Monday, 18 August 2014


I've been a Thunderbirds fan since I was very, very little. 

It was about the only programme we watched on ITV when I was small. My father worked for the BBC, so it felt like treachery to be on the other channel, but it was worth it for Thunderbirds. 

The show had amazing machines and extraordinary technology. Some of the plots were pretty good, too.


The characterisation was functional (though the central characters were all given enough personality to be distinctive – I suspect the influence of Sylvia Anderson here). But it was the boys' toys that grabbed me. Not just the Thunderbirds craft themselves – though they were spectacular – but also the other craft that populated the landscape.


The Sidewinder. 

The helijets. 


And – of course – Fireflash. This was a complete world of the future, or how I wanted, at age 8, to think the future might look.


Thunderbirds was not Gerry Anderson's first or last series, but it was the one that caught the lightning. It is the show that most people remember of Anderson's oeuvre.


Yes, from a 21st Century perspective (ironic, since the studio was Century 21), I can see the problems with all these atomic-engined craft, and the ecological impact of monsters like the Crablogger don't bear consideration. But at the time they felt extraordinary and wonderful. This was an optimistic view of the future that fired my enthusiasm for technology. The Thunderbirds theme tune – especially the fast theme that played behind the snapshots of the episode to come – still makes my heart pump faster and gives me a thrill of excitement.

This was a show about saving lives – rescuing people. Every other action series at the time seemed to involve killing enemies – this was positive and life-affirming.


It even had a decent female role-model in Lady Penelope: not that, as a pre-teen boy, I was desperately interested in such things at the time.

Not all of the thirty-two episodes were great. There are some that make me cringe (Mighty Atom comes to mind, as does Security Hazard – and don't even think about mentioning the Christmas episode). But some stories still stand out and work superbly even now. 


Terror in New York City, where the Empire States Building topples, is still one of my favourites, as is Sun Probe (with the wonderful dichotomy between the astronauts roasting and Virgil and Brains freezing).

I'm not going to deign to mention the appalling Thunderbirds feature film from 2004. There is apparently a new series in production, using a mixture of models and CGI. I wait with interest, but also with trepidation. Thunderbirds was a product of its era – I'm not confident that the lightning can be recaptured. 

But I will always have a great and abiding affection for the original.


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