Welcome to the web home of THE EAGLE SOCIETY.

THE EAGLE SOCIETY is dedicated to the memory of EAGLE - Britain's National Picture Strip Weekly - the leading Boy's magazine of the 1950s and 1960s. We publish an A4, quarterly journal - the Eagle Times.

This weblog has been created to provide an additional, more immediate, forum for news and commentary about the society and EAGLE-related issues. Want to know more? See First Post and Eagle - How it began.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Eagle writers - Geoffrey Bond (1920 - 2009) aka Alan Jason

Geoffrey Bond, who died after a long illness on 27th December, 2009, is best known to Eagle readers as the writer for nearly ten years of the successful picture strip ‘Luck of the Legion’, but his career was far more adventurous than that might infer.

Geoffrey was born in Eltham (in what was the metropolitan borough of Woolwich), in 1920. His father was a bank manager who took an interest in show business and entertainment, and, as Geoffrey took an early interest in music, his father bought him a saxophone. At school he did well at both English and Art. After his father was transferred to Epsom, Surrey, Geoffrey attended the City of London Freeman’s School, Ashstead, where at the age of 15 he had an article, ‘The History of Tiger Rag’, published in the school magazine.

On leaving school at 17, Geoffrey found work in a band and for the next couple of years they toured the country, until the Second World War broke out. He joined the Army, but was invalided out and returned to being a musician with the Sandy Powell Roadshow. As well as playing with the band, he wrote and played in sketches.

In 1947 he went to South Africa where he worked with Alan Dell at the South African Broadcasting Corporation in Durban. He appeared in an Edgar Wallace play, The Ringer. Other acting parts followed, and in 1948 he was asked to take the lead role in a film called The Snake Skin Belt, which was filmed in Rhodesia and showed in UK as a serial at the Saturday morning children’s clubs.

Returning to England in 1949, Geoffrey joined the BBC Drama Repertory Company. He made appearances in radio dramas such as PC49 and Paul Temple. He also wrote radio plays, features and adaptations. His BBC writing credits include a nine month stint on Mrs Dale’s Diary. In 1950 he played the role of a Walsham Bay police sergeant in the Rank/Independent Artists’ film The Dark Man. In another film,The Lady with the Lamp he played an army sergeant.

In 1950 or 1951, his agent, Max Kester, told him the editors of Eagle were looking for ideas for a new strip. After much consideration, he came up with the idea for a French Foreign Legion story and its lead character Sergeant ‘Tough’ Luck. An artist friend produced a dummy of the first episode of ‘Luck of the Legion’. Eagle’s Editor, Marcus Morris, liked it but Geoffrey heard nothing for some time - the dummy was lost in a drawer at Hulton House. When it was rediscovered plans were made to bring ‘Luck of the Legion’ to Eagle’s centre pages for a trial period, which began in the issue dated 9th May, 1952, drawn by Martin Aitchison. The strip was a big success, and it was soon running second to 'Dan Dare' in a Hulton readers’ poll. Other stories soon followed, and the strip ran for nearly ten years: 16 stories comprising 482 weekly episodes. The strip also featured in Eagle Annual and briefly in 1952 as single-page stories in ABC Film Review, all scripted by Geoffrey and drawn by Martin. In 1953 Geoffrey wrote the Eagle Playlet ‘Salem Raschid’s Revenge’, which was offered to Eagle readers at 6d a copy in time for them to put on a play for Christmas. In 1954 he wrote a six-episode 'Luck of the Legion' story which went out as part of Hulton/Eagle’s Spread Your Wings programme on Radio Luxembourg , narrated by Norman Shelley.

Geoffrey suggested writing 'The Baden Powell Story', about the founder of the Boy Scout movement for Eagle’s back page. To avoid the same author’s name appearing twice per issue he wrote it under the pseudonym Alan Jason. It was drawn by Norman Williams. He also collaborated with Cyril Holloway on ‘For Bravery’. The same year, 1954, he played Spada, the evil Vultan leader in the Radio Luxembourg science fiction serial Dan Dare, sponsored by Horlicks and based on Eagle’s by then established front-page feature. After 'The Baden Powell Story', Geoffrey was asked to write the story of 'Lincoln of America', which appeared on Eagle’s back page in 1955, again under the pseudonym Alan Jason, and again drawn by Norman Williams.

Geoffrey wrote three 'Luck of the Legion' novels which were published by Hutchinson (illustrated by Cyril Holloway) and later, two further 'Luck of the Legion' novels for Hulton’s Eagle Novels series. The latter were illustrated by Martin Aitchison. Later, Max Parish published another: The Return of Sergeant Luck.

Beginning in 1957 Geoffrey wrote ‘Claudia of the Circus’, a strip that appeared on the centre pages of Eagle’s sister paper Girl, drawn by T. S. La Fontaine. Later, for the same magazine he collaborated with the artist C. L. Doughty on ‘The Untold Arabian Nights’. He also wrote a number of strips for Girl Annual, and a ‘Claudia of the Circus’ book in the Girl Novels series. For Swift, Eagle’s younger brother paper, he teamed again with Martin Aitchison for a comedy strip ‘Arty and Crafty’.

Geoffrey wrote numerous books for other publishers, including two on Baden Powell, published by Staples, a number of books on historical characters, including Ned Kelly, Geronimo, Kit Carson, Lawrence of Arabia, Evans of the Broke and Chaka the Terrible, all published by Arco, and The Ship’s Little Secret for Max Parish. His book on the Lancastria disaster was published by the Daily Express under their Oldbourne imprint and was serialised in John Bull, beginning in September, 1959, where it was illustrated by John Worsley. Another maritme disaster was Lakonia. He also wrote a novel, Arena, which was published by Macdonald.

