Thunderbirds are go…

2, 3 & 4 October 2015

I started to type this in the usual chronological order, and then thought: “Why?” So you’ve got a convention posting rather than a date one. And since I know that you’re all wanting to hear what exactly goes on at a Gerry Anderson convention (since Fanderson has a remit that’s wider than just Thunderbirds), so I’ll type this up now and get back to the two previous days later.

I suppose that if that’s the case, I can start with Friday evening.

We arrived at Maidenhead on the train, lugged my case off at the station, and then went in search of the exit. One of the “porters” saw us. “Are you looking for the rear of the station or the exit?”

Pen: “We’re looking for the taxi rank.”

Him: “Ah. Just here.” And he opened the gates, without insisting that we “tag out” with our tickets. (It didn’t matter with these tickets, as, unlike the Oyster card, they were only able to be used on that trip, that day.)

There was a taxi waiting outside, and he helped us bundle our bags into his car, asked if we minded if he continued talking to his friend (he was on a hands free phone), and took us to the Holiday Inn. £5.00.

Things in the Fanderson line were already beginning to happen off to one side as the registrations were already underway. But we went up to the Holiday Inn reception desk and booked in. While we were doing this Dawn, who’s another friend found through Thunderbirds, found us. She and I chatted while Pen sorted out our rooms.

We then lugged our bags up to room 207 (thank heavens for a lift) and offloaded them. With a detour to chat to Chris Thompson. He’s the creator of the excellent “Thunderbirds 2010” fan movie. https://youtu.be/q72SF8ch6FA The graphics are amazing for a 19-year-old.

The acting…

But he remembered me!

And I’m pleased that through his wonderful graphics abilities and his love of Gerry Anderson’s works, he is slowly finding his way into the film industry. I hope he does well.

Time to register for The Future is Fantastic.

The club secretary, Stuart Drummond, had our convention badges neatly laid out in alphabetical order, so it was easy to spot “Sereena Burton”. We were given a bag with a paper that gave us information about the convention, programme times, and layout of the rooms occupied by Fanderson – which turned out to have changed already. We also got a convention booklet, which I haven’t had time to read yet, a packet of cigarette lollies – with Gerry Anderson show related cigarette cards, and some advertising material for one of the books that was going on sale at the convention. Poor Stuart had almost lost his voice by the end of the weekend.

Each convention Fanderson uses the proceeds from the raffles and autograph signings to go towards a special cause or charity. This year it was Children in Need as well as the Alzheimer’s Society, because, in his later years Gerry Anderson suffered from Alzheimer’s and became an ambassador to raise awareness of the disease and money to combat it.

Once we were signed in it was back upstairs to check out our loot, before deciding to avoid the Holiday Inn’s exorbitant prices and try to find something to eat in Maidenhead.

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Photo – thanks to Dawn Cummings

We went back downstairs and had a quick check of the sales room, which wasn’t fully set up yet. As you do at these things, we started talking to one of the attendees – Nic – and as he was alone and this was his first convention, I suggested that he join us.

We walked back towards the railway station and then through into town. The first place we came to was Bell’s pizza place and we decided to chance it. The only problem was, was that it was a Flamin’ Rugby World Cup match evening. Even worse it was New Zealand playing Georgia. (Although I thought it was England to start with as the camera shot showed people waving the cross of St George – I suppose there’s some logic there.) We got there before the start of the match. I stood for New Zealand’s national anthem… Part of it at least.

We sat, chatted, ate our pizza, tried to ignore the rugby (New Zealand was winning) and then walked back in the dark back up to the Holiday Inn. Later I saw that Nic had found some others to chat to. That’s the beauty of conventions like this. We may all be different, but we have something in common that makes striking up a conversation easy.

Often at these conventions, they have something happening the Friday evening, a screening, of an episode or something. We didn’t bother with that and tried to get the WiFi working.

Would you believe that all the little accommodation places that we’ve stayed at have had free WiFi into our rooms (great for blogging), but the Maidenhead Holiday Inn, a hotel that was multiple roomed and multi-storied, insisted that for your 120 hours free WiFi you had to go down to the lounge? If you wanted it in your room you had to pay for it.

I didn’t realise the lounge bit so when I tried to set up the WiFi in the room I figured that by using the five hour (120 minute) option, I have access to the WiFi.

I would. But only if I paid £50 for the pleasure.

I tried to cancel it out of my system, but couldn’t. I tried ringing reception to cancel it, but couldn’t get anyone. So I threw my Thunderbirds jumper over my PJ top (I don’t know why I bring that jumper to conventions. It’s always too warm to wear it indoors), put my shoes on and went downstairs. I explained it to the guy on reception and he said he reversed it.

I then sat in the lounge so I could check my emails and let you all know I’ve arrived safely, and it still kept on signing in with the £50 option and wouldn’t let me sign out and then sign in with the free lounge option.

It wouldn’t let me.

