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Cult TV Essentials: Thunderbirds

5, 4, 3, 2, 1: Thunderbirds Are GO!

Thunderbirds was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The show was produced by their production company AP Films, and distributed by ITC Entertainment. Filming took place between 1964 and 1966, and was the duos fifth feature using marionette puppets and scenic models to create their special effects. This process would become affectionately known as “Supermarionation”. Two series of 32 minute episodes were produced but sadly after the Andersons’ financial producer failed to sell the programme to an American network, production

Thunderbirds was a “futuristic” piece, and was set in the future in the year 2065. The show focuses on “The International Rescue” organisation as they fight to save the lives of people who often find themselves in danger using their technologically advanced rescue vehicles, The Thunderbirds!

thunderbirds 2

The Thunderbirds are stored at a secret island base known as Tracy Island, whose founding father, ex astronaut Jeff Tracy carries out the rescue operations with the aid of his five sons, Scott, John, Virgil Gordon and Alan, who each pilot their own Thunderbird.

The show was first screened in the UK in 1965 and has since been repeated in over 66 different countries worldwide.

Along with the TV show, a radio adaptation was produced in the early 90’s as well as a slew of other merchandise, which, among others, includes a Japanese remake!

Thunderbirds was supplemented by two feature-length film sequels: Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968). The first, concerning the Zero-X spacecraft’s ill-fated mission to Mars, was commissioned by Lew Grade before the first episode of the TV series had aired in 1965. Written and produced by the Andersons, and directed by David Lane, both films were distributed by United Artists; Thunderbirds Are Go premiered in London on December 1966, Thunderbird 6 in July 1968. Neither film was a critical or commercial success, and Century 21 Cinema’s plans for additional sequels were abandoned.

In the early 1980s, episodes of Thunderbirds (as well as other Supermarionation series) were re-edited by ITC New York to create a series of made-for-TV compilation films. Branded “Super Space Theatre”, the format was intended for family viewing and was sold to cable networks and into syndication in the United States. Three Thunderbirds compilations, revised with new, animated title sequences, were produced: Thunderbirds To The Rescue (1980) Thunderbirds In Outer Space (1981) and Countdown to Disaster(1982). The VHS releases proved to be a major commercial success for UK distributor Channel 5 Video.

A live-action film adaptation – Thunderbirds, directed by Jonathan Frakes and produced by StudioCanal, Universal Pictures and Working Title Films – was released in July 2004. The plot concentrates primarily on the characters of Alan, Tin-Tin and a newcomer – Brains’ son, Fermat – who must fight to save their families when the Hood and a band of mercenaries invade Tracy Island. Thunderbirds was poorly received both critically and commercially, and evoked a negative response from fans of the TV series. Although Frakes’ film did not enter production until 2003, plans for such a production had first been announced ten years previously.

A part-CGI remake, Thunderbirds Are Go!, will be broadcast in 2015 on CITV, 50 years after the original.

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