Outside Edge: Mysterons beware

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The Independent Culture
FRANCIS MATTHEWS still get requests for signed photographs. But the face and the signature they require do not belong to the distinguished 63-year-old actor; the photographs he obligingly sends by return of post are of a television puppet, and the words he scribbles across his square-cut jaw read 'Captain Scarlet'.

Matthews was the voice of Captain Scarlet in 32 episodes of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons between September 1967 and May 1968. His brook-no-evil tones will be heard once again as the series returns to BBC2 from this evening at 6pm. It was Gerry Anderson, the creator of Thunderbirds, who invited Matthews to help Scarlet and the world security organisation Spectrum fight the Mysterons from Mars.

Battle plans were drawn up. Matthews was to report to Colonel White, and he was expected to work in partnership with Captain Blue. Unlike Spectrum's other colour-coded agents, Captain Scarlet was indestructible. This happy circumstance made him Spectrum's key asset in the fight against the Mysterons, whose only visible manifestations - with the exception of the traitorous Captain Black, a former Spectrum agent - were the spooky circles that crept over their victims as they prepared to strike.

Matthews took on the part safe in the knowledge that he would not be typecast: he had already achieved a degree of television fame as private investigator Paul Temple, and for most of the Scarlet run he was appearing in Noel Coward's Private Lives in Manchester. But Matthews has never lost his Captain's status in the eyes of the show's fans, whose numbers have been swelling as the television nostalgia cult takes a Mysteron-like hold of the imaginations of a new generation of viewers. Letters still regularly arrive from devotees around the world.

Captain Scarlet was never just a children's show hero. Such was his appeal that he once even guested on Bob Monkhouse's The Golden Shot, the off-screen voice filling the studio with those familiar mid-Atlantic tones. (Matthews says Gerry Anderson originally asked him to give voice to Scarlet after seeing him in a show in which he impersonated Cary Grant.)

Matthews, however, remains indifferent to the role: it doesn't warrant a mention on his CV. He usually avoids the subject: 'It's simply very difficult to find something to say about it that's interesting.' He may, however, succumb to nostalgia and watch the re-runs. 'We took the mickey out of them all the time,' he says, before dropping a bombshell that will have purists running for cover, 'We used to get stoned in the pub at lunchtime and go back and record some more.'

(Photograph omitted)