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Sunday, 27 October 2013

I Wish I Was A Spaceman...

Fireball xl5.jpg

Having a two year old around the place seems to lead you to do strange things sometimes.

To be precise, I should really say two and three-quarter year old, because those three-quarters matter when you're two with aspirations to be three.  In fact, he's pretty much got his sights firmly fixed on his third birthday in December, with just the minor difficulty of Christmas to be dealt with before then.  Funny how that need to be precise about your age fades as you get older, isn't it?  I can't imagine ever describing myself as Fifty Nine and a quarter.

Anyway, I seem to have drifted off the subject somewhat.  I was saying that having a two year old around the house leads you to do strange things sometimes, like (in my case) bursting into song.  This is probably not a good idea, given my singing voice, but I guess he needs to come to terms with a little suffering and disappointment, even at his tender age.  The song (or songs) in question tend to be child-oriented but, more often than not, come from my childhood, which makes them a little irrelevant from his point of view. Nevertheless, he has been kind enough to show an interest in some of them, which brings me to my theme for today.

You see, I've found myself belting out the theme to 'Fireball XL5' for no good reason that I can come up with.  He (my grandson that is) seemed to like it, so we sought it out on You Tube (isn't the internet wonderful?)  You can find it here, if you're so minded  The opening sequences instantly took me back to when I was utterly hooked on the series back in 1962, when I would have been eight years old or thereabouts.  For reasons that utterly escape me, but which probably had to do with the budget lavished on these puppet shows, I'm pretty sure that this was screened at 7pm, rather than in the Children's Hour slot.  I guess they thought it would appeal to adults too, and was damn well going to given the money they had spent on it.  I know that I had to aim to complete my piano practice (which I hated) by then if I wanted to catch every second of the programme, and I was often still murdering some unsuspecting piece of music as the opening credits rolled.  As I had to be in bed by 7.30pm, the whole 30 minutes was somewhat fraught with the potential to miss crucial seconds of this week's riveting episode.

Looking at it again, I can see, with the benefit of hindsight, that most of the things I thought then were impossibly cool, were actually to avoid having the puppets move more than necessary.  For example, the Hover Motorbikes on which Steve (Zodiac, pure coincidence I'm sure or possibly nominative determinism) and Venus (ditto) ride to the cockpit of Fireball XL5, are clearly to avoid either of them having to walk anywhere, because, once they do start walking, it all looks rather ridiculous.  Think Andy Pandy in a Star Trek outfit and you're pretty well there.  Likewise, Professor Matt Matic's revolving desk ensured he never needed to do anything as ungainly as stand up.  Moreover, the fact that he wears glasses with lenses as thick as jam jar bottoms (presumably to denote high intelligence) rather indicates that the 21st Century might have cracked interplanetary travel but there has been little progression in opthalmics.

Having dabbled in the theme tune, I was inevitably drawn to have a look at an old episode.  I must admit that most of the fine detail of the context of Fireball XL5 has left me as the years have progressed, so my knowledge of the series is limited to what I observed in this episode and what little I can remember.

Steve, Venus and the rest of the gang apparently belong to an outfit called the World Space Patrol.  This seems to be staffed more or less exclusively by Americans, except for Dr. Venus who is allegedly French, although you could have fooled me.  On the evidence of the episode I watched, the World Space Patrol has lost no time in declaring war on everything that moves in the immediate vicinity, which sounds about right. Nuclear warheads are being lobbed about like toy grenades in order to make the Universe a safer place for right-thinking people.

What really amused me about the episode was the very obvious gender stereotyping, which comes as a bit of a shock in these much more enlightened times.  In a telling scene, Steve, whose primary purpose appears to be keeping the robot company in the cockpit, uses the intercom to say "Hey, Venus, how's our beautiful Doctor of Space Medicine" (you can tell she's a scientist by the test tube in her hand).  Instead of instantly suing him for sexual discrimination, or at least telling him to get lost, she says "I gather, by your compliments Steve, you want something to eat. I'm preparing a meal right now"

Different world, wasn't it?

You can find more of Philip's ramblings in his latest collection of stories A Kick at the Pantry Door