While sadly overshadowed by certain other events in the UK, Thursday September 8 saw the unveiling of a blue memorial plaque commemorating the life of the late Reverend Marcus Morris who had been a local priest in Great Yarmouth, England in the 1940s. He founded one of the most influential British comics of the twentieth century – the Eagle.
From an article in the Great Yarmouth Mercury, local reporter Anthony Carroll writes:
“Blue plaque celebrates life of comic legend and town reverend
“The creator of a comic that thrilled youngsters in the 1950s and 1960s has been remembered at a ceremony in Great Yarmouth.
“Between 1950 and 1969 the Eagle comic thrilled youngsters with thrills and spills every week, including the adventures of Dan Dare pilot of the future.
“The highly successful comic was founded by Marcus Morris.
“Before embarking on the Eagle and the world of comics, its creator had been a curate in Great Yarmouth in the 1940s working for St Nicholas Church.
“And on Thursday afternoon Rev Morris was remembered in the town as a blue plaque was unveiled in tribute to him.”
Born April 25, 1915, ordained in 1939, and serving as a priest from 1940 Rev Marcus Morris lived quite a fascinating life. A clergyman’s son, an Oxford university graduate, a priest himself that fell into ecclesiastical publishing with the Society of Christian Publicity’s periodical The Anvil. It was through this that he would become – seemingly by accident – one of the most influential figures in the history of British comics.
In a bid to provide a more moral and wholesome alternative to the spate of American horror and crime comics that would eventually (Stateside) be Comics Coded out of existence, Rev Marcus Morris founded the Eagle in April 1950 alongside publisher Sir Edward Hulton, and visionary artist Frank Hampson, who created its signature strip – Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. He would edit and write some of the strips and articles in the title until 1959 (it continued weekly publication until April 1969 after over 980 issues). The first issue of the Eagle reportedly sold in the region of 900,000 copies.
Morris founded other weekly anthology comic titles – Swift (1954-1963, 461 issues) for younger readers than the Eagle; Robin (1953-1969, 836 issues) for even younger readers than that; and Girl (1951-1964, 675 issues) as a counterpart to the Eagle marketed towards the young girl market.
And he didn’t only work on comics – Rev Morris served as managing editor on Housewife magazine and helped launch the British edition of Cosmopolitan magazine.
He married actress Jessica Dunning in 1941 with whom he had four children. In 1983 Rev Morris was awarded an OBE. On March 16, 1989, he died aged 73.
The ‘Blue Plaque’, as it is commonly referred to in the UK, is where a nominated individual or event of significant cultural or historical note linked to a place is commemorated by a placard for public display. You will see it for authors, artists, politicians, architects, scientists – and even cartoonists. The scheme dates as far as back as 1866 in London. Currently administered by English Heritage in the city of London, beyond the British capital it is often administered by local councils or civic societies. The rule for English Heritage when it relates to an individual is that they must have died at least 20 years prior.
According to English Heritage,
“plaques are as much about the buildings in which people lived and worked as about the subjects being commemorated – the intrinsic aim of English Heritage blue plaques is to celebrate the relationship between people and place”