The Secret Service 1.1 – A Case for the Bishop

Off to 1969 and one of the shows that Gerry Anderson made that people just don’t know all that well, The Secret Service is a very cute and very, very odd little spy series for kids. It doesn’t have any of the wild mayhem and crazy technology of the earlier Supermarionation shows. In fact it has a single fantastic element: a shrink ray.

By ’69, the spy craze kickstarted by the James Bond films was mostly calmed down, so this was a weird time to be making a spy adventure, but there you go. It’s set in what appears to be the present day and concerns an agency called B.I.S.H.O.P. which employs Father Stanley Unwin. The priest is played by the real Stanley Unwin, a popular comedian of the day whose shtick was talking in a nonsensical gobbledygook. Father Unwin uses a shrink ray to miniaturize his fellow agent Matthew and carry him into action, while he distracts authorities or guards by appearing as a harmless priest who babbles a lot.

The pilot, unsurprisingly, isn’t too complicated. It’s a basic little adventure about retrieving a stolen computer that takes time setting up the premise. But what no amount of backstory will prepare you for is how downright weird this show looks. See, every Gerry Anderson show has some of what Marie calls “cheat shots,” where they do closeups of human hands instead of trying to get the puppets to do intricate tasks. This takes things in the other direction entirely. It’s a live action show that just happens to have puppets in for the dialogue. All the exteriors and establishing shots and car chases are filmed by a crew with human actors, with the real Stanley Unwin driving his character’s terrific car, a 1917 Ford Model T called Gabriel. Then when anybody needs to talk, the puppets are used. So the team didn’t have to build as many puppet-scale exteriors, and they shot far less material on the small stages, and everybody at Century 21 got the practice making shows with real actors that would serve them well when they started making UFO and The Protectors.

Incidentally, both The Secret Service and its immediate predecessor, Joe 90, used several props and puppet bodies that were built for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons two years previously – you can spot Captain Ochre in a small role here – and also many of the same voice actors. One of these is David Healy, who was often used for American generals or, here, Iron Curtain-nation diplomats. We’ll have a little bit more to say about David Healy in these pages shortly.

Daniel was honestly not completely taken by this, but he said it was pretty good and seems interested in seeing more. The car chase and gunfight certainly had his attention though, and we’ll see what happens in episode two very soon.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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