Gerry Anderson is On The Air

Created by Flickerpix animation studio, the visual version of the Radio Ulster show is every bit as funny

Gerry Anderson is, in many ways, the renegade of Radio Ulster.

Employing the odd expletive on air and casually berating those listeners who he deems to be unworldly, the radio presenter regularly regales us with tales of his hedonistic rock and roll past.

Anderson is, in many respects, Northern Ireland’s answer to infamous US shock jock, Howard Stern. Yet he is infinitely more charming and, of course, family friendly.

Also going by the monikers ‘Turkey Neck’, and ‘Golf Mike Alpha’, Anderson has been broadcasting The Gerry Anderson Show on BBC Radio Ulster since 1985. He occasionally appears on our screens, having made several television documentaries for BBC Northern Ireland, but it's on radio that Anderson truly shines.

His mid-morning show is sandwiched between The Stephen Nolan Show and Talkback, both current affairs shows that tackle the hard-hitting news stories of the day. Anderson and his put-upon side kick, Sean Coyle, provide some much-needed comic relief.

Regular listeners to The Gerry Anderson Show are wide-reaching, attracting as it does students, farmers and families alike. All tune in to hear often warped, occasionally controversial and always hilarious observations from the man from 'Stroke City’ (Derry~Londonderry) who mainly broadcasts from the city's Foyle studios.

Those regular listeners will also be aware of the show's foray into television. Broadcasting on BBC One NI over the Easter weekend is the fourth series of On The Air, the animated series based on Anderson's radio show and produced by Holywood-based studio, Flickerpix.

In the series, Flickerpix creative director Joel Simon and his crew of animators bring to life a selection of spirited and unedited phone-calls between Anderson and his audience, through both 2D and stop-motion animation. Simon has been directing On The Air for some years now, and is ecstatic about the response so far.

‘After the last series [Christmas 2011] we had lots of people asking us when we would be coming back with more, which was great. We had an amazing response after that. People really warm to the characters, like Geordie the farmer... It is very inspiring for us as animators.’

Indeed, Simon believes that a lot of the show’s success relies on the strength of the phone calls featured. Even a casual listener to Anderson's radio show will know that the calls range from the intriguing to the bizarre. What is it about these calls, then, that translates so well to animation?

‘The great thing about the callers is that they are not trying to put on a face, or try to come off overly witty or intelligent,' explains Simon. ‘It is authentic and raw, and I love all the different accents in Northern Ireland.

'I’m really proud of all the episodes, but I think my favourite to date is from in the Christmas series, where a caller phones to complain to Gerry, very bitterly. She has a personal vendetta against him, and feels very let down by him as she was on a cruise with him and she claims he was a snob who wouldn’t mix with anybody else.

'I think this conversation is fantastically visual, and the way Gerry takes it is very funny too. It gave us lots to work with for the animation, and we ended up going with a look not unlike the Titanic. Both the dialogue and the visuals are very beautiful, so I’m extremely proud of this episode in particular.’

The Flickerpix portrayal of the callers, whilst affectionate, is also uniquely over the top. Northern Irish stereotypes are exaggerated for comic effect, of course. For instance, one character on the television series, a farmer, is shown to be pouring cooking sherry all over his meal, stove and face...

However, Simon is happy to report that any callers he has spoken to have been happy with the show. But what does Anderson think of his own portrayal as a vermouth-sipping, cigar-smoking sophisticate?

‘It is absolutely 100% accurate,' laughs Anderson. 'The only thing I take issue with is that in the show I only have three fingers per hand. But I have more than that, I actually have four on each hand. Five if you count the thumb. I also have a functioning nose, which is missing from the animation. Everything else is completely anatomically correct.

'They have made my hair a little greyer this time and there is an implication that I have a comb-over, which I am worried about. I don’t have a comb-over. I may be thinning a little on top, but I don’t comb it over. There is no comb-over, but I suppose if it blows over a little, it doesn’t matter...’

Whilst the success of The Gerry Anderson Show is very much down to its eccentric host, a huge part of the humour comes from the rapport between Anderson and his faithful aide, Coyle. Simon believes that the duo work well for two reasons:

‘Gerry and Sean are genuinely very different in every way, off the air as well as on. They have very different social lives, very different hobbies. I think this makes them work as a classic comedy duo.

'The other thing is that they are not trying to be nice to each other. With a lot of radio DJs you get fake chumminess, which can be quite irritating, but Gerry and Sean are very often at each other’s throats, calling each other’s bluff, right on air. Sometimes Sean will come up with a story or observation that will really surprise Gerry as well, so it continually feels fresh.’

Deadpan as always, Anderson’s explanation is somewhat more concise. ‘Sean hates my guts,' he confides. ‘He actually truly despises me. He disapproves of nearly everything I do, which is really the only reason the relationship works. It works so well because he hates me.’

Whether or not this might be entirely true is up for debate, but for the listeners, it works. Furthermore, it is a testament to Gerry’s broadcasting prowess that the man can turn a phonecall about nuns and comatose chickens into both radio and television gold.

The forthcoming fourth series of On The Air comes to BBC Northern Ireland over the Easter weekend. Watch a video on Flickerpix's next project, Escape From the Factory, which will show in various throughout the UK as part of the London 2012 Festival.