Somewhere over the Rainbow (1978-79)

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Somewhere Over the Rainbow 1aSomewhere Over the Rainbow 1bSomewhere Over the Rainbow 1c

Published: 20 May 1978 – 10 February 1979

Episodes: 36

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: Spanish translation as “Más allá del Arcoiris”, publication unknown

Plot 

Just as the end of World War II is in sight, Mrs Peters and her daughter Dorothy (Dorrie for short, 13 years of age) and son Max (seven) receive the dreaded envelope that means Dad has been killed in action. This somewhat dampens their V-Day celebrations shortly after.

Some time later, the Peters family attend a Wizard of Oz production. During the performance Mum tells Dorrie that she and Max will find happiness over the rainbow. Afterwards, the programme blows away and Mum gets run over and killed while trying to retrieve it. Now the Peters children are orphans. Dorrie takes Mum’s final words to her deeply to heart and from then on, The Wizard of Oz inspires them all the way to seek out rainbow’s end. But where the heck do they even begin to look for the rainbow?

It certainly isn’t at social welfare, which is now in charge of the children. None of the foster homes for the children work out for one reason or other. In fact, one foster mother, Mrs Soper, is more like the Wicked Witch of the West. Things get worse when social welfare puts them in separate homes because mixed sexes aren’t allowed. At least Dorrie can visit Max, who is taking this rainbow’s end thing a bit literally.

Then Dorrie and Max find out about a home in Scotland that really is called “Rainbow’s End” when it advertises for a housekeeper in the newspaper. They decide that’s where they must seek the end of the rainbow. So they run away from social welfare and make the arduous trek all the way from London to Scotland (no, not singing “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”). This means plenty of adventures, misadventures, dangers, injuries and illnesses, hunger, bouts of horrible weather, helpful people, not-so-helpful people, and hitching lifts on assorted vehicles, beginning with sneaking aboard a lorry to get out of London. Sustaining them along the way and helping out in a lot of scrapes is their natural talent for song-and-dance routines, especially – you guessed it – The Wizard of Oz. All the while they are fugitives from social welfare and keeping one step ahead of them. World War II, still fresh and raw, casts its own shadow over the whole enterprise.

The Wizard of Oz itself always seems to pop up in one form or another. In one occasion, the children defend a scarecrow from being burned. In another, the children make their escape from a suspicious billeting officer who bears a strong resemblance to Miss Gulch. And now and then they hear snatches of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” when Dorrie isn’t singing it.

Not all of the twists and turns of their odyssey will described here because of the story’s length. However, some highlights and key points will be discussed.

On one occasion Max is forced to confront his wartime prejudices against Germans. It starts when they take shelter in an old army camp in an empty village, but are surprised by a man with a German accent. He’s a German soldier, and it’s soon obvious he is a fugitive in hiding too. He is not happy to find Dorrie and Max have taken over his bed, but kindly offers them breakfast in the morning. Max is too consumed by his hatred of Germans to have anything to do with him or his food, while Dorrie is less prejudiced and more receptive to his kindness. However, Max is so full of hate he rushes off to turn the German in. The German realises Max is running into danger – an unexploded mine – and risks his own life to save him. This has Max realise that “[not] all Gerries are bad…rotten!” and Germans are human beings too. From then on they’re friends. His name is Hans, a shot-down airman who was rescued by a British girl and they fell in love. However, she died before they could marry after the war, leaving him still a fugitive. Dorrie and Max persuade Hans to stop hiding, using their motto of “happiness over the rainbow”, and give himself up. They have high hopes Hans will be all right and get a fresh start in Germany.

Before long, Christmas is coming (issue-wise, a bit premature; this is three months before Jinty’s Christmas issue), but how to celebrate it while they’re on the run? Max buys Christmas decorations, but he forgot they have nowhere to hang them. Oh, dear. Dorrie does some busking with “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to raise cash for something for Christmas, which not only raises money for presents and Christmas treats but also lands her the lead in another Wizard of Oz production for Boxing Day. Performing it while keeping their fugitive status secret from the producer Mr Harris is not easy, but the show must go on. And it does, with “Shy Dorrie Makes Her Debut” in the newspaper because she can’t talk to the press.

Meanwhile, Max takes a plunge in freezing water because he unwisely tried out the ice. Dorrie hates leaving him alone while he’s still affected, but she has the show to do and the show must go on. But when she returns, the winter cold and plunge in freezing water have caused Max to develop pneumonia, which turns critical. Mr Harris helps him to hospital. Dorrie croons “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to him, which helps him to recover.

