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Most Special Agents: Gerry Anderson’s Spy-Fi Worlds

Gerry Anderson production are hugely, and justifiably, associated with all things outer space. From thrilling rescue operations to save solarnauts on a collision course with the sun to malevolent aliens with the power of retrometabolism attacking the Earth, developments in space engineering and the wonders of the cosmos have played a massive role in aiding the inception of many of Gerry Anderson’s classic works. However, Gerry didn’t just have his finger on the pulse of the Space Race. Many Anderson series are filled not just with heroic space adventurers, but also dangerous undercover informants, espionage operatives working either for themselves or higher powers to help save the day or cause disaster.

Let’s investigate the many classic spy-fi characters seen throughout the worlds of Gerry Anderson!

Espionage is Go!

The continuing Cold War informed many classic sci-fi and spy-fi works throughout the 1950s and 60s, with the core concept of global powers battling for dominance inspiring many key works, from James Bond to the likes of The Prisoner, Dr. Strangelove and The IPCRESS File. Spy thrillers were in high demand throughout the 1960s, and not even the younger-orientated puppet worlds of A.P. Films could escape this influence. Supercar (1961) may not be totally thought of as an espionage series, but its chief villains, Masterspy and the hapless Zarin, are undeniable caricatures of spy-fi villains.

For Masterspy and Zarin, their never-ending goal of capturing Supercar represents a desire to gain technological advantage over their enemies. Other spies willing to trade sensitive secrets of global powers pop up during the series. The bumbling twosome dynamic would be replicated in Fireball XL5 (1963) with the husband-and-wife duo Boris and Griselda, but Stingray (1964) uplifts this spy-fi dynamic to truly novel heights.

The bombastic villainy of Titan may give Stingray its main antagonist, but it’s Titan’s surface agent X-20 who combines the scheming intelligence of Masterspy with the comedic appeal of Zarin into a single, unique character. Operating out of the spy-fi Aladdin’s Cave that is his isolated house on the Island of Lemoy, X-20 is often tasked with putting Titan’s latest deadly schemes into action by venturing into Marineville territory under a variety of comical yet effective disguises. His dilapidated house in fact hides a plethora of surveillance technology which he uses to perform his master’s bidding.

Prior to the Hood’s own far-reaching array of disguises, X-20 possesses his own plethora of costumes, masks and wigs, enabling him to slip past Marineville defences on numerous occasions. We may laugh at X-20’s routine failed attempts to appease Titan, but it’s Troy and Phones who never quite manage to put two and two together that the Island of Lemoy, which they regularly encounter, could be more than meets the eye!

TV21’s Special Agent

The inclusion of spy-fi characters in Anderson shows also informed the creative structure of TV Century 21 when the comic launched in January 1965. Alongside comic strip adaptations of The Daleks, Get Smart, The Munsters and My Favourite Martian, TV Century 21 (later shortened to just TV21) prioritised a shared universe for its Anderson-centric properties, greatly pushing the idea that the likes of Stingray, Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, Zero X and Captain Scarlet all coexisted in a unified world.

To strengthen that shared world, TV21 featured a string of original characters exclusive to the comic. One of these was Brent Cleever, aka Agent 21 of the Universal Secret Service. Agent 21 began as a prequel strip, set in the 2040s. Cleever’s darkly intense spy-fi adventures injected unprecedented levels of maturity into TV21‘s narrative output and took advantage in showing readers how the events of Agent 21 effected the progress of organisations like World Security Patrol and World Aquanaut Security Patrol, which were still under development in the 2040s.

Cleever’s adventures eventually abandoned the prequel timeline and thrust him alongside his contemporaries, but the espionage storylines would continue right up until the comic’s end in September 1969.

Elegance, Charm and Master Criminals

Thunderbirds (1965) presents us with two sides of the spy-fi coin, as both heroes and villains of the series utilise espionage tactics to aid and alternatively thwart International Rescue in equal measure. Lady Penelope serves as International Rescue’s London operative, able to perform covert missions of jeopardous adventure, which are often linked to any particular rescue operation that I.R. may be carrying out. Thunderbirds places the Space Race and the spy-fi boom side by side with equal confidence, building on the efforts of past puppet productions.

As we’ve recently explored, Penelope herself gives Thunderbirds and Supermarionation-era as a whole a dependably solid female heroine, whose stately home and luxury Rolls Royce are equipped with delightfully ingenius spy-fi gadgetry. In much the same way as never knowing which pod vehicle will emerge from Thunderbird 2 on any given mission, Thunderbirds regularly ensures that its more covert aspects aren’t forgotten by showing us what an unpredictable labyrinth of espionage technology Creighton-Ward Manor has housed within its walls.

