Marcus Morris - The Christian Connection


MARCUS MORRIS’ (biased) ACCOUNT OF 
THE CREATION OF THE EAGLE COMIC

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preface by the blog authors

One of the oddest things about the 'Eagle' and 'Dan Dare' is that it was started by a 'sometime' Anglican priest, in an attempt to win youngsters (and he was thinking of boys) to the Christian faith.

Equally strange was the fact that the man who was most involved in creating the main character in the comic was by no stretch of the imagination a committed Christian - in fact, Frank Hampson was very non-committal about the whole business of religion.

Now it is true that Colonel Dare was originally to have been a dog-collar wearing chaplain to the space fleet - a bit like Marcus Morris had been a dog-collar wearing chaplain to the Royal Air Force.
Just as Morris had failed in his attempt to win any support to his cause, however, Dan had been equally unsuccessful, quickly swapping his dog-collar for a paralyzing ray-gun.

The 'Eagle', for most of its career, managed to retain a religiously inspired story on its back cover, but the front cover, and inside pages, were home to 'Dan Dare' - who was morally upright, but hardly a proselytizing Christian.
In fact, religion was never mentioned in any of the Dare stories - despite Morris' stated aims.
Marcus Morris was not the sort of individual you would naturally associate with the devious wheeling and dealing of what was then 'Fleet Street', or the world of popular comics for that matter.
He was what was then (1950s) known as a 'toff'.
This did not mean that he was wealthy, although he was probably better off than most.
The key to being a 'toff' in the 50s was not money, but rather education.
Morris spoke 'posh, and acted 'posh', and was definitely a class above his 'associate' Frank Hampson.
In fact, it should be recognized that Morris always looked upon down on Hampson as a 'menial', - an employee.

Morris was of a type (that even still exists today) that is wedded to a 'Christian' tradition, despite the fact that they have no really strong commitment of belief in it.
They see 'christian values' very much as a means to maintain tradition and 'social control' - and that was the initial purpose of the 'Eagle Comic', with 'Dan Dare' as a dog-collared 'space-padre'.
Morris wanted to ensure that young lads in the 1950s grew up with strong, vaguely 'christian' values - obedience and honesty, combined with a chaste, hardworking and sober attitude.
No drunkenness, elicit sex, pornography, criminality etc.
All very well and good - but actually not specifically 'Christian' - just as Morris himself was not specifically 'Christian'.

Now it has already been stated that there is also nothing specifically 'Christian' to be found in the Dan Dare adventures.
Equally, there are very few females - great aunt Anastasia, professor Peabody, (and Digby's wife) - but you never see a female Treen, Cosmobe, (just a few female Crypts in the background), or Phant, and there seem to be no female members of the Space Fleet (except for Miss Peabody).
And, of course, there is no sex, - gay, straight or alien.
There is plenty of violence, though, although remarkably little killing.
The main values displayed in the 'Dan Dare' adventures are honesty, truthfulness and respect for others - and, of course, there is a strong work-ethic, no swearing, drunkenness or hangovers, combined with plenty of sport (cricket, fencing and riding for Dan) and useful hobbies - although Dan, along with a few other characters, does smoke a pipe - but then almost everybofy smoked at the time.
It's all very 'public school', and very much of the class and outlook to which Morris belonged to which Morris subscribed.
And it undoubtedly had a very strong influence on the boys of the generation which grew up with the Eagle Comic.
So - among boy 'baby-boomers', we find very many who, despite having 'working-class' origins, ended up with middle to upper class values.
And this tendency was compounded by the introduction of Grammar School education for working class children during the same period.
So, to that degree, Morris was successful.
As regards to fostering a 'Christian' attitude and set of belief, he appears to have failed miserably - but then was that what that lukewarm 'Christian really wanted ?