In 1965 Geoffrey and his wife Stella emigrated to Rhodesia. He spent three years as a Provincial Information Officer and did some freelance broadcasting, before joining the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation full-time as a producer and announcer. For a year he wrote and often played in the first Rhodesian soap opera The Jacaranda People. After a brief stint in New Zealand with the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, where he had his own programme, Focus, he and Stella returned to to a politically troubled Rhodesia. He wrote a number of scripts for the Rhodesian Ministry of Education, which were sent out on tape to schools across the country, and for a while he joined the army as Public Relations Officer. While in Rhodesia he wrote two books relating to Rhodesian military history, and two series of religious educational books for Longmans.

In 1989 Geoffrey and Stella returned to England. In 1995, after reading an article in the Daily Telegraph about Eagle and the Eagle Society, Geoffrey wrote to Eagle Times. Consequently he was approached for an interview and was invited, along with Martin Aitchison, to the Eagle Society’s Annual Dinner at Sparsholt (1996).

In 1998, Geoffrey, teamed again with artist Martin Aitchison, created a new comic strip called 'Justin Tyme - ye Hapless Highwayman'. 'Justin Tyme' appeared in Eagle Times for over five years, scripted for 3 years by Geoffrey, and latterly by his son, Jim.

Eagle strips (writer)
  • Luck of the Legion (Vol 3 No 5 - Vol 12 No 37)
  • The Baden Powell Story (Vol 5 No 17 - Vol 5 No 45)
  • For Bravery (Vol 5 No 50)
  • Lincoln of America (Vol 6 No 24 - Vol 6 No 52)
Eagle Annual strips (writer)
  • Luck of the Legion Eagle Annual No 4 - No 11/1962
ET Refs
  • Harpole, Harold. 'Geoffrey Bond, Part 1 The Early Years' (Eagle Times Vol 9 No1 pp 2-5 & 11)
  • Harpole, Harold. 'Geoffrey Bond, Part 2 Luck of the Legion' (Eagle Times Vol 9 No 2 pp 16-19)
  • Harpole, Harold. 'Geoffrey Bond, Part 3 Salem Raschid’s Return - Eagle playlet' (Eagle Times Vol 9 No 3 pp 18-24)
  • Harpole, Harold. 'Geoffrey Bond, Part 4 Express Weekly, Girl and the Novels' (Eagle Times Vol 9 No 4 pp 30-34)
  • Harpole, Harold. 'Geoffrey Bond, Part 5 Rhodesia and Back' (Eagle Times Vol 10 No 1 pp8-12)
The picture shows Geoffrey Bond at the Eagle Times Dinner/Weekend at Sparsholt in 1996

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Dan Dare: Safari in Space

Safari in Space, the twelfth volume in Titan Books' Dan Dare Pilot of the Future series, collects the two 'Dan Dare' adventures 'Safari in Space' and its follow-on, 'Terra Nova'. The scripts are credited to Alan Stranks, Frank Hampson and Eric Eden. The stories first appeared in Eagle in 1959 and mark the 'Dan Dare' swansong for the artist Frank Hampson, and the 'Dan Dare' debut for the artist Frank Bellamy. Other artists on the strip included Joan Porter (who left at the same time as Hampson) and the remaining members of the Dan Dare Studio team (Don Harley, Eric Eden, Keith Watson and Gerald Palmer) who continued to draw about 50% of the pages under Bellamy's general instruction.

After arriving on Venus for a photographic safari, Dan Dare with his companions are abducted to the secret asteroid base of Scottish scientist/engineer Galileo McHoo. Informed that Dan's father who disappeared years ago was the pilot of an experimental spacecraft that set out for a new world, light-years away, Dan and Co. are induced to join McHoo's expedition to find out what happened to the earlier expedition, and to try to discover the fate of Dan's father. On Terra Nova the expedition finds evidence of Dan's father's earlier presence, and help one of the inhabitant populations, the Novads, to combat the Nagrabs, a species of giant man-eating ants which is threatening their existence.

The book is the first to be issued since John Freeman took over editorship of the series. If you've seen any of the previous volumes you will know that the quality of reproduction has been variable - hence the apologia carried in the front of the books:
"Much of the comic strip material used by Titan in this edition is exceedingly rare. As such we hope that readers appreciate that the quality of the material can be variable."
The apologia remains in this book but is, in my view, superfluous. The reproduction quality is consistently excellent throughout. The provision of the comic strip pages from the original Eagle is credited to Des Shaw of the Spaceship Away team. It shows what can be achieved when someone takes the care to obtain the best available source material, and then apply sensitive restoration. The pages look pristine - you might think some were from original artwork, rather than 50 year old comics, though it probably helps that the format is smaller than the original, as this will have had the effect of sharpening the images.

In format the book follows the pattern of the earlier books in the series, with 'Safari in Space' beginning on a right hand page. As the original stories appeared in Eagle on the front and second pages, this is consistent with how the material was originally presented in that publication. However, with a single page separating the two stories 'Terra Nova', possibly controversially, begins on a left hand page. This results in each week's two-page episode being shown on facing pages. It's possible some people might not like this. My personal view is that it is better presented this way. Somehow the Eagle quarter-page masthead, which inevitably is reproduced every other page, seems less intrusive. It gives a freshness to the presentation, allowing each episode to be viewed as a whole (as it has never been before), and it leaves the cliff-hanger ("What will happen in next week's episode?") at the turn of the page.

In addition to the two 'Dan Dare' stories, the book contains 'Dan Dare Abroad', an illustrated text article by Eagle-timer Richard Sheaf, reviewing the history of Eagle's and Dan Dare's syndication and reproduction in periodicals outside of UK .

