You may remember the Thunderbirds as an elite International Rescue (IR) organization that took to the land, sea, air, and even outer space to rescue those in need, but you also may remember them as those crazy British marionettes whose show played as reruns all the time.
Thunderbirds was a crazy TV show from the mid-60s, but somehow it managed to keep on going, staying in our hearts forever.
The show first premiered in 1964, and there was a lot that went into it, probably more than you’d realize given how it looked. You may think that puppets would be easier than animation, but it actually turns out it took way more effort than that.
1. They designed the faces of their marionettes after famous actors
Each character design was based on a real person.
Jeff was based on Lorne Greene from Bonanza
Alan was based on Robert Vaughn from The Protectors
Scott was based on Sean Connery
John was based on a combination of Adam Faith and Charlton Heston
Parker was based on comedian Ben Warriss
Lady Penelope was based on Sylvia Anderson (aka the woman who voiced her)
2. The puppets themselves had some interesting details
They each only had four teeth in their little puppet mouths, but they wanted them to feel more realistic.
The way they did this was using real hands in the close ups when a character needed to manipulate an object. So when they needed push a button or turn a key, an actor would step in and do it.
Each puppet had more than 30 components and cost between £250 and £300 at the time (which would translate to about £5,600 or $7,500 today.
They had to make duplicates of each puppet because they were always filming two episodes at once, and every puppet needed multiple versions of their heads based on what kind of expressions they needed to give.
They each had a “smiler,” a “frowner,” a “blinker,” and one “neutral” face. They were each about 22 inches tall.
They had a device inside their heads that would synchronize the lip movements to the actors recorded dialog, and most of them had fiberglass heads.
They used mohair for most of the wigs, except for Penelope who actually had real human hair.
3. It wasn’t just the physical puppets that are detailed, it’s actually the characters themselves
Creator and star of the show Sylvia Anderson decided that the characters needed a backstory even if it was never discussed on the show.
She went through every single character on the show and gave them birthdays that fit into the astrological signs that was best suited to the personality traits she thought they had. The whole Tracy family has birthdays (except one), as do the IR field agents.
- Jeff Tracy was born on January 2nd
- Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward was born on December 24th
- Tin-Tin Kyrano was born on June 20th
- Kyrano actually doesn’t have a birthday, but that’s because his birth certificate was lost in Malaysia
- Aloysius Parker was born on May 30th
- Brains was born on November 14th
- Scott Tracy was born on April 4th
- Virgil Tracy was born on August 15th
- Alan Tracy was born on March 12th
- Gordon Tracy was born on February 14th
- John Tracy was born on Ovtober 8th
The only member of the Tracy family without a birthday is Grandma Tracy, but it’s assumed that she was born in the 1980s.
4. The Tracy brothers were named after real astronauts
Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight project that was put into motion as an attempt to beat the Soviet Union into space.
The project saw six people go into space in an attempt to get more time than the Soviet Union, and helped them test out all the systems they would need for the eventual moon landing.
The Tracy brothers all got their names from the astronauts from this project.
Malcolm Scott Carpenter became Scott
Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr. became Gordon
John Herschel Glenn Jr. became John
Virgil Ivan “Gus” Grissom became Virgil
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. became Alan
5. It was a time consuming process
The show had a lot of struggles when it was getting made because of all the intricate parts of the puppets.
Apparently even on their most productive days, a full day of filming would only result in about two minutes of footage.
They had to shoot so much more than a live action show because they found that viewers wouldn’t have the same attention span for expressionless puppets as they would for a human face that good give a range of emotion. This meant they needed more shots and a faster pace.
6. The show had the highest budget in the whole company
Between the expensive puppets and the time it took to film each episode, they already had a big budget. They were given £25,000 per episode at first, but after seeing the pilot episode the network decided they wanted to double the episode length.
What they didn’t do was double the budget, they only raised it to £38,000, but even that was enough to make it the highest-budgeted production made by the network.
7. The creator of the show would go on to make an actual rescue group
Gerry Anderson created the show in the 60s, but it stuck with him forever. He was inspired by the rescue crews who took over during a mining disaster in the early 60s in West Germany, but later he decided to continue to tradition.
In the early 80s, he decided to create his own charity called The International Rescue Corps that funds urban search and rescue.
Do you remember watching this show when you were a kid?
The Thunderbirds have come back several times, but never have their reboots gotten the same level of hate that the new ThunderCats reboot seems to be getting.