Century 21

1965 advert for the first six releases: Century 21 comic

Century 21 Records was an offshoot of Gerry Anderson’s puppet animation (“supermarionation”) series, Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds. As such, it could be classed as a kiddie label, but it sold way beyond that, plus the cult aspect of the series has kept it popular. As Sixth formers at the time, we regarded it as kitsch, but the cult aspect was there from the beginning.

Wikipedia on Supermarionation: The characters were played by electronic marionettes with a moveable lower lip, which opened and closed in time with pre-recorded dialogue by means of a solenoid in the puppet’s head or chest. 

Century 21 (each release was 21 minutes as were the TV episodes) put the main focus on EPs (or rather ‘Mini Albums’), and they were all 33 rpm rather than 45 rpm. This speed, the six tracks, and the junior appeal makes them look like budget label discs. 7/11d (40p) was cheap too. Singles were 6/8d to 7/3d (around 35p – depending on ever-changing tax) and EPs were around 10/6d (53p).

However, production values were high as some tracks were part of the soundtracks. They also recorded other TV themes, such as Dr Who, which is included on TV 21 Themes.

TV 21 Themes, MA105, 1965

Clive Selwood had contacted Gerry Anderson after seeing a TV animation, and set up Century 21 Records between his periods at Philips and Elektra. As Anderson’s Century 21 Films operation was financed by ATV, they approached Pye (an ATV subsidiary) first, and the proposal for a new record label was declined by Pye boss Louis Benjamin.

Clive Selwood: Benjy (Louis Benjamin) informed us that there was no sale for children’s records and that we should feel free to make whatever alternative arrangements we chose. Benjy had apparently had a miserable time with the Hanna-Barbera label, which was made up entirely of American cartoon soundtracks.
All The Moves: Clive Selwood, 2003

Advert from the TV Century 21 comic book, 1965

Century 21 decided to issue the first six titles simultaneously, and approached Selecta, Decca’s distribution company. To Selwood’s amazement, their first order was for  40,000 copies of each title, a total of nearly a quarter of a million records.

Clive Selwood: On learning this, Benjy decided that he had erred, and insisted that Pye also distribute the series. As a result, Selecta halved their order, and asked me to guarantee that Pye, who were also pressing the records, would play fair and not try to supply the major retailers Boots and W.H. Smith in advance of supplying Selecta. After seeking assurances from Benjy, like a fool, I gave my word. You’ve guessed it, come the day of release Pye supplied all the major shops first and made Selecta wait two weeks for their supplies, claiming that there were ‘production problems.’
All The Moves: Clive Selwood, 2003

Selwood felt obliged to resign, though agreed to oversee the initial launch and the character merchandising campaign.

The records were sold in large browser boxes at Boots The Chemist and W.H. Smith, but were initially ignored in spite of adverts in the Century 21 comic books. Gerry Anderson suggested they take out a full page advert in the biggest-selling UK newspaper, the Daily Mirror, costing several thousand pounds. He could cite advertising the comic in the Daily Mirror earlier in the year to great success.

First issue of TV Century 21 comic, advertised in The Daily Mirror February 1965

Selwood says no record label had ever tried spending that kind of money on an advert in a general daily newspaper. Within hours of the advert the shops had sold out and were re-ordering. This is one of many cases that show how narrow the official Top Thirty samples were. Every early title should have charted but the compilers ignored the chains like Boots The Chemist, W.H. Smith and Woolworths, all of which sold large numbers of records.

Gallery: click to enlarge

The ones with spaceships, and cars are the most popular

There were thirty-six seven-inch releases between 1965 and 1967, all in glossy EP picture sleeves, plus seven LPs. The LPs compile the EPs and are ‘Super Albums’ rather than ‘Mini Albums’

1967 saw the final releases.

Captain Scarlet was the last character and the result of improvement in the Supermarionation technology. . The TV Themes From Captain Scarlet was the last release, and slips Theme From The Monkees on there for no apparent reason.

LPs:

The LPS are compilations of the EPs and are seen far less frequently.

The World of Tomorrow: LP 1965, LA1

Lady Penelope Presents: LP, 1965 LA2

Favourite Television Themes: Barry Gray and His Music, LP #LA6 December 1966

LA 3 and LA5, both 1966

Tingha and Tucker

ATV pushed The Tingha and Tucker Club Song Book onto Century 21 in spite of no connection to Gerry Anderson. It was children’s songs from ATV’s pre-school TV programme (1962-1970). Tingha and Tucker were koala bear puppets. They even had a Century 21 mini-album called Tingha and Tucker present the New Wombaville Band, on which the puppets covered Beatles songs. This is 1967, with The Beatles songs emblazoned on the front sleeve. The back sleeve reveals they also regurgitated three Christmas songs, plus Ollie The Elephant and I’m An Indian Too.

Collectability

Collectability for the label is high, and mint copies of the Gerry Anderson related EPs range from a low of £15 to a high of £40, depending on the title for the mini albums (EPs). The LPs or Super albums go up to £50 in general and that’s ‘Very Good’ condition, not Excellent, Near Mint or Mint. I’ve seen copies at £100 plus.

The Daleks is generally the most valuable one (Discogs cite a median price of £26.50, and a highest of £42.79). It includes the Dr Who Theme by the Eric Winston Orchestra as well as the BBC recording with William Hartnell as Dr Who. Century 21 used to run a Dr Who comic strip in the magazine from the very first issue.

The Daleks: April 1966

There are nursery rhymes and younger kid’s stuff, as well as the opportunity to listen to Marina Speaks. Pye could not resist sliding other children’s material onto the label, which diluted its appeal.

Having said they’re valuable, the caveat is that, like all collectables originally sold to children, a tiny proportion will be in mint or excellent condition. The highest prices will be seen at Toy Fairs rather than Record Fairs.

CDs

CDs have emerged over the years. These are from 2015:

2022

This is also a CD, in spite of what it says on the sleeve about 33 rpm. Released in 2022 as an addition on the Stingray series blu-ray box set.

2022 also saw a return to vinyl:

Cloud of A Billion Lights: 2022 EP release

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