Thunderbirds (TV series): Wikis


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Thunderbirds logo.jpg
Thunderbirds title screenshot
Genre Action
Science fiction
Format Supermarionation puppetry
Created by Gerry Anderson
Sylvia Anderson
Written by Gerry Anderson
Sylvia Anderson
Tony Barwick
Martin Crump
Alan Fennell
Alan Pattillo
Donald Robertson
Dennis Spooner
Directed by Brian Burgess
David Elliott
David Lane
Alan Pattillo
Desmond Saunders
Voices of Sylvia Anderson
Ray Barrett
Peter Dyneley
Christine Finn
David Graham
David Holliday
Paul Maxwell
Shane Rimmer
John Tate
Charles Tingwell
Jeremy Wilkin
Matt Zimmerman
Composer(s) Barry Gray
Country of origin United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of series 2
No. of episodes 32 (64 in 30-minute "cliffhanger" format) (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Gerry Anderson (s. 2)
Producer(s) Gerry Anderson (s. 1)
Reg Hill (s. 2)
Editor(s) Peter Elliott
David Lane
Harry Ledger
Harry MacDonald
Len Walter
Cinematography John Read
Camera setup Single
Running time 50 mins approx. per episode
(excluding advertisements)
Production company(s) AP Films
Distributor ITC Entertainment
Original channel ATV
Picture format Film (35 mm)
Audio format Mono
Original run September 30, 1965 (1965-09-30) – December 25, 1966 (1966-12-25)
Followed by Thunderbirds Are Go (1966 film)
Related shows Thunderbirds 2086 (1982 remake)

Thunderbirds is a British mid-1960s television show devised by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and made by AP Films using a form of marionette puppetry dubbed "Supermarionation". The series followed the adventures of International Rescue, an organisation created to help those in grave danger using technically advanced equipment and machinery. The series focused on the head of the organisation, ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy, and his five sons who piloted the "Thunderbird" machines. Perennially popular, the series is still shown today and has inspired a number of subsequent television programmes and films.



Thunderbirds was the fourth Supermarionation children's series made by AP Films (later Century 21 Productions). The logo of Supermarionation had previously been seen in the shows Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Stingray. Anderson came up with the concept for the series after hearing about a German mine disaster in 1963. The heavy equipment needed to rescue the miners was located far away — transportation time was a major hindrance in ensuring the survival of the miners. The "race against time" element is one of the recurring themes in Thunderbirds. The show's title derived from a letter written to his family by Anderson's older brother, while he was serving in the United States during World War II. In the letter, he referred to an American Air Force base called "Thunderbird Field". The working title, according to the trivia tracks used in Tech TV airings of the episodes, was simply "International Rescue."

Many of the crew came directly from APF's previous production Stingray, but for Thunderbirds the crew was expanded, and was shot at A.P. Films' ever growing studio at Stirling Road, Slough, Buckinghamshire (now Berkshire). It was APF's first one-hour series. Thunderbirds had been in production for several months when ITC Entertainment boss Lew Grade was shown the completed pilot episode, "Trapped in the Sky", and he was reportedly so excited with the result that he immediately instructed Anderson and his team to expand all the episodes from 25 minutes to 50 minutes. This initially proved to be a headache as nine episodes had already been filmed and scripts for half-a-dozen others had been written.

Production commenced in September 1964 and the show premiered on British television on 30 September 1965 in the ATV Midlands region. Other ITV regions followed, including London on 25 December 1965. Two series were produced, comprising 32 50-minute episodes in total. Each episode was also split into two parts for a half-hour slot, creating 64 25-minute episodes.


The Thunderbirds TV series is supposedly set in the 21st century (which at the time of production was still over thirty years away). The specific time frame remains a contentious topic amongst fans, due to contradictory dates seen on newspapers and calendars in different episodes, ranging from 1964 (clearly impossible) to 2026. As he has stated in a number of interviews (most recently for Fanderson's "FAB" magazine), Gerry Anderson's brief to the writers and designers was simply that the series was set "one hundred years in the future" (i.e. 2065). This intent was carried forward in all of the series' contemporary tie-in merchandise, such as the weekly comic strip in TV Century 21 and the Century 21 Mini-Album "Thunderbird 3", wherein Alan Tracy tells listeners that the year is 2065. The close-up appearance of a 2026 calendar in the episode "Give or Take a Million" was later admitted by production designer Bob Bell to have been an error on the part of the prop-maker. 1993 vintage champagne is discussed in "Alias Mr. Hackenbacker", although this only suggests that events in that episode took place after 1993. The date issue is strongly in favour of the mid 2060s, as in the feature film Thunderbirds Are Go the date is shown to be June 2066, and in Thunderbird 6 it is June 2068. In addition, the Zero X spacecraft from Thunderbirds Are Go subsequently appeared in the opening episode of Anderson's next TV series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, which was set in 2068. [1]

