|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|
"The Cham-Cham" is the 25th episode of Thunderbirds, a British 1960s Supermarionation television series co-created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The penultimate instalment of series one, it first aired on 24 March 1966 on ATV Midlands. Alan Pattillo both wrote and directed the episode, which opens with a United States Air Force (USAF) aircraft being shot down during the radio transmission of a popular instrumental music track. International Rescue suspects sabotage, and Lady Penelope, Tin-Tin and Parker are dispatched to investigate the band's current tour venue — a hotel in the Swiss Alps. There, it is discovered that the attacks are being co-ordinated with the aid of a "Cham-Cham", an advanced computer sensitive to microtones and ultrasonic harmonics.
Filmed in late 1965, "The Cham-Cham" inspired innovation in AP Films' use of puppet characters; towards the end of the episode, the Penelope character performs a carefully choreographed cabaret dance, despite of the difficulties inherent in producing movement from the marionettes. Additionally, the episode marks the first occasion in any Supermarionation series that characters are seen skiing. Scripted to incorporate themes of espionage and show business, the filming of "The Cham-Cham" entailed the collaboration of singer Ken Barrie, who wrote the lyrics to series composer Barry Gray's Latin rhythm "Dangerous Game".
The episode has attracted positive critical reception, with the production design and the soundtrack singled out for particular praise. Sylvia Anderson values "The Cham-Cham" for its "charm", as well as its visualisation of the Paradise Peaks resort, but considers the plot "far-fetched"; Stephen La Rivière compliments the episode for its technical accomplishments, in addition to its writing. Cultural historian Nicholas J. Cull comments on the undertones of some of the episode's characterisations in the context of the Cold War. "The Cham-Cham" was adapted for audio in the 1960s.
A succession of RTL2 cargo aircraft running missile shipments have been shot down by enemy fighters shortly after take-off from Matthews Field USAF Base. On Tracy Island, Alan (voiced by Matt Zimmerman) points out that all the attacks have coincided with a live performance of "Dangerous Game" from the hit band Cass Carnaby Five, broadcast on Radio Maxwell; with Brains (David Graham), he examines a recording of the latest transmission to determine whether the tune contains a hidden code inserted to disrupt the RTL2 flights.
Meanwhile, Jeff (Peter Dyneley) dispatches Tin-Tin (Christine Finn) and Lady Penelope (Sylvia Anderson) — the latter posing as a singer, "Wanda Lamour" — undercover to Paradise Peaks, a deluxe Swiss Alps hotel that is currently playing host to Carnaby and his group. Parker (Graham) secures a job at the bar. Carnaby's manager is the mysterious Mr Olsen, who regularly makes last-minute changes to the arrangement of "Dangerous Game" before the band perform on-air. Skiing down the mountain to Olsen's private lodge, Penelope and Tin-Tin film him working at an unidentified computer, which is decrypting musical notation into a typed message revealing the date and 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, tumbling down the mountainside with his adversary (and forming a giant snowball in the process) until Banino is knocked unconscious. On Tracy Island, Brains identifies the device in Penelope and Tin-Tin's film as an ultrasonically-sensitive supercomputer known as a "Cham-Cham". Jeff contacts Washington, D.C. to report IR's findings, but the Matthews Field Commander refuses to postpone the upcoming missile run.
That evening, the Cass Carnaby Five start to perform Olsen's latest arrangement of "Dangerous Game". It seems that the next flight of the RTL2 is doomed until Penelope, in the guise of Wanda Lamour, steps out onto the stage to sing a lyrical version of Brains' own composition. Accepting without question the new coordinates encoded in Radio Maxwell's transmission, the airbase that launched the previous attacks misdirects its own fighters, which quickly find themselves in the airspace above Matthews Field. Landing at the scene in Thunderbird 1, Scott (Shane Rimmer) alerts the Commander and USAF interceptors are scrambled to shoot down the enemy.
Fearing Olsen's next move, Jeff dispatches Virgil (David Holliday) and Alan to fly Tin-Tin, Penelope and Parker back from the Alps in Thunderbird 2. The IR agents depart from Paradise Peaks in the hotel's cable car, only to find themselves speeding uncontrollably down the mountainside when Olsen sabotages the terminus. With Thunderbird 2's electromagnetic grabs unable to connect with the car chassis, Parker climbs onto the roof to hook the wires with the end of Penelope's umbrella and attach them himself. When the braking 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 back at Paradise Peaks.
