Publication: 6 June 1981-19 September 1981
Artist: Mario Capaldi
A ranting, raving, power-mad headmaster who tyrannises his new school with his ideas of discipline and how schools should be run – with hard work, discipline, and totally serious study. No fun or free-and-easy teaching methods – Heaven forbid! As far as this headmaster is concerned, fun should be in the home, and not in a school. In his eyes, this free-and-easy school is a total apology, but in three weeks it will be his model school of an old-fashioned grammar school, with uniforms, harsh discipline, and teachers who run their classes the old-fashioned way and no fun methods, and houses with names like Dedication and Application (yes, I can just see modern pupils so happy to be in those houses). The only thing missing is corporal punishment. Pretty odd, as this headmaster was overjoyed to see it retained in his previous school. And this story was published before corporal punishment was outlawed in British schools.
Such is how Mr Graves, the former deputy head of the boys’ grammar, wants to run free-and-easy Castlegate Comprehensive. His idea of transforming the school is to force his grammar-school methods right down its throat, and he even goes as far as to butt in on classes and tell teachers to run their classes his way. And from the outside, his dress, appearance and whole manner of carrying on earns him the nickname of “Dracula” and for his daughter Lydia, “Dracula’s Daughter.” Poor Lydia takes the brunt of her classmates’ outrage towards her father’s campaign, and she does not like it any more than they do. It gets worse when Dracula’s treatment of his teachers forces one out, and she is replaced with Miss Snape, a kindred spirit in Mr Graves’ eyes. But the pupils find out that Miss Snape is a dragon who makes no effort to get on with them, and bullies them from the outset. Even worse, Miss Snape treats Lydia as teacher’s pet because she is after the position of deputy head. But when Lydia’s demonstration against her father costs Miss Snape this chance, Miss Snape turns against Lydia with even greater fury than the rest of the class.
What really carries this story is the incredible portrayal of the character of Mr Graves. He could so easily have been cast as an evil headmaster who inflicts sadism in the name of discipline. We have seen this in the Billy Bunter stories, where temporary headmasters proved so psychotic, sadistic and near-insane in their conduct that the Greyfriars boys threw up barricades against them. In girls’ comics there have been stories of headmistresses inflicting torture on their pupils in the name of discipline, such as The Girls of Liberty Lodge and The Four Friends at Spartan School in Tammy. But unlike these other principals, Mr Graves is not intended to be a flat, if hateful, villain who makes everyone’s life a misery before eventually getting his just desserts like all the rest of them. Rather, he is at heart a good man but completely misguided, rigid, bigoted, and naïve. And on top of it all, he is arrogant, so when he is appointed headmaster, it goes completely to his head. He becomes absolutely power-mad and seems to think being headmaster means he can run a school like a dictatorship. But even more astonishing is the change in Mr Graves at the end. He has modified his views on education enough to become more human in his approach. He is finally allowing some fun into school (putting on comedy videos in gratitude to the pupils who unknowingly helped him at one point), sticking up for them when they are wrongly accused of vandalism, and earning a whole new respect for alternate teaching methods. Above all, he has gone from believing that there is only one way to run a school (his way) to learning that there is no one way of running a school.
This is what puts this story a cut above the more typical stories about bully teachers and principals in girls’ comics. Someone must have been reading The Sky’s the Limit by Dr Wayne Dwyer and its sections of authoritarian thinking when they wrote this story. Mr Graves is a brilliantly conceived portrayal of how authoritarian thinking can be transcended and authoritarians can become more human. And it is all done without any seams showing. Mr Graves does not change completely. He is still strict, wears an old-fashioned teachers’ gown, and talks in an extremely formal manner (even in the home). But he is also letting the school see the human side to his nature, something he would only show in the home before.
Once Mr Graves starts to show he is a human being, the girls begin to like him more. This is something they can never do with Miss Snape, who is a typical bully teacher that does not change, but eventually transfers to another school. Still, the pupils are all relieved when Mr Graves goes back to his old school when he discovers its discipline has slipped so badly that there has been constant trouble with the police. The teacher he drove out before returns as the headmistress, so the girls can look forward to a return to the free-and-easy system. But before he goes, Mr Graves gives another example of how he has changed through his Castlegate experience – a complete collection of Dracula videos to remember him by!