There can't be many producers who have a dedicated fan club. But Gerry Anderson does. It's called Fanderson and its chairman, Chris Bentley, has written a book - The Complete Gerry Anderson- detailing every programme and project the creator of Thunderbirds, Terrahawksand Captain Scarlethas been involved in (some 17 TV series and more than 500 episodes). Anderson has signed a copy for me in a copperplate hand.
It's a fitting gesture for the soft-spoken, wry gent who's a living legend among cult classic aficionados. Aged 75 and still going strong - "I'd never retire" - Anderson is rightly proud of his latest project, the 26-episode CGI extravaganza Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet, currently showing on CiTV's Saturday morning Ministry of Mayhem. Produced by Indestructible Productions, a subsidiary of Anderson Entertainment, it's a remake of the original 1960s puppet series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, and features a host of well-loved characters, from the all-female squadron of fighter pilots led by Destiny Angel to Captain Scarlet himself.
"It's the most advanced and adventurous production I've ever made," Anderson explains. And there's absolutely no comparison between the original series and the new, he insists. "The characters fight in modern ways, like kick-boxing. They actually give performances, particularly in the later episodes. They're not just faces, they portray emotion fantastically. Some of them are very touching."
At just under a million pounds per episode, it is also one of the most expensive children's TV programmes ever made. But calling it a kids show touches a nerve. "I'm typecast as someone who makes films for kids. And I find it very, very difficult to live with because people of all ages, including a potential Cabinet minister, watch my shows and love them. And are they kids shows? No they are not. They're family shows.
"At the moment the New Captain Scarletis trapped in a kids show on ITV. I'm longing for it to be put on, even if it's ITV2, at 6pm or 6.30pm."
Hang on a minute - this is a man who made his name with puppets. But talking with him, you realise he has always pushed at boundaries and struggled with being pigeonholed.
It's fair to say Anderson has a love-hate relationship with puppets. In 1957, when he formed his production company AP Films, he "nearly vomited" when he realised his first commission, for 52 10-minute episodes of children's show The Adventures of Twizzle, was to be made using marionettes. "Here was this young, budding Steven Spielberg and I was offered a puppet show. But it's surprising what you'll do when you need money."
Determined to turn it into an advantage, he thought that if he made the puppet series really well somebody would pick up on his talents and get him to do some live action. Instead, the response was to get him to do more puppet shows. "I was in just about the craziest situation," he says. "I was making action adventure and science fiction films using marionettes. And every time I looked at an episode, I used to think: 'They're quite good, but if only they were people and not these goddamn puppets, you know?'"
So he was thrilled when CGI came along and he realised he could remake one of his classic series, Captain Scarlet. "I went into it headfirst. And, needless to say, I ran into the most horrendous problems." For a start, the high standards he was aiming for - "and have achieved, by the way" - were nearly impossible. "One person in the CGI business even said to one of my friends: 'This series will be Gerry Anderson's swan song.'"
He took over the top floor of a new building at Pinewood and installed a CGI studio and 180 people. There were "a lot of casualties", he says. "We started off and people said: 'I can give you this, that and the other,' and we found they couldn't do it. And they had to be replaced." After "a baptism of fire" he says the series is now running like clockwork.
Anderson is a self-confessed creative man, not a money man. Indeed, his business history is almost as -famous as his creative output - he sold AP Films to Lew Grade in 1964, and through a chain of sell-offs and buyouts Granada now owns the rights to most of his puppet TV series and is responsible for distributing his shows, including the New Captain Scarlet, in the UK and Ireland. (Sony distributes the programme in the rest of the world.)
Does he feel bitter about losing the rights to money-spinners such as Thunderbirds? "I'm fortunate in as much as there's only one of me and whoever is exploiting the programmes generally comes to me and asks for my assistance. And I become involved and get some reward." He's keen to stress, however, that he had nothing to do with the 2004 Thunderbirdsfilm. "Everybody hated it, not just me," he asserts.
Anderson raised the money for the New Captain Scarletthrough a government investment scheme, and if it makes a few million dollars profit he will be happy. "As soon as I deliver an episode to a distributor I'm out of the picture," he says. But he acquired the remake rights to the New Captain Scarletso has a large chunk of profit share.
Creatively, his ideas come easily. "I'm pretty dumb in many things, but if you said to me: 'I've got the money, Gerry, but we need to start production immediately,' I could have a new format out by tomorrow." He insists on absolute creative control. "I describe myself as a creative producer, because a lot of producers are no more than money machines. That's not the way I work."
He admits he hasn't steered his life or career that much. But a few life-changing moments stand out. For example when he was a child durin-g the war, his brother was a pilot. "He phoned me and said: 'Gerry, I'm coming over in about 10 minutes.' So I stood outside and I heard this tremendous noise, and he came down, so low he almost took the chimney tops off, and I could see all the detail of the aircraft. And at that moment I was very excited by aircraft."
He wants to follow the New Captain Scarletwith a television series, either another remake - he's discussing possible projects with Granada - or something entirely new. "But in this business it's very difficult to forecast the future," he reasons. "Somebody might call up and say: 'Hey, are you interested in making a feature film?' And I'd have to consider that very carefully. It would take me about five seconds!"