There's always a welcome for a stranger at Four Feather Falls, and as the strip - like the series itself - has not been seen for well over thirty years, Shaqui Le Vesconte goes west to find out more. Eet ees ze good idea...
Four Feather Falls: TV Comic - 1960
I have a confession to make. I don't like westerns. Never have, probably never will. I'm not that keen on the earlier Gerry Anderson series either. Despite pushing frontiers of puppetry and children's television at the time, they're just not my thing. So when I had the opportunity to watch some episodes of Four Feather Falls recently, it was a unexpected surprise that I found them to be rather good...
They exhibited a charm that I found lacking in virtually all the other series, which ranged from the twee or childish (Twizzle and Torchy) to the hardware orientated (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, etc). Four Feather Falls might be a simplified version of the old west, but the characters were well rounded, there was a sly sense of humour underlying the writing, and it didn't talk down. Yes, it was for kids, and yes, it probably had to follow the extreme guidelines that were prevailent at the time for such productions, but it overcame them and produced something that, like the feathers that gave Tex Tucker his self-aiming guns and talking dog and horse, was quite magical.
Four Feather Falls was the first Gerry Anderson related series to be produced by himself - Twizzle and Torchy being produced by their creator/writer Roberta Leigh. It was also the first of any of the series to appear as a regular weekly comic strip, appearing from May 1960, a little over two months after its television debut. As one of the few Anderson series to have a network screening (shown on all UK ITV channels at the same time), the strip assumes the reader knows who the characters are. There is no formal introduction, bar a brief recap of how Tex got his feathers, to let those who had not seen the series know what is happening.
Here, an introduction is in order, as the series has not been seen in the UK for over thirty years, and only recently been released in its entirety on DVD. Hero of the series is cowboy Tex Tucker. As the strip already starts with the town of Four Feather Falls well established, the information comes from the first Four Feather Falls annual, which features an adaptation of the opening episode How It Began...
Riding west on his horse Rocky, and with his dog Dusty, Tex becomes lost on the prairie. Food and water close to running out, Tex is surprised when Dusty finds a small Indian boy called Makooya, who is also lost and hungry. Tex gives him the last of his food and water, and Makooya leads him to a waterfall - but it has dried out. Setting up camp for the night, Tex is awaken when the boy cries out 'Kalamakooya!', and in a flash of thunder and lightning, an Indian Chief Kalamakooya appears, restores the waterfall, and makes the barren prairie fill with wonderful orchards of trees.
As a personal reward for his kindness to Makooya, Tex is given four magic feathers, which he wears in his hat - two of them make his guns swivel and fire by themselves, while the others give Rocky and Dusty (right) the cowboy's dearest wish, of the power of speech. At times, the strip reflects Rocky's new and very proper English way of talking. Because of the new waterfall and bountiful countryside, a new town called Four Feather Falls is founded nearby, grows, and Tex Tucker becomes sheriff there.
Manager of the local bank in Four Feather Falls is Marvin Jackson, whose job as protector of the town safe dovetails somewhat in the haphazard lives of local Mexican bandits, the rotund Pedro and morose lanky Fernando (left). Financially challenged, and cursed by varying degrees of stupidity and ineptitude, the bandits' attempt to gain money by stealing the safe, or simply obtain food, is often the focus of the strip stories.
But many good people also inhabit the town. Elderly eccentric Grandpa Twink, and his grandson Little Jake (right), who becomes a close friend of Makooya. The two boys often go fishing and adventuring together. Dan Morse is the town's telegraph operator, while Slim Jim owns the local saloon. Doc Haggerty is the local sawbones, and Ma Jones runs the general store. Occasionally, she is the target of an impromptu hold-up by hungry Pedro and Fernando, as she fetches supplies from nearby Silver City.
There are a few other bad cards in the deck, such as Big Ben, and renegade Indian Red Scalp (left). Other rogue Indians and their tribes make appearances in the strip, as well as many of the other villains and gunmen that roam the west, and their passing through Four Feather Falls often leads to that week's adventure.
The scripts are commonly attributed to Alan Fennell, and each self-contained two page strip follows the format of the series closely, with the same mix of drama, charm and humour. In fact, the strips are sometimes almost too packed with elements, with some pages cramming over 12 frames in. But this made each self-contained instalment a wholesome read, compared to the 8 to 10 frames of other single page strips. it is not difficult to see why TV Comic was so easily able to gain the rights to the next two series, Supercar and Fireball XL5, in subsequent years.
Four Feather Falls strip guide - part one
Writer: Attributed to Alan Fennell. Artist: Neville Main.
Two pages, duotone (black/red).
Issue 439, dated 14 May 1960
Pedro the bandit plans to steal a shipment of gold from the bank but Tex Tucker stops him. Pedro then uses a blazing haycart as a diversion but when a fire breaks out in the bank, the unwitting bandit is caught when the townsfolk drench him with buckets of water...
