BBC’s daytime drama “Father Brown” rocked by alien invasion – and some comics-inspired fun!

Nikhil Prasad (Yadav Ganatra) reads Legends of the Cosmos in the Father Brown episode "Fire in the Sky"
Nikhil Prasad (Yadav Ganatra) reads Legends of the Cosmos in the Father Brown episode “Fire in the Sky”
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.

Father Brown - Fire in the Sky: Legends of the Cosmos comic - cover
Detail of the Legends of the Cosmos comic created for the Father Brown episode

Father Brown - Fire in the Sky: Legends of the Cosmos comic
Inside Legends of the Cosmos – a warning from the alien “Droxidians”…

Father Brown - Fire in the Sky: Legends of the Cosmos comic
This page mixes genuine old advertisements with a created “Build Your Own Flying Saucer’ trailer
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.

Father Brown - Fire in the Sky - UFO landing
Dim-witted Inspector Mallory (Jack Deam) has the alien’s supposed landing site pointed out to him

Father Brown - Fire in the Sky - UFO landing
Aliens in Kembleford!
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.

Father Brown - Fire in the Sky - Adventure comics
DC Thomson’s Adventure comic featured in the Father Brown episode Fire in the Sky

Father Brown - Fire in the Sky - Adventure comics
DC Thomson’s Adventure comic featured in the Father Brown episode Fire in the Sky
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.

Here’s the cover of an issue from 1958 featuring his striking work. (Colin Noble documented his early career fro us a while back – you can read the articles here, here and here).

The cover of Adventure Issue 1731 (cover dated 22nd March 1958) featuring the work of 2000AD artist Ron Smith
The cover of Adventure Issue 1731 (cover dated 22nd March 1958) featuring the work of 2000AD artist Ron Smith
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…

Based on Frank Kelly Freas' cover for Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1, not only was a Monsters from Mars poster on display, Kembleford's villagers even got to see the film in the local hall

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.

The US cover of Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction by Frank Kelly Freas. The human figures are the work of John Romita - the result of editorial changes
The US cover of Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction by Frank Kelly Freas. The human figures are the work of John Romita – the result of editorial changes
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.

Frank Kelly Freas original cover for Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1 was featured in the titles' third issue
Frank Kelly Freas original cover for Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1 was featured in the titles’ third issue
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!

Father Brown: Fire in the Sky is available to view on iPlayer

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…

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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