Monthly Archives: September 2017

Mandy #1269, 11 May 1991 – last Mandy published

Last Mandy cover

Cover artist: Claude Berridge

  • The Greys and the Greens – final episode (artist Terry Aspin)
  • Best Friends! – final episode
  • Pippa’s Paper Round – final episode
  • Freda Who? – final episode
  • Gwen’s Goats – final episode
  • Selfish Susan – final episode (artist Dudley Wynne)
  • Glenda the Guide
  • Angel – final episode (artist Dudley Wynne)

This was the last-ever issue of Mandy. After a long run that began on 21 January 1967, Mandy and her sister comic Judy both ended so they would amalgamate into a whole new comic, Mandy & Judy (later M&J), instead of one incorporating and absorbing the other, as was so often the case with mergers.

Mandy’s cover story of the week was usually a series of misadventures that played on a single word or phrase, such as knots, stars, melting, music, ups and downs, and guesswork. This sometimes had a happy ending, sometimes not. But in this case it is meeting up with Judy, the cover girl from the comic she will amalgamate with next week. Judy moves in next door to Mandy, and the two girls come together when Mandy’s dog Patch goes missing and it’s Judy who finds him. This is the last time Claude Berridge drew the Mandy cover stories as he had done for years, and the last time Norman Lee drew Judy’s cover story. Next week Guy Peeters takes over for both Mandy and Judy in their new two-in-one comic.

As this is Mandy’s final issue, her stories come to an end. The only exception is “Glenda the Guide”, which carried on in Mandy & Judy but didn’t last long. This was a humour strip about a blundering girl guide who is always trying to win badges, but her efforts always lead to failure and loads of laughs for the readers.

In the other stories, Lindy Grey is always getting into trouble by copying her favourite soap, “Life with the Greens”. Now it’s her birthday, she decides not to copy it to be sure of a happy birthday. Ironically, Lindy’s birthday copies the soap all by itself and nothing goes wrong! Then the soap finishes, but Lindy is eager to watch and copy its replacement because the star is also called Lindy.

The two girls in “Best Friends!” are anything but. They hate each other but keep being shoved together because their mothers are friends. Then an emergency brings the two girls together when their mothers come down with food poisoning, and they are surprised to learn that their mothers started off as enemies too.

Pippa Roberts has all sorts of adventures on her paper round. This time it’s helping an old man who refuses to go into a home. Pippa’s solution is for a neighbour to help him with housework in exchange for him helping her with her garden. Brilliant!

“Freda Who?” is one of two Mandy reprints. Karen Wilkinson is puzzled by new girl Freda, who seems to be oddly clueless about things. Now it is revealed that Freda comes from the 23rd century, where warfare has rendered England virtually uninhabitable. Freda’s father sent her on a one-way time travel into the 20th century to save her life. This reveal must have had readers in tears.

Gwen is taking five goats across the country to Melbury Market as a publicity stunt for her mother’s health food shop. In the final episode she finally gets to Melbury and gets all the publicity she could want, plus a welcome lift to get her goats home.

Susan Smith has been faking deafness to continue getting favoured treatment after the genuine deafness from an illness wore off. But of course it all has to unravel in the end, which is what the whole of the final episode is all about. A new girl, Sonia, who had the same illness, has gotten suspicious of Susan. After several attempts, Sonia eventually succeeds in exposing Susan’s deceit to the other girls. Susan puts on the bravado, saying what fools she’s made of them, it’s been great fun, and she’s come out the winner. But she soon finds out she is no winner because nobody ever trusts her again.

It is fitting that the last-ever Mandy ends on the final episode of the most popular serial she ever ran: “Angel”. A wealthy Victorian woman, Angela Hamilton, is diagnosed with an incurable illness. She goes into the London slums to dedicate her remaining time to caring for the needy as “Miss Angel”. This was Angel’s second reprint in the regular Mandy comic, and the reprint in Lucky Charm makes it three. Angel was not reprinted in the Mandy & Judy merger (probably too close to the last reprint in Mandy). But as the lineup for Mandy & Judy explains, she did carry on in the amalgamation with “The Diary of Angel”.

 

Mandy 1Mandy 2

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Always a Prisoner [1981]

Commando cover

Published: Commando #1502, 1981

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover), Alejandro Martinez Ruiz (story)

Writer: Bill Fear

Reprint: Commando #2828, 1995

Plot

Harry Dane’s lot always seems to be brutal imprisonment, with him shoving his fist at it whenever he can. Harry begins to go this way in 1935, when desperation makes his friend Ted Taplow steal £15 from work to pay off a gambling debt while knocking out the elderly cashier in the process. But when the alarm is raised and police are searching all the men, Taplow panics and plants the money on Harry to save himself. Harry and his protests of innocence do not have a chance in court, not least because he cannot understand how it happened.

Prisoner

Harry spends five years in “one of the hardest, grimmest prisons in England”, and the prisoners’ lot is harsh, backbreaking quarry work. While in prison, Harry’s cellmate, “The Prof”, helps him to figure out Taplow framed him. From then on Harry is fuelled by a near-monomaniacal determination to make Taplow pay, which helps him to survive. However, it also drives him into an escape bid that fails, and because of it he has to serve his full sentence before he can confront Taplow.

When Harry is released in 1940, it is World War II. He finds Taplow has gone into the army and his battalion is stationed at Hong Kong. He joins Taplow’s regiment in the hope of tracking down Taplow, and his brutal prison experiences help him adapt quickly to basic training and army discipline. He also fends off bullies who pick on a weedy cadet, Archie Duckfield, and he and Archie become friends. Harry’s battalion does meet up with Taplow’s in Hong Kong, and he finally finds Taplow (now an NCO). He then proceeds to give Taplow a revenge punch in the face.

Inevitably, this gets Harry court martialled, and he is sentenced to 12 months. The guards hate Harry for striking out at an NCO, so they go out of their way to break him, with little regard as to how they do it. Harry responds with thoughts and threats of punching them, and he has plenty of experience in handling prison brutality. Fortunately for Harry, Japan begins to attack Hong Kong, and all the soldiers in the detention barracks are released to join the fight.

Prisoner 2

So now it is Archie and Harry’s first action, which goes badly, and Hong Kong falls. They are forced to retreat, and in the end the Japanese capture them. Now Harry faces a whole new brutal imprisonment, in the form of a Japanese POW camp and all the conditions Japanese POW camps are infamous for. But this time there is a consolation: Taplow has been captured too and is now a fellow prisoner, right alongside Harry!

When Archie hears about Taplow’s frameup of Harry, he points out something Harry had not thought of: get a confession out of Taplow to clear him. But although Taplow’s guilt is obvious from his body language, Taplow makes it obvious that he will not be easily persuaded to confess. Rather, Taplow is desperate to get away from Harry as much as the prison camp. He breaks out with several others, but the Japanese guards catch up and slaughter all but Taplow. He is brought back to the camp and sentenced to death. Archie and Harry save Taplow because they want that confession, but the ungracious Taplow refuses to give it. All they can do is hide Taplow in the roll call under the alias of Dyson and keep a close eye on him.

Prisoner 3

Then the commandant is ordered to send the most able-bodied prisoners to Japan for slave labour. Harry, Archie and Taplow/Dyson are among those selected. They are locked into the sweltering hold of a rusty tramp steamer for the journey, which soon leads to an increasing mortality rate. Fortunately, fate intervenes in the form of a US submarine that torpedoes the steamer, which enables the prisoners to make a break for it. Harry and Archie find a raft, and pick up another prisoner in the water, Claude, which will prove very fortunate for Harry. Claude tells them they are not far from the Chinese coast. If they can make it, they stand a chance of escape.

Then they find Taplow about to be eaten by sharks and rescue him. Taplow’s water/shark ordeal has broken him down enough for them to finally succeed in getting a verbal confession out of him. Now all they have to do is get Taplow somewhere to make a written one.

When they reach the coast, Japanese soldiers arrive on a motor launch, looking for survivors from the prison ship. But Harry is not having another round in a Japanese POW camp; he says he has had enough of prisons. After getting a rifle off one of the Japanese soldiers, Harry uses it to take out all his long-standing anger against his brutal imprisonments straight out on the Japanese soldiers.

Unfortunately Taplow panics and gets shot dead when he tries to run. With Taplow gone, there can be no written confession and Harry is despondent. Archie consoles him with the thought that at least he and Claude know the truth.

Prisoner 4

They make their way to the Japanese motor launch, and nobody seems to be there. But Archie discovers otherwise when a solitary guard on board shoots him dead. Harry and Claude are so enraged that they pump all their magazines into the soldier. After burying Archie, they make their way to China on the motor launch, where they meet up with Chinese forces and safety. Soon they are back in England.

Claude testifies on Harry’s behalf about the verbal confession Taplow made. As he is Lieutenant-General Sir Claude Trelawney, V.C., his word carries weight, and Harry is cleared of his wrongful conviction. Harry is promoted to sergeant, gets a medal and leads the regiment on D-Day.

