Following The Adventures of Twizzle and Torchy the Battery Boy AP Films set about their most ambitious project to date. Four Feather Falls would have more detailed sets than used in their previous two puppet series and the puppets themselves became more sophisticated. The heads were now made from fibreglass, which was stronger and lighter than previous materials.
Gerry Anderson and his team had also experimented with electronics to match the puppets mouth movements to the dialogue. The head of the puppet was fitted with a solenoid connected to a tungsten wire 1/5,000th of an inch thick and pulses were fed down it from a tape recording of the actors’ voices. This technique was one of the earliest developments for a process that Anderson eventually named Supermarionation.
The pilot episode of Four Feather Falls was "in the can" by April 1959. Set in Kansas at the end of the 19th Century where pioneers of the West have settled into the frontier town of Four Feather Falls near Silver City, the series was intended to be a Western with certain fantasy elements. Tex Tucker is crossing the desert in company with his faithful dog, Dusty, and preparing to ride into town on his trusty steed, Rocky, when the trio come across a small lost Indian boy, Makooya –the son of a powerful chief called Kallamakooya.
After rescuing the boy they arrive at a watering hole only to discover that it has run dry. But Kallamakooya appears to them in a cloud of smoke and uses his mystical powers to replenish the waterfall before rewarding Tex for saving his sons life by presenting him with four magic feathers. The first two feathers give both Dusty and Rocky the power of speech (although only Tex can understand them), whilst the second two feathers bring Tex’s guns to life, enabling them to swivel and shoot of their own accord whenever danger threatened.
Tex arrives at Four Feather Falls to take up the post of Sheriff, using his unique abilities to protect the townsfolk from rustlers, robbers and swindlers –especially two desperate Mexican bandits called Pedro and Fernando. Meanwhile, our hero becomes a firm favourite with the law-abiding citizens of Four Feather Falls who include Grandpa Twink and his grandson Little Jake, saloon owner Slim Jim, telegraph operator Dan Morse, bank manager Marvin Jackson, store owner Ma Jones and Doc Haggerty –all of whom are happy to take time out to listen to one of Tex’s songs.
The character of Tex Tucker was voiced by Nicholas Parsons, who had worked for years with Arthur Haynes as his ‘straight man’ on Haynes’ hit comedy series and Kenneth Connor voiced Rocky, Dusty, Marvin Jackson, Doc Haggerty, Slim Jim, Chief Kallamakooya and the villain, Pedro. Parsons also supplied the voice of Dan Morse. Denise Bryer was Little Jake, Ma Jones and Makooya. During the series another actor joined to give voice to Grandpa Twink, Fernando, Big Ben and Indian Chief Red Scalp. He was a friend of Gerry Anderson from his days working at Elstree Studios and he stayed with Anderson for many years. His name was David Graham.
Following the example of previous stories, Anderson decided to include a number of songs in the show. Michael Holliday was a popular recording artist who had a voice very similar to Bing Crosby. He had enjoyed chart success with a number of singles, the most popular of which was ‘The Story of My Life’, a Burt Bacharach and Hal David composition that had topped the UK singles charts. Holiday sang six songs for the series: ‘Four Feather Falls’, ‘The Phantom Rider’, ‘The Rick-Rick-A-Rackety Train’, ‘Happy Hearts and Friendly Faces’, ‘My Home Town’, and ‘Two Gun Tex of Texas’, which was used to close each episode. Contrary to popular belief, ‘Four Feather Falls’ was not the show’s theme song and only appears in a few episodes when sung by Tex.
Four Feather Falls’ harmonica player was Tommy Reilly, a leading classical performer who had established a recording career in the 1950s at Parlophone where he was teamed up with a young producer named George Martin.
Anderson took the pilot to Granada Television who commissioned 34 episodes.
The idea for Four Feather Falls came from music composer Barry Gray, who also wrote the first episode. Anderson later admitted that he didn’t credit Gray as series creator for no other reason other than he did not know such a title existed. “It’s difficult to imagine,” said Gerry Anderson some years later, “but we were desperately naïve in those days.” Gray’s original idea was to be called 'Two Gun Tex Tucker.' The original setting was in the fictional wild-west town of Spelltown, Kansas. Tex Tucker was a lawman renowned for being able to hit two flying nickels with a double gun draw. He was aided by his obese assistant Buster and the story included two other characters called Slim Jim and Jake Jollymop. These ideas were later refined, and the story was renamed 'Two Gun Tex of Texas.' Jake was replaced by Timothy Twinkle known as Ole Twink, the town’s oldest resident, and the town was now known as Four Feather Falls. Martha Lollipop was the storekeeper and she was assisted by Red Feather of the Kiowa tribe. The town’s doctor was Angus McDougall, known to residents as Jock the Doc, and he was also the storyteller for each episode. Other characters that didn’t make it into the final version were Merry Myrtle, Mary Lou, Big Chief Four Feather and Saucy Sal.
The first episode of Four Feather Falls was shown in the UK just two days after Anderson’s previous series Torchy the Battery Boy had begun in the London area. It debuted on Thursday 25 February 1960 at 500pm and featured on the cover of that week’s edition of TV Times. With the success of Four Feather Falls to add to Anderson’s impressive CV of children’s puppet series, AP Films fully expected Granada to ask for more. Instead he recalls that on delivery of the last programme he was handed a cheque and met with stony silence. Anderson felt this was a great shame because he and his crew had already worked out a concept for their next series. They even had a name for it.
It was called...Supercar.
Published on May 11th, 2020. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.