When Dan Dare tie-in fiction went woefully wrong – a sorry tale of disastrous publishing decisions

The latest episode in the 1950s British Science Fiction videocast series from author and publisher Philip Harbottle tackles the period in the decade when sales of British science fiction hardcovers took a nosedive – and there was bad news for Dan Dare, too… at least as far as tie-in books with the popular strip from Eagle are concerned.

1950s British Science Fiction Episode 37 - image features Dan Dare on Mars

In Episode 37, titled “The End is Nigh for British Science Fiction Hardcovers“, Philip spares no niceties for the popular work of Biggles creator Captain W.E. Johns “scientifically inaccurate” and “dreadful” junior SF novels, but gives deserved praise to the work of Sir Patrick Moore and others!

His deserved fury, however, is directed, both barrels, at Eagle editor Marcus Morris, as Philip relates how plans for what sounds like an amazing version of the Dan Dare Spacebook, published in 1953, were ruthlessly reduced to ash, all great SF excised in favour of inane features – and even a “space shanty”.

1950s British Science Fiction Episode 37 - image features Journey into Space By Charles Chilton
1950s British Science Fiction Episode 37 - image features Dan Dare's Spacebook

“What a lost opportunity this was,” he declares. Needless to say, author William F. Temple, whose work was excised, was not best pleased. Luckily, Temple would have more success away from Morris – re-writing a Dan Dare story cut from the Spacebook, and creating his own “Martin Magnus” space hero.

Eagle publisher Hulton Press would go on to make a similar hash of further Dan Dare fiction, commissioning radio and TV writer Basil Dawson (who also wrote some of the Dan Dare story, “Operation Saturn” for the weekly comic). Dan Dare on Mars proved a complete flop, as did the Dan Dare Spacebook.

Watch out for some early book cover illustrations by Ron Embleton in this episode, too, as Philip points to the success of other titles, although he also notes that 1956 sees a decline in hardback book sales, to the detriment of the genre.

Philip Harbottle is a life-long science fiction fan, 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.

Back in the 1950s, he adapted some of the Radio Luxembourg Dan Dare radio shows into comics at a young age – the only record of some of these tales known to exist, since very few recordings survive.

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downthetubes: Dan Dare Profile

Four Sided Triangle by William F. Temple (John Long, 1949, First Edition)
Four Sided Triangle by William F. Temple (John Long, 1949, First Edition)

Science Fiction Encylopedia – William F. Temple (9th March 1914 – 15th July 1989)

British science fiction writer, best known for authoring the novel-turned Hammer film, Four Sided Triangle, featuring real-life femme fatale Barbara Payton.

Temple lost the first version of the book’s manuscript during a battle in the Tunisian Campaign at Takrouna, and a second manuscript during the Battle of Anzio, in 1943.

Teple retooled his excised Dan Dare story from the first version of the Dan Dare Spacebook to become a new space hero, Martin Magnus, with three novels published – Martin Magnus, Planet Rover (1954), republished by Dragon Books in 1970, Martin Magnus on Venus (1955, also republished by Dragon Books), and Martin Magnus on Mars (1956).

Four Sided Triangle (1953) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

IMDB – Basil Dawson (Basil Ivor Royal-Dawson – 2nd April 1914 – 19th April 1979)

Basil Dawson’s credits include The Buccaneers, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Saint, New Scotland Yard, and The Devil’s Daffodil

Categories: Books, British Comics, Comics, Digital Media, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Other Worlds, Science Fiction

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1 reply

  1. Dan Dare was part of my childhood. Frank Hampson, his creator, had the genius – like W.E.Johns – of making essentially adult themes accessible to children. The Venus Story and The Red Moon Mystery were brilliant, but as soon as Frank let go of the reins, in Marooned On Mercury, the quality plummeted, with cuddly animals and cuddly boys being dragged into the story. When Frank resumed control for Operation Saturn, it promised to be the most powerful adventure yet, but, alas, Frank succumbed to illness, and the story, in the hands of others, rapidly degenerated into silliness. We soon realised we were being talked down to again! There followed a prolongued and lingering death for a great comic book hero, spread over many years and never recovering his original glory.

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