Frank Hampson - his life and work.


Frank Hampson's signatureThese pictures were taken to be used as models for Dan - hence all the different expressions.


Frank Hampson was born to Robert and Elsie on 21st December 1918, in Manchester, altho his family moved to the seaside town of Southport three months later. Southport became his home town. He had a younger brother and sister. He went to King George V Grammar School when he was 11 [Eric Eden started there two years later]. He got his first regular commission drawing sketches when 13 from Meccano Magazine [Meccano was a fore runner of Lego, altho more ambitious. It has struts which had to be bolted together to build anything that took your fancy. Very much the thing for budding engineers. I hated the stuff - I was never any good with it.] He left school when 14 to join the Post Office, but left to enrol full-time with the Victoria College of Arts & Science in the spring of 1938. Harold Johns joined at the same time.

With the start of the war, however, he joined the Royal Army Service Corps, where he learned to drive a truck, and was later commissioned as Lieutenant. He married Dorothy in 1944. At the end of the war he joined the Southport School of Arts and Crafts. However, he was now 28, with a family imminent, and did his best to get freelance work - winning, among other things, a poster competition held by Southport Borough Council to promote the town as a seaside resort.

At the same time, Marcus Morris, a local vicar, was looking for an artist to illustrate a magazine he was editing called Anvil. This was intended to be more than just a parish magazine : he had ambitions to make it a national monthly Christian magazine. At the same time, he was worried about the lack of reading material for young children, and in February 1949 wrote an article in the Sunday Dispatch about how American horror comics were corrupting Britain's youth. He and Frank then began planning a strip, Lex Christian [latin for 'the Christian law'], a chaplain based in the East End of London, destined for the Sunday Empire News, whose editor had provisionally agreed to run it. However, before this came about, the editor, Terence Horsley, was killed in a gliding accident.

Frank was now even more pressed financially, and was tempted to go freelance in London - which would have broken the link with Marcus Morris. Marcus then employed him full time, and over the next few months Eagle began to take shape. FH is quoted as saying : "Title, story, drawings, and inventions were all mine and .. the paper, in recognisable form, and christened Eagle by my wife, was ready on my council house dining room table".

It was Marcus who hawked it round Fleet Street, though, and eventually found a publisher, Hulton's. Hulton's were fairly small scale, and in 1949 there were all sorts of problems for publishers, in particular a shortage of paper. Matters moved fast from there on, and on 14th April 1950, the first issue of Eagle hit the newsagents. Frank never did finish his diploma at Southport.

There is no doubt that Frank was being well paid, but there was a snag which didn't seem that important at the time - the copyright of Eagle and all that was in it was held by Hulton's ... not by Frank, who had invented, written and drawn Dan Dare. This was an issue which would cause great pain later.


But Eagle was now being published, once a week, and Frank had been drawing most of it singlehanded. That couldn't be sustained - he himself had set a policy that no artist was to do more than 1 page of artwork a week. He had been doing 5 - 2 pages of Dan Dare, one of The Great Adventurer, Tommy Walls, and Rob Conway [a very shortlived b&w strip]. He had to draft other artists in at very short notice - Harold Johns was an obvious choice [he took over Rob Conway]. Eric Eden was also drafted in, then other artists were hired : Joan Porter, Jocelyn Thomas [The Great Adventurer], Greta Tomlinson, Bruce Cornwell. Tommy Walls was also passed on - the strip, sponsored by Walls Icecream, became almost a rite of passage for future Eagle artists - John Worsley, Richard Jennings, Mazure and others.

In the hot summer of 1950 the team worked in an old bakehouse in Southport, trying to keep ahead of the work. FH was meticulous in detail, but not always well organised. As Bruce Cornwell says : "Time didn't mean much to Frank and to put it in a nutshell - his skill and vision was only equalled by his inability to organise and balance studio production." [Eagle Times, Summer 1993].

The hours of work, then and later, affected the others too. Greta once went to bed very late one Saturday night, awoke Sunday afternoon and walked down the corridor to the bathroom hallucinating pools of fire. Don Harley in Epsom, later: "... I did so much work in the first few weeks that it had a very odd effect. Harold, Greta and Jocelyn held a party and after a few drinks I started to hallucinate Dan Dare. I can remember bright lights were flashing past my eyes and I kept seeing strip cartoons, frames and whole pages - it was amazing.". And: " ... I just kept seeing Dan Dare in strip frames. It was a good party though - one of the best parties I have been to!" [Eagle Times, Summer 1995].

But the hours of work strained Frank's health too. In 1951 he was unwell, in 1952 he was forced to rest, leaving Marooned on mercury to Harold, and again at the end of Operation Saturn a year later. Having Don as an assistant helped tho, and by now the Epsom studio was up and running. From almost the very beginning, members of the studio had posed for photographs of the scenes Frank had in mind. Robert Hampson, Frank's father, was one of the studio models, and was used as the direct model for Sir Hubert. When Frank was working, he was absorbed - and he was a hard taskmaster, intolerant of other's faults or weaknesses. Keith Watson took in a frame for Frank's approval : Frank was working away. "Ah! I thought. he's happy. He's got a smile on his face." But the smile faded when Frank looked up. "And then I looked at the drawing board and Frank was smiling because the character he was drawing was smiling."

From 1955 to 1959, the studio set up was in full swing, producing Dan Dare at his best. For two pages of artwork, though, there was Frank, Don, Keith, Eric Eden, Joan Porter, the models and assistants such as Max Dunlop. To be fair, they were also working on other material - the Eagle Annuals, for example - but it was expensive. and this was to be its downfall.

For Hultons were taken over, becoming Longacre, and then were taken over again. Marcus ceased being editor and moved on. Clifford Makins, who found Frank difficult to work with, took over. The studio system was threatened. Finally, in despair, Frank asked to be taken off Dan Dare, and Bellamy took over. Frank was never to work on Dan Dare again. Instead, he spent a year on The Road of Courage [the life of Christ]. Then nothing. Things got so bad that at one stage he attempted suicide. Eventually, he was pensioned off. He was then in his early forties.


From then on Frank did odd pieces of advertising [the saddest part of all is to see the advertisement, The Adventures of the Bovril Brigade, in Eagle in November 1962, signed by Frank. Sic transit gloria ... ].

Frank Hampson Bovril

He later worked for Ladybird books [reading books for youngsters], then took a job illustrating slides at the local Technical College.

In 1975 there was a brief moment of glory : he was taken to the Comics Convention at Lucca in Italy, where he was given a special award. But nothing further came of it. he worked spasmodically on ideas for strips, starting off with a page or so of artwork before it petered out ... and fell ill again, this time with cancer of the throat, which he overcame. But then there was a stroke. He died in Epsom College Hospital on 8th July 1985.

Some quotes are credited elsewhere, but apart from those, the quotes and details for this page are taken from Alastair Crompton's book, The Man Who Drew Tomorrow.