The show depicts the adventures of the Tracy family, which consists of millionaire former astronaut Jeff Tracy (who was one of the first men to land on the Moon - which some fans feel adds weight to the 2026 argument, although it is never stated when man first landed on the Moon in the Thunderbirds 'universe', that event having still been in the future at the time of production) and his five sons: Scott (pilot of Thunderbird 1 and principal rescue co-ordinator), Virgil (pilot of Thunderbird 2), Alan (astronaut in Thunderbird 3), Gordon (aquanaut in Thunderbird 4) and John (principal duty astronaut on the space station Thunderbird 5) - each named after a Mercury astronaut - Scott Carpenter,[2] Virgil Grissom,[3] Alan Shepard,[4] Gordon Cooper[5] and John Glenn,[6] respectively. (Two of the Mercury Seven, Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton, do not have characters named for them. Slayton did not fly as part of the Mercury program due to being grounded from flight status by a heart condition, although he later flew as docking module pilot on ASTP.) Together with Jeff's elderly mother called Grandma Tracy, the scientific genius and engineer "Brains", the family's manservant Kyrano and his daughter Tin-Tin, the Tracy family live on a remote, uncharted island.

The location of this island is usually assumed to be somewhere in the Pacific (Tracy Island), but there are many inconsistencies in the plots that point to a possible location in the Caribbean Sea. In the episode 'The Uninvited', Scott is returning from Tokyo and is shot down over the Sahara desert. If Tracy Island really was in the Pacific, he would simply have flown straight there from Japan (also located in the Pacific). But the fact that he is flying over the Sahara, from Japan, means he must be heading for the Atlantic Ocean and, presumably, the Caribbean. But wherever Tracy Island is located (the Atlantic, the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico), Scott is returning home by flying AWAY from the Pacific. They are, in secret, the members of International Rescue (IR), a private and highly advanced emergency response organisation, which covers the globe and even reaches into space, rescuing people with their futuristic vehicles, the Thunderbirds.

The main characters were:

  • Scott, pilot of reconnaissance rocket Thunderbird 1.
  • Virgil, pilot of vehicle transporter Thunderbird 2.
  • Alan, astronaut of space rocket Thunderbird 3.
  • Gordon, aquanaut of submarine Thunderbird 4.
  • John, operator of space station Thunderbird 5.
  • Jeff, their father and millionaire ex-astronaut.
  • Brains, the scientist (and, in Thunderbird 6, the pilot of said Thunderbird craft)
  • Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, International Rescue's London intelligence agent.
  • Aloysius Parker, Lady Penelope's chauffeur with a criminal background.

Lady Penelope was involved primarily in two of the episodes: "The Perils Of Penelope" and "Man From MI5".

In The Perils Of Penelope, Virgil and Gordon must rescue her when two criminals hijack her monorail car, kidnap her, tie her to a ladder and lower it in front of the speeding monorail train's path.

And in The Man From MI5, she is kidnapped by a murderer from her yacht after she gives Parker the night off. The kidnapper takes her back to his small boathouse and ties her to a wooden chair next to a small bomb, leaving Scott to track her down with TB1's tracking system, so that Gordon can go rescue her and catch the kidnapper and his two goons in TB4 before the bomb goes off.

The main characters' appearances were modeled after then-famous actors. Jeff Tracy was modeled after Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame, Alan after Robert Reed, Scott after Sean Connery, and John after both Adam Faith and Charlton Heston.

Some of the disasters attended by International Rescue are often the result of accident or misadventure, but on occasion involve deliberate sabotage. A recurring villain, "The Hood" (actually never named in the dialogue, but referred to as such in narration, in the comics, tie-in books and other spin-off media), frequently causes major accidents in order to lure International Rescue's vehicles to the scene and spy on or steal them. Another complication is that The Hood's half brother, Kyrano, is the Tracy's servant. Because The Hood has some degree of psychic power over Kyrano, he is able to compel him to reveal otherwise secret information about International Rescue's operations, or even on one occasion sabotage Thunderbird 1. Kyrano's daughter Tin-Tin is romantically linked with Alan and participates in several IR missions.

