|Episode no.||Season 01
|Directed by||Alan Pattillo|
|Written by||Alan Pattillo|
|Cinematography by||Julien Lugrin|
|Editing by||Harry Ledger|
|Original air date||24 March 1966|
|List of Thunderbirds episodes|
"The Cham-Cham" is the 25th episode of the 1960s Supermarionation television series Thunderbirds. One of the final instalments of Series One, it first aired in the United Kingdom on ATV Midlands on 24 March 1966. Alan Pattillo both scripted and directed the episode, which starts with the latest in a number of United States Air Force (USAF) planes being shot down during the radio broadcast of a hit pop song. International Rescue suspects sabotage, and Lady Penelope, Tin-Tin and Parker are dispatched undercover to investigate the band's latest tour venue — a deluxe hotel in the Swiss Alps. There, it is discovered that the attacks are being coordinated with the help of a "Cham-Cham", an advanced computer sensitive to ultrasonic harmonics and microtones.
Filmed at the end of 1965, production on "The Cham-Cham" inspired innovation in the use of puppet characters, the Penelope character being required to perform a dance at the climax of the episode in spite of the difficulties inherent in inducing motion from the Thunderbirds marionettes. It also marks the first occasion in the Anderson Supermarionation series that skiing is depicted. Scripted to present themes of espionage and showbusiness, the making of "The Cham-Cham" entailed the collaboration of singer Ken Barrie, who penned lines to the featured song, "Dangerous Game".
Co-creator Sylvia Anderson has praised "The Cham-Cham" for its "charm" and the imagination behind the depiction of the Paradise Peaks resort, although she argues that the plot is "far-fetched", while Supermarionation expert Stephen La Rivière values the episode for its technical accomplishments in addition to its scripting. Historian Nicholas J. Cull has examined the undertones of certain characterisations in relation to the real-life Cold War. "The Cham-Cham" received an audio adaptation in the 1960s.
Three RTL2 cargo aircraft on missile shipment runs have each been shot down by unidentified fighter aircraft after take-off from Matthews Field United States Air Force (USAF) Base. On Tracy Island, Alan points out that each attack has coincided with a live performance of "Dangerous Game" from the hit group Cass Carnaby Five, broadcast on Radio Maxwell. Brains and Alan set to work on a recording of the latest transmission to determine whether the tune contains a hidden code intended to disrupt the RTL2 flights.
Meanwhile, Jeff assigns Tin-Tin and Lady Penelope — the latter posing as a singer, "Wanda Lamour" — to an undercover mission to Paradise Peaks, a luxurious Swiss Alps hotel that is currently playing host to Cass Carnaby and his band. Parker secures a job at the bar. Carnaby's manager is the suspicious Mr Olsen, who often makes late changes to the arrangement of "Dangerous Game" before the band performs live on-air. Penelope and Tin-Tin ski to Olsen's residence and film him operating a computer that is decoding musical notation into a message revealing the time of the next RTL2 flight.
Realising that he has had uninvited guests, Olsen contacts his associate — Banino, a waiter — with orders to dispose of the International Rescue agents. Parker overhears the telephone conversation and thwarts Banino's attempt to assassinate Penelope and Tin-Tin using a sniper rifle, rolling down the mountainside with his opponent until Banino is knocked unconscious. On Tracy Island, Brains identifies the computer in the film as a "Cham-Cham". Jeff contacts the authorities in Washington, D.C. to report International Rescue's findings, but the Matthews Field Commander refuses to cancel the next missile shipment.
That night, the Cass Carnaby Five start to perform Olsen's latest arrangement of "Dangerous Game" that will doom the upcoming RTL2 flight. At the last moment, Penelope, under the guise of Wanda Lamour, steps out onto the stage to sing a lyrical rendition of Brains' composition. Accepting the false coordinates encoded in the Radio Maxwell transmission, the hostile airbase that launched the earlier attacks misdirects its own fighters, who soon find themselves in the vicinity of Matthews Field. Landing at the scene in Thunderbird 1, Scott alerts the Commander and interceptors are launched to shoot down the enemy.
