This article was originally published in the FAB Anniversary Extra, October 2006. It was freely adapted and updated from the author’s own article, ‘A Decade of Fanderson’, which originally appeared in the Fanderson 91 convention book, in FAB4 (1992).
Fanderson, The Official Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society, celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2016. With the aid of Professor Matic’s time machine, former club chairman Chris Bentley takes a trip back to 1981 to find out how the club came about and examine how it fared in its formative years.
SCOOP! IF YOU’RE A DEDICATED GERRY ANDERSON FAN, THEN PLEASE READ THIS!
It is with great excitement that we are able to announce to Gerry Anderson fans around the world that important steps are now being taken to finally recognise the genius of the man who has given us all so much enjoyment by way of the TV and cinema screen these past 20 or so years.
It cannot have escaped your attention that 1981 has certainly, so far, measured up to the title “Gerry Anderson Year”! In the U.K. various shows have been repeated for the first time in many years, and abroad – particularly in the United States – new fans have been won and old ones restored by the appearance of the Super Space Theatre compilation movies.
Since the appearance of “S.I.G” No.1 we’re pleased to say that the copyright holders of the bulk of Gerry’s series have come to notice the legions of fans out there in Anderson-land! Since April Ye Olde Editors have been engaged with ITC in discussions to create some sort of Gerry Anderson Club or Appreciation Society. Also involved have been Pamela Barnes of “Fanderson ’81” (and now ’82), Chris Leach of “Anderpup” magazine and John Williams of the proposed “Century 21 Appreciation Society”. Also closely involved has been Gerry himself – an indication of his desire to make sure all his many fans are taken care of and dealt with in the best possible way.
We have all worked together to get to the stage whereby the formation of this new organisation is imminent. However, we are only a few fans at the top of the pile. YOU, the readers of “S.I.G.” are a main part of the thousands out there who have waited patiently for what may be about to happen! Hence, this has got to be YOUR society/club, doing the things YOU want to see being done. We are very pleased to say that ITC have thrown their full weight behind whatever we want to do (within reason!) and the future seems to have enormous potential.
Supermarionation Is Go!, issue 2, Summer 1981
It seems unlikely that either of the authors of this item from the second issue of Supermarionation Is Go! magazine could have foreseen that the organisation that they were about to play such an instrumental part in founding would still be around, and flourishing, a quarter of a century later. Yet the official Gerry Anderson appreciation society in the process of being formed that summer of 1981 was Fanderson, and here we are 25 years down the line with a loyal following of hundreds of members resident in all corners of the globe, a merchandise catalogue containing over 120 separate items produced by the club exclusively for club members, and the world’s longest-running Gerry Anderson magazine (more than 50 issues to date).
It began with a convention, Fanderson 81, which was the very first British Gerry Anderson convention. Held at the Dragonara Hotel on Neville Street in Leeds on the weekend of March 27th to 29th, 1981, Fanderson 81 was chaired by Pamela Barnes and aimed to raise money for the Dr. Barnardo’s (now simply Barnardo’s) children’s charity. The weekend provided fans with the opportunity to see selected episodes from various Anderson programmes and to meet three important guests: UFO star Ed Bishop, Space:1999 model-maker Martin Bower, and Gerry Anderson himself. Gerry had been going through a bit of a rough patch since the completion of Space:1999 – a messy divorce which left him almost broke and the collapse of two major feature film projects (Operation Shockwave and Five Star Five) had left him feeling that perhaps his film and television career had come to an end. The convention changed all that. “When I went to Fanderson 81,” he told Supermarionation Is Go! shortly after, “for the first time I really understood the strong following and interest there was in my work.”
The success of the convention illustrated that there was a large, and increasing, following for the Anderson shows, and this was underlined by sales of the aforementioned Supermarionation Is Go!, a professionally printed fan magazine (or ‘prozine’) edited by Brendan Sheehan and David Nightingale. Anderson fan associations began to spring up all over the country and ITC Entertainment, the copyright holders for all of the Anderson television series from Supercar to Space:1999, began to receive numerous requests for photos, scripts and official sanctioning from each of these small clubs. Don Mead of ITC Entertainment and Peter Gray of ATV Licensing (formerly known as Century 21 Merchandising) felt that it would be in everyone’s best interest to amalgamate the individual clubs under one roof as a single, unified, officially sanctioned Gerry Anderson club. They invited the co-ordinators of the various associations and other interested parties to form the committee of the new club, to be named after the convention which had spawned the idea – Fanderson.
