The Secret Service follows the exploits of Father Stanley Unwin, a puppet character voiced by (and modelled on) the comedian of the same name.
Outwardly an eccentric Christian vicar, Unwin is secretly an agent of BISHOP, British Intelligence Service Headquarters Operation Priest , countering criminal and terrorist threats.
Assisted by fellow agent Matthew Harding, Unwin’s missions involve frequent use of the Minimiser, a device capable of shrinking people and objects to facilitate covert operations. Mathew would be shrunk by the gadget and then he would be carried around by Father Unwin in a suitcase.
In hostile situations, the Father Unwin spouts a form of gibberish (based on the real Unwin’s nonsense “Unwinese”) to distract the enemy.
Filming began in August 1968 and ended with the completion of the 13th episode the following January after Century 21’s financial backer Lew Grade responded negatively to a test screening, believing that the inclusion of Unwinese had made it impossible to sell the series to the American market.
Critical response has been mixed, with verdicts ranging from the Andersons’ “forgotten gem” to their “one flop”.
Commentators have questioned the wisdom of hiring Unwin, suggesting that his gibberish had too little comic value to sustain viewer interest.
However, the series has been praised for the writing of its supporting characters.
The complete series was released on DVD.