A Southport Expedition


It’s been a while, since Derby in january in fact, since I went ahywhere further than Manchester City Centre, so the time seemed ripe for a day out on Friday. Even so, having survived six months of the pandemic, I’m a little twitchy about venturing further afield, especially given how much time that’s goimg to mean breathing through a facemask.

Nor did the lead up on Thursday make me feel calmer. I’d been encouraged by my manager to give myself a treat, take a day off to do something I wanted, and I wanted to do this anyway: a Friday off work, especially one that balanced out a Woorking Sunday I hadn’t been able to get out of, was tailor-made. I was up for it, psyched, ready, except that the leave hadn’t been put through. My manager works from home: I e-mailed him. No reply. Time passing. Oscillating between rising frustration and the fury I’m going to feel if it falls through.

It’s not as if I’m not worked up already. I got home Wednesday to a letter asking me to phone in to make an appointment for my flu jab this year except that they told me to ring an obsolete number then the transfer option kept telling me  it had failed and cutting me off. I don’t need any more aggravation.

Eventually, I go to another Manager and between him and my very sweet Ops Manager, who’s an absolute darling, it’s agreed – but still not booked into my schedule when I leave at 9.00pm – and I am spared the horrendous Friday I would have inflicted on everybody within socially distanced reach.

Standard Operating Procedure gets me to Stockport Railway Station with only half an hour to spare, which is ample time to steady and serious rain to set in. This is August, isn’t it? The Friday before the Bank Holiday weekend? Of course.

There are two changes in the outbound journey, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Oxford Road. There used to be direct trains to Southport but no more. The journey will take nearly two hours. I could cut that down to eighty minutes and save 80p on the return fare if I spend ages on the bus and walking to travel from Manchester Victoria, plus have to get home from the City Centre on top. I am lavish, I spend the money.

As far as Bolton it’s a familiar journey, one I made five days a week for most of the 2000s, so I turn immediately to my big heavy book: there are few happy associations with that journey.

It’s a long, slow, stopping journey that stops everywhere but still manages to outpace the rain, if not the overhanging cloud. I get in a good long shift of reading as we cross the plains of lower Central Lancashire, the wet fields to each side, the numerous level-crossings in our favour, but my bum is sore from sitting by the time we reach Southport and I can stand up, shuffle and, once out of the station, full down my facemask: the fresh air is a heady wine.

I have a long history with Southport. My parents hated Blackpool for its noisiness, its brashess and its crowds so this was the first experience of a seaside resort, with its long beaches and invisible seas. Here was where I played with my first camera, getting great shots without pointing. Here was where Dad and I spent one early morning before breakfast waking a mile out across the sands without reaching the sea. Here was where Mam would occasionally take my little sister and I to the seaside for the day: in 1968, the year I discovered Test Cricket and watched the Ashes avidly, we visited on the last day of the series, the one at the Oval, when hundreds of volunteers mopped the field dry to give England a chance of the draw, ten fielders crouched round the bat. At least every third bloke on the Fronty had a transister radio tuned to the Test pressed to his ear and I flitted from one to another, never more than thirty seconds away from the next update, until Deadly Derek Underwood took the last wicket. Was that the one where we got back to Victoria and found Dad there, straight from work, to run us home, the perfect end?

But I’m not in Southport for any of that, not today. I’m here because Southport is where the Eagle was created between Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson, and where Dan Dare was created at the latter’s kitchen table. It’s the 70th Anniversary this year, albeit not this time of year, and there’s an Exhibition. I head straight for the Atkinson Gallery to visit it.

The Dan Dare part is very small, far smaller than previous Exhibitions I’ve visited, basically one little room and an additional glass case as a component of a larger Exhibition dedicated to the Sefton Coast: Dan’s contribution is the ‘Inspirational Coast’.

There’s an array of books and comics, many of which are laid out in a bit of a jumble, all but a handful of which I have in my own collection. My copy of Eagle no. 1 is is far better nick than theirs though I can’t say the same for Annual no. 1.

But as always it’s the original art that makes the journey worthwhile and though the pages are few, they are especially wonderful. To my enormous glee Hampson is represented by a page from ‘The Man from Nowhere’, the cover of the issue of Eagle published the day i was born!There’s original art of Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell’s ‘The Platinum Planet’, misidentified as its sequel, ‘The Earth-Stealers’. And Keith Watson, on whose art I grew up, is represented by the last Dan Dare page he drew, the page that was the foundation for Spaceship Away.

Hampson’s pages intrigued me. Usually,  Hampson took the cover page and divided the several panels of page 2 between his assistants, but this is a paste down of individual panels in ones and twos. I’d love to know why.

But there’s more than just Dan Dare. There’s a Martin Aitchison horizontal ‘Luck of the Legion’ strip next to a Thelwell ‘Chicko’ cartoon, a superb Ashwell Wood Cutaway of the Naval Vessel St Kitts, Frank Humphris at his glorious best on ‘Riders of the Range’ and Frank Bellamy with a back page true story, ‘David – The Shepherd King’.

There’s another Bellamy original that troubles me deeply. Immaculately framed, it is the first page of ‘Frasier of Africa’, all yellows and sepias, and it disturbs me because I cannot work out how to steal it and get away with it.

It’s magnificent but it’s too scanty. The one I came to for the 40th  Anniversary was nearly ten times as big and was so good I visited twice, once on my own then with a bunch of mates to whom I’d raved: four hefty fellers in a Volkswagen Polo that needed me to start braking a loooong way before usual.

After leaving the Gallery, I check if there’s still a Pizza Hut in Southport. There is, but it’s no longer on Lord Street, instead it’s way out to Hell and gone on the Front, which means a long walk, starting off along the pier, which forms a bridge over the Marine Lake – there has to be a Marine Lake or else the only water you’d see in Southport would be out of a tap – and through a shpopping estate dominated by Matalan.

This is my first sit-down and eat-in Pizza Hut meal since before lockdown. They’re still operating on limited ingredients, no tuna for my favourite tuna’n’onions, no sweetcorn for my second favourite chicken’n’sweetcorn so I have a Hawaiian with garlic bread side.Nice and tasty and filling. And amusing to note that i finish five minutes before I would have logged in for Friday’s shift.

I have neither the weather nor the inclination to walk on further to see the beach, and neither would you in this early October greyness, so what is left is how much of awander I feel like having. Today would have been an ideal time to pay a visit to the Bakehouse, the little lean-to where six artists crammed in tho draw Dan Dare and the three other pages the Hampson Studio was committed to, but I didn’t think of that in time, and haven’t got the address on me, nor anything more than  vague idea where it is: another time then, again.

So I stroll back to Lord Street and wander northwards under the old-fashioned continuous glass canopy that accompanies the shore-side shops. A couple of times I wander into Charity Shops to fruitlessly peruse the cheap DVDs and every time i come out it takes ages before I remember I can pull down the facemask.

I went as far as a sign for Stockport Samaritans, which was apt: the Samaritans were created by the Reverend Chad Varah, who wrote adventure stories for Eagle, and Dan Dare himself for all but the first two weeks of ‘Marooned on Mercury’.

But there’s not much to look at, or smell, except cafes, restaurants and feeding places: no shortage of these in Southport. So I turn round and walk back an equal distance south but there’s nothing to attract my attention. Southport has always been an old people’s resortand whilst I might be an old person myself now, i’m not that kind of old person. The one i seem to be is the one with the arthritic right knee and hip and the lower back pain on the same side that’s exacerbating both and putting a severe crimp on how far I can walk.

So I slowly limped back to the Station. I’d tentatively identified the 15.43 for returning, a long way round via Liverpool so, with an absence of suitable attractions, I advance an hour and settle down for another long read. That’s actually been one of the best parts of the day. The isolation of a train is an ideal situation for taking a good big bite out of a long book, and I don’t get to do that kind of sustained reading as often as I used to. The train tracks down the coast, stopping everywhere, until Liverpool South Parkway interchange where I hope on a norwich train and off again in Southport, though by the time I limp heavily up our street I’m absolutely shattered – and it’s still only halfway through my shift…

Boy’s World Revisited


I’ve already written about Boy’s World once, but that was based on two-thirds complete poor condition paper copies that excluded the first twenty-three issues of the comic that was supposed to replace the Eagle.
Why you should want to replace one of the most successful boys’ weekly comics that ever existed is a matter for speculation, but that was what Leonard Matthews, of Longacre Press, wanted to do from the first moment Eagle fell under his purview. But then again, Eagle was, even after three years in the hands of professionals like Odhams Press, the comic created by the amateurs, the C of E Vicar and the Southport Art Student, and a lot of people were put out by their success and thought it no more than one massive fluke.
So Boy’s World was going to be the professionals showing the amateurs how to do it. It would outshine Eagle, eclipse it and allow Longacre to close it.
We all know what happened. Boy’s World, which lost an editor before one copy was even printed, which had to be substantially revamped in less than six months, failed to last as many as two years, and suffered the ignominy of death-by-merger into Eagle, surviving only as a second name on the masthead of the comic it was meant to replace.
I find that heart-warming, don’t you?
This was my first chance to read the first twenty-three issues, which were missing from my original paper haul. Internally, there are no great differences between the original Boy’s World and the more conventional comic following the issue 24 revamp, but the provision of a full-bleed cover gives the paper a completely different feel. This first six issues featured boys in various, bright, shiny, ordinary circumstances that were more than a bit bland, then the ‘What would you do?’ series took over until the end of the run, dangerous real-life situations in which the participants only had a limited time in which to find a way out, a challenge the reader had to confront before turning page 2 and reading the solution.
The effect of the full-bleed is to make Boy’s World look more like a magazine than a comic, something simultaneously more serious and more parent-friendly, like it’s almost exact contemporary, Look and Learn (another brainchild of Leonard Matthews, its first issue came out six days before Boy’s World‘s).
For a comic, and one intended to usurp Eagle, with its long tradition of great and varied comics series, Boy’s World didn’t half carry a lot of print. An editorial page stretching over two pages, a short story series written by Donne Avenell, from the point of view of various animals, birds and fish, a prose serial, a complete short story AND the Ticket to Adventure series.
This left space for only four comics series, three at two pages, only one of which in colour, the last at one page. Taken in order, these were: Pike Mason, a sea-going adventurer with his Filipino assistant, Quarro, drawn in a dark and moody greywash style by Luis Bermejo: John Brody, science correspondent of the Daily Correspondent, a Dr Thirteen who didn’t debunk the impossible: Wrath of the Gods, a superb colour centrespread featuring all manner of adventures in Greek mythology, written by Jeff Hawke’s Willie Patterson and drawn by Ron Embleton; and The Boys of Castleford School, a conventional boarding school story with a suspicious new boy.

The Star Feature

Let’s be at bit more specific about these stories. Whilst the Brody, Wrath of the Gods and Castleford School stories were brought to a simultaneous conclusion in issue 23 (Castleford School in the form of a short second serial), Pike Mason’s adventure, ‘The Sea Ape’, couldn’t quite squeeze into that strait-jacket and needed a final episode in the revamp issue. It was well-drawn although its pages consistently looked dark and murky, but the story relied too heavily on superstitious primitive natives whose Gods could only be appeased by sacrificing white men (and Filipinos) for my liking.
Brody’s ‘What is Exhibit X?’ was about an invading intelligence trying to hypnotise and takeover the country, that could only be opposed by people who could hear ultra-sonics, whilst the Castleford School story featured the suspicions of Tom Bannister and Beefy Paget about their new study-mate, Benbow, about whom there was a mystery. Was Benbow a villain, working with crooks? No, he was the nephew of a British intelligence Agent, aiding Uncle to expose Diamond-Smugglers. The second, six week story, was about proving the local legend of the Phantom Rider true, though he was actually a guise to stop racehorse nobblers.
Both Castleford stories were straight schoolboy serials, neither better nor worse than any of their contemporaries, such as Sandy Dean in Lion, but their big problem was that this was 1964, and the boy’s boarding school story was all but played out. Castleford School would not survive the revamp, at least, not in this form.
Boy’s World‘s jewel was ‘Wrath of the Gods’. It starred Arion, a Greek warrior who, on finding his family and friends slaughtered in his absence at the wars, cursed Zeus and the whole rotten lot and found himself appointed a kind of mortal trouble-shooter drafted in by the Gods to carry out fantastic missions. But though Arion’s adventures were gorgeous to look at, the story seemed paper-thin. It had no structure beyond that of the daisy-chain: each week or so a new instruction o seek something else leads Arion into another encounter, with the Furies, the Minotaur, Atlas and so on. Willie Patterson is legendary for writing Jeff Hawke but I’ve always found everything else he wrote to be passionless and static.

