On the big screen last year and celebrating the fortieth anniversary of its television birth this year, THUNDERBIRDS are definitely Go! In this piece we'll look at the original chart of THUNDERBIRDS and its immediate predecessor STINGRAY, but first a reminder of how Gerry Anderson's string-puppet dramas developed at a breathtaking pace across 1960s television.
While THUNDERBIRDS (1965) was probably the most ambitious, the startling effects of "Supermarionation" didn't start or end there. TWIZZLE (1957), TORCHY THE BATTERY BOY and FOUR FEATHER FALLS (1960) were all a cut above the average puppet show, but things really started flying when SUPERCAR (starring Mike Mercury) took to the screen in 1961.
The quest for realism had always been thwarted by a string-puppet's inability to walk like a normal human being, so from SUPERCAR onwards everything was set in the future and everyone travelled by machine. The 25-minute shows continued with FIREBALL XL5 (1963) and the much-loved STINGRAY (1964) before the 50-minute THUNDERBIRDS in 1965. After THUNDERBIRDS came CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS (1968) - currently revived on Saturday morning television in computer animation - JOE 90 (1969) and then the move to incorporate real flesh-and-blood human actors (with legs) into the now-famous trademark special effects, resulting in UFO (1970) and SPACE 1999 (1975).
STINGRAY Sunday 4th October 1964. London.
Forty years ago the first ever British television programme to be made in colour hit our screens. The only problem was we only had sets that worked in black and white. And the actual time that it appeared is similarly dubious as the original starting times of these children's TV programmes varied according to the ITV region in which they were being shown. For the purpose of this analysis a 5.30pm birth time has been used, which was correct for some regions - and it does give a water sign rising - but the resultant ascendant and houses will not be given much weight in case there was an earlier manifestation of the programme on the same day somewhere else. THUNDERBIRDS however had a later starting time, which was more standard throughout the regions, and its first showing is confirmed as 7pm, September 30, 1965.
STINGRAY was one of the most popular of the Anderson series with both boys and girls and featured a super sub-aqua machine piloted by a fibreglass Elvis Presley called Troy Tempest. (Actually most said he looked the spitting image of James Garner). Yet those who saw it usually recall the star of the show to be Marina the Mermaid who swam in and out of the underwater adventures and hovered and swayed beside the closing credits while a smarmy voice crooned "Marina…Aqua Marina…"
The Little Mermaid
On reflection the eternal triangle of the plot, which involved Troy Tempest loving both the human Atlanta and the mermaid Marina, plus the fact that Marina could never speak (third house ruler opposed by Saturn?), was lifted straight from the tales of another famous Andersen, namely Hans Christian. In Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid the watery heroine was fated both to lose her voice and to see her prince love another.
Astrologically speaking STINGRAY's eternal triangle can be found in that triangular Tsquare of Saturn opposing Venus and squaring Jupiter, (love continually lost and gained). But this emotional cleft-stick was only to serve as a backdrop in STINGRAY to the other pressing concern of keeping the oceans safe from peculiar power-hungry amphibians that rode around in a mechanical Terror-Fish. Plenty of underwater explosions and quizzical eyebrow raising from Troy Tempest kept the action moving.
Stand By For Mars-in-Leo Action
And action was certainly a key word. The force of Mars in Leo exactly sextile the Sun was a dramatic warrior energy exuding self-confidence. The show began each week with a voice barking out "Stand by for Action!" And then continued - a little less assuredly - "Anything can happen in the next half hour!" Perhaps that was the Uranus-Pluto conjunction sitting midway between the Sun and Mars.
So Venus and Mars were in Leo providing both strong action and a powerful love interest. With the Sun in Libra and a (probable) full seventh house, there was a far greater focus on relationships here than in most of the other Anderson shows. That very Libran end sequence with its corny romantic soundtrack and the mermaid swimming and Troy gazing wistfully into the sunset could have come straight from a True Romance novel. STINGRAY was the only one of these puppet dramas to close each week with a different piece of regular music to its title opening, which was very much Venus as opposed to the opening Mars.
Troy Tempest had quite a few Libran qualities himself; bearing in mind he was only a puppet: old-fashioned good looks, a bit of charm, and the ability to never quite make up his mind between Atlanta and Marina. Atlanta was the daughter of his boss and Marina owed him her life - just to confuse his deliberations. With Venus in Leo the women often took the initiative in love matters and were both constant in their affection to the indecisive Troy. In the male bonding department Troy also had his trusty partner "Phones" (a man who had a pair of headphones permanently fixed to his ears), and the Stingray machine itself was a rather fetching Libran twin front-seater.
Saturn, which opposes Venus on the chart also inconjuncts the Moon, so it is easy to see Saturn as the main enemy, especially to the women. On one level this could be the eternal waiting for Troy to make up his mind, but more outwardly it could represent the evil underwater lord, who caused all the trouble and who had once made Marina his slave, called Titan. (Titan is also of course the name of one of Saturn's moons). Positioned in the last degree of Aquarius there was bound to be some strange tribulations here. Because of its strong love interest STINGRAY had a greater story potential than THUNDERBIRDS but its undersea setting was inevitably more plot limiting. But STINGRAY does deserve some sort of honour because as mentioned at the beginning it was the first British television programme ever made in colour. In light of the fact that no one in the British Isles could possibly view it in colour in 1964, nor could they for at least another five years (when it was no longer on television), such innovation may seem of only passing interest. Yet it stood STINGRAY in good stead in America, where colour transmissions were already established, and in later years when the series was successfully repeated and shown again and again throughout the world.
THUNDERBIRDS Thursday 30th September 1965. 7pm. London.