Thoughts

This was the first-ever Commando I bought because it had themes that appealed to me: wrongful convictions, imprisonments, and struggles to survive and escape. It also has slave story elements, so it may have drawn some inspiration from girls’ comics. Yet there is still plenty of action in it – mainly from Harry Dane’s angry fist or his rifle when he has one – to keep the boys happy. The story clearly draws inspiration from “The Count of Monte Cristo” as well, which has always been a popular story.

Indeed, we see echoes of the Count (Edmond Dantes) in Harry himself with his early reactions to his false imprisonment. Like Edmond Dantes, Harry cannot understand the circumstances of his false imprisonment. He is still a good-natured naïve, trusting fellow who does not realise the one he trusted most is the one who is responsible. Like Dantes, it is not until he talks it over with another prisoner who can provide the right insights that he works out the truth. And like Dantes, it is from that point on that Harry becomes the angry, embittered man who is out for revenge.

Unlike Dantes, however, Harry never quite gets to the point where he fears things have gone too far and whether he really is in the right to pursue revenge. This could be due to Harry’s change of tactics towards Taplow. At first he is merely out for revenge against Taplow, which he expresses by beating him up. But when Archie points out that only Taplow can clear him by making a confession, Harry becomes more restrained towards Taplow and does not abandon him to his fate when his life is threatened. The only time Harry’s lust for revenge really gets out of hand is when he lashes out against the Japanese soldiers towards the end and pumps them full of lead. And it’s not even personal – he’s just taking out all his rage against all the prison guards in his life out on them. At least it sounds like Harry begins to find peace once he gives vent towards his anger. And he certainly does once his name is cleared: the story tells us he is a “changed man”.

Prisoner 5

The story certainly makes a strong statement about the evils of prison brutality and human rights abuse. Still, it would be foolish to expect much from the Japanese guards of the POW camps. They had a different way of thinking that made them particularly cruel to their POWs during World War II. Perhaps we should not expect much of the HMS prison guards either. This story was set in the 1930s, and harsh prison conditions and treatment were considered more the norm than they are now. It is the guards of the army prison who come across as the most repugnant out of the assorted prison guards that Harry encountered. While the other guards are pretty much the same in how they treat Harry and their other prisoners, these guards deliberately go out their way to break Harry in any way they can out of pure viciousness.

As for Ted Taplow, the man responsible for all of Harry’s troubles, the only point in his favour was that he was driven into stealing the money out of desperation. The bookkeeper’s goons were leaning on him and making threats that he would end up in the river if he did not pay. He did not intend to slug the cashier, an elderly man. He only did so because the cashier had caught him by surprise and he felt he had come too far to turn back. Otherwise, Ted Taplow comes across as a despicable, cowardly, unsympathetic character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He shows no remorse or guilt over what he did, or what Harry went through because of him. And he was supposed to a good friend of Harry’s, the two having been mates since school. He refuses to confess at all, not even when Harry and Archie save him from the death sentence. He only confesses because his defences have broken down, but we don’t trust him to keep his word to make a written confession once they return home. Getting shot while running away is a fitting end to a man who is at heart a coward and a weasel, and we are not sorry he died. Yet Taplow’s death is shattering because Harry’s chance of that written confession died with him, so it is one of the powerful dramatic points in the story.

The death of Archie Duckfield is even more powerful. Archie’s death is absolutely gutting for everyone because he is such a likeable, sympathetic character and had a somewhat nerdy look. Initially this made him a target for bullying, but Harry helped him there and we sense he grows into a more confident character, though there is little room in the story to develop this more. He also provides light relief against the grimness of the story, as does Harry’s cellmate, The Prof. The Prof comes across as a father figure. Although he is in for counterfeiting, we warm to him immediately because he is a likeable, sympathetic character. He likes to help prisoners out with their problems, which makes him even more sympathetic. He is definitely the equivalent of the Abbe Faria from the Count of Monte Cristo in the way he helps Harry to work out Taplow committed the crime he was convicted of.

Prisoner 6

When Claude is introduced, his level head and his quiet modesty (not revealing himself as a senior officer and a knight to boot) are a welcome, calming contrast to the rage of Harry Dane. And when we see Claude’s leadership qualities and resourcefulness as they fight for survival against the Japanese soldiers, we can see why Claude has risen so far in the army.

The Prof, Archie and Claude don’t just provide light relief and offset the anger and bitterness of Harry Dane. All three of them, in their own respective ways, help Harry to clear his name. The first helps Harry work out the truth, the second points out a confession from Taplow is more in order than mere revenge, and the third provides the vital testimony to clear Harry.

It is ironic that Harry owes many of his qualities as a soldier and a survivor to Ted Taplow. If Taplow had not framed him, Harry would never have gone through the experiences that toughened him up physically and mentally to endure the rigors of basic training, the horrors of POW captivity, survival on the run, and ultimately to lead the regiment on D-Day as a sergeant. Had Harry simply carried on as a factory worker until World War II broke out, it is less likely that he would have cut it so well in the army. And he naturally comes to appreciate freedom and there are things far worse than being in combat. As he takes his regiment up Normandy Beach, his words of encouragement are: “Come on lads. There’s far worse places to be than this one. I know – I’ve been there!” One can only hope he was not captured again and found himself in a German POW camp.

Jinty 31 May 1975

Jinty cover 31 May 1975

Both Comixminx and I have been trying to find this issue for some time. Coincidentally, we both succeeded at virtually the same time.

As the cover states, the first episode of “The Valley of Shining Mist” begins this issue. This story was one of Jinty’s most enduring and beloved stories. Everyone compares Debbie Lane to a wild animal, yet that is because everyone, especially her cruel guardians, treats her like an abused animal. But something strange begins to happen when Debbie enters a valley that everyone avoids when it gets full of mist, and she sees something “fantastic!” From the sound of it, this is just the beginning of “strange and wonderful discoveries” that Debbie will see in the valley next week.

Two stories end this week, and their respective artists will move on to “Blind Ballerina” and “The Green People” next week. In the first, “Tricia’s Tragedy”, Tricia finally discovers that her guilt trip over cousin Diana’s blindness has all been over nothing – Diana’s ‘blindness’ was just the first in a long line of dirty tricks her unpleasant relatives have been pulling to put her out of the Lloyd Trophy. The eventual reveal that it was all to get their hands on Grandfather Lloyd’s inheritance is no great surprise. So the final lap to win the trophy turns into a race of revenge with Diana that ensures Tricia and her parents inherit what is rightfully theirs at long last. So they finally climb out of the poverty they descended into because of their horrible relatives – who soon clear out of town and their lives, thank goodness. The second, “Bet Gets the Bird!”, ends pretty much on a regular episode. The only indication of finality is Beth saying she’s glad to have Rosy Posy, even if the parrot does get her into trouble sometimes.

Merry and her friends now have a secret friend to help them against the cruelty they are suffering at the hands of the farmer the reformatory has illegally hired them out to. But now Merry fears they have lost him.

A sponsored walk for charity is going hilariously wrong because of Katie’s jinxing. It has progressively put all her fellow walkers out of the walk and eventually she’s the only one left. Then she discovers an old penny-farthing in a rubbish heap and tries to finish the walk that way. Katie the Jinx on a penny-farthing? That sounds like a recipe for disaster, and it certainly is at the finish line. Fortunately the penny-farthing turns out to be so valuable that it makes far more money for the charity than all of Katie and her walkers combined.

Dora’s challenge this week is a mother dog that is grieving because her litter died. Nothing seems to cheer the dog up until another mother dog at the hotel rejects her puppies. The grieving mother takes them over, and all is well with her again.

In “Daddy’s Darling”, Dad accuses Maggie of stealing Lee’s clothes, and right in front of everyone in the class! The teacher soon puts him straight: Lee has given the clothes to the clothing exchange. But of course difficult Dad doesn’t apologise to Maggie, and the incident forces Lee to resign as club president. What’s more, Dad’s pulling her out of school to educate her at home again, which will condemn Lee to loneliness and a stifling home life again.

Still, it’s better than the home life poor “Cinderella Smith” has with her cruel cousins. This week, they’re putting her in leg shackles that she has to wear around the house. They also beat her up when she confronts them about their hating her mother. But why do they hate her mother?

Greg is going on tour. Flo is sneaking along after discovering his manager Vince is trying to cheat him. Vince discovers the stowaway in his van and has Flo dumped on the roadside – in pouring rain.

Dot’s mother tells her to go fly a kite when she asks for extra money. That turns out to be an unwise thing to say, because that is precisely what Dot does. It ends up with her causing big trouble and the kite forms the basis of her punishment.

The text ghost story, “The Ghostly Guardian”, is about a ghost abbot who swore with his dying breath to protect the holy treasures of his church. He haunts “Abbot’s Dyke”, along with his pet owl, where the treasure from his church ended up. A truck driver disregards warnings not to dump rubbish in that dyke but soon discovers otherwise – too late.