I went back to reception and the guy said it was okay, the £50 option had been cancelled. What I discovered later was that I could still access it in my room, but I was too scared to knowingly use it in case they charged me.

Saturday morning was up, dressed, breakfast (Weetabix and yoghurt that we’d brought as we didn’t fancy paying the £8/$16 breakfast on offer at the Holiday Inn. I’ve realised that the best way to take Weetabix out of the box is over the bathroom sink. Also a note about the Holiday Inn. No clocks in the rooms. I’m already at a loss as to what day it is, I don’t need to lose track of the time as well. And their “fridge” is a chiller set for 16°C. Not great for storing yoghurt or milk.)

There was a quick game of spot the voice artist (“Oh, look! There’s Shane Rimmer!) as we wandered through the lounge to where the opening ceremony was to take place.

We queued outside the room as we waited to be allowed entrance, and this gave us the opportunity to admire the merchandise on offer (Fanderson produced, and also Robert Harrop figurines.) I bought a copy of the club magazine “FAB” #72 as my copy had got soaked in my letterbox and putting it into the deep freeze and then the hot water cupboard hadn’t done much for it. I also got a Thunderbirds patch as the one on Kally’s bear bag is looking rather worn. (So’s her bear bag. She’s put her foot through the bottom.) Actually I’ll probably sew it onto my “Keep Calm and Call International Rescue” bag… Or at least glue it.

After a bit more of “Oh, look! There’s Jeremy Wilkin” and “Step aside, Pen, you’re in David Graham’s way” we were finally allowed inside. And then we had to wait some more as the rest of the attendees filed inside and the organisers got themselves sorted.

I headed straight to the front of the “audience” managing to score seats for Pen, Dawn, and myself in the third row. (The first two were already full.) As I said, I’ve come halfway around the world for this and I’m not going to miss out on anything. I had the end, wall seat, which was great as it meant I could stand up and take photos and not be in anyone’s way.

Finally it started. We were serenaded with the rousing Thunderbirds March accompanied on the big screen by photos from various shows.

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The welcome was done by the club chairman, Nick Williams. And he told us things like how the map in the convention pack was already wrong, along with that the features were being held in the room we were in now, the sales and autograph signings were just outside the room the screenings were going to be held upstairs, as were the model displays (some original, some made by fans), workshops and traders.

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Nick Williams – most of my photos of him either had his eyes shut or mouth open.

He also said that the mark of a good convention is when you go away thinking “I wish I’d done/seen that.”

Success!!

He also said that there were people from around the world attending: Canada, America, Japan, and probably the furthest was New Zealand. A cheer from our little group and my hand up in the air. Apparently there were a couple of ladies from New Zealand who left on Saturday afternoon and some guy – but I never spotted him. There were a lot of people that I would have liked to have spotted. There were quite a few I would have liked to have met!

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Dawn and Pen (I’m no good at portrait photography

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Not a large audience then?

 

The first screenings after the welcome were in the room we were in, so I remained glued to my seat for some “extras” that are on the US DVD of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. There were some new snippets of information, but like a lot of things like that, some repetition of what we already knew.

I next stayed put for Brian Johnson and Mike Trim: part of the special effects team on Thunderbirds.

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Brian Johnson remembering that something was THIS BIG! (Probably an explosion.)

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Mike Trim recollecting

They told us a lot about what it was like working for Century 21 and under the special effect maestro Derek Meddings. (He went on to work on some “Bond” – James Bond and “Superman” films) They also explained how they got the jobs. (Mike Trim as a teenager, having gone to a job interview and been shown models from Stingray. “I can do that.” Which he undoubtably could.)

And, with Brian Johnson at least, how and why they left. He was offered a place in the “2001: A Space Odyssey” crew, and decided that it was time to leave when the Century 21 films crew were filming “Attack of the Alligators”. It’s fairly well known that the baby (about 4’ long) alligators loved the heat and humidity of the studio conditions and were happy to laze about doing nothing. To get them moving 50v welding rods were being held against them to give them a mild shock. Concerned about this, the RSPCA were called in. The inspector, a fan of Thunderbirds, took annual leave to help wrangle the alligators and suggested using 100v. (I think it’s volts and not watts.) As Brian Johnson didn’t like to see animals hurt (I like him!), he left.

After they departed, I stayed put. The second slot was for puppeteers. The most important one out of this group, for Thunderbirds fans at least, was Mary Turner.

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Mary Turner

She chatted about what it was like working on Thunderbirds, said that after the Andersons stopped making “puppet” shows some of them got together and formed their own company. They went on to make ads and shows like “Rupert the Bear” and “The Munch Bunch”. There was also another couple of puppeteers who worked on Terrahawks.

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The puppeteers were so determined to keep everything looking real, and not as if it were puppets, they would spray the wires that supported the marionettes and passed the current to the solenoid that controlled the mouth with anti-flare. This is a type of grease and is the same stuff they use on cars when shooting films and TV shows. This stops the reflection of the film crew showing in the car’s door when they pull up.

