Champions actress Alexandra Bastedo dies at 67Bookmark and Share

Monday, 13 January 2014 - Reported by John Bowman
Alexandra Bastedo as Sharron MacreadyThe actress Alexandra Bastedo who played Sharron Macready in the cult '60s ITV series The Champions died yesterday of cancer at the age of 67.

Born in Hove, the keen animal-lover's original ambition was to be a vet, but showbusiness beckoned and she made her film debut in 1963 as one of the title characters in 13 Frightened Girls - aka The Candy Web.

More films followed, as did TV, which led to the multi-lingual Bastedo being cast as one of the three eponymous Champions - United Nations agents with perfected human abilities given to them by a secret civilisation following a plane crash in Tibet.

The sci-fi/action/adventure series - which also starred William Gaunt and Stuart Damon - was created by Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman and ran for 30 episodes between September 1968 and April 1969. In her biography on her website, Bastedo wrote how being in the show changed her life:
Apart from becoming a household name in England, Scotland and Wales I became an international star, particularly in Spain and South America where they called me "La Bastedo".
Over the course of her acting career, she appeared in many more films and TV series, including Batman Begins, EastEnders, and Absolutely Fabulous. Her real dream, though, was to rescue animals, and she founded the Alexandra Bastedo Champions Animal Sanctuary, which at first was based at Almodington, near Chichester, in West Sussex. She and her husband - the actor, writer, and director Patrick Garland - then moved to nearby West Chiltington, where the sanctuary was also relocated.

A passionate advocate of animal protection, Bastedo wrote a memoir entitled Beware Dobermanns, Donkeys and Ducks plus a number of books on the welfare of cats and dogs. In addition, she was patron to a number of animal welfare organisations, including Compassion in World Farming, the Wildlife Aid Foundation, the National Animal Welfare Trust, Greyhounds in Need, and Naturewatch.

Yesterday, the actor and friend Peter Egan, who along with Gaunt is a patron of the ABC Animal Sanctuary, tweeted:

Garland died last April, aged 78.




Gerry Anderson Dies At 83Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 December 2012 - Reported by John Bowman
Gerry AndersonGerry Anderson - the legendary creator of iconic TV shows such as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Space: 1999 and UFO - died today at the age of 83.

The announcement was made on son Jamie's website, who said his father died in his sleep at midday.

Paying tribute, Nick Williams, chairman of the fan club Fanderson, said:
To those who met him, Gerry was a quiet, unassuming but determined man. His desire to make the best films he could drove him and his talented teams to innovate, take risks, and do everything necessary to produce quite inspirational works. Gerry's legacy is that he inspired so many people and continues to bring so much joy to so many millions of people around the world.

Born Gerald Alexander Abrahams, with the family name being changed by deed poll in 1939, Anderson started his career in photography, landing a traineeship with the British Colonial Film Unit, where he became interested in film editing and got further experience after moving to Gainsborough Pictures. National Service with the RAF put that burgeoning career on hold but he returned to Gainsborough afterwards, staying there until it closed down in 1950 and moving on to freelance on a number of feature films.

In the middle of the 1950s, Anderson became a director at the TV production company Polytechnic Studios, and after the collapse of the firm, he, together with Polytechnic cameraman Arthur Provis, Reg Hill, and John Read, set up Pentagon Films in 1957. However, that was wound up shortly after, and Anderson and Provis set up AP Films. Its first TV venture was the puppet series The Adventures of Twizzle, created by Roberta Leigh, which centred on a doll that could extend - or "twizzle" - its arms and legs. It marked the start of Anderson's long association with puppets (although Anderson always hankered after creating live-action TV and film drama), as well as hugely successful collaborations with puppeteer Christine Glanville, special effects technician Derek Meddings, and composer/arranger Barry Gray.

This series for Granada, which ran from 1957 to 1958, was followed by another TV puppet show with Leigh - Torchy The Battery Boy (1958-59) - and then the western fantasy adventure Four Feather Falls (1959-60), which was created by Anderson and Gray and used an early version of a puppetry process that would become known as Supermarionation. The lead character of Tex Tucker was voiced by Nicholas Parsons, with other voices provided by David Graham.

