Flight into the Future
Writer: Don Freeman
Artist: Steve Dowling/John Allard
Published: 7/7/52 – 25/10/52 (L160 – L255)
Number of Episodes: 96
As Lumiere is piloting Garth, Smitz, and the two girls into the year 19,520 in the space-time machine of his rival, General Ratablan has already unwittingly arrived there in Lumiere’s stolen time-globe.
Garth’s party materialises on a sun-kissed beach. As they emerge they see three very happy young children playing on the sands. They show no sign of fear of strangers, and when questioned by Garth confirm that the year is 19,520 “by the old reckoning.” They run off to “fetch Great Gran… Mother’s gone to Venus!”
A few moments later, a beautiful woman arrives in a flying car, and explains that she is looking after her grandchild’s children while their parents “are spreading peace in the planets.”
The woman is not surprised when Garth tells her they have travelled from the past. She informs them that “a poor madman” had recently arrived, and they realise that she is talking about Ratablan. She offers to take Karen and Dawn on a tour in her ‘jetabout’ whilst the men report themselves to “the District Welfare Officer.”
They enter a nearby futuristic building, where the ‘Welfarer’ – an apparently young man – is awaiting them, watching their arrival on his desk televiewer screen. He remarks that they seem to be “more reasonable than your forerunner – you are not armed with explosive toys as he is.” He explains future mankind has reduced life to its essentials – they live in tune with “the eternal verities – love, beauty and kindness.” The climate is controlled, and youth and beauty are preserved into old age. War has been abolished, and Earth is trying to spread the doctrine of peace among the other planets… a perfect welfare state.
The Welfarer tells them that when Ratablan had learned he was not in his own time he had become somewhat unhinged, and tried to claim the future for Boravia. He takes them to see Ratablan in the hope that they might be able to help him.
They find General Ratablan strutting about in his military uniform in a world of his own imagination. He is armed, and on seeing Garth and Lumiere opens fire. However the Welfarer raises his arm and some mysterious force deflects the bullets into the air. Garth grapples with the half-crazed general and disarms him. The Welfarer decides that Ratablan is incurable, being not so much mad as simply wicked: as such he must be isolated. He summons two men and instructs them to remove Ratablan to “the island of exiles.”
As Ratablan is escorted from the room he makes a desperate appeal to Smitz to join him. Smitz has a moment of struggle and then yields to his years of indoctrination and training, and joins Ratablan. The Welfarer orders that their time-sphere shall be sent with them, and if they choose to use it to escape, so much the better.
The Welfarer tells Lumiere that his own time-globe has been recovered, and is now in the building: they are free to use it and return to their own time. But Lumiere asks they be allowed to stay, to learn more of this future age. The Welfarer explains that there is no government as such, but that they are directed by a voluntary Council of Elders with a Chairman – ‘the Wise One.’ However, the Chairman is presently in space, on a peace tour to other planets.
Meanwhile, Karen and Dawn are relaxing with “Grannie” on the holiday beach. She introduces them to her son – Baldur, a great athlete. Noting his fine physique, Karen remarks that he should meet Garth. Garth and Lumiere are at that moment returning to the beach, accompanied by the Welfarer. They are using a moving road, with Garth electing to run alongside. As they arrive, they see the time-sphere being airlifted to the island of exile.
Karen introduces Garth to Baldur, and in a friendly throwing contest, Garth far outdistances Baldur. The Welfarer questions them as to how they would like to spend their time, whilst awaiting the return of the Wise One from space; they are free to pursue whatever are their interests, whilst staying in Great Grandma’s holiday home. Lumiere elects to inspect the nearby research laboratories; the girls and Garth have chosen pleasure and sport, and so Baldur is appointed their guide on a holiday tour of Europe.
The Bovarians on the island of exile are startled by the arrival of their time-sphere, being lowered from a hovering flyer. As its two crewmen land, Ratablan – instead of escaping into time – elects to stay and pursue his sinister plan for conquering the future for Boravia.
Baldur conducts Garth and the girls (now fitted out in attractive futuristic costumes) to an ‘atomic transference depot’ – a matter transmitter. They are disintegrated and instantly reassembled at a receiver in the Alps in Europe, where eliminating trials for the Olympic Games are in progress.
Garth tales part in a futuristic ‘ski-skimming trial’. Wearing special skis, he skis down a snow-covered mountain side and finished by skimming over a lake. He records a new record time. To celebrate, Baldur takes them to a ‘spring dance’ that night. Another futuristic innovation – the dancers cavort acrobatically on a giant trampoline!
While Garth and the girls amuse themselves on holiday, on the isle of exile, Ratablan is successfully corrupting the two guards with his anachronistic ideas of power and their need to liberate themselves from “the tyrannical power of the so-called Wise One”.
