Alan Fennell (1936-2001)

Scriptwriter Alan Fennell, who died in December, aged 65, was best-known as the author of 16 episodes of Fireball XL5, 24 episodes of Stingray and 10 episodes of Thunderbirds, including Terror In New York City, Pit Of Peril, Sun Probe, 30 Minutes After Noon, City Of Fire, The Man From Ml.5 and Atlantic Inferno.

Born on 10th December 1936, Fennell began his writing career scripting comic strips for the Fifties publications Radio Fun and TV Fun. In the early 1960s, he joined the staff of TV Comic as assistant editor and one of his responsibilities was securing licenses to publish strips based on popular children’s television shows. His first acquisition for the comic was Gerry Anderson’s western puppet series Four Feather Falls, and Fennell’s subsequent work on the TV Comic strip was his first induction into the Anderson world.

Periodically, Fennell would visit the AP Films Studios in Slough to discuss the scripts of the comic strips with Anderson, and during one of these meetings, Anderson unveiled his latest project Supercar. Fennell negotiated a deal for TV Comic to print a strip version of the series, and as a result of his work on the Supercar strip, Fennell was invited to write a script for the television series. The script was never used as production had already started on Fireball XL5, but it was good enough to secure Fennell a contract to write for the new show and by the time production began on Stingray, Fennell had left his job at TV Comic and was working full time for the company.

To coincide with the launch of Stingray on British television, AP Films Merchandising director Keith Shackleton decided to publish a new Gerry Anderson comic, TV Century 21, and with his comics background, Fennell was the natural choice for editor. While he continued to contribute television scripts to Thunderbirds, Fennell was also writing strip stories for the comic, scripting both the Fireball XL5 and Stingray strips for the comic’s first year, and then an uninterrupted run of the Thunderbirds strip for the second year. He became managing director of Century 21 Publishing and supervised the production of a range of hardback annuals based on the various Anderson series, writing many of the articles and stories himself.

In 1969, he left Century 21 Publishing to return to freelance writing, contributing the scripts for the UFO episodes ESPand Sub-Smash. Late in 1970, he was hired by Independent Television Publications to edit a new TV-based children’s magazine, originally to be titled Magpie (after the Thames Television children’s series) but launched in January 1971 as Look-in. Here, Fennell commissioned strips and articles based around the ITV network’s children’s television series, such as ATV’s Timeslip, Southern Television’s Freewheelers, LWT’s Catweazle and, later, Thames’s The Tomorrow People. Fennell contributed to both the Timeslip and Freewheelers strips, and also wrote a four-part Freewheelers text story which led to a commission for a pair of Freewheelers novels for Piccolo Books, The Sign of the Beaver and The Spy Game.

Fennell edited Look-in until February 1974 and then joined World Distributors to produce their range of hardback annuals. In the late Seventies, he set up his own publishing firm which he ran for twelve years before becoming a consultant and editorial director for Argos Press. He returned to his Anderson roots in 1991 when he was invited by Fleetway Publications to edit their new Thunderbirds – the Comic bi-weekly to coincide with the BBC’s first network screening of Thunderbirds, The comic was a massive success with a circulation that peaked at 130,000 in its first year and led to additional comics also edited by Fennell: Stingray – the Comic, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Joe 90. Establishing a new company, Leaf Publishing, Fennell continued to publish an Anderson-based comic, Thunderbirds Are Go, after Fleetway cancelled their Thunderbirds comic (by now retitled The New Thunderbirds) in March 1995, but this too folded after only eight issues.

More recently, Alan Fennell had been involved in a variety of freelance writing and publishing projects, including new Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet Collector’s Edition anthology comics magazines for The Redan Company (reprinting strips from TV Century 21 and the Fleetway comics). He was looking forward to his retirement at the end of 2001 but died on 10th December after losing a battle against cancer.

Originally published in FAB 44.