Puppet action epic Thunderbirds, arguably the highpoint in the illustrious career of TV producer Gerry Anderson, proved to be a smash hit not just on original broadcast in the 1960s, but again in the 1990s and 2000s, with repeat airings on the BBC sparking a resurgence in Anderson fandom – famously, a replica of the iconic Tracy Island became the most coveted Christmas toy of 1992, with Anthea Turner showing viewers how to make a cut-price alternative using papier-mâché and a Fairy Liquid bottle.
In the years since, though, the TV landscape has become more fractured, with an ever-increasing number of channels and platforms vying for our attention – in this new world, does Thunderbirds, and its sister series like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Space: 1999, stand a chance of capturing the attention of a new generation?
Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and head of Anderson Entertainment, thinks so – with a selection of his father’s works landing on BritBox from 20th August, he believes streaming could spark another major revival in interest.
“Until 2001-ish, Thunderbirds in particular had been back on our televisions every 5-8 years,” Jamie tells RadioTimes.com. “So pretty much every time there’s a new generation of kids, they were able to see it all over again – and this [streaming] is a whole new way of people discovering it.
“I think the opportunities for resurgence via linear are few and far between now, because there are so many options, and if something isn’t accessible via that instantaneous method then it’s got a much smaller chance of reaching a new audience. So actually it’s pretty much the best option for it.”
For Gerry Anderson, the ’90s resurgence of Thunderbirds “solidified his appreciation of what the show had meant to people”, even changing his perspective so that he saw it as a calling card to be proud of rather than a relic of the past. Years later, Jamie says having Anderson shows find new life through BritBox speaks once again to their enduring appeal.
“Thunderbirds is 55 years ago, so it’s crazy… there can’t be many shows, even standalone shows, that are that old that have this much interest from the general public, let alone a whole collection of shows from the same producer.”
Having initially debuted a handful of episodes from across various Anderson series in May, four shows will now be available in full on BritBox from 20th August – the original Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, UFO and Space 1999, all streaming as part of the service’s Out of this World Collection which will also include cult classics like The Prisoner and Sapphire & Steel.
Jamie describes the rip-roaring adventures of Thunderbirds as “the pinnacle piece”, with the moodier Captain Scarlet “pushing kid’s entertainment to the brink of adult”, while the humanity vs. aliens tale of UFO delivers “horror, but with a skin of 1960s coolness” and sci-fi spectacular Space: 1999 is “the most thoughtful” and “philosophical” Anderson series.
Spanning both puppet-fronted projects – Anderson shows famously used a style of puppet work billed as “Supermarionation” – and live-action series, Jamie suggests that while each show is vary different, “there is something which kind of unifies it and is super positive – [the idea of] family units, whether they are literal families or not, doing good against the odds.”
His late father’s relentless ambition and desire never to talk down to a young audience but to deliver blockbuster feature films in miniature is, he thinks, the reason why all four of these shows stand up to a contemporary eye. “Not to give Dad all the credit at all, because it was a huge team effort, but driving for that level of filmic quality means that it holds up now.”
Joining the classic shows will be three “new episodes” of Thunderbirds – originally produced in 2015, these episodes were created using original soundtracks (released as audio-only adventures to vinyl in the 1960s) and sets, puppets, and models painstakingly recreated to match the originals, and have until now only been available to fans who backed the Kickstarter project to fund their development.
“Finally after five years, everybody gets to see them and I know that’ll make a lot of fans very happy… and it’ll be a great surprise to those who didn’t know they existed!” Jamie says.
Most exciting of all, any potential resurgence in appreciation for the Anderson classics might help fuel more new projects inspired by Gerry’s original concepts – a reboot of the ’80s series Terrahawks is already in development, while new series Firestorm is also in the works based on one of Gerry’s ideas.
“There’s a lot of resistance in the industry to the Anderson stuff – although we know and love it in the UK, outside of the UK there’s very little recognition,” Jamie says. “Blowing the fandom back up again and expanding it and bringing in new people is only going to help…
“Let’s expand the worlds of Anderson – and it doesn’t really matter the method. I think if we see the Gerry Anderson collection expand on BritBox, which I hope we will do, then that will have further knock-on effects in terms of the entertainment industry’s understanding of what Anderson stuff is and its power to entertain all these decades later.”