Non-Fiction Reviews

Thunderbirds: The Vault

(2015) Marcus Hearn, Virgin, 25, hrdbk, 240pp, ISBN 978-0-753-55635-1


This is a very timely publication. 2015 was the year that marked a number of 50th anniversaries including that of Thunderbirds first broadcast back in 1965. Then again, it was the year that marked a re-boot of the series into CGI regularly featuring one of the old cast (Parker) and occasionally guest starring the voice of Sylvia Anderson as Lady Penelope's aunt (Sylvia Anderson played the original Lady Penelope). Finally, the year saw the start of a KickStarter campaign to make three new supermarionation episodes with puppets using the original cast voices (these are based on the 1960s vinyl LP records). So the publication of Marcus Hearn's Thunderbirds: The Vault is truly timely.

Now, first up, the title of this volume is slightly misleading in that it relates to more than just Thunderbirds (opening credits here), albeit that the focus is largely (roughly 70%) on that series it also includes coverage of the late Gerry Anderson's other series including: Fireball XL5 (opening credits here), Stingray (opening credits here), Captain Scarlet (opening credits here), and Joe 90 (opening credits here) among others.  If you grew up and were aged somewhere between 5 and 10 in the early 1960s then you were of a generation that either enjoyed Gerry Anderson series or at the very least had most certainly had heard of them. Indeed, the weekly comic relating to Anderson's series TV21 had a print run of half a million! (And remember, this was the 1960s and Britain's population was 15% smaller then than it is today.) That each successive Anderson series appealed to a slightly older person meant that a cohort of the population grew up for over a decade with Gerry's visions of a possible future world of flying craft and space travel. And if one series did not captivate an individual, then there would be another a couple of years later.

This brings us to Marcus Hearn's the vault. This large volume hardback is richly illustrated throughout in full colour. It charts the Anderson phenomenon through an almost equal mix of illustration and text with the former covering pictures of those working on the series, trade promotional brochures, the models, the spin-off merchandise, the publications (TV Comic, TV21, Countdown the annuals etc.) and, of course, many stills from the show as well as behind-the-scenes shots. This is truly a remarkable visual and text history. And the subject index at the makes it also quite a useful research tool if you are writing about Anderson and his work.

Flaws? Remarkably, none! This is a very full compendium and a nostalgic treasure-trove for Gerry Anderson fans. Indeed reading it made me realise just what an economic and cultural phenomena Anderson's series were. Yes, on one hand they were only television series for youngsters. But on the other they had a tremendous, albeit 'soft', social impact. Their value has not been properly appreciated by both the public at large and the television broadcasters. True, some such as the BBC a decade ago, would re-run a series, and now we have the new CGI Thunderbirds, but nobody has gone back and re-broadcast the entire Anderson oeuvre with the same sequence and timing of the original broadcasts. And so these occasional re-broadcasts have failed to capture a new generation as did the originals. So read Marcus Hearn's Thunderbirds: The Vault and weep. Or read Hearn's Thunderbirds: The Vault with joy and rekindle visions of a possible future of technological wonder, bravery, and fantastical deeds with happy endings.

Hearn's Thunderbirds: The Vault is therefore an essential read for both older Anderson fans as well as anyone with a serious interest in the history of SF, especially television SF. It is also a great accompaniment to the graphic collections of the Anderson comic strips such as those compiled by Bentley and Hearn and Sam Denham. To sum up, needless to say that Hearn's Thunderbirds: The Vault is thoroughly recommended.

Jonathan Cowie

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