1 9 6 5 – 1 9 6 6 (UK)
32 x 50 minute episodes
On a secluded island in the Pacific Ocean, widower, millionaire and retired astronaut Jeff Tracy lives with his five sons: Scott, Virgil, John, Gordon and Alan (the sons are named after the early American astronauts: Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper and Alan Shepard).
Tracy Island is the secret headquarters of International Rescue – a global organisation established by Jeff Tracy in 2063 which is dedicated to the rescue of all those in trouble (a sort of Air/Sea Rescue on steroids).
The Tracy family share their home with Brains, a shy scientific wiz who invented the wonderfully high-tech Thunderbirds craft and is constantly coming up with new ideas for gadgets and machines.
Also on the island are Kyrano (Jeff Tracy’s loyal servant) over whom The Hood (his evil half-brother) has a strange hypnotic power and influence; and Tin Tin, Kyrano’s daughter, who is an electronics expert who works closely with Brains.
She also has a definite fondness for Alan Tracy.
Thunderbird 1 is a reconnaissance vehicle and is piloted by Scott Tracy. TB1 launches from under the swimming pool (no, we don’t know what happened to the water either) and can travel at 7,000 miles per hour.
Thunderbird 2 is piloted by Virgil Tracy and is a heavy lifting aircraft. The palm trees on the island bend back to allow TB2 a runway.
Thunderbird 3 is piloted by Alan Tracy – with his brother, Scott as a co-astronaut and John as the alternate – and is reached from the lounge in the Tracy home by one of the couches.
Thunderbird 4 is a submarine and it is transported to the rescue scene by Thunderbird 2. It is piloted by Gordon Tracy.
Thunderbird 5 is the space station in permanent orbit above earth manned by John and relieved by Alan on alternate months.
International Rescue is aided by their agent in England, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, who is driven around in her shocking-pink Rolls-Royce (numberplate FAB 1) by Parker her chauffeur (pictured below), a Cockney ex-criminal with plenty of useful – though occasionally illegal – skills.
Gerry Anderson spent £22,000 for each of the 32 episodes and used more than 200 different models of the five Thunderbird vehicles. 300 people worked on each episode. One person was hired simply to make and upholster model chairs.
Each 22″ puppet cost £300 to make and had a selection of heads to suit different moods. Lady Penelope even had her own personal costume designer.
The quality of the programme emanates from every frame. And that, in turn, reflects an attitude on behalf of the original team. And that’s why we should be grateful that Thunderbirds was made in the 1960s with the quality-obsessed Gerry Anderson at the helm.
Because today the executives – along with altering trivial things like insisting that two of the sons be made daughters, stopping Lady Penelope from smoking, making Brains black, and introducing a range of children’s characters – would tell Anderson what to do rather than letting him do what his instinct told him was right.
A 2004 live-action Hollywood remake of Thunderbirds was poorly received by fans and critics alike, with Gerry Anderson famously describing it as “the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my life”.
The name “Thunderbirds” actually hails from an airfield in Arizona, USA, where Gerry Anderson’s brother had trained during WWII.
Lady Penelope’s majestic home, Creighton-Ward Manor, was based on Stourhead House in Warminster, Wiltshire.
A flaw in the storyline left Lady Penelope without a car or yacht by the end of the Thunderbirds adventures.
Her FAB 1 Roller was onboard the airship Skyship One when it plummeted to the ground at the end of the film Thunderbird 6, and her luxury yacht FAB 2 was sold off by Parker to cover his gambling debts in the episode ‘Man From MI5’.
David Holliday (1)
Jeremy Wilkin (2)
Trapped In The Sky | Pit Of Peril | City Of Fire | Sun Probe | The Uninvited | The Mighty Atom | Vault Of Death | Operation Crash Dive | Move And You’re Dead | Martian Invasion | Brink Of Disaster | The Perils Of Penelope | Terror In New York City | End Of The Road | Day Of Disaster | Edge Of Impact | Desperate Intruder | 30 Minutes Before Noon | The Imposters | The Man From MI5 | Cry Wolf | Danger At Ocean Deep | The Duchess Assignment | Attack Of The Alligators | The Cham-Cham | Security Hazard | Atlantic Inferno | Path Of Destruction | Alias Mr Hackenbacker | Lord Parkers ‘oliday | Ricochet | Give Or Take a Million