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Gerry Anderson
1929 - 2012

Gerald Alexander Anderson was an English television and film producer, director, writer and occasional voice artist, who is known for his futuristic television programmes, especially his 1960s productions filmed with Supermarionation puppets (marionette puppets containing electric moving parts). He was educated at Kingsgate Infants School in Kilburn and Braintcroft Junior and Senior schools in Neasden, prior to winning a scholarship to Willesden County Grammar School. On 16 October 1952, Anderson married Betty Wrightman (1929–2021). They had two daughters, Linda (b. 1954) and Joy (b. 1957).

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At the start of the Second World War, Gerry Anderson's elder brother, Lionel, volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force; he was stationed in the United States for advanced training. Lionel often wrote letters to his family, and in one letter described a US Army Air Forces air base called Thunderbird Field, the name of which stayed in his younger brother's memory. Lionel was killed in action on 27 April 1944 when his de Havilland Mosquito was shot down over the Netherlands. Anderson found it all too easy to write about aircraft when he devised stories for Thunderbirds. After completing his military service, he returned to Gainsborough, where he worked until the studio was closed in 1950. He then worked freelance on a series of feature films.

Anderson, ProvisReg Hill and John Read formed Pentagon Films in 1955. Pentagon was wound up soon after and Anderson and Provis formed a new company, AP Films. Anderson's first television production was the 1957 Roberta Leigh children's series The Adventures of Twizzle (1957–58) about a doll with the ability to 'twizzle' his arms and legs to greater lengths. It was Anderson's first work with puppets, and the start of his long and successful collaborations with puppeteer Christine Glanville, special effects technician Derek Meddings and composer/arranger Barry Gray. Torchy the Battery Boy (1960), and Four Feather Falls (1960) followed. Four Feather Falls was the first Anderson series to use an early version of the so-called Supermarionation process, though this term had yet to be used. Supercar (1961–62) and Fireball XL5 (1962–63) came next, both series breaking into the U.S. television market in the early 1960s.

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In the mid-1960s Anderson produced his most successful series, Thunderbirds. Other television productions of the period included Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Joe 90. AP Films got into financial trouble and the company was struggling to find a buyer for their new puppet series. They were rescued by a fortuitous meeting with Lew Grade, the Associated Television (ATV) boss who offered to buy the show. This began a long friendship and a very successful professional association between the two men. The new series, Supercar, (1960–61) was developed by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and Reg Hill based on a story written by Sylvia Anderson and marked several important advances for APF. Sylvia took on a larger role and became a partner in the company. The series was also the official debut of Supermarionation, the electronic system that made the marionettes more lifelike and convincing on screen.

The system used the audio signal from pre-recorded tapes of the actors' voices to trigger solenoids installed in the heads of the puppets, making their lips move in synchronisation with the voices of the actors, and actresses. The next series by APF was the futuristic space adventure Fireball XL5 (1962). Around this time, Anderson also saw his Supermarionation style attract imitators—most notably Space Patrol (US title: Planet Patrol) which used similar techniques and was made by several former employees and associates of Anderson, including Arthur Provis and Roberta Leigh. After the completion of Fireball XL5, Lew Grade offered to buy AP Films. Although Anderson was initially reluctant, the deal eventually went ahead, with Grade becoming the managing director, and the Andersons, Hill, and Read becoming directors of the company.

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Shortly after Lew Grade bought AP films, production began on a new marionette series, Stingray (1964), the first Supermarionation-based British TV series to be filmed in colour. For the new production APF moved to new studios in Slough. The new and bigger facilities allowed them to make major improvements in special effects, notably in the underwater sequences, as well as advances in marionette technology, with the use of a variety of interchangeable heads for each character to convey different expressions. APF's next project for ATV was inspired by a mining disaster that occurred in West Germany in October 1963. This real-life drama inspired Anderson to create a new programme format about a rescue organisation, which eventually became his most famous and popular series, Thunderbirds (1965–1966). The dramatic title was inspired by the letter Anderson's older brother Lionel had written to his family during World War II.

Production on Thunderbirds had been under way for several months when Grade saw the completed 25-minute version of "Trapped in the Sky". He was so excited by the result that he insisted that the episodes be extended to fifty minutes. At this approximate time, APF was renamed Century 21 Productions. During the production of Thunderbirds the Andersons' marriage began to come under increasing strain, and the company also had a setback when the feature film Thunderbirds Are GO surprisingly flopped. In later interviews, Anderson said that he considered divorce, but this was halted when Sylvia announced that she was pregnant. Their son, Gerry Anderson Jr., was born in July 1967. By that time, production had started on a new series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967), which saw the advent of more realistic marionette characters which, thanks to improvements in electronics which allowed miniaturisation of the lip-sync mechanisms, could now be built closer to normal human proportions.

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The Andersons' marriage broke down during the first series of Space 1999 in 1975; Gerry announced his intention to separate on the evening of the wrap party. Sylvia severed her ties with Group Three, and, to alleviate his financial plight, Anderson sold his share of the profits from the APF/Century 21 shows and their holiday home in Portugal to Lew Grade. By the late 1970s, Anderson's life and career were at a low point: he was in financial difficulty, found it hard to get work, and he experienced family difficulties. By December 1980, Gerry and Sylvia's marriage was officially over, and they divorced. In 1981. By December 1999, Anderson was working on plans for a sequel to Captain Scarlet, and he showed early test reels at a few fan conventions. He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2001 Birthday Honours for services to Animation.

New Captain Scarlet finally premiered in the UK in February 2005. The show cost £23 million to produce and was the most expensive children's programme ever to be made in the UK (until Ragdoll's In the Night Garden came out 2 years later). In June 2012 it was reported that Anderson had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Anderson died in his sleep on 26 December 2012. The news was announced on his son Jamie's website, who wrote, "I'm very sad to announce the death of my father, Thunderbirds creator, Gerry Anderson. He died peacefully in his sleep at midday today (26th December 2012), having suffered with mixed dementia for the past few years. He was 83."

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