Pike Mason

The revamp made no difference to the cover except to make Boy’s World look like a comic by introducing a half-inch band of white paper around everything. Inside, however, the number of comics series went up, although as the paper gained an extra four pages, this didn’t diminish the prose features.
Pike Mason, John Brody and Wrath of the Gods remained, although the latter was for some reason ripped out of the centrespread and dropped onto the back pages, with a young and initial somewhat rough and ready John Burns taking over art duties, albeit still in colour, as Arion found himself charged with finding the Nameless God in order to have the plague-carrying Chalice of Apollo destroyed.
For Mason, it was the same again, hired to find a lost civilisation’s treasure protected by the Curse of Zentaca, whilst Brody dealt with the House on Scar island, going ghost-chasing.
Castleford School wasn’t so lucky. In theory, it continued, but it underwent a comprehensive change of style, tone and art by turning into ‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’, a comedy strip about a useless, fumble-fingered swot who came into possession of a spare pair of glasses that filled him with confidence and overwhelming athletic prowess at every sport he tried. Benbow and Tom Bannister made a few token appearances in the early weeks but were rapidly forgotten as Binns became the target of the jealous school bully, Middleton, and his cronies.
It was undistinguished fare that never developed from one week to another, nor did the supposedly highly-intelligent swot, or anyone else at the school, ever make the slightest connection between his radically differing states of confidence and athleticism depending on whether he wore glasses A or glasses B. It was neatly drawn – far better than the unspeakable ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’ – whilst the stories were generally unexceptionable but I can’t for the life of me understand how it’s supposed to be an utterly hilarious, laugh-a-panel comedy, which was how the comic kept billing it.

John Brody

‘Brett Millions’ pushed ‘Wrath of the Gods’ out of the centrespread, though only until the stories began in issue 24 finished in the same week, whereupon they swapped back. This was written by SF writer, Harry Harrison, the first tale, ‘The Angry Planet’, adapted from one of Harrison’s own novels. It’s dull fare, drawn competently but to no better standard, and Millions has the personality of a pancake. He’s supposed to be a gambler, but turns into an interplanetary troubleshooter without any real qualifications.
What turned out to be Boy’s World‘s most successful series in terms of longevity was ‘The Iron Man’, who would survive for years once transferred to Eagle. The Iron Man, as I’m sure you recall, was an international crime-busting robot whose mechanical nature was concealed by an amazing suit of plastic skin. He was initially drawn by Ron Embleton’s younger brother Gerry, who gave the robot a naturalistic look that could be mistaken for human. For Robert’s second story, Embleton Jr was replaced by Martin Salvador – Spanish artists were so much cheaper – and the robot’s features slowly became much more, well, robotic.
Harry Harrison had a second string to his bow in the form of ‘Merlo the Magician’. Merlo was both a highly-skilled, internationally famous stage magician and a highly-secret Interpol agent, tackling high power, fantastic crimes and criminals, usually backed by secret organisations. He’d debuted in issue 13 as the second prose serial, but was popular enough with the readers to be retained as a page and a half strip, cleanly drawn, all black lines and white space and no shading, good but not outstanding.
One final new feature was the mild comedy from ‘Private Proon – the Barrack ‘Square”, about which nothing need be said. It was better than Eagle’s ‘Fidosaurus’ or ‘XYZ Cars’ but not as good as Lion’s ‘Mowser’, though equally as repetitive.
A couple of Boy’s World‘s minor features should be mentioned before we go any further, the first being the extremely short prose ‘Mini-Mystery’ starring Detective Inspector Nixon. These were micro Spot the Clues that were Howdunnits rather than Whodunnit, since the villain was almost always the only other person in the story. ‘What’s in a Name?’ was an etymological series in words and pictures about people’s surnames, though the honourable name of Crookall was never featured.
The Hand of Fate was a one (sometimes half-)page real lifestory whose theme was the intervention of Fate in unusual circumstances, usually but not exclusively to save the life of someone who would normally have been expected to die. And towards the end of Volume 1, the great Frank Humphris began a b&w half-page feature on real-life Western tales, ‘The Flaming Frontier’, which once again brought Humphris’ knowledge and enthusiasm into play.

Brett Millions

Last and best of these other features was a weekly prose account called ‘Ticket to Adventure’, an historical feature homing in on famous events, written in such away as to place the reader in the middle of the action, all because he’d received his Ticket to Adventure. Week-in, week-out, this was consistently Boy’s World‘s best feature.
There was another general change round in issues 45 to 47, new stories for Pike Mason, John Brody, Wrath of the Gods and Brett Millions, the latter two series exchanging places again to wind up where they first began. Merlo had only just edged into the Army of Crime. Ron Embleton returned to draw Arion’s latest adventure, whilst none other than Frank Bellamy was selected for Million’s ‘The Ghost World’.
It’s probably the least known of all his Fifties and Sixties work. Aside from a couple of his ‘Great Adventurers’ stories from Eagle, it’s the only strip that hasn’t been reprinted, and it’s rarely mentioned in bibliographies of his work, which is not surprising because Bellamy still has no more instinct for SF than he had on ‘Dan Dare’.
Boy’s World‘s first volume consisted of 49 issues, it’s second and last of 40, starting from the first week of January 1964. That the title was struggling could be seen when another free gift was given away in issue 18, and there was a mini revamp, with a temporary change of logo box, and new stories starting for Merlo and John Brody. The latter shifted to the back page and into colour, with art by Luis Bermejo, whilst Brett Million was replaced by Raff Regan, a WW2 RAF strip, which didn’t amount to much, certainly not in comparison to Lion‘s Paddy Payne.
A new prose feature debuted, featuring schoolboy dodger Tricky Jones: the name should be enough to clue you in to how awful this was going to be and it was not misleading, though I suppose the kid I was then enjoyed it.
Bermejo wasn’t called upon to draw two series for long, because Pike Mason went back to sea for good after issue 21, being replaced by a weird little series, ‘What is my Name?’, in which RAF Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Pierce is saved by a Scottish shepherd known only as the Nameless One, and in repayment has to find out the Nameless One’s name. The story soon started to get involved with supernatural stuff, drawings forecasting doom appearing in a blank book, and ultimately an ancient curse, little of which made any great sense, but which lasted until the somewhat abrupt decision to merge Boy’s World into Eagle.
Another, and final new series started alongside ‘What’s in a Name?’, Dr What and his Time Clock, which was a parody of Dr Who, In fact, the first ever parody of the classic BBC series. Sadly, nothing else distinguished it.
Other than some minor art changes – Frank Langford soon replaced Bermejo on John Brody, Eric Kincaid filled in on some Flaming Frontiers, Humphris drew one in colour – there was little else to the story.
Boy’s World ended on 2 October 1964, after only 89 issues: the comic that was to replace Eagle was swallowed up by it. This was an unpopular decision in one boy’s household because I was getting both, and I was not best pleased that two of my weekly comics were merging to one, especially as I didn’t get a new title to replace it. Gone for good were Merlo and Inspector Nixon, John Brody, Tricky Jones, Private Proon and Dr What. Billy Binns, Wrath of the Gods, Raff Regan and Th Iron Man carried over, although only The Iron Man lasted. Boy’s World continued in Annual form, running parallel with the Eagle Annual, for far more years than the comic lasted, ending only in 1972.
I had a few of those Boy’s World Annuals too, and kept one longer than I would normally have done for some Frank Bellamy art, illustrating a short story about an ageing Matador. Browsing it, I happened to notice that writers of these short stories were credited, and one of them happened to be credited to Michael Moorcock! When I met him for the only time, going to a signing session for his novel, Mother London, I took the Annual along, asked if he minded signing the story. I didn’t actually write that, he told me: he’d been commissioned but hadn’t the time, so he’d passed it to Barrington J. Bailey, who needed the money. He still signed it, mind you, but with a proviso that Barry Bailey had written it!
Moorcock is reputed to have written a lot of small features for Boy’s World, including the ‘What’s in a Name?’ snippets, etymologising surnames: here was one instance when his name was taken in vain. Not that the editor knew…
In the end, a comic stands or falls upon one thing: the strength or otherwise of its comics series. It’s what we buy them for. What failed Boy’s World more than anything else was that its stories just weren’t good enough. They had strong artists, but none of the characters were memorable in themselves and, with the exception of the entirely too prosaic Merlo, everything went too far overboard into fantasy. Even John Brody, supposedly a Science Correspondent, dealt only with the irrational and unreal.
And where it should have all have fit the best, in Wrath of the Gods, the stories were thin and lacking in any structure.
On top of this, Boy’s World was the wrong type of comic for an increasingly anarchic time, a time exemplified by the much ballyhooed Wham! (with which it shared Billy Binns) launching in the last three months of Boy’s World‘s life. It launched in a declining market, with a stodgy, stilted name, and it just wasn’t good enough. It lacked a strong editorial figure who could, perhaps, have imposed a greater vision on something that was largely conceived as a copycat. In short, it was the only one not to benefit from the editing of the Reverend John Marcus Morris.
I’ll just leave that one there.

TV21 – 2069


Now it’s 2069. This is TV21‘s last year in the form that we have known it. Before September ends, it will undergo another merger in which technically it will be the senior partner, but in fact the comic will die in any fashion that we’ve known it.
The other half of that merger is Joe 90, which starts in January 1969. Joe 90 is the new Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series, and it’s another step on the slide towards the end of the Anderson puppet series era. Captain Scarlet saw a dip in popularity from Thunderbirds and Joe 90 sees a big dip in quality. This series is aimed firmly downwards, to a younger audience than anything since the Andersons were still with Granada and producing Four Feather Falls.
It’s interesting that Joe becomes the lead of his own title rather than launching in TV21, as did Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. It makes me think that sales were already slipping, and that doubts as to the comic’s permanency were already in management’s minds.
So: What was TV21 and TV Tornado in issue 207 (4 January)? Captain Scarlet, 4 pages, in colour on the cover, in black & white inside, Project SWORD, 1 page including large b&w illustration, The Saint, 2 pages, Shades of Opinion, a letter’s page, The Munsters, 1 redundant page, Thunderbirds, 2 pages still in colour and still by Frank Bellamy, the last Spectrum Shades Club page, Secret Agent 21, 2 b&w pages, Zero-X, 2 brightly-coloured pages still by Mike Noble, Tarzan, 1½ b&w pages, and a big colour photo of Joe 90 on the back page.
The Shades of Opinion page was closing because Captain Scarlet and Spectrum were on the wane. It was replaced by a resumption of Contact 21, under the ‘control’ of Agent 21 again. Joe was being teased for ‘exciting’ news in issue 209 (18 January), which was the new Joe 90 comic, already out, price 8d, as opposed to TV21‘s consistent 7d.

