The Frank Hampson Studio – At The Firs


For the first eight months of the series, Frank Hampson and his team produced Dan Dare in the constricted confines of the Bakehouse in Southport. Eagle’s editor, the Reverend Marcus Morris, continued to hold his living at Ainsdale, and to conduct services as often as his editorial duties made possible.
But Eagle‘s circulation, settling in at around three quarters of a million copies every week, made it of great importance to Hulton Press, and thus made its editor’s availability in London a thing of importance to them. And given that Dan Dare was the most important element of Eagle, and the amount of money being invested weekly into Frank Hampson and his unique studio, it was of equal importance to bring the whole studio much closer to home.
The destination was Epsom, in Surrey, home to the Derby and only twenty miles outside of London. The Morrises moved into a spacious house, The Firs, as a home, and the Hampson studio moved in right after them, bringing the entire team, and the already burgeoning reference materials that Hampson accumulated, fundamental to the consistency and realism of the art, into a private home.
It was not an easy mix. Remember too that Hampson’s approach to the strip involved two days a week of shooting and developing multiple photographs as each panel of the colour rough was staged, with multiple photos frequently required for a single scene, as each element of the same might need to be separately defined.
Add to this that the studio still consisted of half a dozen people, working the same extremely long, unsociable hours, and making cups of tea in the family kitchen all the time and it was a recipe for conflict. Hampson’s assistants did not live at the Firs, but they still spent far more time there than they did at their scattered lodgings.
And the move to Epsom brought in another member of the studio in Don Harley. Harley was at College locally, and had trained under Sir Stanley Spencer, but he had been immensely impressed by Hampson and his work, and when he qualified, he approached Hampson and was taken on board. Within a few years, Hampson would be describing him as ‘the second best Dan Dare artist in the world’, and would be co-signing Harley’s name, together with his own, to the Dan Dare series.
As one man entered, another departed (not literally). The pace was punishing, so much so that Hampson fell ill during the last month of ‘The Venus Story’ and was forced to take four weeks off. Everyone was exhausted. Don Harley would leave at tea-time to go home and eat, but rarely escaped without Hampson catching him and seeking reassurances that Harley would be back: not tomorrow, but later that evening. Sometimes there were telegrams, asking why he wasn’t back yet.
Everyone was unhappy, and Eric Eden voiced the team’s concerns to Hampson. Was this punishing schedule really necessary. Were the hours not too much? Hampson was angered. Eden was his friend from Southport Art College. He’d come aboard to replace Bruce Cornwell, had moved to the other end of the country. But this was unacceptable, was insurrection. Was he the ringleader for a mass rebellion? Eden was sacked, abruptly.
His replacement was, ironically, Bruce Cornwell. Cornwell lived nearby in Ruislip and was persuaded to return on promises that things had changed, that the workload wasn’t as insane as before. It was. Cornwell moved on again.
And there were other departures, but by then the studio had moved again. It really wasn’t a good fit in the Firs. Morris’s wife, the actress Jessica Fanning, was very unhappy at having all these artists hanging around her house. They were, after all, mere employees, underlings, lucky to have a job but insufficiently grateful to her husband for that.
Hultons bit the bullet. They bought Bayford Lodge, also in Epsom, as a home for the Hampsons and a studio for the strip and the team. Here the Hampson studio would stay for the emainder of Frank Hampson’s tenure on his creation. But it still would not be entirely peaceful.

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