“No-One Cheers for Norah” was one of Sandie’s very first stories. It is going to be discussed here because it has been mentioned in several Jinty blog entries as sharing parallels with Jinty’s “Toni on Trial”. There has been speculation it was the same writer. A promising athlete (or swimmer in Norah’s case) finds her career under threat from an old theft charge that was levelled at her mother/father.
When examining this story I also noticed it shares parallels with “Tricia’s Tragedy”, so it could be the same writer here too.
Published: Sandie #1, 12 February 1972 – #12, 29 April 1972
Artist: John Armstrong
Norah Day is a keen swimmer, but her widowed father is so poor they are driven to training her in the canal. Nonetheless she has managed to win one trophy.
Dad falls ill and Norah is sent to stay at rich Uncle Phillip’s while he’s in hospital. Straight off the mark though, her relatives treat her like a piece of dirt. They call her a “slum kid”, a disgrace to the family, and they don’t let the neighbours even see her. Cousin Lorna says she doesn’t want her friends to know Norah is her cousin. They make her sleep in a shabby attic when they could easily give her a nice room. At mealtimes they won’t let her share the table with them and she has to eat separately. They see her as being more useful as a servant. In fact, that is what they lead Mrs Maddox, the president of the Dolphins Swimming Club that Lorna is a member of, to believe – that Norah is their new help. Lorna even throws Norah’s newly won trophy out the car window!
When Norah tries to join the Dolphins Swimming Club too, Lorna rips up Norah’s swimsuit and tells her to get out of the club. The relatives are making it loud and clear that they are not going to let Norah keep up her swimming, especially as it could pose a threat to Lorna’s swimming career. Swimming club President Mrs Maddox says she wants Lorna to win the club championship again and she thinks Lorna is now ready for bigger things. Besides, there are the swimming club fees Norah can’t afford and of course her horrible relatives won’t cover them.
Determined to keep up her swimming, Norah turns to swimming in the park lake. Eventually Mrs Maddox notices Norah and offers her a free place, but she has to go through a trial, which Norah wins despite a number of faults in her swimming. They decide the faults can be corrected with proper training, and on the whole Norah has potential as a swimmer. They agree to let Norah compete in the championship finals. Lorna realises how big a danger her cousin is. She still lets Mrs Maddox think Norah’s the family servant and enrols her at the club under a false name. The other club members are snobby and look down on Norah too, and the committee is quite snobby towards her as well. Meanwhile, Mrs Maddox senses that Norah reminds her of someone, but can’t quite place it.
When the news gets back home, the family predictably treat Norah worse than ever. However, Mrs Maddox eventually discovers how badly they are treating Norah, and how they have led people to believe she is their servant because they were too snobby to let them know the truth. Mrs Maddox is the most important person in town, so being shown up in front of her is extra-humiliating for the nasty relatives.
Poor Norah still has to wait upon her snooty relatives, though. And they still pose a threat to her swimming: Uncle Phillip says he has to tell Mrs Maddox who Norah really is because of the difficult position Norah has put them in. Meanwhile, Mrs Maddox begins coaching to correct Norah’s swimming faults and she begins to improve.
But then Uncle Phillip tells Mrs Maddox what he had been planning to tell her, and making the excuse it was the reason they had put up the story Norah was their servant. Whatever it is, it has Mrs Maddox deeply shocked and telling Norah it is best they don’t meet again. Norah has no idea what it is about. When she confronts Lorna, Lorna says her father was a crook who served jail time. Norah thinks Uncle has been telling Mrs Maddox a pack of lies. Lorna picks a fight with Norah, which Uncle and Aunt blame Norah for. He says he’s not keeping Norah in the house any longer and sends her to his clothing factory in Claydon, where he instructs his manager to give her all the worst jobs.
Norah goes to see Mrs Maddox, who says the story is true. Norah’s father was once the secretary of the club, but was sent to jail for stealing a sum of £480 from the club twenty years ago. Realising Norah is not like her father (as Uncle said), Mrs Maddox resumes Norah’s training. She is going to put Norah in the Dolphins team and get the English selectors to take a look at her. This is something Norah’s father always wanted as his imprisonment robbed him of that chance, but he can now fulfil it through Norah.
Norah goes to see her father. Dad’s condition has worsened, and the only thing keeping him going is the hope Norah will be selected for England. His thought bubbles reveal he is innocent of the charge that sent him to prison. So who is guilty?
