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.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019



Francis Dickson, alias ‘R.B. Saxe’ died in February 1953, having written three back page ‘real life’ serials for EAGLE. He had also written strips about the lives of Elizabeth Fry for GIRL ANNUAL and Wenceslas of Bohemia for EAGLE ANNUAL and these were his final published works, appearing many months after his death when the annuals were published ready for Christmas 1953. In his strips for EAGLE, Saxe never let the truth get in the way of a good story and he sometimes placed events at the wrong time and outside their proper context to make his story flow better. Wenceslas the Good is no exception. Running for just six pages in black and white, it tells the story of a Duke of Bohemia from the tenth century who was a champion of Christianity. Although greatly venerated in England in the years following his death, Wenceslas would have been unknown in contemporary Britain but for a popular Christmas carol written in 1853 by an Anglican clergyman John Mason Neale  who was a prolific writer of hymns. The hymn was set to the melody of a thirteenth century Spring carol called Tempest Adest Floridum, which he had found in an old Finnish song collection. The words themselves are believed to be based on a Czech poem by Vaclav Alois Svoboda. 

In both the strip and the carol, Wenceslas is described as a King although he was actually a Duke. However, after his death, the Holy Roman Emperor Otto the First posthumously conferred the title of King on him. Born in 907, Wenceslas was heavily influenced by his pious grandmother Ludmila, while his younger brother Boleslas was more influenced by their mother Drahomira, a nominal convert to Christianity with strong pagan sympathies. Saxe correctly recounts all this in the strip omitting only Wenceslas’ year of birth. The strip wrongly reports the death of his father as 926 while most authorities place his death in 921. If he had died as late as 926 then Bohemia would not have needed a regent as both the strip and reality show. Wenceslas is still depicted as a young boy. The strip says that his mother was made regent, but Saxe omits to say that she was obliged to share authority with Ludmila and that Drahomira had her killed! A frame shows Wenceslas telling his mother that now he is ‘King’ he will build more churches and convert his people to Christianity. She reminds him of her authority and says that no churches will be built as it would offend the pagan barons.

According to the strip, Wenceslas’ mother persuades the barons to carry out raids into what Saxe describes as ‘the German Empire’ led by Boleslas, prompting his older brother to warn her of the folly of this as Henry of Germany is strong. His mother dismisses his fears saying that neighbouring states will help if the Empire attacks. Henry invades Bohemia ‘the very next day’ and is soon besieging Prague. To overcome this crisis, Wenceslas abolishes the regency and takes control. He makes peace with Henry which brings Bohemia into his Empire and having to pay an annual tribute, but the treaty is described as fair. As usual in Saxe’s stories, the truth is far more complicated.

What actually happened was that Wenceslas’ father Vratislaus had secured an alliance with the Bavarian Duke Arnulf, an opponent of Henry, to avoid being absorbed by his Empire, but in 921, the year of Vratislaus’ death, Arnulf and his forces were besieged by Henry in Regensburg and Arnulf was forced to sue for peace, making the alliance worthless. Wenceslas assumed leadership of his Duchy in 924 or 925 when he came of age and exiled his mother. As in the strip he began to build churches and schools, including a rotunda church dedicated to Saint Vitus in Prague Castle, which exists to this day as Saint Vitus’ Cathedral. It was not until 929 that the joint forces of Arnulf and Henry attacked Prague in a sudden attack and forced Wenceslas to pay a regular tribute, so the events as described in the strip are misleading. However some historians believe that when Drahomira was regent she had opposed accepting the Christian Henry as overlord of Bohemia, whereas Ludmila who strongly influenced Wenceslas was believed to support Henry’s authority. Although Wenceslas did not subsequently ally himself with Henry until he was forced to, Arnulf began raiding Bohemia in 922, which put him in a difficult position and his banishment of his mother may have been partly due to her enmity towards the powerful Henry. Saxe was correct in showing that Henry and Wenceslas had great respect for each other. They recognised their shared aims in spreading Christianity.    

