Take a trip to 2000AD – no, not the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic…

Exterior signage for the Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
Exterior signage for the Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956

Today’s rabbit hole of a treat is a step back in time to August 1956, and the Hulton Press-hosted Boys and Girls Exhibition at London Olympia, designed by Leslie Gooday, featuring some stunning, giant spaceship models inspired by the “Dan Dare” strip in Eagle.

Our first port of call is a number of contemporary newsreels, including those of British Pathé, considered one the finest such archives in the world – a treasure trove of films unrivalled in their historical and cultural significance. As with other vintage film archives such as British Movietone and Gaumont, there are a number of comic-related items of note, including footage of exhibitions across several decades, including the 1950s.

While a number of Pathé films are presented for easier viewing on YouTube, downthetubes contributor Jeremy Briggs recently came across this item on the company’s site: footage from Hulton‘s 1956 Boys and Girls Exhibition at London Olympia, featuring gigantic spaceships taken from the “Dan Dare” strip for Eagle, including the Anastasia.

Opened by actress Anna Neagle and taking place from 28th August to 8th September 1956, the exhibition’s overall theme was 2000AD, catering for young people of all ages, and held so that they could see for themselves “all
that is best in modern achievement”.

Some of the material features in another film, “Exhibition News – Today & Tomorrow” this film with sound and also combining imagery from the 1956 British Food Fair Exhibition, but that doesn’t include as many wider shots of the spaceships hanging from the ceilings like the item on the Pathé site.

However, we’re in luck, because a team from British Movietone were also at the exhibition and their footage of the event features here, in a film entitled “This Scientific Age” – so fans of “Dan Dare” can get even more of tantalising glimpses of this incredible promotion for Eagle and the character, the event run by the comic’s publisher, Hulton Press.

Designed by Leslie Gooday, a contemporary press release of the time boldly asserted that the event offered “a great panorama of interplanetary flight, a new world of space ships, rockets and discovery awaits the citizens of the future.

“All the models used are based on sound scientific research,” visitors were being assured, which will probably come as a surprise to engineers of today who have since queried many of the design choices of Frank Hampson‘s team on “Dan Dare”. Some of the space ships featured are also those utilised by alien races in the strip.

Imagery online from the exhibition, including material from newsreels and both photographs taken during the exhibition and the spaceships at design stage, such as imagery held by the Royal Institute of British Architects, enable an intriguing glimpse back at this major event.

  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956 - Poster
  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956 - Any More for the Spaceship
  • Exterior signage for the Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
  • An impressive shot of the spaceships from the film "Exhibition News - Today & Tomorrow (1956)"
  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
  • Boys and Girls Exhibition 1956
  • One of the Boys and Girls Exhibition spaceships in the workshop
  • Close up on the cockpit of one spaceship exhibit
  • One of the Boys and Girls Exhibition spaceships in the workshop

The Exhibition was described as the first of its kind to be held in Britain (although it wasn’t the first Boys and Girls Exhibition, but it was the first to be sponsored by Hulton Press) and was proclaimed as the most ambitious show ever staged for children in London.

Apart from entertainment value and the thrill of meeting leading personalities from the worlds of film, sport and theatre, including members of the “Dan Dare” creative team such as Frank Hampson, Marcus Morris and Alan Stranks, the Exhibition had a serious undertone, as British industry made a determined effort to capture the attention of schoolchildren – the scientists, technologists, technicians and nurses of tomorrow.

Alongside Hulton Press, exhibitors included the Atomic Energy Authority,, BEA, British Railways, the Central Electricity Authority, ICI, Vicker-Armstrong, who all sent personnel and Education Officers to their stands, offering advice on training schemes and prospects. Engineers and apprentices who are still undergoing training were also at several stands, on hand to answer queries so “that boys can learn from people older than themselves the prospects which face them,”.

(Despite a clear lead from Professor Peabody in the fictional “Dan Dare” strip, and the work done by women in many fields during World War Two just a decade earlier, the promoters of the event of the day did not consider engineering a career for women, and indeed were suggesting careers then considered more in line with their talents).

The event also featured an exhibition of some 200 paintings – the cream of 52,000 submitted – hung in the Children’s Academy. The winners were selected by a panel of judges headed by the President of the Royal Academy, Professor Sir Albert Richardson.

“This”, he declared, “is the answer to those who say our children are growing up to be spivs and television addicts.” Goodness!

It’s hard to imagine a British comic company spending the kind of money this extraordinary Exhibition must have cost on a similar promotion today. A press release for the Central Electricity Authority, one of the the exhibitors, noted that “over £10,000 has been spent on creating the atmosphere of space conquest as a background to the whole exhibition‘ – which would be over £250,000 in today’s money. But of course today, there are many other ways to reach a potential audience.


Boys And Girls Exhibition: Any More For The Space Ship?

British Pathé: Exhibition News – Today & Tomorrow (1956)

British Movietone’s newsreel of the exhibition is here on YouTube

Gaumont’s newsreel of the event is here, courtesy of Reuters

Do note that both British Pathé and British Movietone are historical collections. Any views and expressions within either the video or metadata of the collection are reproduced for historical accuracy and do not represent the opinions or editorial policies of companies associated with them today

Richard Sheaf has posted a gallery of Boys and Girls Exhibition programmes on his Boys Adventure Comics Blog – and a few others, too

Otto Saumarez Smith, a historian of shopping precincts, leisure centres, power stations, derelict landscapes, inner cities, new towns and city centre redevelopment has previously posted photographs of the exhibition here on Twitter

Leslie Gooday passed away in 2013, aged 91, following a long illness. His career as an architect, took him from a post war period, designing domestic residences, through to designing the British Pavilion at the Japanese Expo in Osaka in 1970

• Two prints of the spaceship displays are available here and here from the RIBA web site

Royal Institute of British Architects – RIBAPix Search

With thanks to Jeremy Briggs

Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation

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