After visiting her father Norah can’t go back to her uncle’s, so she sleeps in her dad’s house. But then new tenants move in. Norah has no choice but to go back to her uncle’s – only to be thrown right out of the house. They figure a night of roughing it in bad weather will make Norah unfit for the selections. Norah sneaks into her uncle’s factory to spend the night there.
While looking for food Norah comes across an old document, which reveals Uncle Phillip set up his business with a down payment of £480. This is the exact amount Norah’s father was accused of stealing, and the date of the down payment corresponds with the time the money was stolen. Norah recalls that Uncle Phillip used to bear a physical resemblance to Dad. Then she puts two and two together.
Uncle Phillip now catches her in the act and she confronts him over what she has deduced: he stole the money and left Dad to carry the can over it when (presumably) they mistook Uncle Phillip for Dad because of the physical resemblance. When she tries to run for it he knocks her out and locks her in the cellar (at least with some food and water). Norah escapes through a drain, but has to swim for her life against a torrent of dye waste being released from the factory. By the time she arrives at the baths she is bright purple!
Norah tells Mrs Maddox what happened and what she has discovered about Uncle Phillip, flourishing the document she still has (and has somehow survived the dye bath). She also begs to be allowed to compete for her father’s sake. Mrs Maddox says they will sort out the theft business later, and tells Norah she can compete. Everyone knows this is going to be tough because they know Norah is exhausted from that dye bath swim and Lorna won’t give an inch. And the Dolphins club girls are still unfriendly to Norah. As the race unfolds, however, cheers are heard for Norah as people see how well she is swimming despite everything. Norah’s determination, lust for revenge, and amended swimming faults are outweighing her tiredness. She wins against Lorna and is selected for England.
Afterwards, Mrs Maddox tells Norah her uncle just slunk off and the guilty look on his face told her all she needed to know. Mrs Maddox then tells Lorna to pack up and leave the Dolphins Club: “there’s not very much to be said for you either!” Lorna is roundly booed as she goes, for word has been around. Soon after, Lorna and her parents move away in shame.
Mr Day recovers and is eager to start a new life now that his name has been cleared. This includes marrying Mrs Maddox, and Norah welcomes her as a stepmother. Six weeks later, Norah wins her first race for England.
These will be discussed in context of the parallels with “Toni on Trial” and “Tricia’s Tragedy”. There certainly is a parallel with Toni in that a wrongful charge of stealing from a sports club was levelled at the protagonist’s parent years before and is threatening her own sports career. However, the wrongful charge is a much more powerful plot driver in Toni than in Norah. In Toni it’s established by part three and casts a cloud over the protagonist that just won’t go away because the townsfolk just won’t forget and the real culprit keeps fuelling it. So Toni is anxious to get to the bottom of it all for her own sake as well as clearing her mother’s name. In Norah the wrongful charge is not even revealed until nearly two thirds of the way through the story, and it’s only done so because Uncle Phillip believes it’s the only way to neutralise the threat Norah poses to Lorna. Even after it’s established, clearing the parent is not a priority. It only happens by sheer luck in Norah finding the document, drawing the right conclusions, and Mrs Maddox believing her. The wrongful charge and exoneration serve more as part of the plot resolution and punishing the unpleasant relatives than driving the plot as they do in Toni. The story format is more like a Cinderella story than an “exoneration” story, as was the case with Toni.
The parallels with Tricia are much stronger. First, both stories feature swimming. Second, a rogue uncle is responsible for a wrongful accusation against the protagonist’s father, which has driven him and his family deep into poverty while the rogue uncle’s family have grown richer and cruel to them because of it. Third, in both Norah and Tricia the protagonists can’t afford to train at the baths so they have to resort to a quarry pool (Tricia) or a canal or lake (Norah). Fourth, divisions between rich and poor have created further rifts between the poor protagonist and her unpleasant rich relations, who just rubbish her and her family. But the nasty relatives are not content with this and try to ruin the protagonist even more to stop her triumphing over their daughter at an important swimming match. In the case of Tricia it’s to stop her inheriting money from her grandfather. In Norah, it’s because they’re so snobby they don’t even want people to know she is family. Fifth, in both Norah and Tricia the unpleasant relatives take advantage to bully the protagonist, turn her into a slave, and pull all sorts of nasty tricks to stop her beating the cousin in the swimming match. Finally, in Norah and Tricia it all culminates in the swimming match where everything is at stake and it’s a battle for revenge. And once the truth is established, both the unpleasant cousins in Norah and Tricia are roundly booed off and soon move away in shame with their parents.