Thunderbirds is a mid 1960s Sylvia and Gerry Anderson television show which used a form of puppetry called "Supermarionation", showing the adventures of the Tracys, a family consisting of ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his 5 sons, all named after Mercury astronauts, together with their friends, who live on a Pacific island and are secretly the members of International Rescue, a mechanized private emergency response organization which covers the globe rescuing people with their fantastic machines, the Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbird machines are:
- Thunderbird 1: a high-speed rocket plane
- Thunderbird 2: a heavy carrier aircraft
- Thunderbird 3: a spaceship
- Thunderbird 4: a submarine
- Thunderbird 5: an Earth-orbiting space station which monitors emergency broadcasts
- The Mole: a high-speed manned tunneling machine
- Several other specialized rescue vehicles are carried by Thunderbird 2 in integral cargo pods.
International Rescue's London agent, international socialite Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, and her cockney butler/chauffeur Aloysius "Nosey" Parker, are often seen chasing The Hood and other villains in the pink, amphibious Rolls-Royce FAB 1, which is equipped with James Bond-style gadgets.
The characters use the radio sign-off "F. A. B." rather than "Roger" or "Over and out". Anderson was often asked what F. A. B. stood for, but in fact it simply stood for "fab" (short for "fabulous"), which was a 1960s catchphrase.
The program was notable for its (for the time) superlative special effects using miniatures. The effects supervisor, as on all of Anderson's shows from Supercar to UFO, was Derek Meddings, who went on to produce special effects for the James Bond and Superman movies.
Another important element in the show's success was its thrilling music score, composed and conducted by Barry Gray.
A total of 32 episodes of Thunderbirds were screened between 1965 and 1966 (although production began in 1964, as indicated by the show's copyright date), as well as two full length feature films, Thunderbirds Are Go! (1966) and Thunderbird Six (1968).
Today the series is a British institution. A re-run on the BBC in 1992 led to a shortage of Tracy Island models, and so the children's programme Blue Peter helpfully demonstrated how to build a home-made version.
The TV series was financed by Lew Grade's companies ATV and ITC Entertainment. It was originally intended to consist of half-hour episodes, but on seeing the preview Grade decided that it would be much more exciting as an hour-long show. Ironically, when screened in the US, episodes are sometimes split into paired half-hours.
Some versions screened in US syndication in the 1990s used re-recorded voices and music, much to the disgust of long-time fans. Even worse was "Turbo-charged Thunderbirds", which replaced the original dialogue with "ironic post-modern" jokes. Gerry Anderson was reportedly furious.
The series was remastered with Dolby Surround sound in 2000. Gerry Anderson, who had not received any royalties on the show since signing away the rights in the late 1960s, was employed as a "remastering consultant".