Of those who had been invited to take part in the running of the club, only John Williams, who had been planning to form a Century 21 Appreciation Society, declined to be involved. Pamela Barnes accepted the post of Fanderson chairman and Barbara Kitson (later Edwards) took on the role of club secretary, single-handedly designing the club’s membership database (then hand-written on file cards) and becoming the backbone of Fanderson over the next eight years. The other members of that first committee were Mark Jones, Chris Leach, Phil Rae and the Supermarionation Is Go! editorial team of Nightingale and Sheehan whose magazine, now retitled S.i.G., was adopted by Fanderson as the official club magazine from issue 4, mailed to members three times a year. However, as the production costs of S.i.G. were in excess of what could reasonably be funded entirely by Fanderson at that time, it was agreed that the magazine would continue to be available commercially, by direct subscription or sale in specialist book shops. Although S.i.G. was the main feature of the club package, it was not available exclusively to members.
And so Fanderson was officially born on August 20th, 1981. Gerry Anderson gave the club his full endorsement and blessing by accepting the role of Honourary President, a post he continues to hold today. Since the convention in March, things had begun looking up for Gerry: with his divorce from Sylvia Anderson finally declared absolute in December 1980 after five long years, Gerry married his fiancee Mary Robins at Beaconsfield Registry Office on April 11th, 1981. In partnership with publisher Christopher Burr, he established Anderson Burr Pictures Ltd. and began the process of raising the finance for a brand new television series which would be called Terrahawks. Gerry directly attributed the turnaround in his fortunes at this point in his career to the formation of Fanderson. The club’s simple display of the strength of the general public’s affection for his work restored his confidence, energised his efforts to re-establish himself in the industry and highlighted the continuing demand for his programmes to potential backers.
Back then, a one year Fanderson membership cost £6.00 (the equivalent of about £20 today, adjusted for inflation) for which members received four issues of S.i.G., a badge, a pen, a colour photograph of Gerry Anderson and a 10 x 11-inch colour photo montage of scenes from the ITC Anderson shows. The first membership packs were mailed out in January 1982. That summer, an advert for the club in Look-in comic generated 100 new members and by the end of the club’s initial year, over 600 members were registered.
Fanderson 82 was staged at the Bloomsbury Crest Hotel (now the Holiday Inn London Bloomsbury) in Coram Street, Bloomsbury, London, on the weekend of October 8th to 10th, 1982. Once again aiming to raise money for Dr. Barnardo’s, this second Fanderson convention (actually the new club’s first event) proved to be an even greater success than the previous year’s. Gerry Anderson, Ed Bishop and Martin Bower all made return appearances and were now joined by Thunderbirds voice artist Shane Rimmer, Space:1999 star Barry Morse, art director Bob Bell and composer Barry Gray. Sadly this was Barry Gray’s only appearance at a Fanderson convention – he died two years later.
S.i.G. was printed with full colour covers for the first time with issue 7 (Spring 1983) at no additional cost to Fanderson members. At around the same time, Fanderson began to take a regular table at the Westminster Comic Mart in London, both to promote the club and act as a sales point for the fledgling Fanderson Sales department. In the same year, Fanderson became the proud owner of two 16mm film prints of episodes of Four Feather Falls (Kidnapped and A Little Bit of Luck), purchased from Granada Television. These films were the first properties of the Fanderson archive, a collection of artefacts from the Anderson productions which the club has taken it upon itself to preserve and store for future generations. (Sadly, those two prints went ‘missing’ while on loan to the Tyneside Film Theatre a few years later and have never been returned.) After two years of preparation and production, Terrahawks made its debut on October 8th, 1983, and the first new Anderson series in seven years received extensive coverage in S.i.G.The club also benefited from the generosity of the Anderson Burr partnership who allowed club members to visit Bray Studios to see the series being made. They also donated 16mm prints of three complete episodes of the series (Operation S.A.S, Ten Top Pop and Play It Again, Sram) to the club archive.
