Article First Published 20th May 2007 | Last Updated: Wednesday 8th February 2017
Ian Wheeler outlines the history of one of Britain’s most fondly-remembered space heroes…
Long before Doctor Who took off in his TARDIS, British school children thrilled to the adventures of another space hero, Colonel Dan Dare, in the pages of Eagle, the Rolls Royce of British comics which graced news-stands throughout the land from 1950 to 1969. Eagle was the brainchild of the Rev Marcus Morris, a clergyman who disliked the violence he had seen in American comics and who created Eagle to entertain and educate the nation’s children, specifically boys.
Eagle featured a mix of features and both text and comic strip stories, but Dan Dare was to prove to be by far the most durable character to emerge from the publication.
The “Dan Dare” strip was created by artist Frank Hampson, who for many remains its definitive artist, but received little financial reward for his efforts, which caused him considerable upset throughout his life. Other artists to work on Dare included Don Harley, Keith Watson and Frank Bellamy. Bellamy, who would later become well-known for his work on TV Century 21 and his Doctor Who illustrations in the Radio Times, radically re-designed many of the Dan Dare characters and hardware during his tenure on the strip.
Appearing in Eagle from Issue One, Dan Dare was a space pilot of the future who had the valour and British-ness of a 1940s Spitfire pilot. Set in the 1990s, the long-running storylines of the strip saw Dan and his Interplanet Space Fleet colleagues visit faraway planets such as Venus and encounter numerous alien baddies, most notably the evil green Mekon and his people, the Treens.
Dan was aided in his adventures by a group of close friends and allies which included his faithful batman, the Wigan-born Albert Fitzwilliam Digby, and Sir Hubert Guest, Controller of Space Fleet. Whilst Eagle was aimed unashamedly at boys, there was a strong female character present in the form of Professor Jocelyn Peabody, whose quick thinking and intelligence would help Dan get out of danger on many an occasion.
Many Eagle fans feel that the comic went into decline in the 1960s and the Dan Dare strip was downgraded as the years went on, disappearing from the front cover, no longer being printed in colour and (from 1967) suffered the final insult of appearing only as reprints of earlier stories. Eagle bowed out in 1969, when it was merged with Lion.
In the 1970s, after a proposed new Eagle title failed to get off the ground with Dan in charge of “Eagle Force”, a radically different version of Dan Dare appeared in the scinece fiction comic 2000AD. This version of the character has arguably polarised fan opinion more than any other incarnation of Dan Dare but it is not without its supporters. Featuring scripts by Pat Mills and radically different artwork by Massimo Belardinelli, (replaced later by Dave Gibbons), the story featured a Dan who had awoken from suspended animation to once again fight evil in the universe. It was a bold attempt but failed to hit the mark and was, perhaps mercifully, blasted out of existence.
IPC Magazines launched a new version of Eagle in 1982, combining traditional artwork stories with a new type of strip told in photographs, like the romantic adventures appearing in girls magazines of the time. Doomlord was the most popular story in the new format, whilst a new version of Dan Dare, the great great grandson of the original space hero, dominated the traditional artwork stories.
Drawn by Gerry Embleton, brother of Ron Embleton, also a comics legend, the new Dare was slated by traditionalists but loved by the audience it was intended for — the school children of 1982. The story went from strength to strength when Scottish artist Ian Kennedy took over the reins, but sadly went into decline in the late 1980s as a succession of replacement artists somehow failed to nail the essence of the character.
In desperation, the producers of Eagle brought back the original Dan Dare, drawn by one of the strip’s original artists, Keith Watson. The revival was a success and other artists such as David Pugh made a noble attempt to run with the baton before the New Eagle finally folded in the mid-1990s.
Prior to the cessation of Eagle, a highly-stylised version of the character, entitled simple Dare, appeared in the comic magazine Revolver. Written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Rian Hughes, the story was a satire of 1980s British politics and, whilst short-lived, developed a loyal following amongst comic fans who still rate it highly today.
There were attempts to get a new version of Dan Dare off the ground in 1996 when artist and Jeff Hawke newspaper strip creator Sydney Jordan provided a new Dare story called Remembrance for the newly published The Planet on Sunday newspaper but the publication sadly lasted only one issue.
