IMAGE: © ROY MORRIS PHOTOGRAPHY
I had the opportunity to meet Gerry Anderson once at a book signing about fifteen years ago. I waited nervously in line, and when my turn came I mumbled my name, he autographed my copy and with a nod of thanks I was on my way – too shy to linger, too shy to thank him for the wonderfully creative childhood he’d inspired and the enormous influence his work had on my life.
My introduction to Gerry’s work came on a shopping trip thirty years ago. As my mother browsed the sales, I was distracted by a display of televisions all showing the same programme: a spacecraft being dragged into a massive black hole, stretching and yawing, its pilot wrestling with the controls… A sudden explosion…Gone… I had no idea what I was watching, but I was already hooked.
It was called Space: 1999, I was soon to discover. The series followed the crew of Moonbase Alpha in their struggle to survive after a massive explosion had hurled the moon from orbit into deep space. An interesting premise – and one that meant the characters had no choice but to face whatever befell them every Saturday morning at 11.20am, when from the following week, my best friend and I eagerly joined the ‘Alphans’, on their journey. To a pair of eight-year-olds, the special effects were spectacular, but it was the sense of awe and wonder running through the series that really captured our imaginations. It quickly became our favourite show and we religiously tuned in every week. My grandfather would tape it on his new-fangled video recorder, and by the time the run ended, I had my own collection of episodes. Then, one weekend, my grandfather arrived home with a video camera, and I made the fateful decision to continue where Gerry Anderson had left off. Well, sort of…
Salvos of smoke bombs and clouds of talc were endured in our attempt to reimagine our favourite series!
Over the summer holiday, production on new ‘episodes’ of Space: 1999 cranked up! I wrote new stories, my aunt helped me make a Moonbase Alpha miniature from Lego and plaster, and we built a fleet of model spacecraft from plastic kits (oh, those days of Airfix!). Every weekend, the sitting room became a makeshift studio: the dining table doubled as a special effects stage, while the live action took place in an alcove decorated with egg boxes and tin foil. Clouds of talcum powder and salvos of homemade smoke bombs were endured in our attempt to reimagine our favourite series! Naturally, I cast myself in the leading roles, relegating my poor friend to playing extras (you know, the ones that, alas, often don’t make it to the end!), assorted aliens and, with no girl around, a cross-dressing doctor. By the time we wrapped production, I knew I wanted to become a director or actor when I grew up. Eventually, I chose the latter. As for my friend, well, what he became – and what became of him – is anyone’s guess!
By the time I discovered the rest of the Anderson series, I was in my teens. I appreciated their innovation and imagination, but still Space: 1999 remained my favourite. Many years later, now an actor, I was summoned to the famous Pinewood Studios to meet a casting director. To stand in the same studio where the series that had inspired me to become an actor had been produced… well, it just felt ‘right’ somehow.
When I heard of Gerry’s passing, I decided to pay my respects by reaching for one of my old video tapes, dusting off the VCR and playing an episode of Space: 1999. Somehow, the grainy playback always evokes a nostalgia that high-definition just can’t match.
As the episode comes to an end, and the closing theme nudges the Alphans on their continued journey, I reflect on my own – a creative journey that would never have happened without Gerry Anderson.
Thanks for everything, Gerry.