Unfortunately, Mr Harris is a social worker and it is his duty to return the children to the London home. However, at the station the children get away from him and stow away aboard a train going north. They get discovered and the conductor is set to turn them over, but he changes his mind when the children keep the passengers entertained when snow blocks the train. He lets them off at a station instead.

But the snow is thick, the cold is biting, Max is still weak from pneumonia, the children are starving and Dorrie has lost her ration books. Hunger makes Dorrie collapse, but they are picked up by a kindly man, Joe McDonald, who was in the same regiment as Dad. He owes Dad a favour, and taking in the children is his way of doing it. He also gets a mate from London to give them a lift further north. But the truck goes over a broken bridge and the children pull the driver to safety, but getting help means they get caught again. The police say sorry, but it’s their duty to turn them over to social welfare. But instead of London they take them to a children’s home, converted from an old army barracks, in Scotland.

Well, at least the children are in Scotland, but the home is definitely not the end of the rainbow – more like the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. The kids are tough and bullying, and the matron is an ex-army officer who runs the place like a sergeant major of the worst kind and the heart of the witch herself. She treats children like soldiers, not children, with merciless army-style discipline. For example, she forces Max to do 20 laps around the ground with an army pack, ignoring Dorrie’s protests that he has been weakened by pneumonia, and poor Max collapses.

When Dorrie rises up in rebellion against their treatment, Matron locks her and Max in detention while taking the children on a long march. This turns out to be a blessing; while the others are out, waters from thawing snow flood the establishment, which helps Dorrie and Max escape on an old air bed. The home looks well and truly washed out and half-submerged, a nice surprise for bully Matron when she returns. With any luck it will be the end of that establishment. Later, the children learn from a newspaper that the authorities think they drowned when the home got flooded, so the police and social welfare are off their backs now. They can carry on unmolested.

They journey further into Scotland, but fresh trouble is never far off. It happens when Dorrie sprains her ankle. No further trekking until it’s better, and they have to camp out in an old German plane. Max is reluctant to do so because it is German but relents when Dorrie reminds him of their encounter with Hans and not all Germans are bad.

It’s up to Max to get the food while Dorrie is recovering, but again his actions are not well thought out. For example, his idea of disguising himself from nosey coppers is to buy a scary Halloween mask! Worse, he puts the food right where dripping rainwater ruins it.

Then it looks like Max takes a hit from a man shooting rabbits. Fortunately, it turns out Max just took a fall and a bump on the head and the man is another helper. But he advises them to move on fast because the authorities take a hard line on squatters.

So the children have to move on, although neither of them are fit for the road because of their injuries. Fortunately they meet a friendly ex-soldier who helps them get a lift to Glasgow where his grandmother can put them up. The children note that Glasgow has had its own share of bombing (watch this space). But things go wrong when they get there and the children are on their own again. Then they finally see a rainbow and hope rises again.

They get a lead that the home they are looking for is near Iverness, which means even more trekking north. They get more help from friendly people, and even a palm reading from a gypsy, who is surprised to see both children have a rainbow in their palms. If that weren’t omen enough, they find an old chair labelled “Rainbow’s End Home”.

Five miles on, they finally make it to Rainbow’s End Home. There they show Matron the ad for the housekeeping job that prompted their journey. However, they are dismayed to find Rainbow’s End is an old folks’ home, not the children’s home they were expecting. It looks like it was all for nothing and skies aren’t blue for them at all. But it leads to their being adopted by a lovely couple who lost their own children in the Glasgow bombing and are look-alikes for their own parents. So they find happiness at Rainbow’s End after all.

Thoughts

Comixminx and I have balked at doing this one for a long time because of its supreme length. At 36 episodes, it is the second-longest running serial in Jinty’s history, which makes it a challenge to summarise. However, an entry on this story was way overdue, and as we are in lockdown with plenty of time at home, what the heck.

