The third episode of the second season of Thunderbirds is not exactly a standout instalment of the series. Alias Mr. Hackenbacker largely re-treads similar ‘aircraft in distress’ territory as the Fireflash episodes, while also throwing in a fashion show subplot that isn’t to everyone’s tastes. It’s a perfectly decent episode, just not one that should in theory generate much interest…were it not for inadvertently raising a question that continues to resonate more than fifty years later! “Is Hiram K. Hackenbacker Brains’ real name?”
In theory, the episode title itself should be more than enough of an explanation; no, Mr. Hackenbacker is not Brains’ real name. It is in fact just an Alias he uses when attached to non-International Rescue projects, such as that story’s Skythrust airliner. This is supported by ample evidence within the episode itself, with Jeff and Virgil Tracy both sounding very unused to saying the name, and at one point even Brains himself doesn’t register it as his own when referred to as such. The sunglasses he wears throughout most of the episode also point to the Hackenbacker ‘persona’ being part of an identity created to allow him to operate in the outside world, and we would again see Brains operating under another alias (“Mr X”) when devising Skyship One for the New World Aircraft Corporation in the feature film Thunderbird 6.
Had the name never appeared anywhere else after that single episode of the television series, the question probably wouldn’t keep being asked. While it would never again be heard on television, the popular TV21 comic soon began to use it as well; not Hiram Hackenbacker, but Horatio Hackenbacker. No mention was made of this being an alias, and instead it was presented in various stories and features as Brains’ real actual name – despite the obvious evidence in Alias Mr. Hackenbacker that neither Brains nor any of his International Rescue colleagues made any regular use of it.
With the Thunderbirds revival of the 1990s came a new Thunderbirds comic, and the chance to either wipe the slate clean regarding Brains’ name or at least provide some clarity to what had gone before – or possibly muddy the matter still further! Issue 8 of Thunderbirds the Comic featured a biography of Brains which gave his real name as…Hiram J. Hackenbacker! Not only did this contradict the established middle initial of K. from Alias Mr. Hackenbacker, the Comic itself would soon contradict this biography entirely.
Thunderbirds comic editor Alan Fennell (himself a writer of ten episodes of Thunderbirds, plus seventeen Fireball XL5s, twenty-four Stingrays and two UFOs) penned The Complete Thunderbirds Story, a popular feature that told the backstory of the International Rescue organisation and its characters. Running for forty-five instalments from February 1993, here it was revealed that Brains’ real name was…Homer Newton III. Despite Fennell’s association with the original Thunderbirds television series this name does not seem to have caught on in the same way that Hackenbacker did, and is rarely mentioned today – perhaps in part because Brains’ previously established ‘real name’ wasn’t the only part of TV21 lore that The Complete Thunderbirds Story disregarded.
The Hackenbacker name has however lived on, and was presented as the genuine surname of two subsequent iterations of the Brains character; the 2004 live-action movie version played by Anthony Edwards, and the 2015 CGI reboot series Thunderbirds are Go version voiced by Kayvan Novak (which stuck with the full name of Hiram K. Hackenbacker). For those two versions of Brains, at least, Hackenbacker is definitely his real surname. However, for the original Supermarionation Brains, there’s no way around the fact that – at least on television – Hiram K. Hackenbacker is definitely just an alias rather than his real name, albeit one that spinoff media mistakenly presented as genuine for so many years that the character would never be able to shake it off.
Of course this still leaves the big question; “what actually is his real name?” Rather than confuse things still further by making some ‘official’ decision, we’re content to throw our hands up at the whole mess and say that the Supermarionation Brains’ real name must remain his own business. Poor old Hiram Homer Horatio J. K. Hackenbacker-Newton the Third has quite enough names already without us adding any more!