Publication: 4 September 1976-1 January 1977
Artist: Ken Houghton
In Victorian times, spoilt and selfish Lady Daisy De Vere is heading out to London to meet a school party for a finishing school in Switzerland. Daisy dismisses her nanny and then (unwisely, as it turns out) sets off to enjoy the sights of London on her own while waiting for her party. But you can only expect to get into trouble if you wander about in a strange city on your own, and this is precisely what happens – big style. Daisy asks Maud, a skivvy from Park Square Mansion, to deliver her letter of explanation to the school party. She has no money (all foreign for her journey abroad), so she gives Maud her cloak as payment. This leads to a case of mistaken identity that gets Maud sent to the finishing school in Daisy’s place. Nobody listens to Maud’s protests and her Cockney accent and ignorance of manners are all taken for typical upper class eccentricity. Eventually Maud decides to just go along with it and enjoy it. The trouble is, Maud finds the high life not what it is cracked up to be, with the strictures, mannerisms and high standards expected, and Maud’s common ways cause problems with the upper class pupils. Eventually she befriends Mary, a girl who is snubbed because her family has fallen on hard times. Mary cannot understand why the supposedly selfish Daisy is taking pity on her, but is grateful.
Meanwhile, Daisy has gotten lost, messed up, and tries unsuccessfully to get help from a flower girl who does not believe her. Eventually, she ends up being mistaken for the skivvy at Park Square Mansion. So instead of the finishing school, Daisy finds herself learning about life downstairs the hard way. Her fellow servants do not believe her story and her posh mannerisms do not endear her to them either. They end up turning against her. So it is loneliness and isolation on top of hard work (which she does not know how to do and is thrown in at the deep end) without proper rest or decent food, beatings from the tyrannical cook, and uncomfortable travelling conditions for the servants when the household goes away. Other cruelties include being chained to a stove while cleaning it, forced to do ironing with a broken bone in her hand, and bullying such being drenched in water from the pump. Daisy is desperate to escape, but doors and windows are locked each night, and Daisy is locked into her attic room as well. Daisy’s attempts to prove her identity to people who know her as Lady Daisy de Vere also fail.
Then, a climbing boy tells Daisy that she can escape by climbing the chimney. He gives her a map of the chimneys to guide her and advises her of the risks. This is a dangerous, life-threatening escape, but it succeeds. However, Daisy has a brush with a criminal who tries to get the map. He fails and she gets away to find help, tearing up the map as she does so. This time she is more successful in getting help from the flower girl, whose name is Betsey. But Betsey falls ill and is taken to the poor hospital – and few come out of it alive.
At the finishing school, Maud’s high life comes to an end when she falls foul of a blackmailer. The blackmailer points out that Daisy could be in trouble and if so, Maud would certainly get the blame for it. Maud realises that he could be right about Daisy. She pretends to give in to the blackmail but in fact calls his bluff by writing to Daisy’s family to explain the situation. Eventually Maud comes back to London to find Daisy, but her queries get her arrested for being a nuisance. In prison she overhears the aforementioned criminal talk about his failed bid to get the map from Daisy. She is quickly released and follows up the lead, which eventually leads her to Daisy. Maud has learned that Mr De Vere is also searching for Daisy, and Daisy knows where to find him. Everything is sorted out happily, right down to Mr De Vere giving Daisy, Maud, Betsey (now recovered) and Mary a house where they set up a partnership for helping poor people.
Maidservant serials were always popular in girls’ comics. Wee Slavey (Judy) and Molly Mills (Tammy) are two long-standing examples of how popular servant stories could be. Serials where rich girls (or middle class girls) become servants were also very common in girls’ comics. They may switch places with a servant (willingly, accidentally or be tricked), or get a job as a servant as a cover for a secret mission such as finding a lost will eg “The Secret Servant” (Bunty), or become servants after falling on hard times. Sometimes switching with servants, as in this case, comes as a punishment that humbles and reforms a spoilt girl. Other times the rich girl is a kind person who entered it not knowing what she has let herself in for e.g. “Sarah Below Stairs” (Judy) or was tricked into it e.g. “The Imposter!” (Bunty). Whatever the circumstances, the rich girl learns the hard way about how the other half lives below stairs, the abuse they suffer because they are considered lowly, and the abuses the servants can inflict on each other because of the servant system itself. They emerge as crusaders for the downtrodden.
Daisy seems to have a harder time than most rich girls who get a taste of the servant life. Usually, no matter how hard they are oppressed, they at least had some friends. But not Daisy – she suffered isolation and loneliness in addition to the abuse because her fellow servants ostracised her and she did not have a single friend among them. In addition, Daisy risked her very life with a terrifying, dangerous escape through the chimney. Girls’ serials set in Victorian times seldom missed the opportunity to comment on the horrors of the climbing boys. But here a hitherto high-born Victorian girl, who would never have lowered herself in such a manner before, gets a taste of the horror first hand.
But Daisy ends up expressing that she is glad that it happened, because it opened her eyes to how selfish and arrogant she had been before, and has become more caring about people less fortunate and vowing to deal with some of the awful things she saw as a servant. Daisy’s new-found altruism emerges during her time as a servant; for example, she gives the climbing boy her uneaten breakfast once she hears that his life is even worse than hers. She also learns to be grateful for small mercies, such as appreciating a black cat brooch gift when she had been used to valuable jewels back home, or appreciating the shelter Betsey gives her when she would have turned up her nose at such lowly dwellings before.
When a serial deals with a low class Victorian girl who is suddenly elevated to the high life, she often finds that it is not all grand and fun because of the strict decorum and lady-like expectations that come with it. This is what Maud finds and she tells the blackmailer that she is glad to give it up because it has been so strenuous for that reason. But what is so impressive about Maud’s experience at the finishing school is that it brings out strength in character for Maud as well, in a reverse manner from Daisy. While adversity brings out the good in Daisy, luxury tests the goodness in Maud, and she comes through with flying colours. She never let the luxury, which could have gone to her head, corrupt her. For example, she refuses to use Daisy’s money because she considers it stealing. She too stands up for the oppressed, such as standing up for Mary by throwing water over girls who are bullying her. And she also tries to help less fortunate people, such as caring for an injured ragged boy while the other girls comment on common people carrying dreadful diseases. And in the end, the experience elevates Maud, a low-class girl, into position in society where she can continue to work to improve the lot of poor people.
So what is really intriguing about this story is the use of opposites. The opposites in the characters and backgrounds of Daisy and Maud; the opposites in the two girls going to each other’s end of the spectrum; the opposites in the experiences they endured; and the opposites in how the experiences brought out the strengths in the girls’ characters. And the opposite experiences ended with them working together to campaign for people less fortunate in Victorian society.
Note: Ken Houghton was a sporadic artist in Jinty until Tansy of Jubilee Street came over from Penny. Afterwards, Houghton was a regular artist until Peter Wilkes replaced him on Tansy. Interestingly, all three of Houghton’s Jinty serials addressed historical periods: “Bridey Below the Breadline” (Stuart period), “Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud” (Victorian period, and it also replaced Bridey), and “House of the Past” (time travel to the 1930s).