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. 🙂
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.