View Comments
Gerry Anderson with his Thunderbirds creations. Picture: AP

Gerry Anderson, the British director and creator of the cult sci-fi animation series Thunderbirds, has died aged 83.

Anderson had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease since 2010 and his health had deteriorated in the past six months, his son Jamie Anderson said on his personal website.

The animator also created Joe 90 and Stingray but he was best known for Thunderbirds, which used a form of marionette puppetry dubbed "Supermarionation".

The series, first shown in 1965, followed the adventures of International Rescue, a secretive organisation whose mission was to help those in peril using spacecraft and a range of high-tech vehicles operating from a Pacific island.

"I'm very sad to announce the death of my father, Thunderbirds creator, Gerry Anderson," his son said on Wednesday.

"He died peacefully in his sleep at midday today having suffered with mixed dementia for the past few years."

Anderson began his career studying fibrous plastering, the technique used to make mouldings, but he suffered from dermatitis and had to switch to work as a photographer.

He also briefly earned a living as an air traffic controller before setting up a film company with friends.

His first commission was a children's puppet series called The Adventures of Twizzle.

The low-key start allowed Anderson to perfect the technique of Supermarionation.

It first involved recording the soundtrack for the voices. Then when the puppets were being filmed the electric signal from the taped dialogue was transmitted to sensors in the puppets' heads.

That meant that the marionettes' lips moved in total synchronicity with the soundtrack, which after being perfected in Fireball XL5 and Stingray was ready for the launch of Thunderbirds.

Anderson came up with the idea for Thunderbirds in 1963 while listening to a radio report about a revolutionary machine being transported across Germany to rescue miners trapped deep in a mine.

He developed the concept with his second wife, TV and film producer Sylvia Anderson, to whom he was married from 1960 to 1981.

The series was set 100 years in the future, but despite its glamorous concept, it was filmed in the drab surroundings of a trading estate in Slough to the west of London.

The plot revolved around International Rescue, manned by the Tracy family, often assisted by the glamorous Lady Penelope - whose character was voiced by Sylvia Anderson - and her butler, Parker.

Anderson spoke about his condition earlier this year.

He told BBC radio: "I don't think I realised at all. It was my wife Mary who began to notice that I would do something quite daft like putting the kettle in the sink and waiting for it to boil."