PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

The fiftieth anniversary of the late Gerry Anderson’s seminal Supermarionation smash Thunderbirds - the exploits of the Tracy family and their fleet of sophisticated way-beyond-iconic rescue aircraft and paraphernalia - is celebrated in glorious style in this extraordinary, lavish and incredibly thorough examination of the origins and making of a genuine TV classic. Marcus Hearn, who put together a similar Vault title for Doctor Who’s half-century a couple of years ago, has again come up with the definitive work on its subject matter and if the story of how Thunderbirds came into existence is one familiar to hardcore Anderson fans, it’s never been presented so beautifully and with such magnificent care and attention as The Vault.

Thunderbirds – The Vault’s 240 wonderfully-presented pages are packed with rare and unseen publicity and behind-the-scene photographs, images of long-forgotten merchandise from toys to ice lollies to comics and all points in between. The first two chapters briskly recount how Gerry Anderson and his partner Arthur Provis created AP Films (later Century 21 Productions), of their early work for the fearsome Roberta Leigh and their eventual progression into their own projects – Four Feather Falls and Supercar – and the formation of Gerry’s long, fruitful working relationship with the legendary Lew Grade. Packed with comment and observation culled from new interviews with surviving cast and crew and previously unpublished archive interviews with both Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the story of an enduring and beloved phenomenon is told in fascinating detail with each of the show’s thirty-two episodes examined and chronicled for posterity. It’s warts-and-all stuff, too; Hearn isn’t afraid to let his contributors speak their mind about aspects of the show’s production and Century 21’s working practices which didn’t sit so well with them, but by and large the mood is celebratory and congratulatory - this was clearly a very special time in all their lives, working in a thriving, creative and exciting environment.

But the joy of the immersive sections on Thunderbirds is inevitably soured by later chapters which detail the slow, steady decline of Anderson’s fortunes – and his marriage to Sylvia – post-Thunderbirds. Two poorly-performing feature films couldn’t keep the series alive and Grade’s failure to secure a significant American sale made continued production of Thunderbirds a financial no-no. Gerry’s subsequent series were markedly less successful and by the end of the 1960s the glory days of Century 21 were over and by 1971 the company’s Stirling Road studios in Slough were closed.

But Thunderbirds - The Vault is a book that venerates one particular televisual success story and in that regard, it’s virtually beyond criticism. It’s a visual treasure trove, page after page of evocative photographs and illustrations complementing Hearn’s crisp, purposeful text. Whether you’re an Anderson devotee or just a fan of classic television, this is a book to savour, to sit, relish and glory in. They don’t make TV like Thunderbirds anymore but, fortunately, they do still make books like The Vault. An essential purchase.


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