Eventually Garth’s party is growing bored of winter sports, so Baldur next takes them – this time by rocket ship – to an area of the Sahara that has been made fertile by climatic control, and used for ‘sand sports’. Here, artificial wind machines drive ‘land yachts’ at colossal speed across vast areas of sand moistened by water piped from the Mediterranean and Baldur takes Karen ‘gliding’, flying bat-like in double harness. But Garth is growing restless, feeling a need for action to some real purpose, rather than just fun and games.
Meanwhile, the Welfarer has been uneasily watching Ratablan’s activities on his televiewer. He decides to take his personal flyer and investigate for himself. When he questions the two guards they tell him they are just ‘humouring’ Ratablan, but the Welfarer senses they are lying. He consults Lumiere, who tells him – after watching Ratablan on the televiewer, drilling his new troops – that they have undoubtedly been corrupted. The worried Welfarer admits that whilst the world is prepared for any outside planetary attack, they are not prepared for violence within the state. Especially worrying is the fact that the whole world is dependent on the ‘Master Ray’, a vast machine broadcasting power worldwide. If Ratablan should tamper with that…! He decides to recall Garth to deal with him.
The Welfarer broadcasts to the two guards on the isle of exile, telling them that they are to be recalled. New guards are despatched in a “subskimma”, a futuristic submarine. But Ratablan persuades the original guards to distract the newcomers when they arrive, so that he and Smitz can knock them unconscious, and then they capture the captain and his craft.
Baldur – having been contacted by the Welfarer – tells Garth that he must return as a matter of urgency. Karen and Dawn offer to return with him. They take the first stage of their journey by rocket plane. Meanwhile, General Ratablan is heading back to the English coast in the captured submarine. Garth’s rocket touches down at the Alpine Resort’s Atomic Transference depot, but Baldur finds that the depot is busy with returning holiday makers, and they must wait until the following morning.
On learning that Garth is held up in the Alps, the Welfarer decides to send Lumiere in person to bring him back as quickly as possible.
Ratablan’s craft surfaces at the coastal resort, and ploughs up onto the beach. His ‘shock troops’ leap out and begin to attack everyone at the resort who resists them as they make for the Welfarer’s headquarters – the first time there has been conflict in a thousand years. At great Grandma’s holiday home, her three great-grandchildren are watching the exciting events on the beach through the window. On seeing the Welfarer’s jetabout (with Lumiere aboard) taking off into the sky, they run out of the house “to see the fun.”
Ratablan orders his men to snatch the children, who may be useful as hostages. Great Grandma tries to stop them, but is brutally knocked aside. Ratablan bursts into the Welfarer’s office and captures him – but only after the Welfarer had contacted the Wise One by radio and warned him what was happening.
Ratablan then goes to the control board of the ‘Master Ray’ and, using his scientific knowledge, disables it, turning off the broadcast of power world-wide – just as Lumiere is being disintegrated for his journey to the Alps. Lumiere is trapped in a state of ‘suspended disintegration’!
Next morning Garth is roused by an agitated Baldur who informs him that the broadcast power has mysteriously failed. They cannot now use the transference depot, and all forms of transport are similarly disabled across the entire European region. Garth suspects that the Master Ray has been sabotaged and resolves to return across Europe to the English channel by any physical means possible – on foot if need be.
Meanwhile, across the channel, the Welfarer’s building is being besieged by an angry crowd. They are addressed from the roof by Smitz, using a megaphone. When he informs the crowd that the Welfarer is a prisoner and that General Ratablan is now their new Leader, this announcement is initially greeted with derisive laughter – until Smitz adds that if any hand is raised against Ratablan, then the three captive children will be hanged! The children, their necks in nooses, are paraded in view on the roof. The crowd are instructed to enter the Welfarer’s building one by one, and declare their allegiance to the new regime. Ratablan then prepares to address the cowed crowd, with details of his new regime.
In Europe, Garth and his companions are racing across the Alps using ski-skimmas. When Dawn suffers a fall, Garth leaves her behind at a rest chalet. The rest of the party press on, switching to horses when leaving the snow. Eventually both Karen and her horse are exhausted, and she, too, is left behind, as Garth and Baldur continue towards the coast. But on reaching the shoreline, Garth’s hope that they can cross the channel using a sail boat is dashed. The atomic blowers used to provide wind for their regattas are out of action, and there is no natural wind that night. Garth unhesitatingly plunges into the sea attempting to swim the channel, leaving an admiring Baldur on the shoreline, gazing after him.
Meanwhile, Ratablan taunts the captive Welfarer, telling him that he has now gained power by disrupting all services and recruiting the impressionable young to his cause.
Whilst Garth is heroically ploughing his way across the moonlit channel seas, in grim, primeval fashion, Smitz is querying with Ratablan why he has not turned the Master Ray back on – he fears it may soon cause unrest and a backlash. Ratablan points out that the Welfarer had radio’d the Chairman to return from space – but without radio guidance from Earth he cannot land. The Chairman’s spaceship is now in Earth orbit, circling a dark and unresponsive world, unable to establish contact and return to save the welfare state.
