He was Britain’s master of puppets, the creator of much-loved television shows including Thunderbirds and Stingray, whose groundbreaking use of marionettes was a source of wonder to generations of children.
Gerry Anderson, whose science fiction programmes won him legions of fans all over the world, died today aged 83. His son, Jamie, said he passed away at a care home at midday. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s since 2010 and the disease had worsened in recent months.
A producer, director and writer, Anderson worked in television for more than 60 years and as recently as six months ago had hoped to work on a new series of Thunderbirds, the show which brought him global fame.
“I think a light has gone out in the universe,” actor Brian Blessed, who worked with Anderson on shows including The Day After Tomorrow and Space: 1999, told the BBC. “He had a great sense of humour. He wasn’t childish but child-like and he had a tremendous love of the universe and astronomy and scientists. He got their latest theories, which he would expand on. He was always galvanised and full of energy.”
Broadcaster Jonathan Ross also paid tribute, writing: “For men of my age his work made childhood an incredible place to be.” While comedian Eddie Izzard added: “What a great creation Thunderbirds was, as it fuelled the imagination of a generation.”
Anderson became a household name in Britain after the success of Thunderbirds, which brought the puppets of Jeff Tracy, Brains and Lady Penelope into the nation’s living rooms and popularised the catchphrases “Thunderbirds are go!” and “FAB”.
Anderson, who was born in Hampstead in North London, was initially going to become an architect until he discovered he was allergic to plaster. Instead, he began work in a photographic studio and was soon attracted to films, setting up AP Films with colleagues from Polytechnic Studios and producing puppet series The Adventures of Twizzle.
In the early 1960s, backed by Lew Grade at British broadcasters ATV, Anderson created shows including Fireball XL5, Stingray and then Thunderbirds. The latter was so successful it was made into a film, Thunderbirds Are Go, in 1966, with a sequel the following year. This was followed by Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, and Space: 1999.
Every time Thunderbirds was repeated, Anderson would receive sacks of mail, his son Jamie said, and he would often be recognised in the street. “The stories were charming, and the formula just worked. The rockets and the gadgets were always fun for kids as well.”
However, Jamie also recalled that his father “hated the puppets” as they were a “pain in the arse”, and sometimes felt he had been pigeon-holed into being a marionette director, when he felt he could also work in live action.
Thunderbirds was turned into a live action movie in 2004, which had no involvement from Anderson. “He was very upset by that movie,” his son said. He leaves three children from former marriages Joy, Linda and Gerry Junior, as well as Jamie and his widow, Mary.
Nick Williams, chairman of Fanderson, the official appreciation society for Anderson, said: “To those who met him, Gerry was a quiet, unassuming but determined man. Gerry’s legacy is that he inspired so many people and continues to bring so much joy to so many millions around the world.”