Once the wires had been sprayed in anti-flare, they then had the background coloured powder paint puffed onto them (how’s that for alliteration) to hide the wires. This was tricky as they had to line the colour up with the camera shot so you didn’t have a blue line running through the clouds. By the time the wires were right, the marionette or craft below was usually the colour of the backdrop.

Judy Preece from Terrahawks remembered how Christine Glanville, who was the head puppeteer on Thunderbirds, was good at thinking laterally about how they could achieve something. They had an alien that they needed to drool and they wondered how to do it. Christine thought about it and came up with mixing KY Jelly with Swarfega. (Which is probably spelt wrong.)

Then it was the star moment. Mary Turned brought out her original Lady Penelope puppet. Of course we all crowded around to get our photos.

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Fans of all ages attended

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Yes, m’Lady

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I know – you can see the strings. Who cares?

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A very aristocratic lady

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Remaining glued to my seat I awaited the next installment.

The interview with the voice cast of Thunderbirds!!!!

The interviewer, Marcus Hearn (who’s written a number of books on Gerry Anderson and other productions) came to the stage, closely followed by David Graham (Parker/Brains/Gordon Tracy/Kyrano), which created some good-natured laughter from the audience as he was supposed to wait until he was introduced and Marcus looked a little surprised he was there.

But Marcus did manage to introduce the others: Shane Rimmer (Scott Tracy), Jeremy Wilkin (Virgil Tracy – season two), and Matt Zimmerman (Alan Tracy). Matt came on bringing his own chair.

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Shane Rimmer – also explaining how big the explosions were?

This was a highly entertaining segment with the four voice artists bantering amongst themselves and teasing each other as well as with Marcus Hearn. It’s almost like a reunion for them, especially as Jeremy’s only just started attending conventions and signings this year.

I stood up for most of it so I wouldn’t have big heads in the way and could stand against the wall and get some “good” photos.

One of the delightful moments was when Matt Zimmerman and Jeremy Wilkin (Matt’s Canadian, Jeremy: English, but worked in North America) suddenly realised that they’d worked on the same production of A Midsummer Night’s dream at the opening of a new theatre in Canada.

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“I was in this show…”

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“Were you? Me too…”

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“It’s a small world.”

The men also spoke of how they’d been paid £10 per episode and as they recorded three episodes at a time, they’d earn £30 for a Sunday’s work. And that was it. Much later Matt and Shane went to bat for them all and ensured that they got residuals for all the intervening times that Thunderbirds was shown as repeats and around the world. They scored about £30,000 at the time and continuing residuals – which had Matt rubbing his hands together when he realised that there were some other showings he hadn’t been aware of.

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David Graham (l) & Shane Rimmer (r)

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Jeremy Wilkin

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Shane Rimmer and Jeremy Wilkin

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David Graham & Shane Rimmer

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After that we took the opportunity to escape. While the interviewee (Ralph Titterton on the musician Barry Gray’s archives) would have been interesting, it wasn’t a high enough priority for me to stay. I wanted some lunch and I wanted to see some of the other things that were going on.

Well, I got my lunch.

We made sure that we were back downstairs in plenty of time for the next interviewee. Someone who was integral to the early years of Gerry Anderson’s shows, yet had never been to a Fanderson convention. Sylvia Anderson.

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She, of course, was Gerry Anderson’s wife during the early years of his production company. After their acrimonious breakup and divorce he refused to have anything to do with her – and as far as he was concerned, neither could anyone else. This meant that, while he gave Fanderson his full support, he insisted that she not be involved. As he had died three years ago, Fanderson clearly thought that it was time to acknowledge her contribution to the shows – especially as she was the one in charge of characterisation.

Thank heavens they did, as she died in early 2016. I’m glad that we were given the opportunity to demonstrate to her what her contribution to our favourite shows meant to us.

Sylvia Anderson got a standing ovation when she came into the room.

She came in in a wheelchair and was lifted onto the stage. (There were rumours that she’d had a fall and I could see an adhesive bandage on her ankle.)

I started out standing against the wall so I could get photos and then wound up sitting on the floor at the front of the audience so I could see and hear her.

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She was very gracious. Gerry’s name was only mentioned three times and never with any hint of negativity. She told us how she got into the industry and how the company survived in the early days. (She would get a part time job to keep the company afloat.)

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Ian Fryer and Sylvia Anderson

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Nick Williams thanking Sylvia Anderson for more than just appearing at the convention.

Ian Fryer, the interviewer touched on all the shows she was involved with, but, sadly, we still don’t know how she envisaged the age hierarchy of the Tracy Brothers. There is a lot of conflict in published pieces over this – which leads to discussion amongst fans. Is the birth order Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan? Or Scott, Virgil, John, Gordon and Alan? There’s even, if you only take into account what’s seen on screen, an argument for John being the eldest. The only thing that’s truly canon is that Alan’s the youngest.

Like you wanted to know that.

