When it comes to enjoying 1960s TV trash, watching repeats of the classic 1964 British series Stingray is hard to beat. What beautiful toys. There is the Stingray submarine, which has a maximum speed of Rate 6 and polices the waters for the World Aquanaut Security Patrol. There are two Terror Fish subs, owned by the evil underseas ruler Titan, which open their jaws to shoot out missiles. Most cool of all, there are the puppets.
We all know that puppetry is only slightly less naff than mime or swimwear photography, but the cast of Stingray almost pass as lovely works of miniature art. They were also crucial to the so-called Supermarionation effects of Gerry Anderson. After earlier, hopeless attempts, he got it right on Stingray, and went on to create his more famous series, Thunderbirds and Joe 90. It's true that his wood and fibreglass puppets jerk about all over the shop on their tungsten wires, and literally only wear two expressions, but you've probably seen worse on Baywatch.
Toothpaste Tops and Porridge
The 39 half-hour episodes have backstories and sexual tensions, the caps of toothpaste tubes posing as high-tech knobs and boiling porridge representing boiling lava. The submarine captain is Troy Tempest. His girlfriend is the boss's daughter: crew member Atlanta Shore's father is Commander Sam Shore, confined to a wheelchair at patrol HQ, Marineville. His sub was once attacked by an underseas alien. It's a sure bet that the alien was acting under the orders of Titan, who scowls at his underwater subject race, the Aquaphibians, and will never rest in his black desire to destroy Tempest for rescuing the Princess Marina. She was Titan's personal slave. Now she drives Atlanta sick with envy because of the way Troy looks at her, and secretly, no doubt, Atlanta despises the fact that Marina fulfils a shameful male fantasy - the beautiful woman who never says anything. Marina has a vow of silence. Troy's wooden head throbs with what she can say and do with her hands.
Well, you can interpret anything these days but the title song, 'Aqua Marina', is really nice. As well, the music is another example of sophistication and ingenuity at work behind the apparent feeble-minded Stingray project. Barry Gray, the composer, stands as an electronic music pioneer, his fizzing mind busy above audio-sweep oscillators and custom-built ring modulators.
I would also do things like chop the head off a piano chord, reverse one side of it, and then splice it onto itself, so that one could get a very slow-sounding approach which rose in a crescendo to the top of the chord, and then faded out again.
Brilliant. And he studied in Paris with French composer Maurice Martenot, who invented a supposedly 'better variation' of the legendary Theramin instrument, capable of producing the eeriest sounds known to man or aquaphibian. Gray acquired the thing in 1959, and used it on all Anderson's shows.
It was all about hard work, Anderson has always said. A former carpenter, he co-created Stingray with his wife, Sylvia, and there are stories of his belligerence on the Stingray set, demanding that everything look good. The couple divorced in 1975, after 'frequent rows and infidelities', according to some tabloid. They split during their Space: 1999 series, filmed with human actors, and which is also regarded as a trash classic.
Some bores, though, will never pay Anderson respect. 'It is dumbfounding to hear that Gerry Anderson was celebrated in the 1990s as the guest of honour at a British sci-fi convention,' fumes author Gary Westfahl, in his Biographical Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction:
Fans should have been burning him in effigy... Why his programmes were so popular for so long remains a mystery... Rallying around this odious man only does a grave disservice to the many sci-fi products Britain can be proud of, including The Prisoner and the Quatermass series... Anderson has consistently employed futurist settings and special effects only as gaudy ornaments to the hoariest, most imbecilic and most cliché-ridden stories available.
Fair enough. Stingray - it's rubbish but great fun. Watch it, at least once.