The strip goes on to show rebellious barons objecting to Wenceslas sending out missionaries to convert their serfs into ‘rebellious dogs of Christians’ and the missionaries and their converts are forced to worship in hiding. This was certainly a period of tension in Bohemia as Christianity steadily replaced paganism and given Drahomira’s objections to Wenceslas’ promotion of the Christian faith, there was clearly a resistance to it in high places. Wenceslas is then shown giving gifts to the poor and Saxe follows this with the story told by the famous carol. On the Feast of Stephen (December 26th) Wenceslas sees a poor old man out in the snow gathering twigs for his fire and asks his page if he knows where the man lives. The page tells him that he lives a good ‘league’ away (the distance specified in the carol which equates to about three miles) and Wenceslas instructs him to gather wood and food for the old man. They then trudge through the snow to the man’s cottage and surprise him with the wood and a feast. The story is based on old stories of Wenceslas which tell how he went out at night, assisted only by his chamberlain to take gifts of food and money to the poor. Given that the carol is the only reason that most readers would have heard of Wenceslas, it is inevitable that the story is told in the strip.

Saxe’s account ends with the barons persuading Boleslas that his brother must be killed and he is ambushed by Boleslas and two others on his way to Church. The date is given as September 28th 926. The date is correct but the year has been misprinted. Earlier the strip had incorrectly given his father’s death as 926! The correct year of Wenceslas’ murder is given on the next page as 936, although many authorities say 935. It was a long time ago! In the strip Wenceslas is stabbed to death by one of his brother’s companions. Tradition holds that he was indeed killed by his brother, aided by three other men. Although not mentioned in the strip, his body was dismembered and buried at the scene which immediately became a place of pilgrimage and many miracles were reported there. Subsequently his body was moved to St. Vitus’ Church in Prague by a repentant Boleslas. The strip concludes with Boleslas feeling remorse for his brother’s murder and dedicating his newborn son Stratchk to the Church. This is true. Stratchk grew up to become Bishop of Prague, although sadly he died suddenly on the day of his consecration. 

After his martyrdom a cult grew up around Wenceslas, particularly in Bohemia and England. The Anglo-Saxon English identified with his struggles against paganism, having faced similar experiences with their pagan Viking neighbours, who were now gradually converting to Christianity. They were probably also influenced by the esteem in which he was held by Henry and later his son Otto, who were the leading Saxon rulers in Europe, with Otto becoming Holy Roman Emperor in 962. Wenceslas was hailed as a saint and his death significantly promoted the cause of Christianity in Bohemia, not least because of his brother’s remorse.

The strip provides readers with a flowing and well-constructed account of Wenceslas’ life. In simplifying the complex political situation after his father’s death it contains inaccuracies and there is some confusion about dates, but it gives a reasonably accurate portrayal of a saint who everyone has heard of but few really know anything about. As in all Saxe’s EAGLE strips Wenceslas the Good was drawn by Norman Williams, although in black and white whereas his back page weekly stories were in colour. Unable to make use of his skills in using contrasting colours to show characters’ emotions, he nevertheless uses fine and heavy lines most effectively. He also uses a lot of dark shading which gives the images depth and sharpness.

Wenceslas the Good was a most appropriate strip for EAGLE ANNUAL. Telling the story of a hero most closely associated with Christmas, it appears in a book that most readers would receive at Christmas, which is also why it is featured in this blog at Christmas. Almost uniquely among Christmas carols, Good King Wenceslaus makes no reference to the Nativity of Jesus, yet its theme of giving binds it firmly to the season.  


The Winter EAGLE Times is out now and contains a range of articles about our favourite weekly.
Luck of the Legion and the Phantom Story by David Britton. A planned story about the Foreign Legionnaire that was never published. 
Pop Goes The EAGLE by Will Grenham. A look at Pop music in EAGLE.
Patrick- Fighter for Truth by Steve Winders. An examination of EAGLE's back page strip from 1951.
EAGLE's Annuals by Joe Hoole. The first of a three part series about all the EAGLE Annuals.
Sergeant Luck's Christmas Quiz. 
Charles Chilton and the Indian Wars Part Seven by David Britton. A look at the Riders of the Range story The Cochise Affair.
The Case of the Counterfeit Constable by Steve Winders. The final part of Steve's Archie Berkeley- Willoughby story about art forgery.
In and Out of the EAGLE (40) by Jim Duckett. This edition focuses on Harris Tweed .
Tailpieces by David Britton.
Postbag: Readers' Letters. 

