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Fireball XL5 (1962-63)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Fireball XL5 (1962-63)
AP Films for ITC
20/10/1962 - 27/10/1963
39 x 25 minute episodes, black & white
Writers includeAlan Fennell
 Anthony Marriott
 Gerry Anderson
 Sylvia Anderson
CreatorsGerry Anderson
 Sylvia Anderson

Voices: Sylvia Anderson (Venus); Gerry Anderson (Robert the Robot); John Bluthal (Commander Zero); David Graham (Professor Matt Matic / Lt. Ninety / Zoonie); Paul Maxwell (Colonel Steve Zodiac)

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The adventures of Steve Zodiac and the World Space Patrol on board the rocket ship Fireball XL5.

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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.

The first episode, 'Planet 46', was transmitted by the regional ITV broadcaster ATV on 28 October 1962. For the next 38 weeks young audiences around the world were thrilled by the daring escapades of Steve Zodiac and his crew - Professor Matthew 'Matt' Mattic, Fireball XL5's navigator and scientist, Venus the space doctor, and Robot the robot co-pilot.

One of the show's best remembered elements is the song that accompanies the closing credits, written by composer Barry Gray, the post-war arranger for singer and 'forces' sweetheart' Vera Lynn. The song opens with the line "I wish I was a spaceman, the fastest guy alive" and with space fever riding high because of the heroic achievements of real astronauts the lyric had a timely resonance.

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
Complete episode: 'Convict in Space' (25:02)
Gerry Anderson - Supermarionator