SPACE – THE ANDERSON FRONTIER:
When I was a kid – back in the stone age – there was a name that was synonymous with television science fiction and space opera. No, it was not Gene Roddenberry – not to offend any Gene Roddenberry fans. It was British producer Gerry Anderson – the man who gave us SUPERCAR (1961), FIREBALL XL5(1962), THUNDERBIRDS (1965), JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN (1969), UFO (1970), THE PROTECTORS (1972), SPACE: 1999 (1975), SPACE PRECINCT (1994), and so much more.
Back then there seemed to be no limits to Gerry Anderson’s imagination and creativity. Nor did there appear to be any limits to his energy as well. I credit him as firing up my interest in space operas back in 1963 – way before LOST IN SPACE (1965) and STAR TREK (1966). And since we’re celebrating Space Maydays this month, I decided I wanted to take a look at Anderson’s first venture into space operas FIREBALL XL5.
Gerry Anderson was born Gerald Alexander Abrahams. His paternal grandfather fled to London from somewhere on the Poland-Russian border and settled in London. There his surname Bieloglovski was changed to Abrahams by an immigration official. However, in 1939 his mother Deborah changed the family name to Anderson.
During World War II, Anderson’s older brother Lionel served with the Royal Air Force and was stationed in the United States. A letter to the family describing an air base called Thunderbird Field gave Anderson a name that stuck in his memory.
After World War II, Anderson began a career in photography with the British Colonial Film Unit. Developing an interest in editing led to Gainsborough Pictures. In 1947 he was conscripted into national service and served with the Royal Air Force. After his service he returned to Gainsborough and then went freelance.
While working as a director at Polytechnic Studios, Anderson met cameraman Arthur Provis. The two of them, along with Reg Hill and John Read formed Pentagon Films. That didn’t last long and Anderson and Provost then formed AP Films (Anderson-Provost Films) with Hill and Read as partners. Anderson continued his freelance directing jobs to raise money for their new company.
AP Films first job for television was THE ADVENTURES OF TWIZZLE (1957). It was a children’s show with a doll who could “twizzle” his arms and legs to great lengths. It was Anderson’s first venture with puppets and led to future collaborations with Christine Glanville (puppeteer), Derek Meddings (special effects), and Barry Gray (composer). However, his greatest collaboration came in the form of divorcing his first wife and marrying his secretary Sylvia Thamm – who now became Sylvia Anderson.
(to be continued)
The interplanetary adventures of the World Space Patrol’s FIREBALL XL5 as it patrols Sector 25 in the year 2062.
Created by: Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
Written by: Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
Producer: Gerry Anderson
Associate Producer: Reg Hill
Directors: Gerry Anderson, Alan Pattillo, David Elliott, Bill Harris & John Kelly
Production Supervisor: David Elliott
Director of Photography: John Read & Ian Struthers
Art Director: Bob Bell
Special Effects: Derek Meddings
Music Composed, Arranged & Conducted by Barry Gray
Title Music Arranged by Charles Blackwell
One hundred years in the future we follow the adventures of the spaceship Fireball XL5 and her crew. Commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol his ship’s company includes the beautiful Doctor Venus, the middle-aged Professor Matic, and the transparent, anthropomorphic robot Robert.
The Fireball XL5 is one of 30 “Fireball XL” spaceships that patrol interstellar space. The XL5 patrols Sector 25. The ship consists of two detachable sections. “Fireball Junior” is a winged nose cone that houses the cockpit. It also serves as a self-contained, short take-off and vertical landing vehicle used for exploring planets. The larger main section houses a navigation bay, laboratory, workshops, a lounge and crew quarters – not to mention rocket motors that allow for space travel. On arrival at an alien planet, the main section remains in a stationary orbit while Fireball Junior is used to travel down to the surface.
Once on the planet Zodiac and his crew got around using Jetmobiles – personal hovercraft used to explore the surface of a planet. They looked like flying motorcycles.
Based at Space City – located on an island in the South Pacific – the World Space Patrol is run by Commander Zero and Lieutenant Ninety. The city’s 25 story, T-shaped control tower rotates. No one ever said why.
The XL5 is sent on three-month deep space missions. Between assignments the ship is on call at Space City. Interestingly, the ship does not take off in the same manner as other spaceships in TV shows or movies. Instead, the ships blasts off from a mile-long launch rail that ends in a 40-degree incline. In effect the ship is shot into space. Upon its return it lands vertically in a horizontal position using underside retrorockets.
