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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.

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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.

1 comment:

Andoni said...


"Knights of the Road":

"Pilgrimage TO Peril" ((12/15)-(12/32))

"Carnival CAMP" ((12/33)-(12/51)