All posts by mistyfan

Mike and Terry (1979)

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Published: Jinty 7 July 1979 – 29 September 1979

Episodes: 12

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #12 as “The Shadow”

Plot

Mike Temple and his assistant Terry (short for Theresa, apparently) have a well-carved reputation as a detective duo. They witness a man (later named as Jed Adams) being busted from prison and are hot on the trail, but another man, posing as a postman, lures them into a trap that nearly kills them. The killer leaves a calling card that informs them he’s “The Shadow”, Europe’s most wanted criminal, and he’s not called the Shadow for nothing. He’s both clever and dangerous, a master of disguise, as slippery as an oil slick, and nobody knows his true identity. He’s already fooled Mike and Terry with his postman disguise.

They go to investigate an old ruin, a known hideout of the Shadow. Outside they see a councilman in a bowler hat putting up a “no trespassing” sign, then screams of help coming from inside. It’s from a girl being held captive by thugs. They clobber two of the thugs and tie them up, and leave the councilman in charge while they pursue the third, but he gets away with the girl. Worse, too late they discover the councilman was the Shadow in disguise. He had untied the other men while they were gone and left his calling card behind. Mike and Terry are left with trying to figure out the connection between the convict and the girl, and why the Shadow wants them both. A poster informs them that the girl is Shirley Gold, a pop singer.  

Mike decides to have a word with Inspector Dent, though he and Dent do not get along. Terry heads back to the office but realises one of the Shadow’s goons is tailing her. She tricks him into thinking she’s gone back to the office and waiting for Mike to turn up, so as to leave him hanging around outside the office so they can watch him. She secretly heads on to Inspector Dent’s, where she finds Mike has scored a blank with Dent. They slip back and keep an eye on the goon until he moves, and they follow him. The trail leads to a graveyard. 

A hand rises out of a coffin and pulls a gun. Terry jumps on the coffin lid and slams it down on the gunman’s fingers. They discover the coffin is the entrance to an underground hideout. They meet the Shadow, who detonates a device that causes a cave-in. The rocks narrowly miss them, but they are trapped. Using a match to find a draught, Mike finds a way out. 

The Shadow gallingly sends a bouquet of flowers to their office congratulating them on their escape and informing them his next victim is Lester Sinclair, an upper crust vaudeville lady famous for her dog act. They warn Miss Lester, but she doesn’t listen. Mike figures the Shadow will strike at Miss Lester’s fancy dress party, so he is going disguised as extra staff and Terry in fancy dress. But it has to be said that the Shadow would laugh at their disguises (along with the readers!). 

At the party Terry spots the Shadow and follows him, but he traps her with an expert knife throwing act. Downstairs, the lights go off, and when they come on, Miss Lester is gone. Mike and Terry put up a pursuit, but the Shadow gets away with his victim. They realise the Shadow was acting as decoy while his goons pulled the abduction. Later they discover the Shadow took Miss Lester’s performing dogs as well.

Mike goes for another word with Dent, who is a bit more helpful this time. He informs them that the missing convict was an electrician. Meanwhile, Mary, a friend of Terry’s, informs her that there are some strange goings-on at the old Hippodrome, which is scheduled for demolition, but an amateur acting society has permission to use it in the meantime. However, they’re being plagued by sabotaged scenery, things falling off the wall, strange noises and people getting locked in rooms. Investigating, Terry discovers an old poster of a show dating back three years, and Shirley Gold and Lester were in the show. They figure the Shadow is trying to kidnap the whole cast, and the remaining ones are Charles Damon (ventriloquist), the Rinko Dancers, the Dart Brothers (acrobats) and Dirk Dare (trick cyclist). They figure Damon is the next target. Feeling it is unlikely Damon will listen to them, Mike decides grabbing Damon first is the only way. 

But when they arrive, they see the Shadow’s goons are already waiting in the wings for Damon. After finding and rescuing the manager the goons left tied up, they recruit the manager’s aid in an impromptu conjuring act and use the vanishing cabinet to make Damon disappear from the goons’ sight. The goons turn nasty at this, but Mike pulls a swift, hilarious hat trick on one and hooks the other. 

Together with Damon, they make a fast exit, and have to elude yet another goon along the way. They head back to the haunted hippodrome. The caretaker, Mr Cornelius Mumble, agrees to protect Damon. Then Terry finds herself being creeped out by a ghostly voice. Of course it’s the Shadow, who planted a microphone on Terry, and they soon find he’s made the grab on Damon and left his calling card. The Hippodrome is riddled with secret passages and such, making such things all too easy. 

