by Samantha Winchester

It’s one of the oldest bones of contention in the history of Thunderbirds. Was the show really set in 2026, as would seem to be indicated by the wall calendar in the final episode of the series, “Give or Take a Million,” or was it really set in 2065?  

Well, that seems to depend on who you ask. 

In his two-part article “The Dating Game” (FAB Magazine, Issues 26 and 29 – 46a and 46b) Chris Bentley, who says he was a believer in the 2026 timeline but has been converted to the 2065 camp, makes several claims to support the idea that Thunderbirds, the original series, was set in 2065. He dismisses the “December 25, 2026” calendar (32) in the final episode of the series, “Give or Take a Million” – which is the only date clearly meant to be visible in the entire series – as a mistake by the AP Films art department junior who had been tasked with making it. (It’s also been characterized in the past by production insiders as a prank or joke by an assistant on the set.) Apparently the production crew, from Gerry Anderson to Bob Bell on down, has fallen into lockstep with this explanation, which puzzles some fans in the face of the evidence available to the contrary.  

Let’s examine this possibility for a moment here. If it was a mistake, that immediately begs the question, why 2026? It’s not a number that most would just pull easily out of the ethers, like, say, 2020, or 2025. It’s also not a simple accidental transposition of 2065, the way 2056 would have been. So how did that hapless assistant come up with 2026, when that was nowhere even close to the 2065 that Bentley claims was always the intention? 

There’s also the issue of the size and clarity and duration on screen of the calendar. It was a deliberate closeup, the date drawn attention to on the screen in a way that none of the dates in other props (like newspapers, for instance) were. And that begs another question…did no one see it, all the way from set to screen? If Thunderbirds was always “definitely set in 2065” – as Gerry Anderson claims in 2007 in answer to a fan question in Fanderson’s FAB News, issue #58 (50c) – then those “in the know” obviously did not let the director or the editor of the final episode of the series in on that plan. AP Films were famous for being a production team that was absolutely committed to realism in all ways possible, meticulous about every detail – right down to worrying about making the surface of a vehicle dirty and scarred enough to look as if it was really used, and taking care to weight it properly so that it would seem to have the right sense of heaviness on its wheels. So how was a team like this so incredibly careless as to not only film the wrong calendar in extreme close up, but also let this error slip through all subsequent viewings by producers and executives and actually on to the air in the finished episode? Surely there was ample time, somewhere in that process, for that “mistake” to be seen and corrected?  

Unless, of course, the idea of synching up Thunderbirds date-wise to the rest of the Supermarionation universe came about after production of the series was over. This idea starts to sound even more likely when we move on to examine another use of a date that Bentley mentions in his articles:  

In the episode 30 Minutes After Noon, we are shown a number of scenes set in the Spoke City office of Police Commissioner Garfield. On one of the walls is an Auto Date Calendar and, although it doesn't appear as clearly on screen as Tin-Tin's calendar, it is nonetheless clear enough for us to read the date: on its first appearance it reads 12/7/65, and then later (the next day) it reads 13/7/65.

"Obviously, this cannot be 1965, so the date of the Hudson Building fire (and Tom Prescott's wedding anniversary) in the episode is July 12th, 2065."

Sounds good…until you look a little closer. I’ve never managed to get a clear shot at the first example of the Auto Date Fixer, but the year on the second one, when blown up, quite clearly reads “05,” not “65.” (18a) And to confuse things further, in the same episode, a newspaper headline about the Hudson Building fire is dated “Friday, December 24, 2007.” (18b) 

So to recap, so far we have 2026, 05 (probably intended to be 2005), and 2007. There are also several instances in various episodes where newspapers, apparently hailing from different countries and at different times, are all dated “Friday, December 24, 1964.” Christmas Eve that year was a busy day indeed for worldwide disasters…these newspapers are seen in the first season in “Edge of Impact,” “Operation Crash Dive,” “Vault of Death” and “The Mighty Atom,” and in the second season in “Path of Destruction” (although in that last example the “Friday” has been blacked out). It’s easy to see that the same generic prop was reused over and over, because in several of these, the layout of the front page is identical, and the same advertisements are also visible either side of the masthead (Lyons Restaurant is apparently quite a global franchise!)  

Curiously, December 24 does not fall on a Friday in 1964…but it does the next year, 1965. Maybe that’s why someone, perhaps a slightly smarter member of the art department, caught the recurring mistake by the time filming of the second season came around, and obscured the day of the week in the newspaper in “Path of Destruction.” 

So where is the year 2065 in all this? Conspicuous only by its absence. 

