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.

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.

TV Century 21 – 2065


I was lucky to grow up with generous parents.
Like any boy of my generation, I loved comics, and like any parent of their generation, they worried about letting me read them. In this I had an ally, in Mr Phillipson, he who got me into the Eleven plus when I should never have, and who changed my life. He pointed out, quite rightly, that my reading comics did not stop me being a voracious reader of books, and my parents need have no fears that the comics were stunting my mental growth.
I don’t know how closely the two may have been connected, but my parents decided, in their infinite generosity, to allow me six comics a week. Irrespective of their official publication dates, these were doled out to me one a day, Monday to Saturday, in a fixed rotation.
As time passed, and I got older, the titles changed. Things like Robin and Harold Hare Weekly, Beano and Dandy, gave way to older comics, like Victor and Hornet, Eagle and Lion. I was not allowed to chop and change frequently, and I could only swap, not add: for every new title I wanted, I had to sacrifice an old one, and sometimes the choice was far from easy.
Nor did I have a free hand. My parents held a right of veto over what I could select, and anything they decided was too young for me, or too anarchic in its sense of humour, would be refused. I never got to read Wham! or Buster. New titles were very difficult to get added to my list: offhand, I think the only one I did get to read from number 1, or very very soon after, was Hurricane, though I’ve no idea why.
Which meant that I did not get to read my second favourite comic of the decade until, I dunno, anything from 10 to 20 issues after it started, even though it was the only comic that offered production values akin to those of Eagle: clean white paper, photogravure reproduction, full colour and, what’s more, high-quality photographic covers. Even though it was made for me and a generation of boys hooked on Gerry & Sylvia Anderson’s Supermarionation SF series, Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray.

TV Century 21 was ready-made for me and all the other boys and girls who loved Gerry Anderson’s puppet series, who sat glued to the set through every episode, who almost religiously came in from playing out to watch every second, who can even today recite every word of every introduction. It was even laid out as a newspaper from the future, dated a hundred years ahead, with full colour photos taken from the Anderson series’ every week. Why I didn’t get it from the first week, I don’t know. But I got it, and stayed with it until the days when I grew out of comics for good.
And now I have it on DVD, starting from the beginning.
TV21 debuted on 23 January 1965 but presented as a newspaper, Universe edition, with a publication date of 23 January 2065, and that would be the pretence throughout. The contents however were divided between stories set in the notional publication year, which were all presented in colour, and stories in black and white, set ‘historically’ in 1965.
Officially, the comic was TV Century 21 until issue 155, when it became simply TV21 but we all called it by that name from the start.
With one exception, all the series were directly based on television programmes, with four out of seven featuring Gerry and Sylvia Anderson characters. Fireball XL5, Stingray and Lady Penelope all appeared as two page full colour strips, with reproduction qualities equal to those of Eagle, with Stingray leavened with stills taken from the TV series in place of certain panels. Supercar, in contrast, appeared in black and white, set in 1965, and was played primarily as a comedy.
The back page was given over to a full-colour series about The Daleks, taking up their history from the war on Skaro with the Thals that devastated the planet and led to the construction of the Dalek machines, which in the beginning were merely casings and vehicles protecting a disgusting looking and small organic creature within.
The other two series are long-forgotten now, being a one-page comedy adaptation of the American sitcom My Favourite Martian and a two-page adaptation of the police procedural, Burke’s Law.

My Favourite Martian was one of my favourites of that early Sixties wave of American sitcoms that used to fill the schedules around tea-time. It starred a young Bill Bixby as Tim O’Hara, a reporter, and Ray Walston as Martin the Martian, who’d crash-landed on Earth and, to conceal his secret whilst he was trying to repair his ship, posed as Tim’s Uncle. Martin had various Martian powers, most often invisibility, and two antenna that grew out of his head.
Burke’s Law was a different thing. I don’t remember actually watching it, probably because it held down the 8.00 – 9.00pm slot, when 8.00pm was my bed-time. I do remember a part of its theme tune, the female, breathy cooing of the title. It was a vehicle for Gene Barry, as Amos Burke, a millionaire Police Captain in LA’s Homicide Division, who was driven around in a Roll’s Royce Silver Cloud, and who solved crimes and dropped pithy lines whilst his underlings ran round doing the work.
Both were reproduced as simplified stories in cartoon b&w doing a good caricature of the actors involved, and Supercar, despite being of the Anderson stable, should be grouped with them, but they were also-rans to the colour series, which were detailed and accurate representations of the puppets and the equipment. Mike Noble drew Fireball XL5, Ron Embleton Stingray, and Hampson Studio veteran Eric Eden Lady Penelope. The Daleks were drawn by former Storm Nelson and Eagle star, Richard E Jennings.
The comic was the creation of Alan Fennell, script editor for the Anderson studio, principal writer for TV21, and writer of a couple of paperback novels featuring Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet’s Angels, down the line.

