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Supermarionation TV Shows

by James H. Burns

 

One of my favorite memories of the space age, now--

And I may be framing this wrong--

Captain ScarletOne of my favorite memories of being a kid--

Was rushing home, walking home, from First Grade, to catch CAPTAIN SCARLET at 3:30, on WPIX, Channel 11, in suburban New York...

But after all, I had spent my childhood with the creations of Gerry AND Sylvia Anderson, and their so superbly talented collaborators, and puppeteers.

I was born after "Supermarionation" had made its debut, both in Great Britain, and America.

And, when I first saw the TV-news sub-headline, those ridiculous things that run at the bottom of the screen, that I'm pretty sure all of the Tracey boys (from THUNDERBIRDS, of course) would have thought silly, that Anderson had passed:

I immediately reflected on a memory that often plays somewhere in my mind, one of my first solid memories, complete:

Fireball XL5Sitting at the edge of my parents' bed, on a Sunday or Saturday afternoon, with my folks watching along, some space behind, leaning against the headboard, still holding hands, as we enjoyed an episode of FIREBALL XL5. (It would run, in repeats, on its second go-round, locally following RIN-TIN-TIN.)

There was something magical, to me, about that old ITC logo, that magically emblazoned signage, that also evolved during the 1960s.

I learned to learn, when I saw it, that some enchantment would ensue.

Because the Andersons' shows, followed me through my early years..

And helped emblazon them!

Captain ScarletA year or two later, I'd catch STINGRAY, on Channel 11. Somehow I knew this was from the same folks who made the space show I had liked. (Hard to remember now, puppetry of all sorts was kind of everywhere in New York in the 1960s, on local kids shows, CAPTAIN KANGAROO, broadcasts of the George Pal Puppetoons...)

The mute gal disturbed me, a strange image for the Andersons and company to foster on children, but the imagination--and the great effects (still terrific!), kept me glued.

Thunderbirds TV ShowAnd then there was THUNDERBIRDS, early in the morning on WNEW in New York, shown in the half hour format, a lovely way to launch the day, just before heading off to school.

It startles me to realize that I saw ALL of these shows in black and white, and some episodes, I still haven't seen as they were originally filmed. Because in my mind's eye, these programs were always vibrant, brilliant in the aspect of a youngster's wonder.

Remember, I wasn't even seven when I first journeyed to the moon with Captain Scarlet, and Captain Blue.

Friends of mine from Britain are always amazed when they learn I grew up with the Andersons' marionette shows, that everything from SUPERCAR to before JOE 90 had a regular showcase in Manhattan, and other areas of the United States.

But think, now, what it was like, to have the space age unfolding, WHILE these shows were first occuring!

There was some part of me, I'm pretty sure, that thought these series, and others, were actually preparing me for the future that we could have met, had our leaders had a bit more foresight, and faith in tomorrow.

And there we have it.

Just an inkling of the theme I was trying so hard to avoid, but which it seems is inevitable when thinking of Gerry Anderson:

So many elements of loss, of things that might have been, with what the 1960s partially promised, with what he could have been as a producer, what so many fun things were entirely possible.

It took me a long while to even remember my ancient involvement with covering ITC's efforts, some years later.

That was a result of one of my first loves, these shows that still can have so many remarkable moments.

Maybe some part of me was tuned in to what was going on during those last days of December (as Anderson was apparently ailing), although it is far more logical to attribute this to coincidence:

But, just before Christmas, I found myself surfing the net, looking at images of some British Supermarionation toys that I had somehow never seen before.

At times, I think, I am having other people's childhoods, as I scan remembrances of another nation's past.

But there was some kind of celluloid ebullience to many of those 1960s programs, that simply transcends boundaries, and perhaps time.

Had we gone back to the moon, and built our cities in the stars, these ALWAYS would have been our memories.

Which is why with all the Anderson-associated controversies that are nipping at my brain--

I keep remembering how on a midweek in Autumn, I once bounded along the ranges of Mars, sitting safely besides such wonderful agents of Spectrum...

James H. Burns

James H BurnsJames H. (Jim) Burns wrote one of the very first--and perhaps the first?--overall histories of Supermarionation in the United States, in the fifth issue of FANTASTIC FILMS magazine (1978). (He also covered SPACE:1999, and other Anderson series, for the early issues of STARLOG, and other publications.)

Jim, a writer/actor living in New York, was actually a pioneer of the second wave of fantasy and science fiction movie magazines, being one of STARLOG's initial writers, a contributor to several other late 1970s periodicals, and a contributing editor to FANTASTIC FILMS, and PREVUE. (He wrote the earliest of these articles, when he was THIRTEEN...!) Burns was also a key figure in many of the era's North Eastern comic book and STAR TREK conventions. Jim was one of the field's first writers to cross over to such mainstream fare as GENTLEMAN'S QUARTERLY, ESQUIRE, and AMERICAN FILM, while still contributing to such genre stalwarts as CINEFANTASTIQUE, STARBURST, HEAVY METAL and TWILIGHT ZONE magazines. More recently, Burns has made several contributions to Off-Broadway, and Broadway productions, become active in radio, and written Op-Eds, or features, for NEWSDAY, THE VILLAGE VOICE, THESPORTINGNEWS.COM and THE NEW YORK TIMES.)

You can read more of Jim's articles here at TV Party, and at The Thunder Child website.

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