Regular readers of downthetubes will know we recently presented a rare “Lost Episode” from Radio Luxembourg‘s 1950s serial The Adventures of Dan Dare, with the permission of the Dan Dare Corporation. Its presentation, along with the previous discovery of other episodes, prompted writer and literary agent Philip Harbottleto kindly provide us with an episode guide for the series – and confirmed strips he drew in the 1950s, adapting some of the stories, provide what is believed to be the only record of some of the still missing 760 episodes.
A page from Philip Harbottle’s comic strip adaptation of “The Adventures of Dan Dare – The Sirilium Stealers”, drawn some time in late 1955 or early 1956
Back in the 1950s, the young Philip Harbottle had already fallen in love with comics, including the Eagle, and his own comic art attracted a news item in the Junior Mirror in June 1955.
An article about budding comics creator Philip Harbottle, published in the Junior Mirror on 22nd June 1955
Having already penned his own “Dan Dare” adventures based on the Eagle stories, in 1954 he turned his attention to the Radio Luxembourg show, aired between July 1951 and May 1956.
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.
“I had been listening to Dan Dare on the Radio Luxembourg serial for about a year, but it had failed to make much of an impression on me,” Philip recalled for Eagle Times back in 1989, because of the terrible radio reception on 208 metres medium wave, making it impossible to follow. But in the Autumn of 1954 came a significant development: my parents had fitted wired radio on the “Re diffusion” system, and one of the four stat ions it received was Luxembourg! For the first time, I could listen to an entire serial.
“This was what I had been waiting for! I quickly became addicted to the serial – and also to the sponsored product, Horlicks. I used to eat it straight out of the jar, with a spoon, as if it were jam! What this did for my health or sleeping pattern I’ve no idea, but I suspect I spent most of my drug-induced sleep dreaming about Dan Dare, whose adventures subsumed my creative imagination.”
Those imaginings led to a desire to document the show, using his own speed writing to detail dialogue and then turn the episodes he listened to into comics. Because Radio Luxembourg never gave the titles of their stories over the air, the titles Philip gave his strips were his own.
This page retelling “Ice Men of Venus” sees Dan and Sondar leaving Kalon’s office with a Treen called Xtron, to go to his office to see some plans he has designed for a device to overcome the magnetic rays the Mekon is using at the pole, wrecking spaceships and causing adverse weather on Venus. His office is flooded and he pushes them in. Sondar cannot swim and panics. Xtron tells them he is working for the Mekon, and is going to drown them. He has also sabotaged a huge boiler to explode and destroy the city.
Jocelyn and Digby see Xtron leaving the boiler house after sabotaging it in this page of “Ice Men of Venus”, adapted in 1955 by Philip Harbottle into comic strip. Xtron has to tell them that Dan and Sondar are inside, as he hurries away. In his flooding house, Dan and Sondar conceive the plan of trying a freezing ray pistol on the locked door to crack the metal, so they can escape. Inside the boiler house Dig, sees a dial showing its pointer over the red danger line. Dan and Sondar burst in and warn of the impending explosion. They don asbestos suits to protect them from the heat of the boiler. They climb up the hot metal and knock the jammed safety valves open. “This page is exactly per the serial,” says Philip.
This page of Philp Harbottle’s comic strip adaptation of “Ice Men of Venus”, accurately depicts scenes in which Dan learns from Digby that the traitor Xtron had been going to see Kalon. Realising the President is in danger, Dan and Dig hurry to his office, to find him slumped over his desk, and Xtron standing over him with a hypodermic. He had given him an injection to render him unconscious. Xtron is forced to reveal that he was intending to take the President to the invisible ice city (the Mekon’s HQ at the pole) in the ray-proof ship he had designed. Dan and Dig fly the ship themselves, with Xtron as prisoner. During the flight Xtron breaks free and sends a radio message to the Mekon, giving his position.
In this final page of this 1955 comic strip adaptation by Philip Harbottle of “Ice Men from Venus” depicting some of the action from the second episode, Sondar and Jocelyn overhear the radio message, and realise the Mekon will send missiles to shoot them down. They decide to fly to their aid, using conventional jet aircraft. Dan’s machine is attacked by the Mekon’s missiles and he takes evasive action as best he can. Xtron is confident the Mekon will spare his life. He is allowed to get back in contact , but Digby warns him he can expect no mercy and is expendable. Sure enough, Xtron is told he will be eliminated, along with Dan and Digby. Their ship is hit and as it lurches Xtron is flung out of the door and falls to his death. Dan brings the ship down to crash in the snow at the pole and he and Digby manage to bale out into the snow…
“I can remember the thrill of excitement I felt listening to each instalment, and can only shake my head in astonishment at the youthful enthusiasm shown in creating a body of work, purely for my own personal satisfaction,” Philip commented back in 1989. “I had no thought of publication.”
Philip Harbottle, in 1955
These strips by a budding creator who would go on to write Garth for the Daily Mirror will no doubt raise a smile from members of the comics community who no doubt began their own careers drawing their own strips for fun – and these comic strips represent an at least partial document of a radio series no-one, it seems, thought important enough to keep. We are very grateful to Philip for sharing some of them with us.
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.