The Eagle comparisons extended to more than paper quality and full colour art as the comic also featured factual articles on space, the oceans and countries around the world. There was also a micro-celebrity feature where Lady Penelope answered questions about TV stars. The space articles, by Roger Dunn of the British Interplanetary Society, were especially fascinating, coming as they did halfway between the first Apollo launches and the actual Moon landing, making them historical documents of the (simplified) development of space travel.
There was also a curious Eagle-like wildlife series, The World We Share, each week featuring a different creature, be it animal, bird, fish or snake. At least 80% of these fellow creatures turned out to be vicious, lethal predators of a kind you wouldn’t even want to share a pen-pal correspondence with!
Though it looked like caricatural cartooning from the start, it took me quite some time to see an increasing continental influence on Supercar, primarily in the poses and actions. The strip may not have originated in Pilote or Spirou (unless rights to Supercar had been sold before TV21 was a gleam in Alan Fennell’s eye), but I strongly suspect a French or Belgian cartoonist.

It wasn’t until issue 15, 1 May, that I recognised a couple of things: a line in Burke’s Law, the closing panel in The Daleks, which I already remembered and had been expecting. I don’t think that was necessarily my first issue, however.
Amos Burke received a new artist the next issue, one with a far more representational style which, given its similarity to one of the existing crew, I’m confidently ascribing to Gerry Embleton, Ron’s brother. The feature was also upgraded to a semi-serial, with each story now taking two weeks to conclude. Gerry Embleton, if indeed it were him, was excellent in realistically portraying Burke and his two side men, though as the weeks went by, he did seem to rely on a very limited stock of headshots for the trio.
The underlying idea was still the Supermarionation Universe, and the several series, Supercar aside, were treated as occurring simultaneously. This was primarily a background theme, more often on the newspaper cover than in the strips, where occasional mention was made of the other services, but there was an interesting crossover in issue 19 (29 May). The Fireball XL5 serial running featured an attempt to avoid space war with the adjoining Astran Empire (the Astrans looking like human-sized coloured jellybeans). Disaster was threatened in Fireball XL5 when the Astran Kaplan (or Emperor) was assassinated in Earth’s capitol, Unity City.
Fortunately, Lady Penelope and Parker were taking a week off between stories, and their strip saw Thunderbirds’ future London Agent track down and capture the assassin, leaving him tied to a lamppost for Steve Zodiac and Commander Zero to pick up! I don’t believe such a crossover had ever taken place in British comics before.
The story continued in Fireball XL5 the following week, with Steve and the Commander rammed off the road and the assassin being killed, but the thought was there.
Fittingly enough, the comic’s first new feature arrived in issue 21 (12 June), in the form of a one page b&w strip, 21. This was set in 2046 and featured toy salesman Brent Cleever of Century 21 Toys, a front for the Universal Secret Service. Cleever is Special Agent 21, already familiar to the readers as the seeming editor of the comic, Twenty One, bringing news, letters and quizzes to the audience and now being personified (artist John Cooper’s ‘likeness’ was, of course, no likeness at all, Twenty One being a highly secret figure.)

Meanwhile, the Astra assassination story took another crossover twist, with Stingray joining in for another one-off continuation, shooting down the villains as they attempted to flee underwater.
The Dalek strip on the back page was the justification for issue 28 (31 July) to break with the Anderson theme and feature the cinema Dr Who film on the photo cover. This was Dr Who and the Daleks, Peter Cushing’s non-canonical outing as the Doctor, with an annoyingly spoilery feature on the film, giving away the entire story, inside. The following week there was a poignant moment, as Roger Dunn’s space feature, working its way through the Solar System, reached Neptune. The page included a sidebar on real-life astronauts which, that week, highlighted a 34 year old back-up pilot for ‘a forthcoming Gemini mission’. The man was Neil Armstrong, who would become the first man to walk upon the Moon.
Agent Twenty-One established another link between the Anderson worlds when it was revealed that Brent Cleever’s boss, S, was former General Zodiac, namely the father of Fireball XL5’s Steve Zodiac: a decidedly Marvel Universe moment.
The same strip was given an upgrade in issue 37 (2 October) with a change of art-style to a superb, soft pencil shading technique, introducing a host of grey shades into what had been a plain pen-and-ink approach. This delicate style was toned down after only a week, though the series showed an admirable modernity by sending Twenty-One’s assistant in by parachute to save him, his assistant being Agent Twenty-Three, Tina, a woman!
And there was a switch of artists on Fireball XL5 in issue 40 (23 October) with Mike Noble’s clean and simple lines being replaced by an artist who was trying to render the crew’s faces more like-like than puppet-like, with varying degrees of success: almost perfect on Mat Matic, patchy with Steve Zodiac and bottling out of trying to depict Venus at all. This was only for a four part story, however, with Noble back for the new story starting in issue 44 (21 November).
This turned into another of those tales I remembered, as a new engine fitted to Fireball for testing saw it travel so fast, it went back in time. To the soon-to-come 1966…

