Some time after Wakefield and I opened this site,
The letters are written by Frank’s solicitor, based
However, we believe the letters allow us to
FOR NINE BUMPY YEARS (1950-59) Frank Hampson, in an expensive studio, manned by between four and eight people, drew the Dan Dare strip for Hulton Press. Then a missionary from Hugh Cudlipp, (co-boss of the Mirror Group) tried to poach him away. Leonard Matthews, head of comics at Fleetway, said he’d double Hampson’s salary to £7000, if he would defect and edit a new comic to be called Bulldog.
Marcus Morris proposed an astonishing package to keep Frank at Eagle.
When Morris put the offer in writing, in a letter mailed to Frank’s home, the artist felt confident enough to turn down Leonard Matthews’ £7,000 a year. Four days later, on or about 15th March 1959, Edward Hulton sold his little empire to Odhams Press.
The first thing Odhams did was close down Hampson’s studio. Then they refused to pay up for Frank to go to USA. But the rest of the package stood. Frank came off Dan Dare, went for three months paid holiday, and when he came back they wrote him a new four-year contract, which confirmed his salary at £3,500 a year, and that he need only draw one page a week. They also promised to credit him with creating Dan Dare ‘whenever possible.’
They asked him to draw a strip cartoon version of the Life of Christ, to be timed to end at Easter 1961. And they paid for a research trip to the Holy Land. For a year and a bit Frank worked non-stop on The Road of Courage. Then a bombshell - few weeks before Easter 1961, Odhams Press (now renamed Longacre) were taken over by the Mirror Group.
The Eagle editor of the time, Clifford Makins described it as ‘a time of real hell. I was left with a bloody shambles.’ Shirley Breiger, editor of Girl called the Mirror managers ‘the gangsters of Fleet Street’. Hampson avoided this hell by taking a well-earned, quite legitimate two months vacation. It was when he reported back for duty that the troubles began.
Makins suggested Frank draw a strip version of the life of Robert E Lee. Frank said he would if he could go to USA to research. Makins agreed, but not surprisingly, Longacre laughed it out of court. Then Makins proposed a strip about the American journalist Stanley and how he met Dr Livingston. It fell through. Then a strip titled Trumpeter Calls. It died a death.
An exasperated Hampson asked if he could suggest some ideas himself, including a strip for the Daily Herald. Makins agreed, but scarcely gave it thought, for he was planning his escape to the Observer and quit in late August 1961, leaving Frank with no boss.
Hampson soldiered on, keeping his head down, avoiding office politics, devising and drawing seven new strips. But - and this is strange - it seems he didn’t tell anyone. You’d think he might’ve phoned saying “Hey, I’ve got some great ideas. Like to see?” He didn't. Instead, in one of the letters he complains to Longacre: 'you never asked to see them'. Clearly, nobody at Longacre knew what he was doing. Even more surprising, Longacre never bothered to find out.
In September 1961 the new editor of Eagle Val Holding, asked Frank to draw a front cover for Swift. In December he commissioned a second one (both are on this site) plus a rough for the cover of the Dan Dare Annual 1963.
He delivered his second Swift page in person on 8th December 1961. Peter Hampson has no record of what happened that day but it wasn’t a pleasant one for Frank. His solicitor wrote later he’d been treated badly ‘since 8th December 1961.’
Longacre claim that on December 8th they told him to present his new ideas ‘the following week.’ Did they ask what he’d been doing for five months? Did he explain how busy he’d been? To get to the point where they demanded to see his work, it must have been so; indeed the atmosphere of the meeting may explain why Frank was ill for the rest of the month. From that day his relationship with Longacre grew continually worse.
Frank didn’t meet Longacre the following week - he was ill - so they never saw his new work. On January 31st 1962 they put their accusations in a letter, which Frank took to his solicitor. Angry protestations flew back and forth but Longacre were determined. On Thursday 19th April 1962 a meeting was held in Frank’s solicitor’s offices to ‘try to reach a decision about Mr Hampson’s future’. Frank wasn’t present.
The outcome was inevitable. Longacre terminated his contract, and, as Peter Hampson says, even though his solicitor managed to negotiate some financial benifits and terms on his father's behalf, he failed to protect him from the following draconian clause, "You acknowledge that you have no right, or title, or interest, in any characters, names or incidents included in the material which you have at any time supplied to the company. The whole of such copyright in such material is vested in the company, who may deal with the material as it thinks fit, without any obligation to make any acknowledgement of your production or creation thereof.’
Frank formally left Eagle on 1st May 1962. He saw the writing on the wall and tried to keep his new ideas. But Longacre insisted they owned them, had them sent to their lawyer’s and from thence to Fleetway art vaults, where they languished until discovered some years later by a Hampson fan and stolen away.
Chain of known events.
In April 1961 The Road of Courage ends in Eagle.
(Hampson had drawn nothing for about a month previously).
From June 1961 until April 1962, Longacre
Hampson’s story starts in triumph and ends in tragedy. He was, you might think, entitled to be possessive about Eagle - a phenomenally successful paper that would never have happened without him. You might also think he should have become a rich man. But while Marcus Morris basked in a Thames-side apartment and drove a Rolls Royce, Frank’s home, which hadn’t seen a stick of new furniture for 20 years, was split in two with half leased to tenants.
Was he a victim of corporate greed, deprived of cash and credit which should rightfully have been his, and thrown on the scrap heap when Longacre no longer wanted him? Or did he work so hard during the early years that his health was permanently weakened, condemning him to a life of resentment where he was forever rehearsing what might have been? You tell me.