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'THE CREATION OF THE EAGLE COMIC'

"Eagle was the result of a glider accident and of my own strong interest in the problem of communicating with the general public.
I had long felt that parish magazines (the parson’ s main written method of presenting himself to his followers) were dreary and ineffective.
My appointment as vicar of St James’s, Birkdale, Lancashire gave me my first chance to do something about it.
I gradually converted a four-page leaflet into a magazine called 'The Anvil', in which ‘issues’ could be ‘hammered out’.
I had always been interested in journalism and had a great desire to ‘edit’ something.
At Oxford I had read philosophy, ancient history and theology, not immediately identifiable with journalism, and Anvil liberated those pent-up editorial urges.
I didn’t see why a magazine aimed at conveying an intelligent view of Christianity should not try to be as professional as any other magazine. 
I based Anvil roughly on Lilliput, the pocket magazine created by that brilliant editor Stefan Lorant who also started 'Picture Post', and I managed to get some useful contributors ranging from C. S. Lewis, C. E. M. Joad to Harold Macmillan. 
I also got seriously into debt; the spirit was willing but the sales were weak. There was no money to promote the magazine, and though it spread from being a parish magazine to become a town, then a county, and finally a national magazine, it still lost money.
My patient and loyal, if slightly incredulous, parishioners gave me immensely generous and practical as well as financial support, contributing I funds and running bazaars to raise money.
But I sank deeper into debt, though not into despair.
'Anvil' had attracted attention and was described by one critic as ‘a Christian magazine alongside the best secular publications’.
And apart from the eminent contributors I had a special windfall: I discovered at the local art school a young artist, Frank Hampson, who became chief illustrator and cartoonist and designed the covers.
It was about this time that, with the help of a journalist, Norman Price, I wrote an article for the Sunday Dispatch.
It was headed ‘Comics that bring Horror into the Nursery’, caused quite a stir and earned me twenty guineas. Anvil’s debts were then about three thousand pounds. 
But at least it was a start. 
The phenomenal rise and rule of the comic in America, plus a study of the papers and publications that children were reading in this country, seemed to point an obvious moral-and hence came the idea of Eagle.
Many American comics were most skilfully and vividly drawn, but often their content was deplorable, nastily over-violent and obscene, often with undue emphasis on the supernatural and magical as a way of solving problems. 
But it was clear to me that the strip cartoon was capable of development in a way not yet seen in England except in one or two of the daily and Sunday newspapers and that it was a new and important medium of communication, with its own laws and limitations. 
Here, surely, was a form which could be used to convey to the child the right kind of standards, values and attitudes, combined with the necessary amount of excitement and adventure. 
And so to the problems of 'Anvil' I added those of Eagle.
There may have been fears for my sanity; certainly there were prophecies of doom. 
Before starting on Eagle I had the idea of an exemplary character, Lex Christian, whose exploits were to be told exclusively in strip-cartoon form. Hampson was most enthusiastic about this project. 
I thought we might sell the idea to a Sunday newspaper and very soon we had the interest of the editor of the Sunday Empire News, Terence Horsley.
But not for long: he was tragically killed in a gliding accident. 
This proved to be a turning point. 
I still recall a late-night visit to Hampson’s house when I told him that we should pack up the idea of doing a single strip for any paper, and that we should be bold and resolute and concentrate our energies on producing an entirely new, original children’s paper of our own. 
He agreed immediately. 
This decision increased my hopes and determination to succeed. 
And naturally, it increased the debts too. 
I found it absolutely essential to ensure some regular salary for Hampson and so I paid him £10 a week – later to go up to £14. 
There was a growing sense of urgency and it became clear that an addition to the team was imperative. 
Harold Johns was another gifted artist who came from the same art school as Hampson, and he went on to the pay roll. 
Before long I was paying out in total more than I was earning myself. Apart from the regular staff, there were contributors to be taken into account. 
In the Anvil/Eagle period, they included a vicar who was editing the Blackburn Diocesan Magazine for the Bishop of Blackburn. 
This was Chad Varah, who was to found the Samaritans. 
And there was Walkden Fisher, a designer for a local toy firm who did the first ‘exploded’ drawings for Eagle’s centre spread; Spencer Croft, who appeared as the scientist, ‘Professor Brittain’, and another promising young art student from Liverpool called Norman Thelwell. 
Eagle, like Dan Dare, its star attraction, was not born overnight. 
We were hard at it from the beginning of 1949 to April 1950. The title ‘Eagle’ did not emerge for a considerable time.

