Following the success of his 1961 movie Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, producer and director Irwin Allen was struck with the idea of making a TV film series around the same format. With demand for new shows on the increase, and sets, costumes and models already created - reducing vital costs - Allen wrote a pilot called 'Eleven Days To Zero' and sold the series to the ABC TV network. Recasting the leads of Admiral Harriman Nelson and Captain Lee Crane with Richard Basehart and David Hedison respectively, Allen filmed the pilot in colour, even though the rest of the first series was in black and white. Making its debut in America in September 1964, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea continued through four seasons, and 110 episodes, making it the longest-running SF series of that decade - an unbroken record until 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'.
The instant success of the series spurred Western Publishing to issue a comic series based on the show, starting in late 1964. Sixteen issues were published, on a roughly quarterly schedule, until 1969. In the UK, a tie-in text story series appeared in 'TV Tornado' during 1967, with some rather basic strips - curiously renamed 'Submarine Seaview' - in the annuals.
By the time 'Look-In' launched in early 1971, the heyday of the Irwin Allen television series was pretty much over, with his latest offering 'Land of the Giants' coming to an end the year before. One can only speculate on why the formative publication should include an old American series, with only Anglia and HTV (according to 'Look-in's own abridged TV listings) repeating it at the time. In those pre-email (indeed pre-fax!) days, all negotiations and approval would be done by phone and air mail, lengthening the process by which a tie-in strip for an American series could be produced. Editor Alan Fennell was no stranger to this, having helmed 'TV Century 21' and 'Joe 90: Top Secret' in the 1960s, which featured a number of US shows by virtue of 'Century 21 Merchandising' (a subsidiary of Sir Lew Grade's ATV) having the UK rights to them.
'Land of the Giants' had already been a leading strip in 'Joe 90: Top Secret' during the past two years, but neither 'The Time Tunnel' (yet to make its debut on ITV) nor 'Lost In Space' ('Space Family Robinson' had run in 'Lady Penelope') were available. The compromise was presumably Allen's earliest series, and then as reprinted material from Gold Key, pre-approved and available for a cheaper syndication fee. This was another first for 'Look-In', and reprinted strips were something the publication would rarely dip into during its twenty-four year run - notable exceptions being Meet The Smurfs and Garfield. As later editor Colin Shelbourn noted recently, "They were known quantities, and there was no extra value in doing our own versions." Alan Fennell also had links to Western, via Manchester based publishers World Distributors (co-producing the first 'TV Century 21' annuals) who not only (ahem) distributed the Gold Key comics in the UK, but had used their comic strips to flesh out their own tie-in annuals. And it was World Distributors that Fennell go to after leaving 'Look-In' in early 1975, for a lucrative managerial position.
So from No. 20, a serialised and abridged version of the fifth Gold key issue started. More keen-eyed readers would recognise the style of Alberto Giolitti behind the strip, better known for his work on the Gold Key 'Star Trek' comics, which also graced (via more syndicated reprints) the 'World Distributor' annuals. As art editor on 'Look-In' at the time, Colin Shelbourn recalls, "I remember doing the title block and have a very hazy recollection of my art colleague doing pasted-up versions of the pages, presumably from re-sized bromides of the US originals." There would be a short break of four issues after this first adaptation, before the sixth Gold Key edition was similarly cut down for a shorter dip in the waters.
Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea remained the sole American show to grace the first year of 'Look-In' as a strip, possibly either not popular enough, or too expensive, to continue. It would be well over a year before any overseas co-venture was tried again, and then from a new and different direction for the publication.
(Article by Shaqui Le Vesconte, with thanks to Colin Shelborn)