Friday, 11 October 2019

EAGLE TIMES Vol. 32 No.3 Autumn 2019

The Autumn edition of EAGLE Times is out now. Tintin appears on the cover and in an article about his Moon adventure inside, which highlights the similarities between Frank Hampson and Herge's working methods. Of interest to readers of the 1980s EAGLE is a feature on the photo strips which were such an important element of the early issues.
*Charles Chilton and the Indian Wars: Part 6 of David Britton's in depth look at the Riders of the Range Adventure The War With the Sioux and the real story of the war.
*Dan Dare Mint and Boxed: A look at the impressive Dan Dare toy collection in the MINT Toy Museum in Singapore.
*Dan Dare Radio: A document from the B.B.C. archives about Radio Luxembourg's Dan Dare radio series.
*The Shell: The Motor Mechanic's Own Strip Cartoon Magazine: A look at an educational comic magazine produced by the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company in the 1950s with several similarities to EAGLE by Jeremy Briggs.
*Destination Moon: Tintin's Moon Adventure examined by Jim Duckett.
*The Case of the Counterfeit Constable: Part 3 of Steve Winders' latest adventure of Archie Berkeley-Willoughby.
*In and Out of the EAGLE: Another page in the series of short EAGLE related items.
*Smile Please! You're in EAGLE: Steve Winders examines the photo strips from the 1980s EAGLE.
*Tail Pieces: A short piece on the Yugoslavian comic Plavi-Vjesnik which featured Dan Dare.   

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

EAGLE TIMES Vol. 32 No. 2 SUMMER 2019

The latest EAGLE TIMES is now available. Running to 48 pages, it features a wide range of articles:
*Charles Chilton and the Indian Wars (part five) by David Britton. 
*The Dan Dare studios Ideas Book
*Pogo Possum: The Early Years. Eric Fernie examines the American newspaper strip.
*The Travels of Marco Polo (part two) by Steve Winders
*The Case of the Counterfeit Constable (part two). Continuing Steve Winders' latest Archie Willoughby adventure.
*Come Fly With Me: Steve Winders' talk to the EAGLE Society Gathering at Dundee in April.
*In and Out of the EAGLE by Jim Duckett. Looking at EAGLE reprints in books.
*Chris Abbott Remembered: Memories of a much missed former member of our editorial team who died in March.
*Report on the EAGLE Society Gathering by Reg Hoare.

Monday, 24 June 2019


Sadly the well known character actor William Simons, who played P.C. Alf Ventress in the long running TV series Heartbeat died last week. As a boy William had two unusual links with the 1950s EAGLE. He was the subject of the article Schoolboy in the African Bush in Eagle Vol.2 No.39 (dated 4th January 1952) when as an eleven year old he featured in the film Where No Vultures Fly. The article describes his experiences of filming on location for four months in Kenya. His other link with EAGLE was that he played Alfie Cutforth in the B.B.C. TV adaptation of Anthony Buckeridge's Rex Milligan stories, which had been specially created for EAGLE. 
Where No Vultures Fly was the second most successful film at the box office in Britain in 1952 and led to a sequel West of Zanzibar, released in 1954 in which William also featured. Both films starred Anthony Steel as a Game Warden who sets up a Wildlife Reserve in Kenya and both feature villainous ivory poachers. 

Thursday, 23 May 2019


 Douglas Adams, the creator of the popular radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which was later televised, novelised and filmed, had his first work published at the age of twelve, on the letters page in EAGLE! His letter appeared in Volume 16 no. 4, dated 23rd January 1965. Douglas wrote:

"The sweat was dripping down my face and into my lap, making my clothes very wet and sticky. I sat there, waiting, watching. I was trembling violently as I sat, looking at the small slot, waiting - ever waiting. My nails dug into my flesh as I clenched my hands. I passed my arm over my hot, wet face, down which sweat was pouring. The suspense was unbearable. I bit my lip in an attempt to stop trembling with the terrible burden of anxiety. Suddenly, the slot opened and in dropped the mail. I grabbed at my EAGLE and ripped off the wrapping paper. My ordeal was over for another week!"

