The work of Gerry Anderson has been thoroughly documented across books, films, events and more. Historians and researchers continue to work hard unearthing fascinating information surrounding Thunderbirds and beyond. The story of Gerry’s career and his works will be told and updated with new knowledge and insight so long as there is a fascination with the magic of film. The legacy of his work will continue to live on with each new generation that discovers it. But the story of Gerry himself – the man, the son, the husband, the father – sadly came to an end on December 26th, 2012.
Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted, directed by Benjamin Field, is a documentary that chooses to focus firmly on Gerry’s personal story. The long and imposing shadow of the Thunderbirds legacy is cast aside, with his biggest shows being referenced only to add historical context. The familiar beats and chapters that make up previous publications on Anderson’s work are gone, and replaced with anecdotes from Gerry and those closest to him about the man, not necessarily the producer.
This most private and personal of stories is sensitively told through various mediums to serve the narrative. In true Anderson style, the most up to date, outlandish and controversial of film-making techniques is put to use. Deep-faked visuals of Gerry are married to private audio recordings made by Gerry’s biographers some thirty years ago. These audio recordings offer valuable and raw material from Gerry himself, telling his own life story. But these recordings also needed a visual element to effectively serve their role in this film. The deep fake footage isn’t there to trick or fool the audience into believing that the constructed interview clips are authentic – it is simply there to make the audio recordings useable and unlocks their potential. Without the deep fake technology, A Life Uncharted wouldn’t have been able to pack such a punch.
New interviews recorded with Gerry’s family, friends, and other contributors also serve the story a great deal. Familiar faces to the fans such as David “Parker” Graham discuss Gerry in a way they never have before. They are honest about his shortcomings, and praise his best qualities. For the first time on camera, we also hear from Gerry’s widow, Mary Anderson, as well as Joy and Linda, Gerry’s daughters from his first marriage. They bravely share with us what life with Gerry was really like, from his early days as a distant and uncertain father, to his final battle with Alzheimer’s.
Rare and unseen archive interviews also provide valuable and important insights from those who are no longer with us. For example, a damning interview with Twizzle and Torchy creator Roberta Leigh is powerfully contrasted with kind words from former business partner Arthur Provis. These clips enable the viewer to see into Gerry’s personal and professional life from many angles. Private photographs and home video footage also present Gerry as he’s never been seen publicly before, particularly in his younger years as he faced a childhood of poverty, religious persecution, and a troubling home life.
All of these elements are tied together by Jamie Anderson, who takes us on a journey to some of the most important places in his father’s life while sharing his own recollections and discoveries.
This wealth of material is elegantly presented with great openness and transparency. The viewer is invited into these private family stories, as well as the controversies that made up Gerry’s life. He struggled and made mistakes. Some of those difficulties have been well-documented in the past, such as Gerry’s divorce from his second wife, Sylvia. A Life Uncharted goes deeper into these events than ever before, not to open up wounds for the sake of it, but to go some way to explain why things happened the way they did, and why Gerry could be painted in a negative light as a result. Ultimately, these stories demonstrate that all people are flawed, and things are often not what they seem.
Different audiences will no doubt come away from this documentary with different lasting impressions. Everyone will find something to reflect on in relation to their own lives – be it young people trying to find their way in the world, or older people making the most of the time they have left. After I finished watching, I felt that A Life Uncharted deserved to be thought about carefully. It brings a great deal to the table about a man I thought I knew well through his work and previously published material. I feel priveleged to now have the insight offered by this documentary, and I am immensely grateful to those involved for sharing their stories in such a raw and honest way.
I am left in no doubt that, for all his strengths and all his weaknesses, Gerry Anderson was a remarkable man, and Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted honours its subject tremendously. This documentary is essential viewing for fans of Gerry’s work, and unlike anything they will have seen before. It will doubtless be enjoyed by a wider audience too, because this well-told, emotional story of Gerry’s rocky life is a great source of inspiration and reflection.
Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted launches on Britbox UK on Gerry Anderson Day, April 14th, following a grand premiere at the BFI Southbank on April 9th. It is produced by The Format Factory and Anderson Entertainment.