Wizards Vs Aliens having just concluded its tremendous second series, we spoke to writer Phil Ford about evolving the world of the CBBC fantasy sci-fi, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Russell T Davies, here.
As Ford also worked on 2006’s Captain Scarlet with the inestimably talented and influential Gerry Anderson, who sadly passed away last December, we took the opportunity to talk over Anderson’s legacy with him…
Since we spoke last year, your old boss Gerry Anderson has sadly passed away.
Was it a surprise when you got the news?
It was a complete shock that he died. I knew that he wasn’t well, but it wasn’t something I was expecting at all.
I know this is always a hard question to answer, but how influential do you think was he on children’s television?
He was hugely influential, full stop. And not just on kid’s telly, but on telly in general and also on movies. We all know the story of Derek Meddings, who cut his teeth with Gerry and then went on to work on all those brilliant Bond films, the Superman movies and then Tim Burton’s Batman. But that story isn’t unique.
I know Peter Jackson was hugely influenced by Gerry’s work.
Indeed. Look, Gerry’s legacy is gigantic and, speaking personally, I’m a little sad that he’s not fully been given the credit he deserved.
Do you think that’s mainly because he’s remembered as someone who worked with puppets?
Yeah, he worked with puppets… but look what he did with them!
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
No, I know. And you’re absolutely right. If you ever spoke to Gerry about the puppets he’d always say he hated the things. He wanted to make big movies. He wanted to be Spielberg! He’d say that himself. There were even a couple of occasions where he almost got the opportunity to make those types of films, but ultimately they never quite came together.
It’s a shame.
Yes, but ultimately he did make was ground breaking television. People forget, but Thunderbirds was the most expensive kids show ever produced when he made it. There’s that great story of [then head of ATV[ Lew Grade seeing the first half hour cut of the initial Thunderbirds story and saying: ‘This isn’t a television series, this is a movie!’ and he told him to make 60 minute episodes on that basis. And he was right. They were mini-movies. When I made New Captain Scarlet with Gerry (the 2005 CG Animated series) that was the thing he always said: these were meant to be little movies. And that was the thing that powered all of those shows, arguably, up to Space: 1999: the sheer ambition of the work.
It’s amazing what he and his collaborators managed to put on screen.
Yeah, I just love the idea that shows like Thunderbirds, Stingray and Fireball XL5 were made by a bunch of guys working away in a warehouse in Slough! Now, I’m sure the new ITV version of Thunderbirds will be fantastic, but in some ways the sadness about it – for me, at least – is that now we have CGI. This new show is going to be made on live action sets with CG characters and – honestly – it’s relatively easy to do stuff like that now. But back in the 60s and 70s, making a show with explosions and spaceships taking off… that really wasn’t easy! In that sense Gerry and his team were absolute pioneers.
Do you think people now are quite blasé about his achievements?
Yes. Again, I think it’s very sad that he was never really recognised by the industry. I would have loved to have seen him get a lifetime achievement award from the BAFTA, but that never happened. Why it never happened… well, I just don’t know.
What do you think was his greatest attribute?
Gerry was a great producer. I know some people had difficult times with him, but I never did and always found him to be a very generous man in a lot of different ways. But mainly he was just a very clever and very savvy guy. As a producer he didn’t necessarily know how to do everything himself – and he would admit that – but his skill was in bringing together a team of people who could deliver what needed to be done.
I can remember as a kid watching repeats of Gerry’s shows in 80s and even then – post Star Wars etc – just being completely swept up in the adventure of it all. I never questioned the integrity of what I was watching. And I’m not just talking about one show, but all of them! From Captain Scarlet right the way through to Stingray, Thunderbirds and even Joe 90. It was just great popular entertainment.
Exactly! He was a populist who fundamentally understood what entertainment was and what it was about.
He was very much like Russell T. Davies in that respect, wasn’t he?
I’d never really thought about that before, but it’s true. Russell understands popular entertainment like few other people. But then so did Gerry.
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