Another reader later to become famous, whose first published work appeared in EAGLE, was the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. His drawing of EAGLE characters in the wrong clothes appeared in Volume 3 no.31, dated 7th November 1952, when he was sixteen. Entitled 'EAGLE Artist's Nightmare', his picture surely inspired Frank Hampson's strip 'The Editor's Christmas Nightmare', which appeared in the Christmas issue in 1954. Gerald also won a competition to design an advertisement for Ingersoll Dan Dare watches, which appeared in Volume 3 no. 37, dated 19th December 1952. Listed among the runners up in the same competition was David Hockney of Bradford, who went on to become one of Britain's foremost painters!

Tuesday, 14 May 2019


Herge's famous 'boy reporter' Tintin first appeared in English in EAGLE in a translation of his adventure King Ottokar's Sceptre, printed on the lower half of the middle page spread below the Cutaway Drawings, beginning in the issue dated 3rd August 1951 and ending in the issue dated 2nd May 1952 - a total of forty episodes. This story tells of Tintin's efforts to save the throne of the fictional Balkan kingdom of Syldavia for its rightful King and was inspired by Anthony Hope's novel The Prisoner of Zenda. The unknown translator, who was engaged by Tintin's Belgian and French publisher Casterman, retained the original names of all the characters except for the incompetent detectives Dupond and Dupont, who they renamed Thompson and Thomson. Hence Tintin's dog is called Milou in the EAGLE version, not Snowy. When Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner translated Tintin's adventures for book publication by Methuen commencing from 1958, they kept the Thompson names and anglicised many others.

EAGLE's version describes Tintin as a French boy, despite his Belgian origins and was an edited version of the revised colour album of the story produced by Herge, assisted by Edgar P. Jacobs in 1947. The story had originally been produced as a serial for the children's supplement of the newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle between 1937 and 1938 and then released in album form in 1939. Its plot contains a strong topical element from that period, because Syldavia is threatened by its Faschist neighbour Borduria, echoing the threat posed to smaller countries by Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy. The 1947 album ran to sixty two pages of strip, compared to EAGLE's forty spreads, but EAGLE fitted more frames in each episode, often as many as four or five, so there was little removed from the original. Three of the album's pages were presented as a brochure describing the Geography and History of Syldavia. In EAGLE these were omitted and the key elements summarised in two text boxes, each containing an illustration taken from the brochure. Several humorous incidents involving the Thompsons or Milou (Snowy) were edited out of the EAGLE version, notably a vignette where Milou steals a large dinosaur bone from a museum and some single frames, including the four large half page pictures from the album were also left out.

In EAGLE the strip was titled The Adventures of Tintin and not King Ottokar's Sceptre and although Tintin's name was written as one word in the title, he is referred to as Tin Tin in the text boxes and speech bubbles. The speech bubbles themselves were written in a neat style using upper and lower case letters quite similar to that used in the French and later English albums, whereas the other strips in EAGLE  were all written in upper case letters.

The strip was not a great success in EAGLE and no further adventures were serialised. In my opinion there were several reasons for this. The 'ligne claire' style of artwork used by Herge more closely resembled styles used in overtly humorous cartoon strips in Britain than the more realistic style of British adventure strips. The style seemed to call for broad comedy whereas Tintin's adventures combine their humour with strong storylines. While EAGLE's adventure strips often contained a little humour and their comedy strips sometimes contained perilous situations, as in Harris Tweed, there was a clear distinction between adventure and comedy stories. EAGLE readers struggled to relate to this unfamiliar territory and this was not helped by Tintin's anachronistic image. A familiar icon in Belgium and France for more than two decades, Tintin's trademark plus fours and raised quiff only added to the unusual nature of the character and the strip for EAGLE readers in 1951. Also, the pace of the story was slightly slower than other strips in EAGLE at the time, with longer scenes in some locations. The Adventures of Tintin did not suit EAGLE's style. Finally the rather cold translation lacked the fun provided by the later ones where Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner replaced wit that could not be translated with wit of their own.

