Last Updated 29th May 2020
Added: a new member of the cast, Harold Reese, identified; its producer identified
Aired on Radio Luxembourg between July 1951 and May 1956, The Adventures of Dan Dare radio show, based on the first Dan Dare comic story from Eagle, produced it was revealed in 2020, by Harry Alan Towers (aka Peter Welbeck) – which was a revelation to longtime fans who have been trying to document the show for many years.
The series, which ran for 764 episodes over four years, was written by a team of writers, including script editor Geoffrey Webb, who also co-created and wrote Dick Barton – Special Agent and The Archers for the BBC. His sons were avid followers of the show – just like an estimated three million other fans across the UK and beyond, according to one contemporary newspapers article.
Edward J. Mason, who co-created and co-wrote Dick Barton and The Archers, worked on the show with Webb. His credits also include creator of the radio serials The Lady Craved Excitement and What the Butler Saw, both of which were filmed by Hammer Films; and a mystery series, Shadow Man for Radio Luxembourg in 1955. He also wrote for television.
The Adventures of Dan Dare was produced in London by John Glyn-Jones, recorded at Derek Faraday‘s Star Sound Recording Studios and made on acetate discs (and later, on tape) that were then sent to Luxembourg to be broadcast.
The Adventures of Dan Dare was broadcast five nights a week at 19:15 (not seven nights a week as stated on some websites) and was featured in the Eagle.
The show began its run on 2nd July 1951 and ran for five years. The Eagle Times, the magazine of the Eagle Society, notes that listening on a regular basis called for extreme dedication. Reception was adversely affected by atmospheric conditions, interference, poor quality and continuity.
However, none of this put off millions of school boys – and – adults who found that Dan provided a wonderful escape for 15 minutes each evening. The series was a great success and it was always in Radio Luxembourg’s top ten ratings.
“I used to listen to Dan Dare every night as a boy in the early 1950s, as did a number of my friends,” one downthetubes reader recalls.
“It was a frustrating task on the nights of poor reception of Radio Luxembourg, which was often subject to a lot of interference in the winter and sometimes faded almost completely on the medium wave in the summer.”
The origins of The Adventures of Dan Dare (as it was described in the pages of the Radio Luxembourg 208 Magazine) date to early in 1951, when the Beecham Group, owners of drinks company Horlicks, decided to promote the brand on Radio Luxembourg – with whom it had a long relationship, as far back as 1934 when the station ran the Horlicks Tea Time Hour, later retitled Horlicks Picture House in 1937. Beechams engaged advertising agency of J. Walter Thompson to arrange the programme; a 15 minute, weekday serial featuring Dan Dare to be aimed at the 8 to 14 year old age group, arranged under licence with Eagle owners Hulton Press.
Horlicks encouraged young listeners to enrol in the Horlicks Spaceman’s Club, and then marketed a series of related items that could be bought – usually for six pence and a label from a Horlicks jar.
In an article for Eagle Times published in 1990, Philip Harbottle, an avid listener to the show back in the 1950s, notes the major characters in The Adventures of Dan Dare were the same as their Eagle originals – Dan Dare, Digby, Professor Jocelyn Peabody and Space Fleet Controller Sir Hubert Guest. Hower, Hank Hogan and Pierre Lafayette were never featured, but the series did include the Theron President Kalon and Sondar, the friendly Treen, who was now Governor of his people. He frequently accompanied Dan and company on their missions.
The Mekon was his old malign self, and operated from various “secret headquarters” in space and on other worlds, with a loyal band of Treens.
The main differences between the solar system of “Dan Dare” in Eagle and The Adventures of Dan Dare lay in the fact that Mars had a breathable atmosphere, and was inhabited by several Martian races, who seemed to be independent of each other, and of the Earth-Venus alliance, maintaining a position of neutrality. The Martians, Philip recalled in his Eagle Times feature, were never described, but appeared essentially human since, in some stories, Dan and Digby had recourse to switching uniforms with Martian guards, and impersonating them.