Knowing that Olsen will be out for revenge, Jeff dispatches Virgil and Alan to the Alps in Thunderbird 2 to recall Tin-Tin, Penelope and Parker. The International Rescue agents escape in the Paradise Peaks cable car, only to be left speeding down the mountainside out of control after Olsen cuts through the lines at the terminus. With Thunderbird 2's electromagnetic grabs unable to gain purchase on the car, Parker climbs onto the roof to snare the cables with the end of Penelope's umbrella and attach them himself. When the force of Virgil and Alan's retro-rockets throws the butler into the air, he uses the umbrella to parachute back down. All are treated to a private piano recital of "Dangerous Game" from Cass before leaving Paradise Peaks.
The penultimate episode to be filmed for Series One of Thunderbirds, writer and director Alan Pattillo scripted "The Cham-Cham" to emulate classic Hollywood musicals with its showbusiness plot and its exotic setting of the Paradise Peaks resort. As an in-joke, Pattillo named Penelope's alias, Wanda Lamour, after one of the Thunderbirds puppeteers, Wanda Brown. Filming ran from November to December 1965. Since it had been difficult to obtain persuasive walks from the puppets for previous episodes, at the time of production it had been decided that such motions would be implied, rather than seen, through a "bobbing motion" resulting from a puppeteer moving a puppet's legs out of shot. The sequence in which Lady Penelope sings Brains' modified version of "Dangerous Game" required the character to waltz the length of the Paradise Peaks ballroom set, necessitating that Brown move the legs just out of the frame while puppeteer Christine Glanville orchestrated upper body movements from the overhead gantry.
Co-creator Gerry Anderson recalls that skiing sequences had not been attempted in previous Supermarionation productions, but believes that the characters of Penelope and Tin-Tin are seen to ski in a realistic manner on their journey to Olsen's lodge. Anderson himself conceived the "ski thrusters" that the agents use to assist their uphill return to Paradise Peaks. Praising the visuals of "The Cham-Cham", he summarises that the episode "gave our art and design departments a chance to show what they could really do, and they didn't let us down." In a parallel to the episode filmed immediately before, "Attack of the Alligators!", the technical complexity of "The Cham-Cham" meant that production finished almost one week behind schedule and exceeded its budget. To compensate for the lost shooting time and production costs, the writers re-scripted the Series One finale as "Security Hazard", a clip show that makes extensive use of flashback footage to reduce the financial burden of new scenes.
Although singer Ken Barrie recorded lines to "Dangerous Game", the production team ultimately replaced his sung rendition with an instrumental tune for all occasions in "The Cham-Cham" when the Cass Carnaby Five are performing. Reviewing the CD release of the original Thunderbirds soundtrack, Morag Reavley of the BBC Online site describes the Penelope character's performance of "Dangerous Game" as "slinky, sexy and slightly off-key, like a hung-over Zsa Zsa Gabor". Co-creator and voice actress Sylvia Anderson based her singing voice on that of the German actress and singer Marlene Dietrich. An incidental music track from the Supercar episode "Amazonian Adventure", titled "Happy Flying", accompanies the shots of Penelope and Tin-Tin skiing to Olsen's lodge.
The episode achieved ratings of 2.82 million viewers for its 1992 repeat broadcast on BBC2.
Sylvia Anderson considers "The Cham-Cham" among the best episodes of Thunderbirds and a rival to "Attack of the Alligators!", writing on her website, "Even though the plot is far-fetched, it has charm and because of the lovely Swiss mountain setting, has credibility." Stephen La Rivière, author of Filmed in Supermarionation: A History of the Future, praises the technical feats of this episode, citing the dancing and skiing sequences as "[flying] in the face of what puppets can and can't do." He sums up the episode as "a glorious example of Thunderbirds at its best, combining all the elements that made the show so popular: the characters, the adventure, the rescues and, of course, the humour." Historian Nicholas J. Cull interprets "The Cham-Cham" as a product of its Cold War context, noting the "Central/Eastern European accents" of the hostile airbase personnel.
- La Rivière, 128.
- Bentley, 31.
- Bentley, 30.
- Ralph Titterton, Cathy Ford, Chris Bentley, Barry Gray. "Barry Gray Biography" (PDF). lampmusic.co.uk. Archived from the original on 8 October 2008. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
- Anderson, Sylvia. "Thunderbirds–Episode Guide". sylviaanderson.org.uk. Archived from the original on 21 February 2008. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
- 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.
- Bentley, 88.
- Reavley, Morag. "Thunderbirds Original Soundtrack Review". BBC Online. Archived from the original on 3 March 2010. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
- "Thunderbirds Episode Guide (Series One)". fanderson.org.uk. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
- La Rivière, 127.