“They Call Me a Coward!” (1971)

Sample images

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Published: June and School Friend 3 July – 28 August 1971

Artist: Leslie Otway

Writer: Unknown

Sometimes we discuss non-Jinty serials, provided the entry is discussed within the confines of Jinty context. Such is the case here. Recently I came across this story from June and School Friend, and was immediately struck with the parallels it shares with “Waves of Fear”: a girl is bullied at school after being accused of cowardice in the wake of an accident; her enemies gang up to get her expelled; she is pushed too far and runs off in pouring rain; then comes a turn of events that puts things right. It could well be it was the same writer.

Plot

Cathy Price has a terrible fear of heights (acrophobia). So when Sue Dawson is clinging to a cliff top and in need of rescue, Cathy is too overcome by her phobia to help. Sue falls and is soon having life-or-death surgery. Following this, the girls at school call Cathy a coward and start bullying her. Leading them are Brenda Smith and her crony Marion, who are always causing trouble for somebody one way or other in any case.  Cathy’s best friend Lynn Greenway is shunning her as well – at first.

The bullies’ taunts drive Cathy back to the cliff, where she tries to prove herself by trying to climb the cliff this time. But again her fear overwhelms her. The bullies dangle her over the cliff and then leave her on the grass. When Cathy returns to school the bullies throw her in the shower with the water set to hottest because they think she is sneaking on them. Lynn rescues Cathy and almost picks a fight with the bullies until a teacher intervenes. Following this, Lynn becomes Cathy’s defender against the bullies. Lynn also cops some of the bullying as well. On a school trip Brenda and Marion push into her into the pool at the aquarium, which puts Lynn in danger from a killer whale and she can’t swim. Mr Withers rescues her, and she tells Cathy not to beat herself up for not being able to do something herself, commenting that those two bullies didn’t do any heroics either.

Cathy’s parents do not know what is going on. Cathy does not tell them because she is too ashamed, and also because they become stressed when Dad is suddenly made redundant and money gets tight. Cathy’s paper round helps make ends meet, but she loses the job because she is too upset about the trouble at school to do the job right. So Cathy takes an evening job in a café, but the extra work is soon taking its toll and interfering with homework. She loses sleep and is getting exhausted at school. Mum finds out about Cathy’s evening job and tells her to stop it because it is affecting her schoolwork. Cathy continues regardless because the family needs the money, but gets her wages docked when she accidentally breaks a stack of plates.

At school Brenda picks another fight with Cathy and they are hauled up before the headmistress. Brenda refuses to shake hands as ordered; she calls Cathy a coward and a disgrace to the school. The headmistress, who does not know what happened either, eventually gets the whole story out of Cathy. She handles it compassionately, telling Cathy that you don’t always succeed at being a hero, and how many people would be heroes when it comes to the crunch? The headmistress then has a word with Brenda, but it only makes the situation worse because afterwards Brenda tells Cathy that they are now out to really fix her.

Next day, Cathy finds out what Brenda means: the girls are now trying to get her expelled with a protest demonstration and threats of strike action. Worse, the press have gotten wind of it. The headmistress sends Cathy home while they try to sort it out. Form teacher Mr Withers assures Cathy that everything will be all right in the end.

Cathy is too ashamed to tell her parents or pass over the note from the headmistress. Then, when Cathy hears a newsflash reporting the trouble at school, she is so terrified that she runs away – in pouring rain. Her dog Spot follows and gets injured. The vet is closed, so Cathy takes Spot to the hospital. She discovers Sue has pulled through surgery and is on the mend. She goes in to see Sue and finds Sue wants to be friends with her. However, Cathy knows she will continue to be branded a coward and runs off again.

Then Cathy sees a young girl about to be attacked by a vicious guard dog. Without thinking, she jumps in to save the girl, but takes a bad mauling in the process. Now Cathy is quite the heroine and considered as having redeemed herself. The headmistress says it is safe for Cathy to return and there will be no more trouble. Indeed, all the girls cheer Cathy when she returns, including Brenda. The girl’s father is so grateful for the rescue that he gives Cathy’s father a job.