Venus also had several races, equally human in appearance, but neither Treen, Theron, nor Atlantine. They also pursued an independent line. “These additions served to increase the scope of the plots and action enormously,” Philip noted. “The acting and casting of the principal characters appeared – to my youthful ears at any rate – to be first rate.” The stories were certainly influence enough for Philip to draw his own adventures based on the series.
Charles Norton published an episode guide to the series in his book Serial Thrillers, released in 2013 (more details of that recommended book below), but the discovery of lost episodes has now helped confirm that author Philip Harbottle‘s contemporary strips based on the adventures he listened to at the time of broadcast, represent a useful checklist of the stories.
His episode listing, based on information from various sources, features here on downthetubes and a straightforward listing of episodes compiled by Jeremy Briggs is here.
Back in 1998, Eagle Times published two articles on the show and listed the following stories, based on the memories of fans at the time.
The first story – “Pilot of the Future” – adapted the Eagle’s Dan Dare· ‘Venus Story’, staying fairly close to the original, which sees Dan travelling to Venus in search of food for a starving Earth and encountering the evil Mekon for the first time.
Other stories included “The Martian Bees“, centring on a hostile race of Martians led by Dorgan and his particularly vicious son, Baxilo, who were breeding swarms of ‘Bizenti’ -large space bees, a story perhaps inspired by the Eagle story, “The Red Moon Mystery”.
“The Mankton Menace” introduced the villain, Perranault, a one-time Scientific Councillor to the World Government Organisation who tried by corruption, to achieve a position of dictatorship over the Earth and was banished to Mars.
“Invaders from Space” (or “Flying Saucers” as it’s titled in the Handbook), saw the age-long mystery of the flying saucers was solved when they landed on the Earth and Dan is pitted against the Altrons whose mining activities threaten Earth.
“The Lost World of Mars” saw the return of Perranault, followed in April by the return of the Mekon in “Revolt on Venus” and a story set on Mercury, that was adapted, in part, from the Eagle story “Marooned on Mercury“, which began on 21st September 1953.
The beginning of 1954 brought a new story, “Attack on the Space Stations“, which was heavily promoted in 208 Magazine. The villain in this story was Spada, from the planet Vultan, who tried to colonise the Earth.
“Sabotage on Venus” was another Mekon story, which told of how the Mekon caused a plague on his home planet by sending a cosmic ray all the way from Jupiter. Dan and company set off for Venus and then shot off to Jupiter once the cause of the problem had been identified.
“Mystery on the Moon” featured an alliance between a renegade Earthman, Schultz and a Treen called Grovix, while “The Automatons” told of a war against an army of robots.
The Adventures of Dan Dare drew to a close when commercial television began to tighten its grip on audiences. The arrival of independent television in the UK, which began broadcasting in September 1955, led the sponsors who’d previously backed Radio Luxembourg turning to television for its advertising.
To date, only four episodes have survived into the modern age, some of poor quality. Further information appears below. In 2018, a downthetubes source kindly provided us with an audio of one from “The Lost World of Mars” story, which you can listen to here, reproduced with the kind permission of the Dan Dare Corporation.
Additional jingles promoting the series and audio relating to the show have also survived and some scripts are known to still exist.
Read on for more information on the quest for other surviving recordings…
RADIO LUXEMBOURG, the famous ‘Two-O-Eight‘
With its English language service, Radio Luxembourg, which had offices at 38 Hertford Street, London, was far more than just a radio station. From its long-wave outset in 1933 to its its final shutdown in 1992, Radio Luxembourg was not only the biggest commercial radio station in Europe, it had a formative influence on generations of listeners. ‘The Station of the Stars‘, the famous ‘Two-O-Eight‘, was the expression of freedom and liberty for a whole generation in Western as well as Eastern Europe, and therefore had a major impact on society, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.
Its English-language service began in 1933, one of the earliest commercial radio stations broadcasting to the UK and Ireland. A forerunner of pirate radio and modern commercial radio in the United Kingdom, it was an effective way to advertise products by circumventing British legislation which until 1973 gave the BBC a monopoly of radio broadcasting on UK territory and prohibited all forms of advertising over the domestic radio spectrum.