In 1984, club members were invited to appear on the BBC series The Time of Your Life – the time was 1965 and the life belonged to Gerry Anderson. Among presenter Noel Edmonds’ other guests were puppeteer Christine Glanville and voice artist David Graham, who also appeared at that year’s Fanderson 84 convention on August 17th to 19th. Returning to the Bloomsbury Crest Hotel, Fanderson 84 raised money for the newly-formed International Rescue Corps and boasted no fewer than nine personalities from the Anderson shows: the other newcomers were Four Feather Falls voice artists Nicholas Parsons and Denise Bryer, puppeteer Tina Werts, visual effects supervisor Steven Begg and cinematographer Arthur Provis. Christine and David both became staunch supporters of Fanderson, freely contributing a great deal of time to the club and its events in subsequent years.
Things were not so rosy the following year as letters from dissatisfied members began to appear in the pages of S.i.G. One letter from Alex Stewart of Colchester caused a furore when he accused the committee of embezzling funds and generally being lazy and incompetent. Pam Barnes was quick to respond, cutting through the rumour, innuendo and petty jealousy to defend the committee from these unsubstantiated claims. However, the resulting correspondence did highlight a number of administrative problems which had developed as the club grew beyond the control of the original committee – essentially it was a matter of too many jobs and not enough people to do them. By the end of the autumn, Pam Barnes had resigned her chair and accepted a less demanding role as club president and treasurer, but the following spring the committee voted to remove her altogether due to a conflict of interests.
Matters were restored with the appointment of a new chairman, longtime fan Helen McCarthy who had been taking an increasing role in assisting the committee with the running of the club and its conventions. The committee was expanded to spread the workload with new appointees handling the club pen pals list, coordinating local groups, maintaining files and records, and acting as graphics and photo consultants. One of the new team members was Ralph Titterton who was brought on board to create, edit and publish a new club newsletter, Fanderson News, designed to fill the gaps between issues of S.i.G. This was essentially a photocopied A4 size pamphlet which made the first of 21 appearances in November 1985 between issues 14 and 15 of S.i.G. The newsletter was only available to Fanderson members and helped to create an identity for the club separate from the pages of S.i.G. – although some members felt that the newsletter’s increasing focus, over the next few years, on the daily lives of the various committee members rather than items about the Gerry Anderson productions was not really what they had signed up for.
To cover the additional costs that the club was now incurring, the membership fee was increased to £7.50 (the equivalent of about £22 today) but a very welcome bonus was added to the membership package for 1986. Music from the 21st Century by Barry Gray was a long-playing 7-inch vinyl record produced exclusively as a membership incentive: fans could only acquire a copy by either joining the club or by renewing their membership for a further year. Containing previously unavailable themes and incidental tracks from Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966), Doppelgänger (1969), The Secret Service and UFO, Music from the 21st Century took its design cues from the Century 21 Organisation’s original 1960s mini-albums. The record was enormously popular and members were soon clamouring for more. Until now, the club’s own merchandise had been little more than standard fan club fare: tin badges, patches, stickers, posters, mugs and T-shirts. Music from the 21st Century pointed the direction for the club to take in the future.
That same year, Fanderson was involved in the organisation of a major exhibition of puppets and props from the Anderson productions which was staged by the City of Edinburgh District Council Recreation Department at the City of Edinburgh Art Centre from March 1st to April 5th, 1986. Fanderson organised a one-day event at the Art Centre on the exhibition’s opening day. Shortly after, Helen McCarthy chaired a fourth convention, Fanderson 86, at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, central London on May 24th and 25th, 1986. Established in 1929 by the South Place Ethical Society, the Conway Hall is a landmark of London’s intellectual, political and cultural life, although in the mid to late-80s it was looking distinctly shabby. Nonetheless, the Hall became a sort of spiritual home to Fanderson over the next few years as it hosted a variety of club events and meetings at the tail end of the decade. The guest list for Fanderson 86 included Shane Rimmer, David Graham and Ed Bishop and the event was generally well received, but it was to be the last multi-series convention until 1990: lack of support doomed Fanderson 87 which had to be cancelled at the eleventh hour.
