In 1965 co-creator/producer Gerry Anderson crossed the invisible creative line between children's and adult's television entertainment with the premiere of the 32, hour long episodes of an action adventure series named Thunderbirds.
The seventh and latest of Anderson’s AP Films/Century 21 filmed puppet series, Thunderbirds near cinematic mixture of superb special effects and miniature sets, (provided by future Academy Award Winner, Derek Meddings), a stirring and instantly recognisable music score from the brilliant Barry Gray, allied to John Read and Reg Hill’s ground-breaking team of "Supermarination" puppeteers, created a near future world of excitement and danger which enthralled the viewing public from the outset and remains a major hit to this day.
The show’s central premise was stunning in its simple and economical effectiveness.
Operating from their base located on an isolated atoll in the Pacific, Millionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his five sons, Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan, formed the core of the altruistic secret organisation "International Rescue".
Dedicated to the preservation of life in situations beyond the resources of conventional rescue techniques, IR, with its fabulous' technologically advanced fleet of Thunderbird craft, engendered a cross-generational legion of avid followers which belied the fiberglass reality of its cast of ‘actors’. Thanks to a winning combination of engaging scripts, outstanding vocal performances from a talented ‘repertory company’ of actors, and character designs which rendered the all-important suspension of disbelief necessary for the viewing audience to invest a genuine emotional involvement in the pre animatronic leading players, the series spawned a merchandising industry the likes of which had previously been unknown outside of the mammoth Disney empire.
By its end in 1966, Thunderbirds had become something of a national institution. The Tracy’s, along with the likes of such characters as their London based agent, Lady Penelope, and her shifty Cockney chauffeur, Parker, had gained a place in the collective consciousness that has endured to this day.
For Gerry Anderson, Thunderbirds (for good or ill), became the creative yardstick by which all his subsequent productions would be measured.
An ill-conceived and poorly executed big budget live action Hollywood movie
version, made some forty years later, only highlighted the sheer quality of the original and
affirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt that without the creative genius of Anderson behind it,
'Thunderbirds The Movie' was but a pale imitation of an outstanding TV series. A great pity as the original concept remains as fresh and vital today as it was over four decades passed as is clearly evident by the periodic reruns the series enjoys on our television screens, never failing to win a new legion of fans who will happily respond to each rescreening with a resounding "F-A-B!"
Based on the success of Gerry Anderson's previous series Stingray, ITC chief Lew Grade was more than happy to back Thunderbirds, which initially had the working title of 'International Rescue'.
With a budget of £25,000 per episode, filming began in the late summer of 1964 and by late September, nine of the proposed 26 half-hour episodes were 'in the can.'
The opening episode 'Trapped In The Sky' was then screened for Grade who was so impressed that he ordered each episode to be doubled in length and increased the budget to £38,000 for each hour.
New footage had to be shot for each of the 'completed' episodes and by the time the first had debuted on ITV, Grade had commissioned a further six episodes along with a £250,000 feature film.
Public response to the series was phenomenal, and the series immediately won £350,000 in overseas sales, although it's failure to secure a network sale in the USA may have had some bearing on Grade's decision not to finance a second series.
Published on February 7th, 2019. Written by SRH "'Ome, m'lady?" (1999) for Television Heaven.