M is for Marcus Morris

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 24 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

One of the things that any boy had to budget his pocket money for in the 1950s was his weekly threepence for a copy of the Eagle comic, the vehicle for Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future. Little did we know that Dan had started life as a vicar.

The Eagle was the brainchild of the Anglican priest and former RAF pilot, Marcus Morris. In 1949 he had written a newspaper article condemning the import of horror comics from America.

He wrote that the: ‘Morals of little girls in plaits and boys with marbles bulging in their pockets are being corrupted by a torrent of indecent coloured magazines that are flooding bookstalls and newsagents.’

Morris decided that what children in the UK needed was a comic in which adventure would again be ‘a clean and exciting business’.

In 1950 he launched the Eagle (named after the traditional Church of England lectern) and on its cover should have been ‘Chaplain Dan Dare of the Interplanet Patrol’.

It was the publisher who persuaded Morris that the world was not yet ready for a hero in a dog collar and that ‘Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future’ might have more commercial appeal.

Morris teamed up with the illustrator, Frank Hampson, to create their iconic images of the future as they imagined it might be in the 1990s.

The aliens really were little green men, particularly Dare’s arch-enemy, The Mekon of Mekonta (right), the super-intelligent leader of the Treens.

Hampson and Morris were both Lancastrians which probably explains why Dan Dare was from Manchester and his sidekick, Digby, was from Wigan.

Although set in the future, the dialogue was pure WWII vintage. But Morris did have an eye for plausibility and employed Arthur C Clarke as a science and plot advisor.

The Eagle was a phenomenal success and attracted some now-famous illustrators – it featured the first published work by David Hockney and cartoonist  Gerald Scarfe.

And Dan Dare merchandise flooded the toy market in much the same way that Harry Potter and Star Wars has in more recent times.

Marcus Morris became managing director and editor-in-chief of the National Magazine Company in 1964 and was responsible for launching the British edition of Cosmopolitan.

He retired in 1984 and spent his last years in Midford, Somerset, and died in 1989 aged 73.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

3 comments… Add yours
  • Trevor Rowley 3rd April 2019

    Wasn’t it the illustrator, Frank Hampson, who came from Audenshaw? Purely by coincidence, I was in Ryecroft Hall yesterday; which was the former town hall for Audenshaw when it had been an Urban District.

    Going back to The Eagle, when it came out, I think I was a little too young to appreciate its merits. It always seemed a little too highbrow for me. My comics of choice were The Topper and The Beezer. The Topper always had such good “giveaways” tucked inside every week. These were usually just cheap little cardboardy things. We were easily pleased.

    Reply
  • Mr Parrot 3rd April 2019

    I hadn’t realised that Frank Hampson came from Audenshaw, not a million miles from where I grew up.

    Like you, I was an avid reader of Topper, Beezer, Dandy and Beano. And I recall those free gifts – a triangle of cardboard with a stiff, brown paper insert so, when you flicked it, it made a loud crack.

    The Eagle was a little too grown-up for me at the time and as I got a little older I’d moved on the Hornet and Hotspur. Plus the American comics like Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich etc.

    I was only talking about this the other day with Mrs P when an item came up on tv about Pizza Express being the first pizza restaurant in the UK in 1965. I recalled the American comics talking and illustrating “pizza pie” and it looking like no other pie I had ever seen!

    Reply
  • Roger Green 6th April 2019

    Even I had heard off Dan Dare somehow.
    Melody wishes she could visit this week, but is dealing with life stuff

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