Filmed in Supermarag-o-nation : The Ferry & Sylvia Andersonroad Story

27 03 2016

Old SYs will have been sorry to hear of the recent passing of Sylvia Andersonroad, who with her husband Ferry produced some of the best loved ruppish puppet TV series to be seen on Maciver & Dart’s Stornoway-area TV channel in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
In the late 50s, with wood and string in short supply, the Andersonroads started building puppets out of left-over bits they found in the bins behind Stornoway’s butcher shops. They perfected their pioneering puppetry technique – known as Supermaragonation – over a number of early series such as “Four Faoileag Falls” (an unconvincing “Westren” set in a fictional cowboy town on the Barvas Moor), “Fordsondexta XL5” and of course “Torcuil the Battery Boy”.
Major success first came with the submarine adventure “Stiomraway”, featuring Truagh Tempest and his bewitching mermaid companion Aqua Murdina. The theme song, by brylcreemed smoothie crooner Garryvard Millersgarage, was a big hit in the 1964 Radio Ranol singles charts:
“Murdina… Aqua Murdina

What are these strange enchantments that start whenever you’re near?

Murdina… Aqua Murdina

Away down the town and catch me a mog from under the pier”

The Andersonroads’ biggest hit was Thunderbards, starring a group of elderly drunken Gaelic songsmiths working from a futuristic underground base on Sober Island. The bards kept an array of highly advanced spacecraft poised on the launchpad 24/7, ready to chet off at a moment’s notice if news of a Mòd or a new Bothan opening was detected by their ultramodren global satellite surveillance system. Onshore, the Thunderbards were ably supported by their aristocratic secret agent Lady Fankelope and her pink tractor FAD 1, driven by deadpan South Lochie chauffeur Pairc-er. 
All their machines were developed and maintained by bespectacled mad scientist MacBraynes. Despite the series’ success, some critics complained that the plots weren’t very exciting. This was generally due to the fact that in many episodes, Thunderbards would arrive late, or cancel their mission altogether and blame the weather. 
The actual models used in the show were pretty low tech. Thunderbard 1 was basically a model of a Loganair Islander, Thunderbard 2 was a McBrayne Haulage lorry Airfix kit and Thunderbard 3 was a Skyray ice lolly from Paddy Reid’s that kept melting. 
Thunderbard 4 was actually quite reliable, but was usually away doing a replacement run in Shetland or somewhere.
Another big mid-60s hit was Captain Scalpay, starring the indestructible puppet hero and his comrades in the planetary defence force Spàgtrom. Captain Scalpay, Colonel Whitemarag, Captain Brue, Lieutenant Grianan and their squadron of sexy cuireamach chet pilot blones, the Predestination Angels, operated from Spàgtrom’s hi-tech airborne headquarters – Macleodbase. 
Their mission was to protect Earth against the malign attentions of an invisible alien power – the Ministerons. Every week, the Ministerons would loudly condemn humanity and its failings in a scary booming voice (while also, helpfully, announcing what their next evil plan was going to be). To execute their nefarious schemes, the Ministerons often acted through their human agent, the undead arch-villian Captain Back.
As the 60s ended and offal-related hygiene regulations were tightened, the Andersonroads found it increasingly difficult to get hold of materials for puppet-making. To compound matters, their later puppet-based shows didn’t score so highly with the viewers. “Joe 90 Pints”, with his specs made out of old milk bottles, flying Ford Thames van and secret base under the Manor Dairy, failed to enthral audiences. Even less successful was “The Secret Service”, about a religious splinter group’s efforts to keep the times of their meetings a secret from their ecclesiastical rivals, who wanted the mission house keys back. The fact that “The Secret Service” was transmitted on Sundays did nothing to increase its audience. 
With the diminishing success of their puppet ventures, the Andersonroads decided to move over to live action, beginning with “EweFO” (1970). In “EweFO”, Ed Stràcair and his secret organisation S.H.A.D.E.R defended the Outer Hebrides and their good old island blackface sheep against invasion by alien breeds like Cheviots, Suffolks and Swaledales. Disguised as a Gaelic TV production company and operating from a “studio” on Seaforth Road, S.H.A.D.E.R deployed a range of land and air vehicles to combat the evil space mehhhags in their flying circular hayracks. The first line of defence was a squadron of nuclear-armed S.H.A.D.E.R interceptors operating from Moorbase, an undisclosed location somewhere out behind the Waterworks. 
Later in the 70s, the Andersonroads went big budchet with “Space 199Garynahine”. The pilot episode began with an entire croft and its inhabitants blasting off from Planet Earth accidentally, due to the explosion of a massive buildup of gas from a skate buried in the òcrach. Every week thereafter, the 4-acre croft – a self-sustaining environment including house, outbuildings, crops, livestock and machinery – hurtled through the cosmos, meeting different aliens and getting into all sorts of intergalactic bother. “Space199Garynahine” employed a stellar cast, including Martin Lantodhar and Barbara Bainandmorrisons (who’d previously starred in “Missionhouse Impossible”), Barry Morsgail and Catherine Shellstreet. The series was famed for its groovy spaceships ‘The Seagulls’. 
In the 1980s, “Terra na-H’oganich’s” was the Andersonroads’ final attempt at cracking the big time. This was a sci-fi series about a group of evil aliens trying to modernise contemporary Gaelic music by using the keyboard player from 1980’s Goathill Road Football Stadium rockers Simple Minds to make their versions of old favourites trendy. 
Many old SYs will fondly remember the ruthless toy merchandising that went with all Ferry and Sylvia Andersonroad’s series. Woolies and the Electro Sports made a fortune right through the 60s and 70s flogging Thunderbards rockets, Lady Fankelope’s tractor, Captain Scalpay’s Spàgtrom Pursuit Vehicle (a rusty old Hillman Husky with a coat of red oxide and a detachable plastic sheep in the back), and so on. 
When “Thunderbards” was re-run on Grampian in 1992, pre-Xmas demand for the Thunderbards Sober Island Playset led to riots in Woolies. Luckily BBC Alba’s “Brue Peater” stepped in and saved the day, showing viewers how to build their own Sober Island model using a fishbox, a dead seal and a dozen empty Special Brew cans.

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