The awesome retro-future of… Stingray!

Does anybody remember Gerry Anderson’s Stingray – the marionette-and-sci-fi show that preceded Thunderbirds. It was a bit before my time, but I picked it up on TV repeats when I was a kid.

I haven’t seen much of it since, but I remember it having the design and style of the James Bond movies of the period –  deliberately, I’m sure. Anderson and his wife Sylvia were always on the money when it came to style. These days it comes across more as a kind of retro-future – the way we thought things might look, complete with the monolithic engineering solutions we hoped we might be living amongst by now.

For instance, there’s the way the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (WASP) main office blocks were built on hydraulic rams. When danger threatened, the buildings would sink into the ground, like this:

Visually it was a very cool idea, and it fitted with Anderson’s iconic themes of secrecy, concealment, and engineering solutions involving colossal machines or objects being moved around on conveyor belts. This was where the future seemed to be in the 1960s. And in point of fact, it was technically quite feasible, even then, to build a structure that did this.

So why didn’t anybody do it? Well, it was really silly from a cost-benefit perspective. I mean, if you need to protect your office block, why not just build it underground in the first place? Under a mountain. With 25-ton blast doors closing off the entrance. The US did that in Cheyenne Mountain.

That way you don’t need to invent and pay for the hydraulics and sliding steel lids needed for the descending office block, or the waterproofing needed for the pit the building sinks into (and the machine rooms beneath that). OK, yes, I know they were actually in 1/76 scale and the bits usually came from a model shop selling Airfix kits that happened to operate just over the road from Anderson’s production studio, but you get what I mean.

On the other hand, it was also visual spectacle over function, and I’m sure Anderson knew it – if you listen to the commentary track for his 1970 series UFO he’s on about the engineering silliness of some of the visual concepts all the time. And that, I think, speaks quite a bit for the way we usually envisage the future.

Have any of you seen Stingray?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

11 thoughts on “The awesome retro-future of… Stingray!

  1. One name… others talk about ‘Lady Penelope’… but I remember ‘Marina’ first. With her own theme song (very period) and a great submarine design.

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    1. I remember the song well. Had to look it up – “Aqua Marina”, sung by Gary Miller and composed by Barry Gray, though he wrote just about all the music in the Anderson universe. My particular favourite is the outro from UFO, which Gray performed with an Ondes Martinot and a Swarmatron – the latter a Brit analog synth that to me sums up so much in general about how British inventions always lead the world for innovation despite being built in a leaky Nissan hut with a hacksaw and soldering iron (which, as I understand it, is basically the construction technique for the Swarmatron…)

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      1. I have to confess I was a fan of the Fireball XL5 theme. I believe it was released as a single. There are so many British innovations that come from our ‘cottage industries’. Long may it continue.

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        1. Indeed – and British innovations in general – cavity magnetron, Hawker Harrier etc etc… (some of them fuelled from Britain’s offspring – my late Dad, a Kiwi electronics engineer, was 2IC at London’s Westrex lab in 1957-58… and boy do I wish I had inherited his patents, which his employer owned and which now sit with Nokia. OK, maybe not too financial, even the one about getting stereo analog sound out of a beam of ordinary light, but hey… Sigh…)

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