The most ambitious of the Anderson series in terms of numbers of characters and running-time length, the "Thunderbirds" were actually a fleet of specially designed machines built and flown by a polite and wealthy gang of cowboys called the Tracys. Today when we say someone looks like a Thunderbird we mean they have a sort of large-featured glazed look reminiscent of a hollow puppet, but the Thunderbirds were really the machines not the people who rode them. Anyway, operating under the name of International Rescue, Jeff Tracy ands his five sons spanned the globe wearing funny blue hats to offer humanitarian assistance to people trapped in accidental or natural disasters in then futuristic 21st century.
Such energy to bring things into balance on a global scale is the Libran Sun operating this time through a ninth house Moon in Sagittarius. A slight touch of Robin Hood is indicated here with its daring Sagittarian ideals, and for THUNDERBIRDS there were no boundaries to their mercy missions. They could travel on land, under the sea, even in space…so it was a safe bet that wherever you were and with Jupiter in the third, there would always be one of the endless number of Tracy brothers moving around out there somewhere.
Yet once again, as in STINGRAY, it was a female character that made the series memorable. Lady Penelope, the "London Agent" (whatever that meant), with her pink Rolls Royce numbered FAB-1, brought the whole series into the Swinging Sixties and is generally the most remembered player. Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward was no love-struck woodenhead however. Unlike STINGRAY's outward and obvious Venus and Mars in Leo, THUNDERBIRDS had both Venus and Mars in the eighth house in secretive Scorpio. If there was anything going on between Jeff Tracy and Lady Penelope we weren't going to know about it, that's for sure. Their habit of taking relaxing breaks together on her Australian ranch may have raised our suspicions, but then again this could all have been a smokescreen for other secret business. (Venus is conjunct Neptune). Who would know?
If Venus represents the main female character of Lady Penelope on this chart, then it is right indeed that she looked like a glamorous film star (Venus conjunct Neptune) although she was really a secret agent (Venus in Scorpio). In fact there is a lot more secrecy in this chart than there was in STINGRAY's. Chart-ruling Mars, indicative of the action, is in Scorpio in the eighth house and International Rescue was for some reason a hush-hush organisation. Quite why it needed to be so secret made little sense if you stopped to think about it, but this was the sixties so say no more.
STINGRAY's command centre Marineville was mapped and obvious but THUNDERBIRDS' HQ at Tracy Island was a secret base in the tropic seas. The out-of-bounds Sagittarian Moon must have had a hand in producing this exotic home too, for it was a faraway island that launched out rockets like Sagittarian arrows. The Moon exactly square Uranus and Pluto also allowed it to camouflage its underground workings with ingeniously automatic movable trees and masonry. But the Moon was the focal point of a T.square which involved Saturn at the other end and really it took far too long for everyone to get moving when emergencies called. The ponderous pace of the Thunderbird machines - especially that big green one - lumbering into take-off position, plus the long-winded system of moving chairs and ramps to get the pilots into them, not to mention the thousands of miles then to travel before any form of civilisation could be reached, always seemed strangely incompatible with the avowed aim of rescuing people in the nick of time from life and death situations.
Uranus and Pluto in Virgo may also describe "Brains", a strange stuttering individual who was yet another important part of the Tracy entourage. With the unlikely Uranian name of Hiram K. Hackenbacker, Brains and his stutter might also be blamed on Saturn opposing this Uranus-Pluto conjunction.
Old Thunderbirds Never Die
Like the heroes' haircuts, THUNDERBIRDS had a second wind of popularity in the early 1990s when it was re-shown in Britain on the main television channels and scale models of Tracy Island were being purchased faster than the manufacturers could supply them. Suitable for the Scorpio connection these toys were running at black market prices one Christmas. With its story line of people being rescued from natural disasters regardless of political boundary lines, THUNDERBIRDS in the 90s seemed more relevant than ever. The secret agent stuff had dated but the humanitarian rescue premise remained true. THUNDERBIRDS continued to be as well known in the 1990s and into the 2000s as it was in the 1960s and the big screen movie film with real actors playing the puppets appeared in cinemas last year (2004).
Here's an astrological scoop. According to official sources* the birth dates of the Tracy family and other main players are as follows:
Jeff Tracy. (The father, and founder of International Rescue). Born 2 January 1970. Patriarchal Mr Tracy is a Capricorn with his Sun conjunct the THUNDERBIRDS midheaven. His Moon is either in Libra or Scorpio. (It depends what time of day he was born). I bet it's Scorpio.
Scott Tracy. (Eldest son). Born 14 April 1996. Pilot of Thunderbird 1. Number One Son Scott is an Aries with his Sun conjunct the THUNDERBIRDS ascendant. His Moon is in Pisces.
Virgil Tracy. (Thunderbird 2 - the biggest one). Born 15 August 1999. Born just after the Great Eclipse, Virgil is a Leo with the Moon in Libra.
John Tracy. (Thunderbird 5 - the Space Station). Born 28 October 2001 John is a Scorpio with the Moon in Pisces.
Gordon Tracy. (Thunderbird 4). Born 14 February 2004. Gordon is Aquarius with the Moon in Sagittarius.
Alan Tracy. (Thunderbird 3). Born 12 March 2005. Alan is a Pisces with the Moon in Aries.
Lady Penelope. Born 24 December 1999. Born just before the Millennium, Lady Penelope is a Capricorn with the Moon in Cancer. (No wonder she preferred to remain in her Stately Home rather than hang out with the boys on some Sagittarian adventure island). Her natal Sun is also conjunct the THUNDERBIRDS midheaven.
Aloysius "Nosey" Parker. (Lady Penelope's butler. Previously a criminal safe-breaker). Born 30th May but no year given. Parker is a Gemini. With light fingers obviously.
But the genius 'Brains', described only as a teenage boy wonder, has no date given.
Never mind, he was probably far too logical to have believed in astrology anyway.