Friday, December 28, 2012

Gerry Anderson (And My Father) Remembered

FAB FRIDAY is a simple tribute to the man that was the one and only Gerry Anderson through reflections of his influence on my own childhood and as it turns out my father too.

Thunderbirds [1965-1966] was created before I came along.  Somewhere along the way I lived for the program in syndication as a child in the 1970s.  The lure of those International Rescue vehicles and the scope of adventure led by the Tracy family thrilled me to no end.  For a series that lasted for just two series with series two just six episodes in total, it has easily endured.  Thunderbirds still looks amazing today.  When I take time to analyze an episode for the regularly featured FAB FRIDAY [a highlighted slot here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic which shall continue in honor of all things Gerry Anderson], I'm blown away by the craftsmanship of Derek Meddings and company and the people the soft-spoken, gentle Gerry Anderson enabled and supported to create these influential science fiction masterpieces populated by iconic images.   Drawings like this one from Dannyphantom300 were not uncommon as children.

The sheer ingenuity and imagination that went into every ounce of those ships inspired me as a fan of science fiction throughout my life.  Thunderbirds was indeed one of the first series to truly excite my own imagination in those formative years as a child.  Thunderbirds pointed me to other creations like Lost In Space, Star Trek, Space:1999 and Battle Of The Planets, just to name a few of the worlds populated with wonderful designs and eerie space adventure.

In fact, as grew up and eventually discovered Space:1999 [1975-1977] a little later I definitely never put it together that it was a production brought to life by the mind of the same man.

I missed UFO [1970-1971] for whatever reason, a live action adventure that, looking back, feels very much like the natural bridge between the realm of Supermarionation and the adult science fiction of Space:1999.  The vibrant colors, fine live performances coupled by those Thunderbirds-like mechanical creations by its creative team in the form of the underwater/aircraft Skydiver certainly makes sense today and UFO was indeed a natural link between two of the biggest science fiction impacts on my young life.

But Thunderbirds is where it happened first.  I remember the arrival of some of the die cast Dinky and Matchbox creations.  I was desperate as a young boy to get one of them.  It was around Christmas time and my father, a military veteran, belonged to one of those American legion posts where veterans could gather, have a drink and spend some time with those who shared a history.  It was never the funnest of places to go to be honest, but for whatever reason it gave my father comfort to spend time there and I got to be with my Dad.  I suppose in some ways this is as much a tribute to him as it is to Anderson.  My father was a good man.  He did things for me that to him never seemed like a big deal but were much bigger than he knew.  He would take me to comic book conventions on Sundays in some not-so-desirable of places in the city.  He took me to see Godzilla Vs. Megalon [1973] when it finally arrived here in the United States.  He stopped at all kinds of drug stores on our travels so that I could pick up the latest issues of The Hulk, Fantastic Four or The X-Men.  He never once complained that he was taking me.  He just sort of did it.  Maybe he knew it made me happy and it was his free ticket to the restaurant of his choice to follow for a few drinks.  We always frequented the same Italian restaurants after a visit to the American legion.  We didn't have an ounce of Italian in us, but we knew good spaghetti and meatballs or choice chicken parmigiana with the best of them.  But my sweet father never minded taking me on these crazy weekend jaunts with my brother that I had quietly cooked up in my tiny little head.  To him I'm forever grateful for those memories together.

So every Christmas Santa Claus would come into the legion post, and he was never the greatest looking Santa, always a little dishevelled, a little red eye and a hint of liquor on the old beard.  But on that day it seemed liked every veteran had their child or grandchild there.  Each parent brought a gift for their child.  The gift was given to Santa who then gave the gift to the child.  In other words, the parents did all the work and Santa got all the credit.  And for whatever reason we were none the wiser.  Needless to say, Christmas time at the legion post was a glorious day and one of the few highlight visits to the post of the year for kids.  Otherwise, it was a fairly dreary place, but like I said, it made my Dad comfortable.  Who didn't want to escape to Tracy Island? 

