Obituary – Thunderbirds voice artist Matt Zimmerman

On June 9th we were very sad to learn of the passing of actor Matt Zimmerman, who voiced Alan Tracy in the original Thunderbirds television series and its two feature films.

Thunderbirds – ‘End of the Road’

Matt Zimmerman was born in Sudbury, Ontario in Canada on December 26th 1934. Attending school in Detroit he gained an interest in the performing acts, and was encouraged by both one of his teachers and a family friend to pursue a career in the theatre. He soon found success on the Canadian stage and earned a scholarship to study aboard as a result, relocating to England in 1959 to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Here he continued his stage career, and it was while understudying David Holliday in West Side Story that Matt was first introduced to Thunderbirds. Holliday, who voiced Virgil in the show’s first season, was aware that the production was struggling to find a suitable voice artist for the role of Alan Tracy and suggested he attend an interview with Sylvia Anderson.

According to Matt the role was his before he even opened his mouth, as Sylvia was so immediately taken by his resemblance to the Alan puppet. Although he didn’t voice Alan in the show’s first episode (with the character’s line “Yes Father” instead being performed by Ray Barrett) Matt stayed with the series for the remainder of its run, with Alan taking a lead role in both Thunderbirds are Go and Thunderbird 6. He also voiced many notable guest characters in the series, including Ned Cook, Eddie Kerr, and Thomas Prescott, but did not return for future Supermarionation productions.

UFO – ‘Exposed’

Several years after production wrapped on Thunderbirds Matt appeared in a live action Anderson series when he played Paul Foster’s co-pilot Jim in the UFO episode Exposed – although, much to Matt’s chagrin, his performance was ultimately redubbed with the voice of Jeremy Wilkin. Another memorable sci-fi role came in 1981 when he played the trigger-happy space cop Shooty in episode 4 of the television adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Other later television guest appearances included episodes of the comedies Whoops Apocalypse, Never the Twain, Jeeves and Wooster and Rab C. Nesbitt, the children’s shows T-Bag, Spatz and Mike and Angelo, and the Canadian sci-fi series Lexx.

He was also regularly heard in various BBC radio plays during the 1980s where he often found himself working alongside other notable Anderson actors (including Shane Rimmer, Ed Bishop and Sam Dastor) on such titles as A Study in Scarlet and The Caves of Steel.

He returned to play Alan Tracy once again as part of a Thunderbirds radio play produced for Children in Need in 1987, and later voiced the role of Professor Harold in Tunnels of Time, an episode of the 2015 CGI series. A popular guest at conventions, Matt always maintained close ties to the original Thunderbirds television series and those who had worked on it with him, until he passed away in June 2022 at the age of 87.

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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