Perhaps it’s inevitable that a programme maker gifted with visions of new technology would make a comeback from the grave.
After Gerry Anderson, creator of the iconic Thunderbirds TV series, donated his brain to medical research into dementia, his final futuristic ideas are today being brought to life by one of his children.
Jamie Anderson, the youngest of four by Gerry’s three marriages, is launching a crowd-funding appeal to try to turn his father’s last, unfinished story into a viable book project.
Fans can invest right from the beginning.
And, if it takes off, they will be able to have future characters named after themselves or their children and could one day even become TV stars.
As a controlling father, Gerry never wanted Jamie to follow his career path. But, less than a year after his death, Jamie feels unable to resist his lifelong calling any longer.
And so, Gemini Force 1 is on the launch pad from today... ready to join the likes of Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Joe 90, UFO, The Protectors and Space: 1999 in the lexicon of popular sci-fi.
And, of course, Thunderbirds – many of the puppets for which were made by leading British designer John Blundall at the Midland Arts Centre in Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Park.
Based on ideas that Gerry was developing during his battle with Alzheimer’s, GF1 will follow the story of a secret organisation involved in rescues and averting disasters and terrorist events.
As ever, Gerry’s characters would have no malice and be able to use technology to make the world a better place.
Best-selling author MG Harris (The Joshua Files) has been commissioned to complete the first book in the way that Jamie hopes his father would have wanted.
“Dad always wanted to ‘protect and keep safe’, so he would never let me work with him officially,” says Jamie, now 28.
“He’d say ‘I don’t want any son of mine working in this industry because it’s horrible, full of unpleasant people and stressful’.
“Dad first had the idea for Gemini Force 1 in 2008 and he had just started to ask my opinion on various ideas when he died.
“I started looking for the right author in January and after six months found MG Harris.”
When Gerry was alive, he would always try to dissuade his son.
“I would hang around the studios during the school holidays,” says Jamie.
“I did some modelling work on Space Precinct (Sky One, 1994-95) and would sit in his office. I would say to him ‘I really want to do what you’re doing. I really enjoy it. But he’d say ‘If you join this industry I will block you at every turn’.
“Dad felt that people should make their own path. So I gave up the dream... until he started asking for my input again. In 2010, this strong-willed creative was asking for input from his son. But, by 2011, he was saying ‘I don’t think I can do this’.”
In the years when he could have been learning his father’s skills, Jamie had become an international rower who went from Oxford Brookes University to Oxford University.
Although he gained a Masters in physiological sciences, a back injury in 2005 scuppered his Boat Race chances.
By accident, Jamie found himself developing his entrepreneurial skills with horse breeding, before gravitating back towards the media world via web design.
“From 2010-2011 I was helping mum look after dad,” says Jamie, who lives near Oxford.
Gerry’s career was at its creative peak in the 1960s when he was married to actress, writer and producer Sylvia Anderson.
The fall out between Gerry and second wife Sylvia all happened before Jamie was born.
“It’s not something he wanted to talk about,” says Jamie.
“I’ve only met Sylvia in passing – there was so much bad feeling between the two of them, but they’d had complimentary skills that made them such a creative force.
“My mother, Mary, was the secretary for Brian Johnson (the special effects director) on Space: 1999 (1975-78).
“She was also the production secretary on Terrahawks (1983-84) and Space Precinct.
“Mum was much more involved in the administration side than Sylvia.
“Her job was keeping dad sane – and she was very good at that.”
Gerry’s first marriage to Betty Wrightman (1952-60) produced two daughters, while Sylvia (1960-81) gave birth to his first son.
“I’m his youngest child by some way and the last in line to keep this going because the rest are doing other things,” says Jamie.
“If I can manage just 10 per cent of my father’s creativity and have the feel for a good product I’m sure that will be enough.”
“There’s so much stuff and I keep finding new things, from commercials to shows to pilots.
“In his files are things I’ve never heard of, including a full script from 1975 called Five Star Five.
“It would have been like Star Wars before Star Wars but the money for it disappeared.
“I’ve six scripts and two synopses of unmade ‘Anderson’ shows.
“For him to achieve the things he wanted to achieve would have been very difficult.
“He’d say ‘I can still do this if someone can find the money’. He knew he still wanted to get stuff out there.”
There has been talk of creating a Gerry Anderson Museum on the Slough Trading Estate where many of his series were filmed.
But many of the eternal problems remain because ITV owns the old programmes and, much to Jamie’s regret, it is sitting on them.
“Yet I still get letters from people aged five to 15 saying how much they like Stingray.
“That was made in 1963 and if you played that to children today along with the first episode of Doctor Who (and I’m a Doctor Who fan), Stingray is the one they would like the most and not just because it’s in colour.
“It’s more dramatic, exciting and has aged so well. That’s the physical proof of how good it was and is.
“Dad’s problem was that he didn’t own the rights to it all, even though he was seen as Britain’s equivalent to Marvel.
“He worked in incredible detail and shot most of it on 35mm, so that it can still be scanned not just to 1080 high definition but to 2K resolution.
“This means that 50-year-old television shows, made for a few lines on a TV screen, can still be projected in cinemas. And converted into 3D!”
While Britain might be failing to make the most of the Gerry Anderson legacy, there’s a Thunderbirds themed restaurant in the Jinbocho district of Tokyo.
“I’ve just come back from a Gerry Anderson Expo at Tokyo’s science museum, which has been visited by 100,000 people,” says Jamie.
“Unfortunately, dad never had business management or a smart, savvy agent.
“All he cared about was making the best possible show and would do that to his own detriment.
“He had a five per cent profit share on some of the shows until about 1976-77, but after buying a house with Sylvia he had to cash that in when the property market collapsed and he was in negative equity.
“From 1977 onwards, he wasn’t making anything at all from any of the shows.
“He certainly didn’t die as a rag, but should have been remunerated in the right way.”
Jamie’s collection of Anderson material is second to none – but there is something still missing.
“I haven’t got Torchy the Battery Boy (1960-61),” he says.
What are his own top three Gerry Anderson productions?
“Space Precinct because I was there,” he says. “Second would have to be Thunderbirds, then Secret Service, which came off after 30 episodes.
And Gerry’s favourite would be...?
“Thunderbirds... and Parker. He was from a difficult background and dad was so involved in getting his voice and character just right.
“He’d come from not such fantastic beginnings and had turned out all right.”
Gemini Force One Project
The budget for the Gemini Force 1 book is £27,350.
This includes a fee to MG Harris plus costs for everything from proofreading to editing, first run and cover design, advertising, marketing and the 12 per cent that Kickstarter itself takes as a fee.
A quarter of the money will go back to investors in the form of ‘fulfilling rewards’ which includes patches and books. Higher rate funders can have their names featured in future stories.
If all goes to plan, the first editions – collectors’ items – will be published next April and be given a ‘soft launch’ at ‘Andercon’, the first Gerry Anderson Convention planned for Heathrow’s Park Inn from April 19/20. A public launch next summer will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Thunderbirds going into production in August, 1964.