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Thunderbirds are Go again 50 years later

By Frances Burscough

Published 19/09/2015

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

The first man I ever loved wasn’t actually a man. He was a puppet made out of moulded plastic. He had strings attached to all his extremities, his head bobbed up and down in a peculiar nodding motion whenever he moved and his arms flailed in the air when he talked.

But he was a dark, handsome, supermarionated superhero who had dedicated his entire life to saving the human race. His name was Virgil Tracy from the TV show Thunderbirds and, reader, I loved him.

I also loved his brother Scott, too, but not quite as much. Virgil had a deeper, croakier voice and was somehow more manly than Scott. And when he wasn’t piloting Thunderbird 2 and launching missiles at baddies, my beloved Virgil was an accomplished artist and concert pianist. So you could say that he was the Renaissance man of International Rescue and therefore the most fanciable of the Tracy brothers.

From the age of about six and onwards through most of my childhood, I was obsessed with Thunderbirds, as were my seven brothers and sisters. There were two catchphrases — “Thunderbirds are GO!” And “F.A.B” — and, because my initials were (and still are) FAB, I used to think they were talking to me directly, every time they said it.

We used to “play” at Thunderbirds all the time, pretending that our house was the headquarters of International Rescue and our garden was Tracy Island.

I usually got to “be” Lady Penelope, because I had blonde hair and my brother Jim was usually my chauffeur Parker. We’d both squash onto one scooter, Jim at the front, me behind, and whizz around the driveway pretending that we were in the famous Rolls Royce, on our way to thwart a dangerous plot.

My eldest brother John was usually the boss Jeff Tracy and the rest of us took on assorted roles at random as the game required. There wasn’t much structure, nor indeed much logic to the game. It just involved a lot of whizzing around on bikes, shouting “FIVE ... FOUR ... THREE ... TWO ... ONE ... THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!” and singing the theme tune. But it was some of the best fun I’ve had in my entire life, especially once we incorporated our next-door neighbour (unwittingly) into the proceedings ...

At that time, the house next door was a vicarage where a Church of England vicar called Mr Rushton lived with his family. So it was John’s brainwave that Mr Rushton should become the Thunderbirds arch-enemy known as The Hood. Of course he had no idea and went about his solemn and serious business regardless. We’d spy on him through gaps in the hedge and launch rocket attacks over the hedge (apples fallen off the trees) whenever we saw him passing by. Sometimes, if we were feeling really courageous, we’d sneak up his driveway on our assorted vehicles and stake him out through the kitchen window or from our vantage point behind his garage. The Rev Rushton would occasionally look over and smile or wave jovially as we passed, completely oblivious to the fact that he was our nemesis. In fact, we once overheard him saying to our dad “Isn’t it wonderful the way your children all play together so nicely!” Little did he know that our only mission while playing together so nicely was to have him wiped off the face of the earth.

Eventually, one by one, we all grew up and stopped playing the game. Many years have passed and we’re all around middle-aged now, but all it takes is for one of us to shout “FIVE ... FOUR ... THREE ... TWO ... ONE ...” and the rest of us join in and laugh our heads off as we reminisce about the Burscough brigade of International Rescue.

But great news is afoot for all Thunderbirds fans. It is now exactly 50 years since the show was first shown on British TV and, to mark the occasion, The Anderson family who produced the original series have agreed to allow a new series to be made using the same models, techniques and recorded soundtracks that never made it to the screen. Thunderbirds are Go again!  Isn’t that just F.A.B?

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