This is my personal tribute to a man who moulded my childhood and perhaps even more importantly, the most recent years of my life. There are plenty of detailed and informative accounts of his life and career for fans to read, and I think we are all aware of his background, of his early years and his difficult childhood, the loss of his brother in the war. But one sentence from his biography stands out: ‘It wasn’t until I joined the RAF that I owned my first set of new clothes and made my first real friends.’ There is a world of sadness behind those words.
As a child I always believed that Gerry loved working with puppets, and it was his enthusiasm for them that made him create some of the best loved TV shows of my youth. I have to say I was somewhat amazed to learn, much later on, that Gerry hated them, because his work was always of such high quality that his dislike never revealed itself. As a child, even as a teenager, it would have tarnished my image of the great man.
Like many fans, I grew up with Stingray and Thunderbirds, and later Captain Scarlet. While other teenagers had pictures of pop and film stars on the inside of their desks (wooden desks with lift-up lids and inkwells!) I had pictures of explosions drawn by John Bellamy from the Thunderbirds comic strips. (Ed Bishop didn’t appear until later!) I bought the EP records, the novels, the posters. The characters were my friends, my escape in some respects.
All those early puppet shows gave families the opportunity to believe in a world that was brighter, and more hopeful, where courage and daring deeds were lauded, where handsome young men (okay, they were puppets, but you know what I mean) risked their lives to explore space and protect the whole world from danger, with no thought for monetary reward or the current obsessions with health and safety. And after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 we really needed something to brighten our lives instead of a world filled with nuclear bombs and the seemingly constant threat of destruction.
Fireball XL5 was just that, a chance to see the bright future that was waiting out there and it was followed by Stingray and then Thunderbirds; each time a step forward into the future filled with mobile and video phones and such unimaginable gadgetry as chutes that slid people to waiting aircraft. Huge rescue craft, submarines that could go deeper than anyone had been before, reusable space ships. Totally unbelievable. And yet we all believed in it.
Gerry Anderson gave us more than a weekly adventure into a world of wonders and imagination. He gave us hope and inspiration and dreams. How many of his fans developed an interest in space exploration simply because we wanted to sit in the cockpit of Thunderbird 3 and travel with Alan, or we had watched the women on Moonbase and dreamed of one day walking there? Our ‘real’ world was, at the time, full of short brutal conflicts and the constant threat of nuclear war from other countries, but Gerry Anderson showed us atomic power could be a force for good, not evil, (although it did have its disadvantages, as we saw in ‘Trapped in the Sky’!). His vision was of a world uniting to fight a common enemy, whether it was disasters or strange races such as the ‘aquaphibians’ or the Mysterons or even those unfathomable aliens in UFO.
Looking back, it was watching Thunderbirds that developed my interest in science fiction, space exploration and the future. And the future looked great. And it is.
Recently I read that 2012 was, so far, the greatest year in the history of the world. People are living longer, there is less disease, hunger and poverty, fewer people dying from malaria or Aids and although there are times when everything seems dark and gloomy and selfish, perhaps we should get out our dvds and watch as the Tracy brothers risk their lives to save three people trapped in an underground subway, or Ed Straker does the same to save Paul Foster.
Yes, we should mourn the loss of Gerry Anderson, as we mourned the loss of Neil Armstrong and Dolores Mantez and Sir Patrick Moore, but we should also rejoice that he left us a wonderful and unforgettable legacy of hope and joy and childish delight, no matter how old you are.
Thank you Gerry. For everything.
Photo of Gerry at Forbidden Planet by kind permission of Mr Sven Klinge http://www.londonbytes.wordpress.com