"Well, if you've ever been hungry... We desperately needed the money.
We'd started this company, we were on the point of bankruptcy, we were all
very, very downhearted. We knew we had to close the company. Then somebody came
along and said would you make a television series and we said Yes! Yes! Yes!.
It was only later in the conversation that Roberta Leigh said it's got to be
made with puppets. Well I'd hardly seen a puppet in my life. I'd never touched
one. I didn't know how they worked. I thought it was an absolute disaster. But
of course now my wife Mary often says to me, 'If you look at all the programmes
made on world television over the last 35 years there's nothing that looks like
your puppet shows'."
I'd hardly seen a puppet in my life. I'd never
touched one. I didn't know how they worked. I thought it was an absolute
The Adventures of Twizzle
was a success and one thing
led to another--including Supercar
(1960) the first of many
shows backed by the legendary TV mogul Lew Grade.
"It's very difficult to make puppets do anything believably," Anderson
reflects. "As we progressed we found new ways, tricks and innovations to either
get them to do things or make it look as though they were doing things. But the
one problem that was totally insurmountable was getting them to walk. That's
why I came up with the idea of Supercar
. I thought, if we fit
them in a car and whiz them around at great speed the puppets will just have to
sit there but the show will move very fast. The show came out and it worked and
I was very pleased with the format. Then I would meet friends and they would
say, 'Hi Gerry, I see you're into science fiction now'. And I would say, 'Am
I?' And really, I was as naive as that. From then on if I went to see Lew Grade
he expected science fiction. He wouldn't back anything else."
The next project Grade backed was
a space adventure called Fireball XL5
(1962). Another success,
this led to a major breakthrough with
first UK TV show in colour, and one which with its underwater setting presented
particular technical challenges, as Anderson recalls.
"We built an aquarium which stood on a stand so the bottom was about
four feet off the ground. The aquarium was only six inches (15 cm) in depth.
Behind it we would put a paper cyclorama on which we painted the seabed, and we
put in a couple of rocks and a bit of sand, and we would light that with a
revolving disc which had irregular-shaped holes cut in it so as it revolved
slowly it made the water look as if it was twinkling. Then we would put fish in
the aquarium, and the trick was that the fish were all the same species, but we
had big fish and baby fish, and we then filmed through the aquarium and the
fish looked as if they went way back into the distance. Then we would 'fly'
Stingray behind the aquarium on wires, so it never got wet. We never actually
filmed underwater at all."
We would "fly" Stingray behind the
aquarium on wires, so it never got wet. We never actually filmed underwater at
Anderson's follow-up show, and
personal favourite, was
The success of the series lead to two spin-off feature films, themselves highly
successful. Though Anderson was back working for the big screen the second
resulted in the most nerve-wracking period of his professional life. One of the
highlights of the film is a sequence in which a an old Great War tiger moth
biplane makes an emergency landing on the M4. Anderson takes up the story:
"We applied for permission to fly a tiger moth under a bridge on a part
of the M4 that had been completed but wasn't yet open. It was a hell of a job
getting permission, but they said we couldn't fly under the bridge. What we
could do was put the tiger moth's wheels down on the motorway, keep the tail
up, taxi under the bridge and then take off again. We paid the police to be
present. We hired our own private fire service. And the woman flying the tiger
moth was a lady called Joan Hughes who was a great flyer. During the war she
was an ATA pilot, picking up all kinds of aircraft from the factories and
flying them to RAF airfields.
"She came in to fly under the
bridge only to be caught by a crosswind, and so obviously to counter the
crosswind she had to steer the aircraft somewhat into the wind. So she was
flying in a crabbing motion and she realised that because the aircraft was
angled that had she touched down the aircraft would have cartwheeled. So she
flew under. Our production manager was immediately arrested, and while he was
saying 'We didn't intend to do that, it's all a mistake', there was a shout
from the camera crews, 'Here she comes again!' And all the camera crews rushed
to their cameras and she flew under a second time and the production manager
was carted off and was charged with 17 counts, each one carrying a potential
six months in prison. He elected to go to trial by jury. We built a miniature
motorway to take to the court so they could see what happened, and then the
cleverest thing of all was that the jury were taken to see the picture. The
verdict was Not Guilty."
Our production manager was immediately
arrested, and while he was saying "We didn't intend to do that, it's all a
mistake", there was a shout from the camera crews, "Here she comes
Given the success of Anderson's shows its surprising to realise that
hardly any of them ran for more than a single season. Put it down to the
vagaries of US TV.
"First let me say, Lew Grade is probably one of the nicest men I've ever
met in my life. I would never say a word against him. What happened is simply
this: it's very, very difficult to sell a British show to America. Whatever the
Americans might say, they are very nationalistic and they didn't really want
foreign shows over there. So Lew in particular had to work very hard to get a
sale in America and I had a studio which had 250 people on the payroll and so I
had to keep working. It was quite difficult to go to Lew and say 'We've just
finished this series, can we go on immediately and make another?' And he'd say,
'Hang on a minute, I haven't even sold it yet!' Once he had sold it, it was
difficult for him to go straight back and say, 'Do you want another series?' So
it was due to the way things were at that time."
In retrospect, which were the most difficult to work with, actors or
"Oh, puppets!" he says laughing.
"I remember when we came to do
I was so
excited. I'd spent 12 years on puppets, and here I was able to actually walk
into a set. And the actors, they can walk! And they can pick things up! And
look at their eyes. Their eyes move to the right place. And look, when they
speak their mouths move in sync with the dialogue! So it was all absolutely
brilliant compared to working with puppets. No wires coming out of their heads.
There's no contest there. Actors every day. I'm sure if you read interviews
I've given over the years you would see the swing from 'I hate puppets' to
today where I'm happy to acknowledge they've done a great deal for me. So I
can't really be unkind about them anymore.
Finally, considering why the old shows still appeal so strongly today,
Anderson replies simply:
"I think, if it is possible to find a reason at all, it's because we
took our work very, very seriously. Everybody on the unit worked very, very
long hours. We tried desperately to get everything right. It was a labour of