Chris Bentley also attempts to date-link “Give or Take a Million” to the first Thunderbirds feature film, Thunderbirds are Go

"Let's look a bit more closely at Give Or Take A Million, setting aside Tin- Tin's calendar for a moment. Prior to this, we are shown a countdown of the days to Christmas on a series of close-up shots of the calendar on Jeff Tracy's desk. We see each successive date from Wednesday, December 21st through to Saturday, December 24th. Christmas Day in this year, therefore, takes place on a Sunday and although there will be seven years between 2020 and 2070 in which this occurs (2022, 2033, 2039, 2044, 2050, 2061 and 2067), 2026 isn't one of them.

"Whichever year it is, the film Thunderbirds Are Go is set in the same year. In the movie, we see a calendar clock in the Tracy Island pool room which shows the date of Zero X's return to Earth from Mars: the calendar moves rapidly from Friday, 22nd July through to Friday, 2nd September. A year with these dates also has Christmas Day falling on a Sunday, so it would seem likely that the events of the feature film take place only a few months before those of Give Or Take A Million."

Well, the only thing Chris Bentley has successfully established with all this is that neither 2026 nor 2065 works with the day/date correspondence on the calendar on Jeff Tracy's desk in GOTAM. The flip-type desk calendar has no year on it, just the day of the week and the date – the same is true of the flip-type calendar on the wall in the pool room in TBAG. The paper tear-off type wall calendar in the kitchen in GOTAM does have a year (2026) and a date, but no day of the week.

But there’s a simple, non-mysterious explanation that is far more likely to be the reason for all this…which will be obvious to anyone who has ever worked in the prop or art department of a movie studio lot. Prop makers have to work fast, usually grabbing the nearest, cheapest thing that can be altered to meet their needs. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel – and certainly no time to do so! – if the basic prop is already available. When the art department "greeks" a prop (in other words, changes it to fit their purposes or to genericize a recognizable name like "Coca Cola"), they don't build a new soda can, or milk carton, or beer can...they simply change the label or slap on a new one to obscure the brand name.

So what did the prop maker find this time that they could press into service? From the looks of it, an existing flip-type calendar, for both GOTAM and TBAG. Because although neither calendar's day and date corresponds to 2026 or 2065, they do correspond to something else...the year in which GOTAM and TBAG were made: 1966!

For the wall calendar in GOTAM, they could easily have "greeked" a few pieces of paper from an existing desk calendar, which would be wall-sized for a marionette, just by sticking the year 2026 over what was already there. And since GOTAM and TBAG were filmed simultaneously at the same studio in the early months of 1966, the props would have come from the same department. 

Occam's Razor. The simplest explanation is very often most likely to be the true one. 

(An afterword here…in TBAG, two newspapers sport the date June 11, 2068, which further messes up Bentley’s theory that the events of this movie were set in 2067! And to take matters to an amusing extreme, that same June 11, 2068 date also shows up in a newspaper in Thunderbird 6. Somebody really ought to have fired that art department assistant by then, don’t you think?)

So what else does Bentley offer up as possible evidence?

However, there are two main arguments that are often put forward to suggest that the earlier setting for Thunderbirds is ‘true’. The first of these is the reference that Kyrano makes in Trapped In The Sky to Jeff Tracy having been one of the first men on the Moon (“You must be proud to have been one of the world’s first men to land on the Moon.” “It’s all a long time ago, Kyrano. A long time ago.”) This, the argument goes, must surely indicate that the date of the series is the mid-2020s: Jeff is in his mid-50s and would, therefore, have been stepping onto the Moon some twenty or thirty years before. In order to be described as one of the first men on the Moon, Jeff would have had to have been there at some point in the last three decades of the 20th century.

“Well, this is a logical enough point of view, but doesn’t really hold much water. In 1964, when Trapped In The Sky was written and produced, the AP Films production team could only speculate that the first manned Moon landing might occur within the next decade (on July 20th, 1969), and they could never have guessed that after the initial flurry of lunar activity in the early Seventies, further trips to the Moon would be abandoned by the world’s space programmes. Man has not stood on the surface of the Moon since 1973 (Apollo 17) and, to date, only 12 men have ever done so. If Jeff is to be taken to have been one of these, then the setting of the series must be much earlier than 2026 - around the year 2000 in fact.”

