Thunderbirds are going, going, gone

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The Independent Online

Arts Reporter

Lady Penelope, the upper-class super-agent from the cult 1960s series Thunderbirds, is to be thrown into the real world next month when her creator will sell her for an estimated pounds 25,000.

In an auction expected to generate huge interest from fans of the 1965 series, Lady Penelope and other original 1960s puppets are to go under the hammer for the first time since being created.

But most interest will focus on Lady P, the iconoclastic puppet who was driven in her pink Rolls-Royce by Parker, her unctuous cockney chauffeur.

The puppet to be auctioned at Phillips on 19 September wears typically glamorous garb - a turquoise spangled silver lame dress and mink coat - as worn in a dream sequence in the 1967 film Thunderbirds Are Go!

Thunderbirds was devised by the husband and wife team, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. They had a bitter divorce in the late 1970s. Sylvia Anderson - who was the voice of Lady Penelope - kept many of the puppets.

Other stars of the sale are the original puppets of Joe 90, the hero of the eponymous series, also by the Andersons. Joe 90 was a nine-year- old agent who fought the forces of evil with the aid of a pair of glasses that could read people's brain patterns. The puppet is expected to fetch up to pounds 13,000, while a legless version which was used for seated close- ups is estimated at up to pounds 2,000.

Other puppets on offer include Captain Scarlet, the indestructible hero of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. In the 1967 series, the character leads the fight against the Martians who want to invade Earth. It is estimated at pounds 15,000 to pounds 18,000.

The fourth puppet available to collectors is Father Stanley Unwin, the star of the 1969 Secret Service series. The vicar was a secret agent with a device which enabled him to miniaturise Matthew Harding, who posed as his gardener, and put him into his suitcase. It is estimated at up to pounds 10,000.

Ms Anderson, a director of the American cable TV company HBO, is selling because the puppets have become so valuable that they must be kept in a bank vault for security.

Her ex-husband has also profited from the revival of interest in the Anderson shows, although he has been quoted as saying: "I'm not sentimental about the puppets. At times I've hated the sight of them."

Two years ago the puppets underwent a revival when BBC's Blue Peter programme was inundated with 50,000 calls requesting factsheets on how to make "Tracy Island". The "island" won Toy of the Year in 1993. Kegan Harrison, the specialist in charge of the sale, said yesterday: "There is a huge interest. Those series are almost a part of British culture - anyone brought up watching them remembers them."

Puppets who became a cult

1 The name of the series was inspired by an Arizona airfield called Thunderbird Field.

1 To date, the series has been screened in a total of 66 countries.

1 For years after it first hit the screens in 1965, Gerry Anderson, co- creator of the series, was ashamed of it.

1 Parker, the chauffeur, was Gerry Anderson's favourite character. He was modelled on a pub waiter called Arthur who dropped his 'aitches'.

1 Thunderbirds fans call themselves Fandersons, hold conventions and dress up as members of the Tracy family.

1 Gerry Anderson disliked John Tracy, which is why the character led such a solitary life.

1 Lady Penelope is thought by many people to be modelled on Sylvia Anderson, but her ex- husband claims she was inspired by a model in a shampoo commercial.

1 In Japan, the Thunderbirds industry turns over pounds 60m a year.

1 A Thunderbird 4 inflatable, given away with boxes of Kellogg's Cornflakes in 1965, is now worth at least pounds 80.