Rainbow belongs to a long line of Alison Christie/Phil Townsend pairings for emotional stories to warm your heart or bring tears to your eyes. It also shares many roots with other Jinty stories, notably “Song of the Fir Tree” and “For Peter’s Sake!”, both of which are lengthy stories where the protagonists set out on quests with fugitive elements attached. Like Rainbow, Fir Tree is set in the aftermath of WW2 where a brother and sister (Solveig and Per Amundsen) are also fugitives, from a Nazi out to kill them. In addition to outwitting his numerous attempts to kill them, they have to contend with other dangers and obstacles, just like the Peters children. They have a more clearly defined goal than the Peters children: make it home to Norway. As in Rainbow, we have an elder sister who is the pillar of strength and a younger brother who is less strong. In both stories, the children are not only sustained by a title; the title of the song is the title of the story as well. It could be that Alison Christie wrote Fir Tree too. We have no confirmation of this, but it would not be surprising.

The journey in “For Peter’s Sake!”, also written by Alison Christie, is the reversal of Rainbow: Corrie Lomax is making her journey with Old Peg the pram all the way from Scotland to London while the Peters children are doing the exact opposite. She is on a mission of mercy for her baby brother with Old Peg, but it turns into a fugitive story with the police and then social welfare on her tail. As with the Peters children, she has to make an escape from a horrible children’s home en route. She also gets weakened by pneumonia, just as Max does. Like the Peters and Amundsen children, Corrie meets more helpful people than not. In fact, we could almost swear that a number of these people have guessed these children are runaways but are turning a blind eye to it.

The endings of the two stories share similarities in that the children make it to the end of their journey, only to find everything seems to end in a big let-down because the initial outcome did not meet their expectations (Rainbow’s End being a home for olds, not children, and Old Peg not curing Peter). However, the twist is that it does bring about what they wanted in the end, just not in the way they expected.

The story takes time out to comment on the hardship and knock-on effects of WW2, even though peace has come. Food rationing continues, food shortages e.g. a sign saying “Sorry no spam”, and the war posters saying things like “Plan your meals to avoid waste” and “Careless talk costs lives” remain in place. Buying sweets on rations is a real treat. Make-do-and-mend is still the rule e.g. Mum making best dresses out of old curtains. Mum feels the change in women’s lot when peace comes; during the war she worked in a munitions factory, but afterwards, she struggles to find a job because preference is given to returned servicemen and women. Eventually she finds a part-time cleaning job at a theatre, where the fateful Wizard of Oz evening unfolds. Bombed-out planes and buildings are still visible on the landscape. So are old air-raid shelters, one with “We won the war” scrawled on it. We also see the mental effects it has had on some people. For example, they meet a kind lady who unfortunately has a screw loose; she thinks Dorrie and Max are her own evacuee children and a scarecrow in her husband’s old army uniform really is him. Post-wartime rebuilding is also evident; for example, we see a “Prefabs Homes for the Homeless” to help meet the housing shortages. And the Hans storyline is a clear message about confronting the demons of WW2 and not letting old hatreds consume you.

Max is the weaker of the journeying pair because he is younger and less mature, but he does not have a weak constitution like his counterpart in Fir Tree. Until his bout with pneumonia he remains a healthy kid. And he does have his bright moments, particularly when he wants to cheer Dorrie up. Some of them are more thought out than others, such as buying flowers in honour of Dad. But as he is a very young, spirited boy, more often he makes ill-judged decisions, one of which leads to him developing pneumonia. He is also more prone to being emotional and losing his temper, for example, when he meets Hans.

Jinty produced a number of journey/quest/fugitive stories, such as “The Darkening Journey” and the aforementioned “Song of the Fir Tree” and “For Peter’s Sake!”. They all ran for a while, a testament to how popular they were. But “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is by far the longest. It was so long that it holds the record for second-longest serial in Jinty’s history. This shows how popular it was, and there are so many elements to make it popular: the backdrop of WW2; the fugitive elements; the Wizard of Oz theme, which has always been popular; the adventures and dangers; and above all, the emotional elements to tug your heart and make you really feel for these children.

Another thing to make this story popular is that nobody knows what to expect at the journey’s end, not even the children. All they know and believe is, they will find happiness. Okay, happiness, but in what way? What form will it take? This is a suspenseful mystery element, and we are holding our breath to see just how it all turns out at rainbow’s end. This sets it apart from the other journey stories Jinty has run, where everyone expects the outcome that the protagonist expects. But not in this case. Neither we nor the children know just what to expect at the end of the story, which keeps us in suspense all the way. Also keeping us in suspense is the nagging doubt as to whether the children’s home they expect really is their key to happiness; after all, the other children’s homes they encountered in were bad experiences, so would they be all that happy with another? We are so glad it ended in a happy adoption with new parents instead.

3 thoughts on “Somewhere over the Rainbow (1978-79)

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