The Mysterons. Sworn enemies of Earth. Possessing the ability to recreate an exact likeness of an object or person. But first they must destroy. Leading the fight, one man fate has made indestructible. His name? Captain Scarlet.
Captain Scarlet is 50 on 29th September 2017!
— Gerry Anderson (@GerryAndersonTV) September 26, 2017
Captain Scarlet was broadcast in London somewhat earlier as an unscheduled programme on 29 April 1967, this was the pilot episode entitled The Mysterons. However September is usually seen as the anniversary month.
Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was a British TV show using puppets. It followed on the success of Thunderbirds however it wasn’t quite as successful. The stories were much darker and audiences were somewhat older and more sophisticated and the Mysterons’ threats gave the stories an extra dimension. Scarlet, pun intended, had a somewhat narrower spectrum of influence compared to the Tracey family. Yet as a matter of personal opinion I think Captain Scarlet is brilliant and on par with Thunderbirds.
Captain Scarlet was too realistic for a puppet show, it had violence. People were visibly blown up. There was no International Rescue to save the day with everyone happy all around. The programme’s endings were regularly sombre.
Captain Blue and Captain Scarlet.
The year the series is set is 2068. Cloudbase Nine is a flying fortress whose role is to fight the dreaded Mysteron threat. The main crew members of Cloudbase Nine, apart from Scarlet himself, are Colonel White, Lieutenant Green, Captain Blue, the Destiny Angels, Captain Black, and of course there’s The Mysterons who have come all the way from Mars to conduct war against Earth after their city is accidentally destroyed. Captain Black was the guy who started it all off!
Captain Black lead the expeditions that destroyed the Mysterons’ base. Source: Twitter
This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us Earthmen. We have not forgotten your unprovoked attack on our Martian complex. You are already powerless. We will be avenged.
Scarlet was voiced by Francis Matthews (of Paul Temple fame) who previously refused similar work for Thunderbirds. Matthews died in 2014 however this article by The Mail on Matthew’s stint as Scarlet is of interest.
— ＴＨＥ ＡＶＥＮＧＥＲＳ (@AvengersTvShow) September 25, 2017
The voice over for the pre-evil Captain Black, was provided by Jeremy Wilkin, whom I have met on several occasions as one of my former work colleagues was his daughter Kate. Wilkin also provided the voice-over for several other Scarlet characters. As well as Wilkin, Captain Black’s voice after he became the Mysterons’ agent, and Colonel White, were both provided by Charles Gray, (listed as Donald Gray in the credits to avoid confusion with Colonel White’s name!) Some will remember Gray as Blofeld, Bond’s arch-enemy, in Diamonds are Forever.
The voice over credits at the end of the show.
Cy Grant provided the voice over for Lieutenant Green – a rare opportunity for ethnic minorities within TV. The Prisoner had Earl Cameron, whilst the big one, Department S’ own boss, was Dennis Alba Peters. Yet these important roles have been ruefully overlooked. Everybody mentions Wyngarde, Fabiani, Nichols but not ever Peters. It is said the role of Sir Curtis Seretse was a marketing ploy (for the overseas tv market) rather than a genuine attempt at equality. Here’s Cy Grant’s thoughts on his role as Lieutenant Green.
Captain Scarlet was broadcast to the world on the ATV network in the Midlands on 29th September 1967. I’m not sure when it was broadcast nationwide, there doesnt seem to be any record of that. The series was bought in 1993 by the BBC, which means the rare event of a Gerry Anderson puppet show appearing on that broadcaster’s channel rather than ITV.
The series had been filmed at a warehouse in Stirling Road, Slough under the banner of Century 21 Productions. The same warehouse was used for Joe 90, Stingray and Thunderbirds. (The earlier Gerry Anderson TV series, eg Supercar, Fireball XL5, were made at Ipswich Road in the same part of Slough.) Filming of Captain Scarlet began 2nd January 1967.
The end credits curiously lists a sculptor called Plugg Shutt. This was in fact puppet sculptor Earnest ‘Plugg’ Shutt Jr. The Shutts were a family who had a life-long involvement puppetry and several of them worked with Gerry Anderson. Judith Shutt had the greatest involvement of all, but her dad, Ernest, did quite a bit of work on Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds 6 movie. Photos of the family, including ‘Plugg’ himself can be seen here. The last of the family, Judith died in 2014, but here’s a write up on her work for Thunderbirds.