They soon learn the Shadow’s already taken the Rinko Dancers and Dart Brothers. That leaves Dirk Dare, who is working at a fair at Bletcham. Mike decides to go on his own, but Terry isn’t having that and sneaks along. She takes a rest at a field, and is in time to see the Shadow and his thugs arrive. She’s just ahead of them and manages to pull a fast one on them by hiding a “beware of the bull” sign. The bull trick delays the Shadow’s goons, but not long enough for Terry to get a good start on them at the fair. It’s hijinks on the fairground rides as they give chase. Mike, in another laughable disguise as a gypsy, helps Terry to hide.  

They discover that Dirk Dare has swapped trick cycling for the human cannon ball, and he’s just been shot out of the cannon. When he hits the net, it is the goons who grab him, net and all. Everyone on the show bill has now been rounded up by the Shadow. They can’t figure out why the Shadow also wanted the electrician, but when Terry points out electricians are used for stage lighting and effects, they realise the connection. They head back to the hippodrome to check out any connection Adams had to the show. Mr Mumble informs them that Adams was working at the show, but lost his memory when some scenery fell on him. 

Then Terry finds Adams himself, who has escaped the Shadow and is willing to talk. He says the Shadow is bringing the old cast together to help him remember something, which must be a job he pulled but the amnesia made him forget what. Terry takes Adams back to the Hippodrome before the Shadow discovers he is missing. In the library, Terry goes through old newspapers and discovers there was a ruby necklace robbery on the night Adams lost his memory. She figures Adams slipped out of the performance to steal it, but the amnesia made him forget where he hid it. The Shadow has reunited the cast to restage the show in the hope it will jog Adams’ memory. Unwisely, Mike and Terry discuss their deductions in public. One of the Shadow’s goons overhears and reports back to him. The Shadow says he will be ready for them, and the show goes on for Adams’ benefit. Terry then realises Mr Mumble could be in danger because of this, and she warns him. 

The show does bring back Adams’ memory. He retrieves the necklace from its hiding place in the wall and hands it over to Terry and Mike. The Shadow is ready with a gun, but Terry feigns a faint to pull the carpet out from under him. The Shadow is temporarily knocked out and revealed as Cornelius Mumble. But the Shadow recovers and gets away to fight another day. At least Mike and Terry have the consolation of foiling the Shadow’s plot, and they are going to get a big reward for recovering the necklace and freeing the kidnapped people. 

Thoughts

Though Jinty had her share of mystery stories, the detective/sleuthing theme was something she seldom touched upon. The same went for Tammy. Jinty published this one because her readers clamoured for one after she ran a competition asking readers what stories they would like. It was a pity Jinty did not produce more detective stories or do a sequel on this story, which she could easily have done. The ending left everything set up for a sequel with “The Shadow Strikes Again” or something. Perhaps a sequel was planned but didn’t eventuate for some reason, possibly the change in Jinty editorship or the Penny merger in 1980. Or maybe the story just wasn’t popular enough for a sequel.

Mike and Terry were probably riding on the popularity of “The Zodiac Prince”, the first Jinty story to have a male protagonist as the star of the show, as it is the second Jinty story to have a male as one of the main protagonists. Unlike the Zodiac Prince, Mike isn’t quite the star of the show – more of a co-star with his assistant Terry, and she eclipses him on a number of occasions. She shows more brain, comes up with more of the brilliant deductions, and also does more of the work. She also gets a whole lot more fun, as she rubs shoulders with the Shadow and his goons more than Mike does. She’s not scared to tackle a villain when needed and can move like lightning for a fast move. However, that’s not to say Mike can’t pull his share of the fast moves or quick thinking. Perhaps his best moment is his impromptu conjuring act where he pulls some fast tricks on the goons that are as funny as they are fast. 

Mike and Terry also have a lot to offer in the way of humour. They aren’t goofy or klutzy, but they give plenty of light-hearted moments, such as when they return a dog that’s almost as big as Terry or when Terry pulls the bull trick on the goons. Their only serious incompetence is their lame disguises, seen twice in the story, and the readers just have to laugh. You would think that as they are pursuing a master of disguise, they would pick up a few tips, but no. The Shadow could give them some lessons. 

