Although Gerry Anderson's involvement with the creation and production of television puppet series had already commenced some five years earlier, 1962 saw Anderson's company, AP Films, release a new series which was fated to be the first true step on the former film cutting room assistant's pathway to legendary status. The series in question was Supercar, and with its premiere both Anderson's long and incredibly fruitful association with Lew Grade's ITC company, and the process known as Supermarionation, took centre stage for the first time.
The genesis of Gerry Anderson's relationship with the already hugely successful Grade, which was to culminate in the realisation of Supercar and its money-spinning line of descendants, began when Frank Sherwin Green, an old friend of Anderson's working at Beaconsfield Studios, introduced the financially troubled producer to Connery Chapel in the hope that he could provide help in keeping the seriously ailing AP Films in business. In exchange for a number of shares in AP, Chapel arranged what was to prove a fateful meeting between Anderson and the then Deputy Managing Director of the Independent Television Company ATV.
A genuine business genius, with his finger almost supernaturally on the pulse of popular taste in the entertainment field, Lew Grade was quick to see the possibilities in the young producer's new concept, and placed an immediate order for an initial twenty-six thirty minute episodes. The deal was closed and Supercar entered production.
The first in what was destined to be a long parade of versatile, technologically superior craft, foreshadowing the later Stingray and the fabulous Thunderbirds craft themselves, Supercar was equipped, ready and able to travel over everywhere and anywhere, be it on land, both on or under the sea, as well as through the air. The regular cast of early animatronic actors included square-jawed heroic test pilot, Mike Mercury (voiced by Graydon Gould), Supercar's endearingly dotty father-like inventor, Professor Rudolph Popkiss -a comically accented mid-European scientist, (voiced by George Murcell in season one, with Anderson regular Cyril Shaps taking on the role in season two), Popkiss' assistant Dr Horatio Beaker -the bald, stammering British scientist, Jimmy Gibson -a ten year old rescued following a plane crash (voiced in season one by Anderson's then wife Sylvia, and from season two by David Graham), and his extraordinary pet Mitch, a talking Monkey. On the lawless side, chief villain was Masterspy, a clear prototype for the Tracy family's later arch nemesis in Thunderbirds (the Hood), and his accomplice Zarin, along with their British counterparts Harper and Judd.
Supercar itself was a seven-foot craft made mostly of lightweight balsa wood, designed by Reg Hill at a cost of one thousand pounds; a small fortune at the time, especially for a company in such dire financial trouble. In fact money was so tight at that time that the company had to resort to using 1500 empty egg cartons, stuck on the walls of its new studio in a disused factory in Slough, as soundproofing. Nevertheless, despite all the problems which come with the production of any new series Supercar went on to vindicate Grade's initial faith in the project by a becoming both a personal triumphant success as well as a sound investment for ITC. Its thirty-nine episodes ultimately went on to turn the financial tide for Anderson, selling to more than one hundred stations in the lucrative U.S. markets and more than forty more countries worldwide.
Simplistic and quaintly primitive when compared with Anderson's later Supermarionation series, Supercar nevertheless possesses an enjoyable quality of good natured entertainment, and much more importantly, the first evocative hints of the world-spanning breath-taking adventure and excitement which was destined to become both the Gerry Anderson trademark and the promise of pleasure for millions.
Published on February 4th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus & SRH (2000) for Television Heaven.