Judith Shutt was best known for her puppetry skills working alongside a host of talented people on Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds. Her interest in puppets started when she was 9 years old whilst on holiday with her family back in 1951. At a loss for something to do on a rainy afternoon at a seaside town the Shutt family decided to visit a show, in fact The Laurey Puppet Show. Little did the young Judith Shutt know the significance this visit would have on her future.
The Laureys would become well known for their TV character ‘Mr. Turnip’, but more importantly Joy Laurey and her company was invited to join Gerry Anderson’s fledging organisation as both puppet makers and operators for The Adventures Of Twizzle. As they left the Laurey show the Shutts spotted a poster advertising a puppet exhibition in Russell Square, London organised by the British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild. They went along and were smitten. Her parents joined the Guild and whilst her father, an engineer, started making puppets, mum, a dress designer, made their clothes. The first engagement of The Shutt Marionettes was at a street party to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation.
They decided a new name was needed: Judith’s dad came up with the name MEJANDES – Muriel (Mum), Ernest (Dad) Judith AND Ernest Shutt. The whole family rapidly became involved with all aspects of putting a puppet show together. At another puppet exhibition she was offered regular seasonal work as a Pelham Puppet demonstrator at the Hamleys toy store in London. It was around this time that she was approached by fellow Guild member Christine Glanville. Christine asked Judith if she would be interested in applying for a job as a floor puppeteer at AP Films. The new series was Fireball XL5 on which she soon found herself working with both Christine and Mary Turner.
Judith progressed on to Stingray and Thunderbirds and by this time was helping in all aspects of puppet production and operating, even managing her own ‘on screen’ appearances. Whenever a close up was needed of hands that needed intricate movement it was Judith’s hand in shot for the close-up – picking up Lady Penelope’s teapot is a good example. After Thunderbirds, Judith obtained a PSV licence to drive minicabs for a friend’s coach company. In 1969 she returned to TV production when Mary Turner asked her to join them on their first ITC commission, The Adventures Of Rupert Bear.
By 1978 and only 36 years old she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Fatigue became a problem and in 1981 she had to stop working. Judith also remained a respected voice in British Puppetry with her tireless work behind the scenes for the British Puppet Guild. Her last public appearance was at RAF Cosford’s Flights of Fantasy event in 2014, though she had also already recorded a nostalgic trip back down memory lane with some of her former colleagues from the APF days for the Filmed In Supermarionation documentary.
These last words are from Judith herself (speaking in 2011) “l’m always amazed by people’s reactions when they find out I used to work Lady Penelope. She’s such an icon and, for men of a certain age, a sex symbol. A friend once invited Judith and Mary Turner to a 50th birthday party and asked them to bring Lady P. When the ‘special guest’ was announced you could have heard a pin drop, all the men were kneeling down on the floor desperate to have their picture taken with her. It was incredible. She can make grown men go weak at the knees.”