Issue 44 also saw a foretaste of what was to come, as the Lady Penelope Investigates mini-feature was expanded to a page and filled with colour photos as the Lady investigated Thunderbirds over two weeks. The Anderson studio’s most popular and successful series had debuted on 30 September (the week of issue 36) in three ITV regions, and we of Granada had had it the next month. Lady Penelope’s series had been a foreshadowing, and it was plainly only a matter of time before the International Rescue organisation would make its debut in TV Century 21.
The Thunderbirds connection took another turn in the new Lady Penelope adventure, with the arrival of a mysterious torch at Creighton-Ward Manor drawing the attention of both British Intelligence and an exotic freelance spy, a bald man with bushy eyebrows going by the name of The Hood…
The same issue also confirmed that the Supercar strip, which had suddenly developed serial-like aspects, had undergone a permanent cutback to 1½ pages.
And in issue 46, the countdown began, the first of five full page colour photos of the Thunderbird craft and their pilots. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… And or those with sharp eyes, a two-page boardgame space race was decorated by drawings of Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 5 from two angles, the artwork being identifiable as being by Frank Bellamy.
But the Thunderbirds countdown had only reached 2 when TV Century 21 reached issue 49, 25 December, bringing to an end the comic’s first year. It’s funny to think that, re-reading these issues in December 2018, I am slightly nearer the 2065 of the comic’s fictional era than the 1965 of its production.
What’s my impression of this first year, so much later? I’m sorry to say that I found most of it impressive but bland. There’s a high standard of full colour art, reproduced on paper fit to show it at is best, and the artists in use represent some of the best talents of their time. The imagery is clean and bright, the colours primary, and each of the Anderson series is a wonderful thing that I still love to this day.
But there’s something essential to good comics series that’s mainly missing from all the colour Anderson strips, and that’s living, breathing people. Let us not forget that these were all puppet series, in which the least realistic elements were the puppet people. They were all SF series in which the focus was on the machinery: it was Fireball XL5, not Steve Zodiac, Stingray, not Troy Tempest. The focus had to be on the equipment, because the only way to make the puppets remotely natural was to sit them down at pilot’s consoles.
And this carries over into the various comics series. The artists are forced to draw people who are based on puppets, artificial, caricatural humans beings, and are only being held to be successful by literal ten year old boys such as myself to the extent that the characters most closely resemble their originals.
Though it’s a comedy series, Supercar works the best because the characters are characters, no matter how much they are played for laughs, and Supercar itself is much the smallest part of the strip. And both Burke’s Law and My Favourite Martian are more substantial because they derive from real people and take on more substance by association.
Nor are the Anderson series done any favours by the brevity of their stories, allowing insufficient time and space for complexity to develop, because complexity can either enable more realistic character portrayals, or at least cover up their absence a bit better.
But this is merely the first year. Will we see an improvement when we move on into 2066?