A necklace, albeit a valuable one, sounds like a lot of trouble to kidnap and assemble an old cast for. Still, the initial plan must have been to kidnap only Adams. But the Shadow hadn’t counted on Adams’ amnesia, and the upcoming demolition of the hippodrome made him resort to desperate measures to restore Adams’ memory. How exactly he knew the location of the necklace needed to be prised out of Adams’ brain is not explained. We can only assume it was through some connection the Shadow once had at the hippodrome, perhaps at the original show. 

It is a pity the Shadow did not return. He is such a brilliant villain. He’s cunning and always has 101 tricks up his sleeve. From the looks of things, many of them come from the days when he was a performer of some sort, perhaps a knife-throwing act. He makes ingenious use of darkness, shadows, costumes and creepy old hideouts to lurk in the shadows, conceal his identity, and frighten people. He’s an amazing disguise artist, and such a slippery eel that he rivals Houdini and the Scarlet Pimpernel. There also a strong dash of the vaudeville about him, which makes him even more colourful. Any prison would have a hard time holding the Shadow, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he has escaped prison time and time again. 

Mike and Terry had the potential to return, but they didn’t, and no other detective story appeared in Jinty. This is rather puzzling. Jinty must have seen the potential for more detective stories, as the demand was there. Perhaps it was editorship changes or the Penny merger. Or it could be to do with neither Jinty nor Tammy not bothering much with detective stories and preferring girls to solve mysteries rather than private eyes. Detective stories were seen far more often in DCT titles.

The Disappearing Dolphin (1979)

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Published: Jinty 16 June 1979 to 1 September 1979 

Episodes: 12

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #4 as “The Dolphin Mystery”

Plot

Paula and her best friend Chris are on a school archaeological scuba-diving expeditition at a submerged Roman town in the Mediterranean. Raymond Gould represents the company funding the expedition and Miss Watson is the teacher leading it. However, there is some hint of locals being opposed to the expedition because they perceive it as a threat to their lifestyle. They don’t like the local dolphins either, regarding them as pests to their lobster fishing. 

At their first dive, Paula and Chris are delighted to befriend a dolphin. The dolphin starts helping the expedition, and he can somehow disappear and reappear again. They name the dolphin Dolphus and know him by a scar on his head. With Dolphus’ help they make their first find, though it’s only a piece of bicycle wheel. 

However, the girls soon discover they have an enemy as well: Mrs Ormerod-Keynes, a creepy lady who lives alone in a creepy house. She owns the land the school is built on (and half the town) and wants to shut down the expedition because it is making too much noise for her liking. Miss Watson is seriously worried about this and they hope a serious archaeological find will make Mrs Ormerod-Keynes reconsider. With Dolphus’ help they find it: Roman pottery with a dolphin emblem and sketches of what could be Roman ruins. Mrs Ormerod-Keynes is not impressed with the finds, but is surprisingly impressed when Paula stands up to her. For the moment she backs off. As they leave Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ house, Paula notices something odd about Mr Gould: he was keen to tackle Mrs Ormerod-Keynes but was not interested in the find they made or showing it to the museum curator, who thinks it looks promising. 

The other girls get fed up with the expedition, leaving Chris and Paula to tackle the third dive alone. With Dolphus’ help they find a submerged Roman road, but again Mr Gould shows no interest. Instead, he shows them a new piece of equipment he has just developed to help the expedition. It can take samples from the seabed. 

Their boatman was always difficult, and now he flatly refuses to let his boat be used for the expedition any further. He lets them use his dinghy, but now they’re on their own. Mr Gould’s gadget, along with Dolphus’ assistance, helps things along with putting markers down below and collecting samples. But then the current sweeps Chris away. Dolphus saves her, but they have to leave the samples behind. On the surface, Mr Gould is downright callous when he hears the girls lost their samples because they ran into trouble, calling it a whole day wasted. 

The museum curator is now excited about the finds the girls are making and runs a newspaper article about it. This has the unexpected effect of enraging Mrs Ormerod-Keynes (over more disturbed peace) and the locals (over their lobster fishing). However, the article has an expert on Roman remains, Professor Potts, all excited, and he wants to take a closer look at the dish. 