Now defunct, Virgin Comics also published a Dan Dare limited series for the US market. Written by Garth Ennis with art by Gary Erskine, the story centres on an older Dan Dare, once a hero who had brokered peace with alien races, pushed the frontiers of space, and saved the planet from total annihilation… repeatedly. But now, his Space Fleet has disbanded, the United Nations has crumbled, his friends scattered to the solar winds. Britain is once again the world power, but Dare, disillusioned and disappointed in his once-precious home country, has quietly retired.
But there’s troubling mustering in Deep Space. The H.M.S Achilles is picking up strange signals when, suddenly, an enormous fleet of hostile ships ambushes the destroyer. As the crew struggles to stay alive, they realize with horror that the hostiles have brought a weapon of unimaginable power. Dan Dare, pilot of the future, has been called out of retirement…
New adventures featuring the classic incarnation feature in Spaceship Away, a professionally-published fanzine founded by Eagle fan Rod Barzilay and now edited by Des Shaw, which features new Dan Dare strips and artwork by, amongst others, original Eagle and Dan Dare artist Don Harley.
In 2014, Bosnia-based Print Media did some work on a new Dan Dare comic, based on a re-working of the original series by John Freeman but with an all-new character dynamic and set in the late 21st Century. Joe Pimentel and John Ridgway provided art for an eight page comic and Gian Danton worked on some longform plots.
Although the project foundered, some of John’s development work was incorporated into the background for the Dan Dare Audio Adventures released by B7 Media, announced in 2015 by B7 Media. The initial series, launched in late 2016 starring Ed Stoppard, comprises six episodes. (More information below).
In 2016, Titan Comics announced it was working on a new Dan Dare comic, to be published in 2017, edited by David Leach.
• Read our checklist of Dan Dare comic stories published to date, compiled by John Freeman, Jeremy Briggs, Richard Sheaf and Steve Winders
Famous Dan Dare Fans
Actors: Colin Baker (the Sixth ‘Doctor Who’), John Cleese (writer, actor and tall person), Ronnie Corbett (actor and comedian – he wore his Eagle badge on The Two Ronnies) Michael Crawford (actor), Dawn French (comdeienne, actor), Ross Kemp (actor), Lenny Henry (comedian and actor), Terry Jones (actor and director), Michael Palin (Actor),
Artists: Chris Achilleos (artist), Gerald Scarfe (artist and cartoonist – in an interview in the Guardian Scarfe recalled: “At 16, I won a drawing competition in the Eagle. David Hockney was runner-up.”)
Celebrities: Aldo Zilli (celebrity chef)
Entrepeneurs: Richard Branson (founder of Virgin: “Dan Dare is a heroic, thoughtful and fiercely independent character; I was an avid reader of his epic journeys.”), James Dyson (well-known vacuum cleaner salesman: “As a child, I pored over Eagle magazine cut-aways that delved into the workings of everything from Bloodhound missiles to offshore oil rigs.”)
Politicians: Ken Livingstone (first Mayor of London)
Radio and TV Personalities: Paul Gambaccini (radio DJ), Des Lynam (sports presenter),Paul Ross (journalist, radio presenter), Jonathan Ross (DJ, chat show host and general comics fan), Peter Sissons (news reader)
TV and Film Producers: Gavin Scott, (creator of Sci Fi Channel’s The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne and the movie Small Soldiers and adapter of The Mists of Avalon and The Borrowers)
The Dan Dare Corporation
The Dan Dare Corporation Limited owns the global media rights to the Eagle comic and the comic strip “Dan Dare”. The company also owns the rights to several other comic strips published in The Eagle, e.g. “Ghost Squad”, “Computer Warrior”, “Doomlord”, “Manix”, “Storm Force” and “Ultimate Warrior”.
The book rights for Dan Dare are handled by Gordon Wise at Curtis Brown Group Ltd and merchandising products by Copyrights Group Limited, a Chorion company.
• See our 2009 News Story: “Chorion Secures Rights to Dan Dare“
Dan Dare’s Audio Adventures
Spaceship Away! Dan Dare on Radio Luxembourg
The popularity of Dan Dare and a radio series from Radio Luxembourg also appeared, running for five years from 1951, five times a week and was sponsored by Horlicks.
