This time I have been investigating the story about how Thunderbirds changed from being a half hour show to an hour.
We all know the very dramatic story about Gerry screening the pilot episode to Lew Grade and Lew jumping up and saying, ‘this is not a television series, this is a feature film, you have to make them an hour’.
Well, this actually goes against my findings, as I will explain, you can then make up your own minds, but the evidence is quite compelling.
I remember my creator Sylvia Anderson saying to me that Lew Grade telephoned her in the early days of filming Thunderbirds as he was worried that Sylvia would make me too posh!.
Sylvia reassured Lew that I would not be too posh and that Lew would see that once the other characters, and myself, developed over a few episodes, that all his worries would disappear, Sylvia said it would take a few episodes as it’s difficult to fit so much character development into a half hour show especially one as dramatic as Thunderbirds, Lew accepted this.
Sylvia then jokingly said ‘of course it would happen quicker if they were an hour’. Lew responded with ‘ok, do it’. Sylvia then said ‘I was joking, there is no way I am going to tell everyone we need to change to one hour, we have already completed several episodes, If you really want to change then you need to tell Gerry yourself, but don’t mention me or I won’t hear the last of it’. ‘ok’ said Lew ‘I will call him’.
Now, I don’t have a recording of this conversation, there is an interview with Sylvia where she mentions saying to Lew about being one hour, which we need to access from the archives, and will update this page when scanned.
However I have found the following to give the above some gravitas.
I also believe the part of the story about ‘this is not a television series; this is a feature film’ actually pertains from Space 1999. There were considerable difficulties with the first episode and Abe Mandell from ITC New York saw the original cut in the UK with Gerry and they both agreed it was not good, the run time was over 2 hours and the story very disjointed. Abe went back to the USA and Gerry worked hard in filming new material and re-edited the pilot and then sent it to ITC in New York.
Abe Mandel watched this new cut in the theatre and afterwards the projectionist went to Abe and said to him those immortal words ‘this is not a television series; this is a feature film’.
Gerry has even confirmed this version of events in his commentary for this first episode of Space 1999 ‘Breakaway’. It seems strange that this is the same quote as the Thunderbirds one. I think therefore that Gerry just got the two mixed up and thought it was Thunderbirds when in fact it was Space 1999.
A transcript of this commentary appears on the Space 1999 Catacombs website as follows, which also gives a good insight into the production problems on this first episode. http://catacombs.space1999.net/main/crguide/vczgab.html
Moving on to the change from half hour to one hour. In an interview given by Gerry way back in 1979 he clearly said that ‘he did not know who suggested to Lew to make them one hour’ and that ‘Lew called him up saying to make them one hour’, which fits in with what my creator, Sylvia Anderson, said. This is in any case clearly different to Lew Grade jumping up and saying it after watching the pilot episode.
Here is Gerry’s quote on the change from half hour to one hour as featured in ‘Starburst’ magazine issue 8 1979 (pages 22 & 24) Conducted by John Fleming, Gerry clearly not aware at the time of that interview who suggested the change to one hour to Lew Grade.
You can read the full interview here: https://archive.org/details/Starburst_Magazine_008_1979-04_Marvel-UK
So there you go, I guess the story on Thunderbirds and Lew jumping up and saying ‘this is not a television series, this is a feature film, you’ve got to make them one hour’, sounds more dramatic and ‘Hollywood’ but the reality is I believe somewhat more ‘Slough-lywood’!