The production team on BBC daytime drama Father Brown had some great fun creating comic-related props for the recently-broadcast Season Five episode “Fire in the Sky“, not only creating a scene from a fictional B-movie but also mixing some genuine 1950s children’s comics (and some toys) with some specially created items for the show, including a movie poster based on the cover of a short-lived Marvel anthology comic.
Based on the crime stories by G.K, Chesterton, in “Fire in the Sky” Father Brown (played by Mark Williams) finds his divine inspiration is called upon when the village of Kembleford apparently comes under threat of an alien invasion. It was an unusual departure from the usually more straightforward whodunnits, with tips of the hat not only to the Flying Saucer mania of the 1950s but the hysteria created by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast of the 1930s, too.
Writer Kit Lambert and the production team successfully pulled off the alien elements – including a UFO landing site and flying UFO! – on a minimal budget, mainly with clever lighting and suggestion. But the BBC design team headed up by art directors Graham Dance and Becky Gilbanks also created at least two specific props just for the show – a Monsters from Mars film poster and a Legends of the Cosmos comic, which featured alien symbols and a trail for a build your own flying saucer feature.
While, strangely, given the early 1950s setting of the drama, copies of Eagle were not in evidence among the collection of young alien-obssesed Nikhil Prasad (Yadav Ganatra), DC Thomson’s long-running Adventure was. Both he and his sister were living on a tight budget on the story, so perhaps its lower price was considered a factor.
Adventure comic was first published in 1921 and continued until 1961. For me, the comic is notable for featuring early work by Ron Smith, better known to downthetubes readers, perhaps, for his work on 2000AD and as co-creator of DC Thomson’s King Cobra superhero character. It looks like some of his work features in the episode.
As for that Monsters from Mars film poster – there’s some interesting history to its origins. There is, of course, no real Monsters from Mars film, beyond the lurid scene featured in Father Brown, but the poster was on display…
While the production team made some effort to ensure the major SF props weren’t too anachronistic, and you might think this poster is inspired by 1950s films such as Invaders from Mars, it’s actually based on art originally created by the brilliant Frank Kelly Freas – featured on the cover the first issue of Marvel’s 1970s SF anthology Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction.
The anthology title featured original stories and literary adaptations by writers and artists including Frank Brunner, Howard Chaykin, Gene Colan, Gerry Conway, Richard Corben, Bruce Jones, Gray Morrow, Denny O’Neil, Roy Thomas, and others, as well as non-fiction articles about science fiction and interviews with such authors as Alfred Bester, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven, and A. E. van Vogt, some of whom had their works adapted in the comic.
You’ll notice the Father Brown design team have taken some liberties with Freas’ art, “flopping” the image completely and changing the human figures in the foreground to a single character. Strangely, Freas’ art was amended for its original US publication, too: the human figures on the cover, and other elements, published in 1979, are the work on John Romita.
The title’s editor Roy Thomas came clean on the changes in Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #3, claiming the Kelly Freas/John Romita collaboration was a team-up “made necessary when a few last-minute changes were dictated and the fabulous Mr. Freas was off at an SF convention, picking up still another award. But just for the record, here’s the original version.”
Whether that’s the real reason or not, we’ll perhaps never know, but Freas cover did feature on the cover of the Australian edition of the same title and comics expert Daniel Best has featured that version on his web site on comics Down Under here, suggesting possible reasons for the change.
If anyone has further information on who did the artwork for this episode of Father Brown, please feel free to comment below!
It’s good to see that Father Brown writer Kit Lambert clearly enjoyed writing “Fire in the Sky” as much as viewers did watching it. Here’s his tweet of the show…
— Kit Cox (@JackUnion1885) January 18, 2017