 

 

 

Darling Clementine [1977-78]

Sample Images

Darling Clementine 1Darling Clementine 2Darling Clementine 3

Published: Jinty 24 December 1977 to 1 April 1978

Episodes: 15

Artist: Richard Neillands

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Fifteen-year-old Ella Peters is an intensely shy girl who used to cling to her mother, but the mother is now dead. She has been in a children’s home since her mother’s death, but then her cousin Clementine Bradley (Clem for short) and Uncle Dave give her a home.

Ella and Clem hit it off immediately. Ella is impressed at how Clem is the darling of everyone. She has a charm that works on everyone, and she is full of confidence, which sets an example to Ella that will influence how she grows in confidence during the story. Everything looks so rosy for Ella now; she is too shy to make friends but she can do it through the popular Clem, and she is so happy.

But storm clouds just have to gather around. Uncle Dave, a miner, develops a lung disease from years of coal dust exposure, and the polluted smoky mining town is making it worse. A move to the country is badly needed, but Uncle Dave hasn’t the money for a country cottage. Then Clem sees a way to raise the money when she sees a water-skiing contest advertised, with £1,000 as the top prize.

Clem can’t waterski, but her mind is set. She dashes off to join the water-skiing club at Ladenford Lake, and never mind that it is an extremely exclusive and ultra-snobby club. Her charm persuades the snobby manager to let her join the club despite her lack of pedigree background, and he is so entranced he even gives her waterskis and a spare wetsuit. Clem gets Uncle Bill to provide a speedboat so she can start practising, and Ella is backing her all the way. Clem is soon making good progress in waterskiing.

Then disaster strikes. While Clem gets ready for another practice, an arrogant girl cyclist comes bowling along and deliberately knocks Clem clean over. Clem ends up hitting her head on a tree and falling into the river. When Clem is plucked from the water, she is in a deep coma. But that isn’t all. Uncle Bill was nearby and mistakenly thinks he saw Ella push Clem into the river deliberately when in fact Ella was trying to push Clem clear of the cyclist. Uncle Bill could not see the cyclist because the trees cut off his view of her. He has Uncle Dave believe it too, and Ella’s protests of innocence with Uncle Dave just lead to rows. Uncle Dave even bans Ella from visiting Clem in hospital. When word gets around, poor Ella finds herself an outcast at school and in the community, and she is estranged at home as well.

And there is still the matter of how to win the much-needed prize money. As Clem is out of action, Ella bravely decides to train for it herself. It’s a tall order as Ella is not only shy but also scared of water and she has force herself to swim more confidently. Uncle Bill won’t help with the speedboat, but Ella manages to get help from Jim, the son of the waterskiing club caretaker, after she helps him against some bullies. Ella gradually improves and even overcomes her fear of water. But girls from the posh club overhear Ella saying she is winning the prize money instead of Clem and spitefully take back the gear that was borrowed from the club. They say she can’t enter the contest anyway because only club members can enter.

When Ella sees her uncle’s condition is worsening, it renews her determination. She takes on two jobs so she can raise the money for waterskiing gear and subs to join the club. She finds courage in approaching the club, but gets turned down because she is not upper class. She encounters more nastiness from the snobs, who throw the last leaflet about the contest out the window so Ella can’t verify if it really is for members only. Fortunately Jim rescues the leaflet, and Ella discovers that the snobs had lied and it is open to any entrant. Well, well, well!

Ella resumes her waterskiing training with Jim’s help, but the snobs find out. They spitefully try to get the caretaker sacked and tell Ella they’ll keep on doing it until either Ella gives up waterskiing or Jim’s father gets the sack. However, Jim’s father suddenly gets another job, so that’s the end of that blackmail.

While Ella does her training, another waterskiier passes by – and Ella recognises her as the cyclist who knocked Clem into the river. She tackles the girl, a Val Lester, who eventually says she might confess if Ella will do some “little jobs” for her. After a whole week of skivvying and slaving for Val, there is still no confession, but Ella still doesn’t realise Val is just taking advantage of her and has no intention of confessing.

At her training, Ella unwittingly gets too close to one of the snobs and knocks her off balance. The snobs accuse Ella and Jim of doing it on purpose and say they will go to the police. Fortunately a Councillor Dickens witnesses the incident and informs the police it was an accident.

Ella now has a whole new confidence now she has Councillor Dickens on her side. She tells those snobs that she is not scared of them anymore. Moreover, she has finally woken up to how Val is just stringing her along and tells her to do her own dirty work.

Uncle Dave suspects Ella is up to something and thinks it has something to do with thefts at a hotel near the lake. He kicks Ella right out of the house, but allows her back once Jim informs him about Ella’s waterskiing. What’s more, there is good news about Clem – she is beginning to wake up and calling for Ella. Unfortunately Uncle Dave misconstrues what Clem says in her half-conscious state as evidence that Ella pushed her. Ella snaps and tells Uncle Dave that she is winning the prize money for his sake. After some investigating Uncle Dave believes it is true, but will not accept the money. Ella continues with her training regardless, and also visits Clem in hospital, who has lapsed back into her coma, in defiance of Uncle Dave’s ban.

Then Uncle Dave finds out about the secret hospital visits after Ella sprains her ankle on the hospital steps. The injury also impairs her waterskiing. Ella bravely goes into the waterskiing heats while she still has this injury, but of course it’s no good. She passes out because of her injury and is out of the contest.

Ella now turns to getting Clem out of her coma, as Clem is the only one who can clear her name. She brings in a tape of speedboat engine noise to bring Clem out of the coma, but Val discovers what Ella is up to and switches it for one of her own tapes. She does not want Clem coming out of her coma and telling the truth about the accident. Ella discovers who pulled the switch when she finds the initials “V.L.” on the tape, and Val doesn’t deny it when Ella confronts her either. Ella gets another recording of speedboat noise, after initially overcoming a bout of shyness over approaching the club secretary for help there. Uncle Dave has banned Ella from seeing Clem, so she has to get a nurse to play the tape to her. Later, Ella finds spiteful Val has told tales on her secret visits to Clem to Uncle Dave.

The tape brings Clem out of her coma. Unfortunately, Ella gets over-excited about pressing Clem to tell Uncle Dave the truth and clear her name. She did not think that it was too soon after Clem woke up, or that Clem’s memory would be clouded. And Clem can’t remember what happened, so when she comes home, Ella has to do something to help her remember.

So Ella takes Clem back to the very spot where it happened – and who should show up but Val Lester herself! This brings back Clem’s memory, and Val brags that she did it too. Val tries to bluff her way out of it, saying people will just think Clem is trying to shift the blame from Ella if she tries to tell them the truth, and there is no way she is going to confess. But Uncle Dave has followed and heard everything – and so has a passing policeman! The policeman takes charge of Val. What happens to her is not revealed, but she is not seen again in the story. Val’s exposure cuts no ice with the snobby girls at the waterski club, who remain just as nasty to Clem and Ella. Ella readily forgives a very apologetic Uncle Dave.

Despite her long illness and missing the heats, Clem is determined to enter the competition and win the money for her father. Ella asks Councillor Dickens to pull some strings so Clem can enter the finals despite missing the heats. Clem realises what Ella did for her and comments on how her shy cousin has become so spunky. Ella says it was due to necessity from what followed in the wake of the accident.

Unfortunately Clem just isn’t up to scratch to win the contest and is placed third. However, a reporter learns why it was so important for Clem to win the money and publishes a newspaper article on “The Dashed Dreams of Darling Clem”. It touches the heartstrings of everyone in town – not to mention their guilty consciences over the way they wrongly blamed Ella for Clem’s accident – and cash donations begin to pour in.

Soon there is plenty of money for a cottage and Uncle Dave’s health improves once they move in. There is no room for three, but Ella says that does not matter. She is now so confident about standing on her own two feet that she moves into the new girls’ hostel. She won’t forget her relatives though, and will visit them often.

Thoughts

It is obvious from the start that we are going to have a story about an intensely shy girl who is embarking on a journey to discover her self-confidence. But the twists and turns that the journey takes are ones that could have totally destroyed the shy girl instead of helping her to grow and learn to believe in herself. After all, the ordeal Ella goes through is hardly one to boost self-confidence – being wrongly accused of deliberately putting her own cousin in hospital and people turning against her unjustly. Moreover, it’s Ella’s own relatives that have wrongly accused her, so not even her home life brings her any respite against the cloud she’s under. The only things that stop it from destroying her are the determination to win the prize money for the ailing Uncle Dave and the example Clem had set to Ella about having courage and self-confidence. Several times in this story Ella has lapses of nerve and shyness in her quest to win the competition, but all she has to do is remember Clem’s example and show “some spunk” like her.

Though she probably does not realise it, the shy Ella further develops her courage by constantly standing up to Uncle Dave in protesting her innocence. Ella also develops backbone in learning to stand up to Val. Once she sees through Val’s blackmail, she has no hesitation in telling her to get off and shoves that dirty laundry Val wanted her to clean right in her face. Oh, there are so many blackmail victims in girls’ comics that we so wish would stand up to their blackmailers like that!

