by Keith Ansell
Secret Agent 21 was the longest running comic strip to appear in the pages of TV Century 21. The star of the strip was a Universal Secret Service agent code-named 21 - the James Bond of the future.
Twenty One first appeared as the fictional editor of the first issue of TV21. Readers were drafted as his agents and asked to address reports (ie letters) to CONTACT 21.
Twenty One was a mysterious figure.
Readers only ever saw the back of his head pictured on the letters page until the secret agent's life story began in issue number 21(of course) cover dated 12th June 2065. It was a single page black and white comic strip drawn by Rab Hamilton and initially written by the comic's real-life editor Alan Fennell. Although its' page count was increased and its' title was often altered, the strip ran until the very last issue of TV21 (242, cover dated 6th September 2069). Secret Agent 21 stories also appeared as text and strip features in the five original TV21 Annuals, the 1971 Thunderbirds Annual and three TV21 Extras.
Alan Fennell quickly entrusted assistant editor Tod Sullivan with the scripting of Agent 21,but Rab Hamilton remained as artist, drawing every TV21 story except one fill-in by Jon Davis.
Hamilton also contributed the delectable colour strip, Marina, Girl of the Sea for the back page of Lady Penelope.
Hamilton's Marina was as gorgeous as Tina Palamac, 21's sidekick during the first few months of the strip.
Where Marina inhabited a romantic and fantastic undersea world however, Agent 21 dwelt in a utilitarian future of titanium and poured concrete. Ironically, Hamilton was not articularly accomplished as an action artist, but his characterisation was compelling. In film terms his fight scenes had more in common with Sidney J Furie's dispassionate punch-ups in The Ipcress File than any Bond sequence.
For a feature appearing in a comic aimed at schoolchildren, Secret Agent 21 was remarkably progressive. Admittedly, it took its lead from what was happening in films and TV, but the fact that it could veer from science fantasy to John Le Carre - style intrigue gave the strip a power and unpredictability which may well havecontributed to its' longevity. Secret Agent 21 is remembered with affection by Century 21 fans, even though he never appeared in any of Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation TV series.
Twenty One lived in the Gerry Anderson universe and his early stories were set in the formative years of the World Space Patrol and WASP's. He helped create and define the history of the 21st Century inhabited by our puppet heroes - unifying our perception of their fictional world.
The World of 21
The comic strip features the life and death assignments of Brent Cleever - Senior Special Agent 21 of the Universal Secret Service, commencing in the year 2046. Since TV21 was set in the year 2065, this means that the strip was originally an historical series.
The Solar System has been mostly colonised by this time and many of the planets (or their satellites) have been given artificial Earth-like atmospheres.
The Universal Secret Service headquarters is situated near Kahra, the capital city of Earth's colony on Mars. To the general public it is seen as a factory owned by Century 21 Toys Incorporated - one of the largest toy manufacturers in the Universe.
Senior Special Agents operate under cover as toy salesmen, and carry sample cases equipped with Deadly Toys - weapons and equipment disguised to look like a standard range of playthings.
The greatest threat to the newly elected World Government of President Nikita Bandranaik is Bereznik, a federation of former Soviet states (Bereznik seemed like a terrible cop out in the 1970's, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has appeared increasingly prophetic!). The greatest threat to Earth's World Space Empire is SOFRAM (Solar Organisation For Revenge And Murder) a neo-fascist organisation dedicated to taking over the Solar System.
Twenty One reports to the Operational Head of the USS - Air General Zodiac, formerly Steve Kalinski - who is code-named "S" . TV21 later revealed him as the father of Fireball XL5's Steve Zodiac.
Magenta Seven & Special Agent
These are the two "Double Two One" text stories that appeared in the first TV CENTURY 21 annual, published in August 1965. Print production was much slower and more intensive in the 1960's. Material for the annual would probably have been prepared in the Spring of 1965. As such, these stories furnish an origin for the "host" character of TV Century 21, which differs in some aspects from the Agent 21 who would debut in June 1966. The illustrations for the stories show a distinct likeness to Sean Connery! The stories appear to be set circa 2060 - 62.
