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Engage Yobba Rays!
on 5 December 2000
On the 7th of April 1963 I was given an early eight birthday present with the first broadcast of the new ITV puppet series "Space Patrol". Gosh, I was pleased! There had been rumours that this series was going to be something special. I remember being told that it was by the same people who made "Four Feather Falls", which was an old favourite of mine. Of course, being (nearly) eight, I didn't really appreciate the niceties of who the producer and director was. But the show was brilliant, and became an immediate favourite.
It's a long time ago but I can still vividly remember being mesmerised by the weird, unearthly opening tune (eat you heart out Ron Grainger!). Then there was the opening shot of a boiling, blazing sun (complete with solar flares), quickly giving way to the whirling, mysterious Galasphere wending its way through the Solar system.
Though the show relied on relatively few sets, the ones they used were superb - especially for the time. The signature shot of the view downwards as a Galasphere takes off from United Galactic Organisation HQ, was still fresh in my mind when watching the videos nearly three decades later.
Roberta Leigh, who created, wrote and directed the show, was keen to be as scientifically accurate as possible. To that end she consulted with Colin Ronan, who was then Vice President of the British Astronomical Society. This made the shows seem wonderfully authoritative to me at the time. I was For example, rather than just taking off and arriving "moments" later, the space travellers went into suspended animation to make their journeys. As a dedicated reader of "Look and Learn", I was well impressed with this accuracy. Of course, they didn't get everything right, as episode titles such as "The Swamps of Jupiter" suggest. In fact most planets were rather Earth-like but, I think we can put this down to dramatic reasons, rather than laziness.
"Space Patrol" was populated by a rich cast of "real" (for a puppet show) characters. The main "star" was Captain Larry Dart, normally accompanied by his trusty sidekicks the Martian Rusty (probably the first person ever to have a gelled-up, spiky haircut), and the Venusian Slim. Perhaps my favourite character was the Martian parrot Gabbladictum who was taught to speak English by Professor Haggerty, who was a bit of a stereotype (begoraah!).
So how well has the series stood up after nearly 30 years? The answer is very well indeed. This is probably down to the strength of its stores. Despite being a 27 year old kid's puppet show (and in black and white), "Space Patrol" is still hugely entertaining viewing.
So, "Engage Yobba Rays!" and buy the videos.