur’s cap."
"I spent a lot of time with the original Thunderbirds series in order to find the idiosyncrasies of Lady Penelope’s voice, originated and performed so beautifully by Sylvia Anderson," says Gaunt. "Lady Penelope’s cool poise, perfect hair, killer outfits, dry wit, courage and unflappable demeanour are all physical traits that are manifest in that voice. One side of her is sleek and sophisticated. But she’s also a spy, a style icon and an independent woman who knows how to use a gun and answers to nobody but herself.
"I recorded my part from my home studio due to the pandemic. Our director Sam Clemens and our sound engineer Benji made it a joyous experience using fantastic audio software. It meant Jon Culshaw – who plays Parker – and I could work together in real time and Parker and Lady Penelope could spark off each other. Jon is a renowned vocal chameleon and also plays Jeff Tracy to my Grandma Tracy – it was great fun to switch into playing a sweet American grandma as well as the cool Lady P."
These audiobooks are far from the only venture helping to keeping the legacy of Gerry Anderson alive – with Jamie as the head of Anderson Entertainment, work is ongoing on a roster of new projects, including a second season of the Anderson-inspired sci-fi drama podcast First Action Bureau (which launched in October 2020), a new animated reboot of Terrahawks, and a new puppet series based on one of Gerry's unmade ideas called Firestorm.
"First Action Bureau is being scripted right now – and it's being scripted with a mind to go beyond audio," Jamie hints. "For the rest, COVID has had some effects on the industry, but that actually gave us some time to do some redevelopment and some extra work and that in turn has awakened opportunities which would otherwise not have been there for Firestorm and Terrahawks. There are endless hurdles, and surprise rug pulls, but they are coming together rather nicely and in a refreshed way. I actually think the pandemic and the delay there has done us some big favours in terms of the stories that we're going to tell."
Looking to the future, many more possibilities exist for new Anderson projects – his father was, Jamie says, "constantly creative" and for every television series or film that made it to the screen, there are dozens of unused or unfinished ideas in the archives that could be revisited in future. "It took me quite some time to go through it all. I kept finding stuff which I didn't know existed, that I'd never of before. There are pilot scripts, there are treatments, there are character designs... all sorts. And they just keep cropping up!"
The man might be gone, but with loyal fans all around the world still celebrating his creations and exciting new projects very much in the offing, it's clear that the legend of Gerry Anderson lives on.