Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Repeat TX 28/12/2008 BBC-2

Opening narration: ”December 1966, and London is swinging. The new beat groups are rocking the charts, Hendrix has just arrived in town, and the mini-skirt is all the rage.

But tonight belongs to the old school.

Arriving in style for the star-studded premiere of their brand new film: Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Their studios on the Slough trading estate have become a mini-Hollywood and a multi-million pound empire, their TV show is an international hit, their movie will be the Christmas film, but the real stars of the night are not people - they’re puppets.

This is All About Thunderbirds - how Britain’s favourite puppet show went from Slough to the stars.”

Those words sure make it sound like the next 60 minutes are going to be a well-made BBC documentary chronicling the history of the TV series Thunderbirds, but the pictures that accompany them foreshadow the actual lazy truth.

The first paragraph is accompanied by stock footage from the day, however from the confusing words “But tonight belongs to the old school” we segue into modern videotape.

This features hazily-shot doubles of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson being driven through present-day London in a lifesize replica of Lady Penelope’s FAB1 car. We know it’s present-day because of all the modern cars, taxis and buses. At one point, before reaching Burger King, the camera positively lingers on the late lamented Virgin Megastore on New Oxford Street. Even the pink Rolls Royce itself features a huge website address emblazoned across the top of the front windscreen.

Well, obviously this is all meant to represent Gerry and Sylvia being driven to the premiere of the recent live-action Thunderbirds movie in 2004. That would reconcile the opening 1966 line with the subsequent one about tonight belonging “to the old school”, along with Gerry’s modern shaved head.

No, this actually is meant to be a reconstruction of the Andersons’ journey to the opening night of Thunderbirds Are Go! in 1966.

By the end of the programme, there’s just no alternative film for them to be seeing, since not only does the 2005 remake never get a mention, but neither does Thunderbird 6. Thunderbirds Are Go! is portrayed as the flop that got the franchise cancelled, so there was no more Thunderbirds after that, apparently.

It this programme’s claim to tell us All About Thunderbirds wasn’t already damaged enough, a great deal of it gets sidetracked into recounting Anderson’s other TV series, but only up until Space: 1999. After that he seems to have stopped working. No Space Precinct, no New Captain Scarlet, no Dick Spanner, no Lavender Castle, and certainly no three years of the Thunderbirds follow-up Terrahawks.

Worse, yet again the BBC trot-out the old wives’ tale that Thunderbirds somehow remained off the air for decades until they heroically brought it back in 1991. Apparently I just imagined watching the virtually endless reruns of Anderson’s many series on the ITV regions as a teen in the 80s.

Still, at least the BBC are consistent in their propaganda, here even presenting a clip from one of their own news bulletins of the time, attempting to pass-off a cheap plug for the latest repeats as news:

Narration: “By the early 90s, even BBC bosses had realised there was something going on here.”

CLIP OF BBC NEWS 21/09/91:”Tonight at six o’clock Thunderbirds are go once again as BBC-2 begins a rerun of the classic puppet series.”

Interviewee: ”There it was – the original episodes back on BBC-2, which I think probably was the first time it had been on in, in twenty years, and then that was, in a way, somehow I feel like it was the beginning of nostalgic television actually started there, and then, y’know, all the programmes since about all the other nostalgia, feels like it kind of started somewhere around there.”

The guy who said that sounds a little nostalgic for the nostalgia, and sadly represents the generally low quality of the soundbites that break-up this programme. At another point he mocks the programme’s famous mechanically-folding palm trees as though they were real within the story. “Ridiculous – why didn’t they plant those palm trees further out?”

I don’t want to knock him too much – I have tremendous respect for his work – but as a fan he really should have known better. Even Nick Park lets the side down, apparently playing to his perceptions of the audience’s expectations by claiming that both he and his brother used to fancy the puppet Marina.

Still, it is nice to hear what the original creators had to recall, particularly Francis Matthews on playing Captain Scarlet.

Special Effects Assistant Alan Shubrook, for some reason, is interviewed next to a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle hanging from black strings. What – could it fly or something?

At one point they even flash up an actual photo of Gerry and Sylvia from the real-life premiere that their doubles were travelling to in the reconstruction at the start of the programme, and there's little similarity. Gerry even had hair back then.

Not so much a documentary, more a collection of people recalling stuff without checking their memories. Unfortunately fans will have better recall, and therefore little to get out of this.

Upon this transmission, the show was preceded, allowing for a sport update, by a ‘new’ episode of Stingray entitled The Reunion Party.

This cobbles together sequences of original Stingray episodes to form an authentic clips shows, complete with the inherent disappointment that these things always incite. Clips shows were great back when a programme only got screened twice, tolerable throughout the VHS era, and have absolutely no place in the current age of DVDs and 100 channels of repeats.

However this one’s an exception, being not only originated by the show’s creator, at the time of production, but also intended for marketing the series overseas.

Finally, this doco was presently followed by a rerun of the Thunderbirds episode Attack Of The Alligators! which I watched this morning.

This featured the scale puppets trapped in a house surrounded by actual crocodiles, who were comparatively huge. Though I usually find Thunderbirds to be quite slow, I rather enjoyed this.

Dr. Orchard: (nervously)"Where are they?"

McGill: "International Rescue are on their way, so relax Doctor."

Dr. Orchard: "Relax? With three giant alligators knocking the house down?!? Be fair, McGill."


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