By Marcus Hearn
Designed by Mike Jones
Published by Virgin Books
Out: 10th September 2015
The Book: On 30th September 1965, International Rescue successfully completed their first assignment, and the Tracy brothers imprinted themselves on a generation of captivated children. Thirty-two episodes, many repeats, sixty territories, two feature films, three albums, numerous comics, books, toys, videos and DVDs and five decades later, Thunderbirds are still saving the world from the brink of peril.
Thunderbirds: The Vault is the first ever lavishly illustrated, definitive, beautifully packaged, presentation hardback telling the story of this enduring cult phenomenon. Packed with previously unpublished material, including prop photos, design sketches, production memos and other collectible memorabilia, plus specially commissioned photography of original 60s merchandise, and new interviews with cast and crew, it’s going to be a collectors’ dream and a fantastic piece of British TV history.
Marcus Hearn is the official biographer of Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson and author of the New York Times bestseller Doctor Who: The Vault. His other books include the award-winning The Art of Hammer, Saucy Postcards, The Avengers: A Celebration and Eight Days a Week, the story of The Beatles’ final world tour. He has written for The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, and has contributed booklet notes, audio commentaries and documentaries to nearly 100 DVDs and Blu-rays.
He is an associate research fellow at Leicester De Montfort’s Cinema and Television History Research Centre and is the official historian of Hammer Film Productions.
The Review: I really enjoyed reading Thunderbirds: The Vault, not only because the show that inspired it is one I grew up watching and thoroughly enjoyed, but also because the creative team on the book clearly hold Thunderbirds in the same regard, delivering a wonderful book simply crammed with many previously-unseen images, a great selection of merchandise images, and a cornucopia of anecdotes and informative interviews that will delight all true fans of the show.
Given Marcus Hearn’s past record with his books on Hammer Horror and his long involvement with Doctor Who Magazine, it came as no surprise that as customary, his 18 months of research would turn up some terrific images for the book. But side by side by that are the many voices assembled who offer their own take on the Thunderbirds legend created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
Not only does the book reveal the “Thunderbirds story” – and perhaps for the first time, affording a platform for Sylvia Anderson’s work on the show, as well as Gerry’s in an official account of its making – but it also puts its incredible success and lasting legacy in context, revealing the lead up to its development with shows such as The Adventures of Twizzle, Fireball XL5 and Stingray.
While drawing on interviews with the late Gerry Anderson, this book also features fascinating accounts into the making of the show from a host of those involved, including production personnel such as director David Lane and the show’s Merchandising Executive Keith Shackleton.
Alongside this informative account of the show’s production, which includes a revealing account of the making of the first episode, Trapped in the Sky, the making of the two feature films, a marvellous account of the work of composer Barry Gray, whose music helped make the show so memorable, and much more, throughout is a “warts and all” scattering of episode synopses and analysis. Those interviewed pull no punches in their assessment of both the good and the bad of working on Thunderbirds, often putting in long hours just to get the final look right and, despite its puppets, believable for its intended young audience… that drew in all ages – and still does, 50 years on.
Thunderbirds: The Vault also reveals the show’s legacy in terms of its merchandising, and those of us who recall its initial success will savour the many carefully-photographed relics featured that we may have once owned (or perhaps still own), from sweet cigarette cards and figures to Thunderbirds models, records and, of course, those most cherished collectables of them all – the Lady Penelope and TV Century 21 comics that command such high prices today. It seems that between them, Marcus and designer Mike have left no stone unturned in their quest to bring some unique items for fans to savour with this project. They succeed – in spades.
While a lot of the “Thunderbirds story” has been told many times and there many stories in Thunderbirds: The Vault told here I have read before, what makes this book so distinctive is the attention to detail without getting bogged down in it, and the huge and impressive range of visual material. If you’ve read any of Marcus’ previous works, you’ll be pleased to hear he brings the same level of knowledge he delivered on those to this thoroughly enjoyable book, even making the technical aspects of Supermarionation production easy to understand and interesting.
While earnest, there are some light touches – the Lady Penelope and Parker puppets being discovered in flagrante delicto one morning for example – and I don’t think there are many Thunderbirds who could fail to enjoy this book. Recommended.
• Marcus Hearn will be attending The Future in Fantastic! in October to sign copies of the book
Our thanks to Virgin Books for most of the imagery featured in this review