Plugg Shutt is a weird name. pic.twitter.com/mjxRveVk
— liam (@liamjohnstonnz) June 14, 2012
— Eric Zerbe (@Eric_Zerbe) September 1, 2013
SPVs and the art of driving backwards
One of my favourite bits is the fact the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicles were driven backwards. The driver sat with his back to the direction of travel and watched the vehicle’s progress via tv monitors. Steering was done via “reverse differential, cylindrical hydro-pneumatic steering.” The monitors were vertically flipped to provide the correct viewpoint forward. The question is could this really work? I’m not sure. and I examine the issues here at length.
In the new Captain Scarlet series (2005) they copped out of the problems of driving vehicles backwards by having SPVs with normal driving positions.
A Spectrum Agents’ Manual should be released in time for the 50th anniversary! This will have cut away illustrations of a SPV and hopefully a detailed section on how one should drive these backwards properly!
— Slough Observer (@sloughobserver) September 26, 2017
The first issue with driving any vehicle backwards is naturally one of perception. The monitors give a fixed forward viewpoint. This means at times there may be some issue with correlation of the image being seen on the screen and what is actually seen on the road. Even though this is 2068, the TV monitors that can be seen in Captain Scarlet are clearly 2D and this is a problem. A 3D or holographic image would be so much better but still not 100%.
The second is the sense of G-force compared to what is being seen on the monitors. Certainly the Spectrum agents are able to steer the SPV’s with ease but again having a central fixed forward viewpoint (the monitor itself) would present some difficulties and I think the SPV would require computers as well as human skill, to be able to do the job fully. We could imagine that by 2068, computers were extremely advanced, but still not sufficiently enough, for example when it came to the pursuit of enemies. A certain amount of anticipation also is necessary and clearly only the human can provide that. A whole different scenario to say, a heat seeking missile chasing a moving target.
The third is of course going backwards. Even though the monitors are flipped to show the right direction of turn as if the driver was facing forward, he is still driving backwards! I think even then one would get strange sensations as they drove along.It might be correct that when Scarlet turns his steering column to the left, the vehicle turns left. But the g-forces are in reverse. In normal circumstances, in terms of gravity, one will fall into the start of a curve in the road and then be pulled to the side. In terms of a backwards direction that g-force is to the rear of one’s back. Instead of acceleration it would feel like deceleration.
Inside the SPV. Just the one guy on the right faces forward!
Let me give a daily example of this in practice. Take a trip on a train and sit with ones back to the direction of travel, hopefully it stops fairly sharply. Not too sharply but enough to create the sensations under discussion. One’s eyes, if they have been focusing on the rail tracks, will momentarily depict the tracks as receding into the distance when the train has in fact come to a complete halt. In other words one will have the impression, both in sense and sight, that the train is still moving.
This brings another question. If the Spectrum agents are in pursuit of the quarry and rapidly stop the SPV to continue the chase on foot, will they still feel they are going backwards?
As we know, in the series the SPV’s stop and then its a few seconds before Captains Scarlet or Blue emerge from the vehicle itself. There never seems to be any real hurry to chase the villains! Clearly the fact the vehicles occupants have to be transferred from the SPV’s internal cabin to the outside is also a no-no in terms of response times.
I think if there really were going to be things like SPVs, the internal cabin compartment would also need to be somewhat separate from the rest of the vehicle so it could employ hydraulics and stabilisers (much like a roller coaster virtual ride pod) to create the necessary forces and counter compensations that would be needed in order to drive backwards effectively.
The biggest issue is, if Captain Scarlet’s virtually indestructible, why does he even need the protection of a SPV? Come on, I know its fiction, an adventure story to be enjoyed! In real life Gerry Anderson found himself frustratingly having to repeat again and again why the SPV’s had to be driven backwards and what sort of advantages this had.
Onwards to the next fifty years of Captain Scarlet!
Captain Scarlet links:
BBC Cult TV Pages
Captain Scarlet 50th Anniversary Poster