Thankfully Tintin did break into the British market when Methuen began to publish the books and they were able to find their own market. Every Tintin book has been translated into English and we have seen Tintin films, TV series, a B.B.C. radio series and three English language plays, most  notably a musical version of Tintin in Tibet by the National Youth Theatre in 2005. The bookshop chain Ottakar's, founded in 1987 but absorbed by Waterstone's Bookshops in 2006, took its name from King Ottokar, despite the different spelling and many branches displayed Tintin murals on their walls. Tintin's adventures have been translated into almost every language on Earth, including Cornish, Welsh, Gaelic and Catalan. In his native Belgium, Herge is celebrated in a purpose built museum dedicated to his work. Scenes and characters from the Tintin adventures are displayed on several murals in Brussels and Tintin is even featured on a Brussels Airlines plane which has been painted to look like the 'Shark' submarine from his Red Rackham's Treasure story.

(This article is derived from several of my 'In and Out of the Eagle' posts in 'Eagle Times'  with some additional factual information taken from Eric Fernie's article about 'King Ottokar's Sceptre' in Eagle from the 2016 Spring Issue of 'Eagle Times'. The opinions expressed in this article are mine - Jim Duckett.) 

Thursday, 9 May 2019


The very first Dan Dare story had no individual title, but when Titan Books reprinted it in 2004 they called it Voyage to Venus. In 2008 Orion Publishing produced an audio dramatisation of the first half of the story and gave it this title and then in 2012, Michael Shipway’s electronic music album inspired by the story took the title too. By 2016, when B7 Audio Productions dramatised several Dan Dare adventures, Voyage to Venus was the automatic title for the first adventure. Although it took fifty four years for this title to formally appear, it seems an appropriate one. Frank Hampson, like many of Eagle’s other contributors, favoured alliterative titles, giving us Marooned on Mercury, Reign of the Robots and Safari in Space, not to mention Dan Dare himself. Voyage to Venus was previously used as the title of the second book of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy about Earth, Mars and Venus. As in Dan Dare this title was added later. First published in 1943, Lewis’ book was originally called Perelandra, which was the story’s name for the planet, but it was altered to Voyage to Venus when published in paperback in 1953. C.S. Lewis was one of several notable theologians who contributed articles for Marcus Morris’ Anvil magazine in the late 1940s and not surprisingly his book has strong religious connotations. The plot concerns the hero from Earth trying to prevent the fall of man (as described in the Book of Genesis) from being repeated on Venus. Lewis went on to write the famous Narnia series of children’s books, beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950.

The original Voyage to Venus was Achille Eyraud’s 1865 book, published the same year as Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. Eyraud’s book is the first to describe rocket powered interplanetary travel. However, despite its prophetic importance, it has only been available in an English edition since 2011.  

Sunday, 14 April 2019


This year's annual gathering was held at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Dundee. Twenty six members attended the successful event which was organised by Eric Summers, ably assisted by Jeremy Briggs. Guests included Chris Murray, Professor of Comics at the University of Dundee, Calum Laird, the former editor of Commando magazine and Ian Kennedy, the celebrated Dan Dare artist on the new EAGLE. Members visited Captain Scott's Antarctic Survey Ship Discovery and other landmarks in the city, such as the new Victoria and Albert Museum, the McManus Gallery and the various statues of comic characters around the city. We are grateful for the generosity of the publishers D.C. Thomson and Co. who provided items for the Welcome Packs. A full report by Reg Hoare will appear in the next EAGLE TIMES. The picture above shows Jeremy Briggs interviewing Calum Laird and the picture below shows Ian Kennedy with interviewer Phillip Vaughan.