The penultimate episode to be filmed for series one, "The Cham-Cham" was written by Alan Pattillo, who attempted to imitate classic Hollywood musicals with his script's show business plot and the exotic setting of the Paradise Peaks resort. As an in-joke, Pattillo named Penelope's alias, Wanda Lamour, after one of the Thunderbirds puppet operators, Wanda Brown. Production was completed in November and December 1965.
Since convincing walking movements had always been difficult to accomplish with the unevenly weighted Supermarionation puppets, the common practice at AP Films Studios was to allow walking to be implied, rather than seen, by having the hand of a puppeteer move a marionette's legs using a "bobbing motion". The scene in which Lady Penelope sings Brains' lyrical version of "Dangerous Game" required the puppet to waltz through the Paradise Peaks ballroom set, necessitating that Brown move the character's legs out of shot while fellow operator Christine Glanville controlled the upper body from the overhead gantry.
Gerry Anderson remembered that AP Films had never attempted to film skiing sequences previously, but judged the scenes of Penelope and Tin-Tin travelling to Olsen's lodge to be suitably realistic. Anderson himself conceived the "ski thrusters" that the agents use to power their ascent up the mountainside while returning to Paradise Peaks. Praising production designer Bob Bell's visuals, he opined 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."
Series composer Barry Gray devised a Latin rhythm track for the centrepiece of the episode's soundtrack: "Dangerous Game". Although singer Ken Barrie was commissioned to sing the lyrics to the tune, the production staff ultimately substituted Gray's alternative instrumental version whenever the Cass Carnaby Five are seen to be playing. For the scene featuring Penelope's rendition, Sylvia Anderson based her singing voice on that of Marlene Dietrich. An incidental music track composed for the Supercar episode "Amazonian Adventure", titled "Happy Flying", accompanies the shots of Penelope and Tin-Tin skiing to Olsen's lodge.
As with "Attack of the Alligators!", the episode that had been filmed immediately prior, the technical complexity of "The Cham-Cham" resulting in the production finishing nearly a week past the deadline and considerably overspending its budget. To compensate for wasted time and costs, the Thunderbirds scriptwriters re-wrote the series one finale as a clip show, "Security Hazard", which would make extensive use of flashback footage to limit the requirement for new scenes.
Sylvia Anderson considers "The Cham-Cham" to be one of the best episodes of Thunderbirds, and a rival to "Attack of the Alligators!" in terms of quality. On her website, she comments: "Even though the plot is far-fetched, it has charm and, because of the lovely Swiss mountain setting, has credibility." Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn, writers of What Made Thunderbirds Go! The Authorised Biography of Gerry Anderson, describe "The Cham-Cham" as "perhaps the most lavish-looking episode of the series", citing Lady Penelope's deep-cover cabaret performance and the skiing sequences as examples of the instalment's "unforgettable images". Tom Fox of Starburst magazine is broadly complimentary, awarding the episode a score of 4 out of 5. He comments positively on the production design and the Thunderbird 2 rescue, both of which – in his view – help to "make up" for the plot, which is judged to be "tenuous at best". While expressing puzzlement at Brains and Penelope's tactics for the diversion of the enemy fighters, like Archer and Hearn he praises the entertainment value of Parker's unusual descent by umbrella.
Fox's reception to "Dangerous Game" is similarly positive. Reviewing the CD release of the original Thunderbirds soundtrack, Morag Reavley of BBC Online describes Anderson's rendition as "slinky, sexy and slightly off-key, like a hung-over Zsa Zsa Gabor". For Heather Phares of AllMusic, the tune is a highlight of the album: while the "Latin Rhythm Instrumental" "[reflects] the '60s' ongoing fascination with exotica and Latin pop", the lyrical version "could be a kissing cousin to seductive spy themes like 'Goldfinger'." Stephen La Rivière, writer of Filmed in Supermarionation: A History of the Future praises the technical proficiency of the production staff, characterising the skiing and dancing scenes 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." Expanding on his last point, La Rivière emphasises the family appeal of the episode's comedy, arguing that the subtlety of Parker's occasional double entendres is counter-acted by his slapstick moments, such as the innovative use of Penelope's umbrella (described as "doing a 'Mary Poppins'").
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. The episode achieved ratings of 2.82 million viewers when it was repeated on BBC Two in 1992.
- Bentley 2005, p. 31.
- La Rivière 2009, p. 128.
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- La Rivière 2009, p. 127.