Despite this setback, one-day events based around individual Anderson series became popular over the next few years: the Thunderbirds 21st Birthday Party at Conway Hall on October 4th, 1986, the Space:1999 MiniCon at the Dragonara Hotel in Leeds, on September 13th, 1987, and UFOria (a UFO event) at Conway Hall on June 18th, 1988, all drew respectable attendances and introduced a host of guests new to the convention scene, including voice artist Matt Zimmerman, Space:1999 star Prentis Hancock, UFO stars George Sewell and Dolores Mantez, and scriptwriter Tony Barwick. The UFOria day was particularly significant as it marked the only convention appearance of visual effects supervisor Derek Meddings. The club was also involved with a two-day model exhibition at Haslingdon Town Hall on June 20th and 21st, 1987, and two weeks later co-hosted ‘An Evening with Gerry Anderson’ at the Limelight Club in London on July 2nd.
After two exhausting years as Chairman, Helen elected to step down from her post at the end of 1987 but continued to make valued contributions to the club, as chairman of UFOria and its full weekend follow-up convention UFOria 2, and later as editor of the first Fanderson fiction-zine 21st Century Fiction, launched in 1991. Helen’s successor as chairman was Andrew Thompson, but he appeared powerless to reverse a trend of dwindling membership figures.
This downward spiral was the knock-on effect of the increasing gaps between issues of S.i.G magazine. The magazine itself had gone from strength to strength, improving in leaps and bounds in the quality of its articles, layout and print production. Yet increasing demands on editor David Nightingale’s time, married to the high production costs and disappointing bookshop sales, led to S.i.G appearing only on a twice-yearly basis and then folding altogether with its 20th issue in December 1988. S.i.G’s demise left Fanderson with a gaping hole in its membership package and many members understandably showed their dissatisfaction by opting not to renew their memberships. Thompson and his committee were criticised for being slow to find an alternative to S.i.G even though the writing had been on the wall for some time.
It was Ralph Titterton who provided the solution by transforming Fanderson News from its former photocopied newsletter format into a professionally (albeit cheaply) printed A5 magazine. Although the funds were not available to equal the design and print quality (and size) of S.i.G., the resulting magazine was such an improvement on what had, up until then, been available to members that the falling membership figures were immediately arrested and began to show a marked improvement.
There were other treats in store for members at the end of the decade as Fanderson began to reinvent itself. Archive recordings of convention interviews and talks were released on cassette. The Secret Service Convention at the Griffin Hotel (now the Griffin pub) on Boar Lane in Leeds on October 30th, 1988, screened all 13 episodes of The Secret Service for the first time in Yorkshire. There was a second EP record, The Music of Barry Gray, this time featuring tracks from Four Feather Falls, Fireball XL5 and Doppelgänger together with a nine-minute suite of music from Thunderbird 6 (1968). UFOria 2 at the Owens Park University Halls of Residence on Wilmslow Road in Manchester on September 8th to 10th, 1989, repeated the success of the original UFOria event and proved that a full weekend convention based around a single Anderson show could be a viable proposition. A video programme of the weekend’s highlights was released by the club on VHS and demand soon outstripped the speed at which the video could be duplicated.
The membership numbers were boosted when Channel 5 Video agreed to print the club’s contact details on the sleeves of their best-selling sell-through VHS releases of the various Anderson programmes (unfortunately Channel 5 continued to print Helen McCarthy’s contact address on new releases some two years after she had left her post as chairman, which led to significant delays in the processing of queries). However, the most prominent promotion for the club at this time appeared in each episode of the BBC’s Doctor Who, although viewers perhaps needed to have eagle eyes and know what they were looking at to realise it: Fanderson member Sophie Aldred included her club badge as part of her costume in her role as Ace, the companion to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, from episode one of Remembrance of the Daleks (October 5th, 1988) to her final appearance in episode four of Survival (6th December, 1989).
