Deadly Toy: A Secret Agent's
Anthony Simons (aged 9), Leicester
Click on the images to see full-size scans.
About TV Century 21
TV Century 21, also known simply as TV21, was a
quality weekly comic, published between 1965 and 1969 by Century 21 Publishing,
a division of
Gerry Anderson's media empire, the Century 21 Organisation.
Launched in January 1965 by Keith Shackleton and former Anderson TV series
scriptwriter Alan Fennell, TV Century 21 featured original action
stories based on
Gerry Anderson's supermarionation television shows
and drawn by top UK
artists such as Frank Bellamy, Ron Embleton and Mike Noble.
Published through City Magazines Ltd, TV Century 21, together with its
sister comics Lady Penelope and Solo, became the UK's top
selling comic book franchise ever, within weeks of its launch, with a
higher circulation than other UK classic comics The Beano or
As well as strips based on Anderson material
Stingray and the 1965 classic
Thunderbirds, the comic ran a story based on the Zero-X spaceship featured
in the Century 21 Films/ United Artists movie
Thunderbirds are Go!, original strips featuring Secret Agent 21 and
the TV spin-off The Daleks, and comedy strips, such
as The Munsters and Get Smart. The comic was unusual, in that
its cover carried newspaper-style banner headlines announcing the latest
developments in world affairs of the 2060s. The example cover featured is from
TV Century 21, Universe Edition 125, Dateline June 10, 2067.
Readers had tantalising glimpses
of the forthcoming darker Anderson series,
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, through a prequel storyline about a
second Zero-X Martian mission, featuring characters that crossed over from the
Thunderbirds to the
Captain Scarlet universe. A
strip started in issue 141, which eventually ventured into both the
universes, much to the surprise
and delight of its readers. In this way, the Century 21 Universe was born in
the minds of millions of readers and grew as it was fed by the story-writers
and show producers.
The Contact 21 Column
TV Century 21 did more than simply run franchised strips
based on the Anderson television shows. Since it was so closely allied
to the Century 21 Organisation, the same writers who wrote the scripts for
the Anderson shows were also available to develop original material, which was
deemed canon and an integral part of the Century 21 Universe. One of the
early creations was the adventures of Secret Agent 21, who worked
for the Universal Secret Service in the late 21st century. A kind of
futuristic James Bond, this character, who only signed his name as
Twenty-One, undertook various off-world missions to preserve the
stability of Earth and her colonies.
Like other comics of the period, TV 21 had a readers' page, to
which readers could submit news, photos and other ideas. The clever twist
invented by the editors was that this contact section would be managed by
Agent 21, in a column called Contact 21. The
notion was that all readers of the comic would also be enrolled as agents
in the USS, an idea which appealed to young minds. On the featured page 18,
taken from the same edition of TV 21, you can see that readers
had submitted details of their own secret clubs and organisations, some
with photographs of themselves in costume. Other readers had submitted
questions about the various stories featured in the comic, which
Agent 21 would answer, as demonstrated in the lower part
of the central column.
The Deadly Toy Series
The left-hand column on the same featured page 18 contains the start
of a series on secret equipment
that any well-appointed agent might need to take into the field in the
21st century. I had sent some draft sketches to Agent 21, which
the comic's graphic designers smartened up considerably and published
here. It was an entirely speculative offering on my part, but the
editors liked the idea so much that they encouraged other agents to
submit their own designs for secret equipment. This eventually ran as
a regular column.
The featured secret agent's pen contains a miniature two-way radio
communicator and aerial disguised as the nib, a knock-out dart fired
through the nib, a homing device, a high explosive device, a localised
shaped charge for blowing locks, and a reel of
garotting wire. Oh, and it also contains an ink reservoir so that
the pen can be used like a pen.
1. Cahelium is a future lightweight metal with a very
high tensile strength.