Noel Johnson, who had played the role of Dick Barton on BBC Radio, played Dan Dare on Radio Luxembourg in the 1950s. Johhson died in 1999. Rumours persist that a large number of the Luxembourg episodes exist in private hands, but only two are in the public domain.
The Spanish Dan Dare, Diego Valor
The Spanish Dan Dare, Diego Valor, appears to have enjoyed much greater popularity on the radio than as a comic strip. The success of the radio show was consequently projected to other media including comics, but the radio version came first.
• The web site AntiqueHistory.net has an English language version of the origins of this Spanish version of Dan Dare, which you can read here
BBC Radio 4: Voyage to Venus
From 19 April to 10 May 1990, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a four-part adaptation of Voyage to Venus, the original Dan Dare story from Eagle. Actor Mick Ford played Dan Dare and Terence Alexander, best known to TV audiences for his appearances in Bergerac, played Sir Hubert Guest.
Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures
Inspired by the original Eagle comic strips, B7 Media’s dramatic new audio version of Dan Dare launched in 2016.
The Cast for the first six episodes are:
Ed Stoppard – The Pianist, Joy Division, Brideshead Revisited and Youth – has been cast as the intrepid ‘pilot of the future’ Colonel Dan Dare. He’s joined by Geoff McGivern as Digby (McGivern is best known to science fiction fans as the original Ford Prefect in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Heida Reed as Professor Jocelyn Peabody.
Raad Rawi, known for roles in Spy (2015), The Devil’s Double (2011) and Traitor (2008) features as Dan Dare’s arch nemesis, the Mekon, an alien leader plagued by Dare’s loyal ally and Treen resistance fighter, Sondar, voiced by Bijan Daneshmand.
Completing the regular cast as Space Fleet boss Sir Hubert Guest is Michael Cochrane, a familiar face, and voice, who has appeared in many popular television dramas, and most recently can be heard in Dan Dare guest star Nicholas Briggs’ acclaimed audio reboot of The Prisoner starring Mark Elstob.
B7 Media’s Dan Dare Audio Adventures offers a distinctly 21st century take on the space adventure hero first brought to life in Eagle comic in the 1950s. Other guest actors in this first season include Jake Maskall (EastEnders, The Royals), Hugh Fraser (Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Sharpe), Nicholas Briggs(Doctor Who, Torchwood), Noof McEwan (Vera, Leave to Remain), Jonathan Rhodes (M.I. High, Beacon 77, Deadpan Valentine), Kelly Burke (The Blind Man) and Dean Harris (The Fourth Arm, Howards’ Way,Bad Boyes).
Inspired by the original Eagle comic strips, the all-new Dan Dare audio adventures are being directed by Andrew Mark Sewell (The Martian Chronicles, Blake’s 7) and produced by Simon Moorhead (Luna, Mirrormask). Former Doctor Who Magazine and Marvel Comics editor, John Freeman, is attached as consultant to the series.
Dan Dare on TV
It was perhaps inevitable that a character as popular as Dan would make it on to television screens. There was an aborted attempt at a Dan Dare series by ATV and Zenith in the 1980s, but a CGI series, produced first by Netter Digital then by Foundation Imaging, appeared in 2002.
Poor scheduling in the UK was one of many possible factors which resulted in only one series being made. Dan Dare traditionalists were again critical of this new version, but the series featured deliciously retro designs and for my money at least was a fun programme which preserved at least some elements of the original Dan Dare character.
Dan Dare on TV The first serious attempt to get Dan Dare on television was made by ATV, one of the old ITV companies, in the early 1980s.
According to a press release at the time, the series would have been produced by American Leon Clifton (who had produced Evel Knievel’s show at Wembley when the motorcyclist had famously attempted to jump 13 buses) and written by Phil Redmond, now well-known for creating Brookside and Grange Hill. Actor James Fox was in line to play Dan Dare, although New Avengers star Gareth Hunt was apparently also in the running. Likely Lads actor Rodney Bewes had apparently been lined up to play Digby.
