In Review: Thunderbirds – The Vault

Thunderbirds: The Vault

By Marcus Hearn
Designed by Mike Jones
Published by Virgin Books
Out: 10th September 2015

The Book: On 30th September 1965, International Rescue successfully completed their first assignment, and the Tracy brothers imprinted themselves on a generation of captivated children. Thirty-two episodes, many repeats, sixty territories, two feature films, three albums, numerous comics, books, toys, videos and DVDs and five decades later, Thunderbirds are still saving the world from the brink of peril.

Thunderbirds: The Vault is a lavishly illustrated, definitive, beautifully packaged, presentation hardback telling the story of this enduring cult phenomenon. Packed with previously unpublished material, including prop photos, design sketches, production memos and other collectible memorabilia, plus specially commissioned photography of original 60s merchandise, and new interviews with cast and crew, it’s going to be a collectors’ dream and a fantastic piece of British TV history.

Marcus Hearn is the official biographer of Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson and author of the New York Times bestseller Doctor Who: The Vault. His other books include the award-winning The Art of HammerSaucy PostcardsThe Avengers: A Celebration and Eight Days a Week, the story of The Beatles’ final world tour. He has written for The TimesThe Guardian and The Independent, and has contributed booklet notes, audio commentaries and documentaries to nearly 100 DVDs and Blu-rays.

He is an associate research fellow at Leicester De Montfort’s Cinema and Television History Research Centre and is the official historian of Hammer Film Productions.

Derek Meddings at work on the Fireflash model for Thunderbirds

Derek Meddings at work on the Fireflash model for Thunderbirds

The Review: I really enjoyed reading Thunderbirds: The Vault, not only because the show that inspired it is one I grew up watching and thoroughly enjoyed, but also because the creative team on the book clearly hold Thunderbirds in the same regard, delivering a wonderful book simply crammed with many previously-unseen images, a great selection of merchandise images, and a cornucopia of anecdotes and informative interviews that will delight all true fans of the show.

Given Marcus Hearn’s past record with his books on Hammer Horror and his long involvement with Doctor Who Magazine, it came as no surprise that as customary, his 18 months of research would turn up some terrific images for the book. But side by side by that are the many voices assembled who offer their own take on the Thunderbirds legend created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson on the set of Thunderbirds. Marucs Hearn and designer Mike Jones have uncovered some extraordinary images for this book, many never seen before, from ITV's photo archives.

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson on the set of Thunderbirds during filming of the episode Move – And You’re Dead.

Not only does the book reveal the “Thunderbirds story” – and perhaps for the first time, affording a platform for Sylvia Anderson’s work on the show, as well as Gerry’s in an official account of its making – but it also puts its incredible success and lasting legacy in context, revealing the lead up to its development with shows such as The Adventures of Twizzle, Fireball XL5 and Stingray.

While drawing on interviews with the late Gerry Anderson, this book also features fascinating accounts into the making of the show from a host of those involved, including production personnel such as director David Lane and the show’s Merchandising Executive Keith Shackleton.

Special effects floor technician (far left) and special effects second unit lighting cameraman Harry Oakes (centre) preppare a scene for the episode Martian Invasion. Floor technician Peter Wragg balances on planks overhanging the set, ready to fly Thunderbird 1.

Special effects floor technician Ian Wingrove (far left) and special effects second unit lighting cameraman Harry Oakes (centre) prepare a scene for the episode Martian Invasion. Floor technician Peter Wragg balances on planks overhanging the set, ready to fly Thunderbird 1.

Alongside this informative account of the show’s production, which includes a revealing account of the making of the first episode, Trapped in the Sky, the making of the two feature films, a marvellous account of the work of composer Barry Gray, whose music helped make the show so memorable, and much more, throughout is a “warts and all” scattering of episode synopses and analysis. Those interviewed pull no punches in their assessment of both the good and the bad of working on Thunderbirds, often putting in long hours just to get the final look right and, despite its puppets, believable for its intended young audience… that drew in all ages – and still does, 50 years on.

A 1966 Thunderbirds intercom set, manufactured by J& L Randall - just one of many carefully photographed items of merchandise that features in Thunderbirds: The Vault.

A 1966 Thunderbirds intercom set, manufactured by J& L Randall – just one of many carefully photographed items of merchandise that features in Thunderbirds: The Vault.

Lady Penelope promoting Zoom, a rocket shaped ice lolly by Lyons Maid in 1965 , based on Thunderbird 1's design.

Lady Penelope promoting Zoom, a rocket shaped ice lolly by Lyons Maid in 1965 , based on Thunderbird 1’s design.

Thunderbirds: The Vault also reveals the show’s legacy in terms of its merchandising, and those of us who recall its initial success will savour the many carefully-photographed relics featured that we may have once owned (or perhaps still own), from sweet cigarette cards and figures to Thunderbirds models, records and, of course, those most cherished collectables of them all – the Lady Penelope and TV Century 21 comics that command such high prices today. It seems that between them, Marcus and designer Mike have left no stone unturned in their quest to bring some unique items for fans to savour with this project. They succeed – in spades.

TV Century 21 with decoder gift

A copy of TV Century 21 with decoder gift might set you back some £600 at auction today.

Thunderbirds-themed Kellogs Sugar Smacks box - a delight those of us growing up in the 1960s recall consuming with gusto in an effort to retrieve the collectable figures!

Thunderbirds-themed Kellogs Sugar Smacks box – a delight those of us growing up in the 1960s recall consuming with gusto in an effort to retrieve the collectable figures! APF filmed a television commercial to launch the promotion in 1966 (below)

While a lot of the “Thunderbirds story” has been told many times and there many stories in Thunderbirds: The Vault told here I have read before (Stephen la Riviere’s Filmed in Supermarionation springs to mind, for example), what makes this book so distinctive is the attention to detail without getting bogged down in it, and the huge and impressive range of visual material. If you’ve read any of Marcus’ previous works, you’ll be pleased to hear he brings the same level of knowledge he delivered on those to this thoroughly enjoyable book, even making the technical aspects of Supermarionation production easy to understand and interesting.

While earnest, there are some light touches – the Lady Penelope and Parker puppets being discovered in flagrante delicto one morning for example – and I don’t think there are many Thunderbirds who could fail to enjoy this book. Recommended.

Buy Thunderbirds: The Vault from amazon.co.uk

Buy Thunderbirds the Vault from Forbidden Planet

• Marcus Hearn will be attending The Future in Fantastic! in October to sign copies of the book

Read our review of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons: The Vault

Our thanks to Virgin Books for most of the imagery featured in this review – and Shaqui le Vesconte for extra information on the Zoom ice lolly



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