When the first 26-episode season of Gerry Anderson's epic Supermarionation series Thunderbirds premiered on British television in October 1965, public response was so phenomenal that financiers and distributors ITC Entertainment, in the person of its enigmatic chairman, Lew Grade, immediately commissioned a second series. It was during discussions for shooting the second series that Anderson suggested to Grade that the logical progression would be to do a feature film based on the series that could be shot back-to-back with the new television episodes. Grade agreed and the budget was set at £250,000.
Production on both Thunderbirds Are Go and the second series of Thunderbirds began at the Century 21 Studios in Slough in February 1966. The voice cast from the first series was reassembled for recording the dialogue, with only one noticeable exception: David Holliday, who had provided the voice for Thunderbird 2 pilot Virgil Tracy in the first season, had returned to his native America and was, therefore, unable to continue his role. He was replaced by Canadian actor Jeremy Wilkin who subsequently voiced Captain Ochre in Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons and the Bishop in The Secret Service, and went on to appear in a regular role (as Lt. Gordon Maxwell) in UFO.
The cast were joined by guest vocalists Paul Maxwell (who had previously provided the voice of Colonel Steve Zodiac in Fireball XL5), Charles Tingwell (later heard as Dr. Fawn in Captain Scarlet) and Bob Monkhouse, best-known at the time as the host of Sunday Night At The London Palladium- shortly after recording his Thunderbirds role he replaced Jackie Rae on ATV's The Golden Shot, turned the failing series into a teatime hit and went on to become Britain's most popular (and highest-paid) game show host.
The most unusual additions to the cast of Thunderbirds Are Go were Cliff Richard, Hank Marvin, Brian Bennett, Bruce Welch and John Rostill, collectively known as Cliff Richard and The Shadows, whose puppet replicas made cameo appearances during a dream sequence. Richard was a close neighbor of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson at their holiday home in Portugal and were talking one day when the Andersons asked if Richard might be interested in making an 'appearance' in the movie. Backed by The Shadows, Richard performed a new song, "Shooting Star", for the film, and the group also performed an instrumental track, "Lady Penelope", in their unique style.
Thunderbirds Are Go was the first feature film to be shot using the Livingston Electronic Viewfinder Unit, also known as Add-a-Vision. This was basically an electronic viewfinder that could be used in conjunction with a Mitchell BNC Camera to take a television picture directly from the camera, enabling the staff of the entire unit to watch any scene being filmed on the television monitors. In this way, all members of the unit could study the set-up for any particular shot without moving the camera operator, and all the monitored pictures could be recorded on tape and played back to the director to check that a take was satisfactory.
By the time the film opened in December 1966, Anderson and his Century 21 team had moved on to production of a new Supermarionation television series, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons- unable to sell Thunderbirds in America after a three-way bidding war between the US networks collapsed, Grade had canceled the second season after just six episodes in favor of an all-new series. In the sole example of cross-series continuity in any of the Gerry Anderson productions, the MEV portion of Zero X from Thunderbirds Are Go made a guest appearance in The Mysterons, Captain Scarlet's pilot episode.
The feature film premiere on December 12th, 1966 at the London Pavilion was a massive success and executives at United Artists, the film's distributors, told Anderson that they anticipated that the Thunderbirds film series would soon rival James Bond. Unfortunately, the film proved to be a box office disaster, and United Artists were so surprised and confused by its failure that they put it down to a fluke and immediately commissioned a second film.
Thunderbirds Are Go Production Information
Traditional, Hand-drawn Animation.
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