But the dish has mysteriously disappeared, and they can only conclude someone stole it. The girls go back to retrieve the samples, but find them gone too. They find one sample that got dropped, and then go to investigate the other boats to find any evidence about who might be behind it. They soon find evidence on one boat, but their enemy locks them in and then sails the boat out to be wrecked on the rocks. Dolphus sees them and goes for help on the shore. The locals regard Dolphus as a pest and just throw rocks at him, but Miss Watson is more perceptive and asks a fisherman to help. They rescue the girls in the nick of time. The fisherman says the boat definitely does not belong to one of them.

The girls explain what happened. Miss Watson dives to the site to check things out for herself and finds something. She won’t say who she suspects but goes to arrange a meeting with the person. The girls meet Professor Potts by themselves, who is still impressed with things even though the dish has vanished. But Miss Watson has not returned and the girls get worried. They narrow down the suspects to Mrs Ormerod-Keynes, so they head to her house to do some investigating. At a stable on her property they find a trapdoor. It leads down to an underground sea cavern.

Then Paula falls into the water and Chris can’t get her out. Dolphus turns up to keep eye on Paula, which reveals the cave connects to the open sea and how Dolphus was able to pull those disappearing tricks; the cave was a short cut. Chris goes to Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ house for help. But when they come back, there is no sign of Paula. Mrs Ormerod-Keynes says the place is her family’s old smugglers’ cave, and now it’s brought another death on her family conscience. 

Actually, Dolphus showed Paula how to get out of the cavern and back to the shore. On a cliff, Paula finds Miss Watson, who is badly injured on the ledge. Chris and Mrs Ormerod-Keynes follow and help to rescue Miss Watson. 

Miss Watson explains that Mr Gould is behind everything. He was using the expedition to investigate valuable mineral deposits behind his company’s back, but hadn’t counted on the girls making a serious archaeological find. This would attract unwanted publicity, which would threaten his scheme. When Miss Watson confronted him, she refused to go halves with him, so he pushed her off the ledge. The only evidence proving his guilt is the dolphin dish he stole, which he is going to throw back into the sea. The girls, Mrs Ormerod-Keynes’ servant Smithers and a fisherman give chase. They see Mr Gould try to throw the dish into the sea, but Dolphus retrieves it. The fisherman is so impressed at this that he’ll tell the other fishermen to leave the dolphins in peace. Mr Gould is soon rounded up.

Mrs Ormerod-Keynes is very happy to join the victory celebration. The dish will go to the British Museum, who will take over the expedition. The headmistress adopts the dolphin as the school emblem.  

Thoughts

“The Disappearing Dolphin” must have been a very popular story with readers. Probably not one of Jinty’s classics, but it has everything to make it enjoyable with any reader: adventure, intrigue, mystery, a creepy lady living in a creepy house, saboteurs, scuba-diving, the lovely Trini Tinturé artwork – always guaranteed to sell a story – and above all, an adorable dolphin. Who doesn’t love a dolphin that just has you go “awwwww”?

All right, maybe those fishermen who see dolphins as pests and even throw rocks at them – what a horrible thing to do to dolphins! We rather suspect poor Dolphus got that scar on his head from a rock thrown at him. If the fishermen learned to make friends with the dolphins as the girls did, everyone would be a whole lot more happy, for Dolphus shows that dolphins are intelligent, friendly creatures. In the end that is what happens, and we can imagine things will be a whole lot better for the fishermen as well as the dolphins.

The story moves at an effective pace: strong but no rushing, so there’s time for character and plot development. It is brilliant with creating the red herrings and the list of suspects, especially the character of Mrs Ormerod-Keynes. She’s a creepy witch type all right. One look at her sinister-looking house that stands alone on a cliff and you instantly think there’s some hidden secret in there, one she doesn’t want revealed, and it’s the real reason why she’s so opposed to the expedition. It turns out her house does hold a secret, but it relates to an entirely different mystery in the story – Dolphus’ disappearing tricks. The reason for Mrs Ormerod-Keynes and the fishermen’s opposition was what it was, and it was an adeptly handled misdirection from the clues that pointed to the real culprit – Raymond Gould. His plot was brilliant, and marooning the girls to be smashed on the rocks showed what he was capable of. His weakness was not being a good actor. He let his true attitude about the expedition filter through too much instead of maintaining a convincing act of a genuine supporter. The girls pick up on his odd behaviour but fail to realise it is a clue. 

