The highlight for the Sunday at F.I.F. was the appearance of merchandise supremo, Keith Shackleton.
I have to say that seeing Keith, he comes across as well spoken, very genuine, as honest as the day is long, in fact, quite the perfect gentleman.
Keith first met Gerry Anderson during their days as non-commissioned officers in the RAF. After they left the Airforce, each went their separate ways, although both remained friends.
In 1960, Gerry persuaded Keith to join A.P. Films as merchandise director, during which time Supercar was being made at the Slough studios in Ipswich Rd.
Keith mentioned that Supercar was popular in America, and a company over there wanted the publishing rights (Dell?). As part of the deal Keith was able to secure the UK publishing rights for several American series like The Man from UNCLE and Dr Kildare (He said he was quite pleased with a series of pulp Dr Kildare paperbacks that sold really well in the UK and made the company a fortune)
Remaining on the subject of publishing, Keith got on well with Alan Fennel, who at the time was deputy editor of TV Comic. In 1961 Keith sold the licence for the Supercar comic strip to TV Comic which was to be written by Fennel. They soon formed the Supercar Club and within three weeks it had 70,000 members, all paying the membership fee of half a crown.( 2/6) Supercar was a lucrative commodity. By 1963 merchandise sales for the show was over a quarter of a million pounds.
He also spoke of his advice to Gerry not to sell AP Films to Lew Grade and ATV. The cinema advertising company, Pearl & Dean had offered to buy half the firm, with what Keith considered a much better deal, but Gerry stuck to his guns, feeling that ATV was the way to go.
He talked about TV Century 21, which was something he was proud of. He’d approached Lew Grade with the idea of a publication called Century 21, a name which had been bandied about for a while, particularly with regards to Fireball XL5’s original title. The company itself, needed a new, more slick name and Century 21 sounded right. (It has been suggested that Keith came up with the name, although he did dispute that)
It was intended that this new publication would promote A.P.Films’ new Thunderbirds TV series, and Keith eventually struck a deal with City Magazines who were very enthusiastic, however they opted to alter the title to TV Century 21, which more accurately described the content.
With this new series now in full swing, Jack Rosethal’s toy company which was naturally doing very well producing the Thunderbirds toys was eventually bought out by A.P. Films in 1965. Although, Keith did make special mention that he was particularly pleased with the Dinky toys being produced by Meccano in Binns Road, Liverpool.
Following Thunderbirds, Keith became a little disillusioned with the new series, Captain Scarlet, which he felt was too dark for a younger audience, and difficult to pitch.
Eventually, Keith left Century 21 Productions. However, he did return but this time as part of a separate company called Century 21 merchandise which later became Century 21 Ltd. With this company he would licence products for, amongst others, ABBA, The Power Rangers , and Kate Bush.
Oh, and as a footnote, prior to his talk on stage I did manage a brief chat with him and asked the question, did he remember Project Sword?
He did remember it, as a totally separate merchandise venture which owed its creation to Jack Rosenthal , whose toy company by that time belonged to A.P. Films. However, as Gerry Anderson considered himself the ideas man he, subsequently had no interest in it at all. Keith also had no recollection of Solo comic either, which might have been something that City magazines themselves came up with.