Learning to water-ski also helps Ella to develop her self-confidence even further. To begin with, it motivates her to overcome a fear of water. As her water-skiing improves, it boosts her self-confidence as well. But this is the only good thing that really comes out of it for Ella. It is sad, but very realistic, that no matter how hard Ella tries, she could not get up to the standard that would enable her to win the competition. Even without her injury, Ella could never have won the competition because she was not a natural at it like Clem, much less have what it takes to be a champion that would wow the judges.

If not for Val Lester, Clem could have reached the standard that would win the championship and the prize money for Uncle Dave. But the story avoids the cliché of the protagonist rising out of her wheelchair and beating all odds to win the prize money. Instead, it has Clem more realistically lose with a noble but doomed effort because she had insufficient time to get up to the standard required. However, it leads to events that do help to raise the money, so it was not in vain after all.

Val Lester certainly is one of the slickest schemers to appear in Jinty. Whenever Clem or Ella thinks they’ve got her where they want her, Val is extremely crafty at bluffing or conning her way out of it. Even when Uncle Dave finds her out, she keeps her cool and arrogantly tries to bluff him too, saying nobody will believe even him. But even Val can’t get past the policeman (though his presence feels contrived as there is no explanation or credible reason for it). There seems to be no other reason for Val’s attack on Clem than sheer snobbery. She just does not want Clem in the club. It’s not because she’s jealous or looks on Clem as a serious rival in the competition. One can imagine the reputation the waterski club would have gotten in the wake of all their nastiness to “common scum” in their club and Val’s campaign against Clem and Ella. Perhaps someone (Jim maybe?) will take a hand in forming another waterski club in town that welcomes anyone.

Jinty was big on sports stories, and many of her sports stories had more uncommonly used sports (judo, netball, skateboarding) as well as stories on more traditional sports such as hockey, ice-skating and swimming. This story uses water-skiing, which was an extremely unusual sport to use, and examples must be rare in girls’ comics. Although “Darling Clementine” does not seem to be as well rememembered as some of Jinty’s sports stories (“Life’s a Ball for Nadine”, “Concrete Surfer”), using waterskiing as the sport does make it quite novel, as do the breaks from common cliches in girls’ comics in favour of more realism.

Cora Can’t Lose [1984]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 5 May 1984 to 23 June 1984 (should have been 30 June 1984)

Episodes: 8 published, 1 unpublished

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Cora Street is receiving trophies for so far winning all the running events at an inter-school sports event, with the as-yet unwon Victory Cup as the ultimate prize for winning all the running events. Cora has her eyes on this cup, and now only the cross-country event stands between her and winning it.

The presenter, Lady Sarah, is puzzled as to why only Cora’s parents are applauding. Not even Cora’s own school is doing so. The girls mutter that it’s all such a drag because Cora always wins. Winning is all she cares about, and this has made her unpopular at school. One of the girls then says she can remember when Cora didn’t win anything and never minded it at all. She wonders why Cora has changed so much.

Cora overhears the girls and goes off into a flashback of how things used to be and the reason for the change. It turns out that her parents are to blame. They kept putting Cora down because she was not winning sports trophies as they did when they were at school. Dad is particularly cruel: “Cora couldn’t beat a team of infants in a spoon and egg race!” he snarls as he prepares to throw his prized trophies into the loft because “now they remind me of something you’ll never do – win!” Cora puts them back, begging her father to give her more time.

To stop her parents’ meanness, Cora resolves to win a trophy of her own. At least she has been told she has what it takes to be a strong sports competitor and just needs to try harder. So she begins to do so, and she makes it to the school swimming team. But does this impress her parents? It should, but Dad just says, “Team hard-up then? You might be taking part, but you won’t be winning, will you?” Evidently, only winning a trophy will win their respect.

But Cora soon finds even that’s not enough for her parents. When she wins her very first trophy, from the swimming, Dad just sneers at it because it’s not a big one. Realising she has to win something bigger, Cora joins an athletics club on top of her swimming club. There she wins an impressive cup, but Dad is still sneering: “Little and large! I can’t imagine you ever winning another cup! Ha, ha!” Cora gets so angry at her father’s nasty remarks that she goes on a full-scale crazy cup-winning binge to win any cup she can get so she will have even more cups than her parents combined.

So now winning cups and her parents’ respect is all Cora can think about now and that’s the only reason she competes in any sports event. She has no team spirit and does not care about her athletics club, swimming club or the sports team, or helping them to win any events. One girl leaves the athletics club because Cora’s cup-winning obsession is not giving others a chance. She also neglects her friends and does not care for them now, and soon her best friend Sheila is the only friend she has left. Cora grows increasingly unpopular all around, with a reputation as a selfish glory-seeker who only cares about winning trophies. Cora, who once didn’t mind losing, can’t bear the thought of doing so now. Her motto is “Cora Can’t Lose” because she genuinely believes she cannot lose. Moreover, her parents are taking such pride in Cora’s victories that they are spoiling her like never before, so Cora thinks everything’s perfect.

Or so Cora thinks. Her cup-winning obsession is reaching far more dangerous levels than unpopularity. During a sports trial she falls and takes a blow to her head. Her crazy obsession manifests itself again when she says she is upset about having lost the event, not about her injured head. She refuses to be driven down to the hospital to get it checked out, but later that evening she collapses. When she wakes up in hospital, she runs off because she is more concerned about missing out on sports practice than anything being wrong with her (which she thinks there isn’t). However, there is indeed something very wrong with Cora: her X-ray shows she damaged her skull and she is living on borrowed time until she has an operation. But the hospital can’t tell her because she’s gone and they have no clue as to her identity. They can only hope “the young idiot” will return once she gets the danger signals of noises in her head and vision problems.

However, the hospital staff do not realise just how much a “young idiot” Cora is. She is so obsessed with winning trophies that she ignores these danger signals or puts them down to minor things such as nerves. Her obsession gets even worse when she hears about the Victory Cup and how even her mother failed to win it (which can only be done by winning every running event at the inter-school event, including the cross-country event). So naturally Cora is riveted on winning the Victory Cup because it would win her the ultimate respect from her parents.

Cora’s head and vision problems grow worse and worse, although they don’t play up all the time. Even cup-obsessed Cora can’t ignore them when she suffers temporary blindness. Eventually Cora decides to go back to the hospital – but only after she wins the Victory Cup. Cora even disregards an identikit the hospital issues in order to find her. Winning the Victory Cup is all that matters to her. She does not stop to think that if the hospital is having an identikit of her being broadcast on television, there can only be a serious reason for it.

Cora’s last friend in school, Sheila, is getting suspicious and worried about these disconcerting health problems she has noticed about Cora. But when Sheila tries to tell the sports mistress, Cora has the teacher believing that Sheila is just jealous. After this, Sheila finishes with Cora too.

At first everything goes smoothly, with Cora winning running cup after running cup, although nobody but her parents cheers for her. But at the second-to-last event, Cora’s head problems act up big time, and she thinks they might have unwittingly caused her to spike her main rival. But she just carries on, as winning is all that matters to her.

As the first episode shows, Cora is not disqualified because of this. She wins all running events on the field and only has the cross country to win before she claims the Victory Cup. But this is all that is known about the resolution of the story. The final episode never got published because of an IPC strike that lasted for weeks. By the time it was settled, they did not resume Tammy. The reason was that Tammy had been due for cancellation and merge into Girl II in August, but then the strike intervened in June. After the strike was over, they decided not to complete the stories because it would have taken even longer to finish them. Everything was left unfinished.

Presumably everything comes full circle to Cora finishing the flashback that started in episode one. The final episode then carries on from there to whatever catches up with Cora first: the head injury or the Victory Cup. Or maybe they both hit at the same time e.g. Cora collapses from her injury just as she crosses the finishing line.

It can be safely assumed that Cora receives the operation in the nick of time, but it is an extremely near thing. The Street parents are humbled and ashamed at how they nearly killed their own daughter with their pride, arrogance and bullying. If Cora resumes her sporting career, it may also be assumed that the old and new Coras blend together to become a strong competitor who can take losing gracefully when the occasion arises, is fairer to fellow competitors, and patches things up with her friends.

Thoughts

Even now, former Tammy readers are still left dangling on the penultimate episode and hope the question of what happened in the missing final episode will be answered one way or other. “Cora Can’t Lose” has gained infamy because of her final episode being cut off by the strike when so many Tammy readers (including me) were on the edge of their seats, and just dying to see whether Cora would win the Victory Cup or if the head injury would finally catch up and put her back in hospital first. Currently the best hope of an answer is Rebellion, which has already recovered and published lost material from Scream!, which got cut off in a similar manner to Tammy.

If anyone can provide information about the lost final episode, please do so! We would just love to know, even after all this time.

“Winning is not everything” as the saying goes, and this story is a warning note about what can happen when you become obsessed with winning. However, the warning is not for glory-seekers like Yvonne Berridge in “Curtain of Silence” but for egoistical parents who keep driving children to win at all costs, including the children’s own welfare. There are so many real-life parents like the Street parents who are too demanding, keep pushing their children to win all the time, and are mean to them when they don’t win. It is also a lesson in hubris, and how terrible the consequences of hubris can be.

