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Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 12:10 GMT
Christmas rush too much for Thunderbirds
Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson
Creator Gerry Anderson with his newly revived Thunderbird characters
The toy most likely to cause that familiar High Street scrum this Christmas is not Pokémon, Furby or the Teletubbies - but a model based on a TV series created more than 30 years ago. BBC News Online's Julie Cramer reports.

Thunderbirds are going to be big this festive season, according to the importers of this year's most coveted item - a version of the show's fictional setting of Tracy Island, fitted with a microchip.

FAB facts
Jeff, patriarch of the Tracy family, is a former astronaut and a wealthy entrepreneur.
He has five sons - Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan.
Jeff Tracy recruited Brains, a brilliant scientist.
Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward is International Rescue's agent in London.
Her loyal chauffeur, Aloysius Parker, served time for safe-breaking.
Demand for the toy, which is manufactured in China, is currently estimated at 500,000, but with only 60,000 models scheduled to arrive in UK stores before Christmas there is likely to be more than a few disappointed youngsters this year.

The build-up to the annual Christmas toy-buying frenzy comes as a new survey reveals British children own more than £3bn of unwanted toys, and half of all seven- to nine-year-olds think they get too many Christmas presents.

Microchip shortage

But that is unlikely to stop toy manufacturers cashing in on the Christmas rush.

Nick Austin of Surrey-based Vivid Imagination, which imports the Thunderbirds toys from China, is apologetic for the distinct lack of high-tech Tracy Islands in the shops.
Anthea Turner with model of Tracy Island
One made earlier: Anthea Turner with Blue Peter's DIY version of Tracy Island

He blames a shortage of microchips caused by the insatiable demand for mobile phones.

Mr Austin told the BBC: "Mobile phone companies have taken up all of the microchips. Things will improve in the New Year, but of course people want things for Christmas and we understand that."

An emergency production unit to try to bridge the demand gap has been set up in the UK, but will only be able to produce another 20,000 or so toys before Christmas.
Christmas hits
1999 - Pokemon
1998 - Furby
1997 - Teletubbies
1996 - Action Man
1995 - Power Rangers

When it was first shown on ITV in October 1965, the animated puppet adventure series was dubbed the most expensive series ever made.

Its fame spread worldwide, and it attracted an audience of 100 million fans in 66 countries around the world.

Thunderbirds revival

Now its fan base has been boosted further, following the screening of all 32 Thunderbird episodes on BBC Two - complete with digital enhancement and stereo sound.

An earlier revival of the series in the early 1990s spawned the first model version of Tracy Island, which won the Toy of the Year award in 1993 and caused hysteria in shops across the UK.
A Furby
A Furby frenzy hit stores in 1998

The BBC children's TV show Blue Peter even tried to help supply along by showing viewers how to make their own cardboard cut-out version of the toy.

The item created a rush of 100,000 faxes to the show requesting more information.

But a survey just published by the Abbey National reveals that one in five children have at least 20 playthings that remain permanently in the toy box.

The bank is hoping the survey, which quizzed around 900 seven to 16-year-olds, will encourage people to donate any new, unwanted toys to its toy appeal which will pass the gifts on to more needy children around the country.

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See also:

20 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Ask Gerry Anderson
19 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Thunderbirds are going, going, gone
30 Sep 99 | The Economy
Christmas monster invasion
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