I know I obsessed about the Gerry Anderson futures when I was 11, when they turned on colour TV on Jersey and the first programme I watched in colour was an episode of Thunderbirds that was being broadcast when they were testing the new colour transmitter. I read the old Century 21 annuals, and traced out the Thunderbirds blueprints, building my own Tracy Island from Lego years before the playsets became a Christmas hit. It resonated with me as I unsoldered my first radio, scraping paint of germanium transistors to make my own opto-electronics sensors.
And this is why: Thunderbirds was engineering fiction, writ on a grand scale.
Ellis hits it out of the ballpark with this paragraph:
But here's the important bit. Not that the stuff in Thunderbirds breaks and people need to be rescued - but that people thought of and built that stuff in the first place. Plans to move the entire Empire State building; nuclear-powered irrigation plants; rocket fuel derived from seawater; sending a crewed space probe to the Sun itself to steal a chunk of solar matter. That's some big thinking - like something I'd find in Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG Book. As with all great children's fiction, it trades in vast, demented concepts - all presented as things people have thought of. That is incredibly important: immense and very beautiful ideas as solutions to problems. And those solutions just happen to be variable- geometry rocket-planes and VTOL megacarriers and space stations tricked out like 1950s ideal robot homes of the future. (Thunderbird 5, it does look a bit like it has wood panelling down its sides.)It's why I became an engineer, why I worked on projects that would throw lumps of metal at kilometres a second, on radar statios that could detect aircraft taking off and landing in Japan from the middle of Australia. It's the big projects, the breaking-the-rules projects, the changing-the-world ideas.
I may just write about them now, but they're always there, those big ideas.
And now the new Japanese Prime Minister is calling for the UN to create a Thunderbirds-like service.
“A good idea came up. We should have the UN call for the creation of something like ‘Thunderbirds’.”He'd get my vote.