Thunderbirds (ITV, 1965-1966)
Another genre that I thought I would take a look back at is the big wave of puppetry shows in the 60s, and most of these were created by Gerry Anderson, who was a real pioneer. Among these shows were Captain Scarlet and Stingray, and they did well, but this was the most successful one of them all, featuring an exciting mix of science-fiction and adventure, winning generations of fans, and being shown around the world.
Thunderbirds is a show that used puppetry and a technique called Supermarionation, but I’m fairly sure that it had nothing to do with an Italian plumber. The show was set about 100 years into the future, and the main characters were the Tracy brothers who worked for International Rescue, an organisation that would aim to help people in trouble wherever they were, using their various vehicles that are located on a small island somewhere, including a submarine, and even a rocket, how fancy!
The other main characters were Lady Penelope, who was driven round in a pink Rolls-Royce by her loyal Cockney chauffeur Parker, the scientist Brains, and The Hood, who was the main villain. This really did come across as an ambitious and expensive show, but despite all the action, for me it took the “ooh, look at their little mouths moving” factor to the extreme.
There were 32 episodes of Thunderbirds in two series, and they were all 50 minutes long. Although the show ended over five decades ago, it continues to have a remarkable cultural impact. One area is pop music, including none other than Fuzzbox’s “International Rescue” in 1989, a dance remix of the theme music (that also contained a rap from Parker) that was a big hit in 1990, and also Busted’s chart-topping “Thunderbirds Are Go” in 2004, which was voted Record Of The Year, how terrific.
There have also been some revivals, including a less-successful cartoon sequel series in the mid-80s, along with a live-action film released in 2004, and in more recent years a computer-generated version called Thunderbirds Are Go has regularly been on the CITV Channel. I’m sure that the younger generation, just like the ones before them, think that the show is FAB.
Thunderbirds has consistently been successful, which has been proven by the repeat runs. The show was repeated on BBC2 in the early-90s, which was when I became a fan, and this led to further repeat runs on various channels including UK Gold, and even some Radio Times covers in 2000, by which point the episodes had been digitally remastered. There has also been a huge amount of merchandise released, including computer games and tapes, and the figurines were the hottest toy around for a while.