Despite its success with Four Feather Falls, AP Films hit financial problems when no further series were commissioned, but a meeting with Lew Grade saw the boss of ATV buy the new puppet show Supercar (1960-61), created by Anderson and Hill. With voices provided by, among others, Cyril Shaps, it marked the first official debut of Supermarionation - with the puppets' lips moving in synchronisation with the pre-recorded voices, thanks to electric sensors in the puppets' heads picking up the signal of the taped dialogue - and ran to two series. This was followed by the space adventure Fireball XL5 (1962), which became the first Anderson series to be sold to the USA. Grade then bought AP Films and with Grade as managing director and Anderson and his wife Sylvia (whom he married in November 1960), Hill, and Read as directors (Provis having left the partnership), the stage was set for new marionette series Stingray (1964), which had the vocal talents of Ray Barrett among the cast and had the distinction of being the first British children's TV series filmed in colour.

AP Films was now truly on a roll, and what came next was the series that Anderson will probably forever be best known for: Thunderbirds. Its title was inspired by a US Air Force base called Thunderbird Field, which Anderson's brother Lionel had written to him about during the Second World War, and it centred on the exploits of the organisation International Rescue, which helped people in great peril by using technically advanced equipment and machinery launched from its secret base on Tracy Island, getting there in the iconic Thunderbirds craft. Grade was so thrilled with what he saw of it in production that he increased the budget and ordered the episodes' running length to be doubled to 50 minutes. Voices were provided by, among others, Shane Rimmer and Jeremy Wilkin. The TV series spawned two feature films - Thunderbirds Are GO and Thunderbird 6 - but neither fared well at the box office.

Around this time, AP Films was renamed Century 21 Productions, and Thunderbirds (1964-66) was followed by Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967), which saw the use of more sophisicated puppetry and more realistic puppets. Both these series marked a genre high for Anderson, with the following two series - Joe 90 (1968) and The Secret Service (which aired in 1969 and also featured live action) - not being well-received at the time.

Undaunted, Century 21 produced a third feature film - the live-action sci-fi drama Doppelgänger (1969), known outside Europe as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, which was nominated for an Oscar for its special effects that had been supervised by Meddings.

In 1969, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson made Century 21's first full live-action TV series, UFO. This sci-fi action-adventure - which included George Sewell and Wanda Ventham in its cast - aired from 1970 to 1971 but was set in 1980 and was decidedly adult in tone. A second series was shelved but elements of it went on to be used in Space: 1999, whose two series first aired between 1975 and 1977. Before that, though, Anderson created and co-produced two series of the live-action thriller The Protectors (1972-74).

In the early 1980s, Anderson - who by now had split from Sylvia - formed Anderson Burr Pictures Ltd with businessman Christopher Burr, which saw Anderson's return to puppets with Terrahawks, whose three series ran from 1983 to 1986. The sci-fi show was filmed with latex hand puppets in a process Anderson called Supermacromation.

This was followed by stop-motion animated series Dick Spanner, created by Terry Adlam but produced by Anderson (1986-87), which featured a robotic private detective, and Space Precinct (1994-95), the latter of which mixed sci-fi and police procedural.

In 1993, Anderson took part in the Doctor Who celebratory documentary Thirty Years In The TARDIS, in which he joked about the irony of son Jamie being more of a Doctor Who enthusiast! The documentary is to be released on DVD next month in an extended form as More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS as part of the Doctor Who: The Legacy Collection box set.

Stop-motion/CGI children's adventure fantasy series Lavender Castle (1999-2000) and Firestorm (2002-03), a Japanese animé series, were additional Anderson contributions to TV. He was made an MBE - a Member of the Order of the British Empire - in the 2001 Queen's Birthday Honours for services to animation.

In January 2011, Royal Mail honoured Anderson's achievements with a special issue of stamps entitled The Genius of Gerry Anderson.

Anderson - who was married three times and had four children - was diagnosed with mixed dementia in 2010, and although his condition had worsened rapidly over the past few months, necessitating a move to a care home, he had until recently still taken an interest and been involved in the film industry. His last credit as producer was for the 2005 CGI re-imagining of Captain Scarlet, and he was recently involved as a consultant with the planned Hollywood remake of UFO.

Jamie Anderson has asked for donations in his father's memory to be made to the Alzheimer's Society via this JustGiving link.

UPDATE - 3rd January 2013: Episodes from Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet are currently available free on ITV Player (one per series). NB: May not be available outside the UK.

UPDATE - 12th January: Gerry Anderson's funeral was held yesterday at Reading Crematorium, with hundreds of people attending. Among the floral tributes on his coffin was one of Thunderbird 2, and arrangements of the theme tune from Thunderbirds as well as the closing theme from Stingray - Aqua Marina - were played at the service. In his eulogy, son Jamie Anderson said: "I have never been more proud of my father than the day he faced up to his battle with Alzheimer's. He battled it head-on." [BBC News, 11 Jan 2013]