Andrew Thompson stepped down as chairman in August 1989 and was never heard from again. He was replaced by Neil Swain who was keen to implement further fresh new ideas and set standards which would continue to improve the products and services that Fanderson provided for its members. As part of this programme of revitalisation and change there were other personnel changes in the committee. After eight years in her post, Barbara Edwards decided to step down as club secretary and worked closely with her successor, Nick Williams, to ensure a smooth transition. By now the membership database had been transferred to computer, although this was one of the early DOS (Disc Operating System) format home computers and the records were still somewhat cumbersome to access (within the next five years, Nick had undertaken a complete overhaul and modernisation of the club database, transferring everything from DOS to the more easily manageable Windows system). At the start of the Nineties, the scale of the Fanderson operation required the full involvement of 13 committee members but in the coming years improvements in the functionality of home computers and the rise of the internet would ultimately render many of those committee roles redundant.
Neil Swain’s first public appearance as chairman was at the club’s Fanderson 90 convention at the Mount Royal Hotel on Oxford Street in London on May 26th and 27th, 1990, an event which raised money for the National Fire Services Benevolent Fund. Fanderson 90 had the largest guest list of any Gerry Anderson convention to that date and featured appearances by no fewer than 13 Anderson personalities including Captain Scarlet voice artists Francis Matthews and Liz Morgan and UFO actor Vladek Sheybal. A keen Fireball XL5 fan, Neil fulfilled a lifelong ambition at Fanderson 90 when he got to interview Colonel Steve Zodiac and Commander Zero on stage – in the form of voice artists Paul Maxwell and John Bluthal. The event was a triumph for Neil and his committee, but triumph turned to tragedy just two months later when a drunken practical joke went horribly wrong and Neil fell from a hotel balcony while on holiday in Spain.
Neil’s sudden death shocked the committee. Many of them had known him for years and become close personal friends so it was a testament of their loyalty to the club and its members that they continued with plans for Fanderson’s first full weekend Space:1999 convention, AlphaCon, which Neil had instigated and planned to chair himself. Held at the Griffin Hotel in Leeds over the weekend of November 3rd and 4th, 1990, AlphaCon was plagued by technical difficulties and proved to be an emotional event for all concerned with its organisation, but it was a weekend that was nonetheless much enjoyed and appreciated by attendees.
The event was recorded by Tim Mallett and Glenn Pearce of Kindred Productions and became the springboard for a completely new venture for Fanderson – the video documentary. Whereas the earlier UFOria 2 video had simply offered a visual record of the events of that convention, the AlphaCon video presented an examination of the making of Space:1999 with frank guest interviews and, courtesy of ITC, numerous clips from the episodes, all produced to a professional standard which TV Zone magazine felt bettered the quality of similar projects being produced by the BBC for the home video market! The VHS cassette release quickly became Fanderson Sales’ hottest item and additional programmes followed over the next few years. In 1993, Tim and Glenn produced The UFO Documentary, using extensive interviews with Gerry Anderson and Derek Meddings, series stars Ed Bishop, George Sewell, Vladek Sheybal and Dolores Mantez, and other members of the production team to tell the story of the making of the 1969 live-action series. Three years later, the AlphaCon The Video programme was revised with a considerable amount of new material including interviews with Space:1999 stars Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse and Zienia Merton. The result was an entirely new programme, the two-part Space:1999 Documentary. Both of the UFO and Space:1999 programmes were enormously popular with members and also won critical acclaim from TV Zone. Better yet, both documentaries were considered good enough for broadcast: in November 1995, UK satellite channel Bravo boosted the club’s coffers by purchasing the rights for two screenings of each programme to tie in with their broadcasts of UFO and Space:1999.
All of this would have made Neil very proud, but it was still very much in the future when the committee finally felt that it was time to find a replacement for their late chairman. This is about where yours truly entered the picture. I had been helping out on the periphery of the club for a couple of years: assisting with the organisation of AlphaCon and a smaller one-day event at the Bradford Playhouse & Film Theatre on August 4th, 1990; redesigning the club’s logo (in the style of the Thunderbirds logo with Century 21-style concentric rings at one end); and creating a bunch of other logo designs and illustrations for Fanderson 90 and AlphaCon which were turned into badges and T-shirts. I had also become closely involved with several of the committee members on a couple of unrelated fan projects: a Star Trek fanzine and a small, but officially sanctioned club for The Avengers television series. They encouraged me to take a more active role in Fanderson and nominated me to fill Neil’s shoes on the committee.
