On the 14th April 1950, a generation of spotty kids, some of which would become major players in British aerospace business, picked up an imposing colourful and authoritative weekly magazine (masquerading as a comic) which had been especially designed to introduce them to an exciting technical future, while at the same time preparing them morally and with the resolution to run an empire. On the first page, there began the first adventure of Dan Dare, ‘Pilot of the Future’ which was to run for 18 months. The first frame showed a British spaceport ‘some years in the future’ but clearly to be well established by the time the readers began their careers in the Interplanetary Space Fleet. 65 years later, the government is only now examining assessments into the possible location and viability of a British spaceport.
What went wrong? In Dan Dare’s world of the 1950s, the British, having developed jet engines, computers and radar, were in the process of developing nuclear power, rocket planes and the other marvels which seemed to bring the planets within reach of the generation that subscribed to Eagle, ‘The new national strip cartoon weekly’.
The British Interplanetary Society will ask those questions on Tuesday 14th April 2015 at a special one day symposium in London, to be opened with a brief introduction by Gerry Webb, the founder of Commercial Space Technologies who has been an active member of the BIS since 1957, and will give the first presentation. This will cover the science fiction and technical background to the period between the end of World War Two and the early 1960’s that was reflected in Eagle and inspired his generation’s view of a future which now seems like a dream of a very different parallel universe (Gerry expected to be skiing on Mars by the end of the century like Dan and professor Peabody).
CST has managed the launch of 33 satellites in former Soviet Union countries, the last being the British government satellite TDS-1. Gerry has contributed to interstellar studies over the years and was a member of the Project Daedalus team. An active attendee of science fiction conventions since 1962, he chaired a panel (with Arthur Clarke and Poul Anderson) on the Fermi Paradox at the last UK World Science Fiction Convention in 1979.
Alan Bond, one of the founders of Reaction Engines Ltd., the company developing the HOTOL-inspired SKYLON Spaceplane and its SABRE powerplant, will then continue and enhance this theme.
“Anything seemed possible,” he says of the 1950s, ” and this knowledge was extant amongst the rank and file of the population, and was daily reported in the popular press, not just the specialist journals. Alan is also the renowned leader of the BIS Project Daedaleus project.
“For me, and many of my friends, it was the appearance of this technology in media that reached my home through ‘Dan Dare’ in the Eagle comic, Journey into Space on the radio and Quatermass (especially Quatermass Two and Quatermass and the Pit) on television that had a huge effect on shaping our interests. These were intelligently conceived and written stories which brought in science, technology, sociology, politics and morals. In this talk I shall focus on these three story lines from three very different media and compare what they said and what I, and others, got from them.”
After this introduction there will be authoritative presentations on Eagle in general and the “Dan Dare” strip in particular. The founding and progress of Eagle will be covered by Howard Corn who is the editor of Eagle Times (now in its 29th year), is the quarterly journal of the Eagle Society. The history and evolution of the “Dan Dare” strip will be given by Rod Barzilay , founder of Spaceship Away magazine devoted to publishing new adventures of Dan Dare in the classic style, along with items on the Daily Mirror hero Garth, Jet Ace Morgan and other characters with similar nostalgia appeal.
After lunch, the afternoon will be devoted to a broad range of topics centered on the golden age of Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare and the legacy of Eagle in general. Eric Fernie, Bob Parkinson and others will describe the Frank Hampson solar system, its races, cultures and technologies, and Greta Tomlinson, who was one of Hampson’s team of artists and the model for Professor Peabody, will be pleased to answer questions in a short session.
An important contribution will come from James Bacon, who organised the programme at the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention in London. James will discuss how the image of Dan Dare has developed a mythical dimension in modern multimedia SF.
Many other contributors will be confirmed when the BIS publishes the programme on its website in March.
• Yesterday’s Tomorrow – A British Interplanetary Society one day symposium to celebrate the Eagle comic and the launch of the career of Dan Dare | Tuesday 14th April 27/29 South Lambeth Road, Vauxhall, London, SW8 1SZ. Cost: £40 for BIS and Eagle Society members, £50 for non-members and free for programme participants. To register please click here