A University of Sunderland graduate has helped film three ‘lost’ episodes of the classic 1960s TV science fiction series Thunderbirds.

Produced between 1964 and 1966, Thunderbirds used a kind of electric puppetry called supermarionation, along with scale models. Two original series were filmed, consisting of a total of 32 episodes.

Andrew T. Smith, who graduated from Sunderland in 2010, worked an associate producer on the project. The three episodes – Introducing Thunderbirds, The Stately Home Robberies and The Abominable Snowman – all appeared on 1960s vinyl records but were never filmed or broadcast on TV.

The ‘lost’ episodes were filmed using the same cameras and lenses as were used in the 1960s. The same studio techniques were used and the filming even took place in the studio in Slough where the original Thunderbirds series had been made.

Andrew became involved with Thunderbirds when he was asked to contribute to a documentary about Gerry Anderson, one of the creators of the original series.

Andrew said, “We decided that the documentary should be hosted by Lady Penelope and Parker, with those characters discovering their own origins.”

“Of course, that meant we had to produce sequences in the same style they did in the 1960s, so we began to work out how they were actually shot – the lighting conditions, the cameras they used, the way in which the puppets were built and operated.”

The documentary, Filmed in Supermarionation, premiered in 2014, but the process of making it had got Andrew interested in doing more work with Thunderbirds.

Andrew said, “We pitched to ITV the idea to take some 1960s vinyl records, which were basically radio adventures starring the Thunderbirds cast, and put pictures to them – resulting in brand new episodes that felt as though they had been made 50 years ago.”

Andrew and his team raised money for the project – named Thunderbirds 1965 – with a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign netted over £218,000, which was the highest amount ever raised on Kickstarter for a film-based project.

Despite raising the money, the Thunderbirds 1965 team still had obstacles to overcome. Andrew said, “The records of the three adventures are very audio-driven. For example, there were no explosions, which is one of the first things you think of when you think of Thunderbirds.”

“We had to deconstruct the stories, take out what didn’t work visually and introduce some new scenes to give them more action moments.”

“We moved into a studio in Slough, in the original buildings where they had filmed Stingray and Thunderbirds, and for six months I lived there. We started with absolutely nothing and brought in talented people to build the puppets, ships and sets.”

“Bit by bit an empty warehouse became a studio exactly as they would have had in the 1960s. It was like Christmas every morning!”

“The pleasure of the classic Thunderbirds is that it is a world of toys that have come to life, maybe slightly better toys than you have at home, but it’s still a very tangible world that children feel they’re a part of.”

(Featured image courtesy of Jared If Only I Remembered, from Flickr Creative Commons)

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