Anything Can Happen In The Next Half Hour: In Praise of Barry Gray

Originally from August 2012 and updated slightly to reflect the passing of Sylvia Anderson.

Source: Century 21 Television

What’s the best thing about being a child? Is it getting to play with toys? Getting to run around with your mates and hitting them with sticks without fear of costly litigation and social media shaming?

Could it be children’s literature, all simple dialogue and fast-paced, action-packed stories in which the giraffe always finds the ball and they all live happily ever after and no-one is murdered or offered drugs in the process?

You might even think it’s the nurturing love and affection of your parents looking out the back window as you sit in the sun trying to blind yourself by staring at it. It doesn’t matter. Whatever you thought was the best thing about your childhood, you’re wrong.

One of the fantastic things about television is that multiple generations can learn to love the same show for exactly the same reasons, regardless of its age. To prove this point, one need only look as far as Gerry and Sylvia Andersons’ series’ of Supermarionation, beloved by millions the world over despite being technically clunky, relatively emotionless puppets.

The Andersons have sadly passed away but their legacy very much lives on through repeats and reboots of the shows for 21st century audiences. The most recent, Thunderbirds Are Go, was a comparative success, blending new animation styles with physical sets and models reminiscent of its forebear but lacking some of the little quirks that come from having a cast of characters who lack a full range of movement.

Most fans of those old shows already know the little secrets that made shows like Stingray, Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5 et al. great. The need to transport the puppets everywhere without them actually walking in order to maintain a sense of realism — hence those little floating scooters — and the use of real life hands when those lil puppet hands just wouldn’t do are just a couple of the charming idiosyncrasies which only add to the charm.

Without a doubt though, one of the most engaging elements of all the Andersons’ shows is the music. Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, there are times where you’ve been minding your own business and suddenly found yourself humming the theme tune to Joe 90 or been sitting on the bus merrily burbling “Stingraaaaaay, Stingray, doo doo doo do doo do” to yourself. Unless it’s just me — that’s happened before.

Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun.

Big, quirky, shaky dramatic openings punctuated by some of the finest television composing work I’ve ever heard. Music that’s designed to get the adrenaline coursing through your body in anticipation of some good, old-fashioned excitement and bloody hell, they were exciting weren’t they?

Let’s face it, this could easily descend into posting YouTube links to the theme tunes of all the classic shows that Barry Gray wrote the scores for, but that would be to do him a disservice. Gray was also able to turn out a good pop song which were also used in the shows. Everyone remembers the infectious Aqua Marina and the end credit sequence of Captain Scarlet (where the poor bastard is seen “dying” in a variety of horrific ways), but many forget the lovely slice of 60s’ pop that is ‘I Got Something To Shout About’. Even the good ol’ comedy number wasn’t beyond Mr. Gray (not that it was any good).

Even much of his incidental music can cut it as pop music. Famed ire-target, DJ and former hecklerspray editor Mof Gimmers can often be found with a ’45 of “Hijacked”, an incidental piece from Joe 90 which, if Mof is to be believed often gets people “shaking their groove thang”* on the dancefloor. Even the theme tune from the show about the speccy boy genius is more than passable and, as Mof helpfully chipped in, was heard regularly in Northern Soul clubs up and down the country ‘back in the day’.

The theme tune to Joe 90, regularly heard at club nights for those who should know better.

Gray’s music was appreciated in its time too. If you think massive, orchestral pieces punctuating puppets saving the world aren’t really your bag then why not try this cover of the Thunderbirds theme tune by The Shadows? That was the brilliant thing about Barry Gray. He created scores that spanned generations and were, perhaps most importantly, instantly memorable generations later.

No nostalgia-filled night in the pub would be complete without a hummed rendition of an Anderson programme’s theme for the benefit of your “cool” mate who never really “got it” when they were a kid. The kind of person who pretends they were more into Proust than Pokémon as an 8 year old.

So, for those who never really got it and more so for those of you who loved it, I assume by now that your appetite for action has been suitably whetted so why not listen to the complete Barry Gray collection called, rather aptly, Stand By For Action! on Spotify.

With the sad passing of the co-creator of most of the Anderson dynasty and ‘the voice of Lady Penelope’ (if that’s all you’re bothered about), Sylvia Anderson, we’ve now lost all three of the people responsible for both the most innovative and forward-thinking shows (and their scores) of the last 50 years. A sad day in tellyland, which isn’t a real place.

*That’s not a direct quote. He actually told me off for rifling through his stuff and called the police.