For over a generation, Supermarionation has been a byword for childhoods filled with action, adventure and thrills. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson spent the 1950s and 1960s bringing us explosions, excitement and globetrotting tales, with good battling evil, all from an industrial unit in deepest, darkest Slough. It was international-level television coming from an innocuous little location which was far more Cricklewood than Hollywood.
Century 21, Slough is totally a labour-of-love project, which brings us the story of this theatre of dreams, and the people for whom making the impossible possible on a shoestring budget was their stock-in-trade. It takes us back to the Stirling Road site on Slough Trading Estate, which was for over a decade the home of AP Films and – latterly – Century 21 Productions, the makers of classic TV series like Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, and Joe 90, to name but a few examples.
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It’s somewhat of a bittersweet trip down memory lane, as the building was due to be imminently demolished, so it gives us the last chance to go behind the scenes of the place where so many happy memories were created for kids of all ages, both old and young. Sadly, both Gerry and Sylvia Anderson are no longer with us, but their tales have already been well documented over the years, so it gives us the chance to hear from the people who put in the hard graft of model making and puppeteering, but whose contribution sometimes tends to get overlooked.
It isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, as we also get an insight into what it was like to put together polished and glossy-looking weekly television programmes on a tight production schedule, in a time which pre-dates modern digital technology and CGI. To put it simply, what they accomplished here is nothing short of remarkable, so Century 21, Slough gives the men and women of Stirling Road the recognition they so richly deserve, as well as acting as the perfect companion to piece to earlier documentary from the same production team, Filmed In Supermarionation, the 2014 release which gave us a far broader overview into the Andersons’ work.
In fact, Century 21 Films Ltd has carried on the proud Supermarionation tradition, specialising in recreating the puppetry of the Anderson series, using the exact same techniques and methods to stay faithful to what went before. They even brought us three ‘new’ Thunderbirds episodes back in 2015, by launching a Kickstarter to get funding in place for filming material that would marry up with original audio-only recordings made back in the 1960s, giving us authentic-looking brand new episodes. As keepers of the Anderson legacy, there’s no-one better placed to bring us a deeper look into what went on behind-the-scenes all those years ago.
With so many models, puppets and sets having been recreated for Thunderbirds 1965, they’re used to redress the inside of the ordinary-looking industrial building – along with a number of other original and replica items from other Anderson shows – to give us a glimpse at what it would’ve looked like back in the day. Mixing in clips from archive material – some of which is particularly rare – from when these series were being filmed helps to us give some context, as well as letting us see just how very little the site’s actually changed over time, so it’s almost as if we’re able to step back into yesterday.
Stephen La Rivière and Andrew T. Smith have jointly given us a perfect love letter to all things Anderson, including the last ever piece of Supermarionation material to be filmed in the original studio site just before demolition – it’s heartbreaking to see the still images showing the remains and rubble after the wrecking balls have done their work. If there’s any criticism here, it’s that the documentary – coming in at a rather lean 37 minutes – leaves you wanting more; it crams so much into such a short running time, but still feels as if there’s more to tell.
At least we get a potent reminder that the greatest thing which was ever to come out of a Slough trading estate wasn’t by Ricky bloody Gervais. The special features on the disc – again, somewhat light, but that feels like a churlish observation, given the overall quality of the release – are worth a watch, including an interview with one of the original designers, which runs for not far off the length of the main feature! It’s also worth letting the main menu play and loop round, as there are lots of lovely Easter eggs in there, which leave you with a very warm, fuzzy glow.
Definitely not a release just for hardcore Fandersons, but anyone who enjoyed the whole Supermarionation era. Century 21, Slough is FAB.
Century 21, Slough is available on Blu-ray and DVD, or to buy or rent on Vimeo On Demand.