5-4-3-2-1… Classic Thunderbirds Are Go again!

To celebrate 50 years of the sci-fi favourite, three new fan-funded episodes have been lovingly made at the home of the originals. Mark Braxton visited the set to see the magic unfold...

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A bland factory unit in an L-shaped side road on the Slough Trading Estate, in the shadow of a giant cooling tower, doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of Hollywood.

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But inside you will discover a Hollywood in miniature, or rather, a Hollywood with miniatures, in the latest chapter of a story that is remarkable and, yes, romantic.

Roll back half a century, and this corner of Slough was a sea of strings and plastic, paint and explosives. AP Films was in full throttle. Having made Stingray, the first British series filmed entirely in colour, the company was creating Thunderbirds, a thrilling adventure series that would take over the world.

And now the rocket-propelled craft of International Rescue have flown a complete circle. Today the same end of Stirling Road is occupied by a new generation of film-makers who have adopted the puppets-and-models techniques of their forebears.

The studio is filled with the same sights and sounds: the heroic Tracy brothers, Lady Penelope and Parker, people in peril, and Thunderbirds 1 and 2 coming in to land…

This year’s 50th anniversary of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s show has been an exciting time for fans, with ITV’s computer-animated version on Saturday mornings – and now three special episodes are being made for DVD in the old-fashioned way.

Stephen La Rivière (below), 30, who has masterminded the retro project and is the producer and director, describes it as his “happiest and best film experience”, adding, “Every day I come in and I can’t quite believe that we’re doing this.”

Stephen chronicled the TV hits of the Andersons (which also included Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, and Joe 90) in his book Filmed in Supermarionation, which he then turned into last year’s acclaimed film documentary of the same name… “Which then led me to this.”

To mark the 50th anniversary, Stephen thought, “Well, what better way than to go back to what they were doing and have a little celebration of what once was.”

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Stephen knew how much affection there was for Thunderbirds, but he had it confirmed when 3,378 backers pledged £218,412 towards the new episodes. It’s the most successful UK film project ever funded on Kickstarter. Much of the money came from Japan, where Stephen lived for two years and where Thunderbirds is “absolutely massive”.