Thursday, 31 January 2013

Calling International Rescue: The Haynes Thunderbirds Agents' Technical Manual

Back in the early 90's, the UK was swept up in a second wave of Thunderbirds mania which saw the UK children's programme Blue Peter overwhelmed for its plans to build a home-made Tracy Island and a branded comic on newsagent shelves.

While the comic contained the usual array of picture stories it also included cutaways of the Thunderbirds and associated vehicles. They were great - but Haynes' latest addition to their sci-fi/fantasy range raises the bar to another level.

Introduced by family patriarch Jeff Tracy, this sets its launch bay out to be the definitive technical guide to the world of the Thunderbirds TV series and the work of the late, great Gerry Anderson. The result is impressive to say the least.

An initial section sets the scene nicely by introducing us to the world of 2065, namedropping several of the vehicles and incidents that would prove extremely memorable over the course of the series. Not to give too much away but there's mention of the Fireflash, the Sun Probe and the infamous moving of the Empire State Building within a matter of pages which builds a wonderful vision of a world of amazing technological advance which would have been 100 years distant when Gerry Anderson developed his landmark programme.

Courtesy of Haynes Publishing
Once we're well and truly ensconced in 2065, author Sam Denham provides a wonderful section detailing the conception of International Rescue and build up to their first mission. We discover what made Jeff pick the location, learn how Brains came on board to develop the striking craft and just what made Lady Penelope stand out as the perfect secret agent. Now I've not been a massive fan of Thunderbirds so for the average fan/viewer so this background "fill in" is most welcoming although many life-long fans may already have quite a good understanding of this information. It's nicely set but once you're into the main bulk of the book it stands out because it's the only section with a true narrative style. One image that does stand out in this early section is Thunderbird 2 under construction which is a great addition and perhaps it would have been nice to see more of these instead of stills from the series.
Courtesy of Haynes Publishing

From page 16 onwards though we begin a slow and fairly seamless transition into the more technical aspect of the manual with an overview of the Tracy Island retreat and some of its key interiors. The diagrams here are particularly detailed - much more so than in the aforementioned Thunderbirds comic from the 1990's. Graham Bleathman has done an incredible job and it just gets better. The remainder of the section covers the launch bays of the four Earth-based craft and the classic ways in which the pilots were delivered to their vehicles as they prepared for action. Bleathman's illustrations nicely cross-reference each other here as launch system chutes and monorail tracks criss-cross beneath the Tracy Villa. Somehow it brings everything together, making it ever more realistic that everything is packed into such a tight area. Besides that, we have reference to emergency escape routes, systems to remove exhaust fumes as well as the location of fire suppression systems and launch control rooms.  How many still camera shots these guys poured over to get this kind of intricacy I can only imagine. Some sections are "not seen before" such as the outer bays for the loading of TB2's pods and the extra areas of Brains' laboratory; these additions fill in some of the blanks as to how things "really" worked in this environment. There's even the nearby emergency launch base of Mateo Island to explore - just there in case things go wrong at HQ.

There's no narrative section with each picture, only a brief introduction to note what you're looking at but your time with this book will be more than accounted for linking the expansive key accompanying each illustration to its relevant location. Following the dissection of the island base the remainder of the manual is devoted to vehicles - initially Thunderbirds 1 through 5, each with their own sections, then Secondary Vehicles covering many carried by Thunderbird 2 to the danger zone during the series. Notably here we also have some lesser-remembered craft including the Ladybird jet and the BR2 Lightning 505 car. 
Courtesy of Haynes Publishing

There are two distinct angles within the pages which cover the vehicles. Bordered with (brief) pilot profiles, we get, once more, very detailed and cross-referenced diagrams of each one from numerous angles, covering every aspect of its inards in black and white (see the Mole example; right)but what really fascinated me and made this book that little bit special is that Graham Bleathman has retained a 60's feel to Gerry Anderson's creations. Alongside those cutaway schematics we have "period" drawings (as Thunderbirds 3,4 and 5 shown here). These are a great addition to the book as the authors could have chosen to take a more modern view on the writing and illustrations (not in the frame of the notorious movie I might add) and CGI'd everything. Giving it the 60's pastel-finish sets them perfectly besides the colour stills from the series which provide addition memory refreshers of how the techie stuff we're reading about fitted into the series.  Interestingly they have also included pictures of the control consoles of each craft which is likely to interest even the most die-hard fans as the reproductions are excellent.

