Publication: 15/12/79 to 21/11 1981. Merged with Tammy 28/11/1981 and ran until 23/6/84
Artist: Bob Harvey
Writer: Jay Over
There is nothing like Pam of Pond Hill in the entire run of Jinty – or for that matter, in the history of girls’ comics.
In the wake of Grange Hill, Pam of Pond Hill was one of the pioneers in a new form of regular – the soap opera – blazing a bold trail for The Comp (Nikki/Bunty), School’s Out! (Bunty), and Penny’s Place (M&J/Bunty) to follow. Pam was even bolder to feature a mixed comprehensive school when Jinty, like all other girls’ comics, featured single-sex schools. It even featured boyfriends, mainly in the form of Pam’s boyfriend Danny “Goofy” Boyle, when boys were still peripheral figures in girls’ comics rather than the boyfriends who would be commonplace in the rival DC Thompson titles in later years. Mind you, Goofy seems to be more of a friend than a boyfriend per se – perhaps it’s because they were first years and a bit young for serious dating.
Pam Watts brings us stories of what happened when she was a first-year at Pond Hill Comprehensive. These usually deal with bullies, problem pupils, teachers, family and friendship problems, brushes with the law, accidents and catastrophes, school trips, Christmas chaos, and even the occasional hint of the supernatural. They’re all told in in Pam’s own words and her own language, which adds a touch of humour and realism that DCT soaps like The Comp can’t match. The opening panel where Pam starts narrating is similar to that of Bessie Bunter, except that it is not a joke at herself that sets the theme for the entire episode. In fact, some of her introductory boxes have a serious tone. Nor does Pam actually recap what has happened so far in the story as a text box would. No, it’s just a line or two that is a carryover from the last episode and sums up what to expect in the current episode. For example: “Some people have bats in the belfry, but I’ve got a teacher in the attic! [Pam’s teacher has started renting the flat above her family’s] When I started at the comprehensive, Miss Peeble was our form teacher, and a right hash she made of it.”
One of the biggest strengths of Pond Hill is the realism of the stories, which clearly draw on true-life situations. In the very first story, the problem is Miss Peeble, who is clearly inexperienced, lacking confidence and consequently finding it difficult to control her class. Consequently the class larrikins, Fred Finch and Terry Jones, make great sport of her and Mr Gold the headmaster threatens to sack her if she can’t get her act together. Featuring a teacher who is being bullied is a very rare thing seen in girls’ comics, yet it is all too common in real life. Another story features a girl who starts shoplifting – not because she is a bad sort or light-fingered – it is because she is desperately lonely and doesn’t make friends easily, so she is trying to buy friendship by presenting gifts to classmates – gifts that come from her shoplifting. Added to that, she has an unhappy home life, including an abusive father. Indeed, unhappy home lives and problems at home feature a great deal with the more problem classmates. For example, the reason Terry picks on Miss Peeble so much and behaves so badly in class is the bad influence of his brother Stan – but it turns out this is because he thinks teachers are battle-axes as they picked on him for being a slow learner. However, when Pam shows Stan what a ‘battle axe’ Miss Peeble is, he is so knocked out by her that the two of them start dating, and he tells Terry to lay off Miss Peeble. Thereafter, Fred, Terry and Miss Peeble get on well, although the two boys remain the class layabouts and never put on school uniform, despite the uniform inspections of the severe headmaster Mr Gold (ironically nicknamed “Goldilocks”, because he is bald).
Another strength that makes Pam so enduring to readers, and gives her one edge over her competitors, is that Pam narrates her stories herself in a realistic, humorous, chirpy manner that sounds like a real kid talking. Indeed, Pam is the only Jinty character to narrate her own stories. This is another thing that makes Pam different from the other soap opera features, which are told from neutral standpoints and can focus on any character in the regular, whether it’s the bullies or the protagonists. The Pam stories are told from her viewpoint and in her language, which makes it a bit difficult to develop other characters because it cannot shift to their points of view. But reading the stories from Pam’s point of view makes her strip so funny and engaging. And Pam’s dialogue is so witty that she has been used in memorable Jinty features, most notably “Pam’s Poll” in 1980.
And there is the humour of it all that always guarantees a laugh, whether it is the artwork of Bob Harvey, the characters, the dialogue or the zaniness, while other soap opera strips such as The Comp were played straight. Even the feared Mr Gold has the odd moment where he becomes the butt of jokes, such as when a council worker tells him off for not following regulations or when he gets paint on his pants because he sat on a chair the kids had just painted. Elsewhere, one teacher has been locked in the storeroom by a jealous junior while another was arrested by the French police who mistook him for a kidnapper. And it could only happen in Pam of Pond Hill – it is highly unlikely that those kinds of things could ever happen to, say Grim Gertie from The Comp.
(click thru: from Jinty holiday special)
Some humour, and even some of the stories, arise from Pam’s own lack of academic talent. For example, English teacher Miss Canter thinks it is a joke when Pam declares she wants to pursue a career in journalism because she is showing little promise of it with her English work. Pam’s determination to prove Miss Canter wrong eventually leads to the foundation of the school magazine “The Pond Hill Print Out”. In another story, the sewing teacher sneers at Pam’s attempt at needlework. This has Pam persuading Mr Gold to have the boys and girls swap sewing and woodwork classes, and the sewing teacher is on the verge of resigning after trying to teach the boys to sew.
(Click thru: exam nerves, from Tammy annual 1985)
It is no wonder that when Pam of Pond Hill was taken out briefly in 1981, the editor’s invitation to readers to bring her back was hugely popular and proved successful. Part of it may have been the upcoming merger with Tammy, and Pam was the Jinty character who endured in the merger, lasting right through until the last issue of Tammy. It is sad that Pam’s last story, the story of her first home computer, was cut off due to Tammy’s abrupt disappearance from a strike and never finished. Pam was such a powerful and popular character that she might have carried on in Girl, if Tammy had been allowed to merge with her.