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The Secret Service merchandise guide

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Most of the Gerry Anderson series stretching as far back as 1957’s The Adventures of Twizzle had enjoyed great success in the field of merchandising. Toys, books, games, comics and more based on every single one of his puppet series were must-have items for young fans, with Thunderbirds in particular getting its logo stamped onto almost every type of merchandise imaginable. However, The Secret Service was not most Supermarionation series, and its lack of success on television was reflected in the limited range of tie-in merchandise produced during its initial run.

The most highly sought-after piece of Secret Service memorabilia – aside from any puppets or props from the show itself – will likely always be the Dinky Toys version of Gabriel, #109. Dinky had been enjoying great success releasing models based on the Supermarionation series ever since the launch of Thunderbirds, and always eagerly looked forward to any upcoming Gerry Anderson project. The lack of any other regular vehicles on the show meant that The Secret Service’s only appearance in Dinky form would be from Gabriel, Father Unwin’s Model T Ford. Released in 1968, Gabriel measured just under 8 centimetres in length and featured a small (and thus easily lost) figure of Father Unwin himself behind the wheel. Accompanying the car was a display stand that folded out to reveal artwork depicting the vicarage and its garage, as seen in A Case for the Bishop. The model was discontinued by 1971, and it was the only Anderson Dinky to never appear in the company’s annual catalogue.

Younger Anderson fans must have been thoroughly confused when their local sweet shops began stocking a confectionary item based on a Supermarionation series most of them would never get the chance to see! The Secret Service was just one of many television series from the 1960s to see its name and characters appear on packets of sweet cigarettes (known to later generations as candy sticks) from London-based confectioners Barratt & Co, but it certainly had to be one of the most obscure. Included with each pack was one of fifty collectable cards featuring a still from the series on the front and a description on the back, and a full set of these cards is today the most valuable item of Secret Service merchandise after the Gabriel Dinky.

Those hoping to experience further adventures from Father Unwin and Matthew in print form could enjoy two original full-length novels based on The Secret Service. Both of these were written by John Theydon (real name John William Jennison), who had been penning novels based on the Supermarionation series for Armada Paperbacks since Stingray in 1965. Theydon’s work often did much to flesh out the show’s characters and settings, and his two Secret Service novels are no exception – which makes the fact that they were the last Anderson tie-in novels he wrote all the more disappointing. In The Destroyer, Father Unwin’s church is among the buildings damaged by tests of a disintegrator ray created by millionaire recluse Silas Silvester as a prelude to his real target – the Post Office Tower, which he will destroy unless given £1 million! Meanwhile, in The V.I.P, Father Unwin is assigned to protect young Prince Abu Khan of the Himalayan country of Zapal from Russian and Chinese kidnappers.

Finally, The Secret Service could briefly be enjoyed in comic form during 1971 in the pages of Countdown. This weekly publication featured strips based on popular action and science fiction television series of the time, including many of the Supermarionation series, and was something of a spiritual successor to the hugely Century 21 Publications comic TV Century 21. The Secret Service had arrived on the scene too late to appear in the dying days of TV21 (as it later became), but its first Countdown story (which appeared complete in issue 2, illustrated by Jon Davis) is notable for essentially being the pilot episode of the series that we never got to see on television. Everything from Professor Humbert’s deathbed bequeathing of his Minimiser to Father Unwin, to Unwin’s first meeting with the Bishop and his being issued with both his hearing aid and Matthew is covered in this story – notably without a single word of Unwinese being uttered. Although Matthew is called Adam throughout the story, this could be explained away as simply as ‘Matthew Harding’ being the agent’s cover alias. It even explains one or two recurring mysteries of the television series such as the Minimiser’s apparent ability to shrink itself (all it needs is a mirror to reflect the beam back onto itself) and Mrs Appleby’s otherwise unfathomable dislike for Matthew, explained here as lingering resentment from his tying her up while he raided the vicarage looking for the Minimiser!

The Secret Service story that ran from issues 4 to 7 of Countdown saw industrial spies pre-empting a tycoon’s stock dealings by gifting his cat a gold collar containing a transmitter, all of which could only be resolved by sending Matthew in a miniaturised fighter jet to deal with the problem. Peter Ford’s artwork and the story itself strike just the right eccentric and offbeat tone of the television series, although it’s doubtful that a real-life cat would have been as co-operative during filming as the dogs seen in The Feathered Spies and The Deadly Whisper apparently were! Ford also contributed the artwork for Countdown’s final foray into the world of The Secret Service, an unremarkable tale of stolen microdots hidden in a child’s bedroom included in their 1972 annual.

In later years The Secret Service could look forward to brief coverage in various documentaries and publications covering Gerry Anderson’s career as a whole, albeit usually as a footnote marking the end of the Supermarionation era. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, the series was generally overlooked when it came to merchandising until the Anderson mania of the early 1990s. The Secret Service arrived on VHS in 1992 as part of ITC Home Video’s wide range of cult TV and film releases, making every episode of the show available to those who wished to purchase them. DVD releases followed in the mid-2000s in the U.S.A, U.K. and Australia, with each set including their own special bonus features such as episode audio commentaries from production personnel, textless episode footage, and photo galleries. The series is now also available on the streaming service Britbox.

2007 saw the release of a Secret Service soundtrack CD from Fanderson, the Official Gerry Anderson Appreciation society. Only for sale to club members, the disc featured 52 minutes of Barry Gray’s music from the series and is still available at the time of writing. A few years later in 2009 Silva Screen released Stand by for Action, a compilation of Barry Gray’s themes and incidental music from the various Gerry Anderson shows which included an extended mix of The Secret Service’s main titles theme and a short piece of incidental music from A Case for the Bishop. The club has also released other items of Secret Service merchandise over the years, including an annual, tea towels, reproduction character specification sheet and a visual guide to the series.

In 2018, Father Unwin teamed up with another classic Supermarionation hero, Sheriff Tex Tucker, when Unstoppable Cards released a trading card collection spotlighting two Gerry Anderson series. The Secret Service shared a boxset with 1959’s puppet Western Four Feather Falls with each limited edition box containing two sets of cards for each series (eighteen per series) plus rare artwork and autograph cards. The signers on The Secret Service side of the set included Gary Files (one card of Matthew and another of Spiker from More Haste Less Speed), Jeremy Wilkin (The Bishop), David Graham (two cards again; May-day, May-day!’s King of Muldovia and More Haste Less Speed’s Edward Hazelwell), Shane Rimmer (writer of Hole in One), puppet co-ordinator Mary Turner, and visual effects designer Mike Trim.

The Secret Service’s 50th anniversary in 2019 was always going to be less of an event than those of its Supermarionation predecessors, but Anderson Entertainment were eager to commemorate the occasion and released a commemorative poster based on the series from designer Eric Chu. Coming in 2022 is a soundtrack release of the series on CD and vinyl from Silva Screen Records…but the big question now is, will the series ever see a full release on Blu-ray? Here’s hoping!

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