Shopping News: Invasion of the Money Snatchers

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The Independent Culture
SCARLET fever is here. This month, 26 years after its first screening, BBC 2 is showing all 32 episodes of Captain Scarlet. On Friday nights at 6pm, a new generation of earthchildren will tune in to the adventures of the indestructible hero. But even more terrifying than anything the Mysterons could dream up is the scale of the merchandising.

When Thunderbirds exploded on to our screens again two years ago, manufacturers were caught with their space trousers round their ankles. The programme was an enormous - and unexpected - success, attracting audiences of 5m-7m. Matchbox brought out its range of Thunderbirds toys and Tracy Island models in time for the next year's repeats; even then they were taken aback by the demand.

'It wasn't like the Turtles or the wrestling figures, which kids loved and parents loathed,' says Alan Bennie - who has now left Matchbox to help set up Vivid Imaginations, makers of the new Scarlet toys. 'There was a huge adult nostalgia effect. For the first time, there was a really hot toy that children wanted and that their parents wanted to buy for them.' By Christmas, there was scarcely a rocket left in the shops, Tracy Island was more elusive than Atlantis, and parents were reduced to making their own island out of toilet rolls and yogurt pots, courtesy of Blue Peter. One week the programme received 90,000 letters requesting instruction leaflets and the Blue Peter Makes a Tracy Island video became a bestseller in its own right.

Others are dreaming of a Scarlet Christmas. 'It's going to be like Jurassic Park,' predicts the London toy shop Hamleys, where dinosaurs are once again on the road to extinction. 'We expect Captain Scarlet will be hugely popular both with youngsters and grown-up boys, the 'I didn't have it then, so I'm going to have it now' brigade.'

The list of other Captain Scarlet merchandise runs to 10 pages. The devoted fan will be able to dress in Scarlet bedroom slippers; wake up to a Scarlet talking alarm clock ('This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know you can hear us, Earthmen'); lunch on Scarlet fromage frais and snuggle down under a Scarlet duvet.

Fortunes are likely to be made. Not by Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet and a galaxy of other cult TV classics, but by ITC Entertainment Group Limited, which owns the series rights. As one might expect of a man who has spent much of his life in the 21st century, Anderson is not one to dwell on the past. According to Simon Archer's Fab Facts (HarperCollins pounds 5.99, published tomorrow) a new Anderson TV series is in production, to be followed by shows from the master's own new production company. 'I always live for the future,' he says.

(Photographs omitted)