30 Minutes After Noon
|"30 Minutes After Noon"|
|Episode no.||Season 01
|Directed by||David Elliott|
|Written by||Alan Fennell|
|Cinematography by||Paddy Seale|
|Editing by||Harry Ledger|
|Original air date||11 November 1965|
"30 Minutes After Noon" is the seventh episode of the 1960s Supermarionation television series Thunderbirds. Written by Alan Fennell and directed by David Elliott, it first aired in the United Kingdom on ATV Midlands on 11 November 1965. In a plot incorporating visual allusions to 1960s spy thriller films, in particular the James Bond film franchise, "30 Minutes After Noon" sees the Tracy family attempt to rescue a British secret agent embroiled in the latest scheme of the Erdman Gang, a powerful crime syndicate.
Drawing inspiration from the 1965 spy thriller film The Ipcress File, a recent release at the time of shooting, Elliott decided to bring Fennell's script to life with the use of "quirky visuals". As such, Elliott and his camera operator, Alan Perry, experimented with original angles and techniques, electing to introduce one scene with a long tracking shot and filming the characters using a mixture of live-action close-up shots and forced perspective. The music, on the other hand, is recycled from earlier Thunderbirds episodes.
Commentators such as media historian Nicholas J. Cull have praised Elliott and Perry's cinematographic innovations for imitating the visual style of older espionage films. However, Stephen La Rivière, writer of Filmed in Supermarionation: A History of the Future, argues that the pastiche is not evident throughout: asserting that the switch in narrative focus from the Hudson Building fire to the infiltration of the Erdman Gang essentially divides the episode into loosely-connected halves, La Rivière suggests that the visual style of the first owes more to conventional filming techniques. "30 Minutes After Noon" was adapted for audio in the 1960s and serialised as a comic strip in the 1990s.
In Spoke City, Thomas Prescott accepts an apparently innocent hitch-hiker into his car. The stranger's true intentions are revealed when he attaches a metal bracelet to Prescott's wrist, warning him that it contains a powerful explosive charge that is due to detonate in 30 minutes; the key to unlock it will be found in his office at the Hudson Building. Speeding to his workplace with the police in pursuit, Prescott removes the bracelet and leaves it in a filing cabinet. The device explodes as he is returning to the ground floor in a lift: the top levels of the Hudson Building are incinerated, and Prescott is plunged to the bottom of the lift shaft, ten storeys underground.
Although the fire is quickly brought under control, Prescott is completely cut off. News of the events in Spoke City soon arrives on Tracy Island. Jeff dispatches Scott in Thunderbird 1, while Virgil and Alan take off in Thunderbird 2 equipped with newly commissioned fire-fighting apparatus. Lowered into the shaft in a protective cage fitted with diacetylene sprinklers, Virgil and Alan clamp the stricken lift and return to ground level, whereupon Prescott is arrested. Police Commissioner Garfield notes that classified documentation regarding criminal organisations, including the Erdman Gang, has been destroyed in the fire. Prescott's claims about the hitch-hiker are validated when the charred remnants of the bracelet are discovered.
An operation to expose the Erdman Gang leads to the recruitment of Southern, a British Secret Service agent, who is assigned to infiltrate the organisation and leak intelligence on its latest scheme. The gang leader contacts the undercover Southern and Erdman operatives Dempsey and Kenyon at Glen Carrick Castle in the Scottish Highlands, and briefs them on their mission. The trio are to drive to the Nuclear Plutonium Store, where isotopes for all Britain's power stations are housed, and plant explosives to detonate at 12:30 p.m.; this will cause a nuclear explosion of unprecedented scale and devastate half of England. To ensure compliance, the charges, which have already been armed, are contained in wrist bracelets identical to Prescott's and are to be unlocked on retrieval of the key at the Plutonium Store.
On their arrival, Southern, Dempsey and Kenyon use a ray gun to neutralise the store's robot guards and bypass the security doors one after the other, ultimately arriving in the plutonium vault. Southern reveals his true identity and holds the others at gunpoint, commanding them to proceed to the Leader's proposed rendezvous point and capture him. The tables are turned, however, when a robot traps Southern in a crushing grip. Dempsey and Kenyon unlock the bracelets and make a getaway, jamming the security doors and leaving Southern to die in the nuclear explosion.
Southern's emergency call is transferred from his superior, Sir William Frazer, to International Rescue. Landing outside the Plutonium Store in Thunderbirds 1 and 2, Scott and Virgil use the Laser Cutter Vehicle to burn through the doors. Inside the vault, Virgil releases Southern from the robot. As the time nears 30 minutes past noon, Scott, in possession of the three bracelets, takes off in Thunderbird 1; he jettisons them over the sea, where they explode harmlessly. On Jeff's orders, Lady Penelope and Parker intercept the Erdman Gang at their rendezvous and use FAB 1's cannon to shoot down the leader, Dempsey and Kenyon before they can escape in a helijet. Southern recovers from his ordeal at the Creighton-Ward Mansion.
Initially unenthusiastic about his task of realising Alan Fennell's script, director David Elliott developed his inspiration after seeing the 1965 spy thriller film The Ipcress File, starring Michael Caine. He remembers that the film "used all the old-fashioned shots – looking through a lampshade, etc. On Monday morning, Paddy [Seale, lighting camera operator] came in and said, 'I saw a film this weekend,' and I said, 'So did I.' 'Was it The Ipcress File?' 'Yep. Right, that's what I want to do.'" In homage to The Ipcress File, Elliott decided to incorporate "quirky visuals" into his direction of the Thunderbirds episode.