Then Lex Christian, who began life as a tough, fighting parson in the slums of the East End of London, became airborne, a flying padre, the Parson of the Fighting Seventh. 
Dan Dare was on the way. And throughout this time I tramped Fleet Street with the Eagle dummy tucked underneath my arm. 
I became a regular on the Sunday midnight train from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston after taking three services, a baptism or two, maybe a wedding, and dealing with the general affairs of the parish. 
All the time I was trying to sell Eagle, back at Birkdale the work pressed on, days and nights of trial and error, chopping and changing in the search for perfection. 
At one stage I had been in touch with Hulton Press (publishers of Picture Post and Lilliput) and a young man from that firm suggested that I should go to see John Myers, then Publicity Manager for J. Arthur Rank. 
Myers passed me on to Montague Haydon, director of the children’s publications at Amalgamated Press (now IPC).
Haydon’s reaction was perhaps predictable.
I had a feeling that he thought I was an impostor, even a mild kind of lunatic.
Amalgamated Press did not want Eagle. But they got it in the end, about eleven years later. 
Sir Neville Pearson of Newnes was next. 
I rang him from a phone box (my London office in those days).
He asked me round and saw me with one of his chief executives. 
They were very courteous and expressed considerable interest. 
But in the end they said that Eagle was ‘not an economic proposition’. 
I had a brief, fruitless meeting with Boardman’s, American publishers of books and comics and then- for the life of me I can’t think why – secured the interest of the editor of the Sporting Record. 
His name was Mike Wardell, he wore a black eye patch and he was a great Fleet Street character. 
But in the end he couldn’t help me.
I began climbing higher. 
I saw John Walter, General Manager of The Times, and Lord Camrose, proprietor of the Daily Telegraph. Beautiful manners again, but two more blanks.
I never did see Lord Kemsley of the Sunday Times. I saw his very polite and handsome personal assistant, whose name was Denis Hamilton.
He thought I was asking for a donation to some charity and pointed out that ‘his lordship has many calls upon his purse’. 
Then back home in Birkdale, in the autumn of 1949, I had a telegram: ‘Definitely interested do not approach any other publisher’. 
It was Hulton Press, publishers of Lilliput and Picture Post, who finally took on Eagle and brought me and my family to London.
Hampson came too, together with fellow artists Harold Johns, Eric Eden, Bruce Cornwell and Joan Porter.
Also crucial in the development of Eagle was the eminent typographer, Ruari McLean, who became a close friend and worked intensively with me on the design and layout.

 
The title ‘Eagle’ came in the end from Frank Hampson ‘s wife, and the lettering for it from Berthold Wolpe of Faber& Faber.
The model for the Eagle symbol was the top of a large brass inkwell I bought at the White Elephant stall at the vicarage garden party. 
At that time in England the number of skilful strip-cartoon artists was limited, and the best of them were already in work. 
Eventually some of them came to work for Eagle (and later its sister papers) but meanwhile I had to find new ‘untried’ artists to do the job I wanted. 
I am sure that the success of Eagle (a sell-out of 900,000 copies of its first issue) was due to the insistance on quality.
Where Eagle was concerned, the quality of the paper, printing, artwork and writing set a new standard.
There were bright colours, well-drawn pictures and exciting stories. 

Technically, the Eagle strips marked an advance on the standards of that time (standards that had stood still for years) when most strips were not true strips but merely pictures with captions underneath. 
We tried to tell the stories mainly through the dramatic sequence of the pictures, with the help of balloons not too many issuing from the characters’ mouths and heads. 
Eagle was to win the support of parents, schoolmasters, educationalists and clergy. Dr James Hemming, the well-known educationalist, writer and broadcaster, writes: ‘I came in on Eagle originally because Johnny Metcalfe of Colman, Prentis & Varley rang me up to know if I was interested in the project.
I was drawn in to taking the original dummy around to show the teacher and head teacher organisations.
We met first around then.
The launch complete, you asked me to stay linked as your consultant.
So there we, very pleasantly, were.
As for those early days, there was the sheer miracle of Eagle appearing regularly as, for mlonths, perforce, we had no time in hand.
Then there was the solid identification and teamwork that somehow got the work done week by week.
I seem to recall that the dummy got lost on one occasion at least . . . And it always interested me the way the characters of Eagle were really alive for the readers. 
One one occasion, a boy asked me if Digby (in Dan Dare) would be willing to sign autographs.
And there was that curious man who turned up and said he had an invention for Dan Dare to use.’ 
Chad Varah became one of the first and best scriptwriters for Eagle and a tower of strength in other activities associated with the paper.
It was in November 1949 that Hulton Press accepted.

