Fireball XL-5 - From The Land of Forgotten Television

Fireball XL5 is a science fiction themed children's television show following the missions of spaceship Fireball XL5, commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The show was produced from 1962 to 1963 by husband and wife team Gerry and Sylvia Anderson through their company APF, in association with ATV for ITC Entertainment, and first transmitted on ATV on Sunday 28 October 1962. While developing his new show, Anderson thought a brand of motor oil—Castrol XL—had an interesting sound. A phonetic change created the name "Fireball XL", with the "5" added as the title seemed a bit flat without the numeral.

The show featured the Andersons' Supermarionation, a form of puppetry first introduced in Four Feather Falls (1960) and Supercar (1961) and used again in their subsequent productions such as Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Thirty-nine black and white half-hour episodes of Fireball XL5 were made on 35mm film: all subsequent Anderson series were produced in colour.

Several Anderson series have been shown in syndication in the US, but Fireball XL5 is the only Anderson series to have run on a US network. NBC (the National Broadcasting Company) ran the series in its Saturday morning children's block from 1963 through to September 1965.

A similar programme often confused with Fireball XL5 due to a number of similarities and settings is Space Patrol (known as Planet Patrol in the U.S.), produced by Gerry Anderson's former business partner and co-founder of AP Films, Arthur Provis.

The patrol space ship Fireball XL5 takes off utilising a mile-long launch rail culminating in a 40-degree incline, or sky ramp, which Anderson claimed, was inspired by an old Soviet design, a concept also used in the film When Worlds Collide.

The World Space Patrol apparently operates a fleet of at least thirty 'Fireball XL' ships (an XL30 is referred to in the episode The Firefighters), of which XL5 is the most famous. The ship itself is made up of two detachable sections. A winged nose cone, known as Fireball Junior, contains the cockpit and separates from the main body to land on other worlds. The rest of the ship contains a navigation bay, laboratory, a large lounge, workshops and separate crew quarters, together with fuel and the main rocket motors used for interstellar travel. The main ship generally remains stationed in orbit after arriving at an alien planet. When Fireball XL5 returns to its base on Earth, Space City, the whole ship lands horizontally, without separating, using underside-mounted retro-rockets.

Although the series uses many classic, early 20th-century science fiction themes reminiscent of the space opera of E. E. "Doc" Smith, it was a children's show and not intended to be realistic. Fireball XL5 is portrayed travelling around the galaxy at sub-light speeds (until the episode Faster than Light), and the series observed few of the limitations of known science and rocketry. Viewers were informed that the ship's rocket motors were powered by a 'nutomic reactor' and that XL5 could travel safely at speeds up to 'Space Velocity 7', enabling it to reach the outlying star systems of charted space within a few months. Furthermore, the crew never wore space suits; instead they took "oxygen pills" to survive in the vacuum of space, where they manoeuvred in zero gravity with the aid of thruster packs. 'Neutroni radio' enabled virtually instantaneous communication within the sectors of charted space, and XL5 and her sister ships were fitted with 'gravity activators' that generated artificial gravity fields within them. - Source

Recurrent villains on the series include the "Space Spys" Boris and Griselda, and the evil Aliens from Planet 46, who sworn revenge on Steve Zodiac since the first episode.

Throughout the series, footage is often reused, most likely done to save money and time. For instance, whenever Fireball Jr. detaches from the main XL5 unit and reattaches, it's always the same close-up shot.

Robert the Robot is the only voice Gerry Anderson ever actually performed on one of his shows.

Some scenes from "Four Feather Falls", Gerry Anderson's first puppet animation series, can be seen on TV screens, mostly when Commander Zero's son, Jonathan, watches on TV. - Source

The space race between Russia and the US that started with the launch of the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957, quickly gripped the popular imagination. The tit-for-tat space exploits of the superpowers became staple items for the world's media and, unsurprisingly, soon found became the inspiration for works of fiction. But few could boast a hero so squared-jawed as Steve Zodiac, the central character in Fireball XL5 (ITV, 1962), AP Films' puppet sequel to its highly successful children's fantasy series Supercar.

The programme centred on the exploits of the World Space Patrol's finest rocket ship, the eponymous Fireball XL5, and its crew, lead by the heroic Colonel Steve Zodiac. Each week Fireball XL5 would explore exotic alien planets, patrol the space ways and protect the innocent from intergalactic villains such as Mr and Mrs Space Spy, whose traitorous intervention threatens to release a dangerous criminal in the episode 'Convict in Space'. The evil duo plan to liberate space robber Grothan Deblis, who is en route to the prison plant Conva, so he can lead them to some stole plans. Fortunately, the crew of Fireball XL5 are more than a match for the scheming couple.

The show's producer, Gerry Anderson, had originally intended to call the series Nova X 100, but the name was changed during pre-production, a move apparently inspired by Castrol XL motor oil. Other minor changes were made to Fireball XL5's basic format but an emphasis on action and adventure remained at its core. According to the show's original proposal: "This is an action packed undisguised Space Science Fiction series." And so it proved to be. - Source

The main characters of "Fireball XL5" were the crew of the spacecraft.....

Colonel Steve Zodiac was the pilot of Fireball XL5, A very handsome puppet, like all heroes he was tough, brave and fearless and, again, it was he who often saved the day rescuing himself and his friends from danger, putting an end to the evil plans of men, aliens, and - occasionally - monsters.

Venus was the medical expert of the crew, a Doctor of Space Medicine, and a romantic interest for Steve Zodiac.

Professor Mathew "Matt" Matic was the scientific officer. Wearing glasses, he was also the navigator of Fireball XL5.

Robert the Robot was Steve Zodiac's co-pilot and was a robot of transparent material, so all of his workings were visible. He acted upon command, and independently, and with some automatic responses. Say "Full Power" and he launched Fireball XL5. Once ordered to do something he does not stop until he was finished what he was ordered to do. One other interesting thing about this character is that Gerry Anderson himself provided the voice - the only voice which he has ever done. Anderson had visited Edinburgh University where experiments were being made into creating an artificial voice which could be understood (for people who had their larynx removed). The voice was created by Anderson mouthing words into a special soundproof box, with a special vibrator unit under his chin. The result was a modulated tone, which could be recognised as speech. All the experiments with the equipment were carried out by Anderson, so it seemed natural that he should provide Robert's voice for the series.

Zoonie was Venus' pet, a Lazoon, who liked mimicking things and a good called 'Martian Delight'.

Commander Zero is in charge of Space City and Fireball missions and is aided by Lieutenant 90. All the main characters wear uniform, which varies according to rank and sex. Steve Zodiac and Professor Matic wear a uniform which is white and red and gold. Venus' uniform is a dark green and a lighter green with gold. Commander Zero wears a uniform of white, light brown and gold.

For the first time as well there is a symbol worn by Fireball crews - a globe with the name of the spacecraft with two white path lines. - Source

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