This introductory instalment recaps how Tex Tucker came to have the four magic feathers, and what they do. But it makes the mistake of referring to Makooya as the son of Chief Kalamakooya, whereas the series and annuals make it clear he is his grandson. Kalamakooya's use of 'my son' to describe Makooya would appear to a general term for a younger person, like 'my child'.
This story was reprinted in the TV Comic Summer Special in 1962, in its original red duotone.
Issue 440, dated 21 May 1960
After last week's fire Grandpa Twink suggests building a fire engine, but Big Ben tries to stir up trouble by suggesting to the Indians that Tex Tucker wants all the water from the Falls for its tank...
This story was also reprinted in the TV Comic Summer Special in 1962, in its original red duotone.
Issue 441, dated 28 May 1960
Tex fights the fastest gunman in the West!*
Pedro hires Drango, the fastest gun in the west, to kill Tex Tucker, then steals Tex's hat so he is without his magic guns...
Issue 442, dated 04 June 1960
Four Feather Falls goes to sleep!*
After an entire supply of soda pop and medicine goes missing, Big Ben rolls into town with a 'potion of health' for the townsfolk. But it puts them to sleep... except for a suspicious Doc Haggerty who has refused to drink it.
Issue 443, dated 11 June 1960
The Stolen Camel!*
A circus camps outside of town, and Tex is suspicious as Pedro has been hired to look after the animals. Pedro then steals gold from the bank, and makes off with a camel across the desert...
Issue 444, dated 18 June 1960
Pedro taps the telegraph wires and learns of a gold shipment. To keep Tex out of the way, he gets Indian Red Scalp to kidnap Little Jake and hold him at the mine...
From this issue, the masthead of the strip changes, showing Tex's hat and feathers, and his two guns, similar to the opening shot of each episode.
This issue would see the start of The Lone Ranger, a single duotone page drawn by Mike Noble.
Issue 445, dated 25 June 1960
The Apache Ambush*
Cavalry arrive in town and warn Tex the Apaches are in a fighting mood. Tex is concerned as Little Jake has gone to see Makooya. Jake is safe with Kalamakooya but Tex learns the Apaches are going to ambush the cavalry at Red Rock Canyon...
Issue 446, dated 02 July 1960
Twink's Sister Comes to Stay!*
Grandpa Twink's sister Esmarelda comes to stay with him but Big Ben steals her necklace, then hides it in a mirror to avoid being caught with it...
Issue 447, dated 09 July 1960
Army rifles have been stolen and given to the Cheyennes by Big Ben to help them steal a herd of cattle but Tex causes them to stampede and thwart the bandits...
Issue 448, dated 16 July 1960
When Tex receives the latest wanted posters for Dick Carter, Pedro suddenly gives himself up... several times!
Issue 449, dated 23 July 1960
When Pedro, Big Ben and Fernando are thwarted several times from stealing an arriving shipment of gold, they dig a tunnel from the meeting hall to the bank...
Issue 450, dated 30 July 1960
Pedro is 'put in the picture' when a photographer comes to Four Feather Falls*
With Tex out of town, Pedro tries to rob the bank while a visiting photographer takes a picture of the townsfolk. But he is unprepared for what develops...
Issue 451, dated 06 August 1960
Little Jake is kidnapped!*
Pedro and Fernando kidnap Little Jake while he is fishing, but the boy throws them out of the boat which then heads for the Falls...
Notes: Neville Main eschews his usual four regular rows to show some larger panels as Tex rescues Little Jake.
Issue 452, dated 13 August 1960
Tex and the Sharp-shooter!*
Sharpshooter Trigger Davis arrives in town and displays his fancy shooting for just 1 cent a time. But Tex is suspicious when he finds the townsfolk have been robbed by a pickpocket while watching...
Issue 453, dated 20 August 1960
The thief of Four Feather Falls*
Pedro's old amigo Chick Archer plans to rob Four Feather Falls. The next day Mrs Brown arrives in town by coach and a spate of thefts, including Tex's hat, start to occur...
Issue 454, dated 27 August 1960
A goldrush empties Four Feather Falls, except for Tex who has only just returned from delivering a prisoner. It is another trick by bandits to rob the town...
Notes: Some nice, ol' fashioned visual story telling, as Tex makes his 'jailbreak'.
Issue 455, dated 03 September 1960
The gang from Mexico!*
Marvin Jackson has a new safe in his bank, which Pedro and Fernando are unable to break into. So they try to use explosives, but then Fernando is careless where he tosses his match...
Issue 456, dated 10 September 1960
Grandpa Twink builds a super gun to protect the town but it won't shoot straight. It still comes in handy though, when Red Scalp and his renegade indians attack...
Issue 457, dated 17 September 1960
Pedro is caught after robbing a bank at Ridgerock but it is all part of his plan to be on the train so he can help Fernando in a hold-up...
Issue 458, dated 24 September 1960
Millionaire Silas Benson is buying a ranch nearby, and travels to Four Feather Falls in a balloon. But when he stops to ask Pedro and Fernando directions, they steal the balloon and start robbing people from the air,,,
Issue 459, dated 01 October 1960
The Wild Horse Herd!*
Little Jake and Makooya lasso a wild foal to ride but the other horses run off, the foal takes Jake with it...
Issue 460, dated 08 October 1960
Pedro and Fernando try and steal Ma Jones' food but when they hold up Ma and Grandpa Twink after collecting more supplies, the next meal isn't what they expect...
Issue 461, dated 15 October 1960
Tex is badly hurt by a rockfall caused by Big Ben, and Doc Haggerty orders him to stay in bed for a few days, giving pedro and his gang an opportunity to rob the bank...
Issue 462, dated 22 October 1960
'Careless' Sam Wade is forgetful, and his run down fences give Pedro and Fernando a chance to steal his cattle... until forced to take cover in his equally run down barn...
Issue 463, dated 29 October 1960
The Talking Bear!*
Pedro poses as 'Professor Bruinovsky', and with Fernando as his 'remarkable talking bear' plans another robbery in Four Feather Falls...
Issue 464, dated 05 November 1960
Grandpa Twink has been teaching Little Jake to cast a fishing line, which comes in handy when Pedro and Fernando try to rob the old man of his cash box...
Issue 465, dated 12 November 1960
Tex is off to Silver City by train and gives Rocky and Dusty a day off, during which they foil Pedro and Fernando as they try to steal a train...
Issue 466, dated 19 November 1960
The Suits of Armour!*
The Western Players are held up by Pedro and Fernando, who use their suits of armour from Shakespeare plays to attempt another robbery...
Issue 467, dated 26 November 1960
When Pedro sees a painting is worth $90, he tries to paint his own to sell...
Issue 468, dated 03 December 1960
Pedro gets a squaw to make a hat just like Tex's in an attempt to steal it, but then he tries to steal eagle feathers from a mountain nest...
Issue 469, dated 10 December 1960
Pedro and Fernando try to dig a tunnel to rob the bank but Fernando ends up in Tex's office. So Pedro tries to rescue him using a tree as a catapult...
Issue 470, dated 17 December 1960
Rocky has sore feet!*
Rocky needs a new horseshoe but when the Smithy in Cedar Gulch fits new ones badly Tex suspects he is in league with Big Ben....
Issue 471, dated 24 December 1960
Pedro and Fernando pose as Father Christmases to try and rob Four Feather Falls...
Notes: The last frame shows almost all the main characters having Christmas together - from left to right: Ma Jones, Little Jake, Slim Jim, Doc Haggerty, Pedro, Fernando, Tex Tucker, Kalamakooya, Makooya, Marvin Jackson, Dusty, Dan Morse and, as Father Christmas, Grandpa Twink.
Issue 472, dated 31 December 1960
Tex's office is stolen!*
Pedro and Fernando steal Tex's office in a plan to make money by setting up a coffee shop in the desert...
*Story titles come from the 'next week' captions in the previous issue.
Early instalments tended to be straight-forward dramatic adventures, with most humour deriving from Pedro and Fernando's attempts to rob the bank, obtain money, or just get some food. Their banter, with their mock-Mexican accents, is at times extremely funny, and their antics start to attain an almost 'Looney Tunes' type inanity. You could be well forgiven for believing them to be the stars, instead of Tex Tucker, as the strips would start to feature more and more of their mishaps. But this is not bad thing as, like Supercar which would follow it, it gave the strip a lot of character. And one can see the budding relationships of the Anderson 'two villains' start to blossom here, with the two bandits very much prototypes of Masterspy and Zarin in Supercar. If the rest of the original series is half as good as the best of these strips, then it is well deserving of its new release on DVD - a dose of the good ol', magical and cynicism-free, days of television.
The artist allocated to the strip was Neville Main, a stalwart of TV Comic since its start in 1951. Main's somewhat stilted artwork was ideal for the equally stiff Muffin the Mule but clashed with the feel of later series he would draw such as Fireball XL5 and Doctor Who. On Four Feather Falls however, his style did suit the series and the caricatured puppets pretty well, and this was probably his premiere strip in the 1960s. For its first year, the strip was given pride of place in the centrespread, but remaining two separate pages in black and red duotone.
Towards the end of the year, the TV Comic Annual became the first to feature an Anderson-based strip, with a four page colour story drawn again by Neville Main. With his work heavily in demand, as Main was also drew Red Ray - Space Raynger and Muffin the Mule in this edition (as well as the regular weekly strips), only one story appeared. This was possibly written before the regular strip first appeared, and is a straight forward tale with little of the humour that would become a trademark of it.
TV Comic Annual 1961
Writer: Unknown. Artist: Neville Main. Four pages, colour.
Pedro, Fernando and Big Ben join a wagon train that stops at Four Feather Falls, as part of a plan to rob the bank when the wagoners deposit their money.
It is interesting to speculate whether any official colour reference material was issued to artists, either Neville Main or those working on the Collins annuals. Pedro has a yellow shirt, as per the annuals, but Fernando is given a blue jacket and trousers, rather than green and red.
Tex also has a blue checked shirt, instead of blue and red check, as per the Collins annuals.
Version 1.2 - 01.09.05
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