Robert the Robot When the futuristic children’s program Fireball XL5 rose to fame in the UK in 1962, the automated Robert also got his share of the limelight. The see-through robot made from thermoplastic acrylic resin was created by Professor Matic in the year 2062, the fictional time-setting of the series.
Robert was considered the Earth’s most complex mechanical man and a math genius. He and the series’ lead character Colonel Steve Zodiac co-piloted their spaceship the Fireball XL5 through scores of inter-planetary adventures. Robert was quite literal in following when givin orders. He always followed every command to the letter which would always lead him into difficult situations often causing his circuits to heat up and smoke. It was quite funny to see.
Along with the rest of the characters, Robot was conjured up in “supermarionation” introduced by Fireball XL5’s creators Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Supermarionation is a form of puppetry which uses thin electric wires to sync specially designed marionettes’ mouth movements (or in Robert’s case his eyes) with actors’ vocal recordings. Incidentally, Mr. Anderson also brought Robert to life using voicing, utilizing an improvised electronic voice-box.
The robot of the future, as Robert was referred to, was designed with eyes that would illuminate in synch with his pre-recorded voice track. The Robert marionette being made mostly of plastic made Robert too light when compared to the other puppets. This caused some trouble when operating him. The body and the head were made with clear tubes, a plastic drinking glass and sheet plastic all connected together with rubber wires.
His transparent interior was filled with a variety of radio entrails. Despite the troubles operating Robert, his transparent body with its exposed wires, motors, and bulbs made it him quite popular with fans.
Fireball XL5 stories told the story of the interplanetary adventures of Colonel Steve Zodiac, Robert, the alluring and glamorous Dr. Venus, and the navigator and Robert’s inventor professor Mathew Matic patrolling and protecting Sector 25 of the solar system.
The series, which started on October 28, 1962, was aired in United Kingdom with a total of 36 episodes and ended the same month of the following year. Additionally it was aired in the United States on Saturday mornings from 1963 through 1965. Fireball XL5 followed the success of Anderson’s previous project “Four Feather Falls.”