If I could have any dream job, it might well be a model maker for TV back in the days when computers were as big as a farm, and didn’t even have screens – let alone Hollywood budgets. Back when, if you wanted to build a spaceship, you’d need an empty washing up liquid bottle or two, some clear plastic and balsa wood, a whole lot of poster paint and a very steady hand. (I lacked the steady hand, had a mild lack of patience and a series of badly finished Airfix models with the glue showing and the transfers all skew-whiff. Sadly, this was not the career for me.)
Growing up in Britain, of course, I was used to rather shoddy visual effects made on a winter-of-discontent budget (Doctor Who, I’m making eyes in your direction). So when they re-showed Thunderbirds in the early 90s it was the height of sophistication – the intricacy and skill involved in the model work was, to my 13 year old eyes, incredible.
What I’d never realised until recently, though, is also just how stylish it was. The vehicles, the buildings, the furniture and decoration – the worlds created in Thunderbirds and Gerry Anderson’s other iconic work are as much a record of midcentury architecture, furniture and fashions as any other swinging 60s film or TV series out there. And this isn’t just idealism – brutalist buildings have ageing, dirty concrete, while Googie gas stations are overgrown and crumbling and city streets are dark and menacing. The detail Andersons’ model makers used to create an atmosphere is incredible.
Anderson died over Christmas, and I think it’s fitting for him to be remembered not only as a maker of a vast body of great childrens’ TV, but also as one of the great recorders of mid-20th century style. This Flickr set of screengrabs from various Anderson shows is a great tribute to a wonderful body of work.
All images from modern_fred’s Modern Worlds Flickr set, via AceJet170 (one of my favourite blogs)