30 September 1965: Thunderbirds Are Go!

On this day in 1965, International Rescue launched its first operation, as the classic Thunderbirds TV show aired for the first time.

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.

Recommended

Big tech smashes expectations with bumper profits
Tech stocks

Big tech smashes expectations with bumper profits

Big tech companies have reported profits far in excess of expectations, with Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft generating a combined $56.8bn. Saloni Sarda…
28 Jul 2021
Oil is taking a well-earned rest. But the bull market isn’t done yet
Oil

Oil is taking a well-earned rest. But the bull market isn’t done yet

The oil price has more than doubled in the last five years. It’s come off the boil recently, but in the longer term, things are still looking good. Do…
28 Jul 2021
Why you should treat whole-life insurance policies with extreme caution
Personal finance

Why you should treat whole-life insurance policies with extreme caution

Whole-life insurance policies are often marketed to people in their 50s and over. But there are significant drawbacks and you could end up with nothin…
28 Jul 2021
I wish I knew what an index was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask
Too embarrassed to ask

I wish I knew what an index was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask

The FTSE 100 is probably the best-known stockmarket index in the UK. But what exactly is an index?
27 Jul 2021

Most Popular

The MoneyWeek Podcast: Asia, financial repression and the nature of capitalism
Economy

The MoneyWeek Podcast: Asia, financial repression and the nature of capitalism

Russell Napier talks to Merryn about financial repression – or "stealing money from old people slowly" – plus how Asian capitalism is taking over in t…
16 Jul 2021
Why the UK's 2.5% inflation is a big deal
Inflation

Why the UK's 2.5% inflation is a big deal

After years of inflation being a financial-assets problem, it is now an “ordinary things” problem too, says Merryn Somerset Webb. But central banks st…
16 Jul 2021
An absurdly cheap healthcare stock to buy now
Share tips

An absurdly cheap healthcare stock to buy now

The pandemic has vastly accelerated the shift towards telehealth, making Cigna a long-term buy
20 Jul 2021