Saturday 6 December 2014


From 1981: a softback collection of old DAN DARE strips (possibly derived from the old annuals and specials... can anyone confirm or deny?) published by Hamlyn.

I think this was, quite possibly, my first exposure to the Pilot of the Future.  Even through I only acquired a copy decades later.  I remember seeing this in Chelmsford's branch of WH Smith and being suitably fascinated.  I was too young to have read the DD strips that had appeared a few years earlier in 2000AD (finally due to be reprinted next year... hurrah!) but I may have already have heard of the character thanks to the appearance of the (ultimately unrealized) Dare "car" as an upcoming release in a Corgi toy car catalog (the continuity of events is more than a little blurred at this point).

All this activity was because ATV were actively developing a TV version of the character and early licensing deals were being signed.  The TV version never happened, presumably parttly down to costs and viability but also, I'd guess, because of the behind-the-scenes changes at the ITV broadcaster.  

ATV's parent company ACC had taken a considerable financial kicking (insert reference to RAISE THE TITANIC and "lowering the Atlantic" here) in its attempts to expand into film making (there were plenty of flops but THE MUPPET MOVIE was a hit).  ATV's ITC subsidiary had all-but-abandoned TV series (after amassing a huge, and perennially lucrative, back catalog over several decades) in favor of film.  But film making had drained the company's coffers and forced out boss Lord Grade as the company struggled to find fresh backing.  

ATV itself, a mainstay of the ITV network since the 1950s, was also going through radical change that was not of its own making.  The broadcaster had originally held broadcast franchises in London and the Midlands and had made the former Neptune film studios in Elstree (just north of London) their main hub for TV production (ITC's shot-on-film series tended to be based either at the nearby Elstree or MGM film studios or at Pinewood) with another base in Birmingham.  

However, it the franchise realignment of the late sixties, ATV had lost their London license in exchange for a seven-day contract in the Midlands.  But production had stayed in Elstree.  This, along with the film operation and great success at flogging product to the US market, left the perception that management were far less interested in servicing their own UK region.  

The enforced solution was that ATV would have to divest itself of the Elstree centre (it was briefly mooted as a potential base for ITV's new breakfast television service, but TV-am won the franchise battle instead, and eventually sold to the BBC to house EastEnders) and build a new production base in Nottingham.  They were also forced to change their name (to Central Independent Television) and their shareholding (ACC bowed out altogether, taking the bulk of the ATV programme archive with them, in favor of remaining in the film business).

The unrealized prospect of the ATV adaptation also forced the 1982-launched EAGLE to create a new DAN, the great grandson of the original, rather than revive the original.  The subsequent revelation that the original had been a WWII flying ace inadvertently transported through time by the Treens (oh the irony) was also apparently concocted to tie-into the TV show. 

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