Fireball XL5 was 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 was produced in 1962 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. It ran for 39 episodes.
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.
Colonel Steve Zodiac, pilot and commanding officer of Fireball XL5 (voiced by Paul Maxwell). Commander of Fireball XL5. Zodiac was awarded Astronaut of the Year in the episode “Space City Special”.
Doctor Venus, Doctor of Space Medicine, of French origin. Personally chosen to be part of his crew by Steve Zodiac and with 5 years of service on the XL5 according to the episode “The Last of the Zanadus” (voiced by Sylvia Anderson).
Professor Matthew “Matt” Matic, engineer, navigator and scientist of XL5 (voiced by David Graham, speaking in a voice similar to the actor Walter Brennan).
Robert the Robot, co-pilot of XL5, a transparent robot invented by Professor Matic and Earth’s most advanced mechanical man (voiced by an uncredited Gerry Anderson using an artificial larynx and the only main character Gerry Anderson ever voiced in one of his series).
Zoonie the Lazoon, lazy, semi-telepathic pet of Dr. Venus from planet Colevio (voiced by David Graham). During his first appearances, he couldn’t say anything but “welcome home” but his vocabulary grew as the series progressed, often due to him mimicking other characters.
Commander Wilbur Zero, Operational Commander-in-Chief of the World Space Patrol and Space City’s Chief Controller (voiced by John Bluthal). Despite his gruff exterior, he cares deeply for his subordinates and respects them, especially Steve.
Lieutenant Ninety, Assistant Space City Controller (voiced by David Graham). Ninety is young, inexperienced and the character most often on the receiving end of Commander Zero’s scathing attitude. Despite the seeming high tension between him and Zero, Zero called him “the best lieutenant Space City has.”
Jock Campbell, Space City’s Scottish Chief Engineer (voiced by John Bluthal). He makes it clear he doesn’t think too highly of women but when Venus saves his life during an ill-fated mission, he starts to have a change of heart.
Eleanor Zero, Commander Zero’s wife (voiced by Sylvia Anderson).
Jonathan Zero, Commander Zero’s young son (voiced by Sylvia Anderson). According to the Little Golden Book ‘Fireball XL5’ story book published in the USA in 1964 young Jonathan was lucky enough to be a passenger aboard Fireball XL5’s maiden voyage which included an unscheduled stop at the planet Geminy.
Recurring villains included space spies Boris and Griselda, with their antiquated space ship S.S.Thor (S.S. stood for Space Spy) and the evil green alien Subterrains of Planet 46.
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 and Captain Scarlet. Thirty-nine black and white half-hour episodes of Fireball XL5 were made on 35mm film: all future Anderson series were produced in colour.