The Rise and Fall of TV 21

The 1960s will be remembered for many things, and if you were a boy at that time there is a good chance that you will remember it for Gerry Anderson as well as for the Beatles. Beginning early in 1961 with Supercar (1961-62), Gerry Anderson and his production company AP Films released a series of science-fiction themed ‘Supermarionation’ TV shows that included Fireball XL5 (1962-63), Stingray (1964-65), Thunderbirds (1965-66), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68), and Joe 90 (1968-69). AP Films comprised Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, cameraman Arthur Provis, production designer Reg Hill, and producer John Reed. Provis left the partnership, but the company retained its name until 1965 when it was renamed Century 21 Productions.

Fifty-five years ago today, on 23 January 1965, the London-based publisher City Magazines launched TV Century 21, a quality boy’s magazine with a unique marketing hook. Priced at 7d (old pence), it ran comic strips based on Fireball XL5 and Stingray, presented as if they were current events in a 2060s newspaper. Every edition would have a newspaper-style front page, promoting one or both strips. The publication date would be given as one hundred years in the future, beginning with Universe Edition 1 Dateline 23 January 2065. The magazine featured Lady Penelope and The Daleks as its other lead strips. Thunderbirds would not launch until September that year, so readers would probably have been unaware that Penelope was another Anderson character. The Daleks presented the early history of Dr Who’s arch enemies several years before a rather different history was revealed in the TV serial Genesis of the Daleks. The Doctor did not appear in the TV 21 strip. Supercar was not part of the canon and ran as a comedy strip for 51 episodes. The canon also included Dateline 2065, a ‘news roundup’ with snippets of news from around the universe.

The line-up at launch also included the non-canon strips Burke’s Law and My Favourite Martian. The former was soon dropped to make way for two more ‘humour’ strips: The Munsters and Get Smart. Many non-fiction articles appeared over the course of the magazine’s run. These included The World We Share (wild animal of the week, starting with the grizzly bear), and Oceans of Mystery (underwater exploration).

The Truth about Space provides a fascinating insight into what was known about the other planets of the Solar System in the mid-1960s, at a time when space probes had visited only the Moon, Mars, and Venus. The long-standing view that Mercury always kept the same side facing the Sun had recently been disproved and a ‘sensational new theory’ (and long-forgotten) had been proposed that it was an escaped moon of Venus.  This was presumably a re-use of a 1950s theory that Pluto was an escaped moon of Neptune. Pluto was then thought to be moonless and comparable in size to Earth.

The column also featured articles about the US space program and a ‘spaceman portrait gallery. Usually, these were household names like first American in space Alan Shepard and spacewalkers Alexei Leonov and Ed White. However, issue 29 (7 August 1966) featured the backup pilot for an upcoming Gemini mission, a 34-year-old former Navy pilot by the name of Neil Armstrong.

TV 21 also cashed in on the then current spy craze. Like other children’s magazines of the time, it featured a letters page – but with a difference. The Contact 21 page invited readers to become secret agents with the Universal Secret Service (USS), a secret organisation headed up by Special Agent Twenty-One aka Brent Cleever. Starting in Universe Edition 21, Twenty-One got his own strip, set 20 years before the main timeline, in the 2040s. Then an active field agent, he reported to Air Marshal Zodiac (father of Fireball XL5‘s Steve Zodiac), code-named ‘S’. This strip did much to establish the TV 21 canon, with stories expanding on how the ‘Anderverse’ came to be.

All the major planets in the Solar System have been terraformed and colonised, with the exception of Neptune. Earth has a World Government, based at Unity City in Bermuda and a World President named Nikita Bandranaik (I would speculate that this cosmopolitan name was taken from the recently-deposed Nikita Khrushchev and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)). In addition to the World Space Patrol from Fireball XL5 and the World Aquanaut Security Patrol from Stingray, the World Government fields a World Army, a World Navy, and a World Air Force. The USS is headquartered in a toy factory on the outskirts of the city of Kahra, Mars.

Nearly every country on Earth is a member of the World Government; the Eastern European state of Bereznik is a notable exception. In one of his early adventures, Special Agent Twenty-One helps a group of rebels to overthrow the right-wing military government in Britain. The rebel leader proudly proclaims that “Now we’re masters of our own country” and Britain subsequently joins the World Government. Remember, this story ran fifty years before the Brexit vote.

Special Agent Twenty-One’s main adversaries are Bereznik and a terrorist group known as the Solar Organisation for Revenge and Murder (SOFRAM). In another percipient story, Twenty-One determines to wipe out SOFRAM, and launches a war on terror that proves to be no more successful than that launched by George W. Bush after 9/11. Other recurring characters were the Astrans, aliens resembling large jelly-beans that maintained an at-times uneasy alliance with the Solar Empire.

The magazine was edited by Alan Fennell, who had written many of the episodes of Fireball XL5 and Stingray. The stories were illustrated by many of the leading comic artists of the day, including Vicente Alcazar, Frank Bellamy, John Cooper, Gerry Embleton, Ron Embleton, Richard E. Jennings, Mike Noble, Ron Turner, and Keith Watson.

TV 21 was an immediate success, not least of all because Fireball XL5 and Stingray slotted neatly into its carefully constructed universe. But Thunderbirds was not such a good fit. In the Thunderbirds universe, there were no colonies on the other planets of the Solar System and attempts were still being made to reach Mars. Possibly this explains the delay before Thunderbirds made its appearance in TV 21. The series began running on the ITN network in September 1965, but it did not make it onto the pages of TV 21 until January 1966. At the same time, Lady Penelope was given her own magazine.

One solution to the continuity problem might have been to avoid stories involving the spacecraft Thunderbird 3. Throughout the entire run of the television series, it only featured in three rescues and only one of these – Sunprobe – involved it venturing beyond Earth orbit. However, the writers of TV 21 adopted the opposite approach. In common with the other Thunderbird machines, Thunderbird 3 was portrayed as being far in advance of anything else in existence, including the World Space Patrol’s XL class ships, and undertaking missions that the World Space Patrol could not.

Many of the stories featured crossovers: for example, in one episode of Stingray, the Hood joined forces with Titan.

A problem for the publishers of TV 21 was that by late 1966, an increasing portion of the magazine’s target audience were now too young to remember Fireball XL5, or even Stingray. In the meantime, the Thunderbirds television series had been cancelled six episodes into its second season after ITC boss Lew Grade failed to obtain a deal with TV networks in the United States. The last episode, Give or Take a Million, aired on Boxing Day 1966. This meant it would be nine months before the next Anderson series aired.

To inject new blood into the magazine, the canon but non-Anderson strip Catch or Kill was introduced in October 1966, then from 21 January 1967 the Zero-X spacecraft featured in the movie Thunderbirds are Go was given its own strip. This caused even more problems with the continuity. In the movie, Zero-X made the first landing on Mars; its missions in TV 21 took it back to Mars, then Jupiter, Saturn, the asteroid belt, Mercury, and Uranus – all of which were portrayed as either uninhabited or inhabited by aliens.  Mercury was portrayed as having one side permanently facing the Sun, more than two years after this view had been disproved and reported by The Truth About Space. After exploring the Solar System, Zero-X was upgraded for interstellar travel. In what was the only ever crossover between two Anderson television shows, Zero-X later went on to appear in the first episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

In mid-1967, another new strip, Front Page, was launched about the newspaper TV 21 in the year 2067. The main purpose of the strip was to introduce the upcoming Anderson series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, which debuted on ITN on 29 September 1967; when TV 21 reporter Pete Tracker investigates the secretive Spectrum organisation, it results in TV 21 being given exclusive rights to cover their missions. Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons launched as a TV 21 strip just days after it began its television run. At the same time, the Universal Secret Service was dumped in favour of Spectrum: the Contact 21 page gave way to Shades of Spectrum as readers were enrolled as Spectrum ‘Shades’ rather than USS secret agents. The magazine dropped ‘Century’ from its masthead to become simply TV 21, the name by which it had in any case long been known. The Spectrum logo was added to the masthead and ‘front page stories’ almost always promoted the current Captain Scarlet story. Two months later, the ‘newspaper’ concept was abandoned altogether, with Captain Scarlet moving to the front page from issue 155, published on 6 January 1968. Fireball XL5 was downgraded to black-and-white, it briefly became a text story, and then it was dropped altogether. Stingray was replaced by an interminable story, also now in black-and-white, about Troy Tempest’s attempts to clear his name after being falsely accused of shooting down a World Air Force jet.

This new format proved unpopular with readers and after issue 213 the newspaper format returned, along with a masthead reading “First with the Space and Spy News”. But it failed to halt the decline. The problem, ultimately, was that the later Anderson shows could not readily be accommodated into the ‘Anderverse’ established by the earlier ones. Rebooting the magazine with Captain Scarlet and Zero-X produced a far less coherent universe than the original; one that never captured readers’ imagination in the same way.

From issue 192, TV 21 merged with TV Tornado to become TV 21 and TV Tornado and in September 1969, from issue 242, it merged with Joe 90: Top Secret to become TV 21 and Joe 90. The issue number was reset to 1 and the price – unchanged at 7d  since the beginning – now went up to 8d. The most recent Supermarionation show, Joe 90, had been given its own magazine, but was merged into its parent after just 38 issues. The merger brought with it strips based on such non-Anderson shows as Star Trek and Land of the Giants. By now, in an attempt to compete with football-themed magazines, more football-related material had been introduced including Super League, a strip about Manchester Eagles FC (a thinly disguised Manchester United) in the 2060s. The only Anderson strips to survive the merger were Thunderbirds and Joe 90, both now in black and white. After 37 issues, the title reverted to TV 21 and the Joe 90 strip ended. One issue later, the Thunderbirds strip ended, ending any connection with the Anderson universe. The front page was taken over by Star Trek.

One feature that remained constant throughout these years was the Corgi Model Club news, which promoted Corgi die-cast models (to actually join, it was necessary to purchase a model).

After 105 issues, in September 1971, TV 21 was merged into Valiant and as the junior partner in the merged publication, it effectively eased to exist. The TV 21 name was retained until April 1974, when it was finally dropped.

Could things have been different? Even before the last Anderson connection was cut, TV 21 had lost pretty well everything that had made it unique. The decline really begun with Captain Scarlet/Spectrum reboot, and that was forced upon them. TV 21‘s continuing success depended upon fresh Anderson shows that could be incorporated into the Fireball XL5/Stingray/Special Agent 21 canon – but the converse might also have been true.

While Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was another hit (albeit much darker in tone than the earlier shows), Joe 90 was less successful than the earlier Supermarionation shows (it wasn’t helped by at least one network running it against the BBC’s Dr Who). Its successor, the spy-themed Secret Service, was cancelled after just thirteen episodes. Two Thunderbirds feature films were made, Thunderbirds are Go and Thunderbird 6. Neither was a box-office hit. After this, Gerry Anderson switched to live-action productions: the feature film Doppelganger, and the TV series UFO and Space 1999. Both retain a cult following, but UFO confused networks who couldn’t work out whether it was aimed at children or adults. Space 1999 was an ambitious attempt at a British version of Star Trek, but it was not a success and it was cancelled mid-way through its second season. Anderson had always wanted to work with live-action rather than puppets – but suppose he’d persisted with the latter?

Thunderbirds was cancelled because Lew Grade could not sell an hour-long show to the US networks. Supposing that instead of making a brand-new show (Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons) Grade and Anderson had repackaged Thunderbirds as a half-hour show? Most of the first-season stories could have been compressed into half an hour by omitting extended launch sequences & various subplots. Episodes could have featured crossovers into the worlds of the World Space Patrol and the World Aquanaut Security Patrol with special guest appearances by Fireball XL5 and Stingray. When the time came to finally retire Thunderbirds, care could then have been taken to devise a show that could be accommodated within the TV 21 canon. There is absolutely no reason why Supermarionation and TV 21 could not have lasted until well into the 1970s.

TV 21′s peak lasted for less than three years, yet it is remembered as landmark in the history of children’s magazines. The Supermarionation strips have been reprinted on numerous occasions over the last half century. The combination of exciting story lines and spectacular artwork allowed fans to enjoy the Anderson shows when they were not being shown on television in an era before DVDs, VHS, and when most television sets were still black-and-white. Many of the stories are held in the same regard as the best of the television episodes.


A House in Bayswater

‘A House in Bayswater’ was a 1960 documentary by Ken Russell, in which we met the varied tenants of 30-32 Linden Gardens, Bayswater. Occupants included the future Magnum photographer David Hurn, shown photographing an almost naked model in order to make ends meet. It was obviously a tough existence! The film claims that the house was eventually demolished, but it exists to this day.

Terracing at Cathkin Park, Glasgow

Home of Third Lanark AC fifty years after club’s demise

1967 was a good year for Scottish football. Celtic’s Lions of Lisbon became the first British team to lift the European Cup (a year ahead of Manchester United) and – arguably even more important – the national side beat the auld enemy (and reigning world champions) 3-2 at Wembley.