The 1960s were an extraordinary time. Mr. Bentley, who (I believe) was only alive for a small part of that era, might not recall how much the impossible seemed possible back then. The space race was in full swing, with miraculous events happening on a regular basis, and the whole world was aware that on May 25,1961, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, had announced before the United States Congress the ambitious plan of putting a man on the Moon before the end of that decade: “…this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space…” Now, the Andersons might not necessarily have believed that landing a man on the Moon could be achieved in less than ten years (although of course we now know that’s exactly what happened!), but it seems hard to believe that they thought it would take until the late 2030s – since if Jeff Tracy was born in 2009, the way Bentley claims in his book The Complete Book of Thunderbirds, then he would not have been ready to go into space until close to the end of the third decade of the 21st Century!

The point Bentley makes in his second paragraph doesn’t really, to use his own words, “hold much water,” since he is right that by the same token that the Andersons could not have known for sure that a man would be on the Moon before the end of the 1960s, they also could not have guessed that Moon launches would be abandoned after the mid 1970s. Therefore, they could not have known that Jeff Tracy would be too late to be one of the first men on the moon if he was born in 1970 – as states his bio in the first real resource book to be compiled for Thunderbirds, John Marriott’s Thunderbirds Are Go (Boxtree Ltd., 1992). This birth year would put the earliest possible time for his lunar journey somewhere into the late 1990s/early 2000s, but targeting the vicinity of the year 2000, for instance, a popular thing to do in science fiction at the time, would certainly have been a more reasonable assumption than thinking that a moon landing would not occur for another 70 years! In possible corroboration of the year 2000 idea, a profile on Jeff (43k) in Thunderbirds: The Comic (ITC Entertainment Ltd., Fleetway Publications, 1991-1995), edited by Alan Fennell (who was a writer for the original series of Thunderbirds and also the editor of the original Anderson series comics, TV Century 21, from 1965 to 1968)), says: “Instantly he was a success as an astronaut and has the distinction of being chosen for the moon flight that celebrated the arrival of the twenty-first century.”

To his credit, Chris Bentley does effectively discount one of the most popular and prevalent arguments of the 2065 camp…the “TV 21 Principle,” which claims that all the Supermarionation series take place in the same time period in the same universe because that’s what seems to be the intention of the presentation of those series in the TV Century 21 comics. To sum up his statements on this subject, he says: 

“So, the “TV21 “ principle of the unified Anderson universe doesn’t work - not because the dating of Thunderbirds is wrong, but because certain of the series are incompatible with each other, and what we are looking at with the Supermarionation shows are at least three different ‘realities’: the Supercar/Fireball XL5 universe (if Supercar is seen in a historical, rather than fictional, context in Fireball XL5), the Stingray/ Thunderbirds/Captain Scarlet universe and the Joe 90/The Secret Service universe (in which all of the other Supermarionation series only co-exist in a fictional context, just as they do in our universe).”  

I agree with most of what Bentley says here. But most importantly, as regards the TV21 comics, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (sorry, Brains!) to observe that the time period Thunderbirds inhabits in the comics cannot be remotely the same as in the original series. The level of technology just isn’t anywhere close. In the comics, there are storylines where space freighters return from outer space carrying alien stowaways, and in one story, both Thunderbird Two and Thunderbird Three make a trip to Venus! In the series, in total contrast, mankind hasn’t even made a manned flight as far as Mars. That doesn’t happen until the first Thunderbirds movie, Thunderbirds Are Go

So what says Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson himself on this subject? Much, in fact…most of it curiously contradictory. In 2000, he praised the 2065-centric work of Chris Bentley in a foreword to Bentley’s “Complete Book of Thunderbirds.” Unfortunately for Bentley, though, not much credence can be given to this, since Gerry also praised the accuracy of several 2026-centric resources that went before. On his regular “Calling Gerry Anderson!” page in Thunderbirds: The Comic, Gerry enthused over FAB Facts (1993), written by Simon Archer (also co-author of Gerry Anderson’s authorized biography, What Made Thunderbirds Go, in 2002). (45f) Gerry completely owned the project here, saying, “With my writer, Simon Archer, I have during the last couple of years spent time to remember 500 fascinating and interesting facts about all my television series.” One of those facts appears on a timeline page entitled “FAB First Screenings.” Beside “1965,” it says, “Thunderbirds (set in 2026, although the adventures in the comic TV21 were set in 2065).(45d) There’s no indication anywhere in the book that this is not one of those “fascinating and interesting facts” that Gerry spent all that time remembering. 

As well as glowing further in his foreword to FAB Facts about the “meticulous research” done by Simon Archer in the book, which apparently “tapped into forty hours of interviews” done by Archer for Gerry’s biography, and adding that “I have carefully checked the contents with Simon and I am satisfied that they are factual,” Gerry also continued to plug the book on his “Calling Gerry Anderson” page (45e) for some issues to come. 