In the late 1930s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s, Radio Luxembourg captured very large audiences in Britain and Ireland with its programmes of popular entertainment, despite the signal issues that often plagued listeners from around the country listening in.
The reception problems were down to Radio Luxembourg’s parent company deciding it could make more money using the long wave transmitter for the expanding French service. English programmes were switched to 208 meters Medium Wave and broadcasts were confined to evenings only. Despite background whistles and a fading signal, fans note ‘208‘ became the best known radio frequency until the birth of Radio 1 in the 1960s.
A 350kW medium wave transmitter – relocated from Junglinster to Marnach to provide a better reception in England and Scandinavia – did not go into service until 1956.
It’s believed the cast changed as the series progressed, with some voice artists unknown. We have only listed confirmed cast here – they were, apparently, never identified on air.
11th October 1906 – 17th May 1990
Bob Danvers-Walker announced the show. He’s probably best known as the offscreen voice of Pathé News cinema newsreels during World War Two and for many years afterwards. (Here’s a selection of the Pathe shows he worked on).
Dan Dare – Noel Johnson
28th December 1916 – 1st October 1999
Noel Johnson took on the role of Dan Dare after starring as Dick Barton in Dick Barton – Special Agent for the BBC, replaced by Verner Duncan Carse.
After wartime service in the Royal Army Service Corps, including evacuation from Dunkirk, his Guardian obituary notes he was invalided out, and joined the BBC Repertory Company in 1945. He was the original voice of Dick Barton from 7th October 1946, performing over 300 episodes before quitting in 1949 to pursue a stage career.
In an interview with The Independent in 1998, Johnson, by then living in a small village outside Cardiff, notes he was paid £18 per week but felt that he deserved much more for such a popular character – indeed, perhaps the first actor to play a role to gain a huge fan following. He was also acutely aware the BBC hierarchy regarded the hugely-popular show with disdain and distinctly down market. He would returned to play Dick Barton once more, in a special series in 1972.
Replaced by The Archers, Dick Barton – Special Agent received its final episode, prior to a 1970s revival, in March 1951, just over three months before The Dan Dare Adventures started.
Curiously, while the BBC Light Programme audience knew Johnson was Barton, his obituary in The Guardian notes a clause in his Radio Luxembourg contract compelled his role as Dare be kept secret. He came to feel the Barton image had ultimately spoiled his acting career and preferred to use his real name in the theatre, films and on television.
Later radio work included the BBC Radio 4 dramatic adaptation of A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell, broadcast as 26 one-hour episodes between 1978 and 1981.
His movie career included roles in Frenzy, The First Great Train Robbery, Withnail & I and For Your Eyes Only, and numerous television dramas, including Dixon of Dock Green, Coronation Street, Out of the Unknown, Doomwatch, Colditz, Rumpole of the Bailey, Doctor Who (in the stories The Underwater Menace and Invasion of the Dinosaurs), Inspector Morse and A Touch of Frost, amongst many others.
• There’s a fascinating feature on both Noel and Dick Barton here on West Hampstead Life. Johnson lived in Hampstead, where some schoolboys thought he was a real secret agent!
• There is a short interview with Noel Johnson and his wife Leonora, at his home in Woodchurch Road on Pathe News in 1948. This appears from 2.00 mins to 3.00 mins into the clip.
Digby – John Sharp
Digby was played by John Sharp, (although he has been identified as John Sharpe in the past). The best-known John Sharp whose career fits the names is associated was an actor whose credits spanned theatre, television and film. In 1951, he made an Eagle-related appearance in the film A Case for PC49 as a Desk Sergeant. Later roles include appearances in The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Prisoner, Z-Cars, Thriller, The Sweeney and Lovejoy. He also performed in Charles Dickens TV adaptations across several decades
Sharp’s most notable television appearances was, probably, his a recurring role as Ezra Biggins, an aged, frugal Yorkshire dairy farmer in All Creatures Great and Small.
Professor Jocelyn Peabody – Anne Cullen
1926 – 3rd November 2015
Professor Jocelyn Peabody by actress Anne Cullen, whose credits include The Archers, playing Carol Grey (née Tregorran) for BBC Radio 4. (The character was revived in 2014 played by Eleanor Bron).