At the job interview the following May, I mumbled something about how I felt I had the organisational capacity to continue what Neil had started and, as an artist and graphic designer with a professional knowledge of the printing industry, the capability to significantly improve the look and quality of the club’s output. I’d like to say that my winning smile and easygoing charm won over a unanimous committee, but I know that this was not the case. There were those who favoured another candidate who had previously served on the committee so my appointment was only by a narrow majority in the final vote. Even so, I think that those who had been uncertain of my suitability for the post at first, quickly came to recognise that everyone else’s faith in me was well placed: within a year we had doubled the membership.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing. 1991 was the club’s 10th anniversary year and to celebrate, the committee had already planned two separate events prior to my arrival in the chair. The first of these was Plan B, a one-day convention held at the Conway Hall on May 25th, 1991, and chaired by Barbara Heywood. It was, quite simply, an unmitigated badly-organised disaster, and a truly ignominious start to my chairmanship, then only a couple of weeks old. Poor Babs was a lovely, if eccentric, lady with a most unusual medical condition (systemic lupus erythematosus if you want to look it up). Ironically for an event entitled Plan B, she had made no allowance for anything going wrong with the convention programme, so when she took all the guests off to a restaurant in the middle of the day for a lunch which ended up lasting two hours longer than she had planned, the rest of us were left back at the hall trying to find alternative entertainment for a packed audience who were expecting to see a series of guest talks all afternoon. This was very much a baptism of fire for me and taught us all a number of very important lessons about the organisation of these events: in a way Plan B was a good thing because it proved beneficial to all subsequent club conventions. To her credit, Babs took full responsibility for Plan B’s failure and fell on her sword the very next day, resigning from the committee. Two years later, the severity of her condition became apparent when she was found dead in her flat.
Our major 10th anniversary event, Fanderson 91, went a long way towards making up for Plan B’s failures, but before then we had already started to ring the changes, setting the pattern and standards for the years to come. In order to be able to implement what we had in mind, the membership fee increased to £11 (about £24 in today’s money). The extra dues added a set of eight glossy colour postcards to the membership pack and allowed for an upgrade to the print quality of Fanderson News. Ralph Titterton handed over the editorial duties to Ian Fryer, and I took on the job of designing and sub-editing the magazine. Fanderson News came to an end at issue 30 and was relaunched as FAB magazine, with a full colour cover for the first time.
FAB1 was published in September 1991, timed to drop through members’ letterboxes just before Thunderbirds’ triumphant return to British television in a networked 6.00pm Friday slot on BBC2. That first issue included an interview with director Alan Perry, a tour of filming locations used in The Secret Service and a comparison between the script for the Joe 90 episode The Unorthodox Shepherd and the finished programme. It all looks very crude to me now but the response from members was overwhelmingly positive. Perhaps optimistically, we aimed to publish FAB bi-monthly although the most we actually managed was five issues within a 12-month period: with each annual membership running for six issues of FAB, a Fanderson ‘year’ sometimes stretched to 14 or 15 months. Over the next few years, we gradually bumped up the page count and reduced the point size of the text (enabling us to cram more in each issue) which eventually made it necessary to drop the annual allocation to four issues.
Fanderson’s first decade culminated in Fanderson 91, held over the weekend of October 26th and 27th, 1991. For this event, chaired by Ian Fryer, we returned to the Dragonara Hotel in Leeds, the venue of Fanderson 81. By now, the hotel had become the Hilton International Hotel – it is known today as the Hilton Leeds City Hotel. Over 300 fans attended what was Fanderson’s first (and, to date, last) non-stop weekend event with a screening programme that went on all through Saturday night to provide 39 uninterrupted hours of Anderson entertainment. (A small number of brave fans did actually stay up all night to watch everything, although others just saw it as an opportunity to save themselves the cost of a hotel room and used the screening room as a makeshift campsite – successfully alienating everyone else on the Sunday because they were a bit stinky by then.)
As 1991 drew to a close, Fanderson’s future was once more looking bright. Thunderbirds was pulling in audiences of six million on BBC2 and floods of new young fans were joining the club. Gerry had just announced that he was preparing two brand new animated series, G-Force and Lavender Castle, and the publication of the second issue of FAB in November (now on a better, heavier paper stock) brought news that Fanderson would be hosting not just one, or two, but three full weekend conventions in 1992.
The best, as they say, was yet to come.