Sadly, the project collapsed due to lack of finance but special effects wizard Martin J Bower who was to have worked on the series later commented that it would have been ‘ an unmitigated disaster’!
There are some interesting reference sites: click here for a DownTheTubes feature adapted from the Eagle Flies Again fanzine on this proposed show
• Mike Cosford has put two of his background designs for the show online. He’s worked extensively in design and layout for commercials for the last 15 years, creating backgrounds, colour visuals, and storyboards.
• Model maker Martin J. Bower has put some of his model designs on his fascinating web site. Bowers was a regular contributor of model photographs to various comics in the past; he’s one of the most highly prolific model makers and designers to the film, TV, advertising and publishing industry. From 1969 to the present day, he has so far produced almost 800 professional works.
Dan Dare fan David Britton tells me the models featured were made by Martin Bower in the early 1980’s for Alan Vince, a long-time fan and friend of Frank Hampson. “I acquired them from Alan, eight years ago and they have been shown in a “Spacefleet Headquarters” display cabinet at the Eagle Exhibitions. The next time and probably the last, will be at the Museum of Science and Industry Manchester from the end of September 2003 to mid January 2004. The Dan Dare exhibition will be partner to the Mission to Mars exhibition and we will incorporate the British Space programme 1955 to 1971.”
• Wakefield Carter has compiled a fascinating guide to this aborted series which includes contributions from Brian Bolland and others on this site: www.2000ad.nu/spacefleet/atv/
A second attempt to get Dan Dare on to TV screens was made in 1991 by Zenith, the company behind Inspector Morse.
Robert Bathurst was lined up to play Dare and a short pilot directed by John Henderson of Spitting Image fame, co-starring Geoffrey Hughes as Digby and Michael Medwin as Sir Hubert Guest was made in 1991. Sadly, the project was not taken any further. Coronation Street/Heartbeat star Hughes was reportedly much as disappointed, as he was an Eagle fan.
Parts of the pilot were broadcast in an ITV documentary Future Perfect.
Dan Dare: The Animated Series
Dan Dare finally made it onto TV in the twenty-first century the form of a slick, 26 part CGI series made by the Dan Dare Corporation. Traditionalists were horrified when Carry On Star actor Julian Holloway was hired to voice Digby as a Cockney rather than a Northerner, and although the show was not a success in the UK it still has plenty of followers internationally, particularly in Spanish language countries of South America.
Dan Dare: The Animated Show
Episodes: 26 x 22 mins (first 6 with effects by NetterDigital, 20 by Foundation Imaging, now Neo F/X. FI are creditted for all episodes – they ‘tidied up’ the first 6).
All the stories are two-parters, so there are 13 stories in total. The series was bought by Channel 5 in the UK and also screens in South America on Fox. Six episodes of Dan Dare – Pilot Of The Future were released on DVD in 2003. In March 2003, einsiders.com claimed Columbia TriStar and Dan Dare Corp. are developing a feature based on this animated TV series.
The first two episodes introduces the characters (via a brief version of the first Venus story) and deals with the creation of Space Fleet and how Dan became a colonel.
Also of interest is the Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future Series Bible (Word file), again an item not intended as promotional material, but a guide created by fan Andrew Paul to the characters and universe involved in the TV series. This file offers an insight into the origin of the series, and it should be noted that some things were changed during the two years of production. However, this is still a great insight into how the project started.
Effects artist Rowsby wrote an interesting page about the production of the show, but it isn’t on his current site, so you’ll have to make do with this version (without images) on the Internet Archive.
Peter Profetto‘s Dan Dare page on his Digital Treats site had by far the most stunning spacecraft visuals from the show but again, this is now only available, in an incomplete form, through the Internet Archive.
Digital artist Chris Manbe also posted some clips from the show on his web site, but the site is again only partly archived. He was part of the Foundation Imaging team that worked on the series, having taken the show on board from the defunct Netter Digital. 3D graphic
Larry Schultz similarly posted some images on his Splinegod site (archived here). Dan Ritchie was another Dan Dare animator: he created various Lightwave renders for the show, as did Richard Khoo, but his site is no longer live.
