Rossall has produced its fair share of impressive alumni over the years. However, few can rival the intergalactic achievements of Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future. Dare was the creation of the Reverend Marcus Morris who was born in Preston on 25th April 1915. Coincidentally, that was the very same day that British Empire forces first landed at Anzac Cove in what was to prove an utterly disastrous campaign.
The Reverend Morris was ordained in 1939 and served as a chaplain in the RAF during the Second World War. After the war he became vicar of St James’ Church Birkdale. He was of a generation that had experienced far too much warfare and he yearned for an altogether better future. In 1945 he launched a magazine entitled The Anvil. This publication contained articles by such illustrious figures as C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers and Harold MacMillan. Marcus was strongly aligned with the post-war Christian Humanist movement which sought to make the teachings of Christ relevant after the horrors of the Holocaust and Hiroshima. One of the illustrators of The Anvil was Frank Hampson and, in 1949, Hampson and the Reverend Morrisby launched The Eagle.
The Reverend Morris was not altogether your typical parish priest. He had a reputation for being something of a sexual libertarian and living a decidedly louche lifestyle. Neither Marcus nor his wife Jessica considered their marriage to be an exclusive affair and both (allegedly) had a series of lovers whom they juggled alongside family life. Nevertheless, Marcus was troubled by what he deemed to be the violence, horror and immorality peddled by those American comics which were all the rage during the late 1940s. He felt that such comics had a corruptive influence on young people and as a result of this disillusionment he set his heart upon creating a boys’ comic that contained entirely positive role models. It was within this context that Dan Dare was conceived.
Dan Dare ‘Pilot of the Future’ was a curious addition to the pantheon of science fiction heroes in many regards. He wore a uniform which owed much to the past. He looked liked a raffish Spitfire Pilot and it has been suggested that he was, in essence, a Biggles of the future. His angular jaw and thickset brow suggested courage and resilience. Pipe clenched firmly between his teeth, this quintessentially British space pilot burst upon the public consciousness in 1950 with a force that could scarcely have been anticipated. Indeed, the first copy of The Eagle ran to 900,000 copies which in an age of post-war rationing and austerity represented success beyond Morris’ wildest dreams.
So what of the Rossall link? Like all comic heroes, Dan Dare had a meticulously researched backstory. His full name was Daniel McGregor Dare and he was born in the future (1967) and grew up in Manchester. His sidekick Digby hailed from nearby Wigan. Dan was something of a livewire as a young boy and his childhood was marred by the loss of his father, William Dare, who was a noted climber and explorer. Indeed, William was the first man to fully explore the Matto Grosso of Brazil. Tragically, William was lost in outer space whilst employed as a test pilot for Cosmic Space Lines.
Dan entered Rossall School at the age of 12. Initially, he struggled with the demands and rigors of a school which, at that period in its history, embraced a version of muscular Christianity well-suited to the development of courage and resourcefulness. Doubtless he benefited from his time in the CCF and, eventually, he became Head of School. He left Rossall in the mid-eighties and went up to Trinity College, Cambridge where he read natural science. Whilst at Cambridge, he was fortunate enough to be invited to undertake research work in astrophysics at Harvard University. Upon completion of his studies, he joined the Interplanet Spacefleet as a trainee flight cadet. Dan built up flying experience on the Earth to Moon run and was soon promoted to Space Pilot One. In 1996 he was awarded the ‘Order of the United Nations’ for his leadership of the Venus Expedition. One of his finest achievements was when he freed the Treens from the tyranny of Mekon’s despotic rule.
Dan was a man of the utmost integrity. His word was his bond and he inspired those around him to give of their best. His favourite weapon was a stun gun which caused only temporary paralysis for he was loathe to cause his adversaries lasting harm. That the Reverend Morris should have chosen for the hero of his comic to have attended and flourished at Rossall says much about the standing of the school at this time. Similarly, the fact that he chose to imbue Dan Dare with typical Rossallian values and virtues speaks volumes about the legacy and impression created by those who had gone forth from this School to change the world during the first half of the twentieth century.
If Dan Dare was with us now then he would have undoubtedly elected to study the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme for his example, played out in the pages of a children’s comic, resonates perfectly with the IB Learner Profile. Dan Dare has much to teach our current boys and girls about being intellectual risk-takers and having the courage and confidence to reach for the stars.
As for the Reverend Morris, his sideline as an author and publisher went from strength to strength. He co-authored (with Frank Hampson) an illustrated biography of Jesus and was even responsible for the launch of the British edition of Cosmopolitan. If you find yourself in Southport, then you might accidentally alight upon a wonderful bronze statue of Dan Dare – that most Rossallian of heroes.