Thunderbirds Are Go

2065: The Hood sabotages the first manned space expedition to Mars causing the massive Zero X space vehicle to plummet out of control and crash into the sea. Two years later, the committee of the Martian Exploration Centre elect to invite International Rescue to organise the security arrangements at the launch of a second mission. Lady Penelope goes undercover as a reporter at Glenn Field and she and Scott successfully unmask The Hood as he attempts to stow away aboard the new Zero X.

The launch is successful and, after a six week flight, the crew of Zero X make a landing on Mars. But as they explore the planet surface in their Martian Exploration Vehicle, they come under fire from Martian Rock Snakes and barely escape with their lives. Then, on their return to Earth, Zero X’s locking gear is damaged when one of the vehicle’s lifting bodies goes out of control and the crew are trapped on board as Zero X heads for a crash-landing on Craigsville…

Century 21 Cinema/United Artists

Produced: 1966

UK premiere: 12th December 1966

89 minutes

Executive Producer: Gerry Anderson

Producer: Sylvia Anderson

Associate Producer: John Read

Director: David Lane

Lighting Cameraman: Paddy Seale

Supervising Art Director: Bob Bell

Art Director: Grenville Nott

Supervising Visual Effects Director: Derek Meddings

Visual Effects Directors: Shaun Whittacker-Cook and Peter Wragg

Music Composed, Arranged and Directed by Barry Gray

Additional Music by The Shadows

Screenplay by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson

Directed by David Lane

Premiere: 12th December 1966 (London Pavilion, London)

Film Notes

When the first 26-episode season of Gerry Anderson’s epic Supermarionation series Thunderbirds premiered on British television in October 1965, public response was so phenomenal that a second series was immediately commissioned by financiers and distributors ITC Entertainment, in the person of its enigmatic chairman, Lew Grade. It was during discussions for shooting the second series that Anderson suggested to Grade that the logical progression would be to do a feature film based on the series which could be shot back-to-back with the new television episodes. Grade agreed and the budget was set at £250,000.

Production on both Thunderbirds Are Go and the second series of Thunderbirds began at the Century 21 Studios in Slough in February 1966. The voice cast from the first series was reassembled for recording the dialogue, with only one noticeable exception: David Holliday, who had provided the voice for Thunderbird 2 pilot Virgil Tracy in the first season, had returned to his native America and was, therefore, unable to continue his role. He was replaced by Canadian actor Jeremy Wilkin who subsequently voiced Captain Ochre in Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons and the Bishop in The Secret Service, and went on to appear in a regular role (as Lt. Gordon Maxwell) in UFO.

The cast were joined by guest vocalists Paul Maxwell (who had previously provided the voice of Colonel Steve Zodiac in Fireball XL5), Charles Tingwell (later heard as Dr. Fawn in Captain Scarlet) and Bob Monkhouse, best-known at the time as the host of Sunday Night At The London Palladium – shortly after recording his Thunderbirds role he replaced Jackie Rae on ATV’s The Golden Shot, turned the failing series into a teatime hit and went on to become Britain’s most popular (and highest-paid) game show host.

The most unusual additions to the cast of Thunderbirds Are Go were Cliff Richard, Hank Marvin, Brian Bennett, Bruce Welch and John Rostill, collectively known as Cliff Richard and The Shadows, whose puppet replicas made cameo appearances during a dream sequence. Richard was a close neighbour of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson at their holiday home in Portugal and were talking one day when the Andersons asked if Richard might be interested in making an ‘appearance’ in the movie. Backed by The Shadows, Richard performed a new song, “Shooting Star”, for the film, and the group also performed an instrumental track, “Lady Penelope”, in their unique style.

Thunderbirds Are Go was the first feature film to be shot using the Livingston Electronic Viewfinder Unit, also known as Add-a-Vision. This was basically an electronic viewfinder which could be used in conjunction with a Mitchell BNC Camera to take a television picture directly from the camera, enabling the staff of the entire unit to watch any scene being filmed on the television monitors. In this way, all members of the unit could study the set-up for any particular shot without moving the camera operator, and all the monitored pictures could be recorded on tape and played back to the director to check that a take was satisfactory.

By the time the film opened in December 1966, Anderson and his Century 21 team had moved on to production of a new Supermarionation television series, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons – unable to sell Thunderbirds in America after a three-way bidding war between the US networks collapsed, Grade had cancelled the second season after just six episodes in favour of an all-new series. In the sole example of cross-series continuity in any of the Gerry Anderson productions, the MEV portion of Zero X from Thunderbirds Are Go made a guest appearance in The Mysterons, Captain Scarlet‘s pilot episode.

The feature film premiere on 12th December 1966 at the London Pavilion was a massive success and executives at United Artists, the film’s distributors, told Anderson that they anticipated that the Thunderbirds film series would soon rival James Bond. Unfortunately, the film proved to be a box office disaster, and United Artists were so surprised and confused by its failure that they put it down to a fluke and immediately commissioned a second film.

In retrospect, the film’s failure can be seen as due to the unusual incidence of a variety of other feature films aimed at the same target audience which all opened at the same time over the 1966 Christmas season and proved to be greater draws to the general public: Batman (1966), Born Free (1966), The Fighting Prince Of Donegal (1966), Khartoum (1966), Press For Time (1966) and re-releases of Lady And The Tramp (1955), Mary Poppins (1964), The Sound Of Music (1965) and The Wizard Of Oz (1939).

Cast List
Jeff Tracy Peter Dyneley
Scott Tracy Shane Rimmer
Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward Sylvia Anderson
Virgil Tracy Jeremy Wilkin
Alan Tracy Matt Zimmerman
Brains David Graham
Aloysius Parker David Graham
Tin-Tin Kyrano Christine Finn
Gordon Tracy David Graham
John Tracy Ray Barrett
The Hood Ray Barrett
Captain Paul Travers Paul Maxwell
Space Captain Greg Martin Alexander Davion
Space Navigator Brad Newman Bob Monkhouse
Dr. Ray Pierce Neil McCallum
Dr. Tony Grant Charles Tingwell
Controller - Glenn Field Ray Barrett
S.E.C. President Jeremy Wilkin
Public Relations Officer Charles Tingwell
Messenger Matt Zimmerman
Angry Young Man Charles Tingwell
Swinging Star Compére Bob Monkhouse
Cliff Richard Jr. Cliff Richard