The next full page spread in issue 222 was titled ’Exploring the Atmosphere!’, and the first to use stills from 2001 - A Space Odyssey. A photo showing Shindig 1 landing on Saturn was actually the 2001 Moonbus.
The next issue 223, Saturn Probe appeared on only a half page. Titled, ’Sea of Fire’, it did have another nice piece of original artwork showing some kind of hydrofoil.
On the letters page two readers commented on Saturn Probe. Eddie Winters of Bath wrote “I think Saturn Probe is terribly exciting and the best article in the comic”, while James Ray from Ayr raised a continuity question, so important to TV21 readers, that dealt with an earlier story. He wrote, ”I thought Zero X had landed on Saturn some time ago. Why are the Saturn Probe team going there to reveal the secrets when Zero X has already been?” - Col White tactfully replied, “There is a logical answer to this, but I’d like Shades to suggest an answer!”
Another letter from a Robert Towney from Widnes asked why Tarzan was dropped. The reply from Col. White explained that due to reader demand more room was needed for a space page.
However, another reader, Gillian Thomas of Glamorgan referred to a letter printed in issue 213. This was a portent of things to come and speculated on the idea of incorporating sport , in particular, football into TV21.
The next issue, 224 was a turning point for the comic. Saturn Probe was again just a half page and yet another group of stills from 2001, and frankly not very inspired. The big news that week was the announcement that from the next week TV21 was going football. The comic had not just lost it’s originality it had become totally schizophrenic. I would imagine for most readers, myself included ,TV21 was a sanctuary from all things sport including the dreaded football. It was a haven for the imagination and all things spacey. Now the evil was within and end was nigh!
The front cover of issue 225 sported a football front cover and inside an all-action pin up of West Ham’s, Martin Peters. The Space Info page, the space page dealing with all things space had a monotone picture of a Saturn V launch, and the Saturn Probe article reported on several expeditions across the planet. More stock photos, including one of the Sidewinder illustrated the piece.
Thunderbird 3 launching from the Round House graced the front cover of issue 226. The Saturn Probe article at the back, was another half page report from Shindigville, the first city on Saturn ! Comprising of six pre-fabricated buildings it would help pave the way for the first wave of colonisation. Another image from 2001 was used to illustrate the piece.
No Saturn Probe article appeared in issue 227, The front cover had UNITED written under TV21’s masthead and a picture of George Best. It heralded the start of a two part feature on Manchester United. I just couldn’t wait for next week!
The Saturn Probe article in issue 228 was simply a half page showing a black and white photo of a Titan Booster rocket. This was supposed to be a second probe ship, ‘Rendezvous 1’ blasting off to join the first expedition.
In the absence of an original illustration and considering that most TV21 readers would have known more about the space race that the editors it does beg the question why use well used stock photos rather than AP film or Century 21 stills which would have been much more appealing.
A little more thought went into the article in issue 229. The logo was back and the title proclaimed, ‘ There’s Gold In Them Thar Hills - Gold Strike On Saturn’. The short piece drew vague parallels with the Klondyke gold strikes during the early American pioneer days. The only let down was again the use of stock photos of an oil rig and a prototype Nasa ‘Moonbus’.
The letters page was still full of comments about TV21 and sport. Reader Michael Maguire from Wishaw wrote, ‘It seems many readers are requesting a sports feature in TV21. I think that if the W.A.S.P.’s played the World Navy at under water events, or Spectrum took on the World Space Patrol at hover-bike polo this would be a great idea. This way TV21 would still keep it’s 21st Century appearance’.
Col. White replied,’ I have had thousands of letters asking for a football story based in the 21st Century. Starting in the next few weeks TV21 is doing just that. From your letters, readers are almost one hundred percent agreed that Football United is one of the best features in TV21‘. As if to push the point Leeds United filled the front cover of that edition.
The front cover of issue 230 was a large picture of Captain Blue, much, I’ve no doubt to the delight of Century 21 fans. Saturn Probe was back to the half page format. The header was ‘Colonies To Be Set Up’, and reported that World Space Patrol troop ships had blasted off from Space City taking two hundred robots to Saturn.
The mighty Zero X filled the front cover of issue 231 - things were looking up. On the back page below an advert for Lyons Maid, Orbit was Saturn Probe. A picture of a Saturn 1B and what looked the third stage of a Saturn V rocket illustrated that week’s instalment. These ‘exclusive’ pictures were meant to show the second Saturn Probe, Rendezvous 1 arriving on Saturn.
This edition did have the start of the Super League strip , drawn by Sword artist, Malcolm Stokes. This was of course the football story hinted at by Col. White in issue 229.
Another half page spread for the penultimate Saturn Probe article in issue 232. The black and white illustration showed a Hovertransporter carrying a prefabricated oil rig across sand dunes following the discovery of oil on the planet.
The final part of Saturn Probe appeared on the back page of issue 233. The header said’ Mineral Samples for Earth‘, and showed a capsule leaving the planet for home. On Saturn itself preparations were being made to exploit the planet for it’s mineral wealth.
The picture was a still from the Captain Scarlet episode, Lunarville 7.
So, in conclusion, although this feature is hardly remembered today and fairly insignificant in the scheme of things, I believe that the Saturn Probe articles were an attempt by the editors to capture the original concepts found in the early TV Century 21, and would try to create a shared experience for readers. It was chance to rekindle the comic’s continuity which had struggled following the inclusion of stories and strips incongruous to the Anderson universe. But maybe it was just a simple case of things had moved on. The Anderson puppet TV series were coming to an end and the comic was just becoming stale.
TV21 in its original form continued for only another nine editions before merging with Joe 90 Top Secret comic. A totally new comic was formed, a soulless and bland shadow of it’s former self. However, in spite of this TV21 continued until the end of September, 1971 at which point it was swallowed up by Valiant comic.
Glenn Field Correspondent