‘The Secret Service’ is not the first title that springs to mind when thinking of Gerry Anderson’s oeuvre, but that’s not surprising, really, as only thirteen episodes were made, it was only shown in some TV regions, and it is seldom repeated. Generally considered a failure, it has some intriguing moments and an interesting premise, but, ultimately, it’s rather half baked, an uneasy transition between Supermarionation and the live action shows that Anderson had his eye on making.
Father Stanley Unwin is a vicar and an agent for B.I.S.H.O.P (British Intelligence Service Headquarters: Operation Priest). He works with Matthew, a fellow agent, who is posing as his gardener. When national security is threatened, they use a ‘Minimiser’ to shrink Matthew to a fraction of his normal size, allowing him to access otherwise inaccessible areas. Father Unwin, who is played by Professor Stanley Unwin AND a Stanley Unwin puppet, uses his patented brand of goobledegook (‘Unwinese’) to confuse and confound anyone who gets too close to their secret.
It’s a really odd show, borne out of Anderson’s desire to work with Unwin, who he found hilarious. Lew Grade was less impressed, cancelling the series after watching the pilot, seeing Unwin do his stuff and shouting ‘the Americans will never understand him!’ When Anderson said, well, that’s sort of the point, Grade clarified by saying ‘the British like to be confused, they think it’s fun; the Americans hate it, they just find it confusing’, and that was that.
An interesting curio, but neither as good as ‘Joe 90’ which preceded it, or ‘UFO’ which followed it, and enjoyment of the show very much depends on just how funny you find Stanley Unwin. If like me, it’s ‘quite – now and again’, this may not be the show for you.