From "Supercar - Characters and Machines" by various contributors in Supermarionation is Go! (SIG) No. 1, Spring 1981. (c) 1981 Super M Productions (with additions by A.Tate).


Having, albeit unintentionally, been drawn into the field of puppetry, Gerry Anderson, who was a young and ambitious film producer, was determined to make the best of his predicament and to produce good puppet films. His first two attempts were not technical achievements, but with the success of his third series, "Four Feather Falls", he seemed to have developed both a flair and a taste for puppets, and a determination to exploit the medium to its technical limits. "Four Feather Falls" was technically superior to both "Twizzle" and "Torchy", with puppet photography and manipulation techniques in some form of early sophistication, but they were still not right. Try as he may, Anderson found he couldn't successfully make a puppet "walk".

What Anderson decided to do to overcome this problem is an old story, and one which has no doubt been heard before. The important thing is that he did hit upon a solution - to remove the need for the characters to walk by putting them in vehicles - and thus embarking upon the series that would lead to international fame and the creation of Century 21. However, it was nearly never to be.

So pleased with the success of "Four Feather Falls" was Anderson, and so convinced that his new idea for a science-fiction puppet series would both overcome the puppetry problems (and at the same time be a success) that he decided to invest all he had in "Supercar", and make it off his own back. It was a decision that nearly cost him dearly, Granada Television, the original backers for "Four Feather Falls" just weren't interested. When all seemed lost (and what a loss it would have been) Lew Grade, then just head of Associated Rediffusion, stepped in and expressed an interest in buying the series, but at a cost; cut the production budget in half! To Anderson and his team this was unacceptable; to do what was being asked would mean a drop in the standards they had worked hard to achieve. They returned to tell Grade that there was no way that a 50% cut could be achieved. They offered a quarter cut instead.

Whether it was just shrewd businessmanship on his part, or an instinct for a winner, Lew Grade snapped the offer up. It was a decision that he never had cause to regret. "Supercar" and the shows that were to follow proved to be massive money-makers all over the world. Not only was the series significant in the sense that its success led to the other shows, but it was also the show that brought together the basic ingredients that were to form the basis for future success.

From a puppetry point of view, the series brought the first sophisticated form of lip-sync 'supermarionation' system, first seen in "Four Feather Falls", which was fitted into the puppet's head (whereas in the later shows, such as "Captain Scarlet", it would occupy a space in the body). It also brought subtle refinements in puppetry techniques; gone were the cotton like control wires to be replaced by much finer wires. For all this, the puppets themselves still retained their heavily caricatured features, which were to remain in some degree or other for three more series to come, and had solid, inflexible, hands (for the cutaways using humans, make-up was applied to give the actor's hands the solid, puppet-look). It also introduced the first sophisticated model construction and photography, something which, of course, would be a vital part of the subsequent series' success.

From a quite different viewpoint, but nevertheless just as important in the 'supermarionation' story, "Supercar" was the first Anderson series to bring about significant spin-off merchandise ( a concept which is common today, but relatively new then), and although the range and variety of "Supercar"-related items did not equal in number the products that were eventually to saturate the market with "'Thunderbirds", it was significant non-the-less, and was certainly greater than the odd item that was produced in respect of earlier shows (how many of you still have a "Four Feather Falls" annual?).

Finally, "Supercar" brought together (and retained from "Four Feather Falls" to some degree) a production team of technicians, voice-artistes and model-makers who would remain with Anderson for most of the next ten years and the TV series that followed. These often forgotten (or even ignored) people are, perhaps, the ones who deserve most credit for, without them I am sure, the various shows would never have enjoyed such a long period of amazing, and continuing, success.

People like Graydon Gould, David Graham, and Sylvia Anderson, and George Murcell (who provided the voices), Reg Hill (designer of "Supercar") and Barry Gray - all names synonymous with that of Anderson himself. Puppeteers like Christine Glanville and Mary Turner and, of course, the master of effects, Derek Meddings.

Basic Concept

The idea behind the 39 black & white episodes was simple: it told the story of a wonderful new vehicle, the 'super-car' of the future, and the adventures which befell it and the people who used it. The basic formula for the series was the same as in many others; heroes thwarting the villains. The heroes in this series were five characters who lived and worked in an isolated laboratory set deep in the heart of the Nevada desert at Black Rock - the home base of the Supercar! Two scientists, a test pilot, a small 'orphaned' boy and his mischievous pet monkey called Mitch.

It was never really made clear who the group worked for, or what they and their laboratory were doing in the desert. Nor was it made clear why the central 'star' of the series, Supercar itself, was built. It appears just to have been an experimental test craft, capable of being used for many different purposes, as the various episodes showed.

"Stingray" had Titan, "Thunderbirds" the Hood, and "Supercar", as well, had its villains - setting the formula for the following shows. In the case of "Supercar" the chief villains were Masterspy and 'friend' Zarin, who were supplemented occasionally by the likes of Jazz and Budd together with Judd and Harper.

The series, as a whole, although featuring the technological marvel of the Supercar, did not appear to exist in a futuristic environment as such, much more like the (then) present day (i.e. circa 1959) though throughout the series there were some futuristic machines. Scientist and their inventions seemed to play a key role in many of the story concepts.