Even though Cora’s obsession with winning cups is selfish, irritating and dangerously irresponsible, she remains a sympathetic character because we know who’s responsible – those parents of hers who keep putting her down, just because she’s not winning anything like they did. They don’t even appreciate it when she does start winning. They show no consideration for Cora’s feelings or that they are hurting her with their sarcastic remarks. She just has to feed their egos more and more in order to stop their sneering once and for all. She’s not winning trophies for the sake of glory and ego but to earn respect from her parents and stop their mean criticisms. And it is their fault her life is in danger because of her cup obsession, as they are the ones who drove her into it.

Winning turns into a reckless obsession that has Cora grabbing trophies to the exclusion of all else. Cora not only loses all trace of common sense but also all sense of caring about others, sportsmanship and team spirit. She does not even care how unpopular she has become because of her conduct. For this reason she is heading for a serious fall and she does deserve one, though what started it all still makes her a sympathetic character. Cora’s fall is coming through the head injury she is neglecting in the name of the Victory Cup and her parents’ respect. Hopefully, there will still be an answer as to how Cora’s fall actually unfolds and whether or not it stops her winning the Victory Cup.

Daddy’s Darling (1975)

Sample images

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Published: 8 March 1975 – 16 August 1975

Episodes: 24

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Lee Simons is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, though not all is smooth sailing in their lives: her elder brother Peter was knocked over and killed while riding his bike and a year later, Lee’s mother dies of an illness that presumably she was not strong enough to fight off due to sadness. Lee and her father only have each other now – well, actually, Mr Simons has got the munitions factory and the large house too, not that Lee is all that bothered about those things. She would rather make her own life and choose her own friends – at least, this is the case by the time she is thirteen and has had five years of stifling over-protectiveness to cope with.

At the beginning of the story, though, the war gives her unexpected hope. First her governess resigns in order to join the land army, meaning that Lee has to go to the local village school; and then she pulls a fast one by volunteering to host an evacuee (something that her father was very against). She gets more than she bargained for – evacuee Maggie Hope is billeted on them but so is Maggie’s little brother, Joe – the family he had been going to were unable to take him after all. Lee is over the moon to have friends staying, but her father keeps them apart at every opportunity. He sends Lee to school in a chauffeur-driven car and makes Maggie and Joe walk behind even when it is raining; the other school kids taunt and despise Lee for that, even though Maggie sticks up for her. Mr Simons is susceptible to public opinion though, and when he eventually realizes it will look bad for him to keep doing that, he sends Maggie and Joe to school by car as well – but a different one, so that Lee is still kept away from the two ‘guttersnipes’ as he thinks of them.

And so the tussle goes – Lee intervenes with her father to protect and help the two Hope kids, Mr Simons protects and coddles his daughter but in a narrow, stifling way that keeps her isolated from other experiences and emotions, and Maggie and Joe bring more and more excitement into Lee’s life, willy-nilly. Even sending a food parcel to Maggie’s mum in London is a struggle, and it only happens because Mr Simons doesn’t want to look bad in front of others when a newspaper reporter sees Lee trying to post it.

Some fights are won by the kids and some by the father, at least initially. Allsorts, Maggie and Joe’s dog, is sent from London and the kids hide it in the air-raid shelter but of course it is not long before it is found – luckily before he is sent back, he saves Lee from a falling brick wall and so Mr Simons agrees to let the dog stay. Maggie and Lee both write an essay in class about their mothers – Maggie’s is chosen for a class prize because it is so emotionally written. The prize is a tour of a local factory – specifically, Mr Simons’ factory – and he ignores Maggie and only talks to Lee, as if she had won the prize herself. But the factory workers chat to Maggie and take to her, even choosing her as their social club queen.

They have a whip-round too, and Maggie wants to spend the resulting windfall on getting Joe a train set – but with the war on, there is none to be had in the shops for any money. Finally, a moment for Mr Simons to show a different side – out of the blue, he gives Joe the train set that Lee’s dead brother never got to use. Not that he’s softening towards them, mind you!

One incident causes her father to harden further rather than the reverse. Lee is tasked with opening an event – a sale of work – but on the way there , an RAF plane is downed and her clothes are all ruined, either by using them to aid the RAF pilot directly or because she is running across rough land and they are scratched and torn. Despite her heroism the result is that Lee is taken out from the village school and made to have lessons at home again – taken by a snobby maid who has been working at their house but who is a qualified teacher. Miss Johnson (former maid Daisy) is a nasty piece of work, but Lee is not left alone with her for long, because air raid damage conveniently closes the local school and so Maggie and Joe need to join the lessons, much to the disgruntlement of Miss Johnson and of Mr Simons. Young Joe proves to be quite a terror, teasing Miss Johnson with their dog, with a mouse, and with scurrilous caricatures, so quite soon Daisy heads off in a temper. Lee is delighted and although Mr Simons is cross, he is more upset by it being the anniversary of his wife’s death, leading him to snap even more nastily at the two evacuees.

It’s the anniversary of Joe’s father’s death too though, and they find him crying in the village graveyard. Maybe Mr Simons is softening after all – he puts his arm around Joe and even gives some money for the kids to go to the cinema – but it is only temporary and he very quickly turns up at the cinema and separates the two groups so that he has Lee all to himself. Nor will he invite Ma Hope over to visit the two kids, despite Lee’s pleas – but new maid ‘Mrs Watkins’ turns out to be Mrs Hope under an assumed name, come to be with her children. Lee takes to her instantly but they have to make sure that Mr Simons doesn’t find out and send her packing. Of course it is not long before the inevitable happens (a comic set-piece has Ma Hope soaking her feet in a warm bowl in front of the fire when she thinks the master is out for the evening, only to be interrupted by Mr Simons and posh guest).

So Mrs Hope is back in London when further air raids hit the East End, and of course her children are distraught with fear for her. Mr Simons bows to public pressure and has his chauffeur drive them back to their old area to check, but doesn’t allow Lee to go along with them and is not particularly upset when the two run away from the chauffeur to go on looking for their Ma. Lee of course is the next to run away, to find her dear friends – and although it looks like their mother is dead, she vows to stay and look after them so that they are not alone. Fat chance that Daddy will let her alone though: he drags her out and gives the Hopes the ultimatum that they can come to the hotel that the Simons will be at for the subsequent 24 hours, or they can stay and be left to their own devices.

It wouldn’t be a girls’ picture-story without a dramatic ending, of course – so as soon as that ultimatum delivered, Lee finds herself looking with horror at the house that the Hopes are in, as it burns down! Lee runs into the burning building and of course is immediately struck down – while she struggles for her life, Mr Simons has time to realize what a caring and unselfish child he has raised despite himself. And when she comes round, a week later, her new room mate turns out to be Mrs Hope, who is not dead – a wall fell on her and she was injured but not killed by the air raid that Maggie and Joe heard about. In turn, Mrs Hope hears about Maggie and Joe’s deaths in the penultimate episode. The final episode, however, has all being well – Lee and Mrs Hope are both discharged from hospital, Mr Simons continues with his change of heart and invites Mrs Hope to stay with them in the country, and although she says no (most vehemently) once Maggie and Joe are found, safe and sound after all, the grand house is turned in to a Convalescent Home with Mrs Hope as the House Mother. It is no longer only Lee who is Daddy’s Darling, but a wider group including Joe and Maggie and the other kids who will come to escape the war.

Thoughts

This is a long-running serial – not quite one of Jinty‘s longest (see more discussion on this post about story length) but nearly half a year’s worth of story. I don’t remember reading it when it first came out as I was a bit too young, but it must have been a successful product of the Alison Christie – Phil Townsend creative team to have run to that length. Some elements are a little repetitive, as is the danger with something of this length – Daddy’s single-minded attention to only his daughter’s comfort changes only towards the end of the serial and there are perhaps a little too many cases where Lee mourns his lack of caring towards others in similar wording to the earlier examples. But of course this is something that is more obvious on a re-read after the fact than at the time of original publication.

There were only relatively few stories in Jinty that feature the Second World War: “Daddy’s Darling”, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, and “Song of the Fir Tree“. (The first two are known to be written by Alison Christie and drawn by Phil Townsend, so of course it raises questions whether “Song of the Fir Tree” might also be, but it was not listed as such by Alison Christie in her earlier interview.) It feels to me as if in the case of this story it is more of a backdrop than a theme – the other two stories are about war, or about things that wouldn’t have happened without the war, whereas this story is really about a stifling over-protective parent. So this makes it more similar to another Christie story, “The Four-Footed Friends“.

In “The Four-Footed Friends”, the protagonist struggles with her stifling mother, who lost a child to illness and wraps her daughter in cotton-wool as a result; in “Daddy’s Darling” it is the father who is the antagonist that the daughter has to struggle against. This feels unusual: I know of a similar story, Tammy’s “My Father – My Enemy!”, where the socially-conscious daughter saves the workers at the mine owed by her Victorian father (thanks to Mistyfan, in the comments, for supplying further details) but not many others where the father is the blocker. “Dracula’s Daughter” is the obvious exception to that, but it is generally mothers or other women / girls who are the villains and antagonists in girls’ stories. There are a couple of examples of mystery stories where the villain is eventually revealed to be the father (photo-story “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” is one such) or where a husband and wife team are equally to blame, but other than that, the antagonists are more typically headmistresses, female teachers, bully girls, mothers / step-mothers, grandmothers, aunts.