AN  EAGLE  DIARY

Eagle and I moved into their premises in Shoe Lane, EC4. I think they must have had some faith in me as an editor but, initially, not as a clergyman – after one of my early visits they rushed to check my credentials in Crockford’s Clerical Directory.
I have always been told that it was Tom Hopkinson, Editor of Picture Post, who was called down by management, shown the dummy and asked his opinion.
Apparently he replied: ‘You should publish this and take on whoever brought it here.’ 
My first office in Shoe Lane was not very grand in fact it was a kind of anteroom to the office of the chairman, Edward (later Sir Edward) Hulton. 
It was rather a comic situation.
He did his best to take no notice of me on his way in and out. 
He could hardly have been unaware of my existence, but I had the feeling that he might be uncertain of my identity and none too sure of what I was doing there. 
In the end, I suppose, someone told him. 
Right up to the publication of the first issue on 14 April 1950, the situation was chaotic. I was head cook and bottle-washer. 
Before publication there was barely a trickle of staff but a huge and constant flood of writers and artists and agents with a great variety of material, some good, some promising and some quite useless; in fact, the typical chaotic prelude to all new publications. 
There were many stages to negotiate before the germ of an idea attained its final form on the page. 
The frequent conferences with the scriptwriter before a final version was agreed were succeeded by even more lengthy (and more complicated) sessions with the artist who was often required to submit many ‘rough’ visuals before the finished artwork. 
This in turn required the work of a lettering artist to fill in the balloons, and the typesetting of any text matter (brief explanations, continuities, etc.) to make the strip-cartoon story fully comprehensive. 
Even material set entirely in type (fiction, non-fiction, the Editor’s letter and news of various activities) almost always required illustration by way of drawings and photographs, in all shapes and sizes. 
Always the visual impact was vital in order to project a look of liveliness and enticement on every page. And naturally the pages did not fall haphazardly into place.
The most careful attention had to be paid to the overall design and layout of each issue. 
It was those artists and writers, examples of whose work appear in 'The Best of Eagle', who gave Eagle its distinctive style and stamp. 
Best of all perhaps is the artist who is also the writer, and if not, is never a slave to the writer: he is always thinking visually, and it is here that Frank Hampson was supreme. Hampson, like his creation Dan Dare, was the corner-stone of Eagle.
He shared my vision and had prodigious inventiveness and energy.
In the beginning he drew 'Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future'; the 'Great Adventurer' (the story of St Paul); and 'Tommy Walls', our ice-cream advertising strip.
In the end he drew 'The Road of Courage' (a life of Christ).
In between he was involved in working for the numerolls annuals and books that came out of Eagle, and lending his name and ability to many of the toys and games produced by our merchandising department.
He was a great stylist and a very demanding one.
The eventual success of Eagle led to the acquisition of a fairly big staff.
But we were a bit thin on the ground in the beginning and I was glad to appoint Rosemary Garland (editorial) and Michael Gibson (art department). 
A few years later, as the organisation grew, Rosemary Garland became Assistant Editor of Robin and Michael Gibson became responsible for books and annuals.
In addition we had to appoint full-time assistants for lettering and the many illustrations and diagrams that could be done only in the office. 
Jack Daniel and then Frank Humphris drew Riders of the Range, based on another highly successful radio serial, this time by Charles Chilton, who is still a leading writer and producer with the BBC. 
One of the most successful early stunts was to send Charles Chilton to Tombstone, Arizona where he was made sheriff and where he met real cowboys and filed his impressions for Eagle readers. 
Martin Aitchison drew the exotic Luck of the Legion (a home-grown product) with script by Geoffrey Bond. 
In the humourous vein three artists were outstanding. One was known long before Eagle and is still going strong. He is David Langdon, who created Professor Puff and his dog Wuff. Then John Ryan, the art master from Harrow who invented Captain Pugwash and Harris Tweed, Extra Special Agent. 
And finally, Norman Thelwell, who first created Chicko before he found his true comic niche with girls and ponies that refuse fences. 
