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.