Mr Simons is not particularly evil but he is spectacularly clueless throughout. He does soften towards the two evacuees before the end, but his change of heart is depicted as somewhat out of the blue as it only really comes to pass in the last couple of episodes. In other ways the story develops quite nicely over its length: Maggie Hope is drawn as scrawny and plain to start with, and she becomes much more well-favoured by the end. Is that supposed to be as a result of better feeding than she’d get in the East End of London, or because Phil Townsend forgets to draw her quite as plain as at the start? Either way it works pretty well and matches the growing friendship of the two girls.

Jinty 8 March 1975

Stories in this issue:

  • The Jinx from St Jonah’s (artist Mike White)
  • Tricia’s Tragedy (artist Ana Rodriguez)
  • Merry at Misery House (writer Terry Magee)
  • Do-It-Yourself Dot (artist Alf Saporito)
  • The Kat and Mouse Game (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Prisoners of Paradise Island (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Dora Dogsbody (artist José Casanovas)
  • Bird-Girl Brenda (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Daddy’s Darling (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie) – first episode
  • Jinty made it herself… (craft feature on how to make a dressing table tidy)
  • Slave of the Mirror (artist Carlos Freixas)

Katie jinxes herself at the launderette this week – she spilt the water from her goldfish bowl over her eiderdown and it all comes apart when she tries drying it. The understandably tetchy manageress kicks her out unceremoniously and so she needs to hang things up at home. Her Heath Robinsonesque drying lines only succeed in giving the vicar a hot bum and a cold neck, but Katie’s mother is just as glad that the vicar was chased away by this odd combination as it saved her from having to say yes to the favour he was about to ask for. The grateful mum hauls out a ‘do it yourself continental quilt kit’ that Katie can make up and use that night – with the goldfish bowl set far away from the bedside this time! (DIY continental quilt sets – did they ever really exist I wonder?!)

In “Tricia’s Tragedy”, Tricia is blaming herself for her cousin Diana’s accident and subsequent blindness. She’s feeling so guilty that she is even going to withdraw from the important swimming trophy that they are both entered for. Her father is adamant that she shouldn’t do that, and even locks her in until the morning so that she can’t do something rash. That doesn’t stop her and she runs away to Diana’s house – though her father does get her to promise that at least she won’t actually withdraw from the Lloyd Trophy competition herself.

Merry realises what the mysterious joker has been up to over the past few weeks – trying to get Miss Ball sacked. Wardress Stropp (aptly named) turns out to be the mysterious figure behind it all, and soon she is sacked and Ball reinstated. Not that Ball is any more of a fan of Merry than she was before the reinstatement! But Merry doesn’t mind too much because she is inspired by something Miss Ball said – it has given her an idea for a potential escape plan!

Kat opens this episode by hesitating when asked to leap up onto a platform – because she has weakened it herself deliberately, so as to get Mouse to injure herself! Mouse guesses what is behind the hesitation, and it is the end of their friendship. For good? Probably – but Kat is very sneaky and can at least think of ways to turn everyone else against Mouse, even if she can’t get her willing wee slavey back again.

Sally Tuff thinks everything is going her way at last – her school sports mistress Miss Granley has come to find and save them from Paradise Island, so she thinks. But an overheard conversation between Miss Granley and Miss Lush makes Sally question who is on her side.

New story “Daddy’s Darling” starts in this week’s issue. Not many Jinty stories were set during WWII (one exception being “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” by the same creative team, and another being “Song of the Fir Tree“, also drawn by Phil Townsend but with no credited writer at present). Lee Simons is a poor little rich girl – her father is over-protective of her because of the tragic deaths of her older brother who was killed when riding his bike, and her mother who got ill and died rapidly thereafter. Five years later Lee is chauffered around and tutored at home; but the war is about to change things as Mr Simons can no longer arrange everything just as he wishes.

In “Slave of the Mirror” Mia Blake is dead set on getting enough money to pay for modelling classes. At first she tries it the straight way, by doing extra tasks at the boarding house and hoping her sister will give her more pocket money; but soon the sinister girl in the mirror has her going about things in a rather less straightforward way, by sneaking off to a bathing beauty contest that her sister is bound to be up in arms about. She is doing well in the contest too, but Janet is outraged and swears she will soon put a stop to that!

The Four Friends at Spartan School [1971-72]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 23 October 1971 to 8 January 1972

Episodes: 12

Artist: Unknown artist – Merry

Writer: Terence Magee

Translations/reprints: None known

Special thanks to Robert Gairey for scans

Plot

Judy Jenkins is a bit uncontrollable at school and likes to play pranks to liven things up and relieve the boredom of school. She isn’t a bad kid; it’s just that her home life is neglectful and unguided what with Mum being dead, Dad being away on business so much, and a housekeeper who looks like she’s pretty much in loco parentis. When Dad gets the latest note from school, he decides that what Judy needs is discipline (not a parent who gives her proper time and attention, saying he can’t do that because of his work). So he sends her to “Spartan School”, a Swiss school that is very strong on discipline, and says it’ll do Judy “a power of good”.

We aren’t so sure about that when Judy and three other new girls (Amanda Rogers, Liz Orton and Sarah Williams) meet school prefect Siddons. Siddons is a cold fish who treats them with such severity she would make a heckling army sergeant look lovable. She says that they are all to take orders from her, and her sharp tongue is nothing compared to what awaits them at Spartan School, which will be “much worse things”. Amanda, who is a weaker character physically and emotionally, is quickly subdued by Siddons’ conduct. But Judy stands up to Siddons and says she won’t be downtrodden by such bullying, and neither Siddons nor the school will frighten her. The foreshadowing of how things are going to go in this story, obviously.

When they arrive at the school, Judy sees some pupils who have just finished their term and are going home. Although they do look disciplined, Judy is disturbed at how frightened and lifeless they are. Siddons tells the new arrivals that they will be just the same by the time Spartan School has finished with them.

Next, Judy meets headmistress Miss Bramble, who has been warned by Siddons that Judy will be troublesome. Miss Bramble tells Judy that she is a disciplinarian who doesn’t hold with “modern soft teaching methods”. She goes on to say rebels do not last long at Spartan School, and Judy will emerge from it a very different person. Siddons has already made it clear this means Judy will emerge just like the broken girls she just saw. The story’s subsequent text boxes say Miss Bramble runs the school like one from the Victorian era, with harsh punishments. Now that has to be an understatement. As we shall see, not even Victorian schools went to the lengths that Miss Bramble does.

Siddons shows the girls their dormitory, and continuing her ruthless army-like grind to break them into the Spartan School discipline. Once alone, the new girls tell Judy disturbing rumours they have heard about Spartan School. Amanda relates a story about a friend who was sent to it. Previously a wild girl, she never laughed or smiled again once she returned from Spartan School.

And the parents? Apparently they have no idea of what the school is like (or don’t believe it). Later we learn that Miss Bramble censors all the girls’ correspondence to their parents regarding her methods. The girls are to write glowing letters saying how happy they are at the school and learning to behave better. And what happens when they go home and tell their parents? By that time, says Miss Bramble, they are completely different people: “obedient and with a respect for authority”. In other words, too frightened to tell anyone.

Judy still isn’t fazed by her first impressions of Spartan School, and neither is Liz, who starts larking around. Unfortunately she accidentally breaks a lightbulb. When Siddons returns, she assumes Judy broke it and Liz doesn’t own up. Judy realises this is because Liz is more scared of the school and Miss Bramble than she is admitting.

In punishment, Judy is forced to stand in the dinner hall with her hands on her head and get no food. The food isn’t bread and gruel as you might expect, but it is bad quality food all the same. From the way the other girls look at Judy while she undergoes this humiliation, she gets the impression that niceness and kindness are unknown qualities at the school. But Judy’s punishment doesn’t end there. When Miss Bramble enters the hall (all pupils have to stand when she does), she inflicts the icing on the cake: Judy has to share a table with Miss Bramble where she gets a meal of bread and water while Miss Bramble gets a gourmet dinner.

Afterwards, Judy says she has never been so humiliated. The other girls are angry with Liz for not owning up and being responsible for what Judy went through. Judy herself is more understanding about Liz being too frightened to own up. Liz feels so guilty about it all that she sneaks to the kitchen to smuggle some proper food to Judy. Liz is disgusted to see how Cook feeds Jason, Miss Bramble’s cat, better than she does the pupils (a plate of the best chicken). Jason’s a real tiger though, and Liz has to run the gauntlet with him in order to get the chicken.

Judy is thrilled with the food and Liz is forgiven. The girls decide to band together in a friendship for standing up against Miss Bramble and Spartan School, and not let it break them.

