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Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, and UFO TV series

Contributed by james millner on Nov 12th, 2021. Artwork published in
circa 1970
.
    Thunderbirds 6: opening credit
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Thunderbirds 6: opening credit

    Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey helped to establish Eurostile as one of the primary choices for representing text in space and science fiction. Eurostile is used for all HAL 9000’s screen displays, the Pan Am spacecraft’s flight deck, and even for the instructions for using the Zero Gravity Toilet. For much more detail, see Dave Addey’s wonderful analysis at his website Typeset In The Future.

    But another significant contribution that helped to cement Eurostile’s reputation as the go-to science fiction typeface was the work of Gerry and Silvia Anderson, the UK-based husband and wife team who produced TV and movie shows in the 1960s and 1970s, many for Lew Grade’s ITC Entertainment company.

    The Andersons started making conventional puppet shows for TV in the 1950s, but their interest in science fiction and futuristic settings led to the creation of a number of very popular TV shows, such as Supercar (1961–1962), Fireball XL5 (1962–1963), Stingray (1964–1965), Thunderbirds (1965–1968), and Captain Scarlet (1967–1968).

    Captain Scarlet: title card; some action scenes take place on the Martian surface (Microgramma rather than Eurostile perhaps?)
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Captain Scarlet: title card; some action scenes take place on the Martian surface (Microgramma rather than Eurostile perhaps?)

    Captain Scarlet, set in the year 2068, focusses on the Spectrum organization’s ongoing battles with the Mysterons, alien beings who had built cities on Mars, and who possessed strange powers and unknown but probably hostile intentions. There were 32 episodes, each 25 minutes long.

    The art direction (probably led by Bob Bell) used Eurostile (1962) for the opening and end credits to enhance the futuristic look of the show. Also, the scaled models of cityscapes and street scenes show an unusual fondness for Eurostile signage.

    It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between Eurostile and its predecessor, Microgramma when the video stills fill in the angled corners of letters like M, N, A, and V which is about the only way you can say which is which. The caption for the first episode of Captain Scarlet (“Mars–2068 A.D.”) might be Microgramma (1952).

    Thunderbirds, developed at the same time, also saw increasing amounts of Eurostile during its development.

    Captain Scarlet: opening credits
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Captain Scarlet: opening credits

    Captain Scarlet: closing credits
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Captain Scarlet: closing credits

    UFO: the UFO title logo
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    UFO: the UFO title logo

    After the success of Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds, the Andersons hung up their puppets and moved on to live action productions, with the series UFO (1970–1973). UFO features the activities of SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence), a secret organization fronted by a real movie studio which defends the Earth from aliens intent on harvesting human organs. (Heart transplants and alien visitations were making the news at that time.)

    The 26 weekly episodes of UFO (currently showing again on UK TV screens after more than 50 years) continue the Eurostile theming of Captain Scarlet, both as part of the futuristic visual design and for the logo and end credits. The production team worked hard to convince viewers that the future (here, 1980, just ten years away, rather than Captain Scarlet’s 2068) was going to look very different. Eurostile appears on signs and labels, vehicles, and space craft. The cars, costumes, and hairstyles were striking and unusual, but the computer elements were disappointingly prosaic when compared with Kubrick’s sleek modern displays. There’s nothing like the noisy clattering of a teletype machine to date a TV show or movie.

    UFO: remastered DVD release imagery
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    UFO: remastered DVD release imagery

    UFO: lead actors Ed Bishop and Gabrielle Drake, with Eurostile labels hiding behind futuristic outfits
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    UFO: lead actors Ed Bishop and Gabrielle Drake, with Eurostile labels hiding behind futuristic outfits

    UFO: the SHADO logo
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    UFO: the SHADO logo

    UFO: the Harlington-Straker film studios hide the SHADO organization from the inquisitive public
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    UFO: the Harlington-Straker film studios hide the SHADO organization from the inquisitive public

    UFO: closing credit
    ITC Entertainment. License: All Rights Reserved.

    UFO: closing credit

    Typefaces

    • Eurostile
    • Microgramma

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    2 Comments on “Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, and UFO TV series”

    1. This post inspired me to finally watch the feature film adaption of the UFO series (Invasion: UFO), which includes all the cool Eurostile props, but also has a great use of Amelia with hyperstylized laser-zoom-chrome effects and custom overline strokes for its opening title sequence:

      Invasion: UFO titles

    2. On another related note, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a full-scale Anderson set when flying from the KLM gates at the Bergen airport in Norway:

      Thunderbirds are go!

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