All in all a splendid publication, and out just in time for Christmas!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Eagle Times Vol 22 No 4

Winter 2009 contents
  • Eagle artists at home - recollections of Eagle illustrators Frank Hampson, RonEmbleton, Keith Watson, Frank Humphris , John Worsley, Peter Jackson and Don Lawrence in the 1970s and 1980s
  • John Dyke - the third in a series of articles about Eagle's nature artists reveals what is known of the artist of 'Advice on your Pets' and 'Discovering the Countryside'
  • Treasure, John Worsley and 'Wee Willie Winkie' - the PC49 artist's spot-illustration work for Fleetway's pre-school periodical Treasure
  • Dimworthy and Co, part 2 - concluding a review of Eagle's school strip stories
  • Rod Barzilay's Spaceship Away Day - photographs and review from the second gathering of 'Dan Dare' fans at Bournemouth in November 2009
  • 'The Case of the Purple Paint' - a PC49 Christmas story
  • The Late Jack Daniel - some personal recollections about Eagle's first 'Riders of the Range' artist
  • Under the 1950s Christmas Tree - some toys Santa might have left for you back in Eagle's times
  • 'Nowhere' is not quite what it seems - a review of the 1956 Pathe Pictorial on Frank Hampson and the 'Dan Dare' Studio
  • Is there Anybody there? - an address to the Eagle Society at the 2009 Annual Dinner
  • Christmas Eagles - a look at Christmas issues of Eagle, its some of its companion and rival papers.
  • Eagle Autographs, part 6 - a post-script covering the Eagle Club's figureheads
  • What's in a name, part 2 - concluding a look at the career of the multi-talented Gerry Embleton, the artist who brought back 'Dan Dare' in "new" Eagle (1982)
  • Eagle Annual: the best of the 1960s comic - a review of Orion Books' latest "nostalgia" publication
  • Pop Music during Eagle times - part 18, covering 1967
The cover illustration is from 'He wants to be a Postman' Eagle, Vol 7 No 52, Christmas issue, 1956

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Eagle Artists - Robert Ayton

Robert Norton Ayton (1915-1985) was born in Bowes Park, in the London borough of Wood Green. He was the second of four brothers. In 1919 the Aytons moved to Wembley, where Robert attended Park Lane Primary School. As a boy, as well as showing an early interest and capability in art, he loved speed and designed and built model aeroplanes. His nephew Rupert (son of Robert’s younger brother William) later cherished a 12" example of one of Robert’s hand-carved propellers.

In 1928, following the sudden death of his father, the almost 13-year-old Robert was offered an apprenticeship with Adkin and Sons, a branch of the Imperial Tobacco Company. Robert's father and grandfather had both been loyal and successful servants to Adkin. Robert however declined the invitation, and from about 1930 he attended the Harrow School of Art. He may have taken additional courses with the Central School of Art and Design and/or Hammersmith School of Art.

After his formal art training, Robert worked for several advertising agencies, including (possibly) Dorland's, before becoming a freelance artist. In the late 1930s he had an account with Castrol and around this time also undertook substantial commissions from Rolls Royce. His various commissions included aeroplanes and fast cars, including Malcolm (later Sir Malcolm) Campbell’s Bluebird.

In 1939 Robert met Joan Elmes, who would later become his wife. They saw little of each other during the next few years because Robert was called to Army service in the Second World War, but they were married during leave, in 1942.

After the war, in 1945 Robert picked up his freelance artist’s career. He became friends with Norman Williams who, from 1950, would illustrate many of Eagle’s true life adventures. Through Norman Williams, in 1955 Robert was recruited by Marcus Morris to illustrate a new adventure strip set in the times of the Napoleonic Wars. The strip, written by George Beardmore was ‘Jack o’Lantern’. It quickly became one of the most popular strip stories in Eagle, as recorded by the Hulton readers poll at the time.

Soon after starting on ‘Jack o’Lantern’, Robert and Joan moved to Yeovil, Somerset, and over the next five years Robert would draw nearly 250 weekly full-colour episodes. His strips had an air of authenticity aided by painstaking research of his subject matter from uniforms and fashion to the settings for the stories. Joan recalled, when interviewed in 1997, that she and Robert tramped around the village of Bosham taking photographs when Robert was researching the location for the ‘Jack o’Lantern’ story ‘The Moonshiners’.

In 1957, when his friend Norman Williams died, Robert took the news hard but, called on the draw the final episode of ‘The Great Sailor’ (the story of Nelson), he did so, although his artwork was not credited. After he left in 1959 to take a break from weekly deadlines, ‘Jack o’Lantern’ continued, drawn by another artist (C. L. Doughty), but only for another 36 episodes.

After what was to be a two year break from comic strip work, he took on drawing half page illustrations for Girl, and other art work. Then Robert returned to Eagle in 1961 to draw ‘The Golden Man’, the story of Sir Walter Raleigh, in a strip scripted by Guy Daniel and Marcus Morris. It was his final work for Eagle.

Like quite a few former Eagle artists (including Frank Hampson, Frank Humphris and Martin Aitchison) Robert later worked for Ladybird Books, illustrating for them around 50 books on a variety of subjects, from fairy tales to technology. Often he would put himself into his drawings - for example as the Slave of the Lamp in ‘Aladdin’. He taught illustration part-time at the West of England College of Art. He also illustrated for Oxford University Press, drew television background illustrations for BBC Bristol, and from 1980 was a member of the artistic group known as the Bristol Savages. At that time he lived in a large farmhouse outside Backwell, Bristol.

In 1983 Robert and Joan moved to a smaller home, a glass-workers row house, at nearby Nailsea. It was there, two years later and aged 70, that Robert died in Joan's arms after suffering a massive heart attack. He and Joan never had children. As Joan put it, when interviewed for Eagle Times: “There are enough delinquents in the world without bringing more into it.”

Eagle Strips:
  • Jack o’Lantern (Vol 6 No 4 - Vol 10 No 40)
  • The Great Sailor - final episode, uncredited (Vol 8 No 11)
  • The Golden Man (Vol 12 Nos 15 - 37)
Eagle Annual Strips:

  • Jack o’Lantern Eagle Annual No 6 - No 11 [1962]
ET Refs:
  • Howard Corn. Robert Ayton. Eagle Times Vol 10 No 3 pp 2 - 6 *
* Thanks to Rupert Ayton for corrections and additional information about his uncle Robert

Update (1 Apr 2014) - Thanks to Andoni for correcting info re Jack o'Lantern (which previously stated Robert Ayton's run on the strip ended with issue Vol 10 No 45). As Andoni has pointed out, C.L. Doughty took over from issue Vol 10 No 41. C.L. Doughty therefore drew 36, rather than the previously stated 31 episodes, and I've amended that info also.     

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Eagle Annual -the Best of the 1960s comic (review)

Just published by Orion Books is the latest in their Eagle Annual nostalgia series, which began two years ago with Eagle Annual - the Best of the 1950s Comic (see Steve Winders' review at Bear Alley), and was followed last year by the Eagle Annual of the Cutaways (see eagle-times' previous review). This year's offering is Eagle Annual - the Best of the 1960s Comic. Compared with Eagle Annual - the Best of the 1950s, the price has increased from £12.99 to £14.99 (the same as the Eagle Annual of the Cutaways), though (in this case) the page count has increased, from 176 to 192. As before the books are edited by, and have an introduction by, Daniel Tatarsky.

As Tatarsky says in his introduction, Eagle's creator and first editor Marcus Morris chose to include only selections up to 1962 in his The Best of Eagle, which was published in 1977, for reasons Tatarsky speculates were "more to do with his absence after that date than any genuine feelings about the output under his replacement". While I would agree that much of Eagle's content in the years following Morris' departure could appropriately be included under a "Best of" title, much should not. Many Eagle readers gave up the original Eagle in the mid-sixties as the quality declined following the buy-out of Hulton Press and the later takeover by IPC. There is some good material presented in this book, covering 1960 to 1969, but, not surprisingly, the majority of the content is from the first half of the decade, rather than the last.

Starting with a sympathetic two page introduction, the book proper begins with the first front cover from 1960 (2nd January, 1960 Volume 11 No 1), which as Tatarsky points out, was the last attributed to Hulton Press due to the buy-out by Odhams. After this date the former Hultons became Longacre Press. By then Frank Bellamy was drawing 'Dan Dare', and a full page of his 'Trip to Trouble' artwork is seen. The book closes with the "Great News, Pals!" advertisement that appeared in the last issue of Eagle on 26th April 1969, announcing the "merger" with Lion. In between, the main content consists of various sample pages, articles and "clippings" from Eagle's last decade, presented in almost, but something less than, chronological order. As with the Best of the 1950s, many of the items have no indication of the dates on which they were published, making the book not very useful as a reference volume - but then reference is not its intended purpose.

The format is similar to the previous offerings - ie slightly larger than the traditional Eagle Annual dimensions - but the dull matte finish, and "cloth" spine used previously has been eschewed, appropriately, for a glossy cover more reminiscent of the later 1960s Eagle Annual covers. Where the previous offerings provided an overtly "distressed" look, outwardly at least this effect has been toned down, and the book should look more appealing in the bookshop displays. Unfortunately opening the book reveals a continuation of the "dirty page" approach that has been criticised previously (not just here!) in connection with the earlier volumes. If anything the effect is worse in this book, as even full pages of the original magazine have been trimmed and set within this grubby looking background. The editor provides occasional commentary within the book. It is an unfortunate feature that some of the commentary is superimposed over the original content!

All that said, the book has a lot to recommend it. Take a look. If you weren't put off before, then you should enjoy this book just as much as the first. Lets us know what you think.

As I write, the book can be obtained from Amazon.co.uk for £8.99

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Eagle Times Vol 22 No 3

Autumn 2009 contents
  • What's in a name? - The first part of a look at the career of multi-talented artist Gerry Embleton, who contributed to the original Eagle as well as drawing the revamped 'Dan Dare' for "new" Eagle in 1982
  • The Eagle art of George William Backhouse - a review of the career of the artist, concentrating on his work for Hulton Press.
  • Dimworthy and Co. - an exploration of the schoolboy comic strip series from the 1960s Eagle
  • The Rivals of Jeff Arnold, part 2 - 'Steve Larrabee' from Lone Star comic
  • Danny Dare - a review of the 1964 comic strip about "Dan Dare's Number One Fan!", created for Wham! by Leo Baxendale and later drawn in part by Dan Dare artists Bruce Cornwell and Don Harley
  • Colour Printing in Eagle - a brief account of the four-colour photogravure process used to produce Eagle, with examples of the colour separations and print combinations that led to a page of 'Dan Dare'
  • Journey into Space: The Host - a review of Julian Simpson's new radio play featuring the latest adventure of Charles Chilton's Jet Morgan and his team of space explorers
  • John Ryan (1921-2009) - an obituary of the creator of Captain Pugwash and Harris Tweed (Eagle), Lettice Leefe (Girl) and Sir Boldasbrass (Swift), plus John Ryan Remembered
  • The musical George Backhouse - illustrating Master Melodies of the World for Amalgamated Press in the 1930s
  • PC 49 and the Case of the Murderous Mouse - the 3rd and concluding part of the story adaptation
  • Lost Continuity in the Dan Dare strip - commentary on an apparent inconsistency in the fictional Dan Dare timeline
  • Hulton's Merchandising - an example of an Eagle and Girl merchandising advertisement that appeared in the trade magazine Games and Toys in 1954
  • Another Eagle dummy?
  • Pop Music during Eagle Times - 1966
The cover art illustration for this issue is by Gerry Embleton and features 'Dan Dare' from the "new" Eagle, 1982

Saturday, 25 July 2009

John Ryan (1921 - 2009)

John Christopher Gerald Ryan was born in Edinburgh on 21 March, 1921. His father being in the diplomatic service, he spent some of his early life abroad, but he received his education at Ampleforth College, Yorkshire. It was there he first gained an interest in cartooning (writing and drawing for the school magazine was offered as an alternative to a thrashing for a minor offence!)

During the second World War he served with the Lincolnshire Regiment, mainly in Burma, and when not otherwise occupied he sketched and drew caricatures, which were published in army magazines. After the war, he attended art classes in London at the Regent Street Polytechnic, following which, he joined Harrow School as Assistant Art Master. He had met his future wife Priscilla while at the Regent Street Polytechnic, and in 1950 they married. As a wedding present, a friend introduced them to Marcus Morris, then priest and editor of Anvil.

John produced some illustrations for Anvil, and was challenged by Morris to create a humorous strip for a new children's magazine, which would be Eagle. The result was 'Captain Pugwash', "the story of a bad buccaneer & of the many sticky ends which nearly befell him". The black and white strip appeared on the lower half of page 5 of the first issue of Eagle. Although later destined to become successful as an animated television series and a series of books, Captain Pugwash's life in Eagle was short. Deemed too young for the Eagle's target audience, Pugwash sailed away after his 19-episode first adventure. But John Ryan was a talent too good to waste, and Marcus Morris had already asked him to create a new strip, which he did - based on a skit of Priscilla's "ideal man". 'Harris Tweed' began in issue 15 of Eagle and ended, after twelve years of weekly episodes, in 1962. Along the way, John also created, wrote and drew successful strips for Eagle's companion papers, Girl ('Lettice Leefe, the Greenest Girl in the School') and Swift ('Sir Boldasbrass'), and for all three papers' associated Annuals. After Girl folded, John continued to draw 'Lettice Leefe' for Princess - accomplishing a 16-year run of weekly episodes.

Foregoing Harrow School's offer of a job as Art Master, John remained Assistant Art Master until 1955, when he became a full-time freelance writer and artist. Although 'Captain Pugwash' had not been a success in Eagle, John Ryan worked on his beloved character, and drew and wrote the first of what was to become a series of Captain Pugwash books. In 1956, after many rejections, Captain Pugwash found a publisher in The Bodley Head. He also sold the idea for an animated series of 'Captain Pugwash' to BBC Television. His animation technique was innovative, using painted backdrops and cut-out, two-dimensional figures with movable limbs and mouths, made from painted card and held together with paperclips. Levers allowed him and his assistants to manoeuvre the figures and their expressions for real-time animation - and live transmission! A pilot production was so successful that it resulted in 1957 in a series of 58 black and white episodes, and for eight years he drew a weekly 'Captain Pugwash' strip for Radio Times. A 'Captain Pugwash' strip also appeared (briefly) in Swift (1958) and Playland (1974), also written and drawn by John. 'Sir Prancelot' (from another TV series) appeared in Playland in 1972. From 1963, for 43 years he drew weekly cartoons for The Catholic Herald, but it is for his children's publications and programmes that he is most fondly remembered.

In 1969 he created a 13-part series called 'Mary, Mungo and Midge' for BBC Television. He followed this with 'The Adventures of Sir Prancelot' (32 episodes), and in 1974 he returned to 'Captain Pugwash' again, producing a new series of 30 colour episodes. In the 1980s 'The Ark Stories' (on ITV) featured John Ryan in his studio to introduce each of his stories of animals from Noah's Ark with a sketch.

John and Priscilla moved from Kensington to Rye, East Sussex, in 1988, and John continued to work until shortly before his death in Rye hospital on 22 July 2009. It was at Rye that John was an Eagle Society guest of honour for our annual gathering in 1993. John allowed us a visit to is home and studio, provided us with a tour of Rye and joined the "Eagle Society Players" for a play reading of 'Harris Tweed'.

The illustration by John Ryan is from the Spring 1993 edition of Eagle Times

Channel 4 newspiece on YouTube:

For other Captain Pugwash clips on YouTube Click Here

For an interactive storybook of Captain Pugwash and the Sea Monster click on the graphic below:

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Eagle Times Vol 22 No 2

Summer 2009 contents
  • Tom Adams, Fine Art Painter - a review of the work of the illustrator of 'Soldiers of the Queen' and many 'George Cansdale' nature strips which appeared in Eagle from 1954 to 1959
  • The Rivals of Jeff Arnold, part 1 - 'Rex Keene, Texas Ranger' from Junior Express 
  • Frank Hampson and Ronald Searle - comparisons of the careers of two 1950's "icon makers"
  • 'Operation  Saturn' Revisited - commentary on Dan Dare's fourth adventure in Eagle, following the revelations of the story's original outline
  • An obituary of Giorgio Bellavitis, architect and former comics illustrator, whose work in Eagle included 'Mark the Youngest Disciple'
  • Report of the 23rd Eagle Society Weekend at Muswell Hill, where the guest of honour was Charles Chilton, writer of Eagle's 'Riders of the Range', and radio's 'Journey into Space'
  • Eagle Autographs - part 5 (Artists and storytellers, part 2)
  • PC49 and the Case of the Murderous Mouse - part 2 of the story adaptation
  • Eagle Club Holidays - a look at the adventure holidays organised for Eagle Club members (and Girl Adventurers) by the Youth Hostel Association 
  • Free Gifts in Eagle, part 5 - the 1964 Olympic Games medals
  • 'Heros the Spartan', part 3, concluding this series by way of the final Eagle story and the Eagle Annual stories
  • 'The Man From Nowhere' remembered - a personal reflection on iconic moments from Dan Dare's 6th adventure in Eagle 
  • The added or missing bar - some observations on changes to Sir Hubert's epaulettes during the 'Dan Dare' saga
  • Pop Music during Eagle Times - 1965 
The cover illustration for this issue is by Tom Adams from the series, 'British Birds by George Cansdale', Eagle, Vol 7 No 39 (28th September, 1956)

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Giorgio Bellavitis (1926 - 2009)

Giorgio Bellavitis  (1926 - 2009) was born and died in Venice, though he spent a number of years in England. Starting out as a comic book artist, but changing career to architecture, his reputation in his later years was for his contribution as an architect to the restoration of Venice.