The Boy’s World Story, or, The One Without Marcus Morris


cover by Ron Embleton

Boy’s World, a Longacre/Odhams red-top boys weekly comic, joined the stable of titles originated by the Reverend Marcus Morris as editor in 1962, it’s purpose being to replace Eagle. Instead, it lasted 89 issues and disappeared in 1963, merging into Eagle for protection. Only one of its features lasted more than three months after its death.
Many years ago, on one of my many trips to the Old Magazine Shop in Sheffield, I bought a job lot of Boy’s Worlds, 64 in total, just under three-quarters of the comic’s entire run. My collection, which is in poor condition, each issue having been stapled together in from the spine, with staples that were rusty when I bought them, basically consists of a near-complete run from Volume 1 issue 24 onwards (when the title had clearly undergone a substantial revamp) to the end, with a missing five issue run early in Volume 2, and a handful of missing single issues.
I’ve seen the covers of some of those early issues, which present a much different comic: large, full-page, domestic boy scenes, full-bleed, the red-box title forming part of the image. The effect is of a magazine cover, not a comic, something simultaneously more serious and more parent-friendly, like it’s almost exact contemporary, Look and Learn (a brainchild of Leonard Matthews, the man who was determined to destroy Eagle, its first issue came out six days before Boy’s World‘s).
Without sight of any of that first five month’s efforts, I can only speculate. Certainly, what passes for an editorial in Vol 1 issue 24 makes it explicit that one of the title’s established series, ‘Merlo the Magician’ (a prose story of which was reprinted in the 1969 Hamlyns’ published Adventure Stories for Boys) was now being translated into comics form. Of the eight stories repeated in ASOB, seven originated in Boy’s World, including a Merlo story. Three of these come from the issues I possess, meaning four prose serials of varying length across 23 issues: it’s pushing it to assume they all ran serially.
There was two or three existing comics series that survived the revamp. I remembered ‘Pike Mason’, drawn mainly by Luis Bermejo in a wash-dominated black-and-white. This was a bit of a sub-Storm Nelson affair, a sea-adventurer, but with one sidekick, the Filipino, Quarro. And ‘John Brody’, a science reporter for a London Daily who kept encountering fantastic adventures: like a Dr Thirteen who didn’t debunk the impossible.
But Boy’s World‘s most prestigious series, it’s home-grown Heros, was the highly-regarded ‘Wrath of the Gods’. This starred Arion, a kind of mortal trouble-shooter drafted in by the Greek Gods to carry out fantastic missions. Written by Jeff Hawke‘s Willie Patterson, it had been drawn in those first 23 issues by Ron Embleton, across the centrespread, but now it was knocked back to the back page and given over to a young and, initially unimpressive John Burns.

John Burns’ first page

Three new series entered at this point, a revamp intended to mirror the still more successful Eagle. The longest-lasting of these was naturally ‘The Iron Man’, initially drawn by Embleton’s younger brother Gerry, who gave the robot a much more naturalistic look. This squarer-faced stockier version could well be mistaken for human, though Embleton didn’t last too long before Martin Salvador replaced him – Spanish artists were so much cheaper – and before long, the robot’s features became much more, well, robotic.
The second of these was ‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’. Apparently, this was a continuation from the initial strip, ‘The Boys of Castleford School’, focussing on just the one pupil. I mean, apart from Billy accidentally getting his miraculous spare glasses in the first episode preparatory to his discovering their wonderful powers in the second (at which point, the supposedly highly-intelligent swot utterly failed, then or later, to 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 undistinguished fare that never developed from one week to another. It’s neatly drawn – far better than the unspeakable ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’ – whilst the stories are 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.
And third was ‘Brett Millions’. Though it’s not credited as such, both ‘Brett Millions’ stories are written by the SF writer, Harry Harrison, the first, ‘The Angry Planet’, adapted from one of Harrison’s own novels. This strip pushed ‘Wrath of the Gods’ out of the centrespread, though amusingly, once they’d finished the stories begun in issue 24, the same week, the strips swapped back! The second ‘Brett Millions’, ‘Ghost World’, was actually drawn by Frank Bellamy, and is 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.
Which is hardly surprising, since, apologies to Harry Harrison fans, the whole series was pretty poor. Millions, who starts off as a professional gambler but winds up an interplanetary troubleshooter, hasn’t an ounce of character, and Bellamy still has no more instinct for SF than he had on ‘Dan Dare’.

Which leaves us ‘Merlo’. 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. It was a very cleanly drawn strip, all black lines and white space and no shading, good but not outstanding. He’d actually been created by Harry Harrison but his last two adventures, in Vol 2, were written by Ken Bulmer.
What else went into this new Boy’s World mark 2? There was mild comedy from ‘Private Proon – the Barrack ‘Square”, the extremely short prose ‘Mini-Mystery’ starring Detective Inspector Nixon on page 2, in which the villain was almost always the only other person in the story, especially if the crime was murder, and a weekly prose feature 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.
Vol 2 saw some changes to features. ‘Brett Million’ was replaced by ‘Raff Regan’, a WW2 RAF strip, which didn’t amount to much, whilst ‘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.

Pike Mason original art

Let me not forget the other new series to start alongside ‘What’s in a Name?’. This was ‘Dr What and his Time Clock’, which was, as you’ve probably already guessed, a parody of Dr Who. In fact, it was the first ever parody of Dr Who, which is the only distinction it holds.
So, 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 at some unguessable point, I’d started getting Boy’s World, and I was not best pleased that two of my weekly comics were merging to one, especially as I (selfish) didn’t get a new title to replace it. As we already know, only ‘The Iron Man’ lasted, though oddly enough 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…
I’d venture to suggest that the reason Boy’s World failed to make the mark it was expected to make was a combination of things: it was the wrong type of comic for an increasingly anarchic time, it was launching in a declining market and most of all 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.

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.