In Review: The Secret Service Annual

The Secret Service, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s last “Supermarionation” show was cruelly deprived of merchandise on the scale of the earlier series they produced, but now Fanderson has well and truly put this right with their fabulous, official, The Secret Service Annual.

Edited by Nick Williams, this fully authorised 100-page, hardback A4 book is packed full with everything you need to know about Gerry Anderson’s final, quirky, puppet show. Not only do we get new stories, there’s plenty of background material on the short-lived series, too, including character profiles, episode guide, and a rare, represented, interview with the series star, Stanley Unwin, who played the country priest with a strange secret.

An upfront confession, here (which seems rather appropriate). I am not very familiar with The Secret Service, which wasn’t broadcast in my area when it was first produced. Even today, even though there’s a DVD of the show in the house somewhere, I’ve only watched a couple of episodes, read one of the contemporary tie-in novels, and my impression of it until today is more coloured by the few strips based on the series published in the weekly comic, Countdown, way back in 1971.

It is a very odd show, mixing much more live action with puppets than previous Gerry Anderson series, more comedic than adventure. Ever eager to re-use props and puppets from previous series, it’s possibly more interesting to watch it and try and spot those, including a reappearance of “Captain Scarlet” as secret agent Blake who, in “A Question of Miracles”, fakes his own death to unknowingly help thwart a gang of saboteurs…

The series weaknesses aside – it’s no surprise to me it was so short lived – Fanderson, the world’s only official appreciation society for the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, have nevertheless delivered a terrific book to celebrate The Secret Service, warts and all. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the team involved successfully make the series look far better than, I’d argue, it actually is. I imagine Gerry Anderson, who was the series biggest fan, might be delighted with it.

The Secret Service Annual (Fanderson) - Sample Spread

It’s clear a lot of thought has gone into the content of this book, which kicks off with a photo strip, “The Legacy”, revealing how Father Unwin came into possession of “The Minimiser”, which helps those less familiar with the show have a better grounding in its concept. From there, we’re treated to double-page episode guides of all 13 episodes made, before Lew Grade, the ITC Entertainment financier who bankrolled it, ordered Anderson to cancel production during a screening of its first episode. Some are complemented by, as ever, superb cutaways by Graham Bleathman, who also provided other illustration work for the book.

The Secret Service Annual (Fanderson) - Sample Spread

There are character guides, too, along with profiles of the actors who played key characters; and this Annual also includes a location guide, identifying where many live action sequences in the series were shot, an an I-Spy style “Spotters Guide” to the many real cars that featured in the series.

The Secret Service Annual (Fanderson) - Sample Spread

But for me, while the background material is a clearly genuine labour of love, so too are the fictional elements included in the Annual, particularly the comic strip, “Fun For All”, written by Sam Denham, with art by Richard Smith, which is a perfectly-pitched new adventure, as Father Unwin and sidekick, Matthew, take on an utterly crazy villain whose antics are causing once perfectly normal members of the public to commit acts of terror. The story takes all the elements of the series and makes them work, perfectly, and there’s a wonderful nod to an earlier Supermarionation series, Supercar, thrown in for good measure.

The Secret Service Annual (Fanderson) - Sample Spread

Without spoiling its ending, which hints at a possible return of “The Minimiser”, the uncredited text story, “The Men from B.I.S.H.O.P.”, also features some guest stars from another Supermarionation series. Again, we’re treated to a tale that makes better use of the show’s concept than, arguably, what was seen on screen.

The Secret Service Annual (Fanderson) - Sample Spread

The Secret Service Annual is an absolute, joyous treat, for both the avid and casual fan of this often derided Gerry Anderson show, whose failure paved the way for the fully live action UFO. Well worth checking out.

And, yes, another confession – I did skip reading the guides to episodes I’ve yet to see. Perhaps I’ll catch them on Britbox, as that’s probably easier than finding my DVD! Oh, woebegone!

The Secret Service Annual is available here from Fanderson

Do note the Annual is only available to club members as part of their licensing agreement and UK tax laws | Join the Club here (currently, UK residents £32.50 (£25.00 + £7.50 postage)

Fanderson Guide to The Secret Service

The Secret Service is available on DVD (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

The Secret Service is available to watch on Britbox (subscription required)

ANNUAL CONTENTS – CHECKLIST

• All-new four-page photo-strip, “The Legacy”
• The Unwin Files looks at the cases that Father Unwin investigates
• Biographies of the main characters
• All-new 14-page comic strip, “Fun For All”
• Four full-colour cutaways
• Archive interview with series lead, Stanley Unwin
• All-new 10-page adventure for a new BISHOP recruit
• Filming locations maps
• Puzzles and games
• Exclusive new artwork and much more

FANDERSON

Formed in 1981, Fanderson is a membership club, the world’s only official appreciation society for the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, endorsed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, ITC Entertainment Group Ltd, the family of Sylvia Anderson, Anderson Entertainment Ltd and The Indestructible Production Company Ltd. In return for their annual fee, members enjoy the membership package, plus access to other products and services that the club provides, including podcasts, events and our exclusive merchandise.

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.



Categories: Books, British Comics, Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Other Worlds, Television

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1 reply

  1. It looks amazing. It reminds me of the Doctor Who fannuals but much more professional-looking.

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