5 June 2011

Eagle – the 1950s Comic

The Works describes itself as Britain’s Leading Discount Book Store. I think that their branches are worth dropping into from time to time - good value on UK road atlases. When I saw this volume, and being a man of a certain age, I had to buy it, having fancied it when it first came out in 2007 - at three times the price I paid in The Works.

There is a good account on Wikipedia of Eagle and its seminal influence. It was a weekly comic printed in colour aimed at teenage boys, launched in April 1950. Every year Eagle produced an annual, so this volume’s title is a bit of a misnomer being a collation of material selected by Daniel Tatarsky from Eagle’s best decade, the 1950s. It certainly educated and entertained in a wholesome way, and with its emphasis on space flight (Dan Dare Pilot of the Future, subject of a recent Science Museum exhibition) and excellent cutaways of engineering achievements (in 1953 ‘British Cars for Export – the Vauxhall Velox’, but also in 1956 the German pocket battleship Graf Spee scuttled in 1939), it anticipated Harold Wilson’s vision of a Britain of white–hot technology. In fact, its editor had an exaggerated view of the rate of progress likely in aerospace, and a limited appreciation of the potential for the development of electronics and eventually IT. Reflecting its period, not much attention was paid to football, and none at all to pop music or TV, at least in this selection. Apparently works by the young Gerald Scarfe and David Hockney appeared in the Eagle, but not in this volume, as far as I can tell.

Some items which struck me:

The size of the Royal Navy at the time of the Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead in 1953 – numerous battleships (scrapped shortly afterwards), eight aircraft carriers in line and scores of lesser ships (pages 90/1). (Coincidentally, the Graf Spee had represented Germany at the previous Coronation Fleet Review in 1937.) For sure, there will be nothing like it ever again – even the French are now feeling sorry for the RN, despite Trafalgar and Mers-el-Kébir.

Numerous articles from the Eagle Special Investigator, Macdonald Hastings, father of Max, who has recently written about his upbringing in Did You Really Shoot the Television?: A Family Fable. Not quite the set-up that the parents paying for Eagle, anxious at the time to divert their grammar school-directed offspring from Beano and Dandy, might have expected.

A Reader’s Letter (paid 5/- ie 25p, but worth about £10 now) in 1951 (page 43) from a David Irving of Hutton, Essex: “I think it is a deplorable hobby for boys to throw messages inside bottles into the sea. When they reach the shore they invariably break and can thus cause many accidents.” This might be the writer, David Irving (b 1938), whose details can also be found on Wikipedia, for anyone not aware of him.

Fans of ‘The King’s Speech’ would like ‘The King Speaks’ (pages 40/1), a diagram of the Royal microphones, GPO land lines, BBC transmitters and control rooms etc. needed for ‘HM The King’s Christmas Broadcast’ to travel from Sandringham to the “four corners of the Empire” “with the same velocity as that with which light is transmitted from the sun. … so that His Majesty’s voice travels once around the earth in one-seventh of a second.”

Apart from its preoccupation with technology, some obsolescent even at the time, the attitudes and values which Eagle embodied seem to belong to a lost world. Oddly, the Eagle’s 1950s seem beyond halfway from the present to the 1890s (Sherlock Holmes's fictional heyday), even with the two world wars in the interim.

The Dan Dare Corporation owns the global media rights to the Eagle comic and the comic strip 'Dan Dare'.

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