|The crew of the XL5: Robert, Matt, Steve and Venus.|
December 14, 2019
(ATV, October 28, 1962-October 27, 1963)
Created by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, Fireball XL5 was a British science fiction children’s show that made use of AP Films’ Supermarionation style (a form of electronic marionette puppetry with lip movements synchronized to pre-recorded dialogue). The series focused on the missions of Fireball XL5 (inspired by motor oil Castrol XL, which Gerry thought had an interesting sound), a ship that was part of the World Space Patrol based out of Space City somewhere in the South Pacific. The ship’s crew consisted of commanding officer Colonel Steve Zodiac (Paul Maxwell), medical officer Dr. Venus (Sylvia), engineer Professor Matthew Matic (Walter Brennan), co-pilot Robert the robot (an uncredited Gerry using an artificial larynx developed by Edinburgh University, and the only time he’d voice a character on one of his shows), and Dr. Venus’ lazy, semi-telepathic pet Zoonie the Lazoon (David Graham). They answered to Commander Wilbur Zero (John Bluthal) at Space City, who was assisted by Lieutenant Ninety (Graham). The series was set sometime in the late 21st Century and would often featuring the crew traveling to exotic planets and encountering various alien species.
Fireball XL5 debuted on Britain’s ATV on October 28, 1962. Running for 39 episodes over the course of a year, the series spawned a wave of merchandise as well as a minor hit with the theme song composed by Barry Gray, written by Charles Blackwell, and performed by Don Spencer. It would also be the last AP Films production made in black and white. As the series was wrapping up in the United Kingdom, it came to American airwaves in the fall of 1963 on NBC Saturday mornings. Although the earlier AP Films production Supercar had been seen in syndication, this would be the first Supermarionation series shown on US network television.