A few days ago we were fretting that THUNDERBIRD fandom might be dying out/. The evidence? An excessive number of Geocities pages and dead links in out quest for some vintage stills. Predictably, we got many emails of “We’re going strong!” and managed to flush out quite a few fans. It seems that THUNDERBIRDS is still quite popular in the UK where is it repeated every once in a while to this day. (Try for links, it was suggested.) The comment thread to the above post has also become a lively nest of Thunderbirds fans, and based on the number of women posting, our Shaker joke was quite ill informed.

Which isn’t to say that this little byway of fandom doesn’t have its own oddities. It seems that the 2004 movie, starring Bill Paxton as Jeff Tracy and several strapping lads as his sons, led to The Great Schism of Thunderbirds Fandom after which enthusiasts divided into Sunni and Shiite like factions. We’ll let Daria explain it:

Following TechTV’s captioned version of the series in 2002 and the “Thunderbirds” film’s release, the fandom actually grew but took on a whole new factionalism, with most of the fans of the original series left furious about the mistreatment of their favorite heroes by Working Title Films and, surprisingly, the addition of thousands of female fans worldwide who had fallen in love with those rather dishy young actors who portrayed the Tracy brothers. While the “classic” version websites began to fade, Thunderbirds fan fiction sites have taken off like mad.

Fan fiction, eh? Hm, didn’t see that one coming. Tikatu has more:

I’ll second both Daria and middier’s comments. We’re out here, alive and kicking. And y’know, we defy the “geek” stereotype as well. A lot of us are women, well over the age of 20, raising families, working at fulfilling jobs, definitely internet and computer savvy, and still in love with the show. We write fanfiction, create fanvids (did you look at YouTube?), draw fanart, argue on messageboards about the minutia surrounding the show, buy memorabilia on eBay… the list of fannish activities goes on and on.

And Daria again sums it up:

These wonderful ladies represent thousands upon thousands of Thunderbirds fans in the States and the many millions around the world. I often receive letters addressed to the various members of the Tracy family from places as far away as Australia and New Zealand, The Netherlands, Chile, Japan and various parts of the US and Canada, from fans as young as 4 and as old as 65 or more. They all have their favorite characters and episodes (with scripts they know by heart) and, what’s even better, they really believe in International Rescue and the dangerous but life-saving work which those characters perform. Many of the kids that I hear from want to grow up and be like the Tracy family: they want to do good deeds and help people who are in dire need. How many other fandoms can you name which inspire the best in the human spirit and cause fans to want to become rescue workers or designers of high-tech rescue and/or aeronautics equipment?

Millions of Thunderbirds fans? That might be stretching it. But they are not dying out — that’s for sure. It just goes to show that you never know what way a fandom is going to go, and even the Beat can be surprised now and then.


  1. Transformers fandom is already fiercely divided over the upcoming Michael Bay flick. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of long-lasting impact it has a year or two from now.

  2. This is funny because I was recently looking for Thunderbirds reference and was having a really hard time finding good pics of the characters. My mom is a HUGE fan of the show and passed the love of supermarionation on to me… as an artist I dig the heck out of Gerry Anderson and the worlds he created in shows like Thunderbirds, Terrahawks, Captain Scarlett, etc. The reference searching was for a T-Birds pinup I did for my mom’s birthday last year –

  3. That’s very cool, Paul; I’ll bet that she loved it! I did Thunderbirds calendars (mixing both live-action images and “classic” images) for friends last year since, for the first time in over 20 years, there were no official Gerry Anderson-related calendars issued. (Some problem with Granada/ITV and their licensing division). Hopefully that will be rectified this year.

    One other thing about your postscript, Heidi: Here in the States, “Thunderbirds” fell through the cracks for lack of one thing we love to complain of: reruns. Unlike the bulk of 1960s “junk food TV shows” generations of kids have now seen over and over, “Thunderbirds” disappeared from TV screens in the US for 25 years following its 2-3 year run on syndicated television at the end of the 1960s. It didn’t return until two hacked up (and totally ignored) versions showed up in 1995 and, thankfully, quickly vanished. The resurgence finally came in 2002 when TechTV ran a captioned “Pop-Up Video” style version (of which I was one of the trivia contributors); the show became quite popular…for those who happened to subscribe to a TV service which featured it and were able to keep up with the changing timeslot. Additionally, a HDTV version of the series has been screening successfully on VOOM for the last two years. Meanwhile, “Thunderbirds” has aired repeatedly in Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa for decades, with a major resurgence in 1992 in the UK. That particular growth in popularity caused Cabbage Patch Doll styled riots in toy stores when parents couldn’t get their frantic hands on the Tracy Island Playset that Christmas. Creator (and voice of Lady Penelope) Sylvia Anderson once said that she was accosted by angry shoppers who wanted to know why there weren’t enough Tracy Island toys to go around…! Anyway, the point is that here in the US, I’m afraid that one has to be primarily of “that certain age group” to harbor this sort of passion for “Thunderbirds” because it was absent from our screens for so long. Just catch someone who was there “back in the day” as a child glued to the TV for each episode and you’ll see what I mean. I once gave copies of the “Best Of Thunderbirds” DVD to the members of the band Cheap Trick; I’ve never seen grown men so giddy in my life! Hey, we may be getting on in age, but we “grown up kids” will never forget the joys of that series: it STILL rocks!

  4. Yes, indeed we are still around. While there is a difference of opinion about the movie, it is because of it that new attention is being paid to the Thunderbirds. I took my children to see it which gave me the opportunity to say, don’t you want to see the original? I am fairly new to the fan world and was also surprised at how strong it is worldwide.

    There is an old southern saying…”Once a man and woman and twice a child.” I’m riding Thunderbird 1 straight into my second childhood! FAB!

  5. You bet your boots we’re still around!!

    I’m another one of the “First Generation” fans, I was captivated with Thunderbirds when I saw them for the very first time growing up. I will however confess that at the time, I had NO idea they were marionettes. That’s because loyal viewers like myself, will attest to the fact that you very quickly forget that they really are just…..puppets, as they looked and sounded too real!!

    Thunderbirds has also fueled my fascination with other Supermarionation programs, such as ‘STINGRAY’ and ‘CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS’.

    Incidently, my older brother still vividly remembers ‘FIREBALL XL5’ when it aired on NBC in the early 60s.