Eyes had it as puppets ruled on TV

By Grant Harding

Television was such a new phenomenon in 1960s Hawke's Bay that my first conscious memory is of my father walking down the drive with two boxes under his arms, and my elder sister and brother racing towards him, screaming with excitement.

In one box was a Shacklock heater, in the other the object of their manic behaviour - a brand new black and white TV. Life would never be the same again.

That TV, which sat atop wooden legs, took pride of place in our small living room until colour television came to New Zealand in time for the Christchurch Commonwealth Games in 1974.

From time to time, Len Walsh, the TV repair man, would come to sort poor reception. It always seemed to be due to "interference" between Caroline Rd and Mt Erin, or easily fixed.

They were simple times of one channel, and alongside classics such as Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes, Mr Ed and The Lone Ranger, any child of that time will remember the British sci-fi hit Thunderbirds. And even more clearly its famous catchphrase, "Thunderbirds are go!"

The genius behind the realistic puppet series was Briton Gerry Anderson, who died in England on Boxing Day.

Anderson's then wife, Sylvia, was also a major player in their business, even voicing the character of Lady Penelope.

Ironically, I began writing a column on Wednesday featuring reference to a later Andersons' show.

Personally, I was often terrified by Thunderbirds, especially the piercing eyes of some of the puppet characters. In hindsight, my lengthy periods behind the couch were the result of the realistic qualities of supermarionation, a puppetry technique using thin wires to control marionettes, brought to the small screen for the first time.

The series, set in the 21st century, followed the adventures of International Rescue, a secretive organisation created to help those in grave danger, using technically advanced equipment and machinery. It focused on the head of the organisation, ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy, and his five sons, who piloted the "Thunderbird" craft. Lady Penelope was International Rescue's London agent.

It was perfect for the times. Equally, there is no doubt that much future animation work in television and film was influenced by Anderson's work, which continued with other series such as Captain Scarlet and Joe 90. Not to mention their early appreciation of merchandising.

The series made the Andersons world famous, and it retained a huge and dedicated international following that spanned several generations thanks to re-runs.

The 1960s were a golden time in British creative endeavour, and Gerry Anderson's name sits amongst the finest pioneers of that time. His skills travelled the world, reaching to New Zealand where he sometimes disturbed a small Hastings boy.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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