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Gerry Anderson: Master in Miniature Part Three

The Supermarionation master discusses CAPTAIN SCARLET

By Jeff Bond     December 11, 2002

Gerry Anderson has a track record that would make any self-respecting TV producer shake in his boots: 17 television programs, virtually all of which now rate as cult successesfrom the lavishly produced space adventure Space: 1999 and the cult favorite UFO to the "Supermarionation" of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Today we continue our exclusive interview with this legend of genre TV.


Anderson made

CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS

a calculated decision to Americanize his programs in order to sell them to the U.S. television market. "In 1962 and today to a lesser extent, there was a terrific resistance in America to anything Britishmainly because at the time British production was lousy, and also because in the South they couldn't understand a British accent," the filmmaker says. "Sixty percent of world broadcast money comes from America, and the shows we were making were very expensive, so we knew we had to sell these shows in the United States. Some of the producers in Britain tried to make their shows acceptable to American audiences by using American artists. Usually it was someone who was down on the floor because it was too expensive to bring in a top star, not that they would have wanted to come anyway. And I thought, 'All our shows are futuristic, they all have futuristic aircraft and rockets, and it would sit very comfortably as an American program.' There was a series called New Scotland Yard and they brought in an American artist and in the series he was running around, telling the British police what to do, toting a gun and shooting everything in sight. Well, of course British audiences hated it; in the States they thought it was a load of crap so that one died. We thought we would make it an American show, have all American characters, have the scripts written with American spelling, and we would sell them as American shows. A lot of people in my country to this day think I'm an American. That worked very well."


Anderson's programs

THUNDERBIRDS: SET 4

are generally incredibly optimistic in tone, with a technological solution for every problem and a bright and colorful future world presented to the viewer. One exception, at least in tone, was the remarkable series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. By the time he made Captain Scarlet, miniaturization technology allowed the puppets for the show to be made in recognizably human proportions, and Captain Scarlet's storyline reflected the realism and sophisticated tone of its characters' look. In a war between mankind and an alien race called the Mysterons, the enemy has the power to recreate human beings and vehicles and control thembut only after the originals have been destroyed. Captain Scarlet, a member of a security organization called Spectrum, is killed by the Mysterons in the very first episode, recreated as a Mysteron duplicate, and then killed a second time when Spectrum intervenes in a hostage situation undertaken by the Scarlet duplicate. Scarlet is revived, no longer under the Mysteron's controlbut now indestructible. Through episode after episode Scarlet puts himself in situations that would kill an ordinary human being, and appears to die time after timeonly to live and fight again.


It's a pretty dark premise for a children's television show, but Anderson doesn't consider it a radical departure from his other work. "I try very hard to write all my shows as adult shows, the reason being that the greatest treat in the world for a kid is for dad to say, 'Listen, you can stay up late tonight and watch Star Trek or whatever,'" Anderson says. "Kids love that. So we tend to write really for a family audience and not just children. All our shows have the central theme of good against evil, and as long as that is the theme and as long as good always prevails, the broadcasters always seem to treat us very well. Captain Scarlet started running on Sky One, which is Rupert Murdoch's worldwide satellite channel... and it was run on BBC 2 recently and on the Cartoon Channel quite recently. The one thing we did have with Captain Scarlet was that after about three shows we had to put an announcement on the front that said 'Captain Scarlet is indestructible, but you are not. Do not imitate him.' And touch wood, over thirty years or more I've never heard or read of any child dying or being injured as a result of that show."


Anderson's insistence

The high tech spaceships from Gerry Anderson's UFO.

on making his shows appeal to an American audience found a unique application on the voice of Captain Scarlet, which was performed by actor Francis Matthews as an impersonation of Cary Grant. "We used a Cary Grant imitation which worked very well because Cary Grant is Britishnot very many people know that but he was British, so he is totally acceptable in Britain and equally acceptable in the United States."


Be sure to check back for the fourth part of our exclusive interview with Gerry Anderson.



Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at feedback@cinescape.com.

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