(At one point I saw Nick hovering in Ian’s line of sight with a large 20 on a sheet of paper. Obviously a warning that there were only twenty minutes to go. If she’d been stronger I’m sure they would have gone on for longer.)

After Sylvia’s talk, she left straight afterwards to another standing ovation.

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Nick Williams said later that she had a tear in her eye. She’s probably never had the chance to realise what her contribution means to fans. As Pen says, we’re like the children in an acrimonious divorce.

Nick said later that he had told her that is she wanted to, and felt up to it, she was welcome back on Sunday.

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Both eyes closed AND mouth open!

The next speaker was Alan Shubrook.

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He was one of the model making special effects guys and he let us into some secrets. It’s fairly common knowledge that the palm trees that line Thunderbird Two’s runway were simply attached to a couple of broomsticks, which were twisted in opposite directions to make the trees fall back in that iconic launch sequence. But he let us into another couple of tricks.

In the same sequence the cliff face that conceals Thunderbird Two’s hangar retracts into the ground and then the interior door falls outward to create a platform for the mighty transporter to drive over. The reality is that the cliff door subsided into the set leaving a gap, which Thunderbird Two invariably got caught on. (Like my suitcase – now dubbed Thunderbird Two after Gordon Tracy had got his hands on it and painted it pink with white spots.)

The solution to this problem? Stop filming, pick up Thunderbird Two and place it on the other side of the gap, cut to a shot from another angle, and continue filming.

Another trick also related to Thunderbird Two. Thunderbird Two has four telescopic legs that extend so that the pod that forms her mid-section, and carries the pod vehicles like the Firefly and Mole, can open up to allow whatever technological marvel is inside to trundle forth. It’s not easy to get four telescopic legs to open smoothly and at the same rate.

The solution: Bolt the legs to a panel beneath the set and lower the panel. Thunderbird sinks uniformly and gracefully to the ground.

What other tricks were there?

Pits dug into the floor of the studio so that the camera can film upwards or straight ahead. This was done especially for the special effects studio as Derek Meddings didn’t like filming explosions on rostrums, which had a tendency to shake and spoil the effect that the building or whatever that was now in a million flaming pieces had originally been built on solid ground.

But the puppet stage had these pits too. If you look at the upward looking scenes of Scott Tracy travelling on his gantry across to Thunderbird One, you can see part of a door in the studio wall. It was the door through which the model makers would suddenly have to down tools and dash through should a model break. The door looked suitably utilitarian and from that angle to scale, so why try to hide it?

These were such simple tricks that 40 of the people who worked for Gerry Anderson’s AP Studios and Century 21 went on to do the special effects for Hollywood movies. And not B movies either. Shows like “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Live and Let Die”, “Superman“, “2001: A Space Odyssey” are just a minute selection of blockbusters that had the Gerry Anderson studios touch.

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A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons fan

After this I decided to do a little shopping. Fanderson put out a multitude of products for fans – things like soundtracks, badges, pins, books. I bought the four CD Thunderbirds soundtrack. (I could have bought it online, but the postage was cheaper this way… If you can call $3000 cheaper.)

This was the same area where the voice artists and production team were signing autographs, so I got copies of Alan Shubrook’s and then noticed that Shane Rimmer was leaving. Dawn and I talked to him while he, or more correctly his wife Shelia, got themselves sorted and then they left to go to their room. As they were both dragging trolley suitcases and carrying other items, and were having to push their way through the multitudes buying and getting autographs, I offered to take Shane’s bag for him.

I helped Scott Tracy!

I asked Shelia if she felt like she was protecting him from his groupies.

Shane was in a movie called: “White Nights” with Mikael Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. Baryshnikov, if you don’t know (philistines) is an internationally renowned Russian ballet dancer who defected to America. Gregory Hines is an American tap(?) dancer. Not that Shane’s role involved acting much with either of them.

The movie’s story is that a Russian ballet dancer who defected to the west is on a plane that crashes over Russia. The Russians capture him and try to lure him back to their side for propaganda reasons by getting him to work with Hines’ character, an American who defected to Russia during the Vietnam war. Together, and with Hines’ Russian wife, they attempt to escape Russia. Some great dancing ensues.

I told Shane that I was watching “White Nights” on video once and knew that I’d seen the American Ambassador in another role. But I couldn’t picture him. So I rewound the tape and watched the scene again. I definitely knew the actor, but didn’t know where from. His face was unfamiliar.

Rewind and play again.

Nope.

Rewind and play…

I just happened to look away as the ambassador was speaking and suddenly an image of a heroic man in a blue uniform came to mind.

Scott Tracy!

Shane commented that Baryshnikov was an amazing dancer, and I had to agree with him. If you ever get the chance to see him in a ballet, you’re in for a treat.

That’s Mikael Baryshnikov, not Shane Rimmer. Although he used to be a singer. Rimmer, not Baryshnikov.

