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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.

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.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Charles Chilton (1917 - 2013)

Charles Chilton, MBE
Charles (Frederick William) Chilton, MBE, the renowned BBC radio producer and writer, best known to Eagle readers as the scriptwriter of ‘Riders of the Range’ and the author and producer of the BBC radio serial Journey into Space, died on 2nd January, 2013, aged 95.

Charles was born into poverty on 15th June, 1917 and was raised by his grandmother in King's Cross, London. He joined the BBC as a messenger at the age of 15, soon becoming an assistant (or as he described it in his autobiography, "assistant to the assistant"!) in the BBC’s gramophone library. By the age of 18 he had moved into radio presentation and production. He developed a passion for jazz and presented many music programmes including ‘Swing Time’ and ‘Radio Rhythm Club’. His first major radio production was Alastair Cook’s ‘I Hear America Singing’.

During the Second World War, he served with the RAF as a radio instructor before being transferred to Armed Forces radio. In Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) he ran the forces radio station with David Jacobs. After the war he returned to London and (following his divorce from an earlier unsuccessful marriage) he married Penny, a BBC secretary. In 1949 he created and produced a popular weekly BBC radio show called Riders of the Range, which was described as "a musical Western drama". 

When in 1950 the Editor of Eagle, Marcus Morris, obtained permission from the BBC for a comic-strip version of Riders of the Range, Charles took on the writing of the weekly strip, too. He continued to write and produce the radio show until 1953 and to write the scripts for Eagle’s ‘Riders of the Range’ strip and scripts and stories for numerous Riders of the Range and Eagle annuals, into the early 1960s. He also wrote the script for ‘Flying Cloud’, a western strip that appeared in Girl. As the comic strip ‘Riders of the Range’ developed, Charles became an expert on the Wild West and introduced authentic historic western stories into the series. He also wrote historical accounts of the West, such as The Book of the West (Odhams, 1961) which, after publication in America, earned him The Western Heritage Award for Juvenile Books in 1963.

When Riders of the Range finished on radio (1953) Charles was tasked by the BBC with creating a science fiction series, though he then new nothing of the subject. The result was the hugely successful Journey into Space, featuring spaceman Jet Morgan and his crew (Doc, Mitch and Lemmy), which ran to three series (totalling 58 episodes) all of which he wrote and produced between 1953 and 1955. Journey into Space was among the last radio programmes to attract audiences greater in number than television. The series' subsequent transformation to book and comic strip form under his own authorship assured Chilton’s international recognition. His research for the series led to him becoming a keen amateur astronomer. Among his other radio production credits in the fifties are a several editions of The Goon Show in 1953, 1957 and 1958.

In 1962 Charles Chilton wrote and produced a radio musical based on World War 1 songs, called The Long, Long Road. In 1963 this was transformed through his collaboration with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop into the stage production: Oh! What a Lovely War, which then (in 1969) was turned into a film by writer Len Deighton and director Richard Attenborough.

In 1976 Charles was awarded the MBE, which was presented to him by the Queen Mother. Although he retired from the BBC soon after, he continued to write and for many years was a Guide for London Walks. In the 1980s he wrote a sequel Journey into Space radio play, The Return from Mars, and two science fiction serials in the Journey into Space vein: Space Force and Space Force II. He later wrote a further Journey into Space radio play, Frozen in Time, which was broadcast by the BBC in 2008. The  Journey into Space serials are often re-broadcast on the BBC's Radio 4 Extra station and are available as audio-CD collections and audio-downloads.

Charles Chilton's autobiography, Auntie's Charlie, was published by Fantom Press in 2011 along with a new edition of his first Journey into Space novel, Operation Luna. The second and third Journey into Space novels, The Red Planet and The World in Peril, followed from the same publisher in 2012.

The books were published as limited edition hardbacks but are now available in paperback.