Thoughts

As stated before, this story shares a number of parallels with Jinty’s “Waves of Fear”. There are differences, of course. First, it is a phobia that stops Cathy from rescuing Sue and consequently being branded a coward, not an outright medical condition as it was in “Waves of Fear”. It is akin to how Marnie’s hydrophobia prevented her from going to the rescue of a drowning child in part one of “Cursed to be a Coward!”. This means Cathy has to redeem herself for her initial failure a whole lot more than Clare does if she is to shake off the “coward” label and the bullying is to stop. Not to mention assuaging the dreadful feelings of shame and guilt she is suffering in the wake of the accident.

Second is the focus of the bullying. It is confined exclusively to the classmates, which seems a bit unbelievable. One would think the story would filter through to other quarters of the town, as it does in “Waves of Fear”. And it is a bit strange that Cathy’s parents remain ignorant of the whole affair, even if Cathy is too ashamed to tell them. One would expect them to hear rumours or gossip of some sort.

The vendettas to get the protagonists expelled is motivated by revenge, but it differs in whose idea it is. In “Waves of Fear” the accident girl’s aggrieved parents demand the expulsion, which the headmistress refuses. Word leaks out and the chief bully takes up the task because of a personal grudge. In Cathy’s case the drive to get her expelled is motivated by pure spite from the ringleaders Brenda and Marion. Sue’s parents don’t compound the trouble at all.

Third is how the school tries to deal with the bullying. In “Waves of Fear” the school staff know about Clare being bullied. But they don’t do a thing about it and show no regard for Clare’s welfare or the bullying getting out of hand. In Cathy’s case the headmistress and teachers show deep concern for Cathy. They are extremely worried about the trouble and  what could happen if it does not blow over, though they could have taken much sterner action against it. The headmistress actually takes a non-judgemental approach with Cathy over the matter that is most impressive. The headmistress in “Waves of Fear” does not sound that wise or kind; in fact we hear it is unlike her to even pay compliments! And Lynn must be praised for her courage and empathy coming over to defending Cathy because she feels the bullying is going too far. Clare never had anyone like that at school to help her against the bullies.

Fourth is the trouble at home that both Clare and Cathy have to contend with on top of the trauma and guilt over the accidents and the bullying they are suffering at school. In Clare’s case it is because her parents have become a pair of ogres and turned against her because they also think she’s a coward. In Cathy’s case the parents don’t even know about the matter. It is the emotional and financial stress over the father’s redundancy and Cathy exhausting herself to help make ends meet that creates the domestic problems on top of her bullying problem. At least Cathy has someone to support her at home – her dog Spot. Clare doesn’t even have a pet to lean on during her troubled time.

Fifth is the ways in which the protagonists confront their fears. They both return to the scene of the accident to try to do so – only to be attacked by the bullies. This particular parallel does suggest the same writer for both stories. However, the ways in which they finally handle their fears is quite different. In Clare’s case she has to fight her fear (claustrophobia, which has intensified into a mental illness) all the way to rescuing her friend from the cave she is trapped in. This is regarded as the first step in recovering from her illness. In the case of Cathy, saving a child from a dangerous dog has nothing to do with her acrophobia. It was a matter of not giving in to fear itself. In fact, Cathy didn’t think about fear – she just jumped in without thinking. There is no indication of Cathy overcoming her fear of heights. The story goes for something less clichéd; Cathy just accepts that she’ll always be scared of some things. After all, she is only human.

There is a nice touch in having Cathy tell the story herself. This gives the story a more personal perspective, for it is told in the protagonist’s own words and gives insights into how the protagonist is thinking and feeling throughout the story. Having a serial being told in the first person is not unknown in girls’ comics though it was not used much. The only two Jinty stories that had the protagonist narrate her own story were “Wenna the Witch” and “Pam of Pond Hill“.

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6 thoughts on ““They Call Me a Coward!” (1971)

  1. It’s lovely art but it doesn’t half look old fashioned in the context of the Jinty stories only a few years later. On the other hand, the punch that Cathy lands on her tormentor is out of the normal run of Jinty type stories!

    1. It was 1971 after all when this story came out, and the revolutions of Tammy and Misty were still in the future. I must say I love the punch too. What do you think of the parallels with Waves of Fear?

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