Gerry was on a 2026 roll in the early part of the 1990s: In 1992, in his foreword to the aforementioned John Marriott resource book Thunderbirds are Go, (45c) Anderson says: “Finally I would like to express my thanks to editor Penelope Cream, writer John Marriott and researcher Ralph Titterton for the care and attention to detail that has made this book so interesting and informative.” Marriott’s book uses the 2026 timeline very prominently throughout its pages. Unless he didn’t read it at all, there is no way that Gerry could not have seen that. Presuming he did read the book, then he must have been in agreement, at that time, with the 2026 setting for Thunderbirds. 

And then there’s the case of Alan Fennell, aforementioned Thunderbirds series writer and editor of Thunderbirds: The Comic. Curiously, although it’s claimed that he was also a proponent of the 2065 timeline, every reference to the original series that appears in Thunderbirds: The Comic uses the 2026 timeline. Fennell commissioned a series of cutaway drawings from artist Graham Bleathman, entitled “Dateline 2026,” including, among others, the Sidewinder from “Pit of Peril” (43b), the Gray and Houseman Road Builder from “End of the Road” (43c), the Martian Space Probe from “Day of Disaster” (43d), moving the Empire State Building from “Terror in New York City” (43e) and Lady Penelope’s ranch, Bonga Bonga, from “Atlantic Inferno” (43f). And it doesn’t seem to be a mistake – on later cutaways for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the series logo changes efficiently to “Dateline 2068” (43g). Fennell also commissioned an ongoing series for the comics entitled “The Complete Thunderbirds Story” (43h & 43i) and a full page illustration of the construction of Thunderbird 5 (43a) both of which use the 2026 timeline. 

Thunderbirds: The Comic even includes this reference in a profile on Grandma Tracy (43j): “Grandma is attributed as having coined the Thunderbirds call sign FAB! She says it was a popular expression when she was a young girl!” That effectively dates Grandma’s girlhood to the 1960s, where the term FAB first came to prominence – which would put her in the right timeline to have given birth to her son, Jeff, in 1970. 2026 again! 

The Official Thunderbirds Annual of 1992 (ITC Group Ltd./Grandreams Ltd.) is also firmly entrenched in the 2026 camp. An illustrated Thunderbirds timeline, “The International Rescue Years,” lists events from Jeff Tracy’s birth in 1970 to International Rescue’s first mission in 2026 (44a & 44b). And the Thunderbirds Ultimate Pop-Up Fact Book (ITC Group Ltd./Boxtree Ltd., 1993) uses the 2026 timeline for the birthdates of the Tracys in their bios. 

One of the most difficult things to prove in a court of law is intent. In recent years, Gerry Anderson, Bob Bell and (apparently) Alan Fennell have all said that the intent was to set Thunderbirds in the year 2065. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no evidence of that until the movies, Thunderbirds Are Go (where, as mentioned before, two newspapers bear dates in June, 2068) and Thunderbird 6. With TBAG, there was an obvious attempt to sync Thunderbirds with the upcoming Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, via the use of the Zero X. But the two movies, to their cost at the box office, always seemed to exist outside of the universe of the original series. Even Sylvia Anderson says in her autobiography, Yes, M’Lady, (Smith Gryphon, Ltd., 1991) referring to TBAG’s “disappointing” returns: “Obviously we had failed to put across that Thunderbirds Are Go was a specially made film for the cinema and not a television compilation.” The obvious translation: “This wasn’t the same Thunderbirds as you were watching every week, folks, and it was never intended to be.” Ironically, despite that hard proof that the audience wanted the Thunderbirds they already had, not a reinvention by its creators, the second feature film attempt, TB6, strayed even further from the successful format of the series. 

As a former network television publicist, I have worked with many producers of television series, and I am very familiar with how often they resort to revisionist history to explain away a new idea, storyline or even character in the backgrounds and episodes of the shows they create and write. So it carries little weight for me that decades after the original series was produced, members of the Thunderbirds production team claim the intent was that the show be set in 2065. So what do we have as concrete proof of the timeline? 

Nothing at all for 2065. Even the ITC Original Information Brochure for Thunderbirds (1964/5) (42) does not give a date the series was intended to be set in. So what about other possible dates? We have various newspapers and an Auto Date Fixer, with dates visible when freeze-framed and blown up, that range from 1964 (clearly impossible) to 2007. And one deliberate closeup that was meant to be seen – the calendar in “Give or Take a Million.” 

I rest my case. No matter what the producers say now about intent, it seems the series itself has spoken on its own behalf. 