The Archers‘ Editor, Sean O’Connor, described the 1950s Carol Grey as “a significant role model for young women”.
Born in 1926 in Maldon, Essex, England her film credits include Murder in the Cathedral (1951), Stand by to Shoot (1953) and Better Than a Lick of Paint (1978). She was married twice, to Monte Crick and Neil Tuson.
Sir Hubert Guest – Ivan Ranson
28th August 1894 – 1st May 1963
downthetubes reader Mike Dean has suggested the character of Sir Hubert Guest was played by the film, stage and TV actor Ivan Samson.
A British stage, film and television actor, Samson appeared regularly in West End plays and from 1920 began appearing in British silent films. He played Viscount de Mornay in I Will Repay and Lord Dudley in The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots. In later sound films, he played roles in the literary adaptations such as The Winslow Boy (1948) and The Browning Version (1951).
His final film appearance was as Admiral Loddon in the 1959 film Libel. He also appeared in television series such as The Teckman Biography, Operation Diplomat and Dixon of Dock Green.
Who Played the Mekon?
The Mekon was voiced by Francis De Wolfe, who went on to play numerous villains on TV and on film, who died in 1984, but one downthetubes reader says the actor playing the deadly Treen leader was Geoffrey Wincott, who played Mr Carter in the Jennings radio series by Anthony Buckeridge.
Across a long career as actor and producer, Wincott also appeared in one of the Dick Barton films inspired by the eponymous radio shows; The Archers; and episodes of the 1953 BBC adaptation of the Agatha Christie short story collection Partners in Crime. He died in 1973.
OTHER CAST MEMBERS
Mike Dean notes that a character in some of the later episodes, Able Spaceman Ginger Watts, was played by David Kossoff, best known for his role as Alf Larkin in hit comedy series The Larkins. He also played Lemmy in the radio version of Charles Chilton’s Journey Into Space.
He was to become father of rock musician Paul Kossoff, guitarist with the band Free. Following Paul’s death in 1976, Kossoff established the Paul Kossoff Foundation which aimed to present the realities of drug addiction to children, and spent the remainder of his life campaigning against drugs.
In an article for an early issue of Eagle Times, it’s noted character actor Howard Marion Crawford, best known for his portrayal of Dr. Watson in the 1954 television adaptation of Sherlock Holme, played many parts, often having a three sided conversation with himself!
Other parts were played by Geoffrey Bond (who wrote the popular “Luck of the Legion” strip for nine years in Eagle), Ralph Richardson, Norman Tilley and Kenneth Williams.
In 2020, Tony Reese, son of actor Harold Reese, contacted downthetubes to inform us that notes in his father’s cash book indicated he was in more than 10 episodes of Dan Dare in 1952 and 1953, and that he was paid for his work by J Walter Thompson – although what role he played is a mystery.
His credits include BBC Sunday-Night Theatre (1950), Softly Softly (1966) and Van der Valk (1972). He was married to stage and radio actress Joan Ireland.
KNOWN EXISTING RECORDINGS OF THE ADVENTURES OF DAN DARE RADIO SHOW
Episodes of The Adventures of Dan Dare were recorded on to what are commonly known as acetate discs (more correctly called lacquer discs), and later on tape. It is possible that even the taped episodes may have been copied to acetate discs for shipment to Luxembourg. Acetate discs are usually made of metal or glass with a coating of some lacquer into which the grooves are cut. They continued to be used quite widely in broadcasting until the early 1960s.
The British Library holds copies of three episodes of the show – two from “The Lost World On Mars” and one from “Under Sentence of Death” titled “Ice Men of Venus”, which, as we reported back in 2012, was recovered during an appeal for the return of lost or missing TV and audio shows in 2011 co-organised by the Kaleidoscope’s website (www.lostshows.com).
The purpose of the appeal was to track down recordings of otherwise lost TV and radio shows that might exist in the lofts, sheds and cupboards of the general public, and was promoted on Radio 4’s PM programme and with a spot on the BBC website. A full list of materials found is listed in this PDF.