We also get a salutary lesson in patience and persistence, both of which are essential qualities in archaeology. The other girls get fed up with the expedition too readily and turn to other school activities. By contrast, Chris and Paula persist, not only in the prospect of it possibly turning tedious but in the obstacles from the locals and their mystery enemy as well. And their efforts are well rewarded, far more than if they had quit like the other girls. They certainly have what it takes to be archaeologists.

Lights Out for Lucinda (1975-76)

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Published: Tammy 6 December 1975 to 7 February 1976

Episodes: 10 single episodes, 1 double episode

Artist: Ken Houghton

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Rich girl Lucinda Prior is a spoiled brat, and she guzzles a lot too (not to the proportions of Bessie Bunter but still telling). She has her chauffeur drive out to where her father is having a meeting, which is oddly in the middle of nowhere on the moor. She is surprised to find soldiers on the moor, who tell her they guard a site of a ghost town called Blackmarket, which has been sealed off because WW2 top secret gas manufacturing made it toxic.

Lucinda then finds her chauffeur has stranded her on the moor. He did so because he got fed up with her bratty behaviour. He didn’t give a thought that this could put her in danger, which it does when a mist rises and she gets lost, and then she falls into a river. She washes up in Blackmarket.

Lucinda is astonished to find Blackmarket inhabited by people who are still living in World War II, right down to thinking they’re living in the Blitz. Blackmarket is surrounded by guards who ensure nobody ever leaves, even to the point of opening fire on them. The Blackmarket people say nobody is allowed to leave because the work they do is top secret. They don’t listen when Lucinda tries to tell them the war has long since ended. Soon Lucinda finds she’s in a virtual madhouse with nothing but 12-hour shifts in a WW2 factory, with constant blackouts, no street lighting, stuffy rooms from the blackouts, lack of decent food, and sections of the place that do look bombed-out. It’s all women and girls around her; all the men apparently off to war. Any men present are the army guards, seen only at a distance, and the sneaky spivs (black marketeers).

Certainly a shock to the system for anyone, but Lucinda’s spoiled behaviour is making it even harder for her to handle it. She is expected to pitch in and help the war effort with factory work, and is mortified to work alongside the unwashed and dirtying her hands. But the factory forewoman, Mrs Drew, isn’t the sort to take no for an answer. Moreover, Miss Guzzler is now faced with wartime rations, which lack nutrition and taste. Her spoiled conduct has them calling her “Her Ladyship”. 

Lucinda quickly switches to playing along as best she can, saying she’s confused and suffering memory loss after London bombing, which serves well as a cover for her not having the ID card they keep demanding or ration books. But she still hasn’t broken the pattern of her old behaviour, and is also taking advantage of good-natured people who try to help her, such as her new friend Annie. When Lucinda is told to clean a factory machine and slapped for not doing it, she foists it onto another worker, Gert, but is reported for shirking. To make Mrs Drew even angrier, Gert collapsed because of it. Lucinda’s punishment is to clean the canteen grease trap. 

At this, Lucinda makes a run for it, only to find the way she came has now been sealed, which not only cuts off this means of escape but also cuts Blackmarket even further off from the outside world. Lucinda is now convinced the gas is no longer a danger, so why is the army keeping Blackmarket sealed off? 

Lucinda then encounters a spiv who offers her chocolate flogged from the army, but the chocolate’s even worse than the war rations. She takes other foodstuffs the spiv offers in exchange for her watch. She offers it to Annie and her mother for making up for eating their cheese ration. But the WPC, who have called in about Lucinda’s shirking, confiscate it, and now Lucinda’s in trouble for black marketing as well as being work shy. 

Next day, Lucinda has to clean the canteen grease trap for shirking, which is a vile job. But this time she feels guilty when Annie and her friends pitch in to help her, as she knows this cuts into their 12-hour shifts and they will have to work even longer at the factory. She also begins to sympathise with the women and girls for the life they have to lead in Blackmarket. So much so that she begins to develop the wartime spirit and starts sharing food instead of scoffing it. Lucinda’s also impressed these people can find ways to cheer themselves up despite their hardships. It makes her realise how materialistic and hedonistic her old life was, and she’s making friends for the first time in her life. As time goes on, she begins to like her new way of life because of the friends she’s making, and is surprises herself at how selfless she is becoming. For example, she takes a box of chocolates she obtained earlier from the spivs to Gert to atone for the way she treated her. Along the way she gives a lot of the chocolates to kids who are so thin from wartime rations. Only two are left for Gert, who doesn’t mind when she hears why, and Lucinda did not scoff any of them.

