'Flamer' Spry and Dan by Zac 
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© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015 

The are a number of myths that 'Eagle Anoraks', and pensioned off 'Astral cadets' like to 'spin' regarding the origins of Dan Dare and the 'Eagle Comic'.

Marcus Morris by Zac

It is true that the comic was initially created by Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson.
Morris was a 'snobbish' Anglican Vicar, failed Air-force Chaplain and failed Parish 'Priest', who had dabbled in publishing with his parish magazine, 'The Anvil'.

Frank Hampson by Zac
Hampson was a failed art student who, after leaving the Army, was desperate for work. Morris needed an illustrator for 'The Anvil', and Hampson needed a job, and so the unlikely two teamed up – by necessity rather than any shared sympathies.
However, with 'The Anvil' on its last legs, and very deeply in bebt, Morris was desperate to find another option for his obsession with becoming a magazine publisher.
And so Hampson came up with the unlikely idea of 'Dan Dare – Space Chaplain' – after all, Morris had been an Air-Force Chaplain, even if he wasn't up to the job, and in the end resigned.
Of course 'Dan Dare – Space Chaplain' never even reached even the first issue, and one wonders if the concept was ever seriously intended for publication.
In reality it appears that it was an initial subterfuge to get some into thinking that all the 'spin' about a 'Christian Comic' had some sunstance.
The 'myth' about the creation of the Eagle, of course, is that it was a riposte to the appalling American 'horror comics' which were supposedly warping the minds – and morals – of innocent little English boys.
The 'Eagle' was, supposedly, a 'Christian' comic for boys.
Now the only 'Christian' item in the Eagle was a strip featuring New Testament stories on the back page – which hardly any boys read.
Interestingly, this specifically Christian strip was not Morris' 'baby', but was included because it gave Hampson a chance to give his version of all the great images in Christian art – the Crucifixion, the Nativity, the entry into Jerusalem etc – which he did very well – (interestingly, however, Hampson is not remembered for his 'religious' images).
As for encouraging boys to live 'Christian' lives – well that's just part of the myth.
In reality Morris was a womanising, hard drinking 'money grabber', and Hampson was an obsessive monomaniac – and neither of them really cared deeply about Christian morality, although Morris gave superficial lip service to Christian values – until he became editor of 'Cosmopolitan'.
So the 'myths', as such, relate to the supposedly 'saintly' Marcus Morris, and the idea that the Eagle, as thought up by Hampson, was a boy's 'Christian comic'.
And the name ?
Well the 'myth' teeters between the traditional Anglican eagle lectern in Marcus Morris' church, and an ink-stand in the shape of an eagle in Morris's study.

RAF Woodvale by Zac
In reality, the name and the emblem owe nothing to Christian iconography, but rather are inspired, more prosaically, but justifiably, by  the nearby RAF Woodvale (on which Hampson based the Space Fleet HQ), which had an eagle as it emblem (in addition to the usual RAF eagle), and the motto 'UT AQUILAE VOLENT' - (That Eagles May Fly) - very appropriate.
But what was the Dan Dare 'strip' in the eagle really about ?
That's a question that very few people ask.
Well, to begin with, Dan Dare had practically nothing to do with Marcus Morris.
Dan Dare was the creation, almost solely, of Frank Hampton.
Morris, of course, gave it his approval, and support, when he realised that it was a superb 'money-spinner' – and then took most of the money and the kudos for himself, depriving Hampson of even the copyright !
Hampson's obsession (and it was an obsession), with space flight seems to have been born when he was in the British Army, and came into contact with German rocketry, at the end of the war.
And so, around this obsession, he created a unique 'world' – the world of Dan Dare.
But that world is not quite so simple – or 'clean cut' - as one may imagine.
Within the stories, and the quite amazing 'art', there are trends and themes that are strange, and somewhat unlikely.
One of these themes is that of a faint 'homo-eroticism'.

So, what is homo-erotic about the work of Frank Hampson ?
Well, for one thing we are not suggesting that Hampson was homosexual.
He was married, (happily or not we do not know), and he had one son, Peter.
And one thing to clear up at this point is the connection between Peter Hampson and 'Flamer' Christopher Spry (and we will be hearing a lo more about 'Flamer' later).
According to the often quoted 'myth', 'Flamer' was based on Peter Hampson.
This is not correct.
Firstly, Peter was too young when 'Flamer's' character was first created, and secondly, there is a photograph of the boy on whom 'Flamer' was based.
However, it has not been possible to discover who the boy was - and no one who may know is telling.
To return to Frank, however, while he was probably not homosexual, he undoubtedly had homo-erotic tendencies, which can be clearly discerned in some of his illustrations (should we call it art ?), and in the characters and story-lines to be found in the adventures of Dan Dare, as featured in the 'Eagle' comic.
The obvious example, of course, is the relationship that exists between Colonel Dare and 'Flamer' Spry, a cadet from the Space Fleet Astral College.
'Astral College', in case you don't know, is a kind of space-age Eaton, with 'fagging', prefects and uniforms, and of course no girls.


We should begin, of course, at the beginning, however, with two men who each have an important place in Colonel Dare's life.

Sir Hubert Guest by Zac
The first is his immediate boss, Sir Hubert Guest, the Space Fleet Controller.
The second is Spacemen First Class Albert (Dig) Digby.
Now the relationship between Dare and Guest is not strictly speaking 'homo-erotic'.
We know that there was a connection between Sir Hubert and Dan's father, back in the early days of space exploration - and this may help to explain how Dan became a colonel in his early twenties.
It should also be remembered that there is an age gap of approximately thirty years between the two men.
Dan's father died when Dan was still a boy, and it seems the Sir Hubert became a substitute father.
It is interesting to note, however, the despite Sir Hubert's gruff manner, and 'stiff upper lip', he appears to be inordinately, and possibly inappropriately fond of his young protégé.

Albert Digby by Zac
Digby (Spacemen First Class Albert Digby) is a completely different case - or almost.
Like Sir Hubert, he's older than Dan, and also inordinantly fond of his young boss.
'Dig', surprisingly, is married, and has two children, although you hardly ever see him with his family.
Even when Dan has 'leave', Dig tags along with him ('Safari in Space' - with Flamer in tow), so the two men holiday together, with Digby's wife and kids left at home.
Digby's official position is Colonel Dare's 'batman'
In case you don't know, this has nothing to do with the 'caped crusader'.
A 'batman' is a soldier or air-man assigned to a commisioned officer as a personal servant.
Before the advent of motorized transport, an officer's batman was also in charge of the officer's "bat-horse" that carried the pack saddle with his officer's kit during a campaign.
Now apparently Digby is a first class pilot, and on numerous occassion has been offered promotion, however, he prefers to stay a simple 'menial', so that he can stay with his beloved Dan.
Digby, however, also seems to have some 'connection' with young 'Flamer' as, in the 'Posiedon' and 'Galactic Galleon' they 'bunk' together.


Cadet Urb by Zac
Flamer Spry is a character who was introduced to the Dan Dare strip in the story 'Prisoners of Space'.
His precursor was Urb, a fourteen year old blue Atlantean boy who, for some reason, never fully explained, was serving on the space-ship that was carrying Sondar, Dan, Digby and Professor Peabody, and which crashed on Mercury ('Marooned on Mercury').
And like 'Flamer', Urb had a 'shock' of red hair.
Urb, however, although a charming boy, and excessively 'polite', was blue, (he was an Venusian Atlantine), and despite Hampton's oft lauded 'anti-racialism' and supposed 'political correctness', blue was not really acceptable.
So Urb fades from the scene, to be replaced by a far more acceptable 'white' earthboy, 'Flamer'.
'Flamer', according to information published outside the comic strip, was born in Middlesex.
He is a cadet at the Space Fleet Astral College - that space-age Eton to which we have previously referred..
Unlike all the other major characters in the Dan Dare stories, nothing else is known about this boy, other than the fact that he is aged about thirteen years when he first meet Dan Dare in 'Prisoners of Space'.
There is, however, a problem with young 'Flamer'.
Flamer Spry by Zac
Flamer appears in both the undersea expedition in Lex O’Malley’s submarine 'Poseidon', and as a member of the four man Earth Expedition that is sent to the planet Cryptos, to save the peaceful Crypts from invasion by their war-like enemies, the Phants.
Now it seems, at the very least, puzzling that a boy of Flamer's age should have been sent on the Cryptos Expedition, or Poseidon exploration ?
One should remember that he is presented as a thirteen year old boy, and while it is possible to understand and appreciate the obvious commercial asset created by including of character, of a similar age and gender, to that of the Eagle‘s audience directly in the story, the fact remains that Hampson never explained why this young boy should form an essential part of so many of the Dan Dare adventures.
In a less 'realistic' comic strip it would be easy to ignore the fact that such a young lad is involved in such 'adventures', but Hampson has set standards of realism, both in his art and in the construction of his stories, that prevent one from ignoring the flaws and inconsistencies in the logic of his world.
It was, perhaps, permissible for Flamer to play an essential role in the story 'Prisoners of Space'.
His introduction into that story was logical, well-planned, and the result of a perfectly believable accident.
The Reception at the Venusian Embassy by Zac
And it was equally reasonable for Flamer to be present at the Embassy Reception, where he enjoyed recognition for his part in the apparent 'defeat' of the Mekon.
However, when the alarm sounded, and Dan went off to deal with the problem, Flamer, quiite rightly was not among the crew.
The fact, however, that Lex O’Malley who, it appears, has known Dan for maybe a half hour, does go with the interceptor squadron is strange, to say the least.
The one big question, however, that’s never answered in all the stories in which he appears is just who the Junior Cadet nicknamed 'Flamer' Spry is in the first place.
And at this stage, perhaps we should consider one of the main problems with regard to young 'Flamer'.
He appears, apparently out of nowhere, along with Space Fleet Astral College, and all its cadets, Senior and Junior, in the first part of 'Prisoners of Space'.
It is not suggested that Colonel Dare has ever heard of Cadet Spry before 'Flamer’s' model rocket ship nearly collides with Sir Hubert, but Dan is sufficiently impressed by the young cadet that he decides that the only ‘punishment’ for the prank would be a tour of the real thing.
This scenario, of course, is perfectly plausible, and considering how well 'Flamer' conducts himself in what are obviously difficult circumstances, it’s possibly understandable that Dan might then look upon him as a sort of protégé.
Taking the above into consideration, the decision to make a place for 'Flamer' on O'Malley's 'Poseidon' expedition, which was a non-combat, search-and-rescue mission, is equally understandable and logical.
It is, however, the events after the 'deep sea' expedition that seems more than unlikely, and raises some difficult questions.

'Flamer' and Dan by Zac
Dan has the task of going to Cryptos to help the Crypts defend themselves against the Phants.
The operation involves a trip across interstellar space, with three volunteers, one of whom is obviously going to be Digby.
'Flamer', it seems, puts himself forward as a volunteer, and this can bee seen as an example of unrealistic, but well intentioned boyish enthusiasm.
The odd result, however, is that although he is only a thirteen year old boy, he is accepted, - on an practically suicidal mission, travelling to attempt avert war five light-years from Earth.
'Flamer', as has been explained, is an approximately thirteen year old boy at Astral College, - which is a full-time, military-based establishment and, like a boarding school pupil, he lives in.
The College is, therefore, 'in locus parentis'.
In practice, 'in locus parentis' would mean the Headmaster, and via devolved authority, the masters.
Ultimately, however, the responsibility would rest with the Controller of Space-fleet, Sir Hubert Guest, who is also the supreme authority on Dare’s Expedition.
Sir Hubert’s initial response, of course, is to refuse the boy's request.

The Real Flamer Spry by Zac
But he is persuaded to relent, and to authorise Flamer’s admission, by a speech from the boy.
'Flamer' convinces Sir Hubert, against his own better judgement, to allow him to go.
The speech itself made up of both positive and negative arguments.
The positive arguments are what would be expected in the circumstances.
Flamer speaks of the opportunity, to see, to experience, to grow and to bring back to his classmates everything he learns.
But it is the negative argument that is strange.
It’s basically a statement expressive of the complete, apparent, unimportance of 'Flamer' Spry.
He declares that he is nothing but a single Astral College cadet.
If he should die, then little has been lost.
Just one, small, insignificant figure, who amounts to very little in the great scheme of things.
It’s a good argument, but it is difficult to believe that a thirteen year old boy should have, let alone speak such thoughts.
In its way, the speech echoes a 'nobility' that is in keeping with Dan Dare himself, but which seems strange coming from such a young a figure
The statement itself, however, calls our attention to the complete lack of any information about 'Flamer’, prior to his appearance in 'Prisoners of Space'.
When he describes himself as nothing, as someone whose death would cause no loss, create no absence, leave no trace behind, it draws attention to the simple problem, who is Flamer Spry?
He must, undoubtedly have had parents - but who are they and where are they ?
And whilst there must have been Grandparents, are there any other relatives – such as brothers and sisters , aunts and uncles – or even cousins ?
Is 'Flamer' Spry really alone in the world ?
Is no-one outside of Astral who has any interest in what might be his fate ?
It should be remembered that Frank Hampson began Dan Dare with detailed biographies of its principal characters.
However, there does not seem to have been anything similar prepared in respect of 'Flamer' Spry.
It has been suggested that perhaps Dan knew the Spry parents, and Flamer when he was very young, and that he has taken an avuncular stance in relation to him.
It has also been suggested that perhaps the Spry parents died when Flamer was young.
Regardless, we are left with the question of why Earth’s Chief Pilot of Space-fleet spends so much of his time with a thirteen year old boy - because that really is the problem.
And one must also consider that when Dan gets some leave, he takes 'Flamer' on holiday with him to the South of Venus (while Peabody and O'Mally holiday separately in Mekonta).
There are, of course, two other characters appearing in boy's comics - 'Batman' and 'Robin' - in reality Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.
The 'Dynamic Duo' may well be presented as portraying an idealised homoerotic life-style, the adult male and his under-age boy spending all their time living in a house with no female element.
In a similar manner, we have a relationship between a tall, handsome male bachelor (Dan) who has demonstrated a lack of interest in any female company (even Professor Peabody).
He already spends almost all his time with a devoted older male, (like Batman), who has apparently abandoned his wife and children to serve him.
And in the Eagle, beginning with 'Prisoners of Space', this ‘confirmed bachelor’ suddenly starts taking around with him a thirteen year old boy.
Unfortunately, there’s no definite answer, or a definitive conclusion to this.
One has to consider, of course, whether any conscious homoerotic undertones were intended.
But with all those slim, gym-toned and muscled Phants running around, one can't help but wonder.

 ALL text © Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
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