With the passing of Matt Zimmerman on 8th June 2022 at the age of 87 there is now sadly only one survivor from the regular vocal cast of Thunderbirds, the much-loved David Graham.
At the time of his casting in the series Matt Zimmerman was not a well-known name to television viewers. He had relocated to the UK from Detroit, Michigan in 1959 upon gaining a scholarship, which led to him joining the London Academy of Dramatic Art. Upon leaving Matt entered the British acting scene, turning down the chance to work with Laurence Olivier in order to understudy David Holliday in the lead role of the original West End version of West Side Story, recently transferred from Broadway.
David Holliday became a lifelong friend, and recommended Matt to the Andersons who were struggling to find the right actor to provide the voice of Alan Tracy for AP Films’ forthcoming new series Thunderbirds. Production had already begun on Trapped In The Sky, with Alan’s single line of dialogue being provided by Ray Barrett. Matt turned up to meet Sylvia Anderson and was hired on the spot, proving to be one of the most adaptable actors in the show’s cast, providing voices as varied as Terror In New York City’s TV news reporter Ned Cook to an alien Zombite in The Uninvited.
Alan became a central character as the writers developed his tentative romance with Tin-Tin, and Matt stayed with the cast right until the 1968 cinema release Thunderbird 6. He didn’t become part of the repertory company of Supermarionation voice actors however: Matt was still largely a theatre performer and was able to fit in the Sunday morning vocal recording sessions for Thunderbirds around his stage commitments. The series that followed moved their recording sessions to weekdays, which precluded Matt’s return to Anderson shows until his guest appearance as Paul Foster’s ill-fated co-pilot in UFO Exposed.
Matt spent most of the 1970s on the stage rather than screen, playing pretty much every male role in Fiddler On The Roof and becoming a fixture of the West End musical scene until well into the 1990s. He did, however, become nationally famous on British television during the late 1970s as the star of a successful series of television advertisements for Wrangler jeans. Over four years and thirteen commercials Matt played Rickenbacker, hapless aide to the boss, the shadowy Mr Wrangler, who finished, each advert with an exasperated “Good grief”.
In the eighties Matt’s television profile became higher, alternating stage shows such as Annie, Windy City and Singin’ In The Rain with small screen roles in the television adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Whoops Apocalypse and a memorable big screen role as a radio actor in the 1986 Gene Wilder comedy Haunted Honeymoon. Matt also became a regular attendee at conventions including, happily, many run by Fanderson, where his ready wit and outgoing personality made for riotously good fun.
Matt continued working well into the 20th century, performing in the 2008/9 stage revival of the musical Cabaret, his last publicly broadcast role being the voice of Professor Harold in Tunnels Of Time, a 2015 episode of Thunderbirds Are Go.
Matt Zimmerman was a force of nature and a joy to be around: small in stature but a huge, theatrical personality who brightened any room he was in. He will be greatly missed and we offer our condolences to his family, friends and many fans around the world.