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The Magic of Four Feather Falls

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From an idea by composer Barry GrayFour Feather Falls is a fantasy Western series which was produced by Gerry Anderson and his AP Films team between June 1959 and April 1960 for Granada. The series stars Tex Tucker, sheriff of the town of Four Feather Falls where he keeps the peace  along with his horse Rocky and loyal dog Dusty. They have the ability to talk thanks to the four magic feathers in Tex’s hat. Four Feather Falls is a very special series and has an important place in the history of Gerry Anderson’s work. It is a series full of famous firsts as Gerry and his team began to pioneer the revolutionary puppetry methods which would later be known as Supermarionation. Here are just a few of the important staples of Gerry Anderson’s work which began in this magical little series…

FFF2Automatic Mouth Movement

For the first time, every puppet was fitted with a solenoid in it’s head to make it’s mouth move in sync with it’s dialogue. This was activated by electronic pulses going down the tungsten control wires from a tape recorder playing the pre-recorded dialogue. Although the system was not always perfect, with puppets’ mouths occasionally either being too sensitive or not sensitive enough, this was nevertheless the beginning of a method which AP Films and Century 21 would keep using throughout their puppet productions.

Unique to Four Feather Falls, characters with facial hair such as Grandpa Twink and Dan Morse have their entire chin move rather than just the bottom lip as was characteristic of other Supermarionation puppets. This was simply because their facial hair was able to conceal the join in the puppets’ faces!

DavidGrahamFFFDavid Graham

Voicing the characters of Grandpa Twink, Fernando, Big Ben and Red Scalp as well as many other guest characters, Four Feather Falls sees David Graham join the cast of an Anderson puppet series for the first time. Gerry Anderson had first met Graham while directing an episode of Martin Kane, Private Investigator. David Graham later went on to provide voices in SupercarFireball XL5, StingrayThunderbirds and The Secret Service (uncredited).  He is reprising his most fondly remembered role, Parker, in the new Thunderbirds Are Go! series for ITV in 2015.

David Elliot and Alan Patillo

Gerry Anderson had previously directed every episode of The Adventures of TwizzleTorchy the Battery Boyand indeed a large number of episodes of Four Feather Falls. However, by episode 14, Trapped, David Elliot had been promoted from his role in the editing department and began directing episodes. Alan Patillo also began directing for the series on episode 27, Horse Thieves. Elliot and Patillo remained working as directors for AP Films until the second series of Thunderbirds.

Alternative Modes of TransportFFF

Frustrated with the difficulties of making the puppets walk convincingly, Gerry Anderson began to devise vehicles and devices to prevent the characters in his Supermarionation series from having to walk. These methods ranged from the jet bikes in Fireball XL5 to the moving walk-ways seen in Captain ScarletIt would appear, however, that even in Four Feather Falls the AP Films team were trying to prevent the puppets from having to walk. Characters are often seen riding their horses between locations. The horses themselves are never shown moving their legs as they walk across the prairies – most likely because they were being pulled across the set on wheels!

Barry Gray’s Music

Although Barry Gray had been arranging and conducting music for AP Films since The Adventures of TwizzleFour Feather Falls was the first series for which he was the composer. Much of the music composed for the series has a traditional Western feel with Tommy Reilly’s Harmonica playing as a particular highlight. Little of the music, however, was carried on to later Anderson productions because of this. Only short cues from Chance Of A Ghost and A Little Bit Of Luck are used again in the Stingray episode Eastern Eclipse and the Thunderbirds episode Operation Crash-Dive respectively. Barry Gray would continue to compose music for all of Gerry Anderson’s television series and films (with the exception of The Protectors) until the first year of Space: 1999.

FFF4

Of course, Four Feather Falls was a show which saw a great deal of pioneering take place during production and there are many other touches here and there throughout the series such as live special effects and large, highly detailed sets which became vital to the later Supermarionation series. The puppets and puppetry may not appear as sophisticated as later series demanded, but it was the start of AP Films being able to produce films to stand up to their live action counterparts. And above all else, Four Feather Falls is an incredibly fun and charming series that even 55 years later is still very enjoyable.

Have you seen Four Feather FallsLet us know what you think of this charming series which saw the birth of Supermarionation!

 

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Jack Knoll

I've been a Gerry Anderson fan from birth, growing up on the repeats of Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet in the early 2000's. I'm also a fan of Doctor Who and other cult TV series including The Prisoner and Danger Man. I enjoy writing on a range of topics from across the Gerry Anderson back-catalogue from behind the scenes insights to fun and entertaining reviews. In my spare time I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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  • CJ List

    My Dad had a Four Feather Falls Annual (which is still in excellent condition). I found it in a cupboard and when I spotted Gerry Anderson’s name above the title of the Annual, I was intrigued to find out about the show & others that I had no prior knowledge of. I have since watched/collected nearly all of the Supermarionation era.

  • I was born in 1958 and Four Feather Falls is one of my earliest TV memories, along with Torchy. Thanks for posting.

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