There were of course many more artists who contributed to Eagle, but I cannot mention them all; and those who contributed primarily to the other papers of the group (Girl, Robin and Swift) have, of course, no place in this anthology.
As for the Eagle writers, their work, though invaluable, was of necessity overshadowed by the artists.
This includes even Chad Varah, who was with me from the first and who brought his considerable powers of mind and invention to write not only the scripts for our Bible stories but also to take on the scripting of Dan Dare at a moment’s notice.
In a traditional form, the writing of school stories, Peter Ling deserves notice.
And there was that distinguished journalist of his day (he is still distinguished) Macdonald Hastings, whose series Eagle Special Investigator may still be read as first-class documentaries of the period.
Apart from the Editor’s letter I wrote a great deal myself, in that fiddling, improving and revising way that most editors have.
But again, like most editors, the bulk of my writing consisted of answering questions and making demands of management, accountants, printers etc.
The letters from our readers were so numerous that after a few weeks’ publication we were obliged to hire a staff to cope with the flood. 
The Eagle Club was another instant success, with applications from 60,000 readers after our first two issues. Two noble ladies were in charge of this department: Mrs Stark and Miss Mincher. 
Hulton Press had achieved considerable success with Picture Post, Lilliput, Housewife and Farmer’s Weekly. When they took on Eagle the firm spared no expense to make it a winner from the start. 
Gradually, while we amended, altered, revised and got together the first issue, the pattern emerged and launching plans were formulated. 
Copies were to be mailed direct, with a covering letter, to several hundred thousand people concerned with children and youth work – teachers, clergy, educationalists, club leaders, doctors and so on. 
The reaction was encouraging to a degree we had not dared to hope for. 
The other important plan for the launch was the ‘Hunt the Eagle’ schedule. Huge golden eagles, 4ft l0in. high, 4ft 6in. from beak to tail, with a wing span of 4ft, were mounted on cars and driven round towns and villages up and down the country.
Loudspeakers were fitted to the cars and Hulton Press representatives handed out 3d tokens that could be exchanged at a newsagent for a free copy of Eagle.
Another hugely successful idea. 
There were other, wilder, notions, ranging from the Editor’s descent by parachute into Hyde Park, and the release of 200,000 Eagle balloons throughout the country. 
These were abandoned, but a great amount of advertising space was booked in the national dailies and weeklies. 
The two miracles that attended the first issue of Eagle were: getting the material to the printer in the first place; and his printing it the second.
The printing of Eagle is a story in itself a supreme example of craftsmanship and engineering skill overcoming apparently insuperable difficulties.
The late Eric Bemrose of Eric Bemrose Limited of Aintree, faced with the problem of printing one million copies of Eagle for its first issue, designed, built and worked a new ten-unit photogravure rotary machine.
With flair and improvisation he created the plant in twelve weeks from start to finish and trained a team to work it.
 
On publication day there were long queues outside the newsagents.
Eagle was a success and a sell-out, almost one million copies. 
We had tried to start a paper which would be the natural choice of the child, but, at the same time, would have the enthusiastic approval of the parent and the teacher; in this we succeeded. 
It was a great moment at the end of the first day when the telegrams from our reps came pouring in with the good news. 
Eagle was off to a roaring start with Dan Dare, ‘Cosmic Knight Errant’-a phrase of Maurice Richardson’s – ‘racing to the rescue of Rocket Ship No. 1 trapped by the silicon mass on the fringe of the Flame Lands’. 
And waiting in the wings of an unknown, hostile universe was the Mekon. 
Eagle had a fairly short life, from 1950 to 1970, by which time it had been merged with Lion. 
But its most successful life was even shorter, from 1950 to about 1962.
In 1960 Hulton Press was taken over by Odhams and renamed Longacre Press. Soon after that I left to join the National Magazine Company.
I was succeeded by my deputy, Clifford Makins. 
The following year Odhams was taken over by the Daily Mirror Group (now IPC ) and then Makins left. 
Eagle died slowly and, it seemed to me, painfully, and so my choice of 'The Best of Eagle' is confined to the years 1950 to 1962. 
Those were exciting times hard work but fun."

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