Monday, 12 January 2015
First watched : Uncertain
The crowning glory of the Anderson puppet stable was this one. Thunderbirds first emerged in 1965 , shortly after Stingray. The premise was that a reclusive but philanthropic billionaire Jeff Tracy had set up a non-governmental agency International Rescue using space age technology to perform humanitarian missions when needed. The spaceships were piloted by his five dashing sons aided by bespectacled geek Brains. To preserve the organisation's integrity and protect their advanced technology from misuse the Tracys hid out at a remote island with concealed launch sites. They also had double agents elsewhere in the world to obtain foreknowledge of any threats to the operation; the most notable were English aristocrat Lady Penelope and her lugubrious chauffeur, Parker.
The thing that most distinguished Thunderbirds from the other Anderson series was its 50 minute running time, double the length of Captain Scarlet or Joe 90 ( and longer than any other . For me at least this was also its Achilles heel. I'd sit down excited at the prospect of watching something longer and a little more demanding and then find my attention wandering especially when Penelope and Parker were on screen, their operations often seeming barely connected to the main story. I also found it a bit samey, one episode was much like another and the Tracy boys were so undifferentiated that to this day I couldn't tell you which one was which.
Thunderbirds was cancelled in 1966 after 32 episodes because Lew Grade overplayed his hand and failed to sell it to the American networks but it remained a staple of ITV's Saturday morning and holiday schedules throughout the seventies. ITV put it to bed in 1981 and it was off screen for a decade until the reception for a Radio Five adaptation in 1990 prompted the BBC to buy it off them. When re-broadcast in 1991 it was a massive success with huge merchandise sales and promotion of the series on other programmes such as Blue Peter making models of Tracy Island. The series was regularly repeated through the nineties and early noughties but suffered some brand damage from the 2004 live action adaptation Thunderbirds and hasn't been broadcast since 2006. Gerry Anderson, who'd sold his rights back in the seventies, described the film as "the biggest load of crap I've seen in my entire life ". However a CITV remake of the series is said to be on the way.