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No Strings Attached

Omar Jeter

Between animation and real-life storytelling lies a void, this is a void that was not always there, but this particular black hole grew in size and strength due to a forgotten art form that Blended the Two Worlds for a very very long time. It is not as practiced heavily as it was and it’s Prime, but it is most certainly do for a comeback. I am talking about the art of puppeteering and some of the amazing shows they came out of this craft in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and 80s and today we talk about Century 21 Productions!
In 1957 a company by the name of APF Creations was founded by Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis. It was created to concentrate on this particular genre and develop top-tier episodic television shows mostly meant for children, sometimes meant for adults and the lines Blurred in between significantly.
Upon their first collaboration, they came up with two puppet TV shows called The Adventures of Twizzle and Torchy the Battery Boy. both shows were not received very very well and they thought that maybe they should quit while they were ahead dabbing in making live-action horror movies, westerns, and detective shows they quickly found that this particular set of choices with oversaturated and was just simply a deluge of the same storylines just being told differently through different companies with slight changes to the characters and locations. In the late 50s, early 60s every magazine rack and Movie theater and radio & television were filled with nothing but Cowboy westerns, police stories, and Tales from the Crypt type stories. trying to cash in on the height of the popularity of these particular categories of Storytelling.
The two found their company losing money fast and decided on one last Gambit on making marionette Style shows. It was a gamble that would pay off greatly
Deciding to go all-in by Reinventing the wheel of sorts they completely redesigned the marionettes, the style in which they were operated, making them more lifelike, and inserting a key ingredient that would be duplicated and replicated to this day, vehicles and special effects and no visible strings!
They felt the last thing that needs to take place for their rebirth and complete transmogrification is a change to the name of the company and in 1961 Century 21 Productions was born
The first two shows dubbed Supercar and Fireball XL5 received rave reviews not only in the United States but in most of Europe and Japan, this was something they were not expecting especially if you look at that particular time. This was way before the help of social media and the World Wide Web, it was immensely harder for the word to travel from state-to-state less enough to Garner the attention of other countries. Europe and in particular Great Britain, the companies Home Base, absolutely loved the marionette franchise and Supercar and Fireball XL5 was absolute hits!
The boys were on fire, and they were in no rush to sit on their previous accolades, so they did what all companies do when they have something popular, they create more of it.
Their next creation came in the form of Stingray, which was immensely popular because of the heavy use of underwater techniques, vehicles, and explosions that were previously only reserved for big-budget action movies. Created in 1964 Stingray told the heroic Tales of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, otherwise known as WASP, who dedicated their lives to policing the seven seas against underwater saboteurs, ocean polluting masterminds, and private military corporations bent on ruling the world.
Thanks to Stingray they have a coined term for their particular style of Storytelling and decided to call it “Supermarionation”!
Their next idea would change the landscape of Storytelling on a visual level forever, it would easily be one of the most popular franchises they created, and possibly one of the most popular and recognizable franchises of all time. And in 1964 the Thunderbirds were created!!!!!
The Thunderbirds was storytelling perfected, it was beautiful visual art personified, it was the perfect hybrid of storytelling, action and special effects. Set in the Far Future, the Thunderbirds was a worldwide International Rescue Team made up of the Tracy Family who executed missions Under the Sea, on land, in the skies, beneath the Earth and even in outer space. Each vehicle being dubbed Thunderbird 1, Thunderbird 2, Thunderbird 3, Thunderbird 4, and Thunderbird 5. The show would last only 3 years but is one of the highest played syndication shows of all time, at one point playing in over 35 countries. It was translated in over 25 languages, I would carry on to syndication to this day. Some would even go as far as to rumor and speculate that this may be the precursor to the Japanese formula of 5 vehicles coming together to form a Super Robot. The revenue stream what’s astronomical, as the formula of TV shows to toys, to games to books was perfected and Amplified!!!!
And just like anything else, there’s always going to be carbon copies or elements of what made one thing successful borrowed to another. As Anderson and Provost saw many Pretenders today at their home but we’re unbothered by the attempts and took it as a form of flattery.
Reaching their Apex but still wanting to put out a product, they then ventured forth with the creation of Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons. Debuting in 1967 once again set in the far future this told the story of Captain Scarlet who was a near invulnerable hero who after being imbued with the healing powers of the same aliens they were trying to fight, putting together a secret spy agent team to tackle the outer space Menace. This particular show received rave reviews because of the insertion of multiple ethnic characters in a time period where this was, unfortunately, a rarity. Although not originally designed for kids, this show would also see a high replay on syndication throughout the years.
The two creative Geniuses decided to leave on a high note and with their shows, Joe 90 and the Secret Service, being developed soon after the dynamic duo left on a high note and moved on to other projects consisting of live-action adaptations of novels and still working on unique television shows.
One of the last shows to be developed would be the Terrahawks running on British television from 1983 to 1986 the Terrahawks Blended two of their biggest creations with the vehicle exploits of the Thunderbirds but the outer space Menace and storytelling of Captain Scarlet. And naturally, this was a huge success.
A one-time rival but lifetime supporter, Jim Henson said that he was highly appreciative and grateful for the donations the Provis and Anderson brought to this particular art form. Everyone from Ray Harryhausen to James Cameron has named Century 21 Studios as a major influence in their career.
As with all trends, things have a way of coming back in style periodically. And it’s only a matter of time before the boomerang effect begins and breathe New Life to the art of puppeteering and marionette operation.
As always, you can relive or discover and enjoy many of these shows on youtube!!!


Special to The Colletonian (3424 Posts)