University of Leicester eBulletin

Thunderbirds Are Go at University of Leicester!

July 2003

Creator of British science fiction classics speaks at major movie conference

The year is 2003. In a hi-tech lecture theatre in a city in the heart of UK a public mission takes place.

Gerry Anderson, Creator of Thunderbirds, delivered a public lecture on Saturday, July 19 in Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1, University of Leicester.

Lady Penelope, Parker and Captain Scarlet were among the characters assisting him in the University of Leicester international event - The History of the Future: Visions from the Past.

[Conference brochure cover]

'Brains' behind the conference was Professor Nick Cull, of the University of Leicester's School of Historical Studies. Film and communications historians from around the world converged on the University to discuss the ways movies imagined the future and the future of the media in the digital age as part of the twentieth biennial conference of the International Association for Media and History (website

The Royal Historical Society and the InterUniversity History Film Consortium were among the organisations that joined IAMHIST and the University of Leicester in staging this conference. The programme also included a reception at the National Space Centre.

Professor Cull said: "It was a real coup for the University and Leicester to have Gerry Anderson address us and we felt really privileged that he agreed to come and share his experiences with the conference. This was the first time he had spoken to an international university audience."

"When we began planning our conference on the history of images of the future it soon became clear that Gerry Anderson was our first choice for a keynote speaker. No other Briton has done as much to frame this generation's image of the future. Our expectations of technology and architecture have drawn from his imagination.

"His illustrated talk was open to the public - provided people make a donation to his favourite charity, the Oxfordshire air ambulance appeal, an organisation he believes captures the spirit of Thunderbirds."

The conference, from July 16-19, included sessions on:

    HG Wells and George Orwell

    Images of Future War 

    British Science Fiction Television

    Aliens and Time Machines

Events included a screening of a classic silent British science fiction film from 1929 called High Treason, with live piano accompaniment. 

Professor Cull said: "We were pleased to welcome leading academics from around 22 countries at this conference - Leicester has real strength and commitment to study in this area. The study of cinema reveals much about society and its aspirations - and moreover a society reveals itself through its fantasies of the future. We looked, for example, at the contrast between the way communist countries imagined the future and how capitalist countries imagined it.

"Science fiction cinema and television provides us with a prism to examine the most profound imaginings and fantasies of a society."

One aspect of the conference looked at the relationship between technology and science fiction. "We discussed how images from Star Trek have come to inform our technology - for example, mobile phones look like communicators.

"We also discussed how the future was imagined by Nazis and communists - so we focused not just on popular culture but unpopular culture too. Film archivists and makers talked about digital technology and how science fiction has become science fact."

Professor Cull added: "Historians can learn from fantasy films and factual film - indeed, our fantasies can be more instructive than our factual films.

"Thunderbirds offers a very profound comment on the relationship between modern people and technology - even when technology goes wrong, it is a combination of technology and the human spirit that can rescue you from disaster. It may be 40 years old but it can still capture the imagination."

Other events included major panels from media professionals on the past and future of the media. A team of distinguished journalists, led by the former general manager of Reuters, Michael Nelson and including the CEO and editor-in-chief of ITN, Stewart Purvis debated the question: What were the really big new stories of the last 25 years? while top figures from the world of historical documentary making considered the impact of digital technology of their work.

The conference also featured a reception by the British Universities Film and Video Council to mark the completion of its four-year AHRB funded project to add 80,000 British newsreel production documents to its database.

The opening afternoon's proceedings took place in the Gilbert Murray Conference Centre at Stoughton Drive South Leicester, all subsequent days took place on the main campus, in the Ken Edwards building.

For more information, contact Professor Cull on 0116 252 2861, email

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Last updated: July 2003
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