Seeing The Strings

Children’s television shows of my youth often used puppet characters to entertain us. Despite being able to see the strings, and knowing full well that they were puppets, the wonder of watching them was not diminished in the least. We were too young to notice the strings anyway.

I was lucky that my parents could afford a television when I was very young, and one of my earliest memories is of watching Muffin The Mule.
This footage is quite poor, but it was shown in 1955!

My next favourite was Andy Pandy, along with his toy box friends.
My Mum told me that when he waved goodbye, I used to cry inconsolably. πŸ™‚

Then came The Woodentops. Along with the family, we also had Spotty the dog.
This was state-of-the-art in the late 1950s.

The genre was revolutionised by Gerry and Syvia Anderson. They took puppet shows to a new level, replicating big screen entertainment. They used string puppets that also had electronic parts fitted, so that their mouths and other facial features could move in a realistic way. They even coined a term for this, ‘Supermarionation’.

They had started out following the trend of earlier programmes, and their first show, ‘Twizzle’ was very popular.

Their next offering was Torchy the battery boy.
This gave some hint to their futuristic ideas, with Torchy’s space rocket catching the mood of the time.

This was followed by their Wild West series, ‘Four Feather Falls’, a huge favourite at the time.
The theme song was even released as a record!
It never occurred to me to question the exaggerated size of the characters in relation to the buildings.

Long before they could be shown in colour, they embraced their vision of all-action shows for kids and the Andersons really took off, with their shows becoming household names, and shown at prime times too.
First came ‘Supercar!’

Then the amazing ‘Fireball XL-5’.

As colour TV sets started to become readily available, the next offering was the eye-popping ‘Stingray’. This was the first Supermarionation series to be filmed in colour.
It was set in a futuristic underwater city, ‘Marineville’, and ‘Stingray’ was a submarine.

In 1965, the pair embarked on their most ambitious project yet, ‘Thunderbirds’. I was 13 at the time, but still loved to watch it.
Telling the story of ‘International Rescue’, it introduced a family who used various ingenious methods to save lives and prevent disasters all around the world.
As they had done with ‘Stingray’, the Andersons caught on to the marketing possibilities. Toy figures and vehicles became the ‘must-haves’ for us kids in the 1960s.
By the time ‘Thunderbirds became internationally popular, that toy market was huge.

In 1967, they brought their final Supermarionation project to the TV screens, using advanced electronics to make the characters even more realistic.
Once again, demand for the toys associated with the series was out of control.
I was 15 by then, so not really watching stuff like this. But I saw it occasionally, if only to find it funny now that I was too old.

I had started to see the strings.

55 thoughts on “Seeing The Strings

      1. Now that’s an idea, Pete! I will definitely be reading aloud on a broader scale when I retire. The YouTube idea is something I will research, and my lofty dream is to be the next Lavar Burton and resurrect Reading Rainbow. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Badly not, but now – sice some years – we get a lot of the UK: “Barnaby”, and all the other series, i think no one in the UK had watched. πŸ˜‰ And many of our old crime series “Tatort”. All the sequels they cant be sold to foreign countries.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. We didn’t have a tv until I was too old to watch puppets. My sisters did love Howdy Doody. I loved a show called “Andy’s Gang” with a toy frog who hopped up and down and was obviously being moved by a person. “Plunk your magic twanger Froggie” still makes me laugh.

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  2. Thunderbirds definitely made it into Spain, although some of the others I only know from shows about children’s programmes that I’ve always felt curious about. (I remember Radio 2 used to have a show on Christmas Day when they shared children’s songs and I became familiar and came to love some I’d never heard in the life before…). The strings… Oh well, sometimes it’s amazing to watch old Star Trek episodes and notice the papier machΓ© gadgets and sets, or the strings in the flying machines of old movies and programmes, but they still have a nostalgic value and bring back our youth (and naivete, perhaps…). I hope to catch up on your story when it’s finished, Pete. Have a lovely week.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m unfamiliar with these shows, although I’ve heard of the Thunderbirds. I don’t think I ever would have cared much for this sort of puppetry. However, as an adult, I am a fan of stop motion animation (I often watch “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride,” and am itching to buy “Frankenweenie” and “Coraline”).

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  4. Torchy and Fireball XL5 were my favorites I did enjoy Bill and Ben but it was only when I got a lot older and after a few beers that I started to understand them talking πŸ˜‚

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  5. The Woodentops were my favourite. My father was bald ( when it was unfashionable! ) and one day I rushed down the road to greet him with ‘Hello Daddy Woodentop.’ I have not heard Twizzle mentioned before, I thought I might have imagined it! As we went to Australia in 1964 I missed out on some of these.

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  6. Usually, unless I was off school ill, I wasn’t allowed to watch TV until 6pm, so missed out on a lot of these. However, I do remember favourite programmes of my youth; Star Trek, The Avengers, The Champions, and The Young Doctors to name but a few!

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  7. Puppets like “Scott Tracy” I seem to recall showing up here in the ’60’s. What I recall from the 1950’s here in the U.S. are ”Kukla, Fran & Ollie”; “Howdy Doody”; “Shari Lewis & Lamb Chop”; and “Paul Winchell & Jerry Mahoney”.

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  8. Thunderbirds was my firm favourite when I was in transition from junior to ‘big’ school, but I am just old enough to remember Watch with Mother, although I’m not sure if it was our own television, or that of a family member/friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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