The newbie

Frank Bellamy stopped by to do Captain Scarlet’s colour cover for issue 210 (25 January), whilst Joe’s succeeding issues kept getting plugs on the back page: there’s a certain kind of serpent’s tooth irony to that… By 212 (8 February), a bit more of TV21‘s old self was restored, with a still of the indestructible Captain on the cover, and his story now cut to three, all b&w pages. And Joe surrendered his back page plug for a hint at a forthcoming series, part of the changes advertised for issue 215 (1 March). Another couple of issues were missing from the DVD then the revamp was put back, this time to issue 218.
The retrogression continued in 216, with the real remanifestation of the newspaper cover.
When the ‘new look’ came in 218 (22 March), it was the old look, with the original TV21 masthead. Agent 21 moved back onto pages 2-3, though he was only allotted half the page, vertically, on the second of these. Captain Scarlet moved back to follow this, with The Munsters next.
The only new series was Department S, the ATV Saturday night spy thriller that introduced Peter Wyngarde as Jason King, in two single B&w pages, separated by the full colour Thunderbirds, now restored to the centre pages, but still drawn as two pages instead of the old centrespread format. The Saint survived, as did Zero-X andTarzan, whilst the ongoing series of Saturn paintings found its way to the back cover.
As revamps go, the word ‘underwhelming’ seems inevitable, the unlucky series squeezed out being the long-since meaningless Project SWORD. The daft decision to split Department S around the centre pages was rectified a week later when it got its two pages consecutive. Project ‘Shindig’, the Saturn expedition, came inside for a news page, and photos of some of the puppet crew, whilst the new Space Info page recalled the comic’s original intentions.
This was the replacement for the uninvolving Tarzan. For, of course, 1969 was the year, the year of the Moon Landings. Space Info took up that story. And TV21 would live long enough to see fiction turn into reality.
As for the new kid on the block, Department S only lasted five weeks before being reduced to one page in issue 223 (26 April). The next three issuing are amongst those missing, as is issue 228. Issue 227 (24 May) however leads with a big picture of George Best and a plug for the new feature inside, Football United, one of a series of sports features included by reader demand, though all it was in Part One was a fact sheet, down to the Old Trafford telephone number!

The big mistake

And football once again incongruously dominated the front cover of issue 229 (7 June), heralding Leeds United as the English Champions.
Sports was the new thing. Issue 231 saw the introduction of the new feature, Super League, a football strip starring up and coming strikers Vince Hammer and Bill Cullen, who are wanted by the Manchester Eagles, except that Vince’s father intends him for the Army. There were only two drawbacks to this series, the subject was completely out of place in TV21 and the artists had no idea how to draw footballers in action, neither their body movements or their physical relationships on a field. As for which Manchester club the Eagles derived from, their stadium was the Busby Bowl: as Stan Lee used to put it, ’nuff said.
Meanwhile, Agent 21 had gone from being the head of the USS to being a mere Agent again, without any warning or explanation, and, after one dead woman, one dead man and a traitor, his new assistant was a robot dog. The comic’s quality controls were going into a tail-spin.
The date of the Moon-Shot, the real Space Expedition, was now almost on us. Issue 235 (21 July) featured Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, the man who would be first to step on the Moon. I don’t believe I was still reading TV21 by now, though I do recognise the name of the Manchester Eagles, but re-running towards that moment is something I find intensely gripping. The world was changing about us in these very pages.
Only a week later, a half page black and white feature on the back page, Nature’s Flying Machines’, looked exactly like one of the old George Cansdale features from the Eagle. It was a one-off, with issue 237 (2 August) opening up the notebooks of Wilson of the Wild, big game naturalist.
TV21 was now in its dying weeks. Captain Scarlet defeated the Mysterons at last, shutting down their power of retro-metabolism, recovering Captain Black’s body and seeing then evacuate Mars. Thunderbirds wrapped up their second consecutive story pitting them against superstitious, primitive tribes fearing Devil-Gods (in 2069? What is this, Robot bloody Archie at its most colonial?) The innovative football strip had the two youngsters promoted to the First Team and arousing the enmity of an established forward who swears to destroy their careers: never seen that before. Odd little prose features started turning up. The Moon Landing, after all its build-up, went by without acknowledgement of it happening, a colossal disappointment. There was even a Kit Carter’s Clarks Commandos comic strip advert, drawn by Tom Kerr, turning up with two issues to go.
TV21 ended with issue 242 (6 September ‘2069’). Every series wound up (Zero-X got out with a week to spare). Surplus pages were filled with Thunderbirds photos of the models. And it was announced that in order that readers wouldn’t have to ask for both TV21 and Joe90, the two papers were merging. There was a gap of three weeks before the new paper, renumbering from issue 1, appeared, and when it did, not one series from TV21 remained, unless you count Kit Carter. Tarzan and The Saint returned, but both series were rejigged from their brief period in TV21.
Only Joe90 remained of the Anderson-verse.
The DVD contains just over half of the first 105 issues of the Volume 2 comic. The title reverted to just plain TV21 with issue 36, and became TV21 and Valiant with issue 105. Given the paucity of available issues, looking at this phase of the comic’s existence is not a priority with me: maybe one day when I’ve run out of other things to re-read and write about.
So, the short life and mostly decent times of TV Century 21, ending in collapse of purpose and identity. Frank Bellamy and Mike Noble lasted to the end, as did John Cooper, but by then even their efforts were being dogged by poor writing and inadequate stories (there is a case for saying that Zero-X never had an adequate story but let’s not be harsh). Not quite five years.
Personally, having breezed through those years in short order, I think the big mistake was to go so totally overboard on Captain Scarlet and Spectrum, especially to the extent of abandoning the future newspaper concept. Once this had been so thoroughly played out, the title lost its way, and blurred its own focus. But it offered some brilliant art for a good number of years, and if none of the Anderson series ever quite matched their TV originals, they had a damned good go at it. Not a bad epitaph.

One final page of glory

TV Century 21 – 2067


Stingray… and foreshadowing

It’s now 2067. TV Century 21 starts its new year offering a FAB1 cover and a headline suggesting the Hood has been killed as a tie-in to the newly-released ‘Thunderbirds are Go’ film.
Inside we find Secret Agent 21 and his assistant Jack Reed (no Tina, he) still escorting their SOFRAM Head prisoner through the organisation’s determined attempts to kill him, part 3 of 4 film still strips telling the story of the big film and Moonshot Apollo part 14, still telling the tale of the planned expedition to the Moon. Next, My Favourite Martian, some ads and Catch or Kill, bringing us the the Thunderbirds centre-spread with Frank Bellamy. After that, The Munsters, Get Smart! and Fireball XL5, all in black and white, and Stingray in colour. Finally a couple of feature pages before The Daleks on the back page. I retract my notion that the replacement artist could have been Eric Eden: this guy’s colours are far too garish and shouty for anyone brought up by Frank Hampson.
Issue 105 (21 January) featured a free gift and another mini-revamp. After two years, My Favourite Martian (which had been cancelled in mid-1966) was dropped, as were The Daleks. Fireball XL5 took over their back page slot, restored to colour but reduced to one page, whilst Mike Noble also popped up on the new series, Zero-X, featuring the Mars exploration craft from the Thunderbirds film, making a second trip to the Red Planet.
Moonshot Apollo, having run its course, was replaced by Countdown 54321 (or 54321 Countdown: the logo isn’t explicit), supposedly matching up 2067 technology to the 1967 developments that led up to it: an amusing conceit for the ever-interesting science features.
Issue 107 (4 February) introduced a new one page comic strip, Wright (C.H.A.R.L.I.E.), about inept scientist Professor Wright and the inept inventions he comes up with for Central Headquarters, Atomic Research Liaison for Industrial Experimentation. No trees were ripped up by the contents of this strip.
Two weeks later, art duties on Fireball XL5 changed again, presumably because Mike Noble was having difficulties producing three full colour pages per week (even two was double Frank Hampson’s maxim). The new artist had a good, softer line and produced impressive work on faces, but Noble was the classic Fireball artist and the standard by which the strip was to be judged. In fact, after a couple of weeks study, my educated guess is none other than Don Lawrence. Which was confirmed by a signature in issue 113 (18 March).

You can never have too much Frank Bellamy

Both up front stories were rocked by serious developments as Twenty-One’s former assistant Tina seemingly came back from the dead, only to prove to be a foreign agent to absolutely no-one’s surprise, and Captain Paul Travers was sentenced to death for wilful disobeyance of an order and would up on the run trying to uncover a world-threatening conspiracy. Travers ended up proving the existence of a would-be world-conquering conspiracy and getting both reprieved and reinstated.
But Twenty-One’s luck with assistants continued to be bad as Jack Reed was killed in issue 124 (21 June).
Given that Lady Penelope’s adventures during TV Century 21‘s first year were planned as a lead to Thunderbirds, there was a moment of retrospective recognition on the following issue’s cover, an above the headline announcement of a new expedition to Mars and the Rock Snake Hills that caused so many problems to the Zero-X in ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’. It’s commander was a new member of a top secret organisation. His title was Captain Black…
Another new artist took over Get Smart! in issue 128 (1 July), reintroducing a more representational look, which in the case of Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) was most welcome. Based on certain body poses used in the second week of his tenure, I suspect this to be Tom Kerr, later to draw Oddball Oates for Lion.
The new Stingray story starting in issue 129 (8 July) had me staring in disfavour, as typed narrative captions in the first three panels were credited with numbers, as was a fourth on page 2. All the other captions, much briefer than this quartet were in the traditional hand-lettering. This was either a sudden decision to treat the readers as infants who needed to be taught how to read comic strips, or else an embarrassing production cock-up.
The appearance of only one, unnumbered typescript caption, as an unboxed catch-up the following week would appear to confirm the latter.
The Countdown 54321 feature in issue 130 (15 July) had a visionary subject, as it looked at the use of solar energy in 2067, as it sprang from small beginnings a hundred years earlier. With an opening line of “Now that the Earth’s resources of coal, oil and natural gas have declined to practically nothing…”, it was both delightfully prescient and horribly depressing, when you remember that in over half that period in a children’s comic we have still to get to grips with that danger.
A week later, Agent Twenty-One and his Chief, S (Steve Zodiac Senior) foiled an attempted military takeover of the United States, intent on withdrawing it from the World Government. Both men were injured, and as a consequence, both were retired, S from the USS and Twenty-One from active service, to replace him as USS Chief. That looked like the end of the series, except that there was still a To Be Continued box at the bottom of the strip’s second page.
At the same time, Mike Noble vanished from Zero-X, after one episode of a new story: not permanently, thankfully, as he would be back after a four week absence. His replacement was sadly inadequate.
Countdown 54321 was renamed simply Countdown in issue 132 (29 July): Carol Vorderman was only six. But this was a one-week phenomenon. And Wright (C.H.A.R.L.I.E.) disappeared to be replaced by R.E.Cord, supposedly the amateur sportsman who’s always on the ball. In terms of both story and art it made the unlamented Professor Wright look like Thunderbirds.

