Gerry Anderson’s various TV series can often be identified by their heroic male protagonists, but a strong line-up of female characters regularly shared in the action. Throughout the Supermarionation years of the 1960s, female characters experienced quite the evolution in their prominence, ranging from simply providing a female presence to balance out the dominance of male characters to overtaking the spotlight almost entirely. On this year’s International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the female heroines of Supermarionation!

If we may define Supermarionation as beginning with Four Feather Falls (1960), then surely our first Anderson puppet heroine is Ma Jones (voiced by Denise Bryer), proprietor of the general store in Four Feather Falls, Kansas. Perhaps not the first female action hero who comes to mind from the worlds of Anderson, but a noteworthy mention nonetheless.

Supercar (1961) leaves little room for a strong female presence amongst its all-male line up of pilots, scientists, 10-year-old boys, and pet monkeys. Nevertheless, a smattering of rarely seen characters elevate Supercar‘s standing for female representation. Aunt Heidi, cousin of Professor Popkiss, and the orphaned Zizi in her care make a handful of appearances, but more comically memorable is Doctor Beaker’s own cousin Felicity. Every bit as eccentric as Doctor Beaker, she is known to put the villainous Masterspy and Zarin through their paces!

Female representation would take something of a giant leap for mankind with Doctor Venus of Fireball XL5 (1962). Voiced by Sylvia Anderson herself, Venus brings a welcome female presence to the crew of Fireball XL5 as one of the main characters, a woman of medical expertise who brings a nice counterbalance to the action-man heroics of Steve Zodiac. Her character may admittedly be subject to fulfilling a ‘damsel in distress’ role on several occasions, but her presence in the series showed how the Andersons and AP Films were ensuring their programmes appealed equally to boys as well as girls.

Fireball XL5 also marked the continuing creative influence of Sylvia in shaping the direction of the characters who populated Gerry’s sci-fi concepts. Gerry’s technical prowess for filmmaking combined with Sylvia’s artistic flare would prove to be a winning formula in bringing their concepts to life with runaway success.

The largest and most positive leap yet in AP Films’ female representation in its works would come in Stingray (1964). The beautiful female space heroine prototype found in Doctor Venus would now be split into two memorable characters – Lieutenant Atlanta Shore and Marina. A unique appeal of Stingray is found in its love triangle between Captain Troy Tempest, Atlanta and Marina, with the series regularly showing Troy’s heart pulled in either direction of which woman he’s truly in love with.

Troy, Marina and Atlanta

Stingray showed AP Films’ continued expansion into family viewing. The confident, tomboyish Atlanta, wonderfully voiced by Lois Maxwell of James Bond fame, proves to be an evolution of Venus. By comparison, Atlanta isn’t the butt of any sexist gags and often proves to be the only one capable of calming the barking attitude of her father, Commander Sam Shore. Marina, on the other hand, was quite the opposite. The mute, underwater civilian of the undersea race of Pacifians brought an exotic, otherworldly glamour to the series. She also becomes an invaluable member of the Stingray crew, able to withstand dangerous underwater environments which Troy and Phones may struggle to endure.

With the arrival of Lady Penelope, Thunderbirds (1965) marks the undeniable peak of Supermarionation’s female characters. The aristocratic super-spy demonstrated that AP Films could quite easily craft their equivalent of the daring spy-fi adventure of James Bond, but still going further by hardwiring this within the dangerous heroics of International Rescue itself. As one of International Rescue’s secret global operatives, Lady Penelope and her trustee chauffeur Parker would often be tasked with villainous rogues who cause disasters which International Rescue is quick to respond to, or any other dangerous missions which might fall outside of I.R.’s remit.

Lady Penelope’s genesis wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, however. Early episodes show her in a less than positive light, such as unable to drive or easily petrified by mice! Only with Sylvia’s increasing involvement did Penelope blossom into a character just as capable in holding her nerve in dangerous situations as any Tracy brother. With Sylvia once again providing her vocal talents for the role, Lady Penelope proved to be an overnight success, essentially becoming her own mass media franchise within the runaway success of Thunderbirds itself. The character spawned a variety of comics, novels, annuals, dolls, and more.

Elsewhere, Tin-Tin (voiced by Christine Finn) offered a reliable female presence within the core Tracy family itself. Daughter of the Tracy’s loyal manservant Kyrano, Tin-Tin’s background in mathematics and engineering make her a worthwhile aid to Brains in maintaining the Thunderbird machines, whilst her love for music and fashion and playfully romantic relationship with Alan brings a sense of feminine fun to the otherwise masculine Tracy household.

At half the episode runtime but now with a much larger ensemble cast to consider, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967) may have struggled to match the creative momentum of Thunderbirds‘ characterisation, but the series’ five-piece, all-female fighter squadron would become one of the series’ best-loved hallmarks. The five Angels, Destiny, Rhapsody, Symphony, Harmony and Melody, all continue to follow in their predecessor’s footsteps of bringing a strong, regular female presence alongside the male protagonists. Little would be seen of them individually, yet the speed and firepower of their Angel Interceptors adds deadly danger to their elegance and charm. Each Angel being a different nationality was no accident either, and a further firm reminder of the utopian, shared world ideals which Gerry’s works often portrayed.

Joe 90 (1968) would return to the intimate, male-focused groups of Supercar, and is often championed as a genuine highlight for characterisation within the worlds of Supermarionation, but in doing so would neglect central female characters. Still, some memorable instances remain, such as the occasionally-seen housekeeper Mrs Harris, comedically oblivious to the globe-saving exploits of her employer and his nine-year-old son. Another memorable instance comes in the episode Three’s a Crowd, when Joe succeeds in sussing out Mac’s girlfriend, Angela Davis as an enemy spy, convincing her to leave before she can break his heart. The Secret Service (1969) offered even less female representation, with housekeeper Mrs Appleby easily being the stand-out. Similar to Mrs Harris, she too was ignorant of Father Stanley Unwin’s double life as a gobbledygook-spouting secret agent.

The various female heroes of Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation shows brought plenty of grace and glamour into these otherwise male-dominated worlds. Their inclusion helped bolster the storytelling and characterisation elements of these series, often showcasing opportunities for enhanced humour and drama which may otherwise have not been as successful within an entirely male set-up of characters. It’s fascinating to watch the heroine figure gradually evolve across these productions, blossoming into more positive role models and much more three-dimensional characters as the various series progressed.

The legacy of these characters continues with Genevieve Gaunt and Jules de Jongh taking over the roles of several of these beloved heroines. Genevieve voices Lady Penelope in Anderson Entertainment’s current range of Thunderbirds audiobooks (as well as taking on the role of Doctor Venus in our Fireball XL5 release Cloud of a Billion Lights). Jules de Jongh meanwhile takes up the role of Atlanta for our Stingray audiobooks, and has previously voiced Lieutenant Green in 2005’s New Captain Scarlet.

Genevieve also carries the Anderson action heroine mantle into the 21st century with her leading role as Nero Jones in our spy-fi audio drama First Action Bureau. You can hear these new and classic characters in action via our range of full cast audio dramas and storybooks!

Written by
Fred McNamara

Atomic-powered writer/editor. Website editor at Official Gerry Anderson. Author of Flaming Thunderbolts: The Definitive Story of Terrahawks. Also runs Gerry Anderson comic book blog Sequential 21.

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