As time goes on, Lucinda finds herself growing confused about whether it is the seventies or WW2. She’s hearing radio newsbroadcasts about how the war’s going, and now she’s even finding herself even thinking like she’s in WW2. Is the place getting to her and having a brainwashing effect, or is something else at work? She has to keep a grip on herself. 

Lucinda is finally introduced to the person in charge of Blackmarket: Commander Hobbs. The Commander issues Lucinda with an ID card and ration cards, but also strips her of her modern clothes and puts her in factory clothes to work in the factory. The Commandant later burns Lucinda’s clothes, destroying the one proof Lucinda belatedly realised she had to show WW2 has long since ended – made in Germany clothes. Lucinda also discovers the Commander deliberately removed the label saying so, who destroys it right in front of Lucinda. 

An air raid strikes, and even the spivs help to cheer people up in the air raid shelter. But Lucinda’s the only one to notice there is no evidence of bombing afterwards and says this out loud. The Commander’s reaction to this makes Lucinda suspect the Commander faked it, but Lucinda realises she’s made the mistake of alerting the Commander to her suspicions. 

Another thing that’s odd is that Lucinda has been at the factory for some time now, but it’s not been established just what they are manufacturing. And since it can’t be for the war effort as they believe, than what or who is it for? They also have to take pills with their rations – ostensibly, vitamin pills. When Lucinda resists taking hers because she hates tablets, Mrs Drew forces her to take it. 

Hearing the spivs are smuggling their goods in from over the wire, Lucinda tries to enlist a spiv to get a message out for help, but he accuses her of being a spy. Lucinda’s resistance against this strange setup has earned her a reputation as a troublemaker and possible Hitler sympathiser. 

Suspicious, Annie takes Lucinda to the Commander, where they overhear an odd remark between the Commander and the spiv about the vitamin pills making Lucinda “safe”. Following this and a strange spell of confusion where she finds herself thinking it is WW2, Lucinda suspects the vitamin tablets are really some sort of mind-bending drug. She decides to test her theory by not taking her pill, but the Commander and Mrs Drew force her to. Lucinda soon feels the effect of the drug, and is forced to stab her hand to break its power. She finds the pain sorely needed to keep a grip on her identity, as the effects of the pill are still lingering. 

There’s another air raid alarm. Now convinced it’s all a fake, Lucinda just walks out of the air raid shelter. Sure enough, there’s no air raid out there, and she suspects the sounds are coming from a door marked “Top Secret No Admittance”. But on the other side of the door the Commander has Lucinda on CCTV and, seeing the threat she poses, presses the red button. This causes an explosion to simulate a house being bombed, and Lucinda is caught in the debris. She is rescued from the rubble and now wondering if there really was a bomb raid. But Mrs Drew makes a slip of the tongue that has her realise the truth. 

Lucinda decides to play along, pretending she has succumbed, until she figures out what to do. Despite what happened before, she again tries to get the spivs to help her. Their reaction to refusing even bribery to help her makes her realise they must be in league with the Commander. The spivs chase Lucinda to the factory, where the workers rally around Lucinda and duff up the spivs for cheating them all the time. 

The fight distracts the Commander long enough for Lucinda to slip into into her top secret room. There she discovers the elaborate and definitely not 1940s technology that’s behind the whole charade. She’s also interested in what’s in an open filing cabinet, but then the Commander and Mrs Drew return. Lucinda manages to slip out, knocking out Mrs Drew in the process, and head back to the factory. At the factory it’s payday, at WW2 rates of £2/14/6, and what the spivs have reported to the Commander about Lucinda has aroused her suspicions. 

Lucinda turns to telling the workers there is no more WW2, they’re being brainwashed by those tablets, and they should take a look behind the locked door. She persuades them to stop taking the tablets, and they are also suspicious by the Commander and Mrs Drew’s reactions. The Commander threatens to blow up the factory at this sudden insurgence and takes Lucinda away to her office. 

In her office the Commander admits to the charade. She recruited WW2 Blitz widows as it was easier to bend their minds, and threw some kids into the mix for more authenticity. The spivs (and presumably the phoney army guards) are escaped convicts. She was using the women as cheap labour, using the WW2 simulation to pay them at 1940s rates instead of modern ones (and with predecimal currency in an era that has dispensed with £sd?!). The goods the workers make are sold at modern prices, making the huