Filmed in Supermarionation is a glorious two-hour documentary from director/producer Stephen La Rivière which tells the story of how a small company based in Slough were able produce some of the most iconic children’s television series of all time.
Central to the story, of course, is the late Gerry Anderson. Happily he’s well represented throughout the documenatry via an extensive interview. Also present is Gerry’s ex-wife, Sylvia, who was a key figure in the sucess of AP Films/Century 21, not least for voicing Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds. Sadly, the divorce of Gerry and Sylvia was very bitter, which meant that during Gerry’s lifetime she was persona non grata – so it’s good to have her contribution appreciated here.
Apart from Gerry and Sylvia, there were a whole host of unsung heroes who brought these shows to life and celebrating their work was one of the main reasons why Stephen La Rivière wanted to make this documentary. Many of the surviving creative team have been interviewed (others who have passed on, like Barry Gray and Derek Meddings, are represented by archive footage) and there’s some lovely moments – such as when a group of puppeteers return to the location of the studio in Slough to be confronted with a immaculate recreation of a studio set, complete with puppets. Also very touching is the moment towards the end, when David Graham (the voice of Parker) takes a moment to thank his wooden friend for making such an important contribution to his career.
Filmed in Supermarionation is presented by Lady Penelope and Parker (voiced, as in the original series, by Sylvia Anderson and David Graham). This allows a few affectionate jokes to be made, as well as giving us the chance to see Parker turn up in some odd places (on the set of Captain Scarlet, for example).
The documentary proceeds in strict chronolgocal order, so the first hour or so is devoted to the early series, such as the two made with Roberta Leigh (The Adventures of Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy) before moving onto Anderson’s early solo efforts, such as Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5. For those waiting to get to the likes of Thunderbirds, this may feel slightly drawn out, but personally I enjoyed the detail on these earlier, and to me, less familiar series.
Both Stingray and Thunderbirds are well covered, with the largest section of the documentary concentrated on Thunderbirds. This isn’t surprising, since it was clearly the peak of Supermarionation and the pride felt by those who worked on it comes over very well. Captain Scarlet is dealt with quite quickly (although there’s some more material contained in the deleted scenes package) and after a brief look at Joe 90 (with its slightly sinister theme of brainwashing a nine-year old child each week) and the frankly bonkers The Secret Service (a lovely anecdote from Gerry who describes how aghast Lew Grade was at the gibberish-speaking Stanley Unwin!) the story comes to a sad end as the company is sold off and the sets and puppets are broken up and chucked into skips.
But while the company came to an abrupt end, the programmes they made still endure today and this is down to the group of men and women who constantly sought to innovate and experiment. The effects in an average episode of Thunderbirds wouldn’t look out of place in a feature-film and that was always a hallmark of AP Films/Century 21. Filmed in Supermarionation, with its interviews, archive footage and re-creations is able to explain how they made it all happen.
Also on the disc is twenty minutes of deleted scenes, two short featurettes (three to four minutes each) which look at the modelwork created for the documentary, home movie footage featuring Gerry and Sylvia in America, archive behind-the-scenes material from Tomorrows’ World, Something for the Children and Parade as well as a brtief clip of the Lord Mayor visiting a fairly life-size Thunderbird 3.