Friday, 5 April 2019

EAGLE TIMES: Spring 2019

The first edition of EAGLE TIMES for 2019 is out now. Featuring articles on T.E. Lawrence, Marco Polo, Cutaway Drawings from the 1990s EAGLE, Look-In Magazine and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, it is a varied and interesting issue.
Was Dan Dare Instrumental in Russia's Contribution to the Space Race? by Chris Stock
Lawrence of Arabia - The Backpager That Never Was by Andrew Coffey
A Look at Look-In by Jim Duckett
The Travels of Marco Polo (Part One) by Steve Winders
New Eagle's Cutaways - The Centrespreads by Jeremy Briggs
Drawing the Centrespreads - An interview with artist Peter Sarson by Jeremy Briggs
Dan Dare - Acting His Age - a short piece about actors mooted to play Dan on TV
Charles Chilton and the Indian Wars (Part Four) by David Britton
The Case of the Counterfeit Constable - A new Archie Willoughby adventure by Steve Winders

Monday, 1 April 2019


From 1954 -59 the most popular comic in my country of Iceland was 'Haforn', our own version of Britain's 'Eagle'. Many of the popular strips from 'Eagle' were featured in 'Haforn' in translation. The front and second pages starred Lars Larsson, better known to British readers as Dan Dare and the comic also included 'Hjaris Tvede - Extra Special Agent', 'Sturm Nielsson Sea Adventurer' and briefly the ice cream promotional strip, 'Tomi Walls'. However ice cream is not as popular in my country as in Britain and this strip was soon replaced with one about a boy who loves Grimsson's Smoked Mackerel.

There were also several home grown Icelandic strips in the comic, notably 'Sven Bloodaxe: Viking Marauder', who occupied the colour centre pages. These stirring tales of looting and pillaging made Sven one of the most popular strips in the paper. Many original Icelandic features replaced the British ones, including articles on skinning seals, removing frostbitten toes and whaling for beginners. Stories of famous Icelanders replaced the lives of the saints and famous Britons on the back page.
Haforn was edited by a Lutheran Minister, Marcus Marcusson and proved so successful that the publishers released Icelandic versions of several of Eagle's companion papers. My sister Bjork took 'Gella' and my little brother Bjarki read 'Lundi', which means 'Puffin' as there are no robins in Iceland.

Like 'Eagle' in Britain, Haforn also spawned many other products. These included 'Lars Larsson' jigsaw puzzles, pyjamas and snow shoes and 'Sven Bloodaxe' knives, swords, clubs, spears, hammers and axes. There were also 'Sven Bloodaxe' novels by Gunnar Gunlaugsson: 'Bloodaxe Learns to Pillage', 'Bloodaxe Pillages Again', Bloodaxe Buries the Hatchet' and Bloodaxe Takes a Hand'. The comic closed in 1959, only because they had run out of famous Icelanders for the back page.

Friday, 18 January 2019


A free exhibition to celebrate the centenary of Frank Hampson's birth is being held at the Bourne Hall Museum in Spring Street, Ewell in Surrey. Running from December 4th 2018 until March 12th 2019,  the opening times are: 
Monday 9am - 10:30pm
Tuesday 9am - 11:30pm
Wednesday 9am - 10:30pm
Thursday 9am - 10:30pm
Friday & Saturday 9am - 5pm
Sunday Closed
Contact name: 
David Brooks
+44 20 8394 1734
Contact email: 

Bourne Hall
Tel: 020 8393 9571
The 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Hampson is to be marked by an exhibition at Bourne Hall Museum. Frank Hampson came to Epsom in the early 1950s and was soon established in Bayford Lodge, which served as his home and his studio.  There, for a decade, he created the cartoon strips that held the nation's schoolboys (and others!) enthralled, as they waited eagerly each week for the latest edition of Eagle to learn whether Dan Dare, the intrepid space explorer, had survived his most recent mission. An exhibition about the life of the gifted illustrator will be put on display at Bourne Hall Museum from 4th December until 12 March 2019.The display will include original artwork which has been loaned by Peter Hampson, Frank’s son, including a front page of the Eagle – drawings of Treens, Therons and other alien characters from the comic – and covers drawn by Frank for the popular Ladybird books. Also on display will be the annuals which were such eagerly awaited Christmas presents, and comics which will bring back memories of trips to the newsagents to get a new copy, running back home to read the latest adventure. 
Museum curator, Jeremy Harte, says "There will be many people locally who remember, for example, the staged fights with ray guns outside Bayford Lodge, as Frank Hampson gathered material for the next instalment to go up on his drawing board."