International Rescue's London agent, international socialite Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, and her Cockney butler/chauffeur Aloysius "Nosey" Parker, are often seen chasing The Hood and other villains in the pink, amphibious Rolls-Royce FAB1, which is equipped with James Bond-style gadgets. (Rolls-Royce actually provided an authentic radiator grille to the production company for closeups of FAB-1, such as when the retractable machine gun was fired) Lady Penelope's yacht was called FAB-2. Although credited as "London-based Agent", Lady Penelope lives in a mansion in Kent, which is actually a miniature copy of real life Stourhead House in Wiltshire.

The characters use the radio sign-off "F.A.B." rather than "Roger" or "Out". The term initially had no larger meaning, but in later tie-ins came to be shorthand for "Fully Advised and Briefed."


All the Thunderbird pilots wear a common mid blue uniform consisting of a polo-neck tunic, trousers, boots, and a simplified glengarry cap. Each uniform is accented by a sash uniquely coloured specific to the wearer and bearing the International Rescue insignia, which carries a sidearm and two pouches, and similarly coloured cuffs to the boots:[7]

  • Scott – pale blue
  • Virgil – pale yellow
  • Alan – white
  • Gordon – orange
  • John – lilac

Occasionally other members of the organisation are depicted in similar uniforms:

  • Brains – brown (as seen in Thunderbird 6)
  • Jeff – metallic gold (only seen in publicity photographs in books[8] and the DVD boxset. This sash actually carries a logo badge for the Dr. Barnardo's children's charity.)
  • Tin-Tin sometimes wears a similar blue uniform with a pale blue belt but no sash.


Each episode featured fantastic vehicles and machines primarily designed by special effects director Derek Meddings. In particular, the five Thunderbird craft used by International Rescue, were arguably the series' real stars.

  • Thunderbird 1Hypersonic variable geometry rocket plane used for fast response, rescue zone reconnaissance, and as a mobile control base.
  • Thunderbird 2 – Heavy supersonic VTOL carrier lifting body aircraft used for the transport of major rescue equipment and vehicles, including Thunderbird 4.
  • Thunderbird 3 – Reusable, vertically launched SSTO (Single Stage To Orbit) spaceship used for space rescue and maintenance of Thunderbird 5.
  • Thunderbird 4 – Small utility submersible for underwater rescue.
  • Thunderbird 5 – Earth-orbiting space station which monitors all broadcasts around the globe for calls for help and also manages communications within International Rescue.
  • Thunderbird 6 – a 1930s Tiger Moth biplane used once when the usual vehicles proved too heavy for the job, and only appeared in the movie of the same name. The title "Thunderbird 6" is mostly honorary.


Voice cast

The voice cast were all experienced character actors and several were already (or became) regular Anderson performers. David Holliday (the original voice of Virgil in Series I) was the only American cast in any voice role in the series; all the others were British, Australian or Canadian.

Versatile Australian actor Ray Barrett provided the voices of John Tracy and The Hood, as well as many other one-off characters. He had worked for Anderson before, voicing both Commander Shore and Titan in his previous series, Stingray. Thanks to his extensive experience in live radio back in Australia, he was adept at rapid changes from one voice to another and he could also perform both English and American accents convincingly. By the time Thunderbirds began, Barrett was already a minor star on British TV, and since his return to Australia in the Seventies he has become one of the nation's senior film and TV actors. Although Sylvia Anderson or Christine Finn usually took responsibility for female guest characters, Barrett made an exception when he voiced the elderly Duchess of Royston in "The Duchess Assignment", to the hilarity of the other cast and crew.

Veteran Canadian actor Shane Rimmer (Scott) went on to appear in — and occasionally write scripts for — many subsequent Anderson productions. Rimmer has an extensive list of prominent TV and movie credits, but he is probably best known for his appearances in several James Bond films, and for his role as Captain G.A. 'Ace' Owens in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Rimmer has appeared in many action, thriller and science fiction films, including Star Wars: A New Hope, Superman II and Batman Begins, and is often cast in military or political roles.

David Graham, one of Anderson's longest serving voice actors, had previously worked on Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray and was also one of the original voices of the Daleks in Doctor Who in 1963. Graham supplied no fewer than four of the main characters' voices - Parker, Gordon Tracy, Brains, and Kyrano.

Voice cast

(Paul Maxwell (Fireball XL5), Charles Tingwell and John Tate were not credited on-screen in either series, though Maxwell and Tingwell received credits in the two movies. The first film, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966), also featured two early voice-only appearances by popular entertainer Bob Monkhouse.).

