by Pen Turner

As someone who has been watching Thunderbirds since it was first broadcast in 1965, my argument is based on the premise that the show was always set in 2065 right from the start, and the ‘2026’ date in the final episode was an error. To show my reasoning for this I am going to start by looking at the evidence as it was presented to us, in chronological order.

No date was given for the series show when it first aired at the end of September 1965, either in the original ITC production notes, or in the TV Times, the national TV programme guide for ITV channels (42).

However, readers of the children’s comic TV Century 21, which carried strips from all the other Anderson series, were already familiar with two of the characters featured in the first episode. Lady Penelope had had her own strip since the first issue back in January of that year. Subtitled ‘Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger’, it presented her as a female James Bond, defeating dastardly villains with the aid of her trusty sidekick Parker and some useful gadgets, such as dart-shooting handbags and exploding lipsticks. 

The TV Century 21 comic had close ties to AP Films, the Anderson production company. It had been set up by Keith Shackleton, the manager director of the merchandising arm of AP Films, and was edited by Alan Fennell, who was to write many of the Thunderbirds scripts. It was Gerry Anderson’s idea to design the front page in a newspaper format and to set the dateline always 100 years ahead of the week that its young readers would be reading it, so we knew that Lady Penelope and Parker inhabited the world of 2065.

Issue #51 dated 8th Jan 2066 (35) announced that from the following week stories featuring Thunderbirds would be coming ‘direct from the danger zone; the here and now of 2066’, which seemed to be a pretty clear indication of when the series was set. The first Thunderbirds strip appeared in issue #52, dated 15th Jan 2066, ‘relayed live from Thunderbird 5’ and after that featured regularly in headlines and news items (36a, 36b).

Supporters of the 2026 dateline argue that the TV21 strip was ‘adjusted’ from its 2026 timeline to fit in with the other comic strips. They point out that Thunderbirds had to be set earlier than the other strips in the comic because it shows the early days of space exploration. Jeff had been ‘one of the first men on the moon’ and we see an aborted first mission to Mars in 'Day of Disaster', and two further attempts by Zero X in the first feature film, Thunderbirds Are Go. They argue that Fireball XL5, which was capable of interstellar travel, must belong to a later date. However they conveniently overlook the fact that once Zero X was given its own strip in TV21, Paul Travers and the rest of the crew we had encountered in Thunderbirds Are Go were soon popping all over the galaxy to meet their own share of bug-eyed monsters.

If you follow the opposition’s argument that a series depicting the early days of space travel belongs in the 2026 timeline, then Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons should also take place in 2026, as that series begins with the first landing on Mars. However, the first episode of that series featured a caption giving a 2068 date, leaving no room for argument.

I think we have to see these adventures from the perspective of 1965, when any form of space travel was the stuff of fantasy. At that time man had not yet left Earth’s orbit, and it would be four years before Apollo 11 touched down on the Moon. To the children reading these comics every week, travel to the Moon, Mars, another star or another galaxy were all equally exciting – and equally unreachable.

Apart from the last episode with its 2026 date, were viewers given any indication from the episodes themselves of the date the series was set?

One of the first hints comes from 'Vault of Death'. In it, Grandma Tracy says 'It seems I remember when I was a little girl my grandma told me about the old London subway. Trains under the ground – New York had them as well. Of course that was before this new-fangled overhead monorail system' (7).

Now, we don’t know Grandma’s age, but we know Jeff is in his mid fifties at the start of the series, so it is probably safe to assume that Grandma was between 20-30 when he was born. So if she had been born between 1940-1950 in the earlier timeline, why would she need to be told about the subways of New York and London by her own grandmother? These cities seem much the same as they are in our world (New York has the Empire State Building, London has the Bank of England, London Airport and the M1), so they presumably had their subways as well.

If, however, Grandma was not born until 1980-1990, then a viewer watching in 1965 could suppose that by that date the subways had been replaced by monorails (which in the 1960s were being suggested as the transport system of the future).

Other episodes were linked to the later dateline when a Thunderbirds Summer Special appeared on the newsstands during 1966. This contained pictures of various auxiliary vehicles from the series, including the Firefly and craft that had appeared in 'Edge of Impact','The Impostors' and 'The Duchess Assignment', all under a heading 'Dateline 2066' (3, 16, 19, 23, 39b, 39c).