After being held prisoner together by the Nazis during the Second World War, Bellavitis and his friends Mario Faustinelli and Alberto Ongaro later set themselves up as publishers and gathered more artists and writers to form the Grupo Veneziano (Venetian Group). Their first magazine, called Albo Uragano (White Hurricane), was later renamed Asso di Picche, after its lead strip, which was pencilled by Hugo Pratt and inked by Bellavitis and Faustinelli. After drawing the first episode of ‘Junglemen’, Bellavitis then drew ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ under the pseudonym George Summers. After 1948, when Asso di Picche folded, and until 1954, when he moved to England, he worked mainly on Il Vittorioso (The Conqueror). His strips in this period included ‘I Cavalieri del Corvo’, ‘Acqua Cattiva’, ‘Il Palio di Siena’, and ‘Amburgo 1947’. 

In England, he was instrumental in introducing the Italian illustrator Rimaldo D’Ami (Roy Dami, founder of the Damy Agency) to Britain, and was the first of many Italian comic strip artists to be published in Britain via D'Ami's agency.

Bellavitis’ first English strip was ‘Paul English’ for Swift. He then drew ‘Mark, the Youngest Disciple’ to a script by Chad Varah, for Eagle. Bellavitis stood in for Richard Jennings on two complete ‘Storm Nelson’ adventures (which were was later reprinted in Italy as 'Kid Tempesta'), the first of which was set in his place of birth. He also drew for Eagle Annual and Swift Annual, including the illustrations for a text story ‘The Winged Devils - a tale of the Ancient Vikings’ in Swift Annual No 2. He worked for a short time on Express Weekly, drawing ‘Rodney Flood’, and he is known to have done some illustrations for the Sunday Pictorial Children’s Annual. In 1956 he helped out on Eagle’s ‘Jeff Arnold in Riders of the Range’. His work also appeared in Playhour and Treasure. In 1958, however, he returned to Italy to pursue a career in architecture.

For many years, and until his death, Professor Giorgio Bellavitis was actively involved in the conservation and restoration of Venice, advising UNESCO and other bodies. Giorgio Bellavitis' projects in Venice included the garden design and landscaping for Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and from 1997 to 2005 direction of the restoration of Ca’Foscari. Giorgio Bellavitis wrote and co-authored a number of books and articles, including ‘Venice: a City in the Sea of History’, which prefaces the Heritage Guide to Venice published by the Touring Club of Italy. His death was reported on 21 May 2009 in Venice, the city that inspired him.

A fuller obituary and bibliography can be read on Steve Holland's Bear Alley blog.

Previous posts on eagle-times:

Photo of Giorgio Bellavitis: Il Gazzettino

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Dan Dare: The Phantom Fleet

The latest in Titan Books' reprint volumes of the original Dan Dare series has recently been published. My copy arrived from Amazon.co.uk on 14th May, 2009. 

The full list of published Dan Dare titles can be seen at the Titan Books website. Although the 10th story in the Dan Dare series, The Phantom Fleet is the 11th volume in Titan's series since the first (Venus) story and 'Operation Saturn' were each split over two volumes and 'The Ship that Lived' was appended to 'Reign of the Robots'. This book also includes the Dan Dare story 'Operation Plum Pudding', which originally appeared in Eagle Annual No 5. Thers is an Introduction by Jeff Wayne (composer of the award-winning musical version of War of the Worlds), and an article on the life and work of Frank Bellamy (Frank Hampson's successor on 'Dan Dare,), by Paul Holder.
With echoes of the first Dan Dare story, 'The Phantom Fleet' opens with a spaceship awaiting take-off. But, rather than the terrestrial "Headquarters of the Interplanet Spacefleet some years in the future", the scene is now "Spacefleet Base on the Moon, some years in the future...'  On board is Dan Dare, Chief Pilot of the Spacefleet, making a routine check flight. Take-off goes well, but the ship has to return to the Moon in an emergency when all Spacefleet communications are mysteriously jammed. Dan and Co. investigate, and discover a race of highly intelligent aquatic aliens, the Cosmobes, who are intent on Earth colonisation. But it turns out the Cosmobes are fleeing a much more aggressive foe, from their dying home world...  
Die-hard Eagle fans may already have their collections of original Eagles and the Hawk Book reprints, but that shouln't stop them collecting these too! Beautifully produced in hardback with wrap-around dustjacket and in a convenient size, if you don't know what Dan Dare is about, or came to Dan Dare in one of his later incarnations, this series is the best place to start to find out about the original 1950s Frank Hampson creation. 

First published beginning 25th April 1958, the opening episodes of 'The Phantom Fleet' shows some of the Dan Dare production team's best work.  It's good to see this series continuing. Although I appreciate there may be formatting issues with some of the later stories, I can only hope that Titan manage to complete the reprints of the whole series, rather than cut it short as the Hawk Books series did. 

Although at a reduced size compared with the originals, with pages a little over A4 in size, this does make for a more handleable product. The more observant will notice that picture of Dan on the cover is different from that used for promotion before publication, which recycled an image of Dan from 'Operation Saturn'. 

