Gerry Anderson: The Authorised Biography by Simon Archer and Stan Nicholls (Legend, £7.99, 228 pages, paperback. January 1998; hardback first published in 1996.)
Over the past thirty years or so, Anderson's work has swung from mainstream audiences to cult following and back again -- so naturally his biography will have an eager and receptive audience. They should find much to satisfy them within the pages of this book, but also, perhaps, much to disappoint.
Anderson's biography starts at the beginning, moves on to the middle, and then it ends. That seems an obvious enough statement, but it's one of the book's weaknesses. We start with a potted history of the Anderson family -- his Jewish grandfather fleeing Eastern Europe, changing his name and settling in London. An intriguing story, but one told in too little detail to capture the imagination or emotions, yet given enough prominence to be intrusive and to clutter the start of the real story.
In fact, the whole book lacks focus: a relentless linear account, a list of anecdotes -- this happened, then this happened, then this happened... A lot of the anecdotes are remarkably trivial, yet they compete for space with the meat of the story. What seems to be lacking is a firm editorial hand: someone to say, "Yes, this is good stuff, but who wants to know this or this?" (Perhaps that's a consequence of the tragic circumstances surrounding this book: Simon Archer died in a car crash before he could complete the manuscript -- it's hard to be make tough decisions about such a book.)
The result is a biography lacking in any real depth or critical insight. Perhaps that's a problem with "authorised" biographies in general: too distant from the subject for the intimacies of the autobiography, too close for the analytical dissections of the independent biographer.
There's a lot of fascinating material here. Anderson is clearly a very complex character: something of a control freak, quite convinced of the value of his own contributions to TV despite a track record where even his greatest successes never quite worked out (Thunderbirds, for example, never made it to a second series, and the two film versions were box office flops -- to Anderson's great puzzlement). If only Simon Archer had been prepared to press him harder, to get under the surface of the man.
After reading this book, I was left with the impression that I knew a lot of what Gerry Anderson has done, but I certainly didn't know the man himself -- at least not in the kind of depth I should have after reading 220 pages about his life.
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© Keith Brooke 17 January 1998