Audio versions of episodes were available in the shops. (Note for younger readers here: back in the 1960s there was no way of recording programmes or buying videos or DVDs to watch again. The nearest we could get was to buy a vinyl record with an audio version of the programme, close our eyes and use our imaginations.) The records that were produced based on some of the Thunderbirds episodes had additional narration by one of the cast (e.g. Shane Rimmer as Scott describing the landing of Fireflash in Trapped in the sky).

The audio version of 'Sun Probe' was issued in October 1966 with narration by Matt Zimmerman as Alan. It opens –

“Thunderbird Three calling Earth. This is Alan Tracy in outer space.

'I am en route to Thunderbird Five with spares and stores for John and I’ve been watching a video show recalling the news highlights of 2065. One flashback has just come up which was nearly the end for Thunderbird Three. We called it Operation Sun Probe.' (4a, 4b).

1966 also saw the publication of Thunderbirds stories in book form. John Theydon wrote several novels that tied in closely to the series (making references to events in various episodes). The first in this series is set ‘some months since ... (Scott’s) first rescue operation’ and includes a reference to the 2066 dateline on p.61 when Britain is described as ‘the island that had not known the tread of conquerors’ feet for exactly one thousand years (41). Now this may not seem like an obvious date reference, but to the book’s target audience, a 10-year-old British child, the allusion is clear. If there is one date every Briton knows from their history lessons it is 1066, the date of the Battle of Hastings when William the Conqueror became king of England. This was especially true in 1966 when we were celebrating the 900th anniversary of that event. Note that the quote is ‘exactly one thousand years’. Not ‘almost’, not ‘about’, but clearly 2066.

The third novel in the series (Ring of Fire) contains a reference to an earthquake in Chile ‘a century ago’. The most powerful earthquake yet recorded took place in Chile in 1960, and would still have been fresh in the author’s mind when he wrote this book a few years later.

The same year Kevin McGarry’s Lady Penelope novel Gallery of Thieves also described a scene set in the London of 2066.

A Thunderbirds annual produced for the Christmas market of 1966 gave biographies of all the characters. These did not include any dates per se, but Gordon’s profile stated that he was a former member of WASP – and earlier that year a TV21 Summer Special had given us some background on the creation of the World Government in 2034, with WASP as its nautical arm – which would make it a bit difficult for Gordon to have been a member prior to 2026 (39a, 40b). 

Supporters of the 2026 dateline may argue that all these dates in Thunderbirds merchandising were ‘altered’ to fit in with the rest of the TV21 products. But altered from what? At that point we had had no mention of any earlier dateline.

I am sure that had you asked any Thunderbirds fan before Christmas Day 1966 what date the series was set, they would have no hesitation in saying ‘100 years in the future’ because at that point we had seen nothing to contradict it.

I am making no attempt to argue the thorny issue of whether any of these products should be considered ‘canon’ or not. My argument is to show what evidence had been given to the fans of the show at that time.

Those who argue that the earliest cited reference to a dateline should be taken as the ‘correct’ one should therefore be satisfied that the 2065 dateline was well established before any mention was made of the earlier date. There is certainly enough proof that the 2065 timeline did exist from when the series was first broadcast and was not, as some have said, a ‘revisionist version’ created retrospectively for the 2000 relaunch of the series.

Then on Christmas Day 1966 we saw the episode 'Give or Take a Million' , which featured a calendar showing a 2026 date (32). Did we notice it? I certainly don’t remember seeing it at the time, and bear in mind there were no videos to go back and look at it again.

So what conclusions can we draw? –

1) The series had always been set in 2026, though all the accompanying merchandising was set in 2065, and the programme makers decided in the final weeks of production to reveal this in the last episode.

There is no way of proving this – even if it did make sense.

2) The series was set in 2065 and the 2026 date that we saw on screen in the last episode was wrong.

Thunderbirds' art director Bob Bell has gone on record as saying that this was a mistake perpetrated by one of his assistants. This statement has been echoed by Alan Fennell (50a).

3) The series had been set in 2065 when it was first made, but it was decided in the final weeks of production to change this to 2026 in the last episode – so from now on we should expect to see nothing but the 2026 date.

But that is not what we find as we look at the events of 2067 as reported in the TV21 comic. Thunderbirds continued to occupy the headlines in almost half the issues of that year. In addition, three of the Thunderbirds stories featured a 2067 date in the story themselves (37), while issue #130 nominated one of its ‘reporters’ as ‘columnist of the year 2065 for his feature on Thunderbirds’. A 1967 Thunderbirds Special comic featured Thunderbirds 2, 3 and 4 in events with 2067 captions and both the Thunderbirds and the TV21 annuals produced at the end of 1967 gave Thunderbirds a 2067 date.

