Thunderbirds is a British mid-1960s television show devised by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and made by AP Films using a form of puppetry dubbed "Supermarionation".
The series followed the adventures of International Rescue, an organisation created to help those in grave danger using technically advanced equipment and machinery.
The series focused on the head of the organisation, ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy, and his five sons who piloted the "Thunderbird" machines. A popular show, the series is still shown today and has inspired a number of subsequent television programmes and films. Several companies, including Matchbox and Dinky Toys were licensed to produce die-cast metal and plastic toys based on the Thunderbird vehicles. They proved hugely popular and were one of the best selling merchandising lines of the decade. Original Thunderbirds toys are now expensive and highly sought after collectors' items.
Many toys were made by Matchbox in the 1990s to coincide with a revival of the TV series, including a Tracy Island playset and also the new movie, though they were generally marketed outside the US and in Canada. The Tracy Island set was particularly popular in the UK, being the best selling toy at Christmas and was in such high demand on the year of its release that the BBC children's television show Blue Peter instructed viewers in constructing their own version from household materials. Remarkably, the free 'fact sheet' that detailed this process also became so sought-after that it too became difficult to obtain.
Toy company Bandai produced toys to coincide with the release of the 2004 live action movie in the UK. As of 2007, Japanese companies such as Aoshima, Konami and Takara were still producing new Thunderbirds toys based on the original series vehicles, including Takara's very expensive Thunderbird 2 model with lights and working motorised legs which lift the fuselage, exposing the cargo pod.