The stories themselves, and thus the overall philosophy of the show, were generally somewhat juvenile. Perhaps this is why the "Supercar" strip in "TV21" was a 'comic' strip. Whereas "Fireball XL5" (and certainly the others that followed) had stories which were at least an attempt at 'honest' seriousness, the overall theme of the "Supercar" strips was one of comic action adventures; a mixture of the plainly comical (e.g. "Operation Superstork" when Mitch untied the guy-ropes of a balloon and sent himself and his friends off into a storm) and school-boyish drama - saving the world from all kinds of fiends who sought to rule it (e.g. in "Calling Charlie Queen", a mad professor plans to miniaturise everyone and take over America). It appears, then, that it was Good vs Evil in its simplest form.

The Characters

MIKE MERCURY was the cliche hero of the series, only over-shadowed by Supercar itself. Tall, blue-eyed, firm-jawed and well built (all heavily caricatured features), he was the test pilot who flew Supercar itself. Fearless and courageous, his skills and daring as a test pilot were often called upon throughout the various adventures to save his friends and fight crime.

Co-inventors of the magnificent Supercar were PROFESSOR POPKISS and DOCTOR BEAKER. Popkiss, like Mike, was yet another cliche character, but this time of Mid-European or German descent. Bespectacled and in a white jacket, he often seemed to play a secondary role to Beaker, but he often saved the day by using the remote control to operate Supercar in coming to the rescue of his colleagues.

The right-hand-man of Popkiss was the balding and stammering Doctor Beaker, who often was shown as a slightly confused man - although his prowess as a scientist was renowned. He spent most of the series inventing new devices for Supercar (and rather like his colleague-to-be Brains, these devices were often used in rescues and adventures - in "The Sky's The Limit" he used his new invisible-making paint to foil an attempt to steal Supercar) and on other projects which, as in the case of an experimental train, often led to a call for help to Supercar to effect a rescue.

JIMMY GIBSON was a ten year old boy who joined the team in the very first episode after he and his brother BILL GIBSON crashed into the sea in a aeroplane and were saved by Supercar. His pet was, of course, the mischievous monkey MITCH, who often played key roles in the stories time after time. It would be his tricks that led to danger for himself and the rest of the team and the need, once again, for Mike and Supercar to come to the rescue (in "Space For Mitch") he manages to set off a rocket with himself on board). And so it went on.

MASTERSPY was the central villain of the series, who kept trying to steal the fabulous Supercar itself in order to use it for his own criminal ends. Tall and bald-headed, with a deep menacing voice, he operated from a base in a New York apartment and employed all sorts of people to help him in his scheme, from petty thugs like Jazz and Budd, to foreign dictators like President Gourmet in the episode "Hi-Jack". His aid was the often incompetent and worm-like ZARIN.


Of course the real 'star' of the series was the marvellous car/boat/plane/rocket of the title - the Supercar herself. Its base was the laboratory in the Nevada desert which was equipped with a central hangar area for the machine itself, along with laboratories for the two scientists and living quarters for the whole team. Built for no apparent reason, although ideal as a rescue craft (as in the very first episode "Sea Rescue"), it was a colourful red, yellow, grey and blue marvel, around 25 feet long (although the puppet-sized version was a mere 7 feet and built primarily from timber at a cost of about $3000).

The opening title sequence of each episode probably is the best illustration of the amazing vehicle as we see it rise majestically through the hangar roof doors and zoom off at around 1500 miles per hour to go plunging into the ocean. It could travel anywhere or, as the lyrics of Barry Gray illustrate, "It travels on land, or roams the sky, through the Heaven's stormy rage. It's Mercury-manned and everyone cries 'it's the marvel of the age....... SUPERCAR'". All of these amazing abilities were called upon in the 39 episodes, and they allowed the script writers to take the craft to all manner of weird and wonderful locations from jungles to deep caverns, from outer space to the Arctic.

As was the case in the following series, the launch of the Supercar was action-packed and played-out in each episode. Mike would check his systems, and engage each engine in turn - 9,000, 12,000, ... to 15,000 rpm. When the external controller had engaged the 'interlock', Mike would press the 'fire' button and each engine would ignite in turn. The roof doors would be opened, Mike would select vertical take-off, then the craft would rise vertically. Mike would extend the retractable wings and then be off into another adventure.

Supercar had eight rockets which, like the retractable wings, were electronically operated and could be controlled from afar by using the special remote-control device. When on land, or travelling roadways, Supercar didn't actually touch the ground, but instead hovered just off the surface. A periscope was brought into use when it was necessary to go under water.

Aside from the standard pieces of equipment, such as radar and sonar, the inventive minds of Popkiss and Beaker came up with another fantastic device for Supercar; the 'ClearView', which via a cockpit display screen allowed the pilot to see through such visual weather barriers as clouds or storms. To these 'standard' pieces of equipment would be added other wonderful gimmicks to fit into their creation, such as the magnetic grab device and an ejector seat which was put to good use in the episode "Jail Break".

In comparison to the other TV series which were to follow, Gerry Anderson's "Supercar' may have been a very basic show in many ways, and it was certainly far removed from the explosive adventure of "Thunderbirds", but it was very successful for its time. It can, and often has been, criticised and dismissed as being a purely 'kiddies' show - it may well have been - but just look what followed ...

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