Gerry Anderson Tribute: Thunderbirds Memorabilia
Without a doubt, Gerry Anderson’s most famous TV show has to be Thunderbirds. Made between 1965 and ’66, Thunderbirds followed the adventures of International Rescue, a secret world-saving organization run by ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his five sons. Interestingly the five sons are each named after a Mercury astronaut: Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John. These daring folk were also joined by scientist Brains and Lady Penelope, along with her cock-er-ney butler Parker.
Following on from Stingray, Thunderbirds took the Supermarionation form of puppetry to new heights with spectacular sets and amazing action scenes. What’s more the Thunderbirds themselves, a group of different vehicles were stunning in their design and breadth, from Thunderbird 1 - a hypersonic variable-sweep wing rocket plane – through to Thunderbird 5, a space station in orbit above Earth. Every child (and possibly adult) had their favourite, which led to heated playground debates about the merits of each vehicles. Of course, everyone knows the best one was Thunderbird 2, so there’s really no need for argument…
Anyway, picking our favourite collectables for Thunderbirds is a tricky task because throughout the 1960s the continued popularity of the show meant that nearly every form of toy, publication or even food marketed to children featured some kind of link to Thunderbirds. For example, did you know that the Fab ice lolly was actually inspired by the Thunderbirds’ well known ‘FAB’ sign off? As such, what follows below only scratches the surface of all the Thunderbirds memorabilia available…
We’ll actually start off with one of the more modern collectables: Matchbox’s take on Tracy Island. In the 1990s numerous repeats of Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds led to renewed interest in the shows among a whole new audience. As such, Matchbox quickly jumped on the bandwagon and started producing a fresh line of toys. Among the many action figures and vehicles, the most popular item was the fantastic electronic Tracy Island, which quickly sold out and caused widespread panic among adults trying to get their children one for Christmas. It also inspired one of Blue Peter’s most popular projects ever, with Anthena Turner using numerous toilet roll tubes and paper mache to create a homemade version. Ironically, considering the monumental fuss surrounding the playset when it was originally released, you can now pick one up for about £30.
Up next is just one of the models produced by Dinky and, rather than picking a Thunderbird, we thought we’d select Lady Penelope’s rather wonderful bright pink Rolls Royce. The Dinky replica features firing missiles, sliding cockpit canopy, figures of both Lady Penelope and Parker and harpoons. In fact, it’s got so many gadgets, it makes Bond’s Aston Martin look positively ancient.
Many of the Thunderbirds toys were produced by J Rosenthal for Century 21 – Gerry Anderson’s production company. Here we’ve selected a fiction motor scale model of Thunderbird 3 from 1965. Although not as detailed as the Dinky replicas, there’s still a certain charm to the plastic Rosenthal models.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about Thunderbirds was the fact that it was a global success and was exceptionally popular in Japan, which led to a range of models by different manufacturers such as Bandai and Eidai Grip. Some of these Japanese creations are often rather interesting because not only do they feature superb detail, the makers were also fairly liberal with their use of different colours, which resulted in items like a purple FAB1 and blue Thunderbird 2. In fact, you can see how popular the shows were in Japan thanks to this great compilation of Japanese intros... there are even on-screen lyrics, so you'll be singing along in no time.