TV Century 21 – 2066

It’s 2066. Thunderbirds are still coming, but they’re closer now. Thunderbird 1 had the big pin-up in issue 50 (1 January) and Lady Penelope received a mysterious postcard, telling her that Thunderbirds were nearly go… And the Lady Penelope Investigates investigated Maxwell Smart in advance of a new series starting two weeks hence.
The changes planned for issue 52, completing TV Century 21‘s first year, were announced on the front page of issue 51: the arrival of Thunderbirds, the arrival of Get Smart!, the expansion of Agent 21 to two pages – and the departure of Lady Penelope to ‘edit’ her own weekly comic, TV21’s first spin-off, echoing the Eagle path by spawning a girl’s paper for the readers’ sisters. Inside, the preview also included The Munsters, and a new feature, Dateline 2066.
The last issue of the ‘old’ comic saw Fireball XL5 return to the future with the aid of a man called Zodiac. Venus muses that it might have been Steve’s grandfather, only for Steve to pour cold water on it immediately: his father (who was also named Steve) only adopted the name Zodiac when he joined the U.S.S (United Secret Service: remember, he’s Twenty-One’s ultimate boss), when he changed his named from Kalinski! It also saw Lady Penelope contacted directly by Jeff Tracey, offering her the job of International Rescue’s British Agent.
But when revamps around, there are departures as well as arrivals. Burke’s Law was out, giving up it’s position on pages 2-3 to 21 Special Agent, as the expanded feature was renamed. Stingray was booted out of the centrespread onto pages 4-5, with Ron Embleton now drawing the feature as two individual pages. My Favourite Martian held its place whilst The Munsters slipped onto page 9. Initially, I thought this was drawn by Amos Burke’s former artist, the presumed Gerry Embleton, whose facility with real faces made him ideal for the strip, but a signature in issue 54 (29 January) revealed it to be yet another ex-Eagle alumnus, former Spot the Clue man Paul Trevillion.
Thunderbirds took the new pride of place, occupying the centre spread in full colour, and with the honour of an unprecedented third page, in black & white. Drawn by the inimitable Frank Bellamy, this was the instant flagship series. It even included a visit from Penny and Parker, in direct continuation from the last of her former strip. And Bellamy was the first of the Anderson artists to genuinely capture the dynamics of machines in motion (of course he was, he was Frank Bellamy, wasn’t he?) and to inject a greater degree of character into the puppets, by simply refusing to draw them as puppets, and as people instead.
Dateline 2066 was a news page set in 2066, reinforcing the notion of the Anderson era as a world in itself. Get Smart immediately captured the silliness of another of my favourite American sitcoms of the time, a spy spoof starring Don Addams (and let’s not forget Barbara Feldon as Agent 99), which was good going when you consider that the show’s regular writers included Mel Brooks.
Fireball XL5 moved into the back half of the comic but was business as usual. Supercar, however, was out, along with Lady Penelope. Saddest departure of all for me was Roger Dunn’s page on the real story of space exploration, replaced by a page devoted to real-life rescues, under the inevitable heading of International Rescues.
Lastly, The Daleks continued to head up the back page, but with a change of artist, Richard E Jennings having left. My educated guess was Eric Eden, but I was completely wrong on that, the strip becoming the work of Ron Turner.
Initially, the comic made a meal of all things International Rescue, but it only took until issue 55 (5 February) before reverting to normal with a non-Thunderbirds front page. And though Lady Penelope was now off entertaining the girls as opposed to the boys, the continuity of the Anderson universe was again reinforced by a major Dateline 2066 report of the story she was leading in her own title.
Lady Penelope was not the only female to be excised from the comic in its new line-up. Agent Twenty-One’s move to two pages seemed to have been achieved by excising his right-hand-woman, Tina, until issue 61. With Twenty-One wounded and undergoing life-saving surgery, Agent Twenty-Three is sent to protect him from Bereznik assassins (Bereznik is the Soviet Union style country that haven’ joined the World Government and thus function as all-purpose enemies for the Anderson Universe.
Tina arrives just in time in issue 62 (26 March) to foil the hit squad, but at the price of her own life. So, now we know, unless you’re Venus, Atlanta Shore or Marina, don’t be a female in TV Century 21.
Interestingly enough, Twenty-One wants revenge for Tina, and when S refuses it, in issue 66 (23 April), Brent Cleever resigns from the USS to go it alone. The same issue saw Thunderbirds abruptly cut back to two pages, the colour centrespread, as a mysterious aircraft appears over Tracey Island and attacks Thunderbird 2, leading to a long and morally dubious story about International Rescue attacking the US Air Force to steal a jammer that’s fooling their security devices.
Issue 71 (4 June) saw the replacement of Ron Embleton on Stingray by an artist with a much simpler line. The following week saw My Favourite Martian’s artist take over the Get Smart strip as well, and a week later a new strip series, The Investigator, was trailed, based on the Australian engineering company, UEI, starring their top troubleshooter, Bob Develin.
This started running in issue 74 (21 June), which introduced a new artist to My Favourite Martian, but made no substantial changes to the series. The International Rescues feature was of personal resonance for me now, though not then, with the still-to-play World Cup marking my real introduction to professional football, dealing as it did with the Munich Air Disaster.
The Investigator got off to a slow start. It was an anomaly in having no apparent connection either to the Andersonverse or to any TV series, and Develin himself came over at first as a bad-tempered semi-hysterical shouter with nothing to shout about. Meanwhile, Ron Embleton dropped off Stingray, though his replacement made a similarly good job, and Agent Twenty-One achieved his mission of delivering the Bereznik Security Chief responsible for Tina’s death to Western… er, World Government justice, only to become a fugitive wanted by both sides and doomed to death.
Then the My Favourite Martian/Get Smart artists swapped back assignments again, rather untidily. And in issue 80, Paul Trevillion came off The Munsters for a week.
A new The Investigator story started in issue 82 (13 August), with more delicate art, giving the impression that the artist is drawing real people. I’ve googled the title but can’t find anything to confirm that the strip was based on any TV series of the era (a period when Australian imports were relatively rare, but cheap, and were not restricted to soaps). That makes the series an oddity, given TV21‘s otherwise total reliance upon TV series. What made it a further oddity was that, to save the day in issue 89 (1 October), Develin sacrificed his life and his series, evidence that the story had not worked.
This led into a mini-revamp in issue 90. There was a re-ordering of features, bringing Fireball XL5 back into the front half again and pushing Stingray further back, a superb regular feature on the Apollo Moon programme, predicting a Moon landing (accurately) within three to four years. The Investigator was replaced with another black and white strip, Catch or Kill, a two-pager about playboy Craig Raymond Alan Gorton, known as Crag, who inherits his hunter Uncle’s fortune but only if he completes Uncle John’s last assignment. It’s another anomaly in the TV world of the title, but it boasted superb art from John Burns.
A long, involved Thunderbirds story that saw Thunderbird 3 crash, burned out on Venus, requiring Thunderbirds 1 and 2 to be modified for space flight was abruptly disturbed in issue 93 (29 October) when Frank Bellamy left the series temporarily, not returning until the follow-up story started in issue 99 (10 December). His replacement did a sterling job, but he was no Frank Bellamy, because nobody else was. International Rescue continued to dominate the comic as no other series did.
Stingray’s art was slowly getting rougher and sketchier, with an increased amount of white space, but the story came up with a neat bit of Anderson crossover, when Titan’s agent in trying to discredit Troy Tempest turned out to be the Hood, taking a temporary break from trying to get Thunderbird plans and going after the WASP’s flagship craft.
Catch or Kill took the opportunity to attach itself to the Anderson universe in issue 98 (3 December) when Crag and Kipper’s latest hunt, for a pre-historic bird on an alien planet, uncovered a hostile robot civilisation: Crag called Space City for assistance, resulting in the despatch of Fireball XL9 to the scene.
TV Century 21 reached its 100th issue on 17 December 2066 with nothing more to distinguish it than the announcement of a serialisation of the soon-to-be released ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ feature length film (which I saw on the big screen at the Odeon in Manchester City Centre, my Gran and Grandad taking me to an 11.30am performance as soon as the school holidays started) and another art change on Stingray, to the strip’s increasing detriment.
With a front page headline and a massive photo of the Zero-X spaceship, the four-part adaptation began on Xmas Eve. It was presented in strip format, but not with art but rather stills from the film itself, with extensive captioning. Sadly, all this proved, yet again, was that photographs do not a successful comics series make, even ones of sharper reproductive quality than these.
The Munsters offered a Xmas board game in addition to their weekly slot. Catch or Kill started a new story, cut back to one page. Fireball XL5 was dropped into black and white with a new artist, whose style had a very strong Frank Hampson influence.
And the year rounded off with everything in mid-story.
TV Century 21‘s 2066 was undoubtedly the year of Thunderbirds. Both in terms of the centre-page strip, drawn but for that six week interruption by Frank Bellamy, the best artist to work for the comic, and in terms of the non-stop advertising, of toys, uniforms, records etc., International Rescue dominated the comic week-in, week-out. In contrast, Stingray was first displaced from its original role as centre-spread, before losing Ron Embleton’s art and undergoing a number of changes of artist, each a little worse.
I was sorry to see Supercar and Lady Penelope go, but the latter was probably inevitable: TV21 was pitched firmly at the boy’s market and it made commercial sense to spin Penny off into a girl-oriented weekly of her own. Their ‘replacements’, one-pagers based on popular American sitcoms that I watched avidly and still have fun memories of, boasted vigorous art but never quite matched up to their originals. Perhaps it’s that I remember it the least, because I had been just that bit younger, but My Favourite Martian, still going strong after nearly two full years, still seems to be the most successful representation.
Agent Twenty-One continued to be pretty good all year, but the comic’s foray into other series were very mixed. The Investigator was basically a nothing and whilst Catch or Kill had impressive art, its stories were not really anything to write home about.
So the end of year report is the same as before: excellent technical quality, vivid colours but overall unengaging: the pre-teen me got far more out of this than the adult does. On to 2067.

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