Artist: Phil Gascoine
Writer: Alan Davidson
Publication: 17 January 1976 to 11 September 1976
The sun sends out an extra glimmer of heat, which melts ice caps and evaporates oceans, and this triggers worldwide torrents of rain that never seem to stop. The freak weather is causing worldwide flooding and catastrophe as well as bizarre environmental changes, such as lush green growth in the Sahara Desert. In Britain, the rain is causing widespread flooding that gets worse and worse because the rain never stops.
In Hazelford, Fran Scott is watching the developments on the news and treats the whole thing as a joke while her parents get a sense of impending apocalypse. The seriousness soon sets in for Fran as dams break down, people on lower levels start to flee as their towns vanish under the ever-rising waters, parts of the coast return to the sea, and then there are power cuts, food shortages, stockpiling, panic buying and looting, fuel shortages and stoppages, and higher levels are being swamped with refugees. Even London is disappearing.
Hazelford, being on the hills, is still reasonably safe. But during a school concert, the waters overcome the reservoir and come rolling in. In the ensuing chaos, Fran is separated from her parents and best friend Jill, and thinks they have died. She herself nearly drowns and is saved by the school bully Rosie Stevens, who sadly does not make it herself. As Fran rows off, a radio informs her that everything has now ended – government, law enforcement, electricity, telephones and other services – and then the radio itself goes because there are no more radio broadcasts. Britain itself is now barely sticking out of flood waters that just go on rising.
Fran, now on her own, sets out on a dangerous journey north to Scotland to be reunited with her sister June, who had left for Scotland earlier after a quarrel with Fran. Along the way, Fran meets a young girl called Sarah and her pet rabbit Fluffy. They too have been isolated by the flooding. Fran finds herself reunited with Jill along the way, giving them fresh hope that their parents did make it.
It’s a journey of survival and courage against the never-ending rain and dangerous floodwaters (without rain gear, but they never seem to catch colds or pneumonia). Fran nearly drowns more than once in the course of this story. And of course there is an array of more human and animal dangers that have arisen from the catastrophe. These include starving and savage birds, rats and other animals driven aggressive and dangerous. Other dangers include spread of disease, chemical pollution, and marauding gangs of thugs calling themselves The Black Circle who have themselves up as tin-pot dictators in the power vacuum left by the breakdown in law and society. They use people as slave labour, forcing them to work ploughs in drenching rain under threat of the lash. The floods claim the Black Circle while their prisoners escape, but are there other disparate groups like them? Afterwards, the girls find a home for Sarah and carry on by themselves.
Fran and Jill also help other people in need, such as finding an injured girl aboard a ship and seeking medical help, and coming up with a cure for a disease-stricken village.
The girls certainly learn some hard lessons about people, for better and worse. Some people have responded for the better. The girls encounter a self-sufficient community which has set up in caverns. There is a strong community spirit and a touch of hippiness. Then the floods come rolling in, destroying everything. Everyone takes refuge on a hilltop, the last piece of land for miles. You can’t help but get a hint of Mt Ararat here. Their leader responds by having everyone pray for a miracle.
And wouldn’t you know it – at this point the rain finally does stop! The sun, the cause of it all, appears for the first time in months. Then it is prayers of gratitude.
Others have turned for the worse, such as the Black Circle. And in Glasgow, the girls encounter King David, the self styled king of Glasgow (complete with crown, robe and a throne room full of treasures) who is the only inhabitant and hell bent on keeping it that way, even if it means blowing up the refugees who are now returning from the floods. Yes, a man driven mad by it all, but not mad enough for Fran to succeed in appealing to his better nature. At one point Fran herself almost succumbs to bestiality when hunger and desperation almost drive her to kill Fluffy the rabbit for food.
Even after the rains stop, the problems are not over. The freak weather patterns continue, such as Scotland turning tropical and growing flora to match, and getting hurricanes. There are other bizarre changes in nature such as the girls encountering a huge wall of seaweed and dolphins swimming around Glasgow and London. And of course there is the slow rebuild with returning refugees, official attempts to establish law and order among the chaos and salvaging what can be salvaged. In a bookend to the radio that cut out to mark the end of society as Fran knows it, repaired radios now report the progress of the rebuild.
