I know where I was too. On the sofa at 45 Montpelier Road, Brighton, just as I had been the previous November for the first episode of Dr Who and with my Dad sitting beside me saying “This ought to be really good!”
He was quite the TV sci-fi fan in those days. I don’t think he ever found anything quite as good as the original Quatermass Experiment, but he kept trying.
Anyway, Thunderbirds was AMAZING. I’d goggled in childlike manner at Super Car, Stingray and Fireball XL5 over the past couple of years but at five and a half I was ready for something altogether more impressive. Jerry & Sylvia Anderson, bless ’em, didn’t let me down. Everything about Thunderbirds was exactly right. The designs, the grasp of futuristic technology, the chiselled determination of the IR lads, the hilarity of Parker the chauffeur and the elegant poise of his aristocratic employer, not to mention the beastly villain whom you could TELL was up to no good since he was obviously foreign.
Then there was that immortal opening title sequence with it’s stentorian countdown, the close ups of the five Thunderbird machines and the final wide screen shot of the colossal oil refinery which then exploded magnificently and for no adequately explored reason.
Utter and complete BLISS.
And here’s something else that set if very far apart for its times, it was backed up with an astonishing level of marketing, the sort you’d expect nowadays but had no idea of back then. There were exquisite models and action figures, costumes, comics, books and bubble gum cards. Tie in merchandise that was not only perfectly timed and marketed but had the incredible effect of colouring in a show that children were watching in black and white.
Go on…If you are of that generation, think back. Did you ever think of Thunderbirds in monochrome? Unless you came from a very fortunate background indeed you almost certainly watched those first screenings on a black and white Rediffusion rental set with a wobbly vertical hold. But while you remember watching William Hartnell and Partrick Troughton playing the Doctor in black and white with colour transmission only arriving with Jon Pertwee, Thunderbirds creators found a way to get our fizzy little child brains to overlay the colour onto their show for them. If that’s not bloody MAGIC I don’t know what is.
The set up for the series went like this; Millionaire ex astronaut Jeff Tracey bought himself an island in the South Pacific and named it after himself. With the help of a genius known as Brains, he developed five powerful new craft, each one piloted by one of his sons. These made up International Rescue, a philanthropic venture which set out to respond to emergencies both on Earth and in space and rescue everyone in need of such assistance.
There was Scott Tracey in Thunderbird 1, a high powered rocket plane capable of reaching the scene of each week’s disaster and coordinating the subsequent rescue.
Virgil Tracey, who had the biggest eye brows of all the five brothers, (The Andersons took much the same approach to eyebrows as Cher did to sequins. Bung ’em on, the more the better.) flew the amazing Thunderbird 2. Huge and squat, this toad like machine could lift vast weights and started each mission by selecting a ‘pod’ full of whatever equipment might be needed once it arrived.
Alan Tracey flew Thunderbird 3, a space rocket used for sorting out awkwardness in orbit or even on Mars. He was the youngest of the five sons and seemed the most inclined to romantic stuff. Not that the Andersons cluttered up their shows with even the mildest romantic nonsense. Their audience was made up of pre adolescent boys who wanted maximum explosions not yucky kissing.
Gordon Tracey piloted the submersible Thunderbird 4, a sort of multi purpose submarine which would be delivered by one of 2’s pods. He would also take charge of other T2 borne items such as ‘The Mole’.
John Tracey must have had a sick note the day the roles were allotted, not to mention a very high boredom threshold. It was his task to man the orbital space station that handled all of International Rescue’s communications. The Andersons must have realised this eventually as John was drawn into the stories in an active capacity as the series went on.
All five Tracey boys were named after real astronauts from the Mercury programme, a fact that has turned up in pub triv quizzes to numerous to count.
So each episode would feature some gorgeously designed plane, train, factory, mine, ocean liner or suchlike in which some dire emergency would suddenly strike. International Rescue would fly straight to it and, using intelligence, courage and dazzling technology they would sort it all out just seconds before some huge and enormously satisfying explosion took place.
It is testament to the show’s genius that I, like most chaps my age could, rattled off that entire introduction without having to look up a single fact on Wikepedia. In fact it may well turn out to be the measure by which the ageing marbles of Generation Jones are assessed. “Mr Knight? What did Thunderbird 6 turn out to be?”
“Whaaa? No idea!”
“He’s gone gaga. Off to the old folks home with him!”
