Sylvia Anderson

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Sylvia Anderson
Syvia Anderson.jpg
Anderson with the puppet of Dr Venus from Fireball XL5 (1962–63)
Sylvia Beatrice Thomas

(1927-03-25)25 March 1927
Camberwell, London, England
Died15 March 2016(2016-03-15) (aged 88)
Bray, Berkshire, England
ResidenceBray, Berkshire, England [1]
Alma mater London School of Economics
OccupationTelevision producer, film producer, writer, voice actress, costume designer
Years active1957–2015
Employer HBO
Television Supermarionation series, including Thunderbirds (1965–66)
Board member ofPolytechnic Films/AP Films/Century 21/Group Three (1957–75)
Jack Brooks
(m. 1946;div. 1950)

George Thamm
(m. 1952;div. 1959)

Gerry Anderson
(m. 1960;div. 1980)
Children2; including Gerry Anderson Jr. [2]

Sylvia Beatrice Anderson [3] (née Thomas; 25 March 1927 – 15 March 2016) was an English television and film producer, writer, voice actress and costume designer, best known for her collaborations with Gerry Anderson, her husband between 1960 and 1981. [4]

Gerry Anderson English television creator and filmmaker, known for his "Supermarionation" puppet animated works

Gerry Anderson was an English television and film producer, director, writer and occasional voice artist. He remains famous for his futuristic television programmes, especially his 1960s productions filmed with "Supermarionation".


In addition to serving as co-creator and co-writer on their TV series during the 1960s and early 1970s, Anderson's primary contribution was character development and costume design. [1] She regularly directed the bi-weekly voice recording sessions, and provided the voices of many female and child characters, in particular the creation of Lady Penelope and Parker in Thunderbirds .

Costume design creation of clothing and accessories to signal aspects of character in film, television, or theatre

Costume design is the investing of clothing and the overall appearance of a character or performer. Costume may refer to the style of dress particular to a nation, a class, or a period. In many cases, it may contribute to the fullness of the artistic, visual world which is unique to a particular theatrical or cinematic production. The most basic designs are produced to denote status, provide protection or modesty, or provide visual interest to a character. Costumes may be for a theater, cinema, or musical performance but may not be limited to such. Costume design should not be confused with costume coordination which merely involves altering existing clothing, although both create stage clothes.

<i>Thunderbirds</i> (TV series) British science fiction Supermarionation TV series

Thunderbirds is a British science-fiction television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, filmed by their production company AP Films (APF) and distributed by ITC Entertainment. It was produced between 1964 and 1966 using a form of electronic marionette puppetry combined with scale-model special effects sequences. Two series were filmed, comprising a total of thirty-two 50-minute episodes; production ceased following the completion of the second series' sixth episode when Lew Grade, the Andersons' financial backer, failed in his efforts to sell the programme to American network television.

Early life

Anderson was born in Camberwell, London, England, [5] on 25 March 1927. Her father, Sidney Thomas, was a champion boxer, and her mother, Beatrice (née Aberdeen), a dressmaker. [6]

Camberwell area of south London, England, in the London Borough of Southwark and the London Borough of Lambeth

Camberwell is a district of South London, England, within the London Borough of Southwark. It is located 2.7 miles (4.3 km) southeast of Charing Cross. The name Camberwell was first applied to the Parish of St Giles, Camberwell, which included the village of Camberwell, and the hamlets of Peckham, Dulwich, Nunhead, and part of Herne Hill. Until 1889, it was part of the county of Surrey. In 1900 the original parish became the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

After graduating from the London School of Economics [1] with a degree in sociology and political science, she became a social worker. She emigrated to the United States to live with her first husband, an American golfer. [4] While in America she worked as a journalist. [7]

London School of Economics public research university in London, United Kingdom

The London School of Economics is a public research university located in London, England, and a member institution of the federal University of London. Founded in 1895 by Fabian Society members Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, Graham Wallas, and George Bernard Shaw for the betterment of society, LSE joined the University of London in 1900 and established its first degree courses under the auspices of the University in 1901. LSE started awarding its own degrees in its own name in 2008, prior to which it awarded degrees of the University of London.