On the villainous side, the Hood earns his given title well. The elusive master criminal is so named because of his meticulous capabilities of disguise. Much like X-20, the Hood boasts any costume to assume any identity needed, but the Hood is rarely subjected to such incompetent blundering as X-20. Throughout his brief appearances in Thunderbirds, the Hood carries a relentlessly menacing energy, slipping into any scenario in one of his many disguises before unleashing his supernatural hypnotic powers to achieve his goals.

From elegantly dangerous action heroines to elusive yet menacing supervillains, Thunderbirds effectively built on what Supermarionation had to offer at this point, continuing to strengthen the company’s output of memorable spy-fi characters.

A Spectrum of Agents

As the spy-fi craze continued to hold audiences firmly in its grip throughout the 1960s, the post-Thunderbirds string of Supermarionation works lent more heavily into espionage territory. Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967) pushes Anderson-flavoured Cold War tropes to intergalactic extremes with the War of Nerves between Spectrum and the Mysterons. Indeed, the entire premise of Captain Scarlet is one drenched in espionage paranoia, from Mysteron doppelgangers able to blend in anywhere to Spectrum Pursuit Vehicles hidden across the globe and ready to spring to action when needed.

Spectrum and the Mysterons reflect each other in their jointly covert attitude against each other. The literal invisibility of the Mysterons and their ability to manufacture identical replicas of their victims to act as agents of destruction feels like a gargantuan leap forward from the days of how spy characters were portrayed in the likes of Supercar and Fireball XL5. Spectrum in turn match the Mysterons’ covert hostilities in their own intriguing ways. The widespread use of colour-themed codenames and super-vehicles hidden from the world’s view (in Cloudbase’s case, high up in the sky, but in the case of SPV’s, scattered where you’d least expect) injects a distinctly espionage flavour in Spectrum’s functionality.

Beyond the undeniable quirkiness of tasking a 9-year-old boy to regularly save the world, armed with the brain patterns of any operative required, the world of Joe 90 (1968) otherwise presents us with a far more traditional Cold War. The World Intelligence Network’s mission of battling various foreign powers from global dominance is a much more recognisable take of spy-fi adventure. Likewise, a similar mentality is used in The Secret Service (1969). Aside from Father Stanley Unwin’s abilities of verbal cotorsion and shrink-inducing technology, The Secret Service continues with the more familiar world of Earth-based crime, terrorism and espionage seen in Joe 90.

21st Century Spies

The legacy of spy-fi characters from the worlds of Anderson continues into the 21st century with Nero Jones, the anti-heroine of First Action Bureau. The aggressive and emotionally-troubled Nero is F.A.B’s top operative, regularly succeeding in taking out targets before their crimes are even committed. But this seemingly ideal, AI-enhanced future-world masks layers upon layers of secrecy for Nero. As her missions leader her into a spiralling tangle of conspiracies, the troubled, vulnerable spy cannot be sure of what’s true and what isn’t.

First Action Bureau carries many recognisable Anderson-esque stamps of adventure, futurism and technology, but packages them into a significantly darker landscape. Whether it’s an optimistic retrofuture envisioned through a 1960s perspective or a bleaker, more realistic 21st century seen in First Action Bureau, deceit and treachery remain all too common for spies in the worlds of Anderson.

Spy characters seen throughout Gerry Anderson’s worlds constantly enhance the danger, drama and excitement of the various series they appear in. Whether as mysterious villains operating out of the shadows, permanently out of our heroes’ reach, or saving the world from certain destruction as secretly as possible, the works of Gerry Anderson are littered with classic action spies. They widen opportunities for character-driven adventure which is less reliant on the special effects and as our exploration as shown, have provided many classic Anderson series with much-loved heroes, heroines, anti-heroes and villains!

Dive into the deadly espionage of First Action Bureau with the new prequel novel First Action Bureau: Damaged Goods! Written by Richard James, this limited edition novel tells Nero Jones’ story of how she joined the elusive counter-crime organisation. Pre-order the novel now! You can also enjoy the First Action Bureau audio series entirely for free from Anderson Entertainment!

Do you have any favourite spy characters from the worlds of Gerry Anderson? Let us know in the comments section below or on our social media channels. To be the first to hear about the latest news, exclusive releases and show announcements sign up for our newsletter here.

Written by
Fred McNamara

Atomic-powered writer/editor. Website editor at Official Gerry Anderson. Author of Flaming Thunderbolts: The Definitive Story of Terrahawks. Also runs Gerry Anderson comic book blog Sequential 21.

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