Calling International Rescue – one of our puppets is missing. A nationwide appeal was launched yesterday by Gerry Anderson, the creator of Thunderbirds, to find one of his favourite creations. Lady Penelope, Parker and Captain Scarlet are safe and sound, but the producer is determined to find one of his proudest achievements – private detective Dick Spanner.
"I know the whereabouts of everything [else], but Dick Spanner defeats me, although I know he's out there somewhere. If The Independent on Sunday's readers could help track him down for me I would be very happy indeed," the veteran producer said last night.
Missing for 20 years, Dick Spanner was the solo star of a low-budget animation series, using cardboard sets, that has developed a cult following. Mr Anderson said finding the puppet would "make his year". Dick Spanner starred in 22 six-minute episodes shown on Channel 4's Network Seven TV programme in the mid-Eighties.
Described as the "world's strangest private investigator", the cheap-looking plastic and wood robot-like creation could not be further from the eerily realistic puppets of Thunderbirds fame. But Dick Spanner's dry humour and wordplay – voiced by Shane Rimmer, the actor who immortalised Scott Tracy – makes him close to Mr Anderson's heart. "He's a one-off," says the producer, "and the closest to my own sense of humour. It used to crease me up every time a new script came in."
Renewed interest in the show has prompted the release of the series on DVD this week, so that whoever has the original puppet could be sitting on a gold mine, according to Sarah Hodgson, an expert in entertainment memorabilia for Christie's. "Gerry Anderson creations are very collectable, so when they do come on to the market they can fetch large sums of money," she said.
In 2001, the original Parker fetched £38,000 at auction and Mr Anderson said original puppets would go for upwards of £60,000 today. Even original drawings from the series command large sums, some making £4,500 each at Bonhams in London last year.
Despite finding fame and fortune through his creations, the 78-year-old producer found working with puppets "humiliating" at first. "I never wanted to make puppet films," he said. "When I saw my first puppet it was this horrible looking thing made of papier mâché and operated on thick black cord – all my dreams of being a famous director were shattered. I really wanted to make live-action films."
Mr Anderson condemned a 2004 film of Thunderbirds as "absolute rubbish", turning down $750,000 to endorse the flop. Attempts to make a comeback with a multimillion-pound series of Captain Scarlet for Granada TV in 2005 were destroyed by what he called "shameful" scheduling.
He hopes that his dream of remaking the Thunderbirds series with live human characters could become a reality. Discussions have been held with ITV – headed by Sir Michael Grade, whose uncle, Sir Lew, was one of Anderson's backers in the Sixties.
He admits that this ambition borders on the obsessive: "I think about it before I go to sleep and first thing in the morning when I wake up. I'm absolutely desperate and would give my right arm to do this. "
Dawn Airey, ITV's director of global content, was tight-lipped but confirmed: "We do have the rights to Thunderbirds. It's an asset that we have and we're looking into it."
Estimated value £10,000.
'He was a Humphrey Bogart character, and it was all a play on words'
Estimated value £65,000.
'We wanted a lady with the qualities that Princess Diana came to symbolise'
Estimated value £40,000.
'I wanted him to look clean-cut, a wholesome man who was glamorous'
Estimated value £70,000.
'We wanted a face that would give us a chance to write comedy'
Estimated value £30,000.
'With Joe 90 I recruited a lad to do the voice, not a woman as we had before'
Estimated value £60,000.
'He was the heart-throb of all the boys, and he was a puppet!'