We came to the Rimmers’ room and I said that I wouldn’t intrude on their privacy and left Shane’s bag at the door. They said thank you and I said: “International Rescue at your service” … when I was halfway back down the corridor.

I was floating on air all the way to my next destination. So much so that I got lost on the first floor and couldn’t even find my way back to the stairs or a lift.

I eventually found the workshops area where a fan fiction discussion, led by Pen, was being held. Of course I had to tell them all what I’d been up to and who with.

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After we’d finished the workshop (which was very interesting to hear how others write) we decided to check out the model room.

Wow!

Some of those on display were original puppets, costumes, and studio models, but many had been made by enthusiasts.

Talented enthusiasts.

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Of course not all of these were from Thunderbirds. There were some from Stingray, Space 1999, UFO, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons etc.

David Sissons who is an awesome model maker, let me hold FAB1, Lady Penelope’s Rolls Royce. I could have held any of them, but thought Thunderbird Two was a little too large. Besides, pink’s my colour.

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At the last Fanderson convention, they had had a disco where everyone was encouraged to dress in fancy dress. This was kind of before “cosplay” became “fashionable” (if you like wearing funny clothes and having people stare at you. I’d rather they did that when I was in funny clothes.) Because of this I’d made my costume for the disco look.’

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“Marina… Aqua Marina…”

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Pen went as a sixties chick – after all, Thunderbirds was made in the 1960s.

A few days before I left New Zealand we were told that Fanderson had been let down by two DJs and that they were trying to find another. Once I was here I received a bulk email saying that there was going to be a buffet dinner on Saturday night.

And a very nice buffet dinner it was too. The Holiday Inn was to be commended for putting it on at such short notice, and it was also good that we were supplied something to eat instead of, like last time, having to fend for ourselves before the party kicked off.

It’s here that I’ll put in what has to be my only complaint about the Fanderson “The Future is Fantastic” convention. Thunderbirds is 50-years-old this year. That’s the reason why I forked out a huge sum of cash and girded myself up to travel alone halfway around the world. And yet the only obvious acknowledgement of this momentous occasion was that the first episode, “Trapped in the Sky” was played on Friday evening at the same time that it was first broadcast on the 30th September 1965.

I know there were attendees for whom Thunderbirds isn’t the be all and end all, (we shared a table on Saturday night with a group of “Captain Scarlet and the Mysteron” fans and a “UFO” stalwart), but it would have been nice if more had been made of Gerry Anderson’s greatest show. Even if it was only a “Happy 50th birthday” banner in the buffet room or party hats, it would have been fun.

Anyway. I wore my fancy dress that I’d spent ages (and money) cobbling together back in New Zealand.

I went as Thunderbird One.

Thunderbird One

A bit ironic really as most of the fans liked Thunderbirds because of the craft, but would wear the costumes of the characters, whereas I love the characters and went as one of the craft.

Having said that I also made Kally an outfit out of felt and ribbon (it’s all glued together). But I’m not a sewer, although I nearly encountered one later on, so she had to sit in her seat so her uniform wouldn’t fall off.

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Remembering that I had to carry this halfway around the world I had to plan my costume with care. Thunderbird One’s grey body was a dress and I pinned the rocket stabilising fins/bow ties and the name to it. This way I (almost) had the look I wanted, but if I ever needed a dress to go anywhere I had a respectable one with me. Even if the colour was a bit dull and boring – and not pink! Still, pink and grey go well together, so I could have got some accessories to brighten it up.

The blue cargo bay / power plant section of the rocket plane (thank you, Graham Bleathman) was a plastic table cloth, with the number one glued to it. At least if I spilled my dinner onto it, I could wipe it off. The word “Thunderbird” was a length of organza ribbon with each individual, typeface-accurate, laminated letter glued to it. The blue wing trims were the offcuts of the blue backing behind the bow ties. The nose cone was a polystyrene cone covered in red satin and sewed to a grey headband.

But what I was hoping would put my outfit above the usual store-bought, professionally produced-looking International Rescue uniforms, was that I’d bought some EL wire in red, orange, and yellow. EL wire is a flexible wire that is coated in phosphorous and glows when a current (two AAA batteries for each colour) passes through it. I had each colour either glowing steadily or else pulsing at a different rate to simulate flames. My one concern was that LA customs might x-ray my bag, take one look at the image of wires, connectors and batteries, and not allow it, and me, through!

The glowing wires, coupled with an old net curtain for smoke with a “belt” slid through the curtain’s curtain wire hem to make it strong enough to hold the EL wires’ battery boxes, was supposed to represent Thunderbird One’s rockets flaring.

It would have looked great on a darkened dance floor. Hidden under a dining table? Less so.

My outfit wasn’t perfect, especially after the “wardrobe malfunction” where the glue holding the number “1” on my outer skirt hadn’t held and the “1” had fallen off. Fortunately I’d bought safety pins earlier for such an eventuality.