Social work academic discipline and profession

Social work is an academic discipline and profession that concerns itself with individuals, families, groups and communities in an effort to enhance social functioning and overall well-being. Social functioning is the way in which people perform their social roles, and the structural institutions that are provided to sustain them. Social work applies social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, political science, public health, community development, law, and economics, to engage with client systems, conduct assessments, and develop interventions to solve social and personal problems; and to bring about social change. Social work practice is often divided into micro-work, which involves working directly with individuals or small groups; and macro-work, which involves working with communities, and - within social policy - fostering change on a larger scale.


Anderson returned to the United Kingdom in 1955 with her daughter. [8] She joined the newly founded and short-lived Polytechnic Films as an office assistant in 1957. [1] [4] There, she met Gerry Anderson, an editor and director. [4] That year, when Anderson and Arthur Provis created AP Films following Polytechnic's collapse, she joined them on the board of directors of the new company, alongside their colleagues John Read and Reg Hill. [1] [4]

Arthur John Provis was an English cinematographer and producer, best known for co-founding AP Films with Gerry Anderson.

AP Films

AP Films or APF, later becoming Century 21 Productions, was a British independent film production company of the 1950s until the early 1970s. The company became internationally known for its imaginative children's action-adventure marionette television series – most significantly Thunderbirds – produced for British independent broadcasting companies Associated-Rediffusion, Granada, ABC Weekend Television and Associated Television. At its height, the company employed more than 200 staff.

John Owen Read was a British television producer, cinematographer and director.

Collaboration with Gerry Anderson

In 1957 AP Films was commissioned by writer Roberta Leigh to produce films based on her children's stories, including The Adventures of Twizzle and Torchy the Battery Boy . [9] Sylvia Anderson worked on these projects as a production assistant. [8] In late 1960 the couple married, [10] and she developed a wider role in production duties. [1] [4]

Roberta Leigh was an assumed name for Rita Lewin who was a British author, artist, composer and television producer. She wrote romance fiction and children's stories under the pseudonyms Roberta Leigh, Rachel Lindsay, Janey Scott and Rozella Lake.

<i>The Adventures of Twizzle</i> television series

The Adventures of Twizzle is a television show produced by AP Films and Gerry Anderson. Conceived by author Roberta Leigh, later a co-producer, the children's show premiered in 1957. The show follows Twizzle and his companions on adventures. Twizzle has the ability to extend his arms and legs. Although 52 episodes of the show were created during the show's year-long run in 1957, only one of the episodes has managed to survive. This singular episode was released on the Space Patrol box set. The series was one of the first shows to use intricate puppetry which would prove important in later shows developed by Gerry Anderson.

<i>Torchy the Battery Boy</i> British television series

Torchy the Battery Boy was the British second television series produced by AP Films and Gerry Anderson, running from 1960 to 1961. Directed by Anderson, it was a collaboration with author Roberta Leigh, with music scored by Barry Gray, art direction from Reg Hill and special effects by Derek Meddings.

The couple worked together as a team, co-writing and co-creating the first episode of a series then sharing the work according to their strengths. Gerry tended to specialise in special effects and hardware, and Sylvia in character, voices, costume, dialogue, and plotlines. [11] [12] [8]

In this way, Anderson contributed plot development and voice work for a series of half-hour shows including Supercar , Stingray and Fireball XL5 . [11] However, she felt the half-hour format was insufficient to fully develop characters and stories, and she persuaded the team's TV producer Lew Grade to extend their shows to a full hour. [11]

In the early 1960s, the Andersons co-created the series Thunderbirds , and Sylvia created the characters. She was aware that Grade intended to sell the show to American TV networks and wanted to make the show appealing to American audiences, hence she introduced the "British aristocrat" character of Lady Penelope, and Parker her "Cockney chauffeur". [9]

Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, an aristocratic fashionista who was an undercover agent, was to become one of her most popular characters; Anderson both created the character and provided her voice. [7] [11] AP Films puppet designer Mary Turner used Anderson as the template for the creation of the Lady Penelope puppets, a decision of which Anderson was not immediately aware. Interviewed by the Daily Mirror in 1968, Turner commented: "we wanted a glamorous blonde and [Anderson] was the obvious choice." [13] In 1966 and 1968, Anderson produced two feature-length films based on the Thunderbirds story, Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6 . [9]

She was co-creator with Gerry Anderson for the series UFO (1969-1970) on which she co-produced, was responsible for fashions on the show and did the majority of the casting.