1968 saw a similar picture; three of the Thunderbirds stories in the weekly comics had plotlines that were based on a 2068 date (38) and International Rescue occupied the ‘stop press’ as hot news in 10 issues, while the annuals for this and subsequent years continued to make references to a century ahead (40c).

All this is very much in keeping with a saying in the TV industry that once a mistake has gone out, you can’t suck it back, however much you might wish to do so. Instead you just keep on repeating the correct version and hope everyone forgets your error. (No videos or home recordings, remember!)

'Give or Take a Million' with its contentious date was the last episode to be shown, but two feature films appeared after that. The Thunderbirds are go film was released at the end of 1966, and most viewers would have gone to see it in their cinemas in 1967. The film does not mention any year, but shows a calendar with two dates, Friday 22nd July and Friday 2nd September. Both these dates are Fridays in 2067 (one hundred years in the future) but not in 2026 or 2027 (33). The TV21 comic was used to publicise this and featured headlines involving Zero X several weeks running – with 2060s dates.

The Thunderbird 6 film has an even clearer date reference, as we see Lady Penelope reading a newspaper with a 2068 date (and remember this was on a full-size cinema screen so the date would have been clearly visible to the audience) (34).

The series was repeated sporadically in various TV regions across the UK in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was only when the BBC bought the rights in the early 1990s and gave the series its first nationwide screening that interest in Thunderbirds soared once more.

Various publications were rushed out to capitalise on this, all of which used the 2026 dateline based on the date in the last episode.

Or did they? Let’s look a bit closer.

Thunderbirds: the comic was produced by Fleetway from October 1991 and edited by Alan Fennell who had also been editor of TV21. It started by reprinting some of the strips that Fennell had written for TV21, and over the comic’s whole run was to use 28 of the 50+ Thunderbirds stories that he had written or edited for the earlier title. Six of these original stories had contained a 2060s reference either in a caption or as part of the plot. How many of these did Fennell choose to reprint? All six of them. The first date mentioned in Thunderbirds: the comic was in issue #4 when a reference is made to 2067 in the story Operation Depthprobe (45b).

The comic also featured cutaway illustrations drawn by Graham Bleathman, and in the next issue one of these appeared with a 2024 date for the construction of Thunderbird 5 (43a). Bleathman would go on to draw several craft featured in Thunderbirds during the comic’s run, each time using the 2026 date – though all this proves is that the artist was taking his cue from the calendar in 'Give or Take a Million' .

Throughout its run, the Thunderbirds comic was to feature both stories from the TV21s with the 2060s dates and Bleathman’s drawings that used the 2026 dateline. Six issues of the comic even mentioned both dates in the same issue! Young readers who knew nothing of the background of the TV21s of their parents’ generation, must have found this all very confusing.

From issue #35 the Thunderbirds comic ran The complete Thunderbirds story, written by Alan Fennell and filling in the backstory of how Jeff came to found IR. This is the source relied on most by the 2026 supporters, though the setting is curious, seeing as it comes from the writer who wrote several of the stories we have seen so far that include a 2060s date (e.g Sun Probe /Operation depthprobe

Alan Fennell is unfortunately no longer with us to ask about this, but Graham Bassett, who wrote strips for later in the comic’s run, recalls ‘Alan having problems with his story being blue-pencilled by ITC...and muttering 'I should know when Jeff Tracy was born' (50b), which makes you think that Fennell wanted to use the 2065 timeline that he had always used before, but was not allowed to by the current copyright owners.

Two annuals were published during this time (1992 and 1993), one of which repeated one of Bleathman’s illustrations with the 2024 date and the other a time chart for the earlier timeline (43a, 44a, 44b).

However, the Thunderbirds comics had proved so popular that a series of six compilation books were published by Ravette, each containing several of the comic strip stories and some of Bleathman’s artwork. Three of the books contained stories with a 2060s reference, but none of Bleathman’s drawings contained any dates, so anyone buying this series would be left with the impression that Thunderbirds was set in the later timeline (45a, 45b).

In 1992 John Marriott produced his Thunderbirds are go book, giving background information on the series but using the earlier timeline to provide birthdates for the characters. This book is endorsed by Gerry Anderson, but so is the later Bentley book which uses the 2065 timeline, so neither camp can take much support from this fact (45c,  49a).

