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INTERVIEW: Chris Dale on The Secrets of The Secret Service

Back in May 2019 I was asked by Jamie Anderson if I’d be interested in producing a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of The Secret Service, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s final Supermarionation television series. As a particular fan of the post-Thunderbirds Supermarionation world of Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and The Secret Service it seemed a great way to celebrate one of the Andersons’ most often overlooked (and at times unfairly maligned) productions.

As is sometimes the case with such things however, the project ended up falling through the cracks for a while and missing the 50th anniversary window. We were then holding out hope that the book would find a new home as part of the package for the inevitable Secret Service Blu-ray collection that Network were surely planning to release at some point in the not-too-distant future…not this year…maybe next year…surely sometime soon…and now sadly never.

During the intervening years Anderson Entertainment’s publishing arm had come into its own, producing such acclaimed titles as the Space:1999 and UFO Technical Manuals and Comic Anthologies…so why not publish The Secrets of the Secret Service ourselves, as a 100 page bookazine? Perhaps as the first in what may became a continuing series of such titles…

The Secrets of the Secret Service opens with Gerry Anderson’s fateful screening of the first episode of the series to Lew Grade, and from there examines how Century 21 arrived at that point following the high point of Thunderbirds, and the factors both internal and external that led to the decline of the Andersons’ Supermarionation empire – plus the imminent approach of the live action productions that they would become known for during the 1970s.

From here we dive into the series itself, exploring the world and its characters as well as an episode guide examining all thirteen episodes of the series. In writing the book I viewed each episode three times; once for my own enjoyment, once while keeping an eye out for any bloopers and other interesting oddities (such as reused props and models from previous productions) and once more while consulting the shooting scripts that were included as extras on Network’s DVD release of the series to see if any major changes were made during production. Each finished episode featured some notable difference from the writer’s original script, and in the case of the episode School for Spies the shooting script revealed a number of substantially different scenes and ideas from the episode that eventually appeared on screen.

We were very fortunate to have access to a vast library of material from photographer Doug Luke taken during production of all thirteen episodes, and the lack of Secret Service merchandise relative to other Anderson shows means that many of the photos included here have never appeared in print before. Speaking of merchandise, that too is covered in the book, and we also took the opportunity to include the comic run of The Secret Service comic strip from the pages of Countdown comic. Much like the series itself the Secret Service strip had a very short life, running for only two stories (plus a third in the 1972 Countdown annual) and so a full Comic Anthology volume similar to Anderson Entertainment’s UFO and Space:1999 collections was never going to be on the cards – making The Secrets of the Secret Service a natural home for the strip’s first complete run of reprints in a single volume.

I also had in my personal archive an interview I conducted with voice actor Gary Files back in 2004, in which he not only spoke at length about The Secret Service and Stanley Unwin but also his entire life and career, including a lot about his days with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Century 21 Productions. Having previously only been available on several (now defunct) websites over the years, it’s great to finally have a chance to see the interview in print for the very first time, and it closes out the book beautifully.

The book is beautifully designed throughout courtesy of Mike Jones, whose previous Anderson works include the various ‘Vault’ books released from Signum Books as well as various Fanderson publications, giving Secrets a marvellous consistency of design with those esteemed works. We also have a lovely introduction of Stanley Unwin’s ‘middle daughtloder’ Lois Johnston, in which she shares some memories of her father and his fondness for the series. All this and the lyrics to the show’s opening title song too – deep joy!

It may have taken almost five years to produce, but The Secrets of the Secret Service is finally available to pre-order from the Official Gerry Anderson Store – and if it’s well received, hopefully it’ll be the first of several volumes looking at other Anderson shows. The Secrets of Supercar or Stingray, anyone?

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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