So the news that the show was to be revived brought some cautious delight in middle aged circles. Weta Workshops were involved, the original concept was not going to be mucked about with, this might actually be rather good.
I myself got very excited and sat down immediately to write a ‘treatment’ that I planned to send to the new show’s producers. But for a jaded and nasty old cynic like myself there could be no way of going directly to the sense of child like optimism needed for a great Thunderbirds episode. I’d have to start out with a more realistic and zeitgeist laden version and then peel away the cynical layers to get at the fun stuff underneath.
Sadly, owing to a late night drinking accident I hit send on the wrong version and surprised the show’s producers with my original, realistic 21st century notes. These were returned to me some months later with a very short note explaining that my ideas were ill suited to their purposes.
Still, I thought I’d share them around before binning them so here goes;
Property billionaire Jeff Tracey has a problem. His planned bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2032 could falter pretty damn quick unless he finds a way to tidy up his somewhat patchy reputation. Those bastards in the liberal media just won’t let all that old stuff go for chrissakes! What self respectin’ businessman and wealth creator hasn’t cut a few corners from time to time? And you tellin’ me none of those guys ever had a dead hooker in the trunk of their car? It’d make you weep it really would. So a return to decent American values is what’s needed and ol’ Slippery Jeff is the man for the job.
But nothing he does seems to work. Even the knuckle draggers in the Bible Belt ain’t buyin’ his well publicised conversion to Christianity and the IRS have guys watching his office from unmarked cars across the street.
So when some deadbeat had a bright idea and suggested the International Rescue concept to him he’d realised it could be the image polisher he was looking for. So, a few months later there he was outside his New York offices, grinning like a goddamn fool though a hangover and promisin’ to set up the world’s biggest rescue contractors.
He got a couple of his boys on board. Scott and Vergil both work at head office, Scott doing the CEO stuff and Vergil chasing up the invoices for services rendered with the help of his shadowy department of ex-Black Ops enforcers. Keeping those flyin’ machines going ain’t cheap. You want rescuing, you PAY.
John’s playboy lifestyle ended with the operation that removed his entire nasal septum in one glistening, crystalline chunk. He checked out of the Swiss clicic that performed it and checked straight into the sanitorium next door where he’s been ever since. He doesn’t even come back for Christmas these days. Not that Jeff gives a damn. The sight of that little faggot twitchin’ and sniffin’ fair stuck in his craw.
Gordon got well clear and now runs some kind of tech operation in California. Though he’s nobody’s idea of a serious businessman, his detailed knowledge of his Father’s business and tax arrangements during the 2020’s has meant there’s always a timely bail-out when needed. The old man curses him sometimes but never without a certain good humour. After all, it’s not REALLY blackmail if it’s done to a family member is it? And Ol’ Jeff would have made his first billion a goddamn sight quicker if he’d had that kinda leverage over his old man.
Alan never really got over the kidnapping. He lives in an ashram in India now and keeps the hand with the missing finger well hidden. Scott, Vergil and Gordon pretend they don’t know who he is. John has genuinely forgotten.
Some PR fag suggested it might look good if the boys took part in operations but he shot that idea down pretty damn quick. That shit is DANGEROUS pal! The craft themselves are manufactured to pretty low standards in whichever countries come up with the right tax breaks! They had five T1s blow up before they got a single one to fly, and it’s just a mercy they ain’t actually been called on to take T3 into space as we’ve literally no idea what will happen.
Nah, those birds git flown by expendable nigg…I mean ‘African Americans’ who come to us from the military. They don’t cost much and we keep their sleepin’ quarters away from everyone else. Those boys do a lot a screamin’ in their sleep.
Scott did fly T1 that time they showed it off at that air show. But then he went and spoiled the effect by getting’ his huge fat ass stuck in the door when he was gettin’ out.
The idea of basin’ those death traps on Tracey Island didn’t work out too good either. Whatever that propellant shit is that Brains uses is so toxic even the Chinese won’t touch it. Even if they get a launch away safely, the poison levels mean you can’t have humans anywhere near for years after so all the launch pads have to be kept in places like Mexico and the Philippines.
But hey, the whole shootin’ match looks wonderful! They got uniforms and logo stuff an’ everything! Next time YOU got a passenger liner or jet or some goddamned thing goin’ to shit all around you, just call International Rescue! We’ll be on the scene just as soon as we’ve checked out your line of credit.
You folks take care now and remember to vote Tracey in ’32!