Jose A. Perez. worked on the show as a modeller and texture painter. (Perez has also worked on Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Cut and Enterprise). This is another ‘dead’ site, but some of his model work is on the archive of his site from 2003.
Roger Borelli was the Supervisng Character Artist on the show who went on to work for Digital Domain where heworked on several commercials. He’s now working for Disney TV Animation modeling Characters, props, and sets.
Bob Forward was the highly-regarded producer on the show and mentions it on his site. He’s a writer, producer and story editor whose credits also include Beast Wars and SkyJammers. His credits include freelance writer on shows shuch as X-Men: Evolution and Stargate SG-1 animated show.
Dan Dare Merchandise
Dan Dare’s success in Eagle lead to many items of merchandise being produced and several spin-offs down the years…
Dan Dare Spoofs
• The most fondly-remembered Dan Dare ‘spoof’ is probably “Danny Dare”, sub-titled “He’s Dan Dare’s Number One Fan”, which featured in WHAM! comic in the 1960s, initially drawn by Leo Baxendale with inserts of ‘real’ Dan Dare drawn by Bruce Cornwall and Don Harley amongst others. It has never been reprinted. An article by Jeremy Briggs on the strip features on Steve Holland’s excellent Bear Alley site.
• The satirical magazine Private Eye ran a parody of Dan Dare called “Dan Dire”, lampooning Labour leader Neil Kinnock, in the 1980s and The Times would later run a strip by political cartoonist Peter Brookes called ‘Dan Blair; Pilot for the Foreseeable Future’ which took the mickey out of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
• A less political send-up of the Dare character appeared in the form of “Dan Barton” by writer John Freeman and artist Andrew Chiu in the Eagle Flies Again comics fanzine from 2003 to 2006, which has been published online on the digital comics platform, Tapastic.
The Dan Dare Theme Park
Plans to build a Dan Dare theme park in the UK came to naught, but Fingertip Fabrications apparently created a design for it. The page it featured on is only available via the Internet Archive, and the image first appears in 2001.
Dan Dare Artwork
London’s Science Museum displays several original Dan Dare boards on display in an area entitled `Defiant Modernism 1930-1968′. The boards, from 1951 and 1953, are part of those purchased by the Museum at the 1993 Christie’s auction house sale. Entry to the Museum is free.Dan Dare Fan Sites
Fan: The Dan Dare Story
Detailed history of the character with a huge amount of information – over 100 pages. The site also features information on Eagle comic.
Webmaster: Nicholas Hill
Fan: Dan Dare Net
This website is intended to provide an introduction to Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future in what the author hopes is an enjoyable and informative manner. The site includes a complete history of the character, images, plus a comprehensive list of related web links. There’s also a range of fully interactive “fun stuff” (games, puzzles and toys, some with a Dan Dare theme, some without.
Having run out of server space over at www.dan-dare.net, this ‘sister’ site is a “brief introduction to Dan Dare” site, with the .net site being the full-monty “interactive Dan Dare” site. There are some major image scans that aren’t on the web anywhere else, plus some more fun and games along the lines of those at the .net site.
The owner of this site, a tribute to the work of Frank Hampson, is posting illustrations from various sources so there is much new-to-the-web material to see.
Fan: The Spanish Dan Dare
The Spanish Dan Dare, Diego Valor, appears to have enjoyed much greater popularity on the radio than as a comic strip. The success of the radio show was consequently projected to other media including comics. And, of course, the radio version came first.
Fan: Dan Dare Info
The Eagle Comic was reprinted around the world, in many formats and many languages, yet information concerning this phenomenon has never been assembled in one place before. This site offers a look at these reprints by country and try to define the print runs and years of publication, and any other oddities that turn up, such as the “Great US Stamp Mystery”.
Dan Dare Re-Imagined
In 2013, DownTheTubes ran a competition to re-imagine Dan Dare for the 21st Century and all the entries are posted here on Flickr
Ministry of Space
Created by Warren Ellis and Chris Moore, there are plenty of Dan Dare references in this SF tale set in a univese where Britain wins the space race.
The script for the first issue is available from Warren Ellis’s official web site and makes a few Dan Dare references for the styling (Rich Text Format document)
Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation