From “Nick Hazard” to “Garth”, to the new feature film, “57 Seconds”, Philip Harbottle’s SF videocasts continue to entertain

Nick Hazard, Interstellar Agent, by Philip Harbottle, art by Ron Turner

Many downthetubes have greatly enjoyed writer, editor and publisher Philip Harbottle‘s 1950s British Science Fiction YouTube Channel, which has also offered tantalising insights into his long and accomplished career. The regular series recently drew to a close after 67 episodes, taking SF fans on a wonderful journey though the history of SF publishing in Britain across several decades. But while Philip tells us he’s happy with the videocasts produced, documenting his career and sharing some fantastic comics and SF book covers along the way, there may just be more to come – and he is working on several new projects, too…

In the last few regular episodes, Philip generously affords viewers into his work as a writer, including his work on the “Garth” comic strip for the Daily Mirror. These episodes offer the usual mix of anecdotes and insight, of projects both realised and some abandoned…

Episode 63 charts a brave move, Philip blending the security of the world of local government with self-publishing his own fanzines; and discovering artist Ron Turner‘s parallel career as a comic artist as well as SF book cover artist Philip had long admired – unaware of his work in comics.

Once again, Philip teases his audience with tantalising glimpses of many of the publications he’s produced down the years, and there’s plenty to savour here.

Episode 64 explores the creation of the Nick Hazard, Interstellar Agent strip, working with Ron Turner and his agent John Lawrence, a strip SF fans can now enjoy within the pages of Spaceship Away. The original presentation was in Philip’s zine JRF Presents (“John Russell Fearn Presents”), which included reprints of “Space Ace” and more during its run, hard to find today. (Luckily, as we’ve regularly reported, John Lawrence has since published “Space Ace” tales in full colour, working with artist John Ridgway to bring new life to the character).

Episode 64 takes us to the point where Harrier Comics took on the publishing of JRF Presents. Unfortunately, as Philip relates in Episode 65, “Death of a Dream“, this sadly proved a publishing disaster, an agreement struck in the belief that international distribution was to be undertaken by Titan Distributors. Sadly, the deal came at the point where the bubble had burst in terms of US comic fans interest in British comics and creators, the impact of quality material diluted by a huge number of competitors publishing sub standard work.

Despite the disappointment, undaunted, Philip continued to work on new projects, outlined in this story, which brings with it news that a biography of Ron Turner’s career by John Lawrence is in the works.

This excellent series – the regular episodes, at least – rounds off with Philip revisiting his time writing “Garth” for the Daily Mirror, and with Episode 66, “An invitation to Write Garth‘, we’re treated to a clear love of the character and the early stories that appeared. Philip, however, is not a fan of the Frank Bellamy era on the strip, any more than he was of the artist’s work on “Dan Dare” for Eagle, feeling that while Bellamy’s accomplished skill as an artist in not in doubt, he was unsuited to working on both characters.

While there may be many that would disagree, Philip makes the convincing case for his take on “Garth”, that makes for interesting viewing, including the revelation that working in the strip helped pay some bills at a difficult time for the author.

Despite Philip’s clear enjoyment of working on “Garth” with Martin Asbury, fans of the character can’t help be sad to recall that it was Mirror editor Piers Morgan who finally pulled the plug on the strip, after a nearly fifty-year record-breaking unbroken run – not the only casualty to comic cuts.

Although the end of new “Garth” stories was a considerable disappointment, ending his career as a comics writer, Philip had at least cleared some debts, and there was a satisfying postscript, noted in Episode 67, “On Writing Garth Stories“. Philip reveals how, in 2010, the Mirror began reprinting old “Garth” strips, marvellously coloured by Martin Baines, including one of his stories, “Twilight“. “It was much better the second time around,” says Philip. “I rest content!”

While now “content”, Philip now thoroughly covered all the topics affecting his life in science fiction, he tells downthetubes that, from time to time going forward, he will do “one-off specials” of his welcome videocasts, reviewing new books and new editions he’s connected with – including the story behind the new Morgan Freeman film 57 Seconds, based on the work of SF author EC Tubb, when that film is released this September, directed by Rusty Cundieff (Tales from the Hood).

In the upcoming film, tech journalist Franklin Fausti (Josh Hutcherson) lands an interview with visionary entrepreneur Anton Burrell (Morgan Freeman) after saving him from an assassination attempt. On his way out, Franklin finds a mysterious ring that Burrell dropped on the floor and discovers it allows its user to travel 57 seconds back in time. Driven by revenge, Franklin uses this newfound power to dismantle the pharmaceutical company responsible for his sister’s death.

Morgan Freeman and Josh Hutcherson star in “57 Seconds,” a thriller based in the world of tech and big pharma. The film is directed by Rusty Cundieff (“Tales From the Hood,” “Chappelle’s Show”), and written by Macon Blair (Netflix’s “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), and is based on the acclaimed story by British author E.C. Tubbs. Photo: Highland Film Group
Morgan Freeman and Josh Hutcherson star in 57 Seconds, a thriller based in the world of tech and big pharma. The film is directed by Rusty Cundieff (Tales From the Hood, Chappelle’s Show), and written by Macon Blair (Netflix’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), and is based on the acclaimed story by author EC Tubb. Photo: Highland Film Group

As Franklin dives deeper into an unfamiliar world of wealth and technology, he becomes entangled in a chain of events which has more than his own fate at stake.

I’d like to thank Philip for delivering these fascinating videos charting many aspects of British SF fiction down the years, and his observations on comics writing, publishing and more. The series has been thoroughly enjoyable, and I’ve enjoyed the journey.

Philip Harbottle is one of the most knowledgeable authors I know when it comes to SF publishing here in the UK, and I would urge you to check out and subscribe to 1950s British Science Fiction YouTube Channel here.

A life-long science fiction fan, he is regarded as a world authority on the works of John Russell Fearn, whose credits encompass writing “Garth” for the Daily Mirror, and the “Golden Amazon” for Spaceship Away (adapting Fearn’s stories). 

He’s also very kindly contributed a number of synopses of early “Garth” stories to downthetubes, which we are adding as time permits.

Web Links 

Waters of Eternity by John Russell Fearn, edited by Philip Harbottle (2016)

• Subscribe to 1950s British Science Fiction YouTube Channel here

• Vultures of the Void: The Legacy by Philip Harbottle (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

Philip Harbottle presents a fascinating guide to British science fiction publishing history

• Buy Across the Ages by John Russell Fearn, adapted into comics by Philip Harbottle here from Lulu

A vintage comic strip by Philip Harbottle, adapting John Russell Fearn’s much admired SF novel Across the Ages, has finally been published – some sixty years after the now renowned author and publisher drew it (Read our news item about this here)

• Books edited or published by Phil Harbottle on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

• Rayguns and Rocketships by Rian Hughes, featuring many of the covers in Philip’s videocasts, is available to order now direct from Korero Press | Order it from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link) | ISBN: 978-1912740048

• Subscribe to 1950s British Science Fiction YouTube Channel

Categories: Art and Illustration, Books, British Comics, Comics, Creating Comics, Digital Media, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Film, Other Worlds, Science Fiction

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