The Fiftieth Anniversary of Dan Dare - April 2000

The bust unveiled in Southport

Dan Dare artists at Southport

The unveiling in Southport on Saturday 15th April 2000, to mark the 50th anniversary of Eagle. From left to right: the Deputy Mayor of Sefton; Sally Morris; Jan Hallwood (nee Morris), both daughters of Marcus Morris; Peter Hampson, Frank's son; Margaret Hampson, Frank's sister [back to camera]; Kate Williams (nee Morris), also daughter of Marcus; and Greta Tomlinson, an original Eagle artist who worked with Frank in the Bakery Studio in Southport.

Dan dare bust

The decision to commission a permanent tribute to the creators of EAGLE was made at the Annual Dinner at Launde Abbey in April 1998. There was an open discussion between the editorial committee and those attending the dinner.

Several ideas were put forward including an annual art prize, a bust of Frank Hampson or Marcus Morris, a golden EAGLE, a plaque of some description, a publication or a statue of Dan Dare.

The committee "appointed" to handle the arrangements for a celebratory weekend (Ron French, Nicholas Hill and myself) were also asked to present their ideas for a suitable permanent memorial.

In the deliberations, cost was an important factor. Various sums, up to ₤10,000, were suggested but some ideas such as a life - sized standing figure or a foundation prize would have been prohibitive.

The key elements were how to capture the imagination of the public, to find an image that was instantly recognisable, a long-lasting monument and, very importantly, one that had style and quality. It needed a memorial that embraced all the ideals of Eagle and reached the high standards set by Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson and those that joined their team.

After exploring many possible avenues the 50th Anniversary Committee put forward the proposal for a bust of Dan Dare with a suitable accompanying plaque honouring those who created Eagle. Living in the vicinity of London, I undertook the task of finding a sculptor who not only could, but also through understanding the commission, would be able to produce an appropriate figure. The search began in August 1999.

After trying several contacts, in itself an interesting story, I lit upon John Fowler. At the earlier mention of "Eagle" or "Dan Dare" there had been little response, but John reacted "My God, I haven't heard of Dan Dare for at least 30 years." I knew this would be the man for the job. There were a number of telephone calls and photocopies sent of suitable Dan Dare stories in order to find the right expression. In the end we decided that the "head" from a front-page frame of Vol.8 No.36 captured the spirit of Dare and Eagle.

It was time to make physical contact. The conversation at the first visit to John's studio in Islington, North London, centred on personal nostalgia and the concept behind Eagle, where the bust was likely to be sited, suitable materials and the image itself.

There was a preference to have Dan in his space helmet (there are many very good examples that could have been used) but John felt that the opportunity to capture the spirit of Eagle, epitomised in the character, would be obscured. It was also decided to make it life-sized to add to the realism of the character.

Two copies of the Hawk reprints were left in order to find a suitable number of references.

The quotation for the work of producing the plaster model was ₤700. The cost of casting it in bronze was estimated at ₤500.

As there was no hurry (most of John's commissions have to be done by yesterday) a plaster master was not completed until February 2000.

At this point, final details on the siting and mounting of the bust were discussed with John Taylor, Head of Arts and Cultural Services in Southport. Sefton Council had agreed to provide the plinth and the plaque. As Lord Street is a listed street, approval for the type of plinth, its size, its siting, colour and every other piece of minutiae had to pass through four committees including English Heritage!

So the invitation to inspect and approve of the prototype model was received with trepidation on two fronts, would it meet the expectations of the membership of the Eagle Society and then the "bodies conservationist" in Southport?

In the middle of the studio floor was a stand adorned with a black bin-liner. By way of introduction John said that he had trouble establishing a definitive Dan Dare face. Having taken 30 photos of frames from the Dan Dare stories he had identified some principal features, all of which fans could recognise. There was the lantern jaw, smallish nose, full lower lip, very clean shaven, and of course, the eyebrows. There was a sense of an apology being made ahead of the unwrapping of the plaster bust. Double worry!

The plastic began to unfold and there was the knockout version of the bust. What a feeling of relief! It could have been an "interpretation", mimicking something that Dali or Picasso may have felt comfortable sanctioning, it could have looked like Quasimodo or worse, one nobody would recognise at all.

But John is a very fine sculptor, as all his other work testifies, and he had got it right. The pose was heroic, staring into the distance. It had a feeling of the frame from The Man from Nowhere when Dan hears the "music of the stars".

Shortly afterwards, the first painted fibreglass version appeared. The Editorial Committee had already seen photographs of the grey plaster prototype and now had the opportunity to see the bust in the flesh. It met with their approval and delight. It was considered exactly what had been expected.

The next step was to find a factory to cast the bronze. Several companies were approached and the range of quotations was very wide. In the end, Burleighfield in High Wycombe was selected and the mould delivered. The quotation for casting was ₤930 in total, somewhat more than was estimated at the outset. The completion date was set for 2nd April.

During the last week in March, John Taylor, Head of Arts and Cultural Services in Southport, rang to say that the Burleighfield knew nothing about a completion date and that the bust would not be ready.

At a time of intensive activity and rising panic elsewhere ahead of the anniversary weekend, the last thing needed was a disaster like that! It was a time for lying down in darkened room, tranquillisers, or running away. Laxatives were certainly not required.

John Fowler was amazed, having organised the date for completion himself. He was very calm and professional. If the real one were not going to be available, a substitute bronze-effect, fibreglass version would ready for the unveiling.

In fact, there was no problem and the panic remains a mystery.

I checked out the final bust at the end of March and it was collected and placed in its final position and Thursday 13th April in preparation for the unveiling by Peter Hampson and Sally Barker on Saturday 15th April.

The final total cost fell well inside the figure that had been discussed at Launde Abbey. It was ₤1,628. On top of that, the Eagle Society donated one of the two painted fibreglass busts to the Southport College of Art, to take pride of place opposite a ceramic bust of the Mekon as part of the permanent display honouring the artists of Eagle who attended the College of Art. The other bust, belonging to myself, was part of the 50 Years of Eagle Exhibition held at the Atkinson Art Gallery in Southport.

an article from the Summer 2000 edition of Eagle Times by David Britton. the model for the bust This is the frame that David chose as the model for the sculptor.