But it was not all good news. 50 years ago today, Third Lanark Athletic Club played out a 5-1 defeat against Dumbarton in the final match of an undistinguished season. They finished 11th out of 20 clubs in the Scottish League Division Two (at that time the Scottish Football League comprised only two divisions), just six years after a third-place finish in the top flight with a tally of 100 goals scored.

TLAC colour

Rare colour photograph of Third Lanark in action at Cathkin Park (image from the Scottish Football Museum).

Founded in 1872 as Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, the Glasgow side were founder members of the Scottish League. They enjoyed considerable success in their early days: a Scottish Cup win in 1889, League Champions in 1903-04, and another Scottish Cup win in 1905. They also won the Glasgow Cup – then considered to be on a par with the Scottish Cup – on four occasions. In 1903 they moved to the second (of three) Hampden Park when Queens Park moved to the present Hampden Park; the ground was renamed New Cathkin Park after the club’s original home (the ‘New’ eventually fell out of use).

cathkin park

Exterior view of Cathkin Park (image

Although later years did not bring the same level of success, the ‘Hi-Hi’ as they were known (thought to be a reference to hoofed clearances) were force in Scottish football until their decline in the mid-1960s. Relegated to Division Two in 1965 after a disastrous campaign that saw them win just three matches and draw one, they failed to make in impact in the lower tier.

The 5-1 defeat at Dumbarton’s Boghead Park would be Third Lanark’s final competitive match. The club had been mismanaged to the extent that its affairs were subsequently investigated by the Board of Trade; it was deeply in debt; and it was wound up after failing to pay a Glasgow building company for work at Cathkin Park.

Although the stands have long since been demolished, the terracing at Cathkin Park remains to this day as an eerie reminder of times past.


Since this piece was written, the Cathkin Park Limited company has been formed with the purpose of bringing Cathkin Park back into use.

Third Lanark cricket

I am also grateful to Cathkin Park Limited for the above photo, which I remember from an article about defunct football clubs in a football magazine in the early 1970s. If my memory is correct, the caption is the same as the original article. The original photo credit is the Daily Record.

Space Patrol

Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski’s favourite TV show as a child

Anybody who was a child in the 1960s is likely to remember at least some of Gerry Anderson’s ‘Supermarionation’ science-fiction series, which included Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. In the same genre, but far less well known was Space Patrol. It was created and produced by British author and television producer Rita Lewin under the pseudonym Roberta Leigh, with cinematographer Arthur Provis. 

Provis was Anderson’s former business partner (the ‘P’ in their company AP Films Ltd.), and he and Anderson  had previously collaborated with Leigh to make The Adventures of Twizzle and Torchy the Battery BoyHowever, he felt that Anderson was taking too many risks with the business, so he eventually decided to leave. Anderson kept the name AP Films for the company until 1965, when he renamed it to Century 21 Productions Ltd.  

Space Patrol is credited to National Interest Picture Productions and Wonderama Productions Ltd, and was produced in 1962. As seems to have been a common practice at the time, 39 b/w episodes of 25 minutes each were produced in three blocks of 13.

In common with the Anderson productions, Space Patrol relied upon voice-synchronised puppets, although these were more realistic-looking than those used by the former in any series prior to Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. In contrast to the Barry Gray scores and incidental music associated with the Anderson productions, Space Patrol featured electronic music composed by Fred Judd, a pioneer in the field. 

Space Patrol is set in the year 2100. The eponymous Space Patrol’s operating authority is the United Galactic Organisation, which despite the name encompasses only Earth, Mars and Venus (the series was prone to use the term ‘galaxy’ to describe planetary systems, a mistake which was repeated in the slightly later TV classic Lost in Space). Space Patrol is headquartered in a futuristic city, identified in the pilot as New York, but never so referenced again. The introduction states that “Men from Earth, Mars and Venus live and work there as guardians of peace.” A rhythmical clanking sound pervades the city at all times. Transport within the city is provided by single-person pods that move through a transparent travel-tube.

The series focusses on the adventures of Galasphere 347 and its crew, comprising goatee-bearded Captain Larry Dart, Venusian navigator Slim and Martian engineer Husky. The elfin Slim was the Mr Spock of the series; the burly Slav-accented Husky devotes a fair bit of time to thinking about his next meal. The trio will not hesitate to put themselves in harm’s way if the circumstances demand it, which they often do. In overall charge of operations is Colonel Raeburn, assisted by his super-efficient Venusian secretary Marla. Raeburn regularly threatens Dart with court-martial, but his bark is rather worse than his bite. Never hiding his anxiety when Dart and co are in peril, he frequently rewards them with extra leave when they return from a dangerous assignment.

