Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tanguy et Laverdure - The Aeronauts

Jeremy Briggs is back with...


When Steve was trying to sort out last month where 'The Flying Furies' strip from Lion originated from, readers were able to tell him that the strip was a renamed version of a 'Tanguy et Laverdure' strip from France and that the only other directly translated English language stories were in an annual called The Aeronauts. Having found The Aeronauts Annual at the Christian Aid Book Sale in Edinburgh, here is a little more information on this long running French strip and its British reprint.

The characters of the two French Air Force pilots Captain Michel Tanguy and Lieutenant Ernest Laverdure were created in 1961 by writer Jean-Michel Charlier and artist Albert Uderzo, better known in the UK for his Asterix books, and they appeared in the comic magazine Pilote, which was also the home of Asterix. The stories were reprinted in bandes dessinees albums, the same type of books that Asterix and Tintin stories are printed in both on the Continent and in the UK. Tanguy is very much the hero of the piece with Laverdure being the comedic sidekick, a Captain Haddock to Tanguy's Tintin if you like, but despite this the stories are contemporary adventure stories with a aviation flavour. The characters were popular and the series continued for many years in Pilote and as albums, with the artist changing by the ninth album to Joseph Gillain who was known as Jije. The series continues today with Jean-Claude Laidin writing modern stories for different artists, with the characters now flying Mirage 2000 jets rather than the Mirage III jets of the original stories.

Their popularity lead to a television series featuring them being made in France in 1967 with the full cooperation of the French Air Force and was called Les Chevaliers Du Ciel (which translates as Knights of the Sky). This series was bought by the BBC in the early 1970s and broadcast dubbed as The Aeronauts. World Distributors bought the rights to publish an annual of the series and so in 1972 two stories were translated into English by Charles A Pemberton and published in hardback as The Aeronauts Annual 1973. The original stories were two separate 1969 albums, the eleventh and twelfth, entitled Destination Pacifique and Menace Sur Mururoa and were really one long story split in two (similar to the Tintin lunar rocket story being split into Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon). The cover of the Destination Pacifique album by Yves Thos was used for the annual cover.

Set in French Polynesia, the French Air Force are preparing to test detonate a new form of nuclear bomb. A shadowy group of Japanese, lead by a character known only as The Shotgun, make plans to capture and detonate the bomb at a time and place of their choosing in an attempt to discredit the French Government and its policies in the Pacific region. The story takes twists and turns as the Japanese first try to photograph the French base from the air and then, with the help of the fiancée of a former French pilot, bug Tanguy with a location transmitter to determine the exact silo the bomb is in before attempting to invade the base and steal it. Here we have a story which touches on the politics of the independent French nuclear deterrent and the test detonations of the warheads in the Pacific. It rattles along at quite a pace and of course, despite the nuclear mushroom cloud on the cover of the Menace Sur Mururoa book and the deaths of several of their friends and allies, our heroes survive to fly another day.

The original albums are listed on which is where the cover illustrations came from. The Aeronauts annual is not that uncommon on eBay or ABE so, if you come across a copy, it is worth a look. What a pity that it is the only proper English publication of the Tanguy and Laverdure stories and that it seems totally unknown to their French language fan sites and Wikipedia entry.

Update: I've subsequently found a good site for information on author Jean-Michel Charlier which includes a section on the TV show.


  1. Hi Steve

    Any idea where one can track down the English theme for The Aeronauts? Was it really in the 70's ..I was sure it was 60's must b emy age :(

  2. The original French TV series "Les Chevaliers du ciel" began broadcasting in 1967 and a dubbed version was broadcast by the BBC in the early 1970s. I've no idea if there's an mp3 of the theme but the show was released in France on DVD so there's a chance that it's somewhere on the web, possibly under the above title.

  3. Unfortunately the theme for the original is not the poppy English one but a rather uninspiring march with warbled French vocals. I remember discussing it with a couple of French mates who burst into song when they finally discovered that The Aeronauts was theor beloved Les Chevaliers du ciel!

    I'm sure that Network Video will eventually release the dubbed series at some time

  4. I had vague memories of this programme along with other French imports like Robison Crusoe, Belle and Sebastian, the Flashing Blade and Hectors House. However, when I said, "Does anyone else remember the one about the French fighter pilots, with the theme tune that was nearly as good as The Flashing Blade? There was a blonde one and a dark one. The dark one was always rescuing the blonde one!" I was always met by a wall of incomprehension.

    Then in the summer of 2003 I was living in Lisbon. I was spending a lonely Saturday afternoon wandering around the shopping mall next to the Estadio da Luz. In the comic book section of a bookshop, among the ubiquitous Asterix and Blake & Mortimer (a revalation to me) I found a set of Porguese translatios about an earily familiar pair of French fighter pilots. On the 4th or 5th book I browsed through there was a side story about a TV series based on the cartoon strip. The photos of the characters were exactley the same as my hazy memories. "I was right after all!" Thought I. However, I am still the only person I know that remembers it. Recently I learled that the British title was "The Aeronaouts" which rang a long neglected bell because I can now remember driving my parents mad by singing the themetune.

    It's great to find other people who share that memory.

  5. @crispy32

    Theme can be found here

    Glad I'm not the only one who remembers it, though my memory is little more than an aerial shot of a Mirage III (at a guess) peeling down, and two pilots somewhere in a sandy location. Although I remember it as being French, for some reason I always thought it was to do with the Arab-Israeli war! What odd things we associate when we are young and carry about as "fact" for the rest of our natural!

  6. I watched every episode and got the Annual for Christmas 1973, I still have the annual somewere boxed up. Reading this brings back happy memories and I'm glad others also remember this show



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