Courtesy of Haynes Publishing
The secondary vehicles are a real "oh yes I remember that one" moment as several only made one or two appearances.  While it would be wrong to omit the instantly recognisable Mole and the seemingly indestructible Firefly we also have the elevator cars, the transmitter truck and the Domo among others, all loving recreated and split apart for our viewing pleasure. I loved this but there could have been much more narrative around the craft, where we saw them (as a reminder if nothing else) and a few more titbits of information. The diagrams are still superb but it feels that there might have been a bit of substance overlooked here and an opportunity missed. 

The third section of this Haynes production focuses on Global Operative (read here Lady Penelope) so you can expect both FAB 1 and FAB 2 to receive 99% of the attention (and rightly so!). Once you've moved past this, which is very much in keeping with the rest of the manual, the final five pages are devoted to "Mission Logs". Essentially this is an episode guide, splitting each segment into an incident.  Now, the manual as a whole is superb and don't get me wrong, there's a wealth of information that will keep you reading for hours - and then referring back for ages beyond that, but wouldn't it have been wiser to include a proper episode guide here?  In production/viewing order rather than alphabetical?  In fact, this could have been expanded a little more to make a nice appendix to put everything into context.

My second niggle with this manual is that fact that it limits itself through its own title. Marking this as the International Rescue Thunderbirds Agents' Technical Manual cuts out what could have been an excellent fourth section. Perhaps it's an option for an additional volume in the future (Sam and Graham I hope you're listening!) so we could see the workings of the Sidewinder, the Fireflash, the Pacific Atlantic Monorail, the Crablogger or the classic Sun Probe? The Hood could also get a more detailed piece too as he seems a bit shortchanged here (one page and one picture on the inside of the back cover). I'd certainly part with some cash to read it and no doubt other fans of the series would too. Lastly - and this is down to the construction of the book rather than the authors - some of the reference numbers lie right in the spine and can be hard to read.  A shame but probably unavoidable given the nature of the beast in print.

Overall this is a great inside guide to the workings of International Rescue and their iconic Thunderbird craft. It's not a storybook and perhaps wouldn't suit children because of the intricate content. Gripes aside it is very well presented and a credit to the authors particularly in regards to the level of detail included in every single drawing. The length of time I poured over the images was impressive and I keep going back and finding things I hadn't seen the first time or had completely taken in. I have niggled a bit but the true highlights were the craft themselves, presented in their original glory and given equal standing with some great stills to match. I was always a fan of the "yellow submarine" (intentional?), Thunderbird 4 and the drawings were not a disappointment here. If you've heard about Gerry Anderson recently and want to find out more about some of the things he did then this would make a great introduction to the late puppeteer's work. Older and "die-hard" fans will just love that there are still people out there who love this material enough to produce such an enthralling book.  Can we look forward to Captain Scarlet or Stingray being covered in the future?  I do hope so. The SPV is crying out for a good cutaway!

Oh yes, one more thing - the green cover - nice touch!

The International Rescue Thunderbirds Agents' Technical Manual is available NOW from Haynes website ISBN 978 0 85733 117 5 priced £14.99. 

1 comment:

  1. Crablogger, Sunprobe and Sidewinder are all cross sections in the 'FAB Cross Sections: 40th anniversary' edition from 2005, by Graham Bleathman. It's still pretty easily available if you look online. Still no Fireflash though. :(