Tag Archives: the secret service

The Secret Service 1.13 – More Haste Less Speed

The Secret Service may have been uneven, but it ended on a high note with this fun romp written by Tony Barwick. In it, Father Unwin and Matthew match wits with four scheming, barely competent, double-crossing criminals who are trying to get hold of a pair of counterfeiting plates. The shrunken, quarter-sized Model T ends up in a race against a motorcycle, an ambulance, and a beat-up old biplane that the pilot can’t actually fly, and our son absolutely adored it. He laughed all through the story.

So why’d it end so soon? All of the ITC series of the 1960s and 1970s, including Anderson’s puppet adventures, were bankrolled by Sir Lew Grade, and his battle plan was always to produce large batches of episodes, more than the six or thirteen a season that was typical for British television, to sell to as many territories as possible. Even if a US network didn’t bite – and they often didn’t – he could try to sell the program to the many independent stations across the country, along with the networks of many other nations.

Preproduction of The Secret Service began in the spring of 1968, and filming started in August of that year. Grade saw a test screening of episode one in December and pulled the plug, believing that the spy fad had passed and American audiences would not understand Stanley Unwin’s gobbledygook. That nobody understood his gobbledygook, that’s the whole point, seems to have missed him. So production ended in January 1969 with the conclusion of this episode. They really went to town on the location work for this one, going out on a high note, and then the shows just sat in the vault until September.

The Secret Service was finally broadcast nine months after they finished production, in only three of the (then) thirteen commercial television regions of the UK. It was only rarely repeated, very little merchandise was released, and it wasn’t shown in many other countries. More than a year after the last episode aired, the comic Countdown carried a short-lived Secret Service strip, which probably confused a whole lot of kids who thought this might be a forthcoming program instead of one that had been axed before they knew it was around.

It was the final puppet series for Anderson for many years, and, at this point, the last of his programs we plan to watch at this blog. I wouldn’t say no to a gift of Stingray or the movie Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, but Daniel’s far too young for UFO or The Protectors, and I’ve got no interest in any of the other shows. But Anderson’s influence extends far beyond the shows that he personally worked on…

(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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The Secret Service 1.12 – May-Day, May-Day!

It breaks my heart, this show is so uneven. This episode is dull, dull, dull. Almost the whole thing is Father Unwin landing a plane. Even Daniel said “I can’t wait until this is over.”

One of the live-action shots promised better. There’s a neat cut from a puppet at the front door of a model police station turning when he hears a car coming, and then we see a car barreling down the road with an assassin hanging out the window firing at him. It looked awesome. Daniel is, of course, a little too young for Gerry Anderson’s later series The Protectors, which began a couple of years after this, but I hope to watch it soon and see some fun seat-of-yer-pants excitement like that.

(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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The Secret Service 1.11 – School for Spies

“Wow, this one’s really good,” I said to myself. “I wonder whether Donald James wrote this one as well.” He did.

It’s not just me who perceives a jump in quality with James’s scripts for this show. Daniel really liked this one, which sees an opposite power to the heroes of BISHOP. It’s run by a villain called the Arch-Deacon and he has a gang of criminal mercenaries dressed as priests operating out of a seminary and blowing up shipments of explosives and bombing experimental weapons testing facilities. These are accomplished with the usual awesome visuals of Gerry Anderson’s pyrotechnics team.

I did think it was a shame that the Arch-Deacon was apprehended in the end – Anderson’s very best shows had good recurring villains, of course – but the show ended with a real question. Did the Arch-Deacon actually know about BISHOP, or was his choice of a clerical shtick a big coincidence?

(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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The Secret Service 1.10 – The Cure

Two things to note about this one: most interestingly from a story standpoint, this is the first occasion in which Father Unwin actually has a proper confrontation with an enemy agent. This fellow, a foreign agent called Sakov, is a proper, formidable enemy, who deduces that Unwin is part of some British intelligence service, and not a doddering old priest. Had the show continued, I could imagine this character returning for another case or two. I bet that the large Anderson fan community has come up with a fic or two about that.

The other thing is a very funny little sight gag. Father Unwin miniaturises himself and his car, Gabriel, because a garage door is locked and the only way out is through a regular door. The Century 21 team built a quarter-size Model T and drove it along some country lanes for a couple of minutes, leading to the inevitable guy on a bicycle riding into a hedge. That was, of course, Daniel’s favorite moment of the story.

(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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The Secret Service 1.9 – The Deadly Whisper

This was much, much better than the previous episode. Marie was out while we watched it, and our son yelled when she returned “You missed an amazing one!”

I wouldn’t go quite that far, but “The Deadly Whisper” is pretty entertaining. The story by Donald James has neat sonic weapons, top secret aircraft, nasty bad guys, and the Captain Black puppet pressed into service again. James was just a really good writer for these light espionage shows. By chance, two nights ago, we watched a Jason King that he did that guest-starred Roger Delgado.

There are also a few shots that rival the ones from a few episodes back where they filmed the Matthew puppet in somebody’s back garden. They don’t look anywhere as ridiculous as those, but they have the Matthew puppet hiding and observing the sonic weapon from the family’s doghouse, hanging out with a bulldog! To be clear, it looks as unreal as the sequence from “The Feathered Spies,” but not comical. The director, Leo Eaton, framed the shots much, much closer in than Ian Spurrier did in the previous story, and didn’t hold them anywhere as long as the ones that I’m still complaining about, so while they look bizarre, they’re only onscreen for brief moments.

I’m not quite sure that I believe the science of how the villains are defeated, but it did give me a chance to try and explain the speed of sound and what “Mach 3” means to my son. It may be a bit over his head, but he was intrigued and there were explosions, so we had a pretty good time with this “amazing” adventure.

(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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The Secret Service 1.8 – Errand of Mercy

And so, very early in the show’s run, we get the obligatory “it was all a dream” episode. Tony Barwick wrote an awful lot of these for Gerry Anderson. This one started out quite whimsical, with Father Unwin’s car, Gabriel, flying to Africa to deliver medical supplies, but then they land in darkest Africa and everything goes to pieces. Yes, the natives are restless, they wear colorful masks and they have shields and spears.

It’s not just the unhappy and unfortunate old stereotype of the tribe that’s awful. When you’re watching something from this era, you grudgingly have to bite your lip because it’s old and insensitive. But this actually compounds it: Unwin’s able to communicate with the tribesmen by way of his Unwinese gobbledygook language.

The story goes that one of the reasons Lew Grade canceled the production of The Secret Service is that the potential American audience wouldn’t understand Unwinese. The counter-argument is that nobody’s supposed to understand his fast-talking palare; that’s the point. But the real problem with the way that Unwinese is presented in the show is this: it takes half the scene to realize he’s talking his gafflebam. It just sounds like mumbling, which is amplified by the other character saying “I’m sorry? I don’t understand…” If it was a little more clear, then everybody watching wouldn’t just be in on the joke, they’d realize that a joke was being told.

But having the ooga-booga natives being so primitive that the only English that they can understand is that fractured balderdash… that’s pretty offensive. I’m certainly going to have a talk with Daniel about these outdated depictions.

(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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The Secret Service 1.7 – Recall to Service

“This one was totally awesome,” Daniel told me. It’s much more five year-old-friendly than any of the previous episodes, and is full of tanks and explosions. It’s very reminiscent of the Captain Scarlet episode “Point 783,” and I said that even before one of the Spectrum Angel jets appears in the sky to try and blast the runaway “Aquatank.”

But it’s much more friendly to grownups as well; nothing in this episode is as painfully obvious as is often the case in these installments. I enjoyed seeing Father Unwin in uniform, and I liked the way all the base personnel are suspicious about what the “padre” is up to. There’s a really great bit where he has to drive Gabriel across the minefields and race the tank to its new target, explosions all around it. This is easily the best of the first seven episodes so far.

(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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The Secret Service 1.6 – Hole in One

Two episodes ago, the problem was that only a small child couldn’t figure out how secrets were being leaked to the enemy. Evidently, that was still too tricky, and so in this episode, they show us in the pre-credits scene that golf balls have tiny tape recorders inside them, and “the opposition” have rented a house near the 15th hole of a private course, and rigged up a series of chutes to collect the balls so that they can collect information that a general discusses on the course.

The story’s by Anderson veteran Shane Rimmer, and it’s a cute idea, but once you give that sort of thing away in the first minute and leave another twenty-three for the puppets to figure it out, you’re leaving a lot of room for five year-olds who don’t understand golf plenty of opportunities to ask what in the world is happening and “was that a hole in one?” There were, at least, a couple of explosions to keep him interested.

(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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