Thursday, 17 January 2019


Jack O’Lantern was originally another name for the strange phenomenon of light hovering over peat bogs, also known as a Will o’the Wisp. Carved out pumpkins with faces are often called Jack O’ Lanterns. This old name provided an excellent title for George Beardmore’s popular Eagle strip about a boy’s adventures in the early nineteenth century, but Jack Yorke is not the only Jack O’ Lantern in comics. Both Marvel and D.C. Comics in America have used the name several times. Beginning in 1977, D.C. used the name for three superheroes who each took the name following the death of their predecessor. These ‘Jacks’ did not operate alone, but as members of super hero teams. Conversely, from 1981 Marvel featured four villains who took this name, with each one again replacing an earlier version in turn and providing enemies for Spiderman and Captain America.

This brings us nicely to Willo The Wisp, the 1981 B.B.C. TV cartoon series made by Nicholas Spargo, who may be recalled by Eagle readers as the creator of The Legend of the Lincoln Imp, which featured on the centre pages below the cutaway drawing, back in 1951. Soon after his work for Eagle, Nicholas worked for Halas and Bachelor on Britain’s first ever cartoon feature film Animal Farm. He also ran his own animation company which principally produced cartoon advertisements and educational films, sponsored by companies, but his main claim to fame is Willo The Wisp, a series of five minute films for children, featuring the voice of Kenneth Williams. The character of Willo actually originated in an educational film he made for British Gas in 1975.  

Thursday, 10 January 2019


The Man From Nowhere was an intriguing and appropriate title for the story of Dan Dare’s first encounter with people from another solar system, but there are several other ‘men from nowhere’ in books and films. 

In 1959 the famous western writer T.V. Olsen used it as the title of his latest western novel and just seven years later it was the title of an unconnected ‘spaghetti’ western. Most recently, in 2002 it was the name of a Korean contemporary action film, which also enjoyed a successful release in Canada and the U.S.A.

But before we congratulate Frank Hampson on using the title first, we need to look right back to 1915 to a silent film starring William S. Hart and this too was a western and unconnected to the others!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019


Jim Duckett recalls the ‘Biggles’ serials and short stories which appeared in Eagle and its annuals.

In a text story in the second EAGLE Annual, published in Autumn of 1952, one of Britain’s most famous fictional heroes began his association with EAGLE. Created by Captain W.E. Johns in 1932, James Bigglesworth, known to all as ‘Biggles’ was originally a young pilot of the Royal Flying Corps fighting in the First World War. Later he became a charter pilot and when the Second World War began, he again served his country in the Royal Air Force. After the War he became a founder member of the fictional Special Air Police, allowing him and his team of pilot colleagues to have further adventures. When ‘Biggles’ appeared in EAGLE Annual, he had already featured in forty six books, as Captain Johns (who had served in the R.F.C. himself, though as a Flying Officer, not a Captain) usually wrote two or three per year.

In this short story, illustrated by Harold Hailstone, called Biggles Buys a Watch, our hero chances upon and exposes a watch smuggling racket. Two more stories would appear in the next two annuals, but in a text serial beginning just a few months later, in Volume 3 No. 50, in the issue dated 20th March 1953, Biggles made his first appearance in EAGLE weekly. This was in a long story called Biggles in the Blue, which like the Annual stories and another Biggles serial that immediately followed it, marked their first publication. Biggles in the Blue was published as a book just as the last of its nineteen episodes appeared in EAGLE and the second adventure, Biggles in the Gobi ran for seventeen episodes, with the book’s publication coinciding with episode twelve.