Sadly, the recording of Episode 53, from “The Lost World On Mars” is described as “almost completely incomprehensible”.
It’s believed this is the episode that surfaced online back in 2012, the details of the MP3 file citing this as broadcast by Radio Luxembourg on 21st March 1956, a date that suggests it was a repeat broadcast).
One reason the quality is so bad is that, as well as it being recorded with a microphone next to a speaker (or more accurately, it sounds like the microphone is on the other side of the room), is that over the years the person who taped it recopied it from one tape to another several times (possibly with a mic next to a speaker again). One of the times this was done it was recorded at 15/16 speed which is the slowest a reel to reel will go, and that speed was almost never used as its too slow and quality is always bad.
In 2018, a downthetubes source kindly provided us with an audio of another episode for “The Lost World on Mars”, which we have published here on downthetubes with the kind permission of the Dan Dare Corporation. Find out more about the episode here. A copy has been shared with the British Library.
Episodes 75 and 76 from the “Revolt on Venus” story, also known as “Ice Men of Venus” have also survived, but again the quality is mixed. These aired on Radio Luxembourg in early 1952.
Episode 75 is introduced thus by Bob Danvers-Walker: “Establishing magnetic ray machines in the polar regions of Venus, the Mekon, with the assistance of the Ice-Men is causing the Poles to expand. As their great shadow moves across the face of the planet, spaceships are grounded; vital food supplies to the Earth are cut and the country is devastated by synthetic storms. The Theron’s president, Kalon, orders a spaceship to be built that is capable penetrating the cosmic barrier to reach the pole. Meanwhile, as floodwater rises around the Theron factory, where the ‘ship is being assembled, Dan and Sondar visit to inspect progress… “
Episode 76 continues the story.
THE SEARCH FOR OTHER EPISODES CONTINUES
RTL, the former Radio Luxembourg have been kind enough to search their archives for one fan of the show, but copies of the show have never been found there and it is believed they were either destroyed after the broadcast, or when their “sell by date” expired.
However, like Doctor Who fans tracking missing TV episodes, there is a remote possibility copies of the show may exist elsewhere. Eagle, and many of its strips, was republished in many countries including Australia, France, Portugal and Croatia (to name but a few) and the radio show was also broadcast in Australia.
The original scripts were also sent to Spain where they were translated into Spanish and broadcast by Spanish actors. Dan became Diego Valor, a Spanish space hero, who quickly took on a life of his own. His adventures later featured in original Spanish comic strips and in 1958, when his radio adventures ended, he appeared in his own television series.
In Australia, 4AK QLD and 4BK QLD Radio broadcast the show each Monday and Tuesday but so far, part from one episode broadcast in 1954, only one episode has been recovered from down under. Unlike the Biggles radio show, the Australian National Film and Sound Archives does not appear to hold copies, but now fans are trying to find out if the series was ever broadcast elsewhere.
It seems unlikely the show was broadcast in South Africa – as yet, no-one seems to have tracked down South African versions of Eagle comic – but New Zealand is a strong possibility.
Rumours persist that a large number of the Luxembourg episodes exist in private hands.
DAN DARE RADIO SHOW MUSIC
While trying to find the British Library’s listings for the its held Dan Dare episodes, I came across details of the album The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra Volume 3, released by Vocalion in 2003. Listed as “bonus tracks” on the album are three pieces of music used in the radio show.
The Robert Farnon Society web site – created by fans of the Canadian composer, conductor and musical arranger – has a review of the album, explains the tracks are “Radio Location” the opening theme for the show, created by composer and pianist Clive Richardson, and “Commandos” and “Searchlight”, created by Charles Williams – the latter used frequently as links in Dan Dare’s fights with the Mekon and other miscreants.
“Radio Location” was also used as the theme tune for the unconnected TV show produced by Canada’s CBC Television, Space Command, whose cast includes a young James Doohan, better known as Star Trek‘s Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. Only one episode of the show has survived.