The new Heroes

And Catch or Kill also disappeared without warning, though not John Burns, retained for Front Page. This new series, which had been subtly trailed for weeks, in a Contact Twenty-One feature about the staff of TV21, actually featured the magazine itself, as a 2067 newspaper. A mysterious stranger turns up at the editorial offices, claiming to dream disasters (i.e., past TV21 stories) the night before they happen, and predicting a fire at Liverpool Spaceport that duly happens.
The following week, the comic led with a ‘news’ story, and a blurred photo, of two unusual aircraft piloted by women pilots, attacking a British target jet. Like the Captain Black newsflash, there was nothing about it inside, but the ground was very definitely being prepared for something that would appear on ITV Midlands the following month.
And inside, an advert on page 8 told us to Beware the Mysterons, though it directed us to Solo, a short-lived boys comic, for the details.
Countdown 54321 in issue 134 (12 August) was another of those still rare moments that I remember from the Sixties, comparing jet-liners, with 1967’s Concorde being set up as a forerunner of the already known Fireflash.
Twenty-One’s elevation to chief of the USS lasted only until issue 135 (19 August), when the status quo ante was restored. Simultaneously, Mike Noble resumed duties on Zero-X, and Countdown 54321 was re-named Then and Now. The following week, John Cooper left Special Agent 21 in the hands of someone completely inadequate to replace him.
Issue 137 (2 September) devoted its entire front page to foreshadowing the newest Anderson series. Captain Black’s Mars Expedition was announced lost, an artist’s impression of something we would very soon recognise as Cloudbase was shown and an ‘editorial’ demanded answers about a new, super-secret organisation, identified by a stylised S badge. Spectrum was very nearly here.
And there didn’t look like being much longer to wait. The current Front Page story ended in issue 138 (9 September) with reporter Pete Tracker being summoned back for an urgent assignment in Nice, investigating a mysterious craft 50,000 feet above Nice. Indeed, a week later, Twenty-One sacrificed his second page for the first official announcement of Spectrum, without, as yet, any mention of any other Captains in the organisation.
The same issue added a most improbable third TV cartoon page, in the form of Sgt. Bilko, another one-pager looking to be drawn by Tom Kerr. Properly The Phil Silvers Show on TV, Bilko had no more fantastic content than had Burke’s Law, but the timing was also implausible: the show had originally been broadcast in America from 1955 to 1959, and had been a staple repeat on BBC1 from 1961 until March 1967. It’s appearance as a British produced strip six months later in an SF comic is completely inexplicable. Maybe Alan Fennell was simply a Bilko fan? (I know I was). Actually, it was a refugee from the aforementioned and now failed Solo. At least it replaced the hopeless R.E.Cord.
Issue 140 (23 September) was a set-up for change. All serials came to an end. Captain Black’s disappearance on his return to Earth was woven into and explained by Front Page, leading to the scoop headlines of the previous week. Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was advertised as a new TV in October and a new strip in issue 141. It was not a revamp as Lion did them, but another new TV21 was on the way.
Captain Scarlet was on the cover. Stingray suffered another loss of prestige, moved to pp 2-3 but reduced to B&W with yet another art change. Front Page was hauled back to one page and The Munsters had another change of artist. Captain Scarlet’s series leapt into the centrespread with a very welcome return for Ron Embleton. Fireball XL5 moved inside again, and like Stingray was also converted to black and white: either I’m very mistaken or Tom Kerr was being kept very busy by the comic. Thunderbirds, at any rate, kept its page length, its colour and its artist, though Frank Bellamy had to draw two individual pages now. Special Agent 21 got his second page and John Cooper back, whilst the back page was a 3D Spectrum photo from the TV series.
And, for the first time since its inception, TV21 got an increase in page count, to 24, and still for the original 7d!
Indeed, I was right about Tom Kerr on Fireball XL5 because the following week, he was allowed to sign his page.
Moving on to issue 145 (28 October), this was another of those rare instances where I have a recollection, and for me a poignant one. The Then and Now feature compared rock-climbing in 1967 and 2067, and it was a feature that caught my mountain-climbing Dad’s interest. I remember him poring over it, impressed. I’ve been waiting for that page to appear.
Meanwhile, Tom Kerr didn’t last long on Fireball XL5, replaced in the same issue 145, the change being a clear downgrade to someone who did not have the facility of converting puppet faces into realistic-looking ones.
As the year wound down, issue 150 (2 December) saw the newspaper concept extended into a wraparound, incorporating the back cover. This made room for a mention of a Lady Penelope assignment, presumably tying in with her ongoing series in her own title.

What is a strip aboout a 1950’s American Army Sergeant doing in a mid 21st Century SF comic?

And then the year was over, in promises of a new look TV Century 21 coming in 2068. Get Smart! didn’t quite make it to the end, and all the series were run-down to the end of their current stories, some of them very brief, in readiness.
After just short of three years, TV Century 21 was well-established and still popular, thanks to the ongoing success of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s world of futuristic puppets and machines. 2067 was the year of Captain Scarlet. The comic didn’t go quite as overboard on him and Spectrum as it had Thunderbirds, but International Rescue were still, and have always been the Anderson’s biggest and most successful creation.
As the year went on, both Fireball XL5 and Stingray underwent further downgrades, unsurprising really given the increasing amount of time since they had ceased production and appearing on our TV screens. But it was surprising that the comic began to include more original features, away from the Anderson Universe. The success of these were mixed: Catch or Kill and Front Page were decent mainly for their art, whilst I won’t even deign to re-mention the two comic pages.
The Zero X strip was more like it, but even that was because of the scope it gave Mike Noble for his ebullient art. Zero X and its crew did have their roots in ‘Thunderbirds are Go’, but they had only a limited role, as victims, and not one of the four regular characters had the least personality upon which to build their own series.
But still my verdict is as before, to which I’d add the nuance that in general, TV Century 21 does help to blanderise itself by the length of its stories. Where Lion frequently made the mistake of dragging its stories out far too long, TV Century 21 keeps them short, far too short for anything except action. Six weeks or thereabouts is not enough to build a story of decent intricacy. The comic treats its readers as kids, which almost all of them were, anyway, but it plays safe of matters of their concentration, and lets them down in that sense.
Still, there would be changes made for the next year of operations: what would they be?

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.

Eagle Volume 16 (1965)


The new format

There is curiously little to say about Volume 16. I’ve gone on about stability in recent reviews, and it is fair to say that 1965 was a year of at least superficial stability. Only one major feature ended and was replaced by a new major feature. Minor features, such as the excellent Ron Embleton ‘Prizefighters’ half-page might cease and be replaced by a similar half-pager, ‘The Duellists’, by a less smooth and detailed artist, two of Eagle’s remaining top series underwent format changes and there was the annual revamp, coming late in the year and consisting solely of a new cover feature. But issue 52 was easily recognisable as the same comic as issue 1, just shuffled about a bit.
The classic Eagle of the Hulton Fifties had been a vibrant, thriving affair of classic, enduring series, written, drawn and edited with enthusiasm and a simple belief in the quality of what was being done. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Eagle of the Longacre mid-Sixties was sterile and dull. It was rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic.
We begin, as always with ‘Dan Dare’. ‘The Mushroom’ concluded within half a dozen issues, giving way to ‘The Moonsleepers’, which featured Xel as it’s villain, alongside a cameo role from the Mekon. It was a longer story, and thus more substantial, but its ending was abrupt and unsatisfactory: Xel drowns in the black waters of the Arctic and the Mekon’s fleet, advancing on Venus, vanishes in a blaze of white light: explanation unforthcoming.
Neither villain will appear again, and the apparent disposal of the Mekon in such a perfunctory, back-handed manner was weak and unsatisfying.
Then, as of issue 31, Dan lost the cover again, this time for good. What happened was a demonstration of how much a shambles the comic had become. Previously, such revamps had been tightly organised around new stories for as many series as possible, but not only did ‘The Singing Scourge’ start one week before the reformat, but the prose serial ‘The Rebel Riders’ had two more instalments to run. Sloppy.
Though my research materials credit David Motton as writer throughout, I’ve long been convinced that Keith Watson was given a new writer at this point. True, Motton’s Tempus Frangit reappears for the first time since the end of ‘The Wandering World’, along with Banger and Cob, and yes, the story once again involves paired planets, but there’s an indefinable difference to the writing that only grows. Some captions are Mottonesque, but mainly there’s a flatness to the scripting that smacks of a different hand. The legendary Frank Pepper, creator of Dan”s first rival, Captain Condor, for Lion, not to mention the minor figure of Roy of the Rovers, is recorded as having written Dan Dare at some point and I believe this to be now. Maybe that explains the hasty despatch of the Mekon, as Motton got the push?
And Keith Watson is not at his best in this story. The shambles is further exemplified by his initially drawing ‘Dan Dare’ as a centrespread when it was placed on pages 6-7, reverting to two separate pages just in time for it to be moved to the centrespread, missing four weeks whilst Don Harley fills in, and then drawing a centrespread consisting of separate panels rather than the gutterless images of his first efforts. His art loses definition, his panels have less room, though as Dan and Co spend most of their time in spacesuits, it’s difficult to animate the story. Eric Eden has moved on from colouring and his replacement is drastically inferior, lacking in subtlety and far too prone to lay single, muddy colours across entire panels. It makers the art drab, and destroys the three-dimensionality of things.
This is, incidentally, the fourth different format Keith Watson has had to draw in since taking over the series in 1962, so he can’t be criticised overmuch, simply for his flexibility.

He’s dead, Dan

If ‘Dan Dare’ is now in the centrespread, what of ‘Heros the Spartan’? Luis Bermejo finished his Wolfman story, Frank Bellamy returned for a final, desert set story about El Rashid, his last substantive contribution to Eagle, and Bermejo came back with a new story featuring Heros becoming an outlaw, on the run from Caesar. It began in issue 31, one story at least to herald the revamp, but after only eight weeks, the series was cut back abruptly to a single page, in which form it would run until cancellation.
‘Blackbow the Cheyenne’ continued to showcase Frank Humphris. As usual, it would bounce around on different pages, until the revamp, when it found a ‘permanent’ home on the back page. The stories grew ever more ridiculous. One short tale, involving the troublesome kid Clem Woodley, invokes memories of ‘Riders of the Range’s ‘Terror of the Pecos’, but is much more of an overt joke, showing Blackbow up in a way that would have been unthinkable with Jeff Arnold and Luke, but it’s the succeeding story, in which the villains are a mad scientist and a sentient plant that forms itself into a massive green hand that really makes you want to weep for Humphris. So good an artist, so knowledgeable and informed about the West, and having to draw ridiculous crap like this?
‘Can you Catch a Crook?’ did not have a good year. It spent most of it in single-page format, with the occasional page-and-a-halfer, mostly drawn by Paul Trevillion, looking like holdovers from past years. Trevillion is little in evidence, and most weeks it is the strip’s Spanish artist, loose and impressionistic and inevitably unEnglish in appearance. There’s a third artist at work some weeks, closer to Trevillion in style but much cruder, giving the series an inconsistent look, and even Trevillion’s art, though still crisp and clear, several times looks like it’s fifty percent made up of stock shots and poses seen far too often. The strip was in decline, terminal decline, as we shall see.
I’ve already mentioned ‘The Rebel-Riders’. This was a fourteen week serial, featuring a trio of ‘ton-up’ boys, leather-jacketed motorbike riders, framed by circumstance for the death of two men in a car crash, who escape from a prejudiced Police Superintendent to clear themselves and bring the true culprits to justice. It’s a serial in the old Eagle mould, taut, well-written, the work of someone who knew their subject the way the writers of ‘Runway 13’ and ‘High Quest’ knew theirs. It’s an oasis between two very lengthy serialisations of Anthony Buckeridge Jennings books,
‘Cornelius Dimworthy’ was ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’, and I have nothing more to say about it. It leaves me cold on all levels. So too does ‘The Iron Man’, which isn’t even well enough drawn to hold my attention, whilst the notion that absolutely nobody but Tim Branton has the faintest idea that ‘Robert’, with his metallically rectilinear face, could be anything but human is several stops short of plausible. It’s basically a superhero series without the conviction to admit it, which keeps it from ever amounting to anything. That it was immensely popular is both mystifying, and evidence of Eagle’s grand decline: even its audience was diminished.
‘Billy Binns’, the third Boy’s World holdover, lasted one week of Volume 16, before being dropped, and falling back on his more appropriate home in Wham!, which no longer needed to be advertised incessantly. It’s replacement was the very popular ‘The Guinea-Pig’.