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Eagle Society Weekend and Dinner, 2009

Please note that bookings for this year's previously advertised Eagle Society's Weekend and Annual Dinner at the Guy Chester Centre, Muswell Hill are now closed.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Eagle Times Vol 22 No 1

Spring 2009 contents
  • Operation Saturn - but not as we know it. Details of Frank Hampson's original 1952 story outline for Dan Dare's 4th adventure, revealed and reviewed
  • Heros the Spartan - a review of EAGLE's popular 1960s sword and sorcery strip, part 2
  • By a Hair's Breadth - artwork by Frank Hampson, from Ranger, 1965
  • Prisoners of Space revisited - a new review of the Pilot of the Future's 5th EAGLE adventure
  • PC49 and the Case of the Murderous Mouse - part 1 of a new story adaptation
  • Edward Beal - more information about the creator the Railway Page that appeared in EAGLE's dummy second issue
  • Rick Random, Space Detective - a review of Prion Books' recently published collection of 1950s interplanetary adventures
  • More memories of Denis Gifford's Ally Sloper magazine
  • "I was there" - part 5, memories of the Society of Strip Illustration Awards Dinner, December 1976
  • More Crockett and Krispies - from the series Heroes of the West, drawn by Ron Embleton for Kellogg's Rice Krispies
  • Eagle Autographs - part 4, the artists and storytellers
  • Pop Music during Eagle Times - 1964
This issue's front cover features the Valiant spaceship from 'Operation Saturn' (EAGLE, 1953)
superimposed with images of Saturn and the Eagle Nebula (
NASA photographs) .

Friday, 6 February 2009

Spaceship Away #17

Spaceship Away is a three times a year, full colour, 44-page A4 glossy magazine that publishes newly created 1950’s Eagle style 'Dan Dare' strip stories (licensed by the Dan Dare Corporation) along with other science fiction strips and articles. Issue 17, which is just out, continues the 'Dan Dare' serial strips 'The Green Nemesis' (written by Rod Barzilay; drawn by Tim Booth), 'The Gates of Eden' (written and drawn by Tim Booth) and 'Rocket Pilot' (written and drawn by Keith Page). There is also a new full colour 'Dan Dare' centre-spread by Mike Noble, plus the humorous strips 'Dan Bear' (by Andy Boyce), 'Mekki', 'Our Bertie' (both by Ray Aspden), and 'Dan Dire' (a satire by Eric Mackenzie).

Factual articles include an original story outline for 'Operation Saturn', by Dan Dare's creator Frank Hampson*, and 'Working with Frank Bellamy', by Dan Dare artist Don Harley. The latter is nicely illustrated with a picture by Don recollecting Frank Bellamy delivering a page of 'Dan Dare'. There is also an article by Jeremy Briggs on Dan Dare's personal spaceship Anastasia. The Anastasia article is accompanied by a cutaway drawing of Anastasia's cockpit by Graham Bleathman. An article on 'Eagle and TV21' by Stephen Baxter is illustrated with examples from the Eagle artists who contributed to TV21: Frank Hampson ('Fireball XL5'), Frank Bellamy ('Thunderbirds'), Don Harley ('Thunderbirds'), Eric Eden ('Lady Penelope'), Ron Embleton ('Stingray') and Keith Watson ('Captain Scarlet').

In addition to the 'Dan Dare'-themed material, Spaceship Away includes three other SF strips: a reprint of Charles Chilton's 'Journey into Space - Planet of Fear' serial that originally appeared in Eagle's rival paper Express Weekly (1956), drawn by Ferdinando Tacconi, 'Ex-Astris', a computer-rendered strip by John Freeman and Mike Nicholl, and 'Nick Hazard Interstellar Agent', written by Philip Harbottle, drawn by Ron Turner and coloured by John Ridgway.

For further details of Spaceship Away, including how to subscribe, please go to the Spaceship Away website.

* Further information and comment by David Britton on Frank Hampson's outline for Operation Saturn will appear in the next (Spring 2009) issue of Eagle Times.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Eagle writers - J.H.G. Freeman (1903 - 1972) aka Gordon Grinstead

John Henry Gordon ("Don") Freeman was born in Croydon, Surrey, and attended St. Joseph’s College, Streatham. The youngest of three children, all of whom developed an early interest in writing stories and compiling "magazines" from their efforts, he was the only one to actually go into publishing. When he did, the majority of his lifetime output was as a staff writer for the Daily Mirror, which he joined in 1918 at around the age of 15.

Initially taken on by the Daily Mirror as an office boy, his first published work in the Mirror is believed to have appeared on the children’s page in January 1922, although he also worked on the sports page around that time. He became assistant to Bertram. J. Lamb, who as "Uncle Dick" was the editor of the Mirror’s children’s pages, and he provided story lines and many of the rhymed adventures of ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ in the Mirror and in the cartoon characters’ associated annuals published between 1923 and 1940. Following, or shortly before, Lamb’s death in 1938, he took over as "Uncle Dick". His contributions included stories credited to himself (as J.H.G. Freeman), and other pieces credited to "Uncle Dick" or other pseudonyms. His poems were published daily for at least five, possibly ten, years in the Daily Mirror. In 1930 a collection of his verses, The Rhymes of Merry Andrew was published. Also in the early 1930s a school story by J.H.G. Freeman, entitled Plain Smith IV: the Story of a Fortune was published as part of the Nelson "Red Star" series, reprinted later as part of the same publisher’s "Captain" series.

Gradually the Daily Mirror’s cartoon page became more adult. In 1936, "Don" Freeman (as he was known) adapted Edgar Wallace’s Terror Keep into a comic strip (drawn by Jack Monk). When that strip was "pulled" for copyright reasons he developed a new character, ‘Buck Ryan’, again with Monk as artist. The strip ran from 1937 to 1962. The number of strips he was scripting increased. From 1938 he began to write ‘Jane’ (“the strip that won the war”) for Jane’s creator, the artist Norman Pett, and when Michael Hubbard took over the drawing, Don continued scripting ‘Jane’ until 1953. In 1943 Don also took on ‘Belinda Blue Eyes’ (created by Steve Dowling), recasting it as simply ‘Belinda’ with its new artist Tony Royle. ‘Belinda’ folded in 1959. In the meantime, from 1944 until 1952 he also wrote ‘Garth’, which since its debut the year before had been written and drawn entirely by its creator Steve Dowling, who continued to draw it. Don was responsible for developing many of the characters and plot devices in Garth, including Garth's origin story.

