If you can stand a little more Baby Boomer nostalgia, I wanted to note the passing last week of Sylvia Anderson, known in some quarters as “the Queen of Sci-Fi.” I knew and loved her as Lady Penelope.
Sylvia, with her husband Gerry, created “The Thunderbirds,” a one-of-a-kind British series produced between 1964-1966 with an all marionette cast. The couple pioneered the art of "Super-Marionation,” (electronic puppets) to which “South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone paid homage with “Team America: World Police.”
With its marionette characters, their strings endearingly in plain sight, and way-cool supersonic vehicles and space-age gadgets, each hour-long "Thunderbirds" episode played like a mini-James Bond film.
The series followed the futuristic adventures of International Rescue, led by former astronaut Jeff Tracey and manned by his five sons, who pilot the five Thunderbirds aircraft (“Thunderbirds are go,” is as an iconic sci-fi declaration as “Klaatu barada nikto”). I formed my own live-action Thunderbirds squadron with classmates on the playgrounds of Wayne Thomas Elementary School.
Lady Penelope, voiced by Sylvia, aided the Tracey family on the ground. Lady Penelope was glamorous (she smoked and drank!) and unflappable. She was squired around in her signature pink Rolls Royce by her devoted chauffeur, Parker (“Yes, milady").
The Andersons created other series beloved in cult sci-fi circles, among them, “Supercar,” “Fireball XL5,” and the live-action Space: 1999” with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. There is a fan club in their honor: Fanderson.
Despite the passing of Gerry in 2012 and now Sylvia, the Thunderbirds are not gone. There is a computer-animated reboot currently on the air that has received critical acclaim. But it’s not the same. It’s a generational prejudice; I feel bad for the kids who have only experienced Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon characters in their contemporary computer-animated incarnations. There’s something missing; call it a soul.
When my son came to be the age I was when I discovered “The Thunderbirds,” I wondered if the show’s retro charms would translate in a then-Pokemon world. Thanks to home video, I was able to show him an episode. I was thrilled with his verdict: “"I wish they still made Thunderbirds." Try it with your kids in tribute to Sylvia Anderson.
Rest in peace, m’lady.