Dan Dare - The Characters

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

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Some of the Main Characters in Dan Dare
One of the greatest strengths of the Dan Dare stories was the wonderful array of characters that were assembled.
Each, in their own inimitable way, had something special, and unique, to give to the stories.
What was puzzling, therefore, was the way some were 'thrown away', simply lost, or just disappeared.
Such losses were not, however, due to the machinations of the evil Mekon, but rather  the 'evil' Frank Bellamy - but more of him later, and also in the post on 'Frank Hampson - the Artist'.

Frank Bellamy (21 May 1917 – 5 July 1976) was a British comics illustrator, best known for his work on the Eagle comic, for which he illustrated Heros the Spartan and Fraser of Africa. He reworked its flagship Dan Dare strip - ruining it in the process.
He also drew Thunderbirds in a dramatic two-page format for the weekly comic TV Century 21. He drew the newspaper strip Garth for the Daily Mirror. 
While illustrating the Dan Dare stories Bellamy was assisted by Keith Watson and Don Harley - both excellent artists. Bellamy's appalling redesigns were very controversial and, after he left the strip a year later, the next artist was instructed to reintroduce the original designs.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
Dan and His Companions

The 'Dan Dare' stories begin with Dan, Digby and Sir Hubert Guest (the Controller of the Space Fleet).
Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare
Gradually, as time goes by, more characters are introduced (see above).


Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare was supposedly born in Manchester in 1967, and he attended Rossal School, eventually becoming School Captain, and later went to Trinity College Cambridge.
His hobbies were listed as cricket, fencing, riding, painting and model making.
In the 1950s, of course, any boy or man worth his salt was expected to have a number of worthwhile and improving hobbies.


Spaceman First Class Albert Fitzwilliam Digby, of Wigan, is the faithful batman (i.e., personal servant).
Don Harley posing as Digby
Short where Dan is tall, prematurely white-haired (with a quiff) where Dan has smooth, well-brushed brown hair, tubby where Dan is slim, Dig is the physical opposite of his Colonel just as he is the other pole in the series.
Before long, Hampson would break down his two principal characters into an easy, aphoristic line: “Dan Dare was the man I dreamed of being, Digby the man I was afraid I was.”
It’s easy to take such a jokey approach to Digby: after all, he was the comic relief character, the constant companion to whom everything had to be explained, benefiting the audience.
He was 'Other Ranks', he came from Wigan, with the appropriate accent and language, he was concerned with his comfort, he was rotund (almost to the extent that you wondered about the Health Requirements for Spacefleet).
But Digby was brave, and he was loyal, and he never let anyone, especially ‘his’ Colonel down.
Well, perhaps that’s not wholly true. Digby was married, and the father of four, with his wife and children back at home in Wigan, but despite his longing for familiar surroundings (only slightly less pronounced than his desire for a plate of fish’n’chips), the one place we would never see Albert Fitzwilliam was Wigan, with his family.
Whether or not he took leave was never revealed: certainly, every time Dan is on leave, Dig is by his side, brewing up and looking after his clothes.
And on those rare occasions that Digby received awards for his bravery, it would not be his wife who came to the ceremony but his spinster Aunt Anastasia, who had brought up the orphaned Albert from a very early age and retained no high opinion of him.
As adults, we can perhaps wonder about this: even if Hampson would have been minded to address the Digby marriage in the series, Morris as Editor and Vicar would certainly not have allowed any reference to marital discord, so perhaps we are on safest ground in assuming that the Digbys’ relationship was like that of so many happy marriages of the Twentieth Century and before, and founded on never seeing each other !
We can at least be sure that Digby made over enough of his pay for Housekeeping !


© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
Sir Hubert Guest
adapted from a painting by Don Harley
Sir Hubert Gascoigne Guest, Controller of Spacefleet, was a veteran of space travel (Guest had been part of the expedition that made the first Moon landing in 1965, and was the third man to walk on the Moon).
A crusty, old-fashioned Commander, Sir Hubert was a father figure to Dan, a man he clearly regarded with a paternal eye, though not one unfocused in its adherence to rank and order.
It would be many years before we heard about Dan’s actual father, though Hampson had composed a biography of his hero – of each of his characters – that underpinned their on-panel solidarity whether such details were ever mentioned or not.
Sir Hubert may have been as a stern, strict father to Dan Dare but to the boys who read Dan’s adventures, he would have been seen as a grandfatherly presence.
He also stood more firmly on the ground than any other character, for Frank Hampson sought the only father figure he knew, former Detective Inspector Robert Hampson of the Southport Police, and tremendously popular and supportive figure in the Dan Dare Studio (or the Bakery, as it was in real life).
Frank simply drew his own father, to a level that is almost frightening in its accuracy.


© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
the real 'Flamer' Spry
Christopher Philip ('Flamer') Spry was born in Middlesex, and is a cadet at the Space Fleet Astral College.

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'.

There is, undoubtedly, an incongruity of Flamer Spry’s presence on both the undersea expedition in Lex O’Malley’s 'Poseidon', and as one of the four man Earth Expedition across interstellar space to the planet Cryptos, to save the peaceful Crypts from invasion, slaughter and slavery at the hands of their war-like enemies, the Phants.
Now in any kind of realistic frame, should Flamer have gone on the Cryptos Expedition, or Poseidon exploration ?

The boy on whom 'Flamer'
was based -
not Peter Hampson
It is important to remember that he is presented as a thirteen year old boy, and while one can understand and appreciate the commercial appeal of including a member of Eagle‘s audience directly in the story, the fact remains that Frank Hampson never touches on why this young boy should form an integral part of so many adventures.
It could be possible to gloss over this, and in a lesser series that would be easy, but Hampson has set standards of realism, in art and story construction, that do not allow one to ignore flaws and weaknesses in the logic of his world.
It was one thing for Flamer to play a substantial role in 'Prisoners of Space'.
His introduction in that story was logical, well-planned, and the result of a perfectly believable accident.
And it was equally proper for Flamer to be at the Embassy Reception, and enjoy recognition for his part in what occurred.

Note though that, when the alarm sounded, and Dan left to fly off with the interceptor squadron that Flamer was rightly not among the crew.

That Lex O’Malley, who’s known Dan for maybe a half hour, does go with the interceptor squadron is odd, 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.
'Flamer' appears out of nowhere, along with Astral College and all its other cadets, Senior and Junior, in the first episode of 'Prisoners of Space'.

'Flamer' Spry
as drawn by Frank Hampson
There’s no suggestion that Dan Dare has even heard of him before 'Flamer’s' model rocket ship nearly prangs Sir Hubert, but Dan is sufficiently impressed by the young boy that he ‘punishes’ him by giving him a tour of the real thing.
All of this is perfectly plausible, and given how well 'Flamer' conducts himself in difficult circumstances, it’s entirely understandable that Dan might then look upon him as a sort of proteg√©.
In that light, the decision to wangle a place for 'Flamer' on the 'Poseidon' expedition – a non-combat, search-and-rescue mission, – is equally understandable, and even logical.
It’s what follows that stretches credibility, and raises some difficult questions.
Dan is off to Cryptos, across interstellar space, with three volunteers, one of whom is going to be, inevitably, Digby.
That 'Flamer' should put himself forward as a volunteer is only to be expected, however, the odd result is that he’s accepted: a thirteen year old boy on a potentially suicide mission, traveling to avert war five light-years from Earth?
Now 'Flamer' is an approximately thirteen year old boy at Astral College, a full-time, military-based establishment, and like a boarding school pupil, he lives in.
The College is 'in locus parentis'.
In practice, 'in locus parentis' would mean the Headmaster, and via devolved authority, the masters. Ultimately, the responsibility vests in the Controller of Spacefleet, Sir Hubert Guest, who is also the supreme authority on Dare’s Expedition.

'Flamer', Sir Hubert and Lero
Sir Hubert’s response of course is obvious one: 'No'.
But he is persuaded to relent, and to authorize Flamer’s admission, by a speech from the young man.
What does 'Flamer' say that convinces Sir Hubert, against his own better judgement, to allow him to go ?
It’s made up in equal parts of positive and negative arguments.
The positive arguments are what you would expect in the circumstances: 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 unusual.
It’s basically a statement of the complete un-importance of 'Flamer' Spry.
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
'Flamer' Spry
based on a painting by Don Harley
Who is he ? Nothing but a single Astral College cadet.
If he should die, what has been lost ? Just one, tiny, insignificant figure, less than nothing in the grand scheme of things.
It’s an impressive argument, but it is difficult to believe that a thirteen year old boy should have, let alone speak such thoughts.
In their way, they speak to a 'nobility' that is in keeping with Dan Dare himself, but which sits awkwardly with so young a figure
But the statement is fateful in calling our attention to the complete blackout of everything that lies behind 'Flamer’s' debut 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 that imposing lacuna: who is Flamer Spry?
He must have had parents - but who are they ? Where are they ? What’s happened to them ?
And whilst there must have been Grandparents, are there other relatives ? Brothers and sisters ? Aunts and Uncles ? Cousins ?
Is 'Flamer' Spry really so alone in the world that there is no-one outside of Astral who has any interest in what might be his fate ?
Though Frank Hampson began Dan Dare with detailed biographies of its principal characters, there does not seem to have been anything similar prepared in respect of 'Flamer' Spry.
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
'Flamer' on holiday with Dan and Digby
It’s been tentatively 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’s a simple construct, and perhaps the Spry parents died when Flamer was young, or are stationed on Mars, or else working in some element of the Service that provides an equivalent to the Twentieth Century manner of getting unwanted parents out of the way, running Rubber Plantations in Malaya, or on diplomatic missions with the Foreign Service.
Regardless, we are left with the question of why Earth’s Chief Pilot of Spacefleet hangs around an awful lot with a thirteen year old boy -  because that really is the problem.

Prof Peabody, O'Malley and Sir Hubert on Holiday
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 seperately in Mekonta).
A similar situation may be found with two other characters appearing in boy's comics -  Batman and Robin, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.
Love interest for Dan
Professor Peabody
The 'Dynamic Duo' may well be seen as portraying an idealized homoerotic life-style, the man and his underage boy spending all their time living in a house with no female element.
Eric Eden as Lex O'Malley

In a similar manner, we have a relationship between a tall, handsome male bachelor who has demonstrated a lack of interest in any female company (Professor Peabody).
He already spends all his life with a devoted male, (like Batman), who has apparently abandoned his wife and children to serve him.
And now this ‘confirmed bachelor’ suddenly starts taking around with him a thirteen year old boy.
Unfortunately, there’s not an answer or a definitive conclusion to this. 
One has to consider, of course, whether any conscious undertones were intended.

But with all those slim, gym-toned and muscled Phants running around, one can't help but wonder.

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