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THUNDERBIRDS - CREATING LADY PENELOPE - SYLVIA ANDERSON

When it came to the creation of Lady Penelope, there was some
difficulty in getting just the right face to match my mental picture
of her.
 
The script called for her to be cool, aristocratic and classy, but
sexy too. Yet, she was not a caricature, like Parker, for example,
and the look had to be just right for her as International Rescue’s
new London agent.
    
Mary Turner worked steadily and kept appearing with yet another remodelled plasticine
head, but by the time the weekend arrived, we were no nearer achieving the correct
image. I suggested that she should take a break and we would make a fresh start
on Monday.

On Monday, however, Mary appeared with a newly modelled face which I liked
immediately. It did seem strangely familiar, however, and I suggested a few minor
adjustments. Mary returned with the alterations and I was happy for our heroine to be
“cast”. So LADY PENELOPE had arrived!
    

    
It was not until much later, when we were actually in production and Lady P
was already a star, that I heard the true story about her creation.

During a press interview, I was asked on who Lady P had been based and
replied that it was a matter of trial and error. For a blow-by-blow account
of her creation, though, I suggested that they question Mary Turner, her ladyship’s sculptor. It was then I learned, to my amazement, that Mary had
modelled her on me. Her exact quote when describing her work, in a late
interview with the Daily Mirror in 1968, Mary said, ‘Sylvia discussed with me
what type of characters and costume she wants for the whole series.’   
    
We model the characters roughly on real people – she might say, ‘I want someone
looking like Adam Faith,’ for example – and I interpret her ideas. Lady Penelope, by
the way, was modelled on Sylvia herself – we wanted a glamorous blonde and she
was the obvious choice.

It was just as well I was unaware at the time that I was the role model, as I might have
had an attack of false modesty and rejected Mary’s version on principle. As it was,
by the time I knew, she was already an established star. It was a bit like looking in
the mirror and not recognizing your own reflection.

Mary’s organizational skills and attention to detail ensured that our puppet content
was always of the highest quality, and we owe her a great deal for her contribution
during the SUPERMARIONATION years.

Even today the facts are misrepresented as you can see from Mary Turner’s
letter below:-

Julia Robson,
The Daily Telegraph

22nd March 2001

Dear Julia Robson,

Re: Features Article ‘Why the lady is just FAB on Thursday 22 March’

I would like to correct your suggestion that Lady Penelope was created by Gerry
Anderson. She was created by Sylvia Anderson. I know because I modelled her
under Sylvia’s direction.

Also, Lady P’s entire wardrobe was designed by Sylvia and made up by the wardrobe
department.

I hope you do not mind my corrections, but I think it is time that Sylvia had the credit
for the work she did on Thunderbirds.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Turner

PS. One of the photos illustrating your article has been printed in reverse.

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