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Whatever happened to Dan Dare?

Dan Dare’s exploits were covered in “The Eagle” from 1950 to 1967 (and even sensationalised on the radio) and most people assumed these were just dramatised accounts aimed at entertaining the public. However nothing could be further from the truth. Dan Dare was a real person, whose actual service was “fictionalised” by the Government during a time when there were very public concerns/moral panics about spaceships, flying saucers and alien invaders. This fiction was propagated by the British Government to allay any public fears about the potential for external threat should any become clearly apparent from somewhere within the solar system – something that was foremost in the public consciousness at the time. Information about external threats had been passed on by American secret services following the Roswell incident, but the British Government chose not to alarm the general public directly, instead opting to keep all knowledge of extra-terrestrials under wraps whilst making jokes about “little green men” and playing down any whispers of alien contact or worse imminent invasion. In reality both Western Governments were well advanced in to space travel and, in the years following the war, had detected threats from outer space which they sought to nullify or negate without alarming the whole world. Space travel was already a very clandestine and top secret activity conducted by both British and American military immediately after cessation of hostilities when technology had made leaps and bounds.

The Brits had the lead and for over 20 years Capt. Dan Dare (real name Daniel Taunt) was a space pilot and leader of a clandestine fleet of jet propelled rocket-ships that formed the forefront of defence of the Earth. Taunt was aided in his undertakings by a group of close friends and allies which included his faithful batman, the Wigan-born Albert Fitzwilliam Digby, and Sir Hubert Guest, Controller of the Space Fleet. Taunt was the very epitome of the new brand of space combatant moulded in the precise image of the spitfire pilots of the Battle of Britain 10 years earlier. He was young, debonair and courageous but also had a sense of honour and purpose. During his years of extra-terrestrial service Taunt encountered various threats, including the "Star Slayers" – the oppressive race controlling a region adjacent to the Milky Way. Throughout his service there was a constant, low level menace from the Mekon (from the planet Treen) who became somewhat of an arch enemy. His service took him and his Interplanetary Space Fleet colleagues to faraway planets such as Venus, and encountering numerous alien troublemakers, most notably the evil green Mekon, but also a variety of other potential invaders of Earth or transgressors of Space law and inter-planetary relations. Taunt was eventually successful in all of these close encounters and confrontations, and, together with his fellow space pilots, could take credit for averting perils to Earth, although of course, nothing was officially acknowledged. Spokespersons would maintain that “It did not happen” and where feasible references in files were expurgated.

By 1970 the inter-galactic risk had receded and Taunt’s skills became somewhat redundant. Officially as far as the Earth’s population was concerned, man had only taken that first, one giant step for mankind by landing on the moon the previous year – this was the authorised and sanctioned view. No reference to space travel before the first Sputnik was officially acknowledged and all official files closed. RAF Special Ops was disbanded by the MOD (primarily on cost grounds) and many of the paranoia-laden files of the 50s and 60s discreetly shelved, doctored or mostly destroyed. Taunt and his ilk were, to all intents and purposes, unusable and he was allocated a desk job at an isolated RAF base in the Scottish Highlands where he became responsible for maintenance of the estates. Taunt’s sphere of influence did not extend beyond the perimeter fencing and his role no longer entailed any air time at all. Taunt took on his new responsibilities and obligations without complaint as his sense of duty overrode any personal considerations. Sworn to the Official Secrets Act, Taunt was never to reveal his part in the defence of the earth and the tribulations that he had experienced.

His colleagues, similarly bound to silence, were dispersed throughout the land and most faded into obscurity. Digby died of cancer aged just 49 and Guest disappeared into a hippy commune in Haight-Ashbury in the 70s and was never heard of again.

Taunt never married and retired from the RAF in 1993 aged 62 with a modest pension and purchased a small bungalow with his limited savings in the seaside town of Broadstairs, Kent. His RAF pension had been invested in a scheme that had gone bust (along with the Sheerness steelworkers and several others) and he was reliant on State aid. Now greying with that firm jaw line now sagging, he cut rather a sad figure as he shuffled around the town (years of zero gravity had weakened his calf muscles). Although probably undistinguishable from many of those around him, Taunt did experience the additional problems of adjustment out of uniform and being literally confined to Earth. He had been suffering health problems, notably hypertension and also he had a recurring infection of the inner ear thought to have been exacerbated by the constant coming and goings through gravity locks in his space days. Initially he tried to settle and tended his garden and took long walks across the district. However bizarre the terrain of Planet Thanet, and despite its unusual and outlandish populace, it was no comparison to that of Venus and other extraordinary places he had visited and he became somewhat disillusioned, despondent and low in mood. In 1999 he was diagnosed with depression and treated with anti-depressants. He experienced some side effects of medication and his health declined during this time, suffering a serious of mild strokes, probably associated with long periods spend in decompressive space suits.

As his physical health deteriorated and living alone, Taunt found it difficult to look after himself and was considered by social services to be vulnerable and at risk. Having no family or relatives, Taunt was eventually moved to a residential care home aged 77 in 2008. Within two years any money from the sale of his bungalow had been used up. In 2010 he was transferred to a nursing home in Margate. Now wheelchair-bound with urinary incontinence (resulting from repeated exposure to a proton plasma pistol in 1962), he became increasingly reliant on the staff to attend to his personal needs. Most of them were young, untrained, from different cultural backgrounds and spoke with indistinct foreign accents. Few accepted that he had been in the RAF (there being no official records) and when he reported having travelled into space, they scoffed and began to question his sanity. Taunt began to wonder if the callous carers were, in fact, aliens from another planet. By 2015 he had attained a diagnosis of senile dementia based primarily on his assertion that some of the cold-hearted carers might possibly be undercover Mekons infiltrating Earth. After a lifetime of secrecy he could finally reveal to those more sympathetic staff he trusted (generally the one or two middle-aged women) of his exploits as a young man combatting the evils in the solar system. Although tolerated, these stories were taken as examples of systematic delusions associated with his dementia. Sometimes, when frustrated, Taunt would curse and swear in the language of the planet Saaremaa, (something he had never done as a young man). Once or twice he took a swipe at carers who were unnecessarily rough or unthinking. He repeatedly reached for his ray gun, but only confronted staff with his exposed urinary catheter which prompted a mixture of derision and disgust that precipitated the prescription of anti-psychotics at their insistence.

This additional medication only sedated him and induced a pronounced tremor of his limbs. He became even less able and lost weight, the handed down clothes now hanging off him – a far cry from the crisp uniform he had proudly worn for so many years. Indifferent, mostly female staff were now less inclined to dress him and he spent much of his time in pyjamas. He was spared the indignity of most of his fellow residents who, for the most part, were encased in giant-like nappies called Kanga pants, which reminded Taunt of the inhabitants of the very warm planet Kihnu who had little recourse to clothing under their two bright suns.

Now aged 92 Taunt feels isolated and lonely. He sits by a window in the home scanning the skies and occasionally shouts out what sound like warnings. The young staff generally ignore or patronise him, but there are also those who take the piss and encourage him to tell tales of the “Mekons” which usually end up in ribald laughter on one side and frustrated tears on the other. Taunt spends a lot of time just staring out of the window at the dull brown waves and the grey clouds scudding across the low horizon. Occasionally something in the air in the far distance might catch his attention, at which point staff might note a steely glint in his eye and a tightening of his jaw muscles.

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