The team regularly need to call on the services of eccentric Irish genius Professor Haggerty, his daughter Cassiopeia, and Gabblerdictum the Martian parrot. The appearance of this trio was generally preceded by an establishing stock shot of the then-new Empress State Building in West London. Recurring adversaries in the series include the plant-like Duos of Uranus and Tyro, ruler of Neptune. Anybody much younger than forty will be shocked by the pronunciation of Uranus.
The series was not entirely free of the sexism characteristic of that era, but the blonde and highly intelligent Marla would often remind Raeburn that “There are no dumb blondes on Venus.” It should be noted that Roberta Leigh was the first woman producer in Britain to set up her own film company.

Galaspheres have superseded rockets as the space vehicle of choice, but unlike Fireball XL5 they remain largely confined to the Solar System, with realistic travel times to the planets. Pluto is six months away, Jupiter twenty days. A galasphere consists of a ring-shaped crew section connected to a central stem by three spokes. They have three modes of propulsion: a primary drive for take-off and landing, an orbital drive for low-speed planetary operations, and meson power for interplanetary travel. Gamma rays and ‘yobba’ rays also need to be activated before a galasphere can take off.

Meson power can sustain speeds of up to 800,000 miles per hour (1.3 million km per hour), and in an emergency can be boosted to up to one million miles per hour (1.6 million km per hour) for short periods. However, boosting the meson power is risky. It is not clear why galaspheres cannot simply continue to accelerate once they reach a certain speed (presumably the writers were unfamiliar with Newton’s laws of motion). When in flight, galaspheres are surrounded by a rotating spherical field and emit a distinctive warbling sound. Galaspheres can hover above the surface of a planet, or even travel underwater. They are armed with a laser gun, but this has to be operated by setting it up in the airlock and opening the outer vacuum door before it can be fired. The term ‘galasphere’ (galaxy sphere) was possibly inspired by ‘bathysphere’ (deep sphere). If so, given that the spacecraft were not spherical, ‘bathyscaphe’ (deep ship) might have been a better choice, to give ‘galascaphe’ (galaxy ship).

During interplanetary travel, the crew go into a freezer for a pre-set period of time and a robot takes over. In the event of an emergency, the timer can be overridden from Earth by a faster-than-light ‘zirgon’ ray. Regardless of where a galasphere is at any time, instantaneous communications between it and Earth are apparently possible. A recurring problem for the Space Patrol is that galaspheres require a metal called plutonite for their construction. Plutonite is only found on Pluto, and stocks are all but exhausted. Fortunately, a supply is later discovered on an asteroid.

Hover bikes are used for surface travel similar to the type that were ubiquitous in the Anderson shows. The crew carry gamma ray guns but typically use ‘plastifoam’ guns to render an opponent immobile without harming them.

Although the number ‘347’ suggests that the Space Patrol operates large numbers of galaspheres, it only has landing facilities for one at a time: a pad atop a tall, broad-waisted building, which for some reason swivels through 180 degrees and extends upwards before a galasphere lands. The pad remains in the rotated and extended position until the galasphere takes off again, at which point it promptly returns to its original position.

Despite a very low budget, Space Patrol proved to be very popular. It was broadcast regionally in the UK on the ITV network, first appearing on Sunday, 7 April 1963 on ABC Television in the Midlands and North regions. In the London area, it was shown on weekdays by Associated-Rediffusion. ABC did not broadcast the final episodes until summer 1968.

Space Patrol was sold overseas and broadcast in the United States, Canada and Australia. It was retitled Planet Patrol in the United States to distinguish it from an earlier US series, which had also been titled Space Patrol. J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the 1990s science-fiction series Babylon 5 described Space Patrol as his favourite TV show as a child.

Unlike the Anderson shows, Space Patrol was never repeated in the UK, and it was considered lost until 1997, when Leigh discovered that she had a complete set of 16 mm prints in her lock-up garage. The series was subsequently released in VHS and later DVD formats.

Roberta Leigh continued to work until a year before her death in December 2014, a few days short of her 88th birthday. Arthur Provis made commercials until his retirement. He died in May this year, aged 91.