Monday January 8, 2018
Of all the great and wonderful cars to bear the Spirit of Ecstasy, one coach built Rolls-Royce achieved immortality. Road conditions in the year 2060 were often challenging, especially as The Hood was prone to make commuting a tiresome business with his fiendish plans https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrtzV8R6AGE. Naturally, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward naturally demanded only the best in motor cars and FAB 1 was a Rolls Royce that was just right for every occasion. The body and tyres were bullet proof, the specification included a hydrofoils, skis, and machine cannons fore and aft and at the rear were a television camera, a quartet of harpoon launchers and a pair of laser cannons. A dignified exit and egress were afforded by a retractable canopy while the gas turbine engine was capable of a top speed in the region of 300 mph.
When AP Films was planning its latest ‘Supermarionation’ show Thunderbirds, the film special effects genius Derek Meddings created a vehicle that became a part of television history. He opted for twin front axles - not for ‘any technical reason. It was just done for the appearance’ and Sylvia Anderson, who voiced Lady Penelope, selected the pink coachwork. Sketches were sent to Crewe, who gave permission for the programme to use the iconic name on FAB 1 – Meddings later recalled that ‘their only stipulation was that we always had to refer to it as a “Rolls-Royce”, never a “Rolls”’. The production team acquired a full-sized radiator grille for £100 for the close-up shots as it was thought this would be cheaper and easier to light than a scale miniature. The seven-foot long model was largely made from plywood and for ease of filming FAB 1 could be steered and the lighting was via battery powered bicycle units. The overall cost was in the region of £2,500 - more than the price of a brand-new Jaguar Mk. X.
And so, on 30th September 1965, Peter Dyneley’s famous announcement was heard for the very first time. As with AP Films’ previous series Stingray, Thunderbirds was filmed in colour with the US market in mind but British fans would not be able to fully appreciate the pink coachwork, as ITV would not transmit its programmes in full spectrum until late 1969. Even then many children would not be able to fully appreciate FAB I in action as black and white TV sets remained the norm until as recently as 1977
Lady Penelope was often seen at the wheel of FAB 1 as part of her role of International Rescue’s London Agent and she was assisted by her butler and chauffeur Aloysius "Nosey" Parker. The latter spoke in a cockney voice from the Dick Van Dyke/EastEnders school of dialects and had an entertaining past - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXgcLk6jOwg. Scenes such as this are just one reason why Thunderbirds became a global television phenomenon and one of my other favourite moments is this thrilling chase, not least because one of the villains does look like Mr. Meeker from Rentaghost.
Thunderbirds ran for two seasons, 32 episodes and the spin-off films Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6. The reason why FAB 1 abides in the memory after more than five decades is the same why reason which the programme is a bona fide classic of British television – it was created with flair, genuine artistry and, yes, integrity. ‘Yes M’Lady’. And - ‘F A B’.