What’s your favourite model? It’s a question one answers with care when it comes from your wife. ‘Thunderbird 2,’ I said cheerfully.
Thunderbird 2 was the heavy-lift rescue aircraft of Gerry Anderson’s iconic 1960s series Thunderbirds. To this day I have memories of watching it on a black-and-white TV. I was four.
Anderson died today aged 83. And he has, I think, left an indelible mark on pop-culture, certainly for the generation brought up with his sci-fi TV shows.
As a kid I was glued to Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, UFO and Space 1999. And so was everybody I knew. We got them later than everybody else, here in New Zealand, and what I didn’t know was that back in the swinging 60’s, Thunderbirds were hip. Anderson and his first wife Sylvia were the darlings of the London set. Even the Thunderbirds call-sign ‘F.A.B.’ echoed the moment. What did it mean? Nothing, according to Anderson – it was a reference to the in-word of the day. Fab(ulous).
All was done with models, mostly in 1/72 scale, often using kit parts, and with 1/3 scale puppets rigged with solenoids to make the mouths move in synch, a technique Anderson dubbed ‘Supermarionation’. Even the live-action shows UFO (which tackled adult themes and was edgy for 1970) and Space 1999 pivoted on top-rate model-work and special effects. The man responsible was Derek Meddings, and to my mind his work still stands up today, the UFO ‘moon’ effects, particularly.
The imagery is iconic – here’s ‘Brains’, in-show inventor who built the nuclear-powered Thunderbirds rescue aircraft – break-dancing in a recent advert .
Anderson’s future was a heroic, optimistic world of engineering marvels that made anything possible. Nuclear power was a boon. What’s more, in the “2065” of Thunderbirds, interplanetary travel was a rarity and humans hadn’t reached Mars – something, I suspect, that will prove more prescient than we think.
For the rest – well, reality hasn’t co-operated. But we can’t fault the optimism. Or the pleasure Anderson gave to generations of children – and adults.
Have you seen these shows? What impact did they have on you?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012