The Andersons' creative partnership ended when their marriage broke down during the production of the first series of Space: 1999 in 1975. [4] Gerry announced his intention to separate on the evening of the wrap party, [13] [14] following which Sylvia ceased her involvement with the company, which by this time had twice been renamed and was now called Group Three.

Talent scout and writing

In 1983 she published a novel titled Love and Hisses [4] and in 1994 she reprised her voice role as Lady Penelope for an episode of Absolutely Fabulous . She worked as a London-based talent scout for HBO for 30 years. [1] [4]

Her autobiography, Yes M'Lady, was first published in 1991; [15] in 2007, it was re-published as My FAB Years [16] with new material to bring it up to date with the latest developments in her life, such as her role as a production consultant for the 2004 live-action film adaptation of Thunderbirds .

Of the film, Anderson commented, "I'm personally thrilled that the production team have paid us the great compliment of bringing to life our original concept for the big screen. If we had made it ourselves (and we have had over 30 years to do it!) we could not have improved on this new version. It is a great tribute to the original creative team who inspired the movie all those years ago. It was a personal thrill for me to see my characters come to life on the big screen." [17] My FAB Years was re-released as a spoken CD, narrated by Anderson, in 2010. [18] [19]

Late career and charity work

In 2013, Anderson worked with her daughter Dee, a jazz singer, on a concept for a new TV series [1] named The Last Station. They set up a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for followers to contribute and be a part of the series.[ citation needed ]

In 2015, Anderson briefly returned to the Thunderbirds universe, when she guest-starred in an episode of the reboot TV series, Thunderbirds Are Go , as Great Aunt Sylvia, a relative of Lady Penelope.

Anderson was also known for her charity work, particularly in support of Breast Cancer Care [7] and Barnardo's. [20]


In 1966, Thunderbirds received the Royal Television Society Silver Medal. [21]

In 2015, Anderson travelled to Italy to receive a Pulcinella Award in recognition of her career in television production. [22] [23]

Personal life and death

Anderson married Jack Brooks in 1946 with whom she had a daughter, Dee. She remarried in 1952 to George Thamm, which also resulted in divorce. She married for a third time in 1960 to Gerry Anderson, with whom she had a son, Gerry Anderson Jr before divorcing in 1980. [6] [24]

On 15 March 2016 (Ten days before her 89th birthday), Anderson died. [9]


AP Films

Century 21

Group Three

ITV Studios and Pukeko Pictures


Related Research Articles

Supermarionation style of television and film production

Supermarionation is a style of television and film production created in the 1960s by British production company AP Films. It was used extensively in the action-adventure puppet TV series of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, most of which used marionettes whose lip movements were electronically synchronised with pre-recorded dialogue.

<i>Thunderbirds</i> (2004 film) 2004 film by Jonathan Frakes

Thunderbirds is a 2004 British-American science fiction action-adventure film directed by Jonathan Frakes, based on the 1960s TV series Thunderbirds created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The film, written by William Osborne and Michael McCullers, was released on 20 July 2004 in the United Kingdom and 30 July 2004 in the United States.

<i>Thunderbirds Are Go</i> 1966 film directed by David Lane

Thunderbirds Are Go is a 1966 British science-fiction film based on Thunderbirds, a 1960s British television series starring marionette puppets and featuring scale model effects in a filming process dubbed "Supermarionation". Written by Thunderbirds creators Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, directed by David Lane and produced by AP Films, Thunderbirds Are Go focuses on the futuristic spacecraft Zero-X and its manned mission to Mars. When Zero-X suffers a mechanical failure during re-entry, it is up to International Rescue, with the aid of the Thunderbird machines, to save the astronauts on board before the spacecraft is obliterated in a crash landing.