Elliott decided to open the Glen Carrick Castle sequence with a tracking shot covering all three walls of the puppet set, coordinating the necessary camera manoeuvres with camera operator Alan Perry. In a pioneering move for a Supermarionation production, forced perspective is used during this scene to present a live human hand and scale puppet characters within the same frame. While the hand, intended to belong to Southern, twiddles a pen in the foreground of the shot, the puppets of Kenyon and Dempsey are positioned across a table in the background. Although the puppets of Thunderbirds were sculpted in 1⁄3 human size, a visual illusion ensures that Kenyon and Dempsey appear to be accurately scaled in proportion to the hand.
Incidental music for "30 Minutes After Noon" was, for the most part, recycled from previous Anderson productions. The television belonging to Hudson Building janitor Sam Saltzman issues the "March of the Oysters" track from the Stingray episode "Secret of the Giant Oyster". The Highland theme from "Loch Ness Monster" accompanies the scenes set in Glen Carrick Castle; the castle model is itself a re-use of Castle McGregor, which appeared in the same Stingray episode. Its last appearance in the Supermarionation productions was as Glen Garry Castle in the Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons episode "The Trap".
"30 Minutes After Noon" achieved viewing figures of 5.2 million when it was repeated on BBC2 in 1992. According to Nathalie Olah of The Independent, the nature of the episode's plot demonstrates the "sense of drama" that made Thunderbirds popular: "Sure, most kids didn't understand the workings of a plutonium bomb, but the fact that the show was capable of sustaining their attention, as well as that of their older siblings and parents, meant they had some idea by the end of said episode." Thunderbirds co-creator Sylvia Anderson praises scriptwriter Alan Fennell's "vivid imagination" and his complex script, while also opining that "30 Minutes After Noon" was "more a vehicle for live action than for the limited emotions of our puppet cast."
Media historian Nicholas J. Cull links the episode to one of Fennell's other Thunderbirds scripts, "The Man from MI.5", in which the main guest character is a British Secret Service agent called Bondson. For Cull, "30 Minutes After Noon" is one of several Thunderbirds episodes that incorporates visual homage to the James Bond films. In particular, he comments on Southern's briefing scene, in which the characters of Southern, Sir William Frazer and an unnamed aide are substituted by hats on a stand: "Southern's hat is a trilby, tossed onto the stand in best James Bond fashion." Tom Fox, in a review for Starburst magazine, draws a similar conclusion with regard to the scene; he picks out the robot guards and the "spooky", "nefarious" and "palatial" hideout of the Scottish castle as the episode's other highlights. He gives "30 Minutes After Noon" a rating of four out of five stars.
Commenting on David Elliott's resolution to diversify the range of camera angles, Stephen La Rivière, author of Filmed in Supermarionation: A History of the Future, expresses disappointment that the first half of "30 Minutes After Noon" presents standard camera work: he judges these scenes to be "filmed as normal", and suggests that they compare negatively to the "quirky visuals" of the latter half. La Rivière also discusses the episode's editing, noting that "30 Minutes After Noon" is split into two distinct storylines (with the exploits of Southern and the British Secret Service only coming after the devastation of the Hudson Building). He argues that, in this respect, the episode is similar to its antecedents, whose running time was unexpectedly doubled from 25 to 50 minutes and which therefore had to be extended with character-based subplots, secondary rescues and other filler scenes.
In a review published in NTBS News Flash, "30 Minutes After Noon" is described as a "thrilling, well-paced episode", which "brings together a very sadistic bad guy scheme and some innocent, and some not-so-innocent victims in peril, all providing plenty of action for International Rescue." The reviewer commends the pacing as being "especially good", and also credits the "inventive camera work", commenting, "I don't think I've seen more use of 'real hand acting' in any other episode." The concept of exploding bracelet bombs is connected to the premise of the Saw horror films, in which victims are seen to be trapped in dangerous situations and are threatened with death if they do not carry out tasks that are put before them.
An audio adaptation of "30 Minutes After Noon", narrated by David Graham in character as Parker, was released as a mini-album in the 1960s. The episode was also serialised by Alan Fennell and Malcolm Stokes in issues 18–20 of Thunderbirds: The Comic in 1992, and re-released in the graphic collection Thunderbirds in Action later that year.
- La Rivière 2009, p. 125.
- Cull, Nicholas J. (August 2006). "Was Captain Black Really Red? The TV Science Fiction of Gerry Anderson in its Cold War Context". Media History (Routledge) 12 (2): 200. doi:10.1080/13688800600808005. ISSN 1368-8804. OCLC 364457089.
- La Rivière 2009, p. 124.
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- La Rivière 2009, p. 129.
- Olah, Nathalie (2 November 2013). "Being Lady Penelope: Thunderbirds Co-Creator Sylvia Anderson Looks Back on her Extraordinary Life". The Independent (London: Independent Print). Archived from the original on 4 November 2013.
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- "Pennyspy" (January–February 2011). "NTBS News Flash: Thunderbirds Episode Guide" (.pdf). tracyislandchronicles.com. p. 6. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2011.