First episode date
28 October 1962
Gerry AndersonSylvia Anderson
Gerry AndersonAlan FennellAnthony MarriottDennis Spooner
Gerry AndersonDavid ElliottBill HarrisJohn KellyAlan Pattillo
Gerry Anderson (uncredited)Sylvia AndersonJohn BluthalDavid GrahamPaul Maxwell
Theme music composer
Barry GrayCharles Blackwell (lyrics)Don Spencer (vocals)
Fireball XL5 Theme Song, Fireball XL5 Opening Theme Song
Fireball XL5 is a science fiction themed Children's television show following the missions of spaceship Fireball XL5, commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The show aired for a single 1962—63 series, produced by husband and wife team Gerry and Sylvia Anderson through their company APF, in association with ATV for ITC Entertainment, and first transmitted on ATV on Sunday 28 October 1962. While developing his new show, Anderson thought a brand of motor oil – Castrol XL – had an interesting sound. A phonetic change created the name "Fireball XL", with the "5" added as the title seemed a bit flat without the numeral.
- Fireball XL5 space ship
- Character voices
- Theme song and merchandising
- Home video releases
- Fireball XL5 Crew
- Space City Personnel
- Recurring Villains
The show featured the Andersons' Supermarionation, a form of puppetry first introduced in Four Feather Falls (1960) and Supercar (1961) and used again in their subsequent productions such as Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Thirty-nine Black and white half-hour episodes of Fireball XL5 were made on 35mm film: all subsequent Anderson series were produced in colour.
Several Anderson series have been shown in syndication in the US, but Fireball XL5 is the only Anderson series to have run on a US network. NBC (the National Broadcasting Company) ran the series in its Saturday morning children's block from 1963 through to September 1965.
A similar programme often confused with Fireball XL5 due to a number of similarities and settings is Space Patrol (known as Planet Patrol in the U.S.), produced by Gerry Anderson's former business partner and co-founder of AP Films, Arthur Provis.
The complete series is available on DVD in the UK, Australia, Canada and the U.S..
Set between the years 2062 and 2063, the series featured the missions of spaceship Fireball XL5, commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The crew included glamorous Doctor Venus, a doctor of space medicine; middle-aged navigator and engineer Professor Matthew Matic and co-pilot Robert, a transparent anthropomorphic robot who would most commonly proclaim ON-OUR-WAY-HOME.. Robert was the only character in an Anderson series that was actually voiced by Anderson himself, albeit with the aid of an artificial larynx. As Anderson describes in a deleted scene of Filmed in Supermarionation:Then, it was very, very difficult, if not impossible to produce the sort of robot voice which would have to be monotone. So we found out that in Edinburgh University, they were creating the human voice artificially. They gave us a vibrator – of course, of course, everybody smiled at – not that kind of vibrator. And it was a vibrator that people who had their larynx removed through cancer would be able to put the vibrator under their chin, and it made a constant buzz. [Makes buzzing noise.] And then, of course, that sound was transmitted to the air inside the mouth. And I was then able to modulate that by mouthing the words. So, let's get this straight, fellas. It was not my voice. It was the sound of the vibrator which I modulated, and that it why, erm... Robert always used to say: "[Doing an impression of Robert.] On our way 'ome.".
In the series, the World Space Patrol is based at Space City, located on an unnamed island in the South Pacific, headed by Commander Zero. Zero is assisted by Lieutenant Ninety. For unspecified reasons the 25-storey T-shaped control tower at Space City rotates; in one episode a character inadvertently makes it rotate fast enough for those inside to suffer from vertigo.
Fireball XL5 patrolled Sector 25 of charted interstellar space (although there only appeared to be three sectors marked on the space chart seen in the Space City control room). The patrols were missions of three months' duration but the ship was also on call when at base.
Fireball XL5 space ship
The patrol space ship Fireball XL5 takes off utilising a mile-long launch rail culminating in a 40-degree incline, or sky ramp, which, as Anderson claimed, was inspired by an old Soviet design, a concept also used in the film When Worlds Collide.
The World Space Patrol apparently operates a fleet of at least thirty 'Fireball XL' ships (an XL30 is referred to in the episode The Firefighters), of which XL5 is the most famous. The ship itself is made up of two detachable sections. A winged nose cone, known as Fireball Junior, contains the cockpit and separates from the main body to land on other worlds. The rest of the ship contains a navigation bay, laboratory, a large lounge, workshops and separate crew quarters, together with fuel and the main rocket motors used for interstellar travel. The main ship generally remains stationed in orbit after arriving at an alien planet. When Fireball XL5 returns to its base on Earth, Space City, the whole ship lands horizontally, without separating, using underside-mounted retro-rockets.
Although the series uses many classic, early 20th-century science fiction themes reminiscent of the space opera of E. E. "Doc" Smith, it was a children's show and not intended to be realistic. Fireball XL5 is portrayed travelling around the galaxy at sub-light speeds (until the episode Faster than Light), and the series observed few of the limitations of known science and rocketry. Viewers were informed that the ship's rocket motors were powered by a 'nutomic reactor' and that XL5 could travel safely at speeds up to 'Space Velocity 7', enabling it to reach the outlying star systems of charted space within a few months. Furthermore, the crew never wore space suits; instead they took "oxygen pills" to survive in the vacuum of space, where they manoeuvred in zero gravity with the aid of thruster packs. 'Neutroni radio' enabled virtually instantaneous communication within the sectors of charted space, and XL5 and her sister ships were fitted with 'gravity activators' that generated artificial gravity fields within them.
Regular characters were voiced by Paul Maxwell, Sylvia Anderson, David Graham and John Bluthal. In common with many of the Anderson puppet shows, most of the important characters have American accents, with some notable exceptions: Dr. Venus is French, Jock the engineer is Scottish and some of the aliens have remarkably sedate British accents (e.g. episode 33, the Day the Earth Froze). Language issues between alien races and Earth were rarely encountered as most races appeared to speak perfect English.
Theme song and merchandising
Fireball XL5 had separate opening instrumental theme music and a closing theme song. The closing theme, Fireball, written by Barry Gray and sung by Don Spencer, became a minor hit in Britain. Gray would have a long relationship with the Andersons' productions, writing themes for such series as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999. Don Spencer would become Australia's premier children's entertainer and founder of the Australian Children's Music Foundation. A group, The Flee-Rekkers, produced by Joe Meek, came out with an instrumental version in the style of Telstar.
In addition to the theme song, the series spawned a number of other licensed merchandising spin-offs including toys, an MPC playset with rocket ship and figures, model kits including a plastic kit of Fireball XL5 itself, puppets, ray guns, comic strips and annuals. In Britain, a two-page black-and-white Fireball XL5 comic strip appeared in the weekly TV Comic between 1962 and 1964 before moving to the newly launched weekly TV Century 21 comic in January 1965 for another five years. The strips that appeared between 1965 and 1968 were in colour only reverting to black-and-white in 1969. Four hard cover Annual books were published in Britain by Collins between 1963 and 1966 featuring colour and black and white comic strip and text stories, while in the United States Gold Key Comics printed a single-issue colour comic book in 1963. Little Golden Books published a hard-cover colour illustrated story book in 1964 (later released as 'Fireball XL5 – A Big Television Book' in Britain).
During the mid 1960s there were also three soft cover colouring/puzzle books published in Britain and one soft cover colouring/story book published in the United States.
Home video releases
Like most of Anderson's Supermarionation series, this one was given a "complete series" release in Region 1 by A&E Home Video. A Region 2 version featuring new bonus material was released on DVD in those territories in 2009, superseding a 2004 release with no extras. On 22 October in Region B territories, an individual Blu-ray featuring a colorised version of the episode A Day in the Life of a Space General was released. The disc also includes an episode of Four Feather Falls and an extended version of the Wonderland of Stardust documentary released as a bonus on the Region B box set released earlier in 2009. 
Fireball XL5 Crew
Space City Personnel
Many episodes of Fireball XL5 were set on exotic planets: