Apart from seeing part of a scratchy bootleg episode of ‘The Secret Service’ over thirty years ago, I haven’t really felt that inspired to watch the last of the Anderson’s supermarionation series, its reputation preceding it. After all, Lew Grade didn’t like it and cut the series off in its tracks, mostly because he didn’t think the Americans would get Stanley Unwin’s gobbledegook or Unwinese talk, although I understand it all right. The trick is to ignore the ends of the words Unwin uses.
Having watched all thirteen episodes, I can see other problems in the basic plot. Although the origin of the Minimiser and how Father Stanley Unwin (named after the actor who plays the part) inherited the device from a dying scientist is only hinted at, less is said of how he connects to a secret service unit with the initials B.I.S.H.O.P. (British Intelligence Service Headquarters Operation Priest) and its boss, the Bishop (voiced by Jeremy Wilkin) and how his gardener and secret service agent in disguise, Matthew Harding (voiced by Gary Files). You would have thought that the device would have been in better hands to use it, after all, it can reduced objects and people to one sixth of it/their height. Therein lies the problem. What possible use is a man a foot high when sophisticated listening bugs, even in 1969, can do the job equally well? Even worse, how can the pair of them and the vicar’s Ford-T car when reduced in size and can only go at a maximum of 50mph ever get anywhere fast compared to when its full size? All the other Anderson series never talked down to kids but challenged their intelligence. ‘The Secret Service’ doesn’t even do much in that regard with so many logic gaps.
Matthew Harding must surely be seen as the second ‘Man In A Suitcase’…literally as that’s his means of transport. It just seems a shame that we never see in the drawers that carry any equipment he might need when scaled down to a foot high. At most, it must contain a frogman suit and protective gear. Then again, we rarely see how he climbs up bookcases unseen, get on chairs, etc. neither.
Would it do better had it continued? Oddly, the thirteenth episode ‘More Haste, Less Speed’, despite some of the flaws above, is actually the best of the bunch with quirky villains who want to succeed at all odds. That episode would even work as an adult show. In many respects, I suspect the scriptwriters and there are some good ones here, are making the best of an odd job.
Objectively, although there are some new puppets here and a lot more texturing is made up giving complexions to them, the majority of the heads come from the likes of ‘Joe 90’ (like Sam Loover) and ‘Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons’ (Scarlet and the unmysterionised Black) amongst them. This tends to give the impression of keeping the series on an extremely low budget or it was too expensive to create new characters.
This also applied to some sets were recycled but in ‘Hole In One’, it does look like one of the space sounds from ‘UFO’ started here, as well as one of the satellite tracking buildings used in the series.
The strongest impression is that the Andersons came up with the idea and let their team run with it to keep them busy and doing something in a cheap budget. How involved Derek Meddings was is hard to say as all special effects direction was by his team. However, you would almost think some locations were full-size. You can see some of the lessons learnt here were employed on the first episode of ‘UFO’ with the governmental car crash. Blending real life and miniature effects size took some bold steps here and there were important lessons learnt for the future (sic).
For extras, there are 22 minutes of episode stills and less than half a dozen breaking the fifth wall with hints of scale. Gerry Anderson’s audio commentary gets the odd detail wrong because ‘The Secret Service’ was produced in 1969 and he doesn’t explain the use of the ‘Captain Scarlet’ and ‘Joe 90’ series puppets. He does explain that Mrs. Appleby’s face was based on Christine Glanville’s mother’s face, although no comment on the improved colour texturing on the faces.
I’m not sure if I entirely like the series but it does have an element of charm to it and might have done better had it been developed more before filming took place.
(region 2: pub: Network 7952275. 2 DVDs 325 minutes 13 * 25 minute episodes. Price: about £ 8.40 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: Stanley Unwin, Gary Files, Jeremy Wilkin, Keith Alexander and Sylvia Anderson
check out website: www.network.com