I leave you with one last point. If 2026 was wrong, why didn’t Gerry Anderson correct all the written material that went before, when he was consulted and feted and asked to write forewords and given so many opportunities to set the record straight? Why did he just go right on agreeing with everyone and praising the accuracy of all those other publications for 35 years – until the arrival of Chris Bentley and his book The Complete Book of Thunderbirds? 

Now there’s a question to ponder.

Now read the Case for 2065 >>

Comments? Click here to tell us what you think! >>

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Thunderbirds - the Series
01 Trapped in the Sky
02 Pit of Peril
03 City of Fire
04a Sun Probe EP (pdf)
04b Sun Probe EP opening (mp3)
05 The Uninvited
06 The Mighty Atom
07 Vault of Death (pdf)
08 Operation Crash Dive
09 Move and You’re Dead
10 Martian Invasion
11 Brink of Disaster
12 The Perils of Penelope
13 Terror in New York City
14 End of the Road
15 Day of Disaster
16 Edge of Impact
17 Desperate Intruder
18a 30 Minutes After Noon - Auto Date Fixer

18b 30 Minutes After Noon - Spoke City Tribune
19 The Impostors
20 The Man from MI5
21 Cry Wolf
22 Danger at Ocean Deep
23 The Duchess Assignment
24 Attack of the Alligators
25 The Cham-Cham
26 Security Hazard
27 Atlantic Inferno
28 Path of Destruction
29 Alias Mr. Hackenbacker
30 Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday
31 Ricochet
32 Give or Take a Million
Thunderbirds - Films
33 Thunderbirds are Go Calendar (pdf)
34 Thunderbird Six
TV 21
35 TV21 1965
36a TV21 #69 1966
36b TV21 #72 1966
37 TV21 1967
38 TV21 1968
39a TV21 Summer Extra 1966
39b Thunderbirds Summer Special 1966
39c Thunderbirds Summer Special 1966
Annuals 1960s - 1970s
40a Thunderbirds Annual 1966
40b Thunderbirds Annual 1966
40c Thunderbirds Annual 1969
Books 1960s
41 Theydon Novel 1966
Miscellaneous 1960s
42 ITC Brochure 1965 (pdf)
Thunderbirds the Comic 1990s
43a Construction of Thunderbird Five
43b Sidewinder
43c Gray and Houseman
43d Martian Space Probe
43e Moving the Empire State Building
43f Lady Penelope's Ranch

43g Cloudbase
43h Tracy Island 1999
43i The Family Grows
43j Profile on
43k Profile on Jeff Tracy
43l The Time Machine
Annuals 1990s
44a Thunderbirds Annual Timeline Pt 1
44b Thunderbirds Annual Timeline Pt 2
Books 1990s
45a Empire State Building (Ravette)
45b Depth Probe (Ravette)
45c 'Thunderbirds are Go' Gerry Anderson Foreword
45d 'Fab Facts' Gerry Anderson Introduction
45e 'Fab Facts' Advertisement
45f 'Fab Facts' Advertisement
45g 'FAB Facts' first screenings
45h 'Thunderbirds are Go' biographies
Miscellaneous 1990s
46a The Dating Game Part 1 (pdf)
46b The Dating Game Part 2 (pdf)
Thunderbirds Magazine 2000s
47 Thunderbirds Magazine
Annuals 2000s
48 Thunderbirds Annual 2002
Books 2000s
49a 'Complete Book of Thunderbirds (foreword)
49b 'Complete Book of Thunderbirds (p. 42)
Miscellaneous Items 2000s
50a Correspondence re Bob Bell (pdf)
50b Comics International, 2009
50c FAB News #58, 2007


First, our comrades in the trenches on this project: GillyLee, Molly Webb and Purupuss, who researched and hunted and scanned above and beyond the call of duty, and Lee, our web designer and technical expert, who put the whole thing together and made it look good. We couldn't have done this without any of you.

Thanks also go to:

All Thunderbirds episodes and films © Granada Ventures

All TV21 comics/annuals, Thunderbirds annuals/specials © A.P.Films (Merchandising) Ltd

All Thunderbirds The Comic © Fleetway editions Ltd

Thunderbirds annuals/Ravette compilation books 1990s © ITC Entertainment

Graham Bleathman cutouts © Graham Bleathman/ Fleetway comics

'Thunderbirds: The Comic,' ITC Entertainment Ltd./Fleetway Publications 1991-1995

Thunderbirds magazine 2000 © Redan

Thunderbirds annual 2002 © Carlton

No profit is being made from the use of these materials.

The Case for 2065 >>

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