The starling murmuration at Aberystwyth Pier

Every evening at dusk during the winter months, thousands of starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) swarm over Aberwrystwyth’s Royal Pier, before swooping down to roost for the night in the mass of girders underneath.

The phenomenon is known as ‘murmuration’, and it is one of the most spectacular wildlife displays in Britain. Local flocks are joined by migrants from northern Europe, who fly south to the relatively mild conditions of Britain. The swarming behaviour is thought to offer safety in numbers from predators such as peregrine falcons, who become confused by the swirling masses.

Aberwrystwyth, where the setting sun forms a fine backdrop to the phenomenon, is one of the most popular sites for observing murmurations, but it may also be viewed on other parts of the UK: Sussex, Brighton, Eastbourne, and other coastal towns in the south such as Bognor, Chichester, and Hastings; displays are also regularly seen over the Somerset Levels, Gretna Green, Blackpool Pier and the Fens of Cambridgeshire.

Highbury – the early days

Highbury – officially Arsenal Stadium, unoffically ‘The Home of Football’ – was Arsenal’s home ground from 6 September 1913 until 7 May 2006. Unable to increase the capacity of what was now an all-seater stadium, Arsenal built a new 60,000-seater stadium on a site barely a quarter of a mile away. Highbury was known for its Art Deco stands, built in the 1930s, when the club were champions five times and FA Cup winners twice. The stands exist to this day, their facades and listed features including the famous Marble Halls incorporated into a residential complex.

But for the first two decades of its existance, Highbury was far more workmanlike in its appearance, comprising a single gabled stand on one side and open terraces on the other. Designed by football stadium architect Archibald Leitch, the ground was hastily constructed ahead of the 1913-14 season as the then Woolwich Arsenal, newly relegated to the Second Division, relocated to North London.

Photographs showing the construction of the ground and the gabled East Stand, which though in use is still incomplete. Note that the houses seen beyond the under-construction North Bank terracing are still there to this day.

Three aerial views of the original stadium during the 1920s.

The ground as it was in the early 1930s, with a clock showing the minutes played mounted on the North Bank. The club was soon ordered to remove it as it was thought to undermine the authority of the referee, who was the sole timekeeper. An ordinary clock took its place; this was later moved to the south terracing (which in consequence became known as the Clock End) when the North Bank was covered. The gabled East Stand was still in use at this point, and there is a rare picture of the stand as seen from Avenall Road before a match against Aston Villa.

Highbury Stadium, Arsenal AFL03_aerofilms_c19089

The old and the new: the Art Deco West Stand opened in 1932, but the old East Stand would not be replaced until 1936. In fact, the club had not planned to build the replacement before 1941, but the stand was deteriorating and rather than making short term repairs, the club opted to bring forward its replacement.

This final group show the ground as completed in the 1930s, an early postwar view from inside the ground after the North Bank covering had been destroyed by wartime bombing, and the club offices in the East Stand.

Photo credits: Unknown.

It’s Star Trek, Jim, but not as we know it

If you were a boy in the second half of the 1960s, there is a good chance that you will remember TV 21, the boy’s magazine that ran comic strips based on Gerry Anderson’s Fireball XL 5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds, presented as if they were current stories in a 2060s newspaper.

Much less well known is Joe 90: Top Secret. TV 21’s ‘newspaper of the future’ format was extremely successful at first, but as the 1960s neared an end, sales began to fall. The initial readership had aged into their teens, and potential new readers were now too young to have watched the earlier Anderson shows. Attempts to reboot the ‘Anderverse’ with Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Zero X (the latter was a spaceship that featured in both Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet) failed to halt the decline.

So, in January 1969, Joe 90: Top Secret was launched as a companion to TV 21. Like its parent publication, it ran comic strips based on science fiction-themed TV shows, although this time there was no attempt to link them into a shared universe. In addition to the eponymous Joe 90, the magazine featured Irvin Allen’s new series Land of the Giants, the British spy series The Champions, and an unfamiliar strip featuring the adventures of Captain Kurt and the crew of the Universe Star Ship Enterprise. Yes, this was my introduction to Star Trek, six months before it made its first appearance on British television.

Star Trek had been running in the States since 1966, and it was now well into its third and final season, but it did not debut on BBC television until 12 July 1969 – just over a week before Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’. Consequently, most UK readers of Joe 90 had never heard of the show. Two decades later, Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spinoffs would also take several years to make their way across the Atlantic, but by this time – even before the internet – Star Trek was a global phenomenon and the tabloids were making execrable jokes about “to baldly go” in reference to Patrick Stewart’s lack of hair long before Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D first featured on BBC television in September 1990.

Writer Angus Allan doesn’t seem to have had much Star Trek source material to go on at first, but his inventive story lines, and the artwork by artists including the legendary Mike Noble, more than made up for this.

The Universe Star Ship Enterprise left Earth’s atmosphere to embark on a five year deep space exploration. Massive in proportion and manned by thousands, the Enterprise’s mission is to make peaceful contact with any form of life in the universe.

In addition to ‘Captain Kurt’, the bridge crew included ‘the strange Mr Spock’, helmsman Sulu, and navigator Bailey. The latter appeared in only one episode of the TV series: the first-season episode The Corbomite Manuever. It seems probable that that excerpts from this episode were the only source material initially available to the Joe 90 artists and storywriters.

In the first story arc, hostile robots take over the Enterprise and land the starship on their planet. Not until Voyager would TV viewers see a Federation starship make a soft-landing on a planet (albeit the movie Generations featured the saucer section of the Enterprise-D making a crash-landing). Other oddities included shuttles that resembled miniature versions of Thunderbird 2 and ‘repair waggons’ equipped with grapples. The Enterprise was armed with turret-mounted lasers rather than the more familiar phasers and photon torpedoes.

Gradually, the UK Star Trek strip caught up with the TV series. The error with Kirk was soon corrected; Dr Mc Coy joined the crew for the second strip, and Scotty, Uhura, and Chekov soon followed. The transporter (albeit referred to as a teleport) appeared in the third strip and the sixth strip (which coincided with the belated appearance of Star Trek on British television) saw the Enterprise equipped with phasers and more conventional Galileo-class shuttles (albeit misspelt). However, readers had to wait until early 1970 before the Klingons and the Romulans made an appearance.

Joe 90 survived for 38 issues before it was merged into its parent publication TV 21, which ran for a while as TV 21 & Joe 90 before reverting to its original title. Star Trek survived these changes, and a later merger with Valiant. It ran until the end of 1973, a total of 257 episodes before it was finally dropped.

This offbeat incarnation of Star Trek was then largely forgotten for forty years. The stories were never published in the United States. Eventually, in 2016, thanks to the endeavours of enthusiast Rich Hanley, they were brought back into print. Between March of that year and September 2017, the entire series was published in a three-volume collection.