30 September 1965: Thunderbirds Are Go!

The Slough Trading Estate might not seem like the most glamorous location to be filming a hit television series. But that’s where Gerry and Sylvia Anderson set up their TV production company, AP Films.

They started out in 1957, making the largely forgotten Adventures of Twizzle – which proved remarkably successful, running to 52 episodes – and Torchy the Battery Boy.

They then went on to make the puppet Western series Four Feather Falls in 1960, trialling their signature ‘Supermarionation’ style of filmmaking, where the puppets’ mouths moved in synchronisation with the dialogue.

Then the Andersons began making their futuristic puppet shows. The first, Supercar, came in 1961, then Fireball XL5 in 1962, followed by Stingray – the first all-colour series.

The most successful series, Thunderbirds, first aired on this day in 1965.

It was the Sixties, a time of huge optimism – the space race was on, technology was improving rapidly, and everything was groovy.

Jeff Tracy was an ex-astronaut and multimillionaire, who decided that rather than spend his money on, for example, a string of penthouses in the world’s property hotspots, the largest luxury yacht in the world, or a Premiership football club, he would dedicate his life to saving the world. So he set up a secret organisation – International Rescue – on a remote Pacific island.

He and his five sons – named after five of the seven original Mercury astronauts – would use their highly advanced vehicles – Thunderbirds 1 to 5 – to rescue people from dangerous situations. Aided by ‘Brains’, plus the glamorous secret agent, Lady Penelope, and her faithful butler, Parker, they would also battle the show’s regular villain, the Hood.

Lew Grade – by then owner of the production company – watched the 25-minute pilot and declared it to be “Fantastic, absolutely fantastic!”

“This isn’t a television series”, he said, “this is a feature film! You’ve got to make this as an hour!” and promptly increased the budget per episode from £25,000 to £38,000 (about £450,000 and £700,000 in today’s money).

Two series were made, of 32 50-minute long episodes. But the series failed to sell in the USA, and so the show was cancelled. Thunderbirds was followed by Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons in 1967, and Joe 90 in 1967/68.

A computer-animated remake, Thunderbirds Are Go, aired on ITV in 2015, to broadly positive reviews. And at the beginning of September 2015, Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry, moved back in to Slough Trading Estate to make three episodes from original unfilmed voice recordings from the 1960s, after raising over £200,000 via crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

Also on this day

The Hoover Dam is dedicated

Today in 1935, thousands of spectators crowded into Black Canyon to see Franklin D Roosevelt celebrate the completion of “the greatest dam in the world”. Read more here.