From an idea by composer Barry Gray, Four Feather Falls is a fantasy Western series which was produced by Gerry Anderson and his AP Films team between June 1959 and April 1960 for Granada. The series stars Tex Tucker, sheriff of the town of Four Feather Falls where he keeps the peace along with his horse Rocky and loyal dog Dusty. They have the ability to talk thanks to the four magic feathers in Tex’s hat. Four Feather Falls is a very special series and has an important place in the history of Gerry Anderson’s work. It is a series full of famous firsts as Gerry and his team began to pioneer the revolutionary puppetry methods which would later be known as Supermarionation. Here are just a few of the important staples of Gerry Anderson’s work which began in this magical little series…
Automatic Mouth Movement
For the first time, every puppet was fitted with a solenoid in it’s head to make it’s mouth move in sync with it’s dialogue. This was activated by electronic pulses going down the tungsten control wires from a tape recorder playing the pre-recorded dialogue. Although the system was not always perfect, with puppets’ mouths occasionally either being too sensitive or not sensitive enough, this was nevertheless the beginning of a method which AP Films and Century 21 would keep using throughout their puppet productions.
Unique to Four Feather Falls, characters with facial hair such as Grandpa Twink and Dan Morse have their entire chin move rather than just the bottom lip as was characteristic of other Supermarionation puppets. This was simply because their facial hair was able to conceal the join in the puppets’ faces!
Voicing the characters of Grandpa Twink, Fernando, Big Ben and Red Scalp as well as many other guest characters, Four Feather Falls sees David Graham join the cast of an Anderson puppet series for the first time. Gerry Anderson had first met Graham while directing an episode of Martin Kane, Private Investigator. David Graham later went on to provide voices in Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and The Secret Service (uncredited). He is reprising his most fondly remembered role, Parker, in the new Thunderbirds Are Go! series for ITV in 2015.
David Elliot and Alan Patillo
Gerry Anderson had previously directed every episode of The Adventures of Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy, and indeed a large number of episodes of Four Feather Falls. However, by episode 14, Trapped, David Elliot had been promoted from his role in the editing department and began directing episodes. Alan Patillo also began directing for the series on episode 27, Horse Thieves. Elliot and Patillo remained working as directors for AP Films until the second series of Thunderbirds.
Alternative Modes of Transport
Frustrated with the difficulties of making the puppets walk convincingly, Gerry Anderson began to devise vehicles and devices to prevent the characters in his Supermarionation series from having to walk. These methods ranged from the jet bikes in Fireball XL5 to the moving walk-ways seen in Captain Scarlet. It would appear, however, that even in Four Feather Falls the AP Films team were trying to prevent the puppets from having to walk. Characters are often seen riding their horses between locations. The horses themselves are never shown moving their legs as they walk across the prairies – most likely because they were being pulled across the set on wheels!
Barry Gray’s Music
Although Barry Gray had been arranging and conducting music for AP Films since The Adventures of Twizzle, Four Feather Falls was the first series for which he was the composer. Much of the music composed for the series has a traditional Western feel with Tommy Reilly’s Harmonica playing as a particular highlight. Little of the music, however, was carried on to later Anderson productions because of this. Only short cues from Chance Of A Ghost and A Little Bit Of Luck are used again in the Stingray episode Eastern Eclipse and the Thunderbirds episode Operation Crash-Dive respectively. Barry Gray would continue to compose music for all of Gerry Anderson’s television series and films (with the exception of The Protectors) until the first year of Space: 1999.
Of course, Four Feather Falls was a show which saw a great deal of pioneering take place during production and there are many other touches here and there throughout the series such as live special effects and large, highly detailed sets which became vital to the later Supermarionation series. The puppets and puppetry may not appear as sophisticated as later series demanded, but it was the start of AP Films being able to produce films to stand up to their live action counterparts. And above all else, Four Feather Falls is an incredibly fun and charming series that even 55 years later is still very enjoyable.
Have you seen Four Feather Falls? Let us know what you think of this charming series which saw the birth of Supermarionation!