Another wardrobe malfunction was when I finally took my choker necklace off on Sunday evening and discovered that I’d been wearing it inside out. We tend to blame Gordon Tracy when things like that happen, as he’s supposed to be a bit of a joker. But no one would have noticed. They probably didn’t even notice the colour scheme of the necklace.

Kewsion

I’d made this necklace myself using macramé string in the colours of the Tracy boys’ sashes, plus pink for Lady Penelope – I can’t be without my pink – and then had looped a “Kewsion” Scott Tracy through it. (Kewsion means the fusion between a kewpie doll and a character. Scott Tracy’s the pilot of Thunderbird One and has the blue trim – although it’s a bit greeny here.)

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Photo – Pen Turner. I’m not into selfies.

Despite that I got quite a few smiles and a “that’s the best Thunderbird One I’ve seen,” from Chris Thompson, so I was happy with the effect.

Even if the headband with Thunderbird One’s nose cone gave me a headache.

Matt Zimmerman drew the day’s raffle prizes and Dawn, who’d been complaining that the only thing she’d ever won was a teddy bear and that she didn’t know what she was going to do with it, won the soundtrack to the two Thunderbirds movies – “Thunderbirds are Go” (not the new TV series) and “Thunderbird Six.”

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Our table toasted Thunderbirds’ birthday.

After the, as I said, excellent dinner, Nick Williams gave us through a quiz on Gerry Anderson’s shows. As we’d all been at the fan fiction workshop, our table formed one group: “The Writers.”

I want to say that I enjoyed the quiz, I really do, but I only know Thunderbirds and so it was hard to even guess the answers. As I said the others at our table were also Thunderbirds fans, or Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons fans, and our UFO fan left before it really kicked off, so we were stuck. Coupled with the fact that some (read a hang of a lot) of the questions were very hard (could you recognise a clock that appeared on screen for about five seconds on the first episode?) even questions relating to our shows were impossible. And with the quiz finishing about 11.30pm (Pen bailed about 10.30) we were all tired and it was hard to keep the enthusiasm up.

We came last.

But there was humour. The voice artists and others had joined us for the dinner. One of the questions showed a bit of a console that had appeared on Space 1999 (or was it UFO?) and we had to guess what show and even which episode it was from. (I said the quiz was hard.) Jeremy Wilkin had sat at that piece of set all through filming, and even he didn’t recognise it.

That was probably about when Nick realised that he may have overestimated the attendees’ knowledge. But I’m not going to complain. As I said they’d been planning a disco and had been let down. He’d probably spent hours putting it together in desperation (and it looked like hours too. The production was excellent.)

The next morning was the same breakfast – with 16°C yoghurt. Just as well it’s, as Stephen Fry says, “Milk that’s gone off big time styley” Or was that cheese?

Anyway.

Sunday.

I decided that, having dragged it halfway around the world, I was going to wear my Thunderbird One costume again –sans smoke and flames.

After the same breakfast as Saturday’s (the warm yoghurt was holding up well) we settled in for the day’s entertainment. Once again the convention was launched with the Thunderbirds March and the montage of clips.

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The first interviewee of the day was Terry Adler. He’d grown up watching Thunderbirds and really wanted to work in films – despite his guidance councillor telling him that wasn’t an option for boys from Slough. (His mates used to pinch props from Gerry Anderson’s studios – it was that kind of neighbourhood and why the guidance councillor was trying to lower his expectations. Despite that he wound up working, not only in the art department for Gerry Anderson, but also being a carpentry assistant on “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Apparently there’s a scene where there is a pit of snakes, and the camera was filming through a hole in the “roof” down onto these snakes. Some of the snakes were artificial and Terry’s job was to lie out of shot, and pull at a fake snake in the hope that it would encourage the live snakes to move.

He was lying on the floor, pulling at the rubber snake. He felt something touch him on the shoulder.

He turned and looked…

A boa constrictor looked back at him. It then slithered down his body and into shot.

That cured his fear of snakes.

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The next speakers were Mike Nobel and Graham Bleathman. Mike Nobel was the comic drawer for the early “Countdown” magazines that included strips from early Anderson productions – “Fireball XL5” and “Supercar”. He’d be sent a script, would spend the week drawing the comic to go with it, and would then send the finished work back to London on the train.

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Mike Nobel

I liked him. He just seemed to be happy.

Graham Bleathman is a more recent artist who has provided “cutaway” drawing of various craft including each of the Thunderbirds. That is he’d draw a picture of the craft with the side removed and then draw in the detail of the interior. Things like the layout of the pilot’s cabin, where the grabs were housed, what the machine was made out of and how Thunderbird Two engaged with its pod. Each section was annotated with a caption explaining what it was in more detail. A lot of his drawings have been put together in a book, which is an excellent fan fiction research tool. (I frequently dip into it.) When asked about the science and mechanics behind his drawings and captions he responded. “It’s called – Making it up.” I bought one of his drawings and got him to sign it later on.

