Captain ScarletFireball XL5Space: 1999StingrayTerrahawksThunderbirdsUFO

“Keep this frequency clear!” A history of Anderson on audio

For as long as the Gerry Anderson shows have been merchandised, that merchandise has included audio releases – be they music collections or original audio dramas. From early vinyl releases of songs from The Adventures of Twizzle and Four Feather Falls, and an expanded version of the soundtrack to the Supercar episode Flight of Fancy, the audio medium has proven an ideal format for further adventures from the Anderson universe – and the most famous of these were the Century 21 mini-albums.

Promising “21 minutes of adventure” (on the earliest releases at least), these were a collection of 7” vinyl records running from 1965 to 1967. Across the thirty-seven released titles came several new original stories from the worlds of Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, and Captain Scarlet, performed by the original actors from the shows, as well as a handful of music releases and even some non-Anderson fare such as the Daleks and Topo Gigio. In the days before home video recorders these mini-albums were one of the few ways fans could enjoy their favourite Anderson shows while the television series itself was off the air, and the original audio drama titles in particular remain sought after to this day.

Joe 90, The Secret Service, UFO and The Protectors would not see similar releases (although several would receive vinyl releases of cover versions of their theme tunes) but Power Records were on hand to provide Space:1999 fans with several new stories and episode adaptations released on two vinyl record releases in the mid-1970s, albeit performed by an all-new cast and at a much faster pace.

For 1983’s Terrahawks the primary audio merchandise tie-in was the vinyl record of Kate Kestrel’s S.O.S. (as performed by Moya Griffiths), but young fans could also enjoy Terrahawks stories on audio as part of the Listen and Read range published by Rainbow Communications. Each release paired a cassette tape with a book, allowing readers to follow along with the action on audio as they read along with four different television stories; Happy Madeday, Thunder Roar, Space Samurai, and From Here to Infinity. Featuring linking narration from actor Robbie Stevens, these releases were also notable for including several moments that were ultimately edited out of their television counterparts!

With the 1990s came a resurgence of interest in the Anderson shows, and among the flurry of new merchandise on the nation’s shelves were audio cassette re-releases of many of the Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet Century 21 mini albums, with several of the Thunderbirds narrated soundtrack stories even receiving airtime on BBC Radio 5. Despite this resurgence of interest in the shows, new original audio dramas did not go into production, although several of the original Thunderbirds cast had been reunited for a new audio mini-episode in aid of the BBC’s Children in Need appeal in the late 1980s.

It was also at the end of the Nineties that the first major releases of original soundtrack material began to arrive on CD courtesy of Fanderson, with a single disc release of music from Supercar and Fireball XL5 in 1998 soon followed with double sets of music from both seasons of Space:1999. As the years passed club members could expect an annual album of previously unreleased music – and today, almost twenty-five years since the Supercar & Fireball XL5 album, the original soundtracks to the classic Anderson shows continue to be released to the public on CD, download and vinyl through Silva Screen Records and Network (as well as to Fanderson club members) thanks to a small but dedicated group of archivists responsible for preserving the musical legacies of these shows. The Gerry Anderson Store is proud to offer the Network and Silva Screen titles for sale, with the most recent release from the latter company being Stingray.

Terrahawks volume 3 from Big FinishIn 2014 audio drama producers Big Finish Productions made the surprise announcement that they would be releasing a brand new collection of Terrahawks stories. Featuring three members of the original cast, these new stories continued where the original 1980s television series had left off, and featured the show’s original sound effects and music to further immerse fans of the show in these new adventures.

Alongside the Terrahawks range came a series of Captain Scarlet audio releases celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary, including a seven-disc boxset collecting the 5 original Scarlet Century 21 mini-albums from the 1960s alongside eight stories from the television stories featuring narration from Ed Bishop as Captain Blue (recorded during the 1990s along with several Stingray stories for a possible radio broadcast but ultimately left unaired). Accompanying these were enhanced audiobook adaptations of the three Captain Scarlet novels written by author John Theydon originally published alongside the initial broadcast of the television series. Featuring narration from David Graham, with performances from Wayne Forester and Liz Morgan, these releases were well received and pointed the way towards similar adaptations further down the line.

The Big Finish Terrahawks audio range came to an end in 2017 after three releases and twenty-six new episodes, successfully proving that new audio adventures for an existing Anderson series were viable – but how about re-imaginings for older shows whose casts were no longer all with us? The answer came in 2019 with the first adventure from Big Finish’s new reimagining of Space:1999, beginning with an all-new version of Breakaway with a new cast and continuing into subsequent volumes. Similarly, a reimagined UFO launched in August 2022 with Destruct Positive, a collection of three brand new stories featuring an all new cast.

Brand new cast of Space 1999 audio drama breakaway
The cast of the new Space:1999 reimagined audio series from Big Finish Productions.

Those hoping for a continuation of the Supermarionation novel adaptations were rewarded in May 2021 with the release of Terror from the Stars, a new audiobook adaptation of the first John Theydon Thunderbirds novel. Following a similar hybrid of audiobook and audio drama format to the 2017 Captain Scarlet novel adaptations, Terror from the Stars featured a new Thunderbirds cast reprising the classic characters from the original television series. More Thunderbirds stories soon followed (Peril in Peru and Operation Asteroids) plus two Stingray adventures (Operation Icecap and Monster from the Deep) – with more Thunderbirds novel adaptations to come!

2022 saw the same new Thunderbirds cast bring to life new adventures from another corner of the Anderson universe – the classic comics of the 1960s. Two releases – Thunderbirds versus the Hood and Fire and Fury – each featuring two comic stories newly adapted for audio have been released so far, again with more to come in 2023! Additionally, text stories from the 1960s annuals and storybooks have also come to life on audio as part of the TV21 Anything Can Happen audio annual release, featuring stories from Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.

Well-received by fans and critics alike, these new Thunderbirds audiobooks and audio dramas have helped continue the tradition of Anderson audios that now spans seven decades, and with many more comic stories waiting to be adapted for audio there’s no shortage of new adventures for the classic Thunderbirds team – as well as potentially the Stingray crew, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet and others! And who knows; perhaps brand new original stories for these classic characters might be just around the corner? Stay tuned in 2023…

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

Leave a comment

Prepare for life on Moonbase Alpha

UFO: The Complete Comic Collection