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A bit of a chat


Stanley on TSS


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A bit of a chat (click on pix for bigger versions)


With the launch of his seminal Supermarionation series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (first broadcast in 1967), Gerry Anderson was on a roll.


But despite the success he'd had up to then, his next series, Joe 90, never quite grabbed the audience nor the plaudits of the previous two. Undaunted, Anderson moved on.


His next idea came out of a meeting at Pinewood Studios while he was working on his 1968 film Doppelgänger. He'd heard that one Stanley Unwin was also at Pinewood for post-production work on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so he collared Stanley's agent and asked if he could have a chat. What came out of the 'chat' was the bare bones of The Secret Service.

Gerry Anderson:

"I have always enjoyed Stanley's work and find him very amusing,. As far as I was concerned, Stanley came first and the idea had to accommodate him. It wasn't that the show called for someone who could speak gobbledegook, it was a question of how we could fit him into the storyline."

As an Unwin fan, it seemed the ideal time to combine their talents. Moreover, Anderson was keen to work with 'real' actors and saw his next series as very much a transition to moving almost exclusively to live action. This proved to be the case until he returned again to the puppet format in 1983 with the first series of Terrahawks.

'The name's Unwold...Fardy Unwolders'

Anderson's idea was to combine real life actors and puppet miniatures in a series that featured Stanley as Father Unwin, an undercover agent for British Intelligence Secret Headquarters Operation Priest (BISHOP). The gimmick was that Father Unwin had a special device called the 'Minimiser' which people, namely his gardener and assistant Matthew Harding. Armed with this tool and Matthew's home office travel case, the two set off to complete the 13 missions that made up the entire series.

The Minimiser with built-in instruction manual

Such an innovative - and frankly bizarre - concept was not without its production difficulties. For example, when Matthew's puppet was minimised, his surroundings had to be to regular scale (i.e. normal size), but when he was 'life size', the sets had to be scaled down accordingly to make him look life size. If you see what I mean.

The Man in the Suitcase

Stanley and his Father Unwin puppet were also involved in some trickily edited sequences such as the one where the real Stanley is driving Gabriel, his trusty Model T Ford', down to London (now Heathrow) Airport. "He [Stanley] would stop, get out and walk into this enormous departure lounge," explained Anderson. "As he walked up to the desk, we would go bang into a close-up of the puppet and they were so cleverly matched, you couldn't tell the difference."

The redoubtable Mrs Appleby

Writing the scripts proved to be quite an interesting process as well, especially as Stanley's Unwinese was very much a feature.

"Gerry Anderson said: 'Come and meet the script writers'. I went to Slough, Century 21 studios and met Tony Barwick [Script Editor]. He said: 'How are we going to do this?'. I said: 'If you gave me a straight script of all your ideas, I will translate them into my peculiar sort of language'."

Shane Rimmer, writer of TSS Episode 8, 'Hole In One' (and the voice of Thunderbirds' Scott Tracey), also recalled: "A lot of it you had to leave to [Stanley]. You gave him a line of patter that's going to work with what he does. Because he was such a bizarre character, you felt you could really go all the way with him: you could practically do anything."

The Bishop - he won't be beaten

Despite the ingenuity, the technological wizardry and the sheer accomplishment that was The Secret Service, it was shelved after just 13 episodes - a relatively short life considering the 30 episodes of Joe 90 and the 32 of Captain Scarlet.


Lew Grade, who took the decision to cancel during that fateful preview screening in December 1968, was primarily concerned that the US audiences just wouldn't understand Stanley's Unwinese.


Ironically, that was sort of the idea in the first place.

Gerry Anderson:

"I chose Stanley Unwin because you are not supposed to understand Stanley Unwin, even if you're British. I thought if the Americans don't understand him either, what's the difference?"