Artist: Jim Baikie
Publication: 9 July 1977 to 12 November 1977
Sequel: 7 October 1978 to 10 March 1979
“Say hello to our pint-sized problem-solver – and maker!”
So said the opening blurb to introduce us to the Jinty character who made her name as “zany”, “madcap”, and became one of the most popular characters ever to appear in Jinty. In fact, Fran was the first Jinty character to come back by popular request.
In the very first panel where we meet Fran, we immediately see what she’s going to be like when we see her reading a comic book that is rated “not suitable for girls”. And as her strip develops, we are not disappointed: Fran is wacky, potty, outrageous, resourceful, quick-witted, cheeky, anti-establishment, loads of fun, and there is never a dull moment without her. Mind you, it’s hard to see where the “pint-sized” comes in. Fran appears to be a normal height and hardly a midget like “Wee Sue”.
Potty Fran Anderson, better known as Fran the Fixer, styles herself as a problem solver who can fix anything and her catchphrase is “‘s easy!”. But it is not always as “‘s easy” as Fran thinks, for her ideas of fixing things are crazy, madcap ones. For the most part they work out, but there is typically mayhem along the way, and sometimes things backfire on Fran. For example, Fran’s solution to the tea shortage is dandelion tea – but it ends up more like dandelion wine that gets the teachers drunk! In another crazy caper she and the other girls dress as window cleaners, but things go wrong when their false beards get stuck. Fran has to get to the shop for advice and disguises herself in Arab costume to hide her beard. But this gets her kidnapped by a sheikh, who has mistaken her for the princess he wants to marry. Needless to say, he soon gets ‘fixed’; ironically, it is with the help of the false beard.
Some of the mayhem comes from Fran’s cheeky nature. For example, she outrages school governor Colonel Wellington by leap-frogging over him instead of politely going around him. Then she drops a clanger – on his poor old gouty foot! All right, so that part was an accident. But he sporting and agrees to let Fran off if she can fix something for him – shift a grand piano to his house without trucks or moving men because there’s a strike on! And there is another occasion where Fran puts on a circus gorilla suit for a joke. But she gets stuck in it and the sight of the gorilla suit has people fainting and fleeing in terror when she tries to get help. Worse, her monkeying around causes a real gorilla to get loose – which then attacks her school!
Fran’s “secret weapon” gets her out of a lot of scrapes (caused by her ‘fixing’ or otherwise). The secret weapon also gives readers loads of laughs and no doubt heightened Fran’s popularity. And what is her secret weapon? It is ventriloquism, the power of throwing her voice, which she does with alacrity. She has made stuffed parrots, doughnuts and butterflies talk among other things. She is also skilled at mimicry when she throws her voice and can impersonate things like bees, cats and Miss Garston’s voice.
Fran has been expelled from several schools because of her ‘fixing’. Dad threatens to pack her off to her aunts Toni and Chloe (or Tooth and Claw as Fran calls them) if it happens again. And after Dad shows Fran a film of what it will be like to live with Aunts Tooth and Claw (who later show up in person at the school). Fran definitely does not want to be expelled from her new school, St Catherine’s School for Young Ladies. Nor does Dad, particularly as it is a snob school and he has paid big money for it.
But even when Fran tries, she still gets into trouble, and this nearly gets her expelled on her first day. It all starts when headmistress Miss Garston lets Fran carry her suitcase. Seems simple enough and a good start at her new school – but it all turns to disaster when a thief steals it and then Fran accidentally drops it on the head of Joggers the gardener. This establishes a running gag in the strip that has Joggers regarding Fran as more of a menace than rest of the staff do.
But to come back to the suitcase – by the time Fran hands the suitcase to Miss Garston, it is a mess. Fran has to do some fast fixing to butter Miss Garston up and save herself from expulsion and Tooth and Claw. She not only succeeds, but exposes the other side of Miss Garston. Underneath that stern exterior is a real softie, but more pertinently, Miss Garston is potty herself. In fact, sometimes her pottiness rivals Fran’s. One example is where Miss Garston takes them camping. The girls hate it and tell Fran to fix it so they will go back to school. But the headmistress’s pottiness outmatches Fran’s tricks (ghosts, bugs, flooding, rain) every time and Fran does not know what to do. But sometimes the fixing happens by luck rather than planning and this is the case here; the headmistress can’t get back to school soon enough after Fran accidentally sets some cows loose.
