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“They crash him, & his body may burn…” The History of The Spectrum!

The Spectrum is Green!

From its fifteenth episode (The Trap) onwards, viewers of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons were treated to a new version of the show’s familiar end title theme; a track which now featured lyrics and which was performed by British group The Spectrum. However, although they would find themselves involved with the promotion of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the Spectrum had not been created especially for the series, but had instead originally formed in 1960 under the name of Dale Stevens & Group Five – a name they would retain until 1965.

Group Five was formed in 1960 by lead singer/rhythm guitarist Colin Forsey and lead guitarist Tony Atkins, and although the group would undergo several personnel changes during its decade-long existence Forsey and Atkins would both be constants. Despite their north-east London roots, the group’s first album was produced in 1964 for French ears; En Direct de Liverpool (Direct from Liverpool) saw the group hired to perform a selection of Motown and R&B covers that the album claimed were recorded in front of a live audience at the Twenty Club in Liverpool. This attempt to cash in on the popularity of The Beatles (whom the group had played support to at Salisbury City Hall in June 1963), although very listenable, was an early example of a problem the group would face throughout its existence; being forced to emulate the sound of another group entirely.

By the start of 1967, Group Five had spent several years as The Spectrum and had been joined on drums by Colin’s brother Keith Forsey, on guitar and vocals by Anthony Judd, and on keyboards and organ by Bill Chambers. Now an established part of the London music scene of the Swinging Sixties, the group were moving in circles that included representatives of major record labels – including Cyril Black of Screen Gems, the American production company who owned the Monkees. Looking for a group that could serve as something of a British answer to the Monkees, he signed the group to RCA Victor, a label on which they soon released Samantha’s Mine with a B-side cover of The Monkees’ Saturday’s Child. The disc enjoyed number one success in Spain but failed to chart in the UK, although it did receive enough airtime (particularly on pirate radio stations) to attract the ears of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. With their latest series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, featuring an organisation named Spectrum, the Andersons decided to use the band to help promote the series  – and signed the group to a £100,000 contract.

The Spectrum’s version of the Captain Scarlet end titles song was recorded on July 26th 1967, three days after the recording of the incidental music for the episodes The Launching and Lunarville 7. Barry Gray adjusted his original instrumental theme that had been heard on the show’s earlier episodes to include new lyrics, and The Spectrum’s version of the end title song would be heard on all subsequent episodes of the series.

(L-R) Colin Farsey (Scarlet), Anthony Judd (Blue), Bill Chambers (Lt Green), Keith Farsey (Ochre), Tony Atkins (Magenta) pose with their puppet counterparts, on a revamped Thunderbird 4 set used for the Lunarville 7 Moonmobile interior.

The group were kitted out in Spectrum uniforms produced by London-based theatrical costumiers Bermans for various public appearances and publicity photos, including the promotional video for their own song Portobello Road and television performances of their fourth single Headin’ for a Heatwave in December 1967 (which included the Captain Scarlet-themed Christmas episode of game show The Golden Shot). They also posed for an assortment of publicity photos with the Captain Scarlet puppet characters at the Century 21 Studios, as well as the entire Captain Scarlet production team.

Various press outlets reported that The Spectrum would cross paths with Captain Scarlet himself on screen, either in puppet form on the television series or in live action form in some kind of Captain Scarlet feature film, although this would ultimately never occur. However, young fans eager to enjoy stories of The Spectrum’s exploits would find a short-lived comic strip based on the group’s adventures within the pages of Lady Penelope comic, from issues 103 to 122 – but with the end of the Captain Scarlet television series came the end of the group’s involvement with Gerry Anderson and Century 21 Productions. Although popular, their version of the Captain Scarlet theme was never performed live and was not even commercially released until several decades later – by which time it had been covered by many other artists. Headin’ for a Heatwave, meanwhile, had proven to be another chart-topper in Spain – but one which made no splash in Britain.

The Spectrum having a tough time of it in their Lady Penelope comic strip.

The end of the group’s association with Captain Scarlet also came with a growing feeling among its members that their credibility had been damaged by their rebranding as the ‘British Monkees’, while more commercial projects like Captain Scarlet had further helped to push their music away from the areas they wanted to explore. 1968 saw the group still turning out singles that failed to make any impact on the British charts, but once again it was a different story in Europe as their cover of The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da made it to #19 in Germany and #16 in Spain.

The Spectrum, circa 1967.

In 1969 Judd and Chambers departed the group, which was relaunched the same year as Spectrum, and the group’s last hurrah came with the release of their second and final album in September 1970. The Light is Dark Enough was a ten-track collection split evenly between five previously released songs and five new ones, although the plan had originally been for an album of all-new material. Unfortunately, long running frustrations within the group (mostly to do with how RCA were managing them) led to The Spectrum’s breakup during the album’s production, with RCA choosing to release the new songs (which incorporated increasingly psychedelic and at times nihilistic imagery) alongside a selection of older material.

The Spectrum members moved on to other projects, but their time with the group – including their performance of the Captain Scarlet theme song – remained a mostly fond memory, if tempered by the knowledge that their greatest successes had been achieved abroad than at home. Thankfully, the entire discography of The Spectrum is now available on a double CD set, allowing Captain Scarlet fans a chance to explore the wider musical history of the group that until now they may only have known for their cheerful rendition of the various awful things the Mysterons planned to do to Spectrum’s top agent!

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.

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