Christine Glanville (1924-1999)

Christine Glanville, the Supermarionation puppet supervisor who has died aged 74, was a much-loved puppeteer, who made many invaluable contributions to the Gerry Anderson television series and films. Over a period of 38 years, she became Gerry Anderson’s most durable and loyal employee, with credits on twelve of his television series, two feature films and two unscreened pilots.

Christine was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire in 1924, but moved to London with her parents while still a child. She left school at 14 and trained at art college during the early years of the war before joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Throughout her war service, she continued to study art and was stationed at Elstree Studios, where she first got a taste for the film industry. She became involved with constructing army exhibitions, touring with them around the country, and was then involved in setting up a de-mob centre at Olympia.

On leaving the Army, Christine joined a professional puppet theatre, Ebor Marionettes in Chiswick, that her parents had become involved with. This gave her a grounding in operating and building puppets, and she soon developed a passion for the profession that was to become her life’s work. In 1957, a puppeteer friend, Joy Laurie, invited her to help out on a puppet television show that she was working on. Christine was introduced to Gerry Anderson and became a puppet operator on his initial foray into puppet television, The Adventures Of Twizzle. Joy’s puppets for Twizzle were quite crude, having been made for stage use rather than television, so when Christine replaced Joy on Torchy The Battery Boyand took over the responsibility for building the puppets, she and her parents took it upon themselves to ensure that the new puppets were more advanced and better finished.

Twizzle and Torchy were the start of a working relationship with Gerry Anderson that endured for nearly forty years, as Christine went on to act as an operator and puppetry supervisor on each subsequent Anderson marionation production: Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Thunderbirds Are Go, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, Thunderbird 6, Joe 90, The Secret Service and, finally, The Investigator, an unscreened pilot programme which brought the Supermarionation era to an end in 1972.

Although she was only credited on the programmes as a puppet supervisor, like many of the other puppeteers, Christine was also responsible for the design and sculpting of many of the most popular puppet characters, including Doctor Venus for Fireball XL5, Atlanta Shore, Titan and X20 for Stingray, Scott Tracy, Alan Tracy and Tin-Tin Kyrano for Thunderbirds, Symphony, Destiny, Melody, Rhapsody and Harmony Angels for Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons and Mrs. Appleby for The Secret Service. She freely admitted that she often based her characters on real people such as Laurence Olivier (Titan), Claude Rains (X20), Sean Connery (Scott Tracy), Robert Reed (Alan Tracy), Ursula Andress (Destiny Angel) and Jean Shrimpton (Rhapsody Angel). Her favourite puppet, though, was Mrs. Appleby whom she based on her own mother.

During the early days of the Gerry Anderson series, Christine joined with four other Supermarionation puppeteers – John Blundell, Mary Turner and Eddie and Yvonne Hunter – to form The Company Of Five Productions, a touring puppet theatre company who performed live puppet shows in theatre and music halls as time allowed between work on the Anderson programmes. After The Secret Service, Christine worked with Century 21 puppeteer Rowena White performing a touring puppet show, Aladdin, before they set up their own company, Stage Three, with a third puppeteer, David Ross. Later, all three were invited to work with Mary Turner and former Century 21 director of photography John Read at Cinemation, producing the popular children’s marionation series Rupert The Bear and The Munch Bunch.

Christine returned to the Anderson fold in 1977 to operate the Supermarionation puppets in Alien Attack, a Gerry Anderson commercial production for Jif Toppings, and then, in the early 80s, she became chief puppeteer on Terrahawks, manipulating the series’ sophisticated Supermacromation glove puppets – primarily the incompetent android Yung-Star and world-famous songstress Kate Kestrel, her own puppet creation. Shortly after, Christine appeared on stage with giant puppets of Scott Tracy and Lady Penelope in the original run of the Thunderbirds FAB stage show, and then supervised the galactronic puppet characters for Gerry Anderson’s unscreened Space Police pilot episode, performing inside the suit of Officer Tom, the cat-like character voiced by David Healy.

In 1992, Gerry hired Christine as chief puppeteer on the marionation sections of Dire Straits’ Calling Elvis video, which he directed. Two years later, she became one of the animatronics operators on his live-action series Space Precinct, controlling the animatronic facial movement for the popular character of creon Precinct chief Captain Rexton Podly (played by Jerome Willis). When not on set, Christine could be found fully employed in the tarn and creon workshop, sculpting and painting heads and hands for new alien characters, but she missed the camaraderie of the earlier Anderson shows, and was often frustrated that so few of her younger colleagues shared her enthusiasm and took pride in their work.

Over the last ten years, Christine had become a popular figure at Fanderson conventions and exhibitions, enthusiastically demonstrating her art with the assistance of her own puppets of Thunderbirds‘ Scott, Penelope and Parker. Her last convention appearance was at Fanderson Gold in 1996, where she held a series of puppetry workshops over the convention weekend, each of which was booked to capacity in advance. Following this, she took part in the four-day Eastbourne The World of Gerry Anderson exhibition in 1997, keeping visitors spellbound with her puppetry techniques.

In 1997, she worked on The Avengers feature film manipulating the props for the character of Invisible Jones (voiced by Patrick Macnee) and assisting in the creation of hundreds of snow globes. Despite ill health, she continued working until early this year, helping out on Thunderbirds-related promotions and other projects – her last professional engagement involved operating the Parker puppet during a photo shoot for a poster campaign, currently on hoardings all over London. She remained very close to her former Century 21 colleagues, among them Zena Relph, Alan Pattillo, Mary Turner and Gerry Anderson, and with no family of her own other than distant cousins, she fostered a substitute family of sorts amongst a wide circle of Fanderson members who became personal friends.

Having contracted diabetes in 1998, Christine was admitted to High Wycombe hospital in mid-February to stabilise her condition, but she suffered from a respiratory infection and died on the evening of Sunday, 28th February.

Appointed an honorary Fanderson member in 1993 for her tireless support of the club and its events, Christine will be very much missed by the club committee and members as well as many thousands of other Anderson fans around the world.

Originally published in FAB 36.