While Don "wrote" many strips, his technique involved more than that might imply, and his contributions were more collaborative. Rather than typing out his scripts, his technique was to "rough" out the story, sketching it in pencil as he visualised it, for the artist to use as a guide.

In 1941 he had married and in 1945 the family, which by then included a son and daughter, moved to East Grinstead in Sussex, where a second son was born in 1946. Shortly after moving to East Grinstead, Don began using the pen-name "Gordon Grinstead", possibly so that he could take on non-Mirror work. Under his new pen-name, he produced a novel, Angela Darling, which was published by Rylee in 1949. Between 1959 and 1963 he wrote seven children’s educational books for Cassell & Co Ltd under their “for Silver Circle readers” banner. His other freelance work included that for Hulton Press: firstly ‘Sally of the South Seas’ which appeared in Girl and then ‘Knights of the Road’ for Eagle.

‘Knights of the Road’, the adventures of “Sir” Ted Knight, a lorry driver and his younger brother Frank, who were partners in a road haulage business (“Go Anywhere – Carry Anything” was their motto), appeared weekly in Eagle for two years from 19th March 1960 until 7th March 1962, drawn throughout by artist Gerald Haylock. It was no coincidence that the character “Lofty” in the ‘Knights of the Road’ story ‘The Grange Street Gang’ looked remarkably like the younger of Don Freeman’s sons. 'Knights of the Road’ also made a couple of appearances in Eagle Annual, once as a text story, and then in comic strip form.

Don was well read, and largely self-educated. All his stories drew on history and geography, which he researched thoroughly, often taking his family on holidays to research the places he wrote about.

In the early 1960s Don moved with his family to Bexhill on Sea. He continued his historical research joining associations in pursuit of his interests, but gradually he wrote less, though he continued with some editing work. It had been his ambition to write a Great Novel, but this remained unfulfilled when he died at Bexhill on 8th July, 1972.

Eagle Strips (writer): 'Knights of the Road'

  • First story (untitled) (Vol 11 No 12 – Vol 11 No 27)
  • 'The Hoodoo Run' (Vol 11 No 28 – Vol 11 No 47)
  • 'The Grange Street Gang' (Vol 11 No 48 – Vol 12 No 14)
  • 'Pilgrimage of Peril' (Vol 12 No 15 – Vol 12 No 32)
  • 'Carnival of Death' (Vol 12 No 33 – Vol 12 No 51)
  • 'Dutch Courage' (Vol 12 No 52 – Vol 13 No 9)

Eagle Annual (writer):

  • 'Snowbound! But the Knights of the Road get through' (text story) Eagle Annual No 11, 1962
  • 'Knights of the Road in ‘Treat her Rough!’' (strip story) Eagle Annual No 12, 1963

Note: The text story in Eagle Annual No 11 is credited to “George Grinstead”. The strip in Eagle Annual No 12 is uncredited. Illustrations are by Gerald Haylock.


ET Refs:

  • Gould, David. Eagle Scriptwriters No 4: J. H. G. Freeman (Gordon Grinstead) Eagle Times Vol 2 No 2 pp 16 - 18.
  • Sheaf, Richard. A Weekend at Ely: The Society’s 15th Annual Dinner Eagle Times Vol 14 No 2, pp 32 – 35.
  • Gittens, John Mortlock Biography of John Henry Gordon Freeman - dictated to Tom Rawlinson. Eagle Times Vol 15 No 3 pp 2 - 4.
  • Gould, David. Recollections of J.H.G. Freeman (aka Gordon Grinstead) - as told by his sons Richard and Nick in April 2002. Eagle Times Vol 15 No 3, pp 5 – 9.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Eagle Society Weekend and Annual Dinner, 2009

The Guy Chester Centre
Muswell Hill
24th - 26th April 2009

Our Social Secretary, Nigel McMurray, has again asked me to post, for the benefit of Members, the highlights for the Eagle Society Weekend, which this year will be held at the Guy Chester Centre, Muswell Hill, London.The package will include 2-night’s accommodation and most meals, including the Society’s Annual Dinner, plus two days of activities including talks and tours, beginning in the late afternoon of Friday, 24th April and concluding after lunch on Sunday, 26th April. The centre, which is a Methodist Retreat set in 10 acres of gardens and woodlands, has a car park, en-suite rooms and disabled facilities. Highlights of the weekend will include:
  • The Eagle Society’s Annual Dinner at the Guy Chester Centre
  • A visit to the RAF Museum at Hendon
  • A History of Muswell Hill presented by a local historian
  • Lunch at the Spaniards Inn (with its claimed association with Dick Turpin)
  • Special Tour of Highgate Cemetery
  • Fights in Eagle - a themed talk from by Eric Fernie
  • “He wants to be ... a cab driver”
  • Nostalgia isn't what it used to be - a look back at previous Eagle Weekends
  • Treasure Island with John Worsley, Millar Watt and Dudley Watkins - a presentation and talk by John Swan
  • Speedway and Eagle - Terry Stone, President of the World Speedway Riders Association, addresses the Eagle Society. And he's bringing a 1928 speedway machine!
  • Sunday Service at Muswell Hill Methodist Church
For Members of the Eagle Society, the cost for the weekend, which includes two nights accommodation, is £110 sterling per person for a shared room, with an extra supplement of £20 per person for single rooms (subject to availability). Non-members wishing to take part should enclose in addition the appropriate (UK or Overseas) Membership Fee (separate cheque, please) with their application.
If you would like more details, or to confirm details and/or availability of places, please contact Nigel by e-mail . Or to make a definite booking would Members please write, enclosing payment (in £ sterling, please, cheques made payable to the Eagle Society) to:

Adrian Perkins
19, Wolsey Way,
Cherry Hinton,
United Kingdom

The illustration is the opening frame of 'Black Bess', from the series 'Famous Horse Stories', drawn by Raymond Sheppard. It appeared in Eagle Vol 5 No 40 (1st October, 1954).