Whether you were a fan of the original Thunderbirds TV series in the 1960s or you caught one of its spin-offs or re-runs over the years, it’s fair to say the cult show is a British institution. Created by husband and wife team, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the science fiction series was produced from 1964 to 1966.
The plot follows the adventures of the Tracy family, whose five brothers are members of a secret organisation called International Rescue. Saving lives using high-tech Thunderbird vehicles equipped for land, sea, air and even outer space, the crew sets off on each mission accompanied by the famous saying, “Thunderbirds are go!”
Making its debut on 30th September 1965, the show was picked up by the ITV franchises Westward, ATV Midlands and Channel. The following month, it was also broadcast by Granada and ATV London.
Created using a series of elaborate puppets called super-marionettes, it was the Andersons’ most successful series, achieving commercial and critical success and winning the Royal Television Society Silver Medal for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in 1966.
The brand spawned two full-length feature films, Thunderbirds Are Go in 1966 and Thunderbird 6 in 1968, distributed by United Artists. Then, in the 1980s, Thunderbirds’ episodes were re-edited by New York-based ITC and made into compilation films called “Super Space Theatre” for American cable television.
In 1993, plans for a live-action film were revealed, resulting in the release of Thunderbirds in 2004, starring Bill Paxton and Ben Kingsley. After Gerry Anderson’s death in 2012, ITV Studios was given permission to remake Thunderbirds using modern computer-generated imagery, combined with live-action sets. The new series, called Thunderbirds Are Go, was screened by ITV in 2015.
Apart from the Tracy brothers, there were many other popular characters who appeared constantly in Thunderbirds, such as Lady Penelope. She was the daughter of the aristocratic Creighton-Ward family, who became a secret agent as a young adult, hiding her double life behind her career as a supermodel and celebrity.
She enjoyed the perks of her upper-class lifestyle, including attending a Swiss finishing school and living in a luxurious mansion, where she was looked after by her ever-present butler, Parker, who was also the chauffeur. Aloysius Parker was often seen driving his employer’s customised, pink Rolls Royce, with the registration plate, FAB 1, but he was secretly an International Rescue field agent.
The London-born butler has a colourful past. Speaking with a Cockney accent, he attempts to disguise it at times, in particular when he utters his famous catchphrase, “Yes, m’lady,” to Lady Penelope. He is known to be a reformed criminal, as in his youth he was a safe-cracker and cat burglar! Penelope saved him from his criminal lifestyle by recruiting him to assist her espionage activities.
Skills gained when he was a safe-cracker help Parker to survive in the world of international espionage and he is shown utilising some unusual implements during his daredevil antics, such as using a stethoscope rather than a modern detector to crack a safe in one episode.
The butler also enjoys the high life himself and has a connoisseur-like taste for fine champagne. He also has a comic element, as in one episode, he takes a bottle of vintage champagne from Penelope and swops it for tonic water without her knowledge. He and his friend, a fellow chauffeur, drink the entire bottle and later, Lady Penelope discovers Parker in a drunken slumber!
When he awakes – although still slurring and hiccupping – Parker tells his boss that he stole the champagne because it was a shame not to, seeing as it was from such a good year!
Parker’s legendary status led to him appearing alongside Lady Penelope in a series of comic adverts for the Halifax bank in 2017, in which the butler wins £500,000 in a prize draw. Instead of collecting his employer’s new dress for the races, cleaning the mansion and polishing the car as requested, he absconds and can be found sunning himself on a tropical beach.
In the advert, Parker’s companion is the beautiful Aqua Marina, who was portrayed as a mermaid in the Thunderbirds series. As she skis in the beautiful blue ocean, she waves to Parker as he sits on the beach sipping cocktails!
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