Sylvia An­der­son

Stephen La Rivière re­mem­bers the life and ca­reer of a leg­end of Bri­tish sci- fi tele­vi­sion

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Red Alert -

We bid farewell to the Thun­der­birds co- cre­ator – and Lady Pene­lope.

Pro­ducer and ac­tress Sylvia An­der­son, who has died aged 88, will for­ever be re­mem­bered as Lady Pene­lope from Thun­der­birds. The se­ries, filmed us­ing so­phis­ti­cated pup­pets and spe­cial ef­fects, was one of sev­eral era- defin­ing “Su­per­mar­i­on­a­tion” pro­duc­tions dreamt up by her­self and hus­band Gerry, in­clud­ing Stingray, Cap­tain Scar­let and Joe 90. How­ever, the An­der­sons never dreamt of mak­ing pup­pet films; they were al­ways very hon­est that it was a means to an end.

Sylvia didn’t make her first foray into the film busi­ness un­til she was 30. An in­nocu­ous clas­si­fied ad led her to a new job and to fu­ture hus­band Gerry, while a chance en­counter with nov­el­ist Roberta Leigh re­sulted in the pup­pet se­ries Twiz­zle.

Gerry, keen to es­cape this low- grade form of film­mak­ing, pushed to im­prove the pup­pet tech­nol­ogy, while Sylvia wanted them to de­velop their own sto­ries. They moved into sci­ence fic­tion with Su­per­car and be­gan their golden- as­so­ci­a­tion with Lew Grade, who saw enor­mous po­ten­tial in th­ese pup­pet epics.

Sylvia over­saw ev­ery as­pect of what they dubbed “Char­ac­ter Vi­su­al­i­sa­tion” – which in­cluded sculpt­ing, voices and cloth­ing. As a glam­orous ’ 60s- gal, Sylvia was key to mak­ing the shows re­flect the colour­ful era in which they were made.

For their first fea­ture film Thun­der­birds Are Go, Sylvia found her­self thrust into the pro­ducer’s chair – one of the few women un­der­tak­ing such a job at that time. This was a role she rel­ished and her no- non­sense at­ti­tude made her well suited to it.

The An­der­sons’ suc­cess led them to their dream of pro­duc­ing shows with real ac­tors. UFO and Space: 1999 re­sulted. How­ever, the pres­sures of huge suc­cess caused the col­lapse of their mar­riage. The di­vorce was ac­ri­mo­nious and Sylvia found her con­tri­bu­tion to the shows largely air­brushed out of his­tory by her ex- hus­band.

Af­ter a dif­fi­cult time spent try­ing to re- es­tab­lish her­self, Sylvia be­came the Bri­tish Pro­gram­ming Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for HBO. She re­mained proud of her Su­per­mar­i­on­a­tion shows and con­tin­ued to sup­port new ven­tures to do with her best- known cre­ations. She played Lady Pene­lope one fi­nal time for the documentary Filmed In Su­per­mar­i­on­a­tion ( 2014), and Aunt Sylvia in the CGI re­vival Thun­der­birds Are Go ( 2015). She was also part of Thun­der­birds 1965 – three new episodes of the se­ries pro­duced us­ing old tech­niques and voice record­ings from the ’ 60s. “When you make some­thing like Thun­der­birds it be­comes big­ger than any one per­son,” she said. “It’s just mar­vel­lous to see it con­tin­u­ing.”

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