The Four-Footed Friends (1979)

Sample images

Four Footed Friends 1

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Four Footed Friends 2

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Four Footed Friends 3

Publication:17/3/79-23/6/79

Reprint: Jinty annual 1984

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

Problem parents.

You know the type – too strict, too old-fashioned, too snobby, or way too over-protective. They make you feel like a virtual prisoner, never let you have any freedom, and you feel you’re not being allowed to grow up. Or they keep forcing you to do what they want and won’t let you do what you want.

Parents like that cropped up frequently in girls’ comics. Their attitudes were what drives the story, causing untold misery that could be avoided if only they acted differently, before (with a few exceptions) the happy ending where they finally see the error of their ways. Often their attitude stems from some giant chip on their shoulder, the product of a tragic event which turned them into what they are. Such is the case of Mrs Marshall, who goes to ridiculous and unfair lengths to keep her daughter Laura and then her pet dog, Winston, away from germs and common “riff-raff” because…no, it will not be revealed yet. The reason why Mrs Marshall acts this way is meant to be a mystery that keeps readers guessing until the end of the story.

The Marshalls are a rich family who life in an upper class house in Happy-Hillcock Estate. Mrs Marshall hates “common riff-raff” and takes the silliest of precautions to protect her daughter Laura from their “germs”. Mrs Marshall drives Laura to school so she does not catch any germs from council estate houses (and nobody is living in them yet!). In class, Laura has to sit alone to avoid catching germs from “common” children, under orders from her mother. When new girl Josie from the estate is seated next to Laura, Mrs Marshall yanks Laura right out of school and hires a dragon of a home tutor for her. When the council starts moving more people to the estate houses, Mrs Marshall launches a campaign against the influx of “common riff-raff”, although the council is only doing it to liberate the people from slum areas. Poor Laura is caught in the middle, between being forced to help both her mother and Josie’s rival campaign for more estate houses.

Mrs Marshall buys a Pekinese, Winston, as a companion for Laura, because she has become even more lonely and miserable after being yanked out of school. Winston becomes inseparable with Josie’s mongrel, Riley. Unfortunately Mrs Marshall is as over-protective of Winston as she is of Laura, and makes his life just as miserable to protect him from Riley’s “germs”. She goes as far as to demand that Riley be destroyed, although Winston pines without Riley. She does not listen to concerns that the dogs love each other too much. No wonder Riley and Winston try to run away together, and get into all sorts of scrapes while trying to stay together. This provides a lot of animal humour, such as hiding in coal bins and singing doggy duets to Mrs Marshall’s piano rendition of “Danny Boy”.

When Mr Marshall returns from abroad, things start turning around. Mr Marshall knows the reason for his wife’s problem, but he does not share it. He tries to talk sense into her, telling her to let the past die, not blame all common people for what happened, and that she is fussing over Laura too much. But Mrs Marshall is not listening, and is even more furious to find her husband helping the growing estate by building a supermarket. But Mrs Marshall is forced to make concessions when Mr Marshall uses Riley as a guard dog, and even she is moved when she herself sees the slums the people are being moved from.

But Mrs Marshall still clings to her snobby, overprotective ways. Eventually Laura gets so fed up with her mother that she runs off. Running away is a common means of climaxing these types of stories and resolving them, and this one is no exception. Riley saves Laura from a nasty accident and Mrs Marshall is so moved (perhaps a bit too quickly?) that she asks Riley’s forgiveness and has a change of heart. Later, the mystery of Mrs Marshall’s problem is finally revealed. Her baby son Alan died from an illness that she believes was contracted from a dirty dummy that a grubby kid shoved into his mouth. Hence her problem with common people and germs, but now she finally realises she has been “unjust and ridiculous.” Thereafter, there is no looking back and we get the happy ending we have been waiting for.

There certainly is a lot to make this story popular with readers. It is a strong commentary (and satire?) on over-protective parents, and so many kids can identify with Laura’s situation. Readers also love mystery, and it grows increasingly apparent that there is a mystery behind Mrs Marshall’s attitude. We see it in the way she keeps staring at a photograph in her room and saying how common people have caused her heartache. What does she mean? The question goes unanswered until the last episode, presumably so readers can have a go at solving it and make it even more fun.

Readers also love a story that makes a statement against snobbery. As Mrs Marshall causes increasing trouble with her snobbish attitudes, we are just waiting to see how she has a change of heart, or failing that, her comeuppance. The story also makes a strong call for tolerance, as represented by the two dogs. Someone tells Mrs Marshall that if a pedigree and a mongrel can get along, why can’t we rich people and common people? Once Mrs Marshall gets the message, she reiterates it in a big way. She has Riley and Winston jointly open the supermarket: “They both think a mongrel’s as good as a Peke, any day!” Above all perhaps, it has dogs. Who doesn’t love an animal story? And this one is full of animal antics ranging from scrapes that give us loads of laughs, to tears when the dogs come under threat from Mrs Marshalls’ stupidity, and admiration at the dogs’ determination and courage to beat Mrs Marshall and stay together.

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