The Society says Vocalion included the tracks “just for fun” but hoped that they would provide some happy memories for the generation now rather disparagingly described as ‘silver surfers’.
Unfortunately, the album is not currently available from Vocalion but copies can be found on amazon.co.uk.
Track Listing Information
• COMMANDOS (composed by Charles Williams)
• RADIO LOCATION (composed by Clive Richardson, who died in 1998)
• SEARCHLIGHT (composed by Charles Williams)
“Commandos” also features on Charles Williams: Radio and Television Memories No. 2, which according to this post in 2003 on the Robert Farnon Society web site is only available direct from Evergreen Melodies, PO Box 52, Cheltenham, GL50 1YQ, England – tel. 01242 515156 or online at The CD costs £8.95 including postage; a shorter cassette version is available for £7.50. Non UK residents should enquire about extra postage costs. The album includes “Devil’s Galop”, the Dick Barton theme.
DAN DARE – HORLICKS CONNECTIONS
The Dan Dare Adventures was sponsored by drinks company Horlicks, one of the first companies to realise the potential of the Dan Dare comic strip (and, indeed, a company among the pioneers of commercial radio advertising, also supporting Radio Luxembourg’s daily Horlicks Tea Time Hour, and the Horlicks Picture House at 4.00pm on Sundays on both Radio Luxembourg and Radio Normandy, which featured the well-known stars Vic Oliver, Webster Booth and Helen Raymond, plus the Horlicks All-Star Orchestra.
They encouraged young listeners to enrol in the Horlicks Spaceman’s Club, and then marketed a series of related items that could be bought – usually for six pence and a label from a Horlicks jar.
The Spaceman’s Club items included The Spaceman’s Club Handbook, a Dan Dare Tie, Spacefleet Service Identity Card (featured here on a Tech-Ops History), The Spaceman’s Club Badge (an item proudly sported here by Irish Dan Dare fan Arthur Fields back in 1954, having pestered his Mum to save up for it), the Dan Dare Space Cup (for drinking one’s Horlicks, of course), a periscope and much more.
A model of Dan Dare’s rocket was also offered, based on the Eagle strip was printed on thin card measuring 22″ x 11″ (56cm x 28cm).
In a posting on the Alphadrome forum, which includes images of the original design and instructions, the model was the Leonard True, the designer who produced many classic Dan Dare items.
The post also notes Leonard was commissioned by Horlicks to design a number of their premiums: the Interplanetary Stamp Album, the stamp sets, some Dan Dare bank notes and the art work for the Nulli Secundus Dan Dare Helicopter.
DOWNTHETUBES RADIO LUXEMBOURG DAN DARE ITEMS
• “Dan Dare’s Holy Grail”
2008 report on the continued hunt for episodes of the Dan Dare radio show broadcast by Radio Luxembourg in the 1950s
• Dan Dare Radio Show – Missing Episode surfaces – June 2012
• Dan Dare on the Radio – A Thrilling Radio Serial – June 2013, item by Jeremy Briggs
• Dan Dare Corporation web site: www.dandare.com
• Wiped Web Site: http://wipednews.com
• The web site AntiqueHistory.net has an English language version of the origins of the Spanish version of Dan Dare, which you can read here
• The Eagle Times, magazine of the Eagle Society, has featured items on The Dan Dare Adventures. Ordering and subscription details can be found at eagle-times.blogspot.co.uk
Serial Thrillers by radio researcher Charles Norton, released in 2013, looks at four radio dramas of the 1950s, the BBC’s Dick Barton: Special Agent, Paul Temple, and Journey Into Space plus Radio Luxembourg’s Dan Dare.
With interviews with those in front of and behind the microphones along with information from the BBC Archive and contemporary magazines, Charles has put together an in-depth history for the four radio dramas as well as detailed episode listings of each.
• Serial Thrillers (softcover, 280 pages, ISBN 976-1-900203-45-6) is published by Kaleidoscope Publishing at a cover price of £16.99. It is available from the Kaleidoscope website and from amazon.co.uk
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Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation
With thanks to various sources and the invaluable assistance of Adrian Perkins, Jeremy Briggs and Richard Sheaf