The first test comes immediately when Miss Bramble and Siddons arrive about the stolen cat’s supper. This time Liz does own up. The girls rally behind her, saying they are all involved, as they do not want Liz to face the punishment alone. Realising the friendship that has formed, Miss Bramble tells them that she does not allow close friendships because these are bad for discipline, and is going to turn them all against each other. To make things even worse, the whole school, teachers and all, have turned against Judy because Miss Bramble is taking her rage over Judy’s defiance out on all of them, even the teachers.

However, Judy is more concerned about Amanda, whose health and nerves aren’t strong. Amanda was sent to Spartan School because her parents thought it would toughen her up, but instead it is making her ill. But the teachers are as cruel as Miss Bramble and show her no compunction or medical attention at all.

In the courtyard, Miss Bramble’s plan to break up the friendship gets underway. She has the girls toss a heavy medicine ball, and the one to drop it will be the victim for the punishment. As the weakening Amanda is bound to be the one, Judy saves her by dropping the ball deliberately and taking the punishment herself. The punishment is putting Judy in the pillory, with the whole school throwing rotten fruit at her. They are only too happy to do so as they have turned against Judy. Siddons orders the three girls to do the same, or Judy will be put in solitary confinement. Their response is to throw the rotten fruit at Siddons. Surprisingly, this results in the whole school rioting against Siddons and the school discipline while the three friends release Judy. But when reinforcements arrive, the other girls go back to their subservient selves and put the blame on the four friends. The four friends are put in solitary confinement, which means being imprisoned in cramped, freezing, rat-infested cells. Amanda emerges even weaker but recovers after a rest, and the others are even more defiant, angry and determined to stick together. Seeing this, Miss Bramble is even more anxious to destroy the friendship because in her view it impedes discipline. This time Siddons offers to have a go at it.

Siddons takes the four friends out for a skiing lesson. There are only enough skis for three, so Judy is excluded. She is directed to go down the slope to check it is clear. She finds it is clear, but when Sarah skis down, a branch hidden on the slope causes Sarah to take a fall. She accuses accuses Judy of putting it there on purpose and turns on her. Judy soon realises Siddons is behind it, and spots the proof – a glove Siddons dropped while taking the branch from the tree – but needs to sneak out and retrieve it if she is to convince Sarah. She succeeds, although she narrowly escapes being caught by Siddons.

Siddons soon realises her trick has failed, but soon has another one brewing: tricking the other friends into distrusting Judy. She forces Amanda to clean windows, despite Amanda telling her that she cannot climb ladders on medical grounds, and her health is worsening. Amanda ends up falling off the ladder, with Judy breaking her fall. Judy covers for Amanda by cleaning the windows herself while the others take Amanda to the dormitory. But she does not realise Siddons is watching and had planned it that way all along. After Judy cleans the windows, Siddons dirties them up again so Amanda will think Judy lied to her. And when Judy sees the look on Amanda’s face when Amanda sees the dirty windows, it looks like Siddons’ trick is going to succeed!

Realising Siddons’ trick, Judy pulls a smokescreen (literally) to cover up the windows looking like they were not cleaned. This succeeds in foiling Siddons and regaining Amanda’s trust. Unfortunately this also earns Judy the punishment that “never fails” at Spartan School – the Iron Mask!

Yes, a real-life iron mask that is straight out of the Middle Ages. Judy is to be locked into this ghastly contraption for two days, with no respite whatsoever. Out of all the tortures that have been inflicted on her so far, this is the one that is the most telling on Judy’s strength. It also makes Judy a target for bullying and cruel tricks from all the other girls, who have grown as heartless and cruel as Siddons because Miss Bramble’s ‘discipline’ has destroyed all sense of humanity in them.

Later, the girls rescue a pigeon from being clubbed to death by Siddons. After they help it to recover, they use it to carry a message for help and hope the message makes its way to a school inspector.

Next day, Judy is almost collapsing under the weight of the iron mask. It makes her so faint that she breaks a flask in science class and sets poisonous fumes off. While the class evacuates, Judy makes her way into the laboratory storeroom in the hope of finding something that will help her get the mask off. She succeeds, and then throws the iron mask down the mountain so Miss Bramble can never use it again.

Terrible punishment for this is inevitable. Sadistic Siddons suggests that the girls be allowed to choose the punishment as they all think Judy set off the poisonous fumes on purpose so she could get rid of the iron mask. Of course Miss Bramble thinks it is a marvellous idea. The girls’ punishment is a hockey match where they all take turns in fouling and brutalising Judy.

But just as this punishment ends, a helicopter arrives. The carrier pigeon did get through and the helicopter has brought in a school inspector, Miss Craig. Miss Craig indeed suspects something is wrong with the school after witnessing the inhumane hockey match and sees Miss Bramble for explanations. Miss Bramble says Jenkins must have goaded them but they will all be punished, while Judy tells Miss Craig that Miss Bramble put them up to it and it’s all part of how she runs the school through terror. Miss Bramble tries to cover up with smooth talk in how her school prides in discipline that turns unruly girls around. Nonetheless, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that in view of the note she has received about brutal treatment at the school, she will make a thorough inspection of the school.

The four friends realise Miss Bramble will try to pull the wool over Miss Craig’s eyes – and eventually it looks like she could succeed. They are desperate to find a way to find a way to make her see the truth. They get their chance when Miss Bramble gives the school a film show of documentaries to impress Miss Craig. Judy plants a Charlie Chaplin film (gee, how did that get to Spartan School in the first place?). She shows Miss Craig how the girls are reacting to the film: not laughing or smiling at all. She tells Miss Craig the girls are too cowed and scared to laugh because that’s what Spartan School does to its girls. Miss Craig understands what Judy is driving at, and when Miss Bramble lashes out at Judy in anger, Miss Craig wises up to her at last. She tells Miss Bramble her school will be closed down by tomorrow and gets ready to take Judy away from it immediately.

Miss Bramble is not having that and orders Siddons to get the cine-camera. She then threatens to beat Judy, and Siddons films Miss Craig holding the cane after she snatches it from Miss Bramble to make it look like it was Miss Craig beating Judy. They use it to blackmail Miss Craig into dropping her threat to close down the school. Appalled at how this frame-up could destroy her career. Miss Craig leaves without a murmur. While she leaves, Miss Bramble says to her, “These girls need the treatment I give them. It’s the only thing they understand.”

Afterwards, Miss Bramble gives the four friends an ultimatum: sign a document promising they will never defy her again or face terrible punishment the following day. Naturally, Liz, Judy and Sarah refuse to sign. Unfortunately Amanda’s weak nerves have reached breaking point and she feels she doesn’t have the strength of the others in continuing to defy Miss Bramble. Next day she signs the document while the others get a hosing for refusing. Amanda regrets signing, but has been brought up to keep her word and refuses to go back on it, even if it was forced. Later, the girls notice how Amanda is becoming more and more like the browbeaten, terrified girls.

That night, Amanda runs away. She is in serious danger because a blizzard is looming, but hard-hearted Miss Bramble refuses to organise a search for her. She locks up the three girls in a shed for the night when they try to force her to do so. Later, Miss Bramble grows worried that the girls might report her for refusing to search for Amanda, and Siddons hatches a plan to deal with this.

Next morning, Siddons offers to help the girls escape, claiming that she has seen how wrong Miss Bramble is and sends them off down the mountain in the cable car. When the cable car is half way down the mountain, Siddons cuts through the cable to kill the girls. Miraculously, they survive, and soon discover what Siddons did with the cable.

They make their way to the police station to tell their story and get help for Amanda. But they soon discover that Miss Bramble and Siddons have arranged another nasty surprise for them: they told the police a concocted story about the girls having run away after stealing money, and Siddons had planted the money on them before they left. The police escort the girls to the cells, but Liz helps Sarah and Judy escape by distracting the police with a ‘fainting fit’. Sarah and Judy make a fast getaway on a sleigh and head across the country to shake off the police.

They check out a hotel in the hope the guests found Amanda on the slope. Instead, they find Amanda herself! She says she found a calf on the slopes and they helped keep each other warm in the shelter of some rocks. After the blizzard eased, a farmer found Amanda when he came looking for his calf. He brought Amanda to the hotel, where she has made a good recovery. She phoned her father about Spartan School, who in turn contacted Judy and Sarah’s parents, and Mr Rogers is on his way to collect Amanda.

Just then, the police catch up to the girls, and they have brought Liz as well. But before the police can do anything, there is a sudden alert that an avalanche is imminent and will sweep Spartan School away. They cannot warn the school because the school phone has been cut off. What’s more, another blizzard has started. The girls decide to head back to Spartan School to warn them, making their way through the blizzard.

They make it back to the school. Knowing Miss Bramble is unlikely to listen to them, they decide to sound the old fire bell instead. But Siddons has seen them return and alerts Miss Bramble. They lock the girls in the bell tower. Miss Bramble does not listen to the girls’ warnings about the avalanche. Fortunately, Siddons does.

