Captain Scarlet
Puppet Project overview

When I was a child one of my favourite programs was 'Thunderbirds', I really loved that show, the characters and especially the vehicles and explosions, yes it was definitely my favourite television series. But then came the follow up program 'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons'. Gone was the nice family atmosphere of the Tracy family and the decent idea of saving people in peril. Here were unfriendly often bland characters and cold harsh situations with death and destruction everywhere - it was just fantastic!

One of the big improvements in Captain Scarlet was the change of puppet shape, from large headed caricature to real life-sized proportions. This was accomplished by changing the position of some of the internal mechanics from the head to the chest cavity. This change was very important, as this much darker program could not really have been produced using the older-style cartoon'ish versions.

Personally I preferred this type of figure and have always wanted to add a puppet replica to my collection. Luckily the original studio puppets have faired better than the models with many surviving to this day - although they are often just the heads on their own and then need replacement bodies making. Over the years original parts have been sold privately and at public auctions, from around a hundred pounds to nearly 40,000! With these bits in circulation it's only natural that copies have appeared - and so today with casts regularly turning up on ebay and alike it doesn't always seem that hard to create a puppet replica. Unfortunately there are still drawbacks and getting decent parts together can be tricky. While I'm no expert I've been fortunate enough over the last 20 years to have been in the company of a lot of original puppets. As a modelmaker I do have a good eye for detail, so I now know what these things should actually look like. Many people, in this country and around the World, have never seen such things up close and can be fooled by any old rubbish - and there's plenty of that out there.

Puppet parts are often described with those wonderful words 'cast off the original' which can quickly have you reaching for your wallet. However these can often be multi-generation casts, or in other words actually moulded from a cast, of a cast, off the original and as such can have shrunk or distorted badly in the process. Also a number of today's available head casts were actually just generated from the face area of the original, with the rest of the head being made from scratch, and so are not as original or accurate as you might imagine.

Actually even with the correct replica parts the biggest problem is still making these bits look like the studio originals and not a toy, its amazing that even with a good casting of the original head people can still end up with something that resembles a kids doll. The ability to finish these to a decent standard takes skill and only a few people really seem to have it......I know I don't!

Luckily two of my friends are puppet experts, long-time Gerry Anderson prop collector Phil Rae and puppet maker and restorer Chris King. Between their efforts, two different puppet bodies, three different finished heads, four different costumes, 15 years and a final minor rebuild by myself, I finally got the replica of Captain Scarlet that I always wanted.

Getting the head right is easily the most important task. Drilling out and fitting the eyes, attaching the Mohair (not real human hair as sometimes suggested) and painting the face so that it doesn't look like a deranged, wild-eyed corpse on a bad-hair-day is a trick that I hope to one day learn.

Chris King made the vast majority of this puppet and did his usual superb job on the head.

Some people go to the extra length of adding a working lip mechanism. To do this only the lower lip is cut out and attached to a lever. The area directly beneath the lip has to be flexible and is filled in with a small piece of very fine leather - not as recently mentioned a certain rubber product.

After the head one of the next good things to have are 'real' hands and not just resin castings. The hands used at the film studio were cast in rubber with internal metal wires allowing each finger to be individually posed, this way the puppets could easily be made to grip their props during scenes. They are a bit similar to the old Major Matt Mason toys I had as a child, except the wires haven't snapped yet! Several years ago Phil gave me a pair of these studio hands and I have kept them safe for this project. They are fitted with a screw thread that meant I just had to drill out the forearms of my puppet and fix a matching nut into position. The screw action allows the hands to rotate whilst also giving you some freedom to adjust the arms overall length.

Although you can get all the correct castings for the puppet bodies it isn't always that necessary to put a great amount of work into them, as these are usually non-functioning display items. Generally speaking you will seldom see the body as its just there to support the head and hang the clothes on. As a result you can get away with just having a crude basic form, but being somewhat 'picky' I always prefer to have a fully articulate body - it also makes it easier to get the clothes on and off.
One drawback to this is that the string-less puppet tends to stand lifelessly to attention, held there usually with just a support rod running up to the small of its back. You can of course fix the puppet into some sort of 'action-pose' but then you're stuck with it looking like that forever and the Captain Scarlet figures were never really ones for making excessive body movements.

On this latest version I decided to drill the arms and fit thin Brass support rods that now allow me to bend the arms and therefore give the puppet some life-like poses. I only fitted one wire to the left arm but used two on the right, as I wanted the option of getting him to hold his gun up high.

The leather for the costume is very thin and lightweight, it comes from the same supplier the studio used, a company called Pittards. The leather obviously has two sides, one rough and matt, and one smooth and glossy. The rough side is used for the upper tunic while the smooth is used on the helmet and the boots.

The biggest problem with the tunic is shoulder-droop caused by the weight of the Brass epaulettes. I built up several layers of leather in these areas to keep the shape correct, but also ended up fitting a metal support as well.

Right: The cap is a thin resin casting, three pieces of leather were glued into position, using PVA adhesive, then trimmed. The Black and White lines are Letraset flex tapes.

Turned aluminium parts are required for the cap mike and the gun barrel.
Left: Here the gun body is a resin casting, finished with careful masking and automotive spray paints. On the original studio versions the tops were done using coloured Perspex pieces to get a translucent finish - although I'm sure some were also painted.

The original belt buckle apparently comes from a ladies watchstrap, mine is unfortunately only a resin copy so I'm keeping an eye out for a proper one.

The red tunic is usually secured with small metal clips but the revamped version I finally used had been previously glued shut. Trying to fit the clips caused an unwanted gap so I ended up just using pins in the Black leather strip. The pinheads were painted black and then the big Silver zip (a piece of plastic track cut from the 1/72nd Airfix Centurion tank) was glued over them.

I was thinking about making part of a set to display the figure in, but for convenience I have just got him on a small base-plate, which is covered in a patterned plastic sheet to resemble some modern flooring - and of course two Mysteron Eyes.

*While there are pictures of me working on this puppet this was only for around two weeks as I adjusted and modified items made by Chris and Phil to more closely resemble my particular vision of what a replica should be like. Sewing is a bit harder than I thought and handling the leather without getting paint, glue or just dirty marks onto it was a nightmare.
During this process I also realised just how much the studio versions changed from week to week. Like the models the costumes had big differences and things like the Spectrum decals would change position on the caps as often as the numbers did on Thunderbird 2.

Again my thanks go to Phil Rae and Chris King for the success of this project.

I think in future I'll just stick to models, although in recent years I must say that I've started to like the older style big-headed puppets, maybe it would be nice to have just one of the Tracy brothers?



Anyone with a serious interest in puppets can contact Chris King HERE