As dawn breaks, an exhausted Garth crawls out of the sea – very fortuitously! – at the same spot where the time-sphere had first landed. He is found by great Grandma, who helps him back to her home for much-needed rest and food before he can resume his mission. They bring each other up to date on events, and Garth is appalled to learn that Ratablan had struck her down with a club, and kidnapped her grandchildren.
Meanwhile. Ratablan is making another rooftop address to the populace. He again parades the three children, but this time he tells the crowd that they are three young heroes who have ‘voluntarily’ joined his party – an advance guard of youth who now salute the Bavorian flag as a rallying call for all young neo-Bavorians.
Watching and listening from great Grandma’s apartment window overlooking the Welfarer’s building, Garth is sickened by this recreation of the Hitler Youth movement. He resolves to act immediately. Striding across to the sentry outside of the new-Leader’s HQ, he poses as a “new recruit for the party”, and so gains admittance.
Ratablan is haranguing the seated figure of the Welfarer – tightly bound to his chair – when the excited children burst in to inform him that he has “a huge recruit for your army.” Ratablan turns and gives a cry of alarm at the menacing figure of Garth striding through the doorway.
The baffled new Leader snatches up his club, but Garth fells him with a tremendous right hook, to the admiring delight of the impressionable children.
As Garth is busy untying the ropes holding the Welfarer, by a tremendous effort Ratablan recovers enough to stagger to his feet and escape to the roof outside. Garth and the Welfarer race after him. As Ratablan is about to address the people for help, a vengeful Garth picks him up bodily, whirls him round, and hurls him off the roof. He crashes to the ground at the feet of the crowd – dead. A spontaneous cheer breaks out from the crowd in support of Garth and the death of tyranny.
Smitz has meanwhile fled the scene, and made his way back (by raft) to the isle of exile, and the time-sphere.
The Welfarer switches the Master Ray back on, and its broadcast power is restored to the world of 19,520. Lumiere is restored to his physical form, and realises that Garth must be back. Out in space, the Chairman’s spaceship regains contact, and drops out of orbit to land.
In due course, the Chairman gives an audience to Garth, Lumiere and the returned Dawn and Karen in the Welfarer’s office. After listening to the Welfarer’s account of how Garth destroyed the menace of Ratablan, the Wise One decrees that Garth should return to his own age, “where there is still plenty of work to do!” He adds that space-time travel has long been understood – but that it had been decided it would be wrong to develop it, and unwise to go back or forward in time.
Lumiere admits that he has reached the same conclusion himself, and announces that they will now return to their own time. After Garth bids goodbye to great Grandma and the children, and Lumiere throws the switch for 1952 in his time-globe, he remarks that he has heard that Smitz has gone ahead of them, and wonders if he fully understands the workings of the time-sphere.
In fact, he evidently did not, because in the Barovian section of the International Research Station there is a tremendous explosion as the time-sphere returns and destroys itself. The Barovian technicians conclude that the space-time experiment is demonstrably a failure.
Lumiere’s time-sphere returns safely, and as Garth and Lumiere emerge, it is clear from their exchanges that Lumiere – and author Freeman – do not intend to continue their time voyages.
Sadly, in point of fact, Flight into the Future was to be the final story Garth story by writer Don Freeman.
John Henry Gordon Freeman was born on 23rd April 1903, and had worked at the Mirror since 1918. He quickly gained a reputation as a reliable troubleshooter, first taking over the writing of “Uncle Dick’s Children’s Corner” feature in 1938 when its creator, Bertie Lamb died. Before long, he had also taken over the writing of the Mirror’s most famous strip, Jane, and also Belinda. He came to be regarded as the Mirror’s staff strips scriptwriter, filling in on all their strips whenever the original writers were indisposed. He was the ideal man to reshape Garth, when he took it over in the autumn of 1943.
The saga of Garth was to run for more than 50 years – the longest running single character newspaper adventure strip in the world. Although Steve Dowling originated him, the credit for creating Garth as we know him today lies with one writer above all others – Don Freeman. Freeman created nearly all of Garth’s basic plots; his work is the bedrock on which the saga was to be built. Freeman’s facility was remarkable, the more so when one realises that he was writing several other disparate strips for the Mirror at the same time!
Moreover, all of his stories followed on directly, one into the next, so that in a real sense, the first 21 stories of Garth, spanning ten years, were one gigantic story. A masterly mosaic that no other writer ever attempted.
Synopsis by Philip Harbottle
Synopsis by Philip Harbottle
In a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to artist and editor John Allard, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success
Strip dates given are those of their original appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, first compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes and updated by Ant Jones and Philip Harbottle
Garth © REACH/ Daily Mirror