We couldn't wait for Santa to arrive.  It was very much a Ralphie-like feeling.  It was A Christmas Story moment all the way.  When the gift was given, wrapping paper flew about and ricocheted off walls faster than a gun drawn in a Mexican standoff. Lo and behold, upon opening the gift one year, it was like the lights of heavens were shining down upon me.  There it was, a shiny, blue [by God blue and beautiful] Thunderbird 2.  It's four plastic red legs would pop down.  The center pod could then also be triggered to detach and fall to the ground.  Inside the all-metal, little unit was a wee tiny, plastic Thunderbird 4.  It was nothing fancy, but it was the coolest little piece of plastic you ever did see. It was Christmas nirvana.  Heaven on Earth had arrived and I was in possession of perhaps one of the great toys in all of kiddom to spin a Ralphie phrase.

As a young boy, T2 was my favorite and perhaps T4, by the very virtue of the fact it could thrust through water [in the bathtub with me].  The fact T4 was plastic meant it could go underwater and be part of endless adventures along with whatever other toys, figures, cups or other bathtub-like oddities I could muster.  I could also play with it and keep T2 safely from the water.  I was a bit anal with toys.

But, yes, those were the days and while that simple little toy couldn't have cost very much it honestly seemed like someone had gift-wrapped a bar of solid gold.  With the scarcity of the blue T2 being what it is today it might as well be.  Back in the day toys like that were something truly special and are even more special today.

Years later, as I grew, Anderson's Space:1999 caught my full attention.  It was much darker and I was still young and impressionable, but like so many kids, understood the depth of the series in ways adults never give kids credit.  Episodes ranged from thrilling to eerie, scary to downright horrific, but I loved Space: 1999 and still do.  It was hardly a rip off of Star Trek, which was an unfair criticism it received back in the day.  It felt very different even as a kid.  There was something entirely remote about it.  There was a sense of isolation and loneliness about it that kids could understand. I worried for Commander Koenig and the residents of Moonbase Alpha as they tackled the unknown.  I worried about them in ways I never worried about the crew of the Enterprise.  I wanted to jump through the screen and hold on to Koenig's leg too out of good old-fashioned fear and terror.

Sometime around 1988, I remember walking the streets of Bath, England I think.  I remember looking in the window of an antique store and seeing a perfect, new in the box Eagle One in, yes, you guessed it, glorious blue.  What was with all of these alternate universe blue diecast creations?  I'm not sure, but I loved them.  I really wanted to purchase it but it was selling for something like 100 pounds sterling.  I couldn't justify it at the time.  I don't know about you, but occasionally I regret not buying something that I passed by, and for me, this was one of those times.

Of course, much of the splendid design work from my two favorite Gerry Anderson creations have been reproduced by Production Enterprise and other companies since then and to even greater effect with more lovingly assembled detail and fantastic molding processes.  It's hard to beat the poorly conceived classic toys of the era though.

Yes, Gerry Anderson made quite a mark on many of us and I'm forever grateful for the wholesome and vibrant influence he had on my childhood.  His presence will be sadly missed by those that knew him well I'm sure, but his shows will live on, perhaps to the end of eternity.  I know Anderson's work will for me and FAB FRIDAY will sincerely continue to remember and showcase his legacy.


le0pard13 said...

Kudos for this, SFF

jdigriz said...

Well said SFF. When I was a kid, my bottom bunk was the cockpit of Sky 1 or an Interceptor, and a pair of kitchen tongs were the controls. 40 years later, I still feel like a kid watching U.F.O. or Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. Think I'll watch Thunderbirds are Go tonight.RIP Mr. Anderson.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you.

Kitchen tongs... Brilliant. I think we used fallen sticks but I love kitchen tongs.

Oh and I had a bunk bed as well. Talk about fantastic fun!