“Anything can happen in the next half hour.” For many of us it was a promise only Gerry Anderson could deliver on as, week after week, we sat enthralled in front of TV screens made huge through the power of Supermarionation, the small screen stretched to its broadest dimensions in an attempt to accommodate the imagination of a man who refused to accept limitations of any kind. No cinema screen would ever look as big.
The Tracy brothers, and the fabulous machines they flew, are part of a zeitgeist that no longer exits. It was an era that produced the Mercury Seven astronauts, after whom the Tracy siblings were named, as well as Moon-shots, lunar buggies and flying cars; a heady amalgam of fact and fantasy that it has been impossible to untangle ever since.
We all knew those machines would be real someday, that they would take to the skies (even the impossibly heavy and un-aerodynamic Thunderbird 2), as International Rescue saved the day, time and again. We were too young to realise how truly glamorous those fantastic machines were. Such a perspective would only come later in life, from the vantage point of accumulating years. By then, to older eyes, the puppet strings would be clearly visible, along with the shaky sets and dodgy special effects.
Such inconsistencies didn’t matter then and they don’t matter now. It was all part of the charm, like the endless appeal of a favourite storybook. Because of Gerry Anderson we all got to fly in space, and steer a jet powered submarine, and defeat the Mysterons and their ominous leader, Captain Black. And all before many of us were ten years old. Not a bad start in life.
And it’s the same start in life that many children still benefit from today, the gentle impetus that will propel some of those youngsters onto a career in engineering, the sciences or astronautics. As a parent who once queued at Hamleys toy store at six a.m. in order to get my hands on a Tracy Island adventure set as a Christmas present for my son, I can testify to the enduring appeal of these shows.
He may be gone now but, like one of his most famous marionettes, Gerry Anderson’s legacy will always be indestructible. FAB, Gerry. Thanks for all the Fun and for all the Blast-offs.
Mark Stewart, FBIS
BIS Honorary Archival Librarian/Editor (Odyssey)