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Graham Bleathmam

The next speaker was Keith Shackleton. (I had a conversation with him and his wife afterwards and held her newspaper for her when she was having her photo taken.) He’d known Gerry Anderson as they’d been friends since they’d been in the Air Force together just after WWII. He was clearly was the brains behind much of the marketing. Things like the TV21 comics that were produced like a newspaper and dated 100 years into the future. “Dateline 2065. Thunderbird Two doomed!” the headline would cry and enthusiastic readers would rush to find out what was had happened to their favourite craft.

He also dealt with Dinky who made some of the earliest, and best, toys. He was bemused one day to go to the factory and find row after row of blue Thunderbird Two’s rolling off the production line.

“But Thunderbird Two’s green.”

“We’ve done market research and children don’t like green toys.”

I’ve got a blue Thunderbird Two and numerous green ones.

Being Gerry Anderson’s friend firstly, and then becoming friends with Sylvia Anderson when she and Gerry got together, he found it very hard to see them break up. It became even harder when Gerry told him that he wasn’t to see Sylvia anymore. Keith refused. The pair never spoke again.

This interview, like them all, was supposed to last for an hour. It was so interesting, and as he’d never been at a Fanderson convention before, the team flagged away a screening of a UFO episode, which I wouldn’t have bothered watching anyway, and kept him talking.

At some point during the day I had to make a pit stop. I’d discovered that there were public toilets just off reception, so I made use of those. Remember that I was in my Thunderbird One costume… Which decided to reenact a scene from “The Uninvited” and crash. One of my wing (wrist) panels (blue bands) decided to pop off…

And fall straight into the (used) toilet.

I grabbed it as quickly as I could, gave it a wash, and sealed it into a sanitary bag. (Luckily the Holiday Inn had some handy.) For the rest of the day, Thunderbird One was flying off balance. Of course it was after this that people started asking me if they could take my photograph. Why didn’t they do that last night when I had the smoke and flames as well?

Fanderson convention Sereena and Virgil

Thanks to Dawn Cummings for the photo.

By this time it was about 3.00pm and I hadn’t had my lunch yet. (Pen had nipped next door to the service station and got us sandwiches. Thank heavens I hadn’t paid for the hotel’s buffet lunch.) My intention was to head upstairs for a bite, but I had to get Jeremy Wilkin’s autograph. Five years ago I made an autograph book which had photos of Alan Tracy (for Matt Zimmerman’s autograph), Scott Tracy (Shane Rimmer), Gordon Tracy/Brains/Kyrano/Parker (David Graham), but because no one representing Virgil was going to be there, I didn’t do his picture. However, as he’s my favourite, I did put a photo of him holding a photo of D.C. and me in our Victorian costumes on the cover. Why not get him to autograph that!? So he did. Right across D.C. and me.

I got talking to Dawn and Glo Thorogood. Glo is the lucky owner of a wonderful, accurate, not frowning, replica Virgil puppet. (I’m sooooo jealous.)

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Glo and my hero

She brings him to every event and dresses him up in different outfits for different occasions. For the Barry Gray concert he wore a tux, complete with scarlet cummerbund (made out of ladies’ knickers. I don’t know that he was impressed.) At the last convention the disco had a “Four Feather Falls” theme and he was dressed like a cowboy.

The mascot for Children in Need is Pudsey (I may have that slightly wrong) the bear and he wears a multi-coloured polka dot bandage over one eye. In his honour, Virgil was in his International Rescue uniform, but instead of his traditional yellow trim, was wearing a polka dotted sash, belt and boot tops. He was gorgeous!

(But then he is anyway.)

Especially with his hand turned up as if he were begging. Glo put a biscuit in his hand. Dawn gave him a coin for Children in Need.

 

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Glo was telling us that when she was starting out with her attempts at puppetry, Christine Glanville, who was the head puppeteer on Thunderbirds and others, came to dinner one night, bringing an original Scott Tracy puppet. She left him with Glo for a week to practise on. Glo was gobsmacked that Christine would trust her with such a valuable piece of memorabilia.

At the buffet last night Glo had turned up in the costume of Grandma Tracy from the new CGI/models series of Thunderbirds Are Go! Grandma in this is universally disliked by the existing Thunderbirds fan base and is portrayed as being unable to cook, even though we all know that the REAL Grandma Tracy is an excellent cook. (Especially of apple pies.) So Glo was wondering around in a purple velour track suit, purple glasses, and a grey wig that had had the strands glued together to replicate the artificialness of the CGI versions hair. (I didn’t realise it was her.) It’s one of the things that’s wrong with the new series (and I like the show). Gerry Anderson and his crew struggled to make the series look as real life as possible. This new series tries to make them look like puppets.

Glo also had some biscuits that she had made (to show that Grandma CAN cook) and was selling them for a donation to the two charities. (Eventually over £1000 pounds was raised over the weekend.) She also had, since she was acting out Thunderbirds Are Go! and not Thunderbirds, a Thunderbirds Are Go! Virgil soft toy instead of her “real” one to accompany her to the dinner.