It has also long been rumoured that the opening "5 4 3 2 1 Thunderbirds Are Go!" voiceover was provided by Brian Cobby who went on for many years to be the voice of the British speaking clock. While Cobby himself has long maintained this and has even received repeat-fee royalties from the BBC, this assertion is refuted by the surviving members of the cast and by Gerry Anderson, all of whom are adamant that the voice is that of Peter Dyneley in character as Jeff Tracy. A simple comparison of the opening dialogue with any of Dyneley's dialogue as Jeff Tracy within each episode (especially when he says "Thunderbirds are go") will confirm this to even an untrained ear. The general consensus is that Cobby provided the voice for a Thunderbird 2 talking alarm clock produced in the early 1990s and now has a clouded recollection of events, but the rumour remains in general circulation.

Special effects

The programme was notable for the high quality of its miniature special effects. The effects supervisor on all of Anderson's shows from Supercar to UFO was Derek Meddings, who went on to produce special effects for the James Bond and Superman movies (Meddings won an Oscar for the first Superman film).

One of Meddings' most famous and ingenious creations was the so-called "rolling road" and "rolling sky" system. The Thunderbirds storylines called for a large number of scenes showing the Thunderbirds and other aircraft flying through the air, landing or taking off along runways, or motor vehicles travelling along roads. Meddings' team quickly discovered that the old method — pulling or pushing models across a static base or against a static background — produced very unconvincing results. Meddings came up with a novel solution to the problem, which he first used in the premiere episode, "Trapped in the Sky". For the famous crash-landing sequence (which so impressed Lew Grade), the Thunderbirds' remotely operated "elevator cars" had to be shown being maneuvered into position on the runway beneath the stricken Fireflash aircraft as it came in to land, so that the aircraft could touch down without extending its landing gear, which would have triggered a bomb hidden there by IR's nemesis, The Hood.

Meddings' solution was to construct a belt of canvas, stretched over rollers and driven by an electric motor. The miniature elevator cars were then fixed in position by fine wires on this "rolling road". The Fireflash model was suspended from wires above the elevator cars and it could be lowered onto the runway, creating a smooth and remarkably convincing descent effect. A similar roller system, painted with a sky background was built at right angles to the runway, and both roller motors were synchronised to provide a matching speed for both elements. When the lights and cameras were set up in the right position and the rollers were activated, the rolling road system created a very convincing illusion of movement. It also proved extremely helpful for the lighting and camera crews, since the miniature models did not move and were therefore much easier to light and shoot. The 'rolling sky' system proved equally effective for shots of flying aircraft. The illusion was enhanced by blowing smoke across the miniatures with a fan to simulate passing through cloud, and by joining the canvas belt at an angle to hide what would otherwise have been a visible seam. Unlike modern special effects, the model was still actually in front of the backdrop — at the time, this produced a more convincing (and far cheaper) effect than bluescreen technology. The 'rolling road' system was later used on several James Bond movies.

The team also quickly mastered the art of creating extremely convincing miniature explosions using materials including petroleum and fuller's earth. These were filmed at high speed, and when slowed down to normal speed they produced spectacular results. The team also became expert at creating a convincing illusion for rocket take-offs and landings. After an exhaustive search, they found a British firm that could make special thrustless solid-fuelled rocket canisters in different sizes, which burned for about ten seconds and which could be fitted inside the various miniatures to provide convincing rocket exhaust effects.

The show was justly praised for the exceptional quality of its miniature vehicles and sets. Some of the main Thunderbird vehicles were built by a professional model-making firm, but many others were custom-made by Meddings and his team from commercial radio-controlled motorised vehicle kits. Joining Meddings' team was Michael Trim, who became Medding's assistant to help design the fantastic craft and buildings of Thunderbirds. Meddings and Trim also pioneered the technique of 'customising' models and miniature vehicles by applying pieces taken from commercial model kits, to add convincing surface detail, for example the giant air conditioning silos either side of Thunderbird 1 in the launch bay beneath the swimming pool were actually a 1960s periscope toy manufactured by Merit.

The Thunderbirds miniatures were also 'aged' with paint and dust to create the convincing illusion that they were real, well-used vehicles. These techniques became standard practice in the special effects trade and were used to great effect in the building of the miniature spaceships and other vehicles for the first three Star Wars films.

Many of the effects team including Meddings and Brian Johnson became respected specialists in the film industry. Impressed by their work on the TV series, director Stanley Kubrick poached several of the Anderson effects team to work on his science fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.


A crucial element of the show's success was its thrilling music score, composed and conducted by Barry Gray, who provided all the music for the Anderson series up to and including Space: 1999 series one. His instantly recognisable "Thunderbirds March" is one of the best-known of all TV themes and has become a perennial favourite with brass and military bands around the world. Gray's original master recordings for the Anderson series were rediscovered in a storage facility in Chelsea, London in 1993 but then lost again a few years later after being returned to (then) copyright owners Carlton Media International.

The "Thunderbirds March" and the "5-4-3-2-1" countdown from the top of the show, were adopted by the British band Level 42 for its live shows, as captured in the video release of its 1987 performance at Wembley Stadium in London. An updated version, blended with the opening fanfare to the band's own hit "Heaven In My Hands," kicks off L42's concert gigs to this day. Similarly, the "5-4-3-2-1" countdown has been used by The Beastie Boys for its subsequent live shows; one instance of this is the Live Earth concert in London in 2007. British heavy-rock band thunder also used the Thunderbirds countdown intro in opening their 1990 performance at the 1990 Donnington open air rock festival. The biggest success however was the remixed version of the theme by FAB with MC parker which reached number 5 in the British charts and was also a hit around the world.This was the brainchild of TV producer Gary Shoefield who also released an Album of remixes called Power Themes 90'under the same FAB brand.This included other Anderson themes form Joe 90 ,Stingray and Capt Scarlet etc etc.

Gray composed a theme song with lyrics, performed by Gary Miller, for the series that was never used. The song, which had been intended to feature on the closing titles, was scrapped in favour of the Thunderbirds March just weeks before broadcast. However, the song was used in a slightly modified form (Flying High) in the closing scenes of the episode, "Ricochet".

Original broadcast

A total of 32 episodes of Thunderbirds were made between 1965 and 1966 (although production began in 1964, as indicated by the show's copyright date) for the British production company ITC Entertainment, and first broadcast on ITV.

Thunderbirds ceased production very suddenly in the autumn of 1966, six episodes into the second series. This was a decision made by Lew Grade after an unsuccessful trip to the U.S. to sell the programme. According to published reports of the incident, the three major television networks CBS, NBC, and ABC were all bidding on the series, and Grade felt he could play them against each other to gain a higher price. Unfortunately, when one dropped out, the others immediately followed. Although it was a genuine hit by that time, Grade still felt that the programme was too expensive to continue without the US market. The programme was instead shown in the US in television syndication with reasonable success.

Episode list

Thunderbirds films

The popularity of the series led to the production of two full length feature films, with financial backing by United Artists. During the early 1980s, several Thunderbirds episodes were combined to create three Thunderbirds television films. In 2004, a live action adaptation of the series was released, almost 40 years after the original series first aired.

Thunderbirds Are Go

Thunderbird 6

Super Space Theater

In 1981, many of Gerry Anderson's series were being re-edited into TV movies in North America. These were aired on TV under the series title Super Space Theater. Among these was Thunderbirds, with three TV films airing on American television in 1981. These haven't been seen on TV since, although they have been released on home video.

  • Countdown to Disaster (featuring the episodes "Terror in New York City" and "Atlantic Inferno")
  • Thunderbirds in Outer Space (featuring the episodes "Sun Probe" and "Ricochet")
  • Thunderbirds to the Rescue (featuring the episodes "Trapped in the Sky" and "Operation Crash-Dive")

Thunderbirds (2004 live action film)

A live action feature film, also called Thunderbirds, and directed by Jonathan Frakes premiered on 24 July 2004. All the Thunderbird craft seen in the live action film were based upon the original designs, but with modern refinements, although a modified Ford Thunderbird was used as FAB1 due to Rolls-Royce's refusal to give permission for the use of their name and grille. The live-action film had been planned as far back as the early 1990s, with the Baldwin brothers as four of the Tracy brothers and Anthony Edwards as Brains.

The plot sidelined the main series characters in favour of Alan, Tin-Tin, and a new character, Brains' son Fermat, who have to rescue the adults from the evil Hood. Coincidentally, both plots of the Supermarionation films Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968) also focused on Alan, the youngest Tracy brother. The 2004 film was poorly received, both by critics and at the box office, with the film opening in 11th place in North America. A North American DVD was released in late 2004. Creator Gerry Anderson has said that it was "the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my life."[9]


Konami FAB1

Several companies, including Matchbox and Dinky were licensed to produce die-cast metal and plastic toys based on the Thunderbird vehicles. They proved hugely popular and were one of the best selling merchandising lines of the decade. Original Thunderbirds toys are now expensive and highly sought after collectors' items. Many toys were made by Matchbox in the 90s to coincide with a revival of the TV series, including a Tracy Island playset and also the new movie, though they were generally marketed outside the US and in Canada. The Tracy Island set was particularly popular in the UK, being the best selling toy at Christmas and was in such high demand on the year of its release that the BBC children's television show Blue Peter instructed viewers in constructing their own version from household materials. Remarkably, the free "fact sheet" that detailed this process also became so sought-after that it too became difficult to obtain.

Toy company Bandai produced toys to coincide with the release of the 2004 live action movie in the UK. As of 2007, Japanese companies such as Aoshima, Konami and Takara were still producing new Thunderbirds toys based on the original series vehicles, including Takara's very expensive Thunderbird 2 model with lights and working motorised legs which lift the fuselage, exposing the cargo pod.

Original novels

A number of novels were published based upon the television series, most during 1966:

  • Thunderbirds, John Theydon (pseudonym for John W. Jennison), 1966
  • Calling Thunderbirds, Theydon, 1966
  • Ring of Fire, Theydon, 1966
  • Thunderbirds Are Go, Angus P. Allan, 1966 (film novelisation)
  • Operation Asteroids, John W. Jennison, 1966
  • Lost World, Jennison, 1966

In 1992 Corgi Books published four episode novelisations for children based upon the teleplays "The Uninvited", "Brink of Disaster", "Sun Probe", and "Atlantic Inferno".

The character of Lady Penelope was also featured in her own series of novels:

  • A Gallery of Thieves, Kevin McGarry, 1966
  • Cool for Danger, McGarry, 1966
  • The Albanian Affair, John Theydon, 1967

In 2008, FTL Publications began a new series of Thunderbirds novels based on the original series, written by Joan Marie Verba with art by noted Thunderbirds fan favorite, Steve Kyte. This is the first license granted to a publisher in the United States for Thunderbirds books and are the first new official series of novels written since 1967. "Countdown To Action," published in June 2008, encapsulates the formation of International Rescue, exploring the creation of the team and their fabulous equipment. The books to follow will highlight the individual Tracy brothers, with the first of those being focused upon eldest brother, Scott, in the second novel, "Action Alert."

Video games

In 1989, a Thunderbirds video game was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System[10]

In the late 1990s, a Game Boy Color version was released.

A Thunderbirds video game was released in Europe for the PlayStation 2 on July 6, 2007.[11] North American release was cancelled.[12]

Home video releases

A&E has released all of the Thunderbirds episodes on DVD in Region 1. Individual sets were issued in 2001, each one being two-disc and featuring six episodes (except for the final volume, which only has three episodes and features bonus material on its second disc[13]). These discs were combined for a "complete series" box set in 2002.[14] In 2004, the movies Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6 were released on DVD, both individually and together in an "Internation Rescue Collection" that featured both movies.[15] A new box set of the series, featuring slim-pack cases, was released in early 2008.[16] More recently, the series has been released on Blu-Ray, but this release has come under fire for cropping the episodes into a 16:9 aspect ratio, so as to better fit widescreen television sets (all other releases of the series have been in a more traditional 4:3 aspect ratio which is truer to how the episodes originally aired[17]).

Current broadcast

Today, the series is frequently repeated on BBC Two in the UK and RTÉ Two in Ireland (when the series was broadcast on BBC Two in 1991–92, this was actually the first nationwide screening, since British television was much more heavily regionalised in the 1960s, and was only broadcast in certain ITV regions). Thunderbirds is also quite popular in Japan, where it was first broadcast in 1966 by NHK. For approximately three years (2000–2003) the satellite channel Boomerang UK broadcast uncut episodes daily, meaning that the complete run of 32 episodes was screened about 34 times. Thunderbirds was also syndicated on the now defunct US cable television network TechTV from 5 August 2002 through 20 June 2004. The Tech TV broadcast, however, split episodes into 30-minute portions, and were filled with on-screen "pop up trivia" and arrows pointing at spots on the screen. In Australia, the Channel 9 Network screened the series many times over from the 1970s until as recently as 2007 during the Saturday morning timeslot, and on weekdays during school holiday periods. Thunderbirds is currently airing on Channel 9's second digital television station GO! on Saturday mornings. The original (uncut) series was also re-broadcast several times on the Australasian Foxtel cable network in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Australasian Foxtel cable network now plays Thunderbirds on the new Sci-Fi Network on weekdays. It is currently shown in the US in High Definition on Family Room, one of the VOOM television networks.

Modernising attempts

During the 1980s, there was a Japanese anime series, Scientific Rescue Team TechnoVoyager, which was released in English as Thunderbirds 2086, rewritten to be based on the Thunderbirds, with a more technologically intense feel. International Rescue was based in a large arcology on a Pacific island. This series was non-canon.