I don’t know what to make of this series at this remove. The Guinea-Pig is adventurer and all-round tough guy, Mike Lane, who gets taken on by Professor Cornelius Dee, boss of a secret research institute on Dartmoor, as tester for the Professor’s increasingly outlandish and unbelievable experiments. Most of the stories don’t last more than two or three weeks, running into one another at the start, but after a quick jumble of these, there’s a completely out-of-character adventure featuring lost Spanish and English Elizabethan tribes fifty miles underground that lasted thirteen weeks.
It’s all deeply implausible, especially as the two wholly anachronistic groups must have discovered parthenogenesis (no women). Art on this tale was by Brian Lewis, though like ‘Can you catch a crook?’ there’s a stable of at least three different artists working at different periods. Lewis was a good artist, prone to detail in a kind of mundanely ornate style, but this only produces dense panels and an overall dark style that is hard to follow because of the lack of clearly identifiable elements. Overall, the effect is heavy and slow, and since the scripting is flat and utilitarian – Lane is one of a crew of nearly half a dozen, who are underground for thirteen weeks in the close confines of a Mole-like machine, but none of the others have names – it’s pretty dull overall. But, like ‘Iron Man’, popular.
This was another strip whose format was unstable. It began as two pages, got cut back to one-and-a-half after a month, and might turn up as one page without the least warning.
Something similar kept happening to ‘Roving Reporter’, sometimes one page, sometimes half a page, and growing steadily less informative. Worse still, though usually in full colour, albeit with a palate vastly more limited than in the Fifties, it would be in black-and-white. With issue 41, this was replaced by ‘Bids for Freedom’, again one page with the odd half-pager, all about people break out of various prisons.
As for Eagle‘s cover, from issue 31 onwards this was a full-page feature, ‘Arms through the Ages’, a full colour short, dominated by a main image, featuring different weaponry. Inside, and encouraging readers to cut up and destroy their copy, there was a printed text, to be cut out and pasted over the Eagle and Boy’s World logo box when the cover was cut off. Sheesh.
No, this was now a comic whose inner conviction and pleasure in itself had withered, and even its few remaining series worthy of respect were being treated shabbily. Though Eagle would limp on into 1969, and volume 20, there was only one further Volume in which I was interested.

Eagle Volume 15 (1964)


A panel of magic and mystery for a ten year old boy

Whatever degree of stability Eagle achieved in Volume 14 evaporated like the morning mist in 1964, the year I began my weekly association with the comic, delivered every Wednesday for the remainder of its life. There were two, or depending on how you define them, three revamps in Volume 15 alone, starting with issue 6, which saw the departure of the unloved ‘Mann of Battle’ and its replacement by no less than two new series, both of which were finished before the year was out.
‘Dan Dare’ was once again reformatted, finally making it back to two colour pages, this time wrapped around as front and back cover, the latter displacing the famous Cutaway – the only other remaining original feature – inside, never to be seen in colour again.
And poor Swift was dropped from the masthead with issue 38, just in time for another merger, as Eagle absorbed Longacre’s failed attempt at doing a red-top comic without Marcus Morris: Boy’s World didn’t even last two volumes before the stable-leader became Eagle and Boy’s World with issue 40.
This time, four of the latter’s features were carried over, which necessitated an increase to 24 pages to accommodate them all. It was discouraging that two of these series only lasted six weeks before cancellation, and a third did not last much past the end of the year.
Add to this the near-permanent reduction of ‘Can You Catch a Crook?’ to one page (and one clue), though the occasional page-and-a-halfer popped up, and the near-permanent reduction of ‘Roving Rporter’ to half a page, though the occasional full-pager popped up, stir in a bunch of half page factual strips, mostly drawn by Eric Kincaid, about Pirates, Espionage, Prizefighters and an erratic half pager by Paul Trevillion about eccentric modes of transport: no, if there was one word you could not use with a straight face about Volume 15, it is ‘stable’.
‘Dan Dare’ concluded its cycle of stories in the hybrid format by bringing ‘The Wandering World’ to a successful conclusion with the return to Earth and the twin captures of the Mekon and Xel. The latter then temporarily raised a rebellious teenage army in London in the nine-week ‘The Big City Caper’, an slight affair that was both uneasily reflective of the burgeoning, pop-influenced teenage culture and uncannily predictive of twenty-first century broadcast media.
The new, all-colour format began with my favourite ‘Dan Dare’ story of all time, ‘All Treens Must Die!’, a grandiose, sweeping tale built upon the planned genocide of the Treen Race and its intended replacement with a pure, unsullied, race of Treens, that also picked up on Alan Stranks/Frank Hampson’s dangling reference of six years previously to the ‘Last Three’: a trio of Supertreens, perhaps former Mekons, whose appearance on three successive covers impressed itself so firmly upon me at the time. All this in only twenty weeks! (Apparently, the story was originally intended to run twenty-two weeks but was cut short, presumably in response to the Boys World merger that it overlapped by three issues: David Motton has long since forgotten what may have been in those extra two weeks.)
‘Heros the Spartan’ continued to dominate the centrespread. Luis Bermejo saw out ‘The Man of Vyah’, but Heros and Septimus’s return to Rome was interrupted by the quest of ‘The Axe of Arguth’, which saw Frank Bellamy restored to art duties the same week as ‘All Treens Must Die!’ began. But that didn’t see out the year and it was once again Bermejo as the Volume approached its end.

Luis Bermejo’s Heros art

‘Mann of Battle’ had finished after five issues: ‘Horizon Unlimited’ lasted a bit longer, but that too ended in issue 22. Eagle would rarely have such a long-running prose serial again. It was followed first by ‘Voodoo Island’, a ten-part Caribbean Pirate’s Treasure/Horror story, pleasant enough and clearly written by a scuba-diving enthusiast, like ‘Horizon Unlimited’s aviation-enthusiast author. This was followed by the somewhat oddball ‘The Outlanders’, a thirteen part serial of five Liverpool teenagers emigrating to Australia, and driving there across half the world in a beaten-up Land Rover.
After that, the Volume was seen out by the first of several serialisations of ‘Jennings’ books. Anthony Buckeridge had contributed Rex Milligan to Eagle a decade earlier, and now it was the turn of his more famous creation, no longer being serialised for ‘Children’s Hour’ on BBC Radio, to do the honours.
‘Blackbow the Cheyenne’ continued to give Frank Humphris employment drawing his favourite subject, though none of the stories could live up to the glory days of ‘Riders of the Range’, either in length, or subject. Already, there was a tendency to paint the stories with some kind of pseudo-supernatural edge. Tom Tully was doing this with ‘Heros’, where such things could be absorbed into the fantasy of ancient times, but it was unworthy of Humphris to lace good, solid Westerns with that sort of thing. Still, he had not lost any of his skill.
Of the new features, the highlight of these was ‘Johnny Frog’, drawn with a beautifully soft cross-hatched line by Ron Embleton. Visually, it was magnificent in its detail, the entire page a fine tapestry. Master Frog himself was a drummer boy in Napoleon’s army, a fluent speaker of English, or Scottish, rather, given a message by Bonaparte himself to deliver to Boney’s master spy in England, the Schoolmaster.
But Johnny’s a decoy, and an obvious decoy, meant to be tracked as a distraction from the real messenger, and he hardly lasts an episode before being spotted by an English spy, Lieutenant Alain Yeo of Naval Intelligence. Johnny’s determination and shrewdness sees him get to the Schoolmaster himself, only to be shot for his temerity, though barely wounded. At which point Alain outs him as the son of a French Count and an English noblewoman, real name Jean-Marie, Marquis of St Albans.
No sooner is Johnny installed in his new aristocratic life than Alain is borrowing him back for a secret mission to France, first to seed Dijon harbour with forerunners of mines, then to persuade the French fleet to leave Cadiz to present themselves up to the waiting British fleet off Cape Trafalgar…
All very ‘Jack O’Lantern’-manque, without the latter’s breadth and colour, but this was fitting given that the scripter was Jack’s creator, George Beardsmore. ‘Johnny Frog’ was as full of seeming authenticity as Jack Yorke’s adventures had been, albeit it in a far smaller scope, the three stories that went to make up the run being complete in only thirty-four episodes. The series ended patriotically, if not personally, with Lord Nelson’s death, with a slight air of rush. ‘Johnny Frog’ replaced ‘Mann of Battle’ and was ended to make room for the incoming Boy’s World features.

Magnificent Ron Embleton art

Making its debut alongside ‘Johnny Frog’, and not even lasting quite as long was the half-page strip, ‘Junior – Reporter!’. I know very little about this except that even in 1964 I could tell there was something very different about this comedy series. Looking at it now, it’s as blatant a reprint from something like Pilote as there can be, screaming la ligne claire from the rooftops.
Artistically, it’s a bit like a more angular Albert Uderzo, for all its being presented as an English story. Essentially, in search of a newspaper story, the editor of the Daily Globe accepts the suggestion of Office Boy Junior of a feature on a day in the life of a Press Photographer. The idea is less impressive to the paper’s leading photographer, Len Lenns but, in sending up Junior by taking a photo of his window box of begonias, he accidentally takes a photo of a safe being cracked, leading to a comic investigation to foil a family of professional crooks.
As stories go, it wasn’t bad, but it was ten times better than its sequel, in which the pair took up a challenge to travel to Texas with only sixpence each, which rapidly degenerated into a pirate comedy, with increasingly skimpy and dull art, as if the uncredited artist was either very short of time or very short of ideas.
It was the first European strip reprint since that solitary Tintin adventure a decade earlier, and unlike those Hulton days, the fact that it had to be credited to someone else didn’t appear anywhere near the strip. And by some oversight, it’s omitted from Cliff Wanford’s ‘Eagle Collectors Handbook’, an otherwise comprehensive summary of everything to appear in Eagle. I am unable to find any information about it online.*
Four series joined Eagle in issue 40 from Boy’s World. Both the popular Second World War RAF strip, ‘Raff Regan’ and the Greek Mythology fantasy ‘Wrath of the Gods’ were in mid-story, and both were wrung out and completed in six issues. So far as the former was concerned, this was no great shame, but the splendidly vigorous and boldly depicted latter, two full colour pages from Ron Embleton, would have made a superb addition to Eagle, though probably it was felt that this was too close in atmosphere to ‘Heros the Spartan’.
‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’ fared little better, though it did at least have the advantage of starting a new story. This was a one page black and white comic school story, so it will be pretty obvious to those who know the Eagle of this period why it didn’t last longer. Binns, a Fourth Former, was basically a klutz, especially sporting-wise, unless he was wearing his Wonderful Specs which, in some never-explained manner, gave him confidence, clarity of thought and implausible athletic ability at everything.
Frankly, it was the Sixties. You had to be there.
Actually, Billy Binns, drawn by Bill Mainwaring, had a life after Eagle. Longacre had launched a new comic in 1964, the semi-legendary Wham!, which may or may not have been read as a kid by Georgios Panyiotu. It was basically an anarchic juvenile paper that I wanted to read but which my parents would never let me because they decided I was too old for it. It was advertised practically every week in Eagle, non-stop and Billy Binns had been running there eve as he was appearing in Boy’s World, the only strip to have appeared simultaneously in two papers, as far as I am aware.
Last of the Boy’s World quartet, and certainly not the least of it in terms of success since it lasted as long at Eagle lived was ‘The Iron Man’, drawn by Spanish artist Martin Salvador and written by Ken Meneal. Nothing to do with Marvel’s slightly earlier Iron Man/Tony Stark, the central character of this page-and-a-half black and white strip was Robert, no other given name, and his constant companion, Tim Brunton, the only man in the world to know that the internationally famous crime-buster was secretly a fantastic robot, dressed in a plastic skin to make him look not very human at all. I’m sorry, but this was ghastly, tedious stuff that, aptly, smacked of the superhero, but completely lacking the brio of the far more successful types of story such as Robot Archie, Kelly’s Eye, Morgyn the Mighty and The Spider that thrived at the traditionally more downmarket Lion.

enough said

But when it comes to ghastly, the nail had already been driven into Eagle‘s coffin by the series that, more than any other, represented the failure of Longacre to understand what they still, barely, had. This series was introduced in issue 23, in the revamp, and it would run far too long. I speak of ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’.
I don’t intend to speak much of it. As we were reminded every week, ‘Corny’ was Mortlake School’s ‘dreamiest and luckiest’ schoolboy, dreamiest here not being used in the manner it was being used of the by now regular micro-features on pop groups and pop singers. No, Cornelius had his head in the clouds, meaning that he was utterly impractical, self-deluded, self-centred and convinced of his own incomparable abilities at everything, in a way that got the back up of everybody from the Head down to the school sneaks, Smythe and Sweeting (never have a pair of craven, vicious bullies been so thoroughly justified), but from which he was always rescued, half a dozen times every week, by eye-blinkingly implausible accidents.
I only have to look at this now to want to reach through time, grab my juvenile self by the throat and give him a damned good shaking for even reading this tosh, and I am gripped by the urge to apologise to actual tosh for making that comparison. It was, in short, ridiculous, and not in a good way. It was drawn by Frank McDiarmid and the writer’s identity is unknown and for good reason too.
Apparently, shortly after the series ceased in Eagle it was reprinted in Buster as ‘ Dizzy Dimwitty’ and good luck to all who read it.
Such was Eagle in 1964. Though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, the rot had irreversibly set in. The comic had less than five years left to it, and although its big three strips, Dan Dare, Heros and, at least in artistic terms, Blackbow, still had much to give, its circulation remorselessly drained away, and its death was now inevitable. The last few years would be undeniably painful.

  • Though I couldn’t find anything out about ‘Junior – Reporter!’ in 2018, two years later more information is available and, would you credit it, not only was the series actually drawn by Albert Uderzo, it was an early collaboration with Rene Goscinny, impliedly pre-Asterix, under the title Luc Junior.

Eagle Volume 14 (1963)


Back up front again

The magic ingredient that made Volume 14 an improvement on its predecessor was the thing I criticised last time out: stability. After the chaos of 1962, Eagle‘s editorial staff pulled things together to establish long-running series that appeared faithfully, week after week, solidifying the comic’s latterday appeal.
As in the previous year, the first nine issues were essentially a continuation of the previous Volume. ‘Home of the Wanderers’ and ‘Hornblower’ played out their time. There were two episodes left of ‘Johnny Quick’ and then that short, seven part serial, ‘Runway 13’ which I’ve previously praised so highly, and which was a forerunner of the prose series that would then establish itself as an Eagle fixture.
Everything else ran its stories down, including a final short nine week B&W ‘Dan Dare’ adventure, to enable another internal revamp with issue 10.
These blogs have been concentrating upon Eagle, of course, but its success spawned a small stable of red-topped comics under Marcus Morris for other audiences. First, Girl, for readers’ sisters. Then Robin for their baby/brothers/sisters, 4-7 year olds. And Swift, for the intermediate audience, the 7 – 10 year olds. But Swift was now being cancelled, in the traditional British manner whereby a comic does not simply disappear but suffers death-by-merger, the strongest series of each of the two comics continuing under a single form. With Volume 14, issue 10, Eagle officially became Eagle and Swift, though I’m not going to use that title.
Only two of Swift‘s features survived the merger, according to a disgruntled Swift reader later in the year, but the only unequivocally new feature was the new Western series, ‘Blackbow the Cheyenne’, and that began its second life with the closest such things came to an ‘origin’ episode that I can only assume was for the benefit of Eagle readers.
For this initial story, ‘Blackbow’ ran in black and white across two pages, dominated by an overall grey tone that rendered the art ineffective and dull. The untitled story featured a seeming ghost Indian Chief, returned from the dead, inciting the local Commanche tribe, under Blackbow’s friend, Chickarro, to attack Powder Creek. As had been the case in at least one ‘Riders of the Range’ saga, and would be repeated more than once in ‘Blackbow’ itself, the villain turned out to be the local banker, trying to drive settlers off so he could buy their land cheap and make a killing.

It may not be Jeff Arnold, but it’s still Frank Humphris

As for the other Swift holdover, according to Wikipedia that must have been ‘Calling U for Useless’ which had already been appearing in Eagle for ages: surely it can’t have been published in both comics?
Dan Dare had had a year in monochrome, of short stories without recurring characters, and at first, ‘Operation Time-Trap’ looked like more of the same, albeit with a slightly expanded cast. But the revamp introduced an expanded Letter’s Page, and practically the first thing this featured was a couple of letters from readers wanting the Pilot of the Future back in colour. The editor (Bob Bartholomew, though unlike Morris and Makins, he would never name himself to the readers: professional comics publishers, remember) hinted at some change and, four weeks in to the revamp, Dan finally returned to Eagle‘s cover, and to full colour.
But only on the cover. For Heaven knows what reason, perhaps resentment at not being able to dump Dan Dare after all, Eagle saddled their lead character with the worst and most spatchcock of formats, one page full colour, done poster-style, and one-and-a-half pages of monochrome inside.
Add to that the fact Keith Watson was colourblind, and the earliest covers were horribly garish until the ever-reliable Eric Eden was brought back to colour these, and it was the most ridiculous way to treat the series.
However, in terms of scripting, the shackles were off. ‘Operation Time-Trap’ would run for 28 weeks, and then segue, in best Hampsonian manner, directly into its sequel, ‘The Wandering World’.
And those new characters who piloted the Tempus Frangit (Time-Breaker) alongside Dan and Digby, were to become a new supporting cast for much of the Watson era. These were the hot-headed Colonel Wilf Banger, engineer/designer, his assistant Technician ‘Nutter’ Cob, and the prim, fussy administrator, Major Shillitoe Spence, whose forename was only used twice (in captions) in the whole series.
And there was greater change in the air. Motton introduced a new recurring foe for Dan in ‘Operation Time-Trap’ in Xel, short, brutish, silver-skinned, the One in One Thousand Million, who stows away on the Tempus Frangit into ‘The Wandering World’ and beyond.
But the supreme moment came on the cover of issue 42. After three years, he was back, The Mekon, returning to his rightful role as the master villain, the mastermind. It might not be Frank Hampson, and there are those who still criticise Keith Watson’s art, especially when it came to Dan’s face (and they do have a point in certain close-up angles), but he had slaved to make the reduced ‘Dan Dare’ something that the fans could still relish, and he had beaten Longacre, because this was what we thought of when we imagined Dan Dare, and if it wasn’t Frank Hampson, it was a colourable imitation, and it would be good enough for a few years to come, and Keith Watson deserves every kudos going for making sure we could come back to a moment like this.
The page and a half of B&W art inside was completed by a new prose feature, ‘SportingTalk’ by Ex-Pro, the man who knows everybody in the business. From a distance of a half-century these are interesting for the confident features on people whose names are meaningless nowadays, except to specialists, and the confident but inaccurate predictions, like the one that ‘Sonny’ Liston was going to hold the World Heavyweight Boxing title for years and see off all contenders, the least of whom was Cassius Clay.

Did you spot the clue?

This was followed by ‘Can You Catch a Crook?’, in which Paul Trevillion’s art was at its crispest and cleanest, though every now and then he would be replaced by episodes drawn by Spanish artist Martin Salvador, who just about managed reasonable representations of Bruce and Prior (except that Bruce became inordinately fond of hats those weeks) but in every respect was about as unlike as possible.
And before the year was out the series – which had begun as a three-pager, remember – was cut back to one-and-a-half pages.
One last one-off series ran from issue 10, a Loch Ness Monster rip-off entitled ‘The Beast of Loch Craggan’. Fishermen from the remote village of Craggan disturb a sea monster that ‘escapes’ into the land-locked Loch and causes terror. Young Jamie Farr empathises with the monster, which he sees as an innocent. Everybody’s trying to kill the monster, or else capture, study and then kill it, but young Jamie wants to set it free, and eventually does. Apart from it being drawn by John McLuskey, who’d been the original artist on the Daily Express ‘James Bond’ strip, there was little to commend it.
There was a third short prose serial to accompany the merger/revamp, the eight part mountaineering ghost story, ‘High Quest’, of which I’ve spoken highly elsewhere, but when this finished, it was replaced by Eagle‘s first ongoing prose series since ‘The Three J’s’. Though uncredited, it’s obvious to anyone with half an eye that ‘Horizon Unlimited’ was written by the same guy as ‘Runway 13’. Apart from the knowledgeable love of aviation, there’s the same veteran/youngster combo upfront, in Sam Golightly and Theo Kidd, with a penchant for seeing things from Theo’s viewpoint.
‘Horizon Unlimited’ was about a trio of misfits, joined by their love of adventure, new horizons and an old War-veteran Catalina flying boat. Sam’s a Director of a Southampton-based company, a veteran bomber pilot from the War and still unreconciled to ‘flying a desk’. He sees the Cat’ put down on Southampton Water and, on a whim, hires her to travel to Scotland to inspect a new and predictably useless device. There he meets Theo, more recently ‘bowler-hatted’ from the RAF, working for the insurers. They fly back together, relishing the old flying-boat.
But its misery of an owner is more interested in having the Cat’ wrecked for its insurance value, putting down at Great Orme in a storm. Sam and Theo rescue it, pool their resources to buy the Cat’ – and, effectively, its mechanic, a stocky Liverpudlian only known as Plugg – call themselves Horizons Unlimited and set up to charter round the world. Their first charter is to fly to Bermuda and deliver an attache case to a very private billionaire. If I tell you it has a bomb in it, you’ll understand what kind of series this was going to be…
‘Horizon Unlimited’ (not an original name, it having been Milton Caniff’s creation for the early, pre-Air Force days of Steve Canyon) was glorious fun. It moved in story arcs of anything from two to seven parts – there was even a one-parter – each rolling into another, and it was one of my favourite Eagle features of this period, second perhaps only to Dan Dare.
In the centre pages, Frank Bellamy continued to draw, colour and thrill on ‘Heros the Spartan’. The ‘Island of Death’ story had successfully concluded with issue 9, and now Heros returned to Rome, expecting recognition for the completion of his mission from Caesar, in the form of command of a Legion. This he would get, but writer Tom Tully had a reset in mind, as Heros was first forced to fight for his life, masked, in the Arena, and then given command of a Legion made-up of criminals and deserters. For things had changed: the old Caesar was dead and his heir was a corrupt, villainous man, who hated Heros and feared him as a symbol around which opposition to his rule might gather. Ironically, Heros was adamantly loyal, but this did not stop what would be continuous peril and the ever-present risk of engineered disgrace that would underpin the series from hereon in.
The ‘Eagle of the Fifth Legion’ story dominated the rest of the volume, but there was a surprise to come when the next serial, ‘The Man of Vyah’, saw a change of artist. Another Spanish artist, Luis Bermejo – Spaniards were cheap in comparison to English artists, rather like DC Comics discovering the Phillippines in the early Seventies – replaced him. Bermejo’s art was appropriately atmospheric, but never realistic. Nevertheless, once the shock was over, he was more than good enough, and the pair would basically alternate in future.

See German, kill German

But once we were past ‘Heros’ the quality, and the solidity of the new Eagle and Swift dropped off rapidly. ‘Mann of Battle’ found a home in the back half, it’s weekly single page drawn by Brian Lewis, according to most records. That may be so, but there are constant subtle changes to the art-style from week to week, and Lewis’s signature would only appear on those pages most clearly in his style. There were no drastic changes in line-work, though Slogger Bates’ features go up and down the age-range. Either Lewis was farming some of the work out to assistants/colleagues aping his style, or some weeks he just didn’t have the same amount of time to spare as others, but the look was constantly shifting back and forwards in a way that didn’t help the weak storylines and unconvincing dialogue.
Whether it be an island off the Libyan coast, Sicily or the Burmese Jungle, the formula was identical. Pete Mann and Slogger Bates would be sent on a secret mission against the Nazis, run into trouble, get shot at, shoot a lot of people, so on and so forth. I can’t remember my reaction to it then, when I was pretty undiscriminating, but it completely fails to convince me now.
I think that’s because this was a Second World War story, so close to the end of the actual wall itself. Less than twenty years had elapsed, enough that none of Eagle‘s readers had any experience of it, but still short enough that practically every one of them would have had someone – a father, an uncle, even a grandfather maybe – who had fought in the War. My father had been close to call-up age when the war ended, and was soon on National Service, his elder brother had been in the Pacific, in the Navy.
Eagle wasn’t like the DC Thomson papers, the Victor, the Hornet, with their endless jingoistic War series. In its way, ‘Mann of Battle’ was not much different to them, maybe slightly more sophisticated, but it was not at home here. It feels superficial, because it is superficial, on too important a subject. It didn’t work.
The revamp also introduced a new feature, a third go at the kind of factual feature that had been meat and drink to MacDonald Hastings. ‘Roving Reporter’ was the first time this had been tried in strip form, with the odd photo of the Roving Reporter himself, ‘Larry Line’ (really the writer, Roger Parry) accompanying a page of art from, primarily but not exclusively, Eric Kincaid. It never achieved any great depth, and it wasn’t immune to being messed around with, with random episodes in black and white and then, about the same time ‘Can You Catch a Crook?’ lost half a page, being cut back to half a page itself.
The ‘Are you the… type?’ feature continued, but at this remove, the types being set up are of only remote interest, figures of a bygone age, whose life is summed up in so superficial a manner for the youngsters that they hold no interest even as a record of historical perceptions then. And there’s ‘Calling U for Useless’ and ‘Fidosaurus’, about which I plan to waste no more words.
Also introduced with issue 10 was a new, expanded Letters page, soon rebranded ‘It’s Your Opinion’, with the Editor soliciting letters on specific topics. This might pop up anywhere, and it’s amusing to read some of the opinions being expressed by kids aged 10 or thereabouts, many of which are inveterately stupid, and some of which explain a little about what our county’s been like for the past fifty years.
The overall effect was to give Eagle an imbalanced feel. Yes, it had settled into a secure format, where a standard line-up appeared in a regular order, but whilst ‘Dan Dare’, ‘Can You Catch a Crook?’, ‘Horizon Unlimited’ and ‘Heros the Spartan’ were all substantial features demanding concentrated reading, once you hit the back of the bus, so to speak, there was little to stop you skimming through the rest.
There was one magic feature to Eagle in Volume 14 however that I’ve not mentioned so far, but which you may have been able to guess for comments here and there, and that’s me. On a dark November Saturday afternoon, at the fag-end of a Church Bring-and-Buy sale, my Dad spent a couple of pennies on a bunch of Eagle‘s, maybe fifteen or so, from this year. I loved it from the start, which is why I’m maybe a little more forgiving of the later Dan Dare in particular, because this is my Dan Dare, and I would not read any Frank Hampson for years.
But from here to the end of the ride, I was one of those small boys who read Eagle every week. I remember the thrill so much.

Eagle Volume 13 (1962)


The new look

There were only nine issues remaining of that version of Eagle that connected back to the leading boy’s comic of the Fifties. With issue 10, the new owners, Mirror Group, as Longacre Press, brought in their first revamp. Two more, less sweeping, would happen before the end of this Volume alone, but this was the one that severed the connection between what was and what would be.
The cover of issue 10 was a brutal shock. Dan Dare was gone, and so too was the red banner. Instead, the word Eagle was spelled out in red characters against a weak, white background, and instead of a cover feature there were three colour panels, each teasers for features inside.
One was, still, Dan Dare, but that was the only thing left. Gone, at long last and forever, were ‘Riders of the Range’ and ‘Storm Nelson’. Gone were ‘Danger Unlimited’ and ‘Knights of the Road’. Gone was George Cansdale, whose long association with Eagle was severed at the beginning of the year. Gone were almost everything that appeared in issue 9, with the exception of the Pilot of the Future, the hapless ‘Home of the Wanderers’ and a new feature that had debuted at the start of Volume 12, ‘The Man from Eagle’, or ESI Resurrected in all but name, and MacDonald Hastings.
‘Fidosaurus’ was retained, and Reg Parlett also introduced the equally unfunny ‘XYZ Cars – Calling ‘U’ for Useless’, the very title of which representing the confusion. A few ‘Harris Tweed – Super Chump’s were leftover, and these half-pagers would pop up here and there, at random, along with a couple of unused ‘Mr Therm’s.
But a concerted effort was made to rid Eagle of everything that smacked of the Hulton days, of Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson (whose name was NOT to be whispered around the offices). It’s clear that Longacre would also have got rid of Dan Dare if they thought they could. As it was, the entire creative team were dropped (Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell were treated infamously, with no notice of their dismissal: the scripts just stopped turning up abruptly). David Motton took over scripting, with a brief to limit stories to no more than thirteen weeks, and no recurring characters except Dan and Digby, Keith Watson was re-hired on art (well aware that if the editorial staff had known he’d been part of Hampson’s studio, he would have been out on his ear) and the series was slid inside, and dropped into black and white.
Later in the Volume, it would be pushed into the back half of the comic, and split over non-facing pages. Watson refused to let it die, producing masterful greywash art and restoring the old Spacefleet uniforms, waving the flag.
‘Home of the Wanderers’ continued to rival ‘Knights of the Road’ for dullness. It changed title twice, to ‘Wanderers Away’ and ‘The New Wanderer’ for two more stories then reverted to its overall title, for an extremely silly story about the team’s right winger becoming a pop singer in addition to his footballing duties, which was notable only for being the first time in which ‘pop’ music, as opposed to jazz, was recognised in Eagle.
Before I go on to the wholly Longacre Eagle, I should briefly mention the short-lived ‘The Sword of Fate’, which replaced ‘Last of the Saxon Kings’ in the centrespread, was drawn by the same flat artist and, despite not being recorded as such in the publication I rely on, is clearly another leftover from Comet. It ended with the hero going into unjust exile, suggesting there may have been a sequel lurking around somewhere, but we were never to be honoured by that.
So, what was the new ‘new’ Eagle made up of?
First of all, it was full of adaptations. Martin Aitchison moved smoothly on into drawing an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’. Frank Humphris picked up ‘Vengeance Trail’, adapted from the story, ‘Flaming Irons’ by ‘famed Western author, Max Brand’ (this latter in black and white). Later in the year, Humphris would get yet another B&W Western series to draw, in the shape of ‘The Devil’s Henchmen’, though from issue 11 onwards, Eagle ceased to credit either writer or artist except where required to, i.e., the originators of these adaptations.

Dan Dare B&W

From ‘The Lost World’, Aitchison was then commissioned to draw a series of adaptations of C.S Forrester’s ‘Hornblower’ novels, initially as ‘Lieutenant Hornblower R.N.’ across the centrespread, where his art seemed somehow flat and lifeless, and then in single page format, as ‘Captain Hornblower R.N.’, at which point his art recaptures his old energy, subtly reinforcing Frank Hampson’s point about artists only drawing one page of full colour art per week.
But that is to deny the evidence of the other artist to work on Eagle’s centrespread, the great Frank Bellamy.
After his early success with Sir Winston Churchill, Bellamy returned to the war years with the life of the British General, Bernard Montgomery, drawn as a centrespread and drawn with vigour and detail that betrayed none of the early uncertainty due to dealing with a living figure. Bellamy was in fantastic form, linework, composition, colouring, and his battle scenes were masterpieces of detail and impression.
And towards the end of the year, as part of Eagle‘s third revamp, Bellamy was back with the series that he is most recognised for, ‘Heros the Spartan’.
I’ll come to that. Meanwhile, there were three further, very contrasting series introduced in issue 10. The first of these was a new Police Crime strip, ‘Sergeant Bruce C.I.D.’, which went through a variety of artists before settling on the long-term choice of Paul Trevillion, creator of ‘You are the Referee’.
This was a black and white two-pager, set in the Midlands industrial city of Manningham, and starred Londoner Detective Sergeant Dave Bruce and his realistically depicted crime-cracking efforts. The situation, which was never really played up to any serious degree, was that Bruce was resented for having beaten out local man Bill Prior for the Sergeant’s role. Prior was Bruce’s partner and the only man with no grudges, not like the burly Inspector Wade. Bruce was supposed to be slowly earning his colleague’s trust but this never played into the series except tangentially.
Secondly, there was a true-life story series, ‘Only the Brave’, recounting actions by ordinary people, sometimes but not exclusively members of official services or the Services, undertaking rescues at their own, frequently severe risk. First, these were winners of the George Medal, then the British Empire Medal. This series lasted twenty-seven episodes from various artists, including Richard E Jennings and a sequence of five fine pages from Frank Bellamy, and the stories themselves were several times very touching.

The newer look

The last new feature was the new prose series, replacing ‘The Gay Corinthian’ (brought to an abrupt end with a half-page final instalment). We remained in Georgian times with ‘Beau Fortune’, author unknown but suspected to be Lee Mayne, though I incline more towards ‘Corinthian’s Ben Bolt, for the similarity of background.
Valentine ‘Beau’ Fortune is the leading Dandy of the day (which is usually between 1803 and 1805 but which skips to 1814 for one episode), a personal friend of George, Prince of Wales, the arbiter of High Fashion, an effete, unconcerned fop. Any resemblance to Sir Percy Blakeney is, of course, purely a coincidence, as is that of Fortune’s secret identity, The Masked Rider, a strong, confident adventurer, wanted to be hung as a highwayman and a thief but in secret a righter of wrongs.
For all its lack of originality, ‘Beau Fortune’ was nicely vigorous and enjoyable. The series, which only lasted as long as revamp no 3, mixed single episodes and two-parters, with one three-parter, and was good fun, and a highlight of this ill-thought out year.
And this Volume was ill-thought-out. The Hulton Eagle had had its series each in their places, but the Longacre Eagle never looked the same two weeks running, with series flipping pages. The certainty of two colour sheets and two black and white sheets was broken down, with what implications for the cost of printing I have no idea, but the colour-oriented cover would have the b&w Wanderers on page 2 and the colour ‘Lost World’ on page 3, backed by b&w on page 4.
What’s more, the drastic reduction in recurring series seriously weakened the overall effect of the paper. Where the reader had had a half dozen wide-ranging series to follow, having built up a consistent enthusiasm for Dan Dare, Jeff Arnold, Sergeant Luck et al., there were now few people to recognise and welcome back.
For example, ‘The Lost World’ was replaced by ‘Island of Fire’, in which two charter pilots, hired to fly an eccentric vulcanologist to a remote Pacific island that he believed would erupt and cause a chain reaction ripping the planet apart, found themselves caught up between an American gangster who’d stashed his bullion on the island, and a British warship. It lasted ten weeks, went nowhere, was just a one-off, and was notable only for giving Richard Jennings something to draw again, in colour for the first time since ‘Tommy Walls’.
But there were two more revamps to come. The first was only a partial revamp, starting in issue 35. This introduced ‘The Devil’s Henchman’, mentioned above, replacing ‘Only the Brave’, but more prominently was a new front cover look, ‘Kings of the Road’. These were superb, full-page poster paintings of vintage motor racing cars, in action, an open invitation to tear out and pin to bedroom walls, and were very much a change for the better.
However, the real revamp came with issue 43, and the introduction of three new ongoing series, stabilising Eagle‘s weekly content, and the replacement of ‘The Gay Corinthian’ with the first of three new prose serials.
It was a second substantial revamp in seven months, and if it was for the better, it was still a sign of the comic’s weakness that it had to be rescued so quickly. ‘Dan Dare’ moved into the back of the comic, it’s two pages split to appear on opposite sides of the same sheet, the first Eagle strip to be treated that way.
The first new series was ‘Mann of Battle’, a Second World War strip featuring Captain Pete Mann and his batman, ex-boxer Slogger Bates, on a secret mission in the Mediterranean. Drawn competently by Brian Lewis, beginning a long association with Eagle, this began a week early, with two pages, before being chopped down to one. Neither of the characters have much by way of personality and it just seems like it’s about killing Nazi soldiers, with no well-developed plotline.
Much better was ‘Can you Catch a Crook?’, which was a revamp of ‘Sergeant Bruce C.I.D’, on which Trevillion’s art was rapidly improving. Basically, the new format threw out the ‘resent-Dave-Bruce’ backstory, and introduced a challenge to the reader: two or three times during the episode, Bruce would make a deduction from something, and the reader was told to study the panel to spot the clue for themselves.

The Last Great Strip

In this form, the series would last for years, though once again it was jerked around by Longacre, like ‘Mann of Battle’. ‘Can you Catch a Crook?’ started as an expansive three-pager, only to abruptly lose a page. Did you ever get the feeling that somebody didn’t know what they were doing?
‘The Man from Eagle’ bit the dust with this revamp, and was replaced by ‘Are you the… type?’ This was another non-fiction two-pager, combining biography and yet more reader-participation. Each week, a prominent figure, e.g., astronaut John Glenn, or Russian Premier Nikita Kruschev (the series was nothing if not eclectic) would be profiled before the reader was faced with half a dozen multiple choice questions: anyone who got all the answers ‘right’ was deemed to be the feature’s ‘type’, which must have been real fun for the Kruschev Kid.
The new prose serial, writer unknown, was ‘Johnny Quick’, which overlapped into Volume 14. This was a boxing story, and a well-written, authentic-seeming story, albeit very much a history piece now. The title character is an up-and-coming boxer bidding for a challenge for the British title. He’s a former hothead, an ex-tearaway from a tough area, who’s gotten himself under control and got himself out through boxing, but someone is trying to blacken his reputation, paint him as a jumped-up hoodlum, a picture his own suppressed temper isn’t helping to dispel. It’s clearly a frame, but it’s one that took some unravelling.
Ok, again, it was a one-off: we would never hear of Johnny Quick again. But its quality was of a singularly higher level than much of the work we’d seen this volume. It was not a renaissance, but it was a sign that not all was lost.
What was a renaissance, however, was ‘Heros the Spartan’, drawn in the centrespread by Frank Bellamy, with some of the most masterful art of his career. Heros was the orphaned son of a Spartan leader, adopted by a Roman General, and a dignified, honourable, loyal soldier of Rome. This initial story, written by Tom Tully, creator of the series, features Heros being given his first command and sent to a mysterious island where lurks sorcery, black magic, evil priests.
It was to set the tone for ‘Heros’s entire run. Wherever he was sent, whatever his fate, the supernatural in one form or another would put the Spartan through all manner of incredible adventures.
Thanks to Frank Bellamy, who made everything not just plausible but dynamic, exciting, active, expressive and horribly creepy at times, ‘Heros the Spartan’ would for years rank second only to ‘Dan Dare’. Longacre wanted to kill off the Pilot of the Future but Dan was too big for them. In ‘Heros’, they gave Eagle more than one good thing. It was The Last Great Strip, and it was the best thing to come out of 1962.

Eagle Volume 12 (1961)


The new front page

The boy who read issue 1 of Volume 12 of Eagle, and who was then marooned on a desert island and only rescued in time for issue 52 would have reacted to the difference by asking aloud the 1961 equivalent of ‘WTF just happened?’ But for the continued presence of ‘Dan Dare’, ‘Riders of the Range’ and ‘Storm Nelson’, the only thing to link first and last issues this year was the name at the top of the cover.
This was the year when Odhams began seriously messing with Eagle, and not a single thing about the comic was better for it.
‘Dan Dare’ began the year in the hands of three ex-Hampson Studio alumni, Eric Eden on scripts, Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell on art. A new story, ‘The Solid-space Mystery’ was in only its second week. Given the strictures already being placed on the series, it was surprising to find the story not only resurrecting the Mekon for his first appearance in three years, but also bringing back Hank Hogan and Pierre Lafayette for one final adventure.
But whilst this was a middling but reasonable effort, week by week Harley’s art was growing blander, his attempts to use Frank Bellamy’s designs and uniforms less detailed all the time. And with the following two stories, seguing into one another in the old manner, the bottom began to drain out of the writing. First, in ‘The Platinum Planet’, Dan and Digby are overcome by the Zylbat’s suspa-gas and fly off uncontrolled into Deep Space for years, only to find an appallingly trite overthrow-a-dictator story awaiting them, then they return after unimaginable years for ‘The Earth-Stealers’, to find Earth a ruined planet, evacuated after horrendous ecological disasters and under the control of a mercenary organisation trying to take it over.
As an idea, it’s ruinous to any notion of coherence, but worst yet, the artwork has been crippled by the decision taken as from issue 42 to have the front page shared with ‘Men of Action’, a column-wide strip about sportsmen, mountain-climbers etc. ‘Dan Dare’s art is compressed to two, at most three panels, divided horizontally into two blocks by the strip and story title, in the middle of the page, automatically killing any sense of dynamism on the cover.
And inside, to make up the episode length, Harley and Cornwell have to work in five tiers, cramping every single panel, and flattening everything of any impact, not that Eden gives either of them anything to work with. What were Odhams trying to do? Kill off Eagle‘s flagship character? Well, funny you should say that…
‘Storm Nelson’ fared better, though the series was not unaffected by the passage of time. When Guy ‘Edward Trice’ Morgan fell ill, Richard Jennings took over writing the series for its last two serials. Whilst Jennings proved himself equal to the task of writing the crew of the Silver Fleet, his plotting, especially on his first effort, ‘Mystery of Oaha Island’ was noticeably looser, especially in the story’s long set-up.
‘Riders of the Range’ was also approaching its end. After ‘The Scourge of the Pecos’ was completed in time for the usual Eagle birthday reset that had as many features as possible start new stories, Charles Chilton launched into another factually based tale, ‘Last of the Fighting Cheyenne’. This was a sequel, of sorts, to ‘The War with the Sioux’, concentrating on the long struggle of Cheyenne Indians, displaced to a dustbowl of a Reservation after the Little Bighorn, and seeking to return to their old grounds.
It’s a tragedy of a story, filled with Army and Government severity, hostility, ignorance and arrogance, but it’s main flaw is that there isn’t really anything for Jeff Arnold and Luke to do. They have no part to play except that of unwanted consciences. And the real story lasts so long, and needs so much summarising, that Chilton is having to insert massive amounts of commentary and Frank Humphris is given no decent narrative to illustrate. Ultimately, it’s a dull, heavy, depressing story, as time and again common sense is refuted and stupidity embraced.
The final story, begun and with only a short overlap into Volume 13, like ‘Storm Nelson’ to come, is better and Humphris is more like himself, but the Cheyenne story dominates the year, and it even has the indignity of losing its title, or changing it, whichever is obscure, for the last six episodes.
But at least these old stalwarts were still there at the end of the year. ‘Fraser of Africa’ was run down abruptly and disappeared after a total of 54 weeks all told. There would be more to come in Eagle from Frank Bellamy, and all of it brilliant, but once ‘The Road of Courage’ ended, secular to the last, Frank Hampson would vanish from Eagle for good, with only a black-and-white Bovril advert to represent him until, years from now, his work would be re-exploited in reprints of ‘Dan Dare’. By that time, Eagle would have ruined him.
There was one more ‘Great Adventurer’ story, that of Sir Walter Raleigh, under the title of ‘The Golden Man’, with former ‘Jack O’Lantern’ artist Robert Ayton returning for one final outing on Eagle’s back page.
And ‘Luck of the Legion’, the series that was once second in popularity only to the Pilot of the Future himself, that too bowed out, reducing yet further that classic line-up. ‘The Mark of the Monster’ took place in West Africa, and in its penultimate instalment, the monster itself, a gigantic gorilla, dealt a massive blow to Sergeant Luck. Was Luck dead? Nearly: enough to be a passenger, in need of hospitalisation, in the last strip, but returning, on the mend, to supervise drill for Trenet and Bimberg.
But by then, we knew, if we were wise, that another change was being made. Five weeks before the end, Luck’s artist, Martin Aitchison, turned up on a second series. ‘Danger Unlimited’, written by Steve Alen, about two ex-Marines becoming Queen’s Messengers to avenge a friend and uncover a plot to steal secrets, took the place of ‘Fraser of Africa’. Frank Hampson’s dictum about single artists not being required to draw more than one page of colour art per week had never been officially rescinded, and Aitchison couldn’t have drawn two series simultaneously with that kind of detail for very long, so it was obvious in retrospect that ‘Luck of the Legion’ was not long for this world.
So that meant another, partial redesign. After eleven and a half years and more, Eagle‘s famous cut-outs were moved from the centrespread to the back page. In their place came ‘The Last of the Saxon Kings’, a full centrespread strip about the Godwin family, King Harold and the Norman Invasion. It was blandly drawn with two many small panels every week but what was worst was that it was a reprint, from Comet where it had run under the title ‘Under the Golden Dragon’.

Gone

Eagle hadn’t run a reprint since it first exposed Tintin to British readers, and then it was running two, as a black and white and rather hagiographical strip about the life of Stonewall Jackson appeared out of the blue, another reprint from Comet.
George Cansdale and Backmore produced another, mostly B&W half-page series in ‘All About Nature’, and Harris Tweed ploughed on manfully, but as the year ground out, he was now given the undignified sub-title of ‘Super-Chump’. Close to the end was the first appearance of ‘Fidosaurus – The Prehistoric Pooch’, that I found so funny as a boy, but which I find worthless now.
The prose series had disappeared at the beginning of the volume, but Lee Mayne popped up again with two final four-part stories of ‘The Hawk; before launching into ‘Leopards of England’, starring Edward, the Black Prince of England as Constable of England’s holdings in Fourtenth Century France. Three four-part serials and one six-part to round off, then another E W Hilditch serial, ‘Jim Starling and the Spotted Dog’, far less interesting by far, before the volume was seen out with a new serial, ‘The Gay Corinthian’, not a fortunate title nowadays: Squire Jack Hardcastle, a Corinthian in Regency England, undertakes to win a series of wagers, one of which commits him to marry a woman he has never met. In the opening episode, he assists a pretty young woman in danger of being thrown from her horse, who seems to react when she hears of that element of his wager: you can see the ending from here, can’t you? Still, in its well-depicted atmospherics, it was probably the best story in this section all volume.
Stories were back again, suddenly. The cover re-design of issue 42 was also accompanied by a sudden run of classic short stories, from writers such as O. Henry, Charles Dickens and even Doris Lessing.
By this point, Eagle had started to become confused, features appearing and disappearing with no rhyme or reason. Three times, one-off black and white one page comics stories appeared. ‘Knights of the Road’ dribbled out week-by-week, introducing a new supporting character in the investigator, ‘Gagdets’ Gryll – is he a goodie or a crook? – further demonstrating that somebody hadn’t got a clue what they were doing, and a new comics series arrived in issue 42, ‘Home of the Wanderers’.
At long last, Eagle had got what no-one had ever realised it had been missing, a sports strip. The Wanderers were Wellport Wanderers, a football club from, well, Wellport, and this dull series was going to shock a lot of people next volume, for no virtue of its own. For now, its opening story, about a winger under consideration for England Under-23 honours being blackmailed over his non-existent tearaway past, and its stiff, cold art, whose pitch scenes held the flavour of tracings from football photos, demonstrated that Eagle had seriously lost its way.
Of course there was a reason, and it was Leonard Matthews.
Odhams had bought out Hultons but the pressure was still on in Fleet Street and now they surrendered the unequal fight and sold out to the Mirror Group. Who sent in Matthews to make changes to Eagle, mostly, or rather solely, of the cost-cutting kind. One Art Director was sacked on the spot for protesting. Several other senior editorial staff quit in sympathy. Editor Clifford Makins quietly left the premises. Others followed. New staff were drafted in from Longacre, where Mirror Group (and Matthews) were based. Replacements? Or Dead weights, driven out from where they had ceased to be useful?
The effect on the readers was almost immediate. The printers strike of two years previously had driven many magazines to the wall, and it had knocked Eagle‘s seemingly invincible 800,000 weekly circulation down to a half million. Now, the sudden changes cut that figure by another 150,000. The long decline had begun in earnest.
But there were still several years of decline, and some heartening returns to form, ahead. The old bird might be sick, but it wasn’t dead yet.

Paradoxically, the future…