Fran does find June, and is very surprised to find her parents as well. They too survived and also trekked to Scotland to find June. They go back to Hazelford, where they start rebuilding their homes and lives with a new-found appreciation for it all. In Hazelford Jill makes a surprise reunion with her own family.
The Hazelford survivors also take pause to remember the people of Hazelford who did not make it, including the people in the early episodes who personally helped Fran or showed extreme courage when the floods came to Hazelford. The last panel of the story is of a memorial that Hazelford built for these people so they will not be forgotten.
When you look at this story today, you are immediately struck as to how far ahead of its time it was. It anticipated global warming and devastating changes in weather patterns that cause real-life flooding, hurricanes and other catastrophes. It’s hard not to look at this story and see in it a foreshadowing of what our world could become.
The story is extremely realistic and intelligently crafted in its portrayal of the encroaching disaster and the struggle to survive. And all the while the story of the Biblical Flood is in the back of our minds as we read this. But we read it with a sense of the apocalypse and end of the world and wonder if that is how it ends up. Even if the rain stops, which it doesn’t seem to be doing, we know the devastation it would leave behind cannot make for a totally happy ending. So where is it going to end?
The first few episodes, with Fran’s initial reaction of treating it as a joke while it is still relatively distanced on the news reports, and then progressively realising it is no joke as the floods and the ensuing crises (refugees, power cuts, shortages, looters etc) mount in her own back yard are very much like real life. And then, when her own house is attacked by looters and saved by Rod Pearson, it brings it all home for her. Finally, when everything collapses and it’s every person for themselves, it is a grim, shocking picture filled with desperate life and death struggles.
The story does not hesitate to show us that some people, such as Rosie, do not survive the struggle. And in the final panel we are not allowed to forget them. The memorial stands as a sobering reminder that there were some people who did not make it: “Lest We Forget.” Among them are Rod Pearson and his family. And the Stevenses survive, but are left to mourn Rosie, the bully who had redeemed herself in the last moments of her life. The ending may be happy, full of joyous reunions and rebuilding of society, but is not allowed to be overtly so; few readers will come away from the last panel without tears in their eyes. The emotional impact of this story carries through right to the end, making it arguably Jinty’s best emotional story.
In the Jinty Top Ten it was noted that this serial was running at the same time as the apocalyptic drama series “Survivors”. In fact, many of the perils Fran and Jill face are uplifted from the series, including the slave gang they are consigned to in the Black Circle segment. And both “Survivors” and “Fran” climax in the Scottish Highlands. It cannot be said whether readers thought “Fran” was a blatant ripoff of “Survivors”, or whether they looked on it all as a double dose that was so much the better for them to enjoy. But there can be no doubt that “Fran” was hugely popular and must have prompted some readers to watch “Survivors”. Her story ran for seven months, making her second to “Merry at Misery House” as Jinty’s longest running serial.
But “Fran” has far greater significance in Jinty history than being her second-longest serial. If there was a serial that established the SF element that Jinty became famous for, it was this one. Aside from “The Green People” (no, not little green men) in 1975, there had been no SF in Jinty. She was still pretty much following the Tammy template of cruelty and tortured heroines. But after “Fran of the Floods”, more SF stories, especially ones with environmental elements, appeared in Jinty. Later in 1976, Jinty ran “Jassy’s Wand of Power”, and the environmental disaster under the spotlight swings from flooding to drought. In 1979 there was “The Forbidden Garden” where humanity has poisoned the environment and nothing can grow, and “Almost Human”, about an alien girl whose race is facing extinction from environmental catastrophe. But in terms of intelligent and thoughtful plotting, emotional intensity and breadth of scope, and exploration of the human psyche, “Fran of the Floods” must reign supreme. And in today’s climate of global warming, melting ice caps, rising ocean levels and alarming changes in weather patterns, it seems even more relevant now than it was in 1976.