Each episode of the two serials was printed over two pages, but thanks to advertising and ‘Puzzle Corners’ really only filled a page and this included a ‘drop in’ illustration by Edwin Phillips, which increased to two when Biggles in the Gobi began. Not surprisingly the stories were abridged, although thanks to EAGLE’s large pages and small text type, not quite as much as one might expect. A clear example of abridgement occurs in the third episode of Biggles in the Blue where there is an obvious summary of a longer scene which does not involve action. Biggles in the Blue is set in Jamaica and tells how Biggles and his friends have to track down secret German documents containing details of secret weapons, taken there by an ex-Nazi after the War, before a group of villains led by Biggles’ arch enemy Von Stalhein can get hold of them. Biggles in the Gobi began in the issue dated 31st July 1953 (Vol. 4 No. 17) and was about an operation to rescue a group of Christian missionaries from Communist China. It includes an incident in which Biggles’ plane crashes into an eagle! The first instalment of this serial carried a note for EAGLE readers from the author, in which he explained that all the places named in the story really exist and went on to describe the ‘Cave of a Thousand Buddhas’ and to tell readers something about the Gobi Desert itself. This adventure concluded in the issue dated 20th November 1953 (Vol. 4 No. 33). As one might expect from such a popular writer and character, both stories were well paced and exciting, despite abridgements. However, apart from the annuals, this would be Biggles’ final appearance in Eagle. Between the first and second serials, EAGLE’s editor Marcus Morris informed readers that as Biggles in the Blue had proved so popular, EAGLE would be serialising the next Biggles book the following week. I don’t know whether the original agreement had been to run two stories right from the start, but I suspect that given the already established popularity of the character, EAGLE’s licence to publish stories ahead of the books would prove too expensive to continue indefinitely. Many Biggles books were first published in serial form in periodicals and most of the short stories appeared first in magazines or annuals. Shortly before EAGLE published the two serials, the Boy’s Own Paper published several titles, ending with Biggles Follows On in 1952 and subsequently Junior Mirror, Express Weekly, TV Express and Boy’s Own Paper again, printed later stories as text serials prior to their publication as books. As a best-selling weekly with many successful characters of its own, EAGLE would not want to enter a bidding war with its rivals.

Nevertheless there were two more short stories for readers of EAGLE Annuals Number Three and Four to enjoy. The first was The Flying Crusaders in which a thief who has hidden a valuable stolen painting on a plane, tries to buy the plane to retrieve it. The final story was The Adventure of the Luminous Clay, about a race against time to find a valuable mineral on a volcanic island that is in imminent danger of destruction. All the annual stories were illustrated by Harold Hailstone, which sounds like an alias, but isn’t! He was a popular cartoonist and illustrator who contributed to many publications, although the Biggles stories in the annuals were his only work for EAGLE. The three annual stories were also later published in Biggles books in collections of short stories. Biggles Buys a Watch appeared in Biggles and the Pirate Treasure, published in July 1954 and The Flying Crusaders and The Adventure of the Luminous Clay appeared in Biggles’ Chinese Puzzle, published in May 1955.   

Although Eagle’s links with Biggles ended in 1954, there are several other interesting connections between the two that are worthy of mention. In 1955, Juvenile Publications brought out a comic strip version of Biggles in the Cruise of the Condor. This was illustrated by Pat Williams, who drew several strips and features in Eagle. But the previous year he also drew a strip book of exactly the same size for Juvenile Publications called Jeff Arnold in the Bozeman Trail, about Eagle’s popular cowboy. Eagle and Boys’ World artist Ron Embleton drew a Biggles strip in 1960, but in Eagle’s rival weekly, TV Express. In 1968, plans to make a Biggles feature film got as far as casting James Fox in the title role. Sadly the film was never made, just as a television series in 1981 in which Fox was cast as Eagle’s Dan Dare was never made either! A Biggles film finally saw the light of day in 1986 and this was advertised in the new version of Eagle in five weekly half page advertisements which took the form of comic strips. Unfortunately the film was a disappointment after original plans to make an ‘Indiana Jones’ style adventure remaining fairly true to Johns’ stories were ditched in favour of a story involving time travel to cash in on the recent success of Back to the Future.