Brent Cleever was Double Two One of the Special Investigating Branch (S Dept) based on Earth. In Magenta Seven he was sent to Venus to capture the alien Zheno, leader of Magenta, a Mafia-like organisation operating on seven planets of the Solar System.
In Special Agent, Double Two One is sent to Mars to trace and rescue the kidnapped Professor Carrel - who is developing Cahelium Extract X4 - for use by the World Space Patrol on their forthcoming Fireball XL Fleet, and the WASPs for their new Stingray combat submarine. The story guest stars Vice Commander Zero and Sub Commander Shore of these fledgling organisations. Double Two One rescues Professor Carrel but sustains a crippling injury that puts him out of active service for good. S promotes him to Chief Officer 21. All agents will now be able to CONTACT 21!
It should be pointed out that when the CONTACT 21 strip appeared in TV21, the comic ran a short biography which explained that Brent Cleever was a toy salesman who improvised with his sample case to save the World President from kidnapping. Cleever was offered a job with the Universal Secret Service, and his toys were converted into Deadly Gadgets. Not only does this contradict the Agent Double Two One stories, it also contradicts the text in the 1966 Annual. Generally accepted as Cleever's official biography, this says he was born William Frazer Junior, and changed his name to Brent Cleever when he joined the USS. Coincidentally, or not, a character called Sir William Frazer (of the British Secret Service) is heard in one of the THUNDERBIRDS TV shows. This text feature also picked up on a remark made by Steve Zodiac in one of the FIREBALL XL5 strips. His father had been born Steve Kalinski, and changed his name to Zodiac when he joined the Universal Secret Service. This was "S". (See XL5 panel above!)
Century 21 Toys Inc
On the outskirts of thriving Khara, capital city of Mars, stands the mundane exterior of the Century 21 Toys factory. Behind this facade is the most deadly and efficient organisation in the galaxy - the Universal Secret Service.
The USS network is complex, covering every planet in the World Space empire. Reporting direct to the Supreme Commander Earth Forces is the Operations Director, based at Century 21 Toys Incorporated. Subordinate to him are divisional planetary heads, with each planet divided into sections. Earth Division is called the World Intelligence Network, with a top man in each country answering to Jim Colton.
Century 21 Toys Incorporated was taken over by the Universal Secret Service in 2040, but as far as the public were concerned only the management changed. They continue to be one of the largest toy producers in the galaxy.
When an agent passes through a hidden doorway in the toy factory, however, he will descend through a grav lift to silent corridors lined with unmarked doors. Each door leads to a section of the USS.
Agents Survival Section: Responsible for the safety and defence of all USS agents, it designs and manufactures miniaturised, camouflaged weapons and equipment which an agent carries concealed on his person.
Assignment Vehicles Section: housed in a vast underground workshop, it deals with the running and repair of cars and spacecraft used by USS agents.
Armaments section: reinforced walls contain the sounds and smells of the battlefield as weapons are checked and tested - from standard ray pistols to planatomic grenade pitcher guns.
Deadly Toy Section: At first glance a mirror of the factory above, this section contains work benches and conveyor belts littered with toys in various stages of assembly. Headed by Professor Tod Rosto, this section adapts the toys for use by senior special agents.
Control Section: Reporting direct to the Operations Director and situated beneath his office, this section collects and analyses the information required to control the vast complex of USS operations.
Located on the ground floor of Century 21 Toys, the office of the Operations Director is dominated by a sleek, pine- finished desk which houses powerful micro-computers enabling him to directly control USS movements.
Unwelcome visitors can be subdued by metal clamps housed in the visitors chair facing the director, while a bullet and radiation proof screen can be raised around his desk at the touch of a button.
The desk also conceals the Operations Directors' personal entrance to the departments below - as well as an emergency exit from the toy factory. A videophone on the desk provides a direct link to all USS department heads.
Follow Brent Cleever’s career in The Agent 21 Dossier