Fireball XL5 travels thru space at sub-light speeds. Powered by a “nutomic” reactor, its rocket motors provide the maximum safe speed of “Space Velocity 7” allowing the ship to reach outlying star systems within a few months. The ship’s neutroni radio enables virtually instantaneous communication no matter the distance.
Fireball XL5’s adventures ran the gamut from intercepting missiles aimed for Earth, to investigating flying saucers, to carrying colonists to a new planet, and even time traveling to the wild west. Enemies encountered include alien plant life, fish people, dragons, robot birds, and the requisite non-human aliens such as the evil Aliens from Planet 46.
THE SERIES SHOULD BE VIEWED IN THE FOLOWING PRODUCTION ORDER:
- 1.) Fireball XL5: Planet 46 (1962)
- 2.) Fireball XL5: Hypnotic Sphere (1963)
- 3.) Fireball XL5: Planet of Platonia (1963)
- 4.) Fireball XL5: Space Magnet (1963)
- 5.) Fireball XL5: The Doomed Planet (1962)
- 6.) Fireball XL5: Plant Man from Space (1962)
- 7.) Fireball XL5: The Sun Temple (1962)
- 8.) Fireball XL5: Space Immigrants (1962)
- 9.) Fireball XL5: Space Monster (1963)
- 10.) Fireball XL5: Flying Zodiac (1963)
- 11.) Fireball XL5: Spy in Space (1962)
- 12.) Fireball XL5: XL5 to H20 (1962)
- 13.) Fireball XL5: Space Pirates (1962)
- 14.) Fireball XL5: The Last of the Zanadus (1963)
- 15.) Fireball XL5: Space Pen (1962)
- 16.) Fireball XL5: Convict in Space (1963)
- 17.) Fireball XL5: Wings of Danger (1963)
- 18.) Fireball XL5: The Triads (1963)
- 19.) Fireball XL5: Sabotage (1963)
- 20.) Fireball XL5: Prisoner on the Lost Planet (1963)
- 21.) Fireball XL5: Flight to Danger (1963)
- 22.) Fireball XL5: Space Vacation (1963)
- 23.) Fireball XL5: Mystery of the TA2 (1963)
- 24.) Fireball XL5: Robert to the Rescue (1963)
- 25.) Fireball XL5: The Forbidden Planet (1963)
- 26.) Fireball XL5: The Granatoid Tanks (1963)
- 27.) Fireball XL5: Dangerous Cargo (1963)
- 28.) Fireball XL5: 1875 (1963)
- 29.) Fireball XL5: The Robot Freighter Mystery (1963)
- 30.) Fireball XL5: Drama at Space City (1963)
- 31.) Fireball XL5: Whistle for Danger (1963)
- 32.) Fireball XL5: Faster Than Light (1963)
- 33.) Fireball XL5: The Day the Earth Froze (1963)
- 34.) Fireball XL5: Invasion Earth (1963)
- 35.) Fireball XL5: Ghosts of Space (1963)
- 36.) Fireball XL5: Trial by Robot (1963)
- 37.) Fireball XL5: A Day in the Life of a Space General (1963)
- 38.) Fireball XL5: The Fire Fighters (1963)
- 39.) Fireball XL5: Space City Special (1963)
STEVE ZODIAC voiced by Paul Maxwell
- The pilot and commanding officer of Fireball XL5.
VENUS voiced by Silvia Anderson
- A doctor of space medicine and of French origin. Zodiac hand-picked her for his team and they have been together for five years.
PROFESSOR MATTHEW MATIC voiced by David Graham
- The navigator and science officer as well as oldest member of the crew.
ROBERT THE ROBOT voiced by Gerry Anderson
- The co-pilot of Fireball XL5. He is a transparent robot invented by Professor Matic and is Earth’s most advanced mechanical man.
ZOONY THE LAZOON voiced by David Graham
- He is Venus’ semi-telepathic pet from the planet Colevio. In his early appearances he can’t say much more than “welcome home.” As the series progresses his vocabulary expands due to his mimicking others. On more than one occasion he has saved the day.
COMMANDER ZERO voiced by John Bluthal
- Commander-in-chief of the World Space Patrol. He is also chief controller of Space City. He has a gruff manner but has affection for his subordinates. His rank is above colonel but below general.
LIEUTENANT NINETY voiced by David Graham
- He is the assistant controller for Space City. He is young and inexperienced and too often is on the receiving end of Commander Zero’s scorn. On the other hand, the Commander has also said he is the best lieutenant in Space City.
That’s it for now. Next time in part two we’ll take a look at some production notes, learn some trivia, talk about what was wrong with the show and look at what was definitely most right about it. Until then, hasta la vista baby!