The girls manage to break down the door by using the bell as a battering ram. The noise the bell makes while they do so rouses the school, which enables Siddons to warn them about the avalanche. The school evacuates, and on the way down the slope, they bump into the rescue party consisting of the police, Judy’s father – and Miss Craig, who found the courage to report Miss Bramble to the authorities. The schoolgirls say they don’t know where the four friends are.

Meanwhile, the four friends have found Miss Bramble knocked out and unconscious on the bell tower steps. They pull her away with a sledge and eventually meet up with the search party. While they do so, the avalanche gets underway and destroys Spartan School.

Miss Bramble regains consciousness and cannot understand how these “wicked girls” were capable of saving her life. The police tell Miss Bramble how Miss Craig has told them about her “strange ideas of discipline”. When Miss Bramble says she was certain discipline would be good for the girls, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that discipline is good, but her “harsh tyranny” is not. However, seeing as Spartan School is no more, Miss Craig has little doubt the authorities will take no further action in the matter (whaatt?!?). Nonetheless, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that her teaching days are over – “over for ever!” Meanwhile, Siddons slinks away and is not seen again.

The four friends return to England and stay together at a much better and happier school.

Thoughts

This was the first story Terence Magee wrote for girls’ comics. It was also the first to pair up Terence’s writing with the artwork of the unknown artist who is nicknamed “Merry”. This pairing would occur again and again, most prominently in Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”. Other occasions included the extremely popular Sandie story, “Slave of the Trapeze”.

Girls’ comics often made comment on progressivism vs. authoritarianism in education, particularly on how evil authoritarianism could be if it was taken too far. In so doing, it was linked with the bully teacher/principal theme, which was frequently used to illustrate what not to do in the classroom (or for the creators to purge their own memories of bully teachers?). The theme of tyrannical headmistresses going to extremes with discipline and reacting against modern teaching methods was in Tammy from the first issue with “The Girls of Liberty Lodge”. Here Miss Steele runs her school with such bizarre and harsh discipline that she stages show trials for girls in the school hall in front of the whole school. However, Miss Steele’s nemesis is not a pupil but a teacher, Miss Valentine. When Miss Steele reprimands Miss Valentine for showing a pupil kindness (so kindness is not allowed at this school either) Miss Valentine responds by quitting and establishing a progressive school, Liberty Lodge, in reaction against Miss Steele. From then on, Miss Steele pulls every trick in the book to destroy Liberty Lodge.

Jinty also used the theme on occasion. In one of her holiday specials she ran “The Spoof of St. Elma’s”, where the “cold and unfeeling” Miss Reed takes great pride in making St Elma’s “the harshest and strictest school in the country” (grim teachers and appointing the hardest girls as prefects are among her methods) and has no tolerance whatsoever for modern progressive teaching methods. She vows not to retire until she can find someone who can run the same way, and eventually tries it with a computer named Miss Steele. But it all blows up in her face when the computer malfunctions. As a result, her harsh, unfeeling legacy is completely swept away and progressive, caring teaching comes in with the new headmistress.

A variant Jinty had on the theme was “Children of Edenford”. Headmistress Miss Purity Goodfellow uses drugs to turn her pupils into brainwashed paragons of virtue in the name of perfection – with the full blessing of the girls’ parents.

Jinty’s most striking, and best thought-out example of the theme was “Dracula’s Daughter”, where authoritarian Mr Graves is determined to turn free-and-easy Castlegate into an old-fashioned grammar school. He rams it down everyone’s throats, even the teachers’, saying that he’s the headmaster so everything he says goes, and the teachers are to shape up to it or ship out. Mr Graves also believes fun and play belong in the home and not the classroom, and imposes this on the school too. However, unlike Miss Bramble or Miss Reed, Mr Graves is not a cruel, unfeeling sadist who subjects pupils to mock trials or ladles over-the-top torture with a shovel in the name of discipline. He is a bigot, not sadistic or insane like the headmistresses mentioned here. Ironically, he does have a heart and he shows he can be human when he believes it is appropriate for him to do so. Moreover, Mr Graves ends up becoming less rigid in his beliefs about education and learns to respect progressive education more. Still, everyone at Castlegate is relieved when Mr Graves leaves and goes back to his old grammar after discovering its discipline has slipped to the point of the boys becoming delinquent.

Spartan School is no doubt the most intense and excessive example of progressivism vs. authoritarianism in girls’ comics. Nothing is beyond Miss Bramble in her crusade to turn ‘unruly’ girls into her models of obedient and disciplined girls. However, we suspect discipline is just her excuse and the real motive behind her methods is that she’s a sadist who likes to torture girls emotionally, physically and psychologically. We suspect this even more when Miss Bramble says she has to stop the girls reporting her to the authorities because they would not understand her methods.

The text boxes say that Miss Bramble runs the school as if it were Victorian, but surely not even Victorian schools went as far as Miss Bramble. The girls either emerge as emotionally and psychologically traumatised zombies or like Siddons – unfeeling, bullying monsters with no trace of kindness or humanity to be seen. It is not just unruliness that is beaten out of girls but all trace of kindness, humanity and friendship as well. This is clearly because Miss Bramble does not tolerate tender emotions as she does not have any, and she does not allow friendships because they are building blocks to conspiracy against her discipline. She wants all her girls to be turned into models that are based on her personality. It could well be that Siddons came to Spartan School as an ‘undisciplined’ girl herself, and Miss Bramble’s ideas of discipline turned her into the stone-hearted monster and flunky that she is. As a result, Siddons is capable of anything, even murder. Or maybe she was a genuine badass kid in serious need of straightening out, but just got a whole lot worse at Spartan School. In any case, the four friends are the only oasis of kindness and courage we see in the entire school. Nowhere else is it to be seen.

Miss Bramble seems to ride on the shoulders of neglectful / useless parents who don’t seem to pick up on what’s going on at Spartan School or what their girls have become after they return from the school. Some may even approve of it. Rumours about the school’s cruelty circulate, Amanda herself has seen a damaged girl returning from Spartan School, and girls go home from Spartan School looking broken and frightened, yet nobody seems to step up and look into things. Parents still send their girls to it, believing it will do their girls a world of good. It’s not until Amanda manages to bring an inspector in that the cruelty of the school finally begins to get out. At least the four friends’ parents redeem themselves somewhat when they come in person to form part of the rescue party.

It is a bit annoying that Miss Bramble seems to get off a bit too lightly at the end of the story. Miss Craig takes the view that the authorities will not do much because Spartan School has been destroyed. Oh, come on, this is a woman who’s not only committed physical and psychological abuse against girls but is guilty of attempted murder as well! Shouldn’t there be at least a full public inquiry before deciding what should be done with Miss Bramble? Don’t the parents and pupils get a say in the matter? A lot of readers must have wished Miss Bramble had died in the avalanche or broken her neck on the staircase after reading Miss Craig’s view on what will happen to her. As for Siddons not being seen again after she disappears…well, it does suggest she might have come to a sticky end off-panel. Readers must have hoped for that anyway.

When Judy arrives at Spartan School, it’s where Miss Bramble finally meets her match, much in the way that Misery House does with Merry Summers. Like Merry, Judy refuses to be broken by the cruelties of the institution, finds strength in the only friends she has, and uses her quick wits to get out of the scrapes and dirty tricks that Miss Bramble and Siddons pull on her. As with Merry, Judy’s defiance takes the form of something that flies in the face of Spartan School and defies all attempts to break it. In the case of Merry, it is keeping on smiling and joking, no matter what. In the case of Judy, it is maintaining the four-friend friendship against all of Miss Bramble’s attempts to destroy it. And like Merry, Judy is determined to get word out about the cruelties of Spartan School and get it shut down. Unlike Merry, Judy succeeds on her very first try, although it takes time for help to arrive because of the blackmail Miss Bramble pulls on Miss Craig.

On this blog, Spartan School has been regarded as a forerunner of “Merry at Misery House”. For one thing, it is the same creative team. Parallels between the two stories have been noted above. The cruel institutions are physically destroyed (fire in Misery House, avalanche in Spartan School) as well as being shut down by authorities that have been finally been alerted by unsettling reports. Misery House also resorts to beatings, pillories, unhealthy isolation cells, poor food and other cruelties (but no iron mask, thank goodness) in order to break the protagonist. As with Judy, they also pull blackmail and other dirty tricks in order to isolate the protagonist from her friends and turn them against her. Character-wise, Judy could well be a predecessor of Merry; she likes to play jokes to liven things up a bit, but unwisely does them during class time. Liz is a bit like Merry too; our first impressions of her are that she is a chirpy girl, just like Merry.

In some ways, Spartan School does Judy a lot of good, albeit in spite of itself. Her energies, which went into practical jokes at her previous schools, are rechanneled into bringing down Spartan School and foiling all the tricks that are pulled to destroy the friendship. At the beginning we see a stubborn streak in Judy; once she puts her mind to something, she does it. This would have helped Judy immensely once she became determined not to let anything at Spartan School crush her. We get the impression that Judy emerged as a more toned-down and mature girl. No doubt she emerged as a much stronger and courageous one.