<i>Thunderbird 6</i> 1968 British film directed by David Lane

Thunderbird 6 is a 1968 British science-fiction adventure film written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, directed by David Lane and produced by Century 21 Cinema. A sequel to 1966's Thunderbirds Are Go, it was the second film to be adapted from the 1960s television series Thunderbirds, which combined scale models and special effects with marionette puppet characters in a filming process that the Andersons termed "Supermarionation". Intended to provide a lighter-hearted cinematic experience to contrast with the harder science of Thunderbirds Are Go, the Andersons elected to base the plot of Thunderbird 6 on Skyship One, a futuristic airship that is the latest project of the scientist Brains.

FAB 1 pink Rolls-Royce in "Thunderbirds" TV series

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Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward

Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward is a fictional character introduced in the British mid-1960s Supermarionation television series Thunderbirds, who also appears in the film sequels Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968) and the 2004 live-action adaptation Thunderbirds. She is employed by the secret organisation International Rescue as London field agent.

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"The Duchess Assignment" is the 23rd episode of the first series of Thunderbirds, a British Supermarionation television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and produced by their company AP Films (APF). Written by Martin Crump and directed by David Elliott, it was first broadcast on 17 February 1966 on ATV Midlands.

"The Mighty Atom" is the sixth episode of the first series of Thunderbirds, a British Supermarionation television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and produced by their company AP Films. Written by Dennis Spooner and directed by David Lane, it was first broadcast on ATV Midlands on 30 December 1965.

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"The Cham-Cham" is the 25th episode of Thunderbirds, a British Supermarionation television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and produced by their company AP Films (APF). The penultimate episode of Thunderbirds Series One, it was written and directed by Alan Pattillo and first broadcast on 24 March 1966 on ATV Midlands.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Griffin, Stephen (26 May 2013). "Sylvia Anderson: 'The press loved Penelope and that made Gerry jealous'". Daily Express . London, UK: Express Newspapers . Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  2. "Sylvia Anderson, voice of Thunderbirds' Lady Penelope, dies". BBC News . Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  3. Profile Archived 22 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine ,; accessed 18 March 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Sylvia Anderson Biography". Archived from the original on 9 December 2011.
  5. 1 2 Association, Press (16 March 2016). "Thunderbirds' Sylvia Anderson, voice of Lady Penelope, dies aged 88". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 "Sylvia Anderson, voice of Thunderbirds' Lady Penelope, dies". BBC News. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 "Sylvia Anderson: Producer and writer who found fame with Thunderbirds". The Independent. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Hayward, Anthony (16 March 2016). "Sylvia Anderson obituary". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  9. England and Wales Civil Marriages Register Q4 1960, Westminster, Ref: 5c/679
  10. 1 2 3 4 "Being Lady Penelope: Thunderbirds co-creator Sylvia Anderson looks". The Independent. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  11. "The Gerry Anderson Production Index". Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  12. 1 2 Anderson, Sylvia (1991). Yes, M'Lady. London: Smith Gryphon. p. 44. ISBN   978-1-856850-11-7.
  13. Simon Archer, Stan Nicholls (1996). Gerry Anderson: the Authorised Biography. Legend Books. p. 171. ISBN   0-09-978141-7.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  14. Sylvia Anderson (1991). Yes M'Lady. Smith Gryphon. ISBN   1-85685-011-0.
  15. Sylvia Anderson (2007). My FAB Years. Hermes Press. ISBN   1-932563-91-1.
  16. "Thunderbirds: The Movie". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  17. "My FAB Years – the Audiobook". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  18. "My FAB Years". Audible Audio (abridged ed.). Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  19. "Sylvia Anderson Leads Safety Campaign". GloTIME. Archived from the original on 2 May 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  20. "Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5 and Captain Scarlet". Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  21. ""La Chouette & cie" récompensée à Venise". Studio Hari, News. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  22. "Sylvia Anderson presented with the Special Pulcinella Award". Sylvia Anderson. Archived from the original on 18 March 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  23. Obituary Archived 5 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine ,; accessed 19 March 2016.