All the same, having a potty headmistress does help to keep Fran from expulsion. And so does her best friend Sally “Sal” Duff. Sal acts as a watchdog over Fran, although she reckons lion taming is easier. However, Sal has little success in stopping Fran’s schemes once Fran comes up with one, no matter how crazy it seems or in violation of school rules. Fortunately for the most part they work out. But sometimes things didn’t work out and Fran would typically take refuge in a tree until things had cooled down. She often got chased up a tree as well. Usually it was either Joggers the gardener or the resident bulldog (more on that in a moment) who were the very annoyed chasers.
Fran is not the only crazy resident of St Catherine’s. She has frequent trouble from “Slobberchops” aka Desmond the bulldog. Desmond is owned by the games mistress, the imposing Miss Lottie. Fran’s first encounter with Slobberchops comes when he eats Freda’s ‘talking’ doughnut and then chases Fran up a tree. Fran’s relationship with Slobberchops has swung from him going all ga-ga over Fran to chasing her with teeth bared and getting her up a tree or whatever. But things go really wild whenever he meets Fran’s parrot Beaky (who replaced the original stuffed version in the sample images above). Beaky, of course, heightens the zaniness of the strip. Strips with parrots are always guaranteed to be hilarious (such as “Bet Gets the Bird!”).
Of course there has to be a nemesis, and the regular villain of the piece is Clara. Clara is a snob who has looked down on Fran as a “scruff” right from the start. She was bitterly disappointed when Fran was not expelled. She confines herself more to playing tricks on Fran, but she always ends up getting ‘fixed’. She does not seem to do much to sabotage Fran’s schemes. Maybe they were too zany for her to figure out or she thought Fran would expel herself sooner or later.
Even the formidable aunts showed that pottiness ran in the Anderson family when they pay a visit to Fran’s school. Although they are dragons, they are also wacky – in their own way. We see this in their first panel when Aunt Toni points a blunderbuss at a porter whom the aunts think is stealing their luggage. At school, they cause as much mayhem as Fran; for example, on the hockey pitch they clobber the whole team. They also put the snobby Clara in her place (below). Maybe readers liked them better after that.
They have Dad’s permission to remove Fran to their farm if they disapprove of the school, whether Fran is expelled or not (aren’t you being a bit unfair there, Dad?). So far they are not impressed, deeming it too soft while they pride themselves on hardiness. Ironically, it is not Fran’s ‘fixing’ that saves her but the potty headmistress, whom the aunts make friends with. The only thing is, their visit has the headmistress send the girls on the aforementioned camping trip to toughen them up.
Wacky characters played for laughs and hijinks had been in Jinty from the very first issue. “The Jinx from St Jonah’s” established the trend, with Katie Jinks the jinx who was a walking disaster area. She could get the school orchestra in a tangle through playing a simple triangle, get chased by an ostrich, drop laundry powder in the swimming pool and get the swimming contest in a lather, and accidentally set the school boiler to dangerous levels. In one story her friends tried tying her up to stop her jinxing but disaster struck them anyway. And there was “Do-It-Yourself Dot“, who made “a nuisance of herself” in making things, though they often went right as well. Dot could be regarded as a “fixer” too while Fran can also be regarded as making a nuisance of herself.
Fran is clearly carrying on the tradition. Perhaps the same writers were involved. Whoever they were, they were certainly inspired by “Jim’ll Fix It!“, from which this strip clearly takes its cue. But whilst Katie’s capers come from her being a walking disaster area, Fran’s come from her personality and the skills she has learned to ‘fix’ things. Fran also differs from Katie in that most of her capers are told in story arcs spanning several weeks while Katie usually had weekly disasters. This allows for more development, storytelling, and more hijinks and laughs spanning over a single story. And the artwork of Jim Baikie lends itself brilliantly to the atmosphere of the strip. More often seen drawing some of Jinty’s more dramatic strips such as “The Forbidden Garden“, he showed that he could draw comedy as well. His style in Fran is looser and more exaggerated when drawing high comedy scenes.
But it is the jauntiness of it all that makes Fran arguably the best-remembered comedy character in Jinty, for jauntiness summed up Jinty herself. It was hardly surprising that Jinty’s open invitation for readers to ask for her back at the end of her first story drew a response that proved successful. It would not be surprising if there had been a demand to bring back Fran in “Pam’s Poll” as well. If so, unfortunately it did not succeed that time.
It is a bit difficult to understand why Fran did not become more of a regular in Jinty and return more than once. Many characters in girls’ comics have done so (such as Bella Barlow in Tammy and The Honourable S.J. in Judy) once their popularity and staying power were established. Maybe something behind the scenes prevented it.