As a child in the 1960s, was there a phrase likely to get you more excited?
Thunderbirds is undoubtedly more famous now, but Stingray had the ability to grab you by the throat and drag you along with it for the predicted thirty minutes. It was full to the brim with action and I suspect any child (of whatever age) would still enjoy it. I was born the year before it appeared on television, so it’s unlikely I saw it on its first run. But it does feel as if it’s been a part of my life forever, so who knows?
Thirty minutes for an action show seems quite short now (especially as it was more like twenty-five when you took into account the commercial breaks), but it was fairly standard in those days, and it did mean the writing needed to be tight.
Gerry Anderson’s use of models offered great opportunities for action. I’m specifying models over puppets, because it was the former that made everything possible. Puppets appeared to be the focus of his productions, but without the models they wouldn’t work.
For the uninitiated, Stingray was a submarine but, unlike any other submarines shown at the time (or now), this was a flashy-looking piece of kit with a distinctive design and an exciting turn of speed when needed. Obviously, it was the focus of the show and the model (more likely, models) of it were in constant use. But so were other models: other submarines and boats, aircraft, road vehicles and even the buildings. This, of course, was largely the work of Derek Meddings, who stayed with Anderson for Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90, but also went on to Bond, as well as Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies and Tim Burton’s Batman.
The characters, of course, were puppets, but in the title sequence we are treated to the caption, ‘Starring Troy Tempest’, as if the hero is a real person – unless, he was voiced by someone who really was called Troy Tempest. In the ’60s, that would’ve been the most unlikely name you could think of. With kids’ names these days, I’m not so sure.
Anyway, we have Troy as the captain, aided by ‘Phones’ – I’m not sure if we ever found out his proper name – as his sidekick, who work for the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (WASP). Considering pretty much every character has a name related to the sea (Commander Shore, his daughter Atlanta, Lieutenant Fisher and, of course, Marina), it seems odd they picked an acronym more relevant to flight – but who am I to judge?
When I first saw Stingray, I was too young to have seen a Bond movie, but when I watched a later run, it still took me a while to realise Atlanta was voiced by Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell. Marina, of course, didn’t have a voice – which only added to the mystery around her.
Like most of the Gerry Anderson puppet shows, the key characters were voiced by American or Canadian actors, almost certainly to give the programmes added appeal to the lucrative US market. As a child, it helped build up this picture in my mind of America being where all the excitement happened. Yes, there were programmes like The Saint, but most UK-based TV series seemed relatively pedestrian compared to what the Americans were doing. If I’d realised this was a British series from the outset – and that you can make more exciting things happen with models than you can with real cars, boats and planes – I might have had a different perspective.
Although Stingray’s crew had a variety of conflicts to deal with, more often than not, Tempest and Phones found themselves up against the Aquaphibians, an underwater race with a vendetta against WASP and Stingray. From memory, I think only two of the Aquaphibians could actually speak. The rest of them just made a kind of watery gargling noise when they communicated.
The series was repeated some time in the early 1980s. I didn’t have a TV at the time, but one of my colleagues mentioned it and he started recording them on video tape (remember that amazing new development?). When he had enough recorded, a few of us went round to his house to watch them back-to-back. A group of twenty-something blokes watching a kids’ TV show with puppets and models and improbably named characters. We were in our element. And I dare say that if I watched an episode right now, I’d love it just as much.
What more is there to say?
Stand by for action!