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I bought a biscuit. Grandma CAN cook.

Wondering around on Sunday, as well as Thunderbird One and Marina, we had a WASP captain (Stingray), an Angel (Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons), a few Scotts and Virgils, and the alien that always turns up for the evening’s festivities.

Later we had another chat with Glo and got photos of Virgil cuddling Kally. (We didn’t have a Pudsey bear). And Pen cuddling Virgil, and Dawn cuddling Virgil, and Lorraine cuddling Virgil, and…

Fanderson convention Virgil and Kally

And Virgil cuddling Kally

 

And I got to hold him and try to make him do what I want too… Which is pretty much what I do with my fan fiction writing.

Sadly, it was all over. We had the closing ceremony, Nick Williams thanked all the guests, thanked everyone who worked behind the scenes, thanked the Maidenhead Holiday Inn, and thanked everyone who attended. And then said goodbye to us all. He seemed a little emotional. But that could be because, as he told us at some point over the weekend, Anderson Entertainment, (which is run by Jamie Anderson, Gerry – but not Sylvia – Anderson’s son), has threatened Fanderson with legal action. So to play it safe, nothing from Terrahawks was shown. Obviously I only know a limited amount of one side of the story, but it seems a strong line to take against a group for fans run by an even smaller group of volunteers, when his dad was such a strong supporter.

Nick didn’t know if there would be another convention, after all everyone’s getting older, especially the guests. (The Thunderbirds voice artists are all in their 80s.) But he wished everyone well.

Later I made a point of thanking him for what was a wonderful weekend and well worth travelling halfway around the world for.

My regrets? That I didn’t get a photo of me in my Thunderbird One costume with Shane Rimmer, the voice of Thunderbird One’s pilot. And that I didn’t get to talk with Matt Zimmerman and David Graham. Okay, so that’s two (three) regrets. And I didn’t get the chance to really show off my costume in all its fiery glory. (Four.)

One other “regret”, which you can’t really call it that, is that we didn’t have a fire drill in the middle of the night. My PJ top (which is supposed to be one size fits all, but Pen reckons is “one size fits many inside”) says “Keep calm and call International Rescue” and it would be “fun” to be outside waiting for the fire brigade…

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Glo tells the story of the time her car broke down and the AA men got such a kick out rescuing Virgil Tracy in the back seat.

After it was all over, and we were feeling a little down because it was all over and we’d had such fun, Pen and I (having become human and not a Thunderbird again) went down to the lounge so we could catch up on our emails. Pen needed to be near a power point, so we asked if we could join a man, Lewis, who was already sitting there. His wife, Emma, and a fellow fan, Richard, had already claimed the other seats, but we were welcome to pull up more.

Both Lewis and Richard are real fans. Richard showed off the Japanese book he’d got that was the holy grail of Thunderbirds collecting as it had photos unseen anywhere else. But he had to leave to catch his train.

Lewis was astonished when one of the traders came in, dumped a whole lot of Thunderbirds display stuff (mainly the 2004 movie from what I could see) in his lap and told him to enjoy it. We really enjoyed the delight on Lewis’ face.

(I had bought a Virgil pin off this trader. I could have had one with a pink background or a yellow – Virgil’s sash colour – background. Guess which colour I chose.)

The emailing got more or less put to one side after we started chatting. (Although I did keep delving into EOS to look things up – the ages of the voice artists, the YouTube video address for Chris Thompson’s “Thunderbirds 2010” video, the Swinton ad that was wrong because FAB1 was clamped for not being warranted, when because it’s a pre-1970 model it didn’t have to be.) Dawn joined us and we all had a good chat. By this time it was too late to wander back to the pizza place so we decided to eat in the restaurant. Because of my late lunch I wasn’t that hungry so I had side dishes of vegetables, “rustic fries” (which looked like ordinary chips), and garlic bread. I led a toast to Fanderson (which I hope the Fanderson team heard as they were eating nearby), which this led on to one to Gerry Anderson.

Unexpectedly Lewis and Emma offered to pay for our dinner, which was accepted with thanks and much appreciated.

It was wonderful being together with other fans. Probably the best part of the whole weekend.

I think that’s everything to report about the convention, although I’ll probably think of other stuff as I go along. (I’ve already done that. I’d finished typing all this Monday night, put the light out, and thought of two things I had to add. I know I’ve added one of them…)

In 2010 I sat in a room to listen to a talk given by Shane Rimmer, with Glo (and Virgil) sitting behind me. Then I exclaimed “I’ve got Scott Tracy in front of me and Virgil Tracy behind me. I’m in heaven!”

This time I was able to say that I’ve held BOTH Scott Tracy and Virgil Tracy!

Fanderson convention Sereena and Shane Rimmer

Photo – Dawn Cummings

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Photo – Pen Turner

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(And the number of people who have got my dirty look because they asked if I was Australian! At least some had the sense to say: “Which part of the antipodes are you from?”)

;-

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