Marriott’s book gives the impression that it was written in a hurry to capitalise on the rise in popularity of the show, and that the author doesn’t know the series quite as well as some of its fans. Several pictures are attributed to the wrong episode and he says that Grandma Tracy’s relationship to the family is ‘not known’ though in various episodes we see Alan and Scott address her as ‘Grandma’, Jeff as ‘Mother’ and Tin Tin as ‘Mrs Tracy’ – what more does he need?

Another book that came out about the same time was Simon Archer’s Fab Facts. In this the author lists all the Anderson series and the year in which they were set, and says that Thunderbirds ‘was set in 2026, though the adventures in the TV21 comic were set in 2065’. One can only presume that if Mr Archer had researched a bit more thoroughly he might have changed this to ‘the last episode of Thunderbirds was set in 2026, though the adventures in the TV21 comic/ annuals/ summer specials/ novels/ audio versions and at least one of the films were set in 2065’ (45g).

The next event in this date debate saga came in 1993 when Bob Bell was interviewed at the Space City Fanderson convention by Chris Bentley. Bell spoke eloquently about Gerry Anderson’s vision of a world 100 years in the future that was revealed through all his Supermarionation shows, and dismissed the 2026 date in the last episode of Thunderbirds as a mistake by a junior in his department.

Up to this point, Bentley had been a firm advocate of the 2026 timeline, but this interview changed his mind, leading him to write his own article on the date debate for Fanderson’s FAB news (46a, 46b) and to use the 2065 timeline when he wrote his ‘Complete book of Thunderbirds’ in 2000 (49b).

This led the accompanying comics and annuals to be geared to the later dateline when Thunderbirds was re-released for the third time in autumn 2000 (47, 48).

My final piece of evidence comes from Gerry Anderson himself. When asked directly what date Thunderbirds was set in the ‘Ask Anderson’ section of FAB news #58, his answer was ‘2065’ (50c). He may have endorsed books giving the 2026 date, but in all the research I have done for this debate covering sources from the last 45 years, I have not been able to find a single quote from any of the production team saying that the series was set in 2026.

Bob Bell says Thunderbirds was set in 2065.

Alan Fennell says the same.

So does Gerry Anderson.

They made the show; they ought to know.

I rest my case.

My thanks to Shaqui le Vesconte and the Project 21 Yahoo group for their help with this article.



2065 or 2026? Some new information on this never-ending argument

Since the above article was written, some more information has come to light on the tangled topic of the date of the series. An article on the Fleetway Thunderbirds comics in the FAB News (issue 74, April 2013) (51) brings to light some interesting new information on the tangled problem of the 'Date Debate'.

Advocates of the 2026 date base their arguments on two key points; first on the date shown in the calendar of 'Give or Take a Million' (32) and secondly on its use in the 1990s Fleetway comics, in particular The Complete Thunderbirds Story that was commissioned by original Thunderbirds series scriptwriter Alan Fennell, who, they argue, 'ought to know'.

Concerning the first of these, when doing the research for the date debate I came across the fact that Art Director Bob Bell had told the audience at a convention in 1993 that the date in 'Give or Take a Million' had been a mistake on behalf of a junior in his department.

As for the second, in the FAB article Stephen Baxter (SF author and TB fan since his childhood in the 1960s) proposes that Fennell's departure from the 2060s date he had used as editor of the original TV21 comics was 'probably not his decision; he was operating under constraints set by the 1990s merchandisers who had evidently chosen to set the series in the 2026 timeframe'.

This supposition seems to be supported by Graeme Bassett, who wrote stories for the 1990s comics, when he recalls, 'Alan was having problems with his story being blue-pencilled [by ITC]; I do remember him muttering something about "I should know when Jeff Tracy was born"'.This argument is further supported by artist Graham Bleathman, whose illustrations adorned many issues of the comic, who told Baxter, 'Can't remember why the decision to set it in 2026 was taken; Fennell later told me the series was set in the 2060s'.

So as I see it now, both the major arguments for 2026 have now been eliminated, leaving only circumstantial evidence.

The case for 2065 rests.

Pen Turner

Now read the Case for 2026 >>

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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)
FAB News 2000s
50c FAB News #58, 2007
51 FAB News #74, 2013
Miscellaneous Items 2000s
50a Correspondence re Bob Bell (pdf)
50b Comics International, 2009


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 2026 >>

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