Fox Kids reran episodes of Thunderbirds for several years in the early-1990s, albeit with sections heavily edited to a half-hour running time (whereas the original series was one hour in length), and with new voice actors (and even a new introduction). The network released several of these episodes on home video at the same time.

In 2000, the series was remastered with Dolby Surround sound for DVD release. Gerry Anderson, who had not received any royalties on the show since signing away the rights in the late 1960s, was employed as a "remastering consultant". The DVDs were released in the UK, US and Australia in 2002. The series has also been released on Blu-ray disc.

A new series?

In September 2005, a QuickTime video file titled Thunderbirds IR was released on several P2P networks.[18] It opens with music by Barry Gray and a few clips of the classic Thunderbirds 1 through 4 launching, then shows several scenes from an intended new Thunderbirds series from Carlton Television. The trailer made with a combination of computer-generated imagery and puppetry depicts scenes including internal sets, external settings, and a sleekly-redesigned Thunderbird 1, Scott Tracy, The Hood, and the rescue of a falling lighthousekeeper. Scott Tracy is seen to walk, and perform a backflip (making the tongue-in-cheek remark "Look, no strings!").

The trailer stated that a new Thunderbirds series would be coming in 2005 from Carlton Television and displays a phone number. The series was developed by Carlton with David Freedman as executive producer and David Mercer who was heading the Children's Department at Carlton at the time. Greg Johnson and Bob Forward were lead writers and Asylum did all the set builds and puppet work. Tim Field was line producer. Dave Throssel and a small team from The Mill TV Dept did the CG work. Steve Clarke directed the short. Gerry Anderson met the Carlton team in the early days of development and gave his full blessing. However, when Granada and Carlton merged, the series was shelved until further notice.[19]

On 29 August 2008 it was announced by The Sun newspaper that Gerry Anderson is planning a new computer generated series of Thunderbirds. Gerry Anderson is in talks with ITV for the rights to the original series.[20] While Anderson believes a new series will eventually be made with his involvement, on that occasion ITV refused to return the rights.[21]

Eleven months later in July 2009 Anderson revealed that ITV were still refusing to return the rights to allow the creation of a new series.[22][23]

References, parodies and imitations

In Not Only... But Also a highly popular 1960s BBC British television comedy series starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore a sketch called "Superthunderstingcar" was performed (which was a parody of Thunderbirds and other Sylvia and Gerry Anderson puppet shows such as Supercar and Stingray)

1989 production of Thunderbirds FAB at the Apollo Theatre

In 1984 mime artists Andrew Dawson and Gavin Robertson (co-founders of and performers in The Mime Theatre Project) devised and presented a hit mime stage show called Thunderbirds FAB at the Apollo Theatre in London. The show was very popular and was still occasionally being revived for the next 20 years (possibly longer). The show also featured Captain Scarlet. From a 2001 tour flyer, Andrew Dawson is quoted as saying "Every time Thunderbirds returns [to UK TV] people call us up and ask us if we are still doing the show. We try to recreate everything that everyone loves about Thunderbirds in a live show - the noises, the funny puppet walk. Anyone who has ever seen Thunderbirds - and there can't be many people who haven't - will enjoy the show"

The pilot program for the 1980s Australian TV sketch comedy show The D Generation featured a Thunderbirds sketch with live actors pretending to be on strings ala marionettes. This sketch was performed multiple times throughout the series with different storylines, including "Thunderbirds Pizza" where the crew operate an international pizza delivery business.

In 1990, Swinton Car Insurance made a Thunderbirds advert called Parker's Day Off, where Lady Penelope drives recklessly in FAB1 before Parker comes to her rescue in Thunderbird 2.

In 1991, Gerry Anderson directed the video for the Dire Straits single Calling Elvis, which features a mix of new footage of Thunderbirds puppets and old material from the 1960s.

In 1992, the first series of the BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous featured a Lady Penelope marionette version of Patsy in one of Edina's dreams.

In 1993, the Kit Kat chocolate bar company made an Thunderbirds-themed advertisement. It features the original 5-4-3-2-1 countdown (re-recorded by a new voice actor) and all ships taking off, except Thunderbird 1. Scott, who pilots the ship, is seen relaxing and "[Having] a break", as the commercial encourages. Meanwhile, a frantic Jeff Tracy tries to coerce Scott into launching the ship: "Thunderbirds! GO!" At the same time in the Thunderbirds' homeland, the UK, a Pizza Hut commercial featuring the Thunderbirds was made, with the characters "hitting the hut", as was the company's slogan at the time.

In 1995, The Wallace and Gromit film A Close Shave by Aardman Animations includes an homage to the series. When Wallace receives a call for window-cleaning services, his method of getting to his motorbike and out onto the road is very similar indeed to the method used by Virgil Tracy to enter Thunderbird 2 and take off.

In 2001, the DVLA used Thunderbirds in one of their commercials reminding people to pay their road tax where Lady Penelope cuts Parker's strings for accidentally allowing FAB1 to be clamped.

2002-2003's comic, Global Frequency by Warren Ellis is inspired by Thunderbirds; [24]

In 2003, the Orbitz airline company aired a series of commercials with Supermarionation puppets, not unlike those used on Thunderbirds. The commercials even continued the practice of using real human hands in close-up shots.

In 2004, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker produced a full length feature film Team America: World Police (2004) which lampooned the original series. Team America's marionette humour drew heavily for its inspiration on the quirks and foibles of Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation techniques, whilst managing the significant task of paying respect to the original. Stone and Parker have stated whilst they were not particularly fans of the show, having grown up after its heyday, they nonetheless expressed admiration for the visual style and puppetry: "what’s made it last is the time and care that the people who did that show put into the marionettes".[25]

In 2005, the 10th anniversary special of the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley featured a drunk Geraldine lapsing into the opening countdown while drunk in the pulpit, then shouting "Thunderbirds are GO!" as part of her homily.

Australian band TISM released a single called "Thunderbirds Are Coming Out". The lyrics with a troubled teenager who rebels against his (or her) parents and "sit[s] for hours all alone, without an opinion to call my own". Eventually the teenager sees The Thunderbirds on television and is impressed. The teen is inspired by their appearance, stating "there's less to them than meets the eye" and from there joins various social cliques and adheres to norms of teenage life - in a sense giving up individuality, but yet transcending to the next level of teenage life.

In 2008, UK retailer Specsavers released an advertisement utilising Virgil Tracy and The Hood to promote their Reaction lenses. It was produced by Tandem Films in London using the same production techniques used by the original series. The video was published on the official Specsavers YouTube web site and screened on commercial TV networks in the UK. The mini adventure sees Virgil pursued by his arch-enemy, the villainous Hood, through snow-capped mountains. Virgil comes out of a tunnel into the glare of the sun and his Specsavers lenses immediately darken to protect his vision. The Hood is not so lucky and, blinded by the bright light, he crashes into a mountain. The chase is over and Virgil escapes again, thanks to modern technology, and to the relief of his father, Jeff.

The titular character in the 2008 film Juno calls out "Thunderbirds are go!" to announce that she is going into labor, initiating the family's rush to the hospital delivery room.

Another recent advert, released by Britvic to advertise their line of 'Drench' water, features Brains dancing to the 90s' hit "Rhythm Is a Dancer". Halfway through, he takes a seat and drinks some Drench before resuming the dance. The advert ends with the slogan "Brains perform best when they're hydrated". The official Stay Drenched website featured a making of video which revealed Brains' moves were a combination of live action puppeteering, motion capture and CGI.[26]

In the last episode of the Channel 4 sitcom Spaced, Mike convinces Brian to help him convince Marsha not to sell the house by playing a cassette tape with the Thunderbirds theme.

UK train operator Virgin Trains employs a set of 16 class 57/3 diesel locomotives primarily for 'rescue' duties, towing its electric Pendolino trains in the event of breakdowns or unexpected detours to non-electrified lines. All 16 are named after Thunderbirds characters or machines.

A scale model of Thunderbird 3 is currently on display at Humberside Airport near Grimsby in the UK.

See also


  1. ^ for evidence of both sides in this date debate please go to
  2. ^ Marriot, p.18
  3. ^ Marriot, p.20
  4. ^ Mariott, p.23
  5. ^ Marriot, p.22
  6. ^ Mariott, p.21
  7. ^ Marriot, p. 81
  8. ^ Marriot, p.16
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ David Freedman (19 June 2005). "Thunderbirds Are Still Not Go.". Blogspot. Retrieved 27 November 2006. 
  20. ^ Collin Robertson, "Thunderbirds are back!" in The Sun, 29 August 2008
  21. ^ "Talking Shop: Gerry Anderson". BBC News Online. 7 October 2008. Retrieved 7 October 2008. 
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Trey Parker and Matt Stone talk Team America: World Police". Movieweb. 4 October 2004. Retrieved 19 January 2008. 
  26. ^


  • Bentley, Chris (2005). The Complete Book of Thunderbirds. London: Carlton. ISBN 1-84442-454-5. 
  • Marriot, John; Anderson, Gerry (foreword) (1992). Thunderbirds ARE GO!. London: Boxtree. ISBN 1-85283-164-2. 

External links

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