String theory | The enduring legacy of Gerry Anderson and creating sci-fi worlds

Published on: 15th April 2021

If ever you needed an excuse to spend the day streaming episodes of Thunderbirds, Stingray, or any of the plenty other titles in the vast, yet iconic, library of Anderson Entertainment, then let the matter that today marks the first ever Gerry Anderson Day be it.

If you don’t need an excuse, then you’ll be pleased to know that this inaugural event marks just the start of a wider, far-reaching play being made by Anderson Entertainment as the company – headed up by Jamie Anderson, son to the creator of so much now familiar to the sci-fi genre today – looks to build on the rich heritage, nay, pedigree of the Anderson name.

From new content across the entertainment mediums – including audio stories and live action – and tantalising new IP, to its fast-expanding range of merchandise and more left-field licensing opportunities, which includes hotels and themed escape rooms, Anderson Entertainment is a family business with an enduring legacy and some major plans for building upon it.

Here, Robert Hutchins talks to Anderson Entertainment MD, Jamie Anderson about the heritage of a name, the enduring legacy of the series that pioneered the sci-fi genre, and how – when it comes to toys – the Anderson Entertainment portfolio is spanning the generations, as well as why now is the right time to be launching and celebrating Gerry Anderson Day.

Jamie Anderson is a respected writer, director and producer whose CV includes audio plays based on his father’s creations.

We’ve not failed to mention that his father is Gerry Anderson, creator of some of the most iconic and era-defining, as well as genre-defining, television and brand named in entertainment, including Thunderbirds, Stingray, Space: 1999, Terrahawks, and plenty more.

“I’m also MD of Anderson Entertainment, which deals with both the production and merchandising sides of my father’s business,” Anderson tells ToyNews. “I’m not only tasked with building on the continuing popularity of classic shows like Space: 1999, Thunderbirds and Stingray but my team is developing new audio and video productions based on established favourites like Thunderbirds and Terrahawks.

“We’re also building brand-new IP, like audio drama First Action Bureau and the sci-fi drama Firestorm. And there’s a fast-growing merchandising arm to manage! All of this has to be true at all times to the legacy of Gerry Anderson and his creative vision. So, there’s a little pressure…”

David Lane adjusts Alan in Thunderbird 3

And of course the product side has to connect with audiences across the many generations that Anderson spans.

“That’s right,” says Anderson. “One thing all audiences share is a love of the Anderson name, but we obviously differentiate IP and products depending on demographics: merchandise available ranges from model kits and dress-up to t-shirts and collectables. Ideas under consideration include limited edition, hand-coloured silk screen prints, nostalgia-driven publishing – there’s a lot of uncollected material out there – music content and even themed escape rooms.”

And, of course, toys.

“We have high hopes for an expanded toys and collectibles range – and not just for kids. Who doesn’t want to have a Thunderbird 2, a Stingray or a Space 1999 Eagle on their office desk?”

The range of IP to work with is pretty wide too. Anderson is about more than just the Supermarionation puppets of Thunderbirds and Stingray that made it famous. There’s live action like UFO, animated comedy like Dick Spanner and more recent output such as First Action Bureau, an audio sci-fi drama now on its second series.

Clearly, decades after he started out, the Anderson name still resonates. Hence the decision to launch Gerry Anderson Day on his birthday, April 14th. But the timing of the first Gerry Anderson Day is important for other reasons.

“More and more of Gerry’s classic shows are appearing on TV and streaming services; there will be special showings on Gerry Anderson Day. The classics are also enjoying strong sales on DVD and Blu-Ray, while new series and new product ranges are on the way. It’s a good time to celebrate the guy who started it all.”

The continuing relevance of Gerry Anderson’s work is underlined by written and spoken input from writers, stars, famous fans and guests on Gerry Anderson Day. But what inspired the creativity that they are all queuing up to praise?

“Dad’s main inspiration came from real life,” says Anderson. “Right from his early days he was fascinated by aviation. In fact many of the pilots in his shows were inspired by his brother Lionel, a flyer who was killed in the Second World War. But news stories, science documentaries, and things he saw in real life, including, on one occasion, a plane doing an emergency landing, inspired him too. He stored up hundreds of ideas – and many made it to the screen.”

And what about his own creativity? How far did the apple fall from the tree? Take even just a glance at the output that Jamie Anderson has to his own name, and it’s a strong argument that creation is genetically encoded into the Anderson gene. However, in his role at Anderson Entertainment, where do his focuses lay? Is is in IP creation, or spotting the right opportunities for the Anderson brands?

“It’s both,” says Anderson. “Obviously my own background as a writer, director and producer helps me to see opportunities for both new IP and developing existing IP.

“One of our big projects right now is a new series of audio books, the first of which is Thunderbirds: Terror from the Stars. It boasts impressionist Jon Culshaw, star of Dead Ringers and Spitting Image, as Parker and Jeff Tracy and Genevieve Gaunt of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as Lady Penelope.”

Many other audio books will follow, bringing early novelisations to a new audience with the help of some major names. Many of these actors – like Jon Culshaw – were themselves, childhood fans of Gerry Anderson.

“Famous fans like Jon – and Jonathan Ross, Eddie Izzard, John Barrowman and so many others – perfectly illustrate the fondness of so many generations for Gerry’s tremendous legacy,” adds Anderson.

That said, Anderson Entertainment has done lots of new work – against, it has to be said, some tough odds. “Dad would love the idea that we completed series one of First Action Bureau and the new audio book during a lockdown,” says Anderson.

There will be even more famous names featured in a forthcoming Gerry Anderson documentary – “the first serious, in-depth look back at his life, amazingly” – which is being produced by The Format Factory. Coming to TV screens in 2022, it will be, as Benjamin Field of The Format Factory puts it “an appraisal of a great and sometimes flawed man – honest, unflinching, but always fascinating”.

Jamie Anderson has been surprisingly busy given a year of lockdowns. What’s the first thing he’ll doing when all restrictions end?

“In work terms, I’ll probably be doing much the same as I was during lockdown: planning, having meetings, writing, directing – except that I can now do all that with real people in real studios and offices. And I suspect there’s going to be lots to do…”


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