The International Rescue team returned for a follow-up to the 1966 feature Thunderbirds Are Go with another tale of suspense and intrigue in 1968’s Thunderbird 6.
Based on the successful British TV series Thunderbirds, the film showcased Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s “Supermarionation” puppet characters in an around-the-world voyage fraught with peril.
The background: In the year 2063, Jeff Tracy and his sons serve, protect and defend the planet as the International Rescue team. Piloting the five Thunderbird vehicles (a rocket, transport vehicle, spaceship, submarine and space satellite), International Rescue responds to the call of danger no matter where the source.
In this film, International Rescue’s resident scientist, Brains, has developed a new airship, designed as a cross between a Zeppelin and an ocean liner.
His team-mates laugh the idea off until the New World Aircraft company decides to build the creation.
Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, butler Parker, Brains’ lovely assistant Tin Tin and a few of the Tracy brothers join Skyship One on her maiden voyage, but the inventor himself is stuck back in the lab working on the new Thunderbird 6.
As the airship makes its way from London to New York to the Grand Canyon and on to Africa, the team discovers that the airship’s crew has been replaced with a group of saboteurs.
The villains record the heroes’ conversations, editing them into a false cry for help to lure International Rescue into a trap.
The shadowy Black Phantom is the evil mastermind behind it all, hoping to steal the Thunderbird vehicles for his own nefarious purposes.
Scott and Virgil Tracy fly in to the rescue, but the airship is damaged and crashes into a thousand-foot tower, hanging precariously. The five Thunderbirds vehicles aren’t up to the task of this rescue, but perhaps the ultra-secret Thunderbird 6?
Like the television series on which it was based, Thunderbird 6 had as its biggest draw the innovative puppet work of Gerry Anderson.
Using traditional string controls and model effects, the Andersons took their craft light years beyond simple marionette work.
Location shooting for the film landed the production crew in court when a sequence involving daredevil stunt flying by ace bi-plane pilot Joan Hughes contravened the instructions of an official from the Ministry of Transport.
The scene called for Alan Tracy’s Tiger Moth bi-plane to fly under a motorway bridge between junctions 3 and 5 of the M40 (which had just been completed and was not yet open to traffic) near High Wycombe.
The Ministry of Transport official insisted that the bi-plane could only pass under the bridge if the wheels were in contact with the road surface, a stipulation that made the stunt significantly more difficult for Joan.
A sudden crosswind prevented Joan from landing the plane and she was forced to fly under the bridge without touching down, and the Department of Transport subsequently prosecuted the crew, although the case was thrown out of court.
The team was subsequently refused permission to film any more scenes on the M40, so the special effects team built an entire section of the motorway in miniature to complete the necessary shots (pictured below).
In the finished film, the miniature work was indistinguishable from the material shot on location.
Though neither this film nor its predecessor made much of a splash in the US, Thunderbirds gained an extremely loyal fan following, which has continued to grow in the ensuing decades.
Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward