Saturday, 25 October 2014

Stand By For Action!!!



As a child, I was something of a TV addict (I blame my father for sitting me down in front of 'Batman' when I was about 4). I loved adventure shows; 'Champion the Wonder Horse', 'Lassie', 'Skippy' (featuring a young Liza Goddard ); and more grown-up programs like 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.', 'The Saint' and so on.

Then of course, there was Doctor Who, a show I watched without really understanding until Jon Pertwee took over from Patrick Troughton, who I always thought was silly with his tin whistle.

Star Trek came along later, and some of my fondest memories are of sitting with my dad on a Monday evening and watching an episode on BBC1 (without commercials!). I recall he was scornful of the Horta in "The Devil in The Dark", and the flying parasites in "Operation:Annihilate!"

"You can see the strings!", he'd laugh, but we both enjoyed it anyway.

Which brings me neatly to the point, nay, the meat of this article, for throughout my childhood, my favourite shows were those that featured the logo "Filmed in SuperMarionation" and were produced by Gerry Anderson's APF Productions or, later, Century 21.

Stingray, Thunderbirds, Joe 90 (a favourite then, but less so now) and Captain Scarlet - all of these brought 30 minutes, or in Thunderbirds case, an hour of non-stop action, edge-of-the-seat adventure, incredible explosions, daring rescues, knife-edge suspense and a little humour injected in just the right places. Using puppets. And you could see the strings.



For me, the strength of the stories made one forget that the players weren't human, so the strings didn't matter. The mechanics of the vehicles, buildings that retracted or sank into the earth, all of these fascinated me. I could watch Zero-X be assembled twice...

What crystallised it all, of course, was the music, all of which was composed by Barry Gray.

A long-time collaborator of Anderson's, Gray produced elaborate scores for the various shows, with strong, dramatic themes and incidental pieces arranged for orchestras of anything up to 60 instruments, predominantly strings (an in-joke, perhaps?) and brass.

Gray's compositions stood out by being almost characters in their own right; the music treated the material as though it were regular, prime-time adult drama and not part of a children's production. This, in the era of ITC classics like The Saint and Danger Man, was important in that it meant (to me, anyway) that the producers of Thunderbirds and Stingray were treating their audience with the same importance as those of the live-action shows.

This, as much as the strength of the material, conspired to make me a TV addict.

I remain unrepentant.

And to this day, the music of Barry Gray can be found on my phone's MP3 player in the form of a playlist to which I return regularly, especially when I need to concentrate my mind on a task or de-stress.

They don't make them like this any more...




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