Filmed between 1964-1966 - using a puppetry technique dubbed "Supermarionation" - Thunderbirds first aired on the 30th September 1965 and finished on Christmas Day 1966, after 32 49-52-minute-long episodes. (See Episodes section, below.)
The series was cancelled after a failed attempt to sell the programme in the United States. Although it was not aired by the three major American TV networks (unlike Fireball XL-5, shown on Saturday mornings on the NBC network), Thunderbirds did go on to appear successfully in syndication, in many local TV markets across the country.
Thunderbirds was easily Gerry Anderson's most famous series in his long career, and was praised for its soundtrack and pioneering special effects and model work.
In the year 2026 or 2065 (depending on who you believe), the top-secret rescue outfit International Rescue is established to save people in mortal danger with the aid of technologically-advanced air, sea and space rescue vehicles and equipment known as the Thunderbirds.
Thunderbirds had a grand total of 32 episodes, spread across 2 seasons - the first season had 26 episodes, while the second only had 6.
- Main article: Season 1
First Season (Followed by original UK broadcast date - all 7pm on ATV Midlands):
- Trapped in the Sky, 30th September 1965.
- Pit of Peril, 7th October 1965.
- The Perils of Penelope, 14th October 1965.
- Terror in New York City, 21st October 1965.
- Edge Of Impact, 28th October 1965.
- Day Of Disaster, 4th November 1965.
- 30 Minutes After Noon, 11th November 1965.
- Desperate Intruder, 18th November 1965.
- End Of The Road, 25th November 1965.
- The Uninvited, 2nd December 1965.
- Sun Probe, 9th December 1965.
- Operation Crash-Dive, 16th December 1965.
- Vault Of Death, 23rd December 1965.
- The Mighty Atom, 30th December 1965.
- City Of Fire, 6th January 1966
- The Impostors, 13th January 1966.
- The Man From MI.5, 20th January 1966.
- Cry Wolf, 27th January 1966.
- Danger At Ocean Deep, 3rd February 1966.
- Move - And You're Dead, 10th February 1966.
- The Duchess Assignment, 17th February 1966.
- Brink of Disaster, 24th February 1966.
- Attack of the Alligators!, 10th March 1966.
- Martian Invasion, 11th March 1966.
- The Cham-Cham, 24th March 1966.
- Security Hazard, 31st March 1966.
- Main article: Season 2
Second Season (Followed by original UK broadcast date - all 5.05pm on ATV London):
- Atlantic Inferno, 2nd October 1966.
- Path Of Destruction, 9th October 1966.
- Alias Mr. Hackenbacker 16th October 1966.
- Lord Parker's 'Oliday 23rd October 1966.
- Ricochet, 6th November 1966.
- Give or Take a Million, 25th December 1966.
- Main article: Thunderbirds
- Main article: Pod Vehicles
Thunderbird 2 - International Rescue's big cargo transporter - was responsible for carrying all the specialised equipment to the danger zone. Six different, enormous Pods - each one customized for different types of rescue - housed a diverse and exotic array of incredible machines, including:
- Booster Mortar
- Elevator Cars
- The Excavator
- Jet-Air Transporter
- Mobile Crane
- The Mole
- Neutralizer Tractor
- Recovery Vehicles
- Laser Cutter Vehicle
- Transmitter Truck
Other Major Equipment
Thunderbirds was filled with other vehicles and equipment. These are some of them:
- FAB 1
- Sun Probe
- U.S.N. Sentinel
- Gray & Houseman Road Construction Vehicle
- Martian Space Probe
- 3E Submarine
- FAB 2
- Ocean Pioneer I and Ocean Pioneer II
- Pirate Satellite TV Station KLA
The Tracy Family
The Tracy family, headed by retired astronaut-businessman Jeff Tracy, were the operators of International Rescue. Each of Jeff's five sons was responsible for a different Thunderbird craft:
International Rescue Field Agents
Beyond its top-secret base somewhere in the South Seas, International Rescue was supported by a network of field agents, positioned all around the globe. Like the Thunderbirds vehicles themselves, they and others appeared in other media, including audio stories, books and films:
- Tin-Tin Kyrano
- Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward
- Aloysius Parker
- Jeremiah Tuttle
- Sir Jeremy Hodge
While saving lives, International Rescue also have encounters with a mysterious arch-villain known only as The Hood, whose sole ambition is to steal their secrets for his own personal gain - even if he has to risk people's lives to do so...
The score to the show was composed by the late Barry Gray, who served as musical director for all of the Anderson productions up to the first series of Space:1999. In response to Gerry Anderson's request that the main theme have a "military feel," Gray produced a brass-dominated piece titled The Thunderbirds March, which was recorded in December 1964 at Olympic Studios in London. The end titles were originally to have been accompanied by Flying High, a lyrical track sung by Gary Miller with backing by Ken Barrie. Ultimately, a variation of the march was used instead. Incidental music was recorded over nine months between March and December 1965. As most of the music budget was spent on the series' earlier episodes, later instalments drew heavily on APF's ever-expanding music library.
The first Thunderbirds-exclusive music record was the mini-album Great Themes from Thunderbirds (MA 116; originally titled Requested Themes from Thunderbirds), published by Century 21 Records in 1967. Two soundtrack albums were released by Silva Screen Records, to favourable reviews on the AllMusic website and by Uncut magazine, in 2003 and 2004. A 40th-anniversary release – The Best of Thunderbirds, a double album featuring music from the first two CDs in addition to three previously unreleased tracks and exclusive CD-ROM content – was released in 2005. In 2015, Fanderson released a four-disc set for its members in celebration of the 50th anniversary; it contains music either written for, or used in, all but one episode (as Cry Wolf contained no original music, nor any music that was not used in other episodes, it was not included on the set).
Beyond the TV series, composer Barry Gray's contributions to Thunderbirds included four original songs recorded exclusively for audio release: Lady Penelope, Parker, Parker Well Done and The Abominable Snowman, all sung in character by Sylvia Anderson and David Graham.
- In 2005, the series ranked 24th in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Kids' TV Shows vote.