Tag Archives: the avengers

[May 27, 1961] RED STAR, BLUE STAR (May 1961 UK Fandom report)

[Ashley Pollard is back with this month’s report on the space and sci-fi scene across the Pond!  Yes, I did use the term “sci-fi” advisedly…]

Last month a Red Star rose in the East.  This month a Blue Star rose in the West as Alan Shepherd became the first American in space.  He was aboard the Freedom 7 Mercury capsule launched atop the Mercury-Redstone 3 booster — showing it’s possible to reach space without getting to orbit. While this may be seen as a bit of disappointment, it clearly demonstrates American caution in testing systems before clearing them for flight.  Something I’m sure the astronauts approve of, as they sit atop what is a potential bomb if things go wrong.

I understand that there’s another flight using the Redstone booster in July to look forward to, but my friend Gerry Webb, a member of the British Interplanetary Society, informs me the larger Mercury-Atlas booster is required to propel a man into orbit.  However, I’m sure it won’t be long until an American astronaut orbits the Earth as both the Russian and American space agencies strive to be the first to achieve the next new record.  I will be following the action as the Space Race hots up.

Meanwhile, at the last Thursday night’s London Circle meeting, once one had gotten through the frothing going on about memberships cards and the current fan feud that rolls on, we sat down and discussed the lamentable state of the British space programme.  I braced myself with a Gin & Tonic, with ice and a slice, for the lamentation of the space geeks.

To summarize Great Britain’s role in space, we lag far behind both United States and the Soviet Union, our government having cancelled Blue Streak early last year, which was a medium-range ballistic missile that would’ve made a good basis for a British rocket.  It was being tested at the Woomera Rocket Range in Australia (named, aptly, after an Aboriginal spear throwing aid).  Woomera has plenty of room to fire rockets into space, unlike the Home Counties or anywhere else for that matter on the British Isles.

Shortly after announcing the cancellation of the Blue Streak our government changed its mind and said it would develop a two-stage rocket called Black Prince: using Blue Streak for the bottom stage and our Black Knight missile for the top.  Gerry tells me that the names are generated from the British government’s Rainbow Code that uses a colour and a randomly generated word for aerospace projects.  Unfortunately, for British fans of space rocketry, our government then went and cancelled the Black Prince project for being far too expensive.

I’m afraid that only leaves us the fictional British rocket programmes to fly the flag for us in space.

We start with the “British Experimental Rocket Group” from Quatermass by Nigel Kneale (the television show which wrapped up almost a decade ago, but which spawned two sequels).  As space projects go, it can’t be said to have been a complete success for two very good reasons.  First was the loss of ship on landing, and then there was the small matter of the crew dying and the mutated survivor wanting to chomp down on the inhabitants of the City of London.

However, that still leaves us with Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, which I haven’t mentioned before.  He is the eponymous hero of the Eagle comic’s lead strip.  Dan Dare is the lead test pilot of the “Interplanet Space Fleet”, whose adventures in space are still delighting its readers after ten years of weekly installments.  The series was created by Frank Hampson who consulted Arthur C. Clarke on the comic strips’ science.  While lots of spaceships have been lost, favourites like Dan Dare’s own Anastasia fly around the Solar system rescuing those in need of help, and defeating the various nefarious plans of enemies like the Mekon: large headed green alien overlords from Venus (and I expect you thought I would say Mars – still green though).

And finally we have UNEXA, the “United Nations Exploration Agency.”  This organization launches space missions and is the creation of Hugh Walters who has written a series of children’s science fiction that starts with Blast Off at Woomera.  Ah that Woomera, which is no longer the centre of British aspirations in space.  Sometimes fiction is better than fact.

Needless to say, most of those around the table with me had that look on their faces I always see when I mention something that’s considered off piste in polite science fiction company.  And don’t get me started about the furore it causes if one dares to use Forrest J Ackerman’s term for our genre: Sci-Fi . I can only hope that in the future that people who enjoy reading and watching SF, including comics, will be accepted as fans like the rest of those who only read books and magazines . Besides I like pronouncing Sci-Fi as Skiffy, because skiffy rhymes with spiffy.  Moreover, I think that reading SF is a smart thing as the world around us transforms from steam and steel into space and computers.

The other topic du jour has been George Blake née George Behar who was sentenced to 42 years in prison for being a spy for the Russians.  Spying has become a topic of interest in my circles because of the link to secrets, and the nature of those secrets were the topic of a long discussion.  Featuring prominently were atomic bombs, which were up until a few years ago the sole purview of those science fiction types who like to fantasize about going into space.  I only comment about the spying, because as I said last time I’ve been watching the TV spy show The Avengers, which has just finished being broadcast for the season.  As has Supercar for that matter.

I note that there are a lot of what would have been considered quite science fictional elements in Avengers.  Perhaps not overtly showcased, but covertly in the use of science McGuffins to drive the stories forward.  It should come as no surprise to hear the show being called Spy-Fi, which underscores my point.  Language evolves, and as long as terms are not used to denigrate a genre, then I really don’t mind if you call what I read or watch Sci-Fi.

So, we now live in a world where science fiction can no longer be denied yet, we are still able to start endless bickering over whether it’s called science fiction, SF, Sci-Fi or even speculative fiction, a term I encountered when used by Robert A. Heinlein, though I understand he wasn’t the first to coin the expression.  The point being is that I prefer to imagine a future where we can all be the best of what we can be, and that we live being non-judgemental and have unconditional positive regard for our fellow human beings whether they be right or wrong.  Now isn’t that a science fictional ideal worth pursuing as we blast off into the Final Frontier.

[April 15, 1961] London Calling (a peek at UK fandom)

Every once in a while, one comes across a supremely talented, like-minded person.  Ashley R. Pollard is a gifted writer from England who is shopping around her first novel.  I discovered her through her columns in a British ‘zine; I was so impressed that I asked if she’d like to join the Journey as a contributor, writing on fandom in the UK.  To my intense gratification, she agreed.  Here is her first article…

Out of the blue I received a letter from across the pond asking me if I would have a mind to contribute to Galactic Journey and that is how I came to find myself writing this entry for this journal.  To say I was delighted to be known to an American writer would be an understatement, but to be able to write for the Journey in such exciting times as these, the Dawn of the Space Age, is quite frankly a privilege.  When Sputnik took to the heavens on October the Fourth, 1957, my work colleagues could no longer pass off my taste for reading science fiction as some abnormal fancy but rather as a sign of prescience.

Now a Red star has risen in the East — Vostok — aboard the ship is the first human in space: Major Yuri Gagarin, who is now a Hero of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and by extension a hero for all mankind.  The local prestige of our former wartime allies had plunged due to the recent discovery and capture of the Portland Spy Ring, causing ripples of concern over secrets lost, so having Major Gagarin take over the headlines has been welcome change — if only from one kind of paranoia to another: Reds with atomic secrets versus Reds in Space!  And because it turns my liking for all things to do with rocketry into a respectable talking point at parties.

Certainly, Thursday nights conversation at The London Circle, a meeting of like minded science fiction fans, was of nothing else.  (The London Circle was the basis for Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart.  I will not be drawn into the recent fan feud that has split the group because I attend for the ambience of the pub and the chance to have a G&T with ice and a slice. How very non-fannish of me.)

Of course, this being Britain, we had to draw comparisons to Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass Experiment and the British Experimental Rocket Group and what happened to the hapless astronaut to leaven the concerns of those who see Soviet dominance in space as threat to World Peace.

As you can well imagine our conversations were more along the lines of aliens returning to Earth with Major Gagarin, and what would the Russian counter-part of Bernard Quatermass do?

Perhaps, it was opined, the reason that his landing site is undisclosed is because Russian forces are engaged in confronting the alien threat to save the world.  Though, as I said at the time this idea was broached, I imagined that if so then Pravda would be telling us all about the heroic actions of the brave Soviet soldiers who died to save the world.  As we’ve not heard anything to this effect it is simpler to imagine that secret of where Major Gagarin landed is merely something the Politburo do not wish to disclose for fear of Western spies — tit for tat being a common response.

As per my wont, I also mentioned a television series that had caught my eye, engaging fellow fans with a comparison and contrast of visions of the future and the impact of science fictional ideas upon.  I had my listeners’ rapt attention until I revealed that said show was Supercar a production using puppets produced by Gerry Anderson & Arthur Provis of AP Films for ATV (the London independent TV franchise) and ITC Entertainment (a production and distribution company).

I came across this Saturday morning show quite by chance when looking after a friend’s child who sat totally absorbed by the adventures of Mike Mercury, the pilot of the eponymous Supercar, and the science team who created it: Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker.  Admittedly I missed some of the initial episode from being too caught up in reading my newspaper, the aforementioned headlines about the spy ring; but the catchy theme tune and more importantly the silence of the young boy watching kept drawing my attention from what I was reading.

What could be so fascinating that a six years old would stay still and quiet for so long?

I have since sat with him to watch Supercar together.  It’s a delightful concoction with a totally over the top opening sequence that can’t fail to attract the attention of the most jaded viewer.  The attention to detail is superb, for example, the opening sequence of events with Supercar flying up through the clouds banking over and then diving underwater are lovingly shot with music from Barry Gray that will stir the hearts of young and old alike.  More importantly it shows a future suffused with optimism…where cars fly!  I almost feel guilty for taking the babysitting money on Saturdays.  Almost but not quite.

Finally, to end this missive, and because I’m running out of blue airmail paper and worried about the cost of sending some photographs I acquired, I would like to mention another television show that has caught my eye.

It’s called The Avengers and features the rather hunky and adorable Ian Hendry who is supported by a debonaire Patrick Macnee, who looks vaguely familiar but for the life of me I can’t recall what he has performed in before.  I mention this show in passing because it riffs on the James Bond books, and with the Dr. No film coming out next year, I predict a spate of spy adventures gracing television and the silver screen.

However, the real excitement remains Major Gagarin’s achievement and the effects this will have on East-West diplomacy.  If only the world leaders could see the bigger picture here and (to bang on my favourite drum) hope for the future — something that the makers of Supercar caught in their children’s puppet show.  A future bright with possibilities from mankind’s ingenuity which will save the day whatever the adversity we face.