University of Sheffield

Anthony J H Simons, MA PhD

Senior Lecturer in Computer Science
University Computer Science VT Group Space Tech Europe Industry

Deadly Toy: A Secret Agent's Fountain Pen

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 The Dandy.

As well as strips based on Anderson material Fireball XL5, 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 Captain Scarlet strip started in issue 141, which eventually ventured into both the Stingray and Fireball 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 cahelium1 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.