Thunderbirds are Go!
Imagine the scene, a plane has a bomb onboard, it can’t lower it’s under carriage, it’s running out of time, who can save it?
I don’t know if that was the pitch or what might have been the reaction from a certain Lew Grade, but something worked. So what would happen next? Well, a group of people dedicated to saving life hears what is going on with the airplane and spring into action. Thunderbirds are Go!
Gerry and Silvia Anderson created some of the most exciting childhood memories for me and millions of others. Stingray, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, UFO and Space:1999 to name but a few. This year Thunderbirds turns 50. It still remains a firm family favourite and that is what they created. Family viewing.
Thunderbirds was about a family, an unusual one I must admit but when you are young you don’t see the odd bits. What I saw was amazing crafts, fantastic stories, brilliant music and stunning effects. The Anderson’s based the family after Mercury Seven astronauts: Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, Gordon Cooper and Alan Shepard. Along with their father Jeff Tracy, Grandma, Brains, Kyrano and Tin-Tin, the boys undertook a variety of rescues each week. The other stars of the show were the five Thunderbird craft, well five main ones.
Thunderbird 1 – a hypersonic rocket plane used for fast response and accident zone reconnaissance. Piloted by primary rescue co-ordinator Scott Tracy.
Thunderbird 2 – a supersonic a carrier aircraft that transports rescue equipment and special vehicles to accident zones in detachable capsules known as “Pods”. Piloted by Virgil.
Thunderbird 3 – a single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft. Piloted alternately by Alan and John, with Scott as co-pilot.
Thunderbird 4 – a utility submersible Piloted by Gordon and normally launched from Thunderbird 2.
Thunderbird 5 – a space station that relays distress calls from around the world. Manned alternately by “Space Monitors” John and Alan.
The very first episode was called ‘Trapped in the Sky’ which aired on 30 September 1965. The plot concerned the master criminal the Hood, who planted a bomb on the hypersonic airliner Fireflash prior to her maiden flight. In its first operation, International Rescue must save the crew and passengers when it is discovered that not only is Fireflash unable to land, but her nuclear reactor will start to leak radiation. In an orbiting space station, John Tracy listens to the calls for help and the ongoing problems, knowing that this is the call International Rescue has been waiting for.
I watched, like many others, this drama unfolding before me. The launch of Thunderbird one was brilliant. To see Scott be transported to his craft the hypersonic TB1 with Barry Grays’ music was mesmerising. Thunderbird one raced to London from it’s secret base but what could this single craft do? That was solved with Thunderbird two, the green giant. It’s launch was just as spectacular if not more so. Thunderbird two was the work-horse of International Rescue (IR) carrying three elevator cars. As the craft arrived on scene, The Hood tried his best to capture the secrets of the Thunderbird craft but he is foiled. However, he escapes with vital pictures, cue the final two characters of this show. Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward (voiced by Sylvia Anderson) and her slightly not so clean-cut butler Aloysius Parker. In the most glamours pink Rolls-Royce, armed with more equipment than James Bond’s DB5, they race to tackle The Hood. Meanwhile the rescue starts to unfold and we get that bit of music. Barry Gray composed the opening march a military theme, he also added the incidental music. There comes a point towards the end of the first episode where we hear that edge of the seat music. It just made the episode (and used in others of course) as you watched Virgil battling to save Fireflash.
It was gripping to my young mind. It was just amazing. I wanted to be in International Rescue, I wanted to pilot those craft. It was FAB! And with that word is one of enduring mysteries of this success. Actually, it was F.A.B, and no one knew or so I believe, knows what it stood for. The show was FAB, but F.A.B was spoken by the Tracy brothers as a response. Many have tried to explain it but nothin seems to fit.
There were 32, one hour episodes and two feature films both of which did not fair as well as they should. Yet, Thunderbirds appears to keep that magic each time it is shown. When the BBC decided to show the episodes back in 1991 it created another massive interest. This time there was an addition, Tracy Island as a model. It sold so well, that Blue Peter showed children how build their own. That was the magic that many shows failed to find.
It is possible the reason for its enduring success is that the show had something of a real feel to it. In fact Gerry Anderson drew inspiration for the series’ concept from the West German mining disaster known as the Wunder von Lengede (“Miracle of Lengede”). In October 1963, the collapse of a nearby dam flooded an iron mine, killing 29 miners and trapping 21 others underground. Lacking the means to drill an escape shaft, the authorities were forced to requisition a heavy-duty bore from Bermen. However it took considerable time to ship the device by rail and that had significantly reduced the chances of a successful rescue. Anderson recognised the advantages of swifter crisis response, and conceived the idea of an “international rescue” organisation. Thus was born Thunderbirds are Go.
There have been a number of re-imaginations of Thunderbirds none of which seem to capture the original. However, for its 50th anniversary a group decided to go back to its roots. Three 15 minute records are to be made into films. The Kickstarter project gained enough money to reproduce the sets, the craft, puppets and all. In December, I will look forward to what promises to be something special. That hint of what really can be achieved.
Thunderbirds are Go showed what a dedicated group could do. One day, maybe the puppets will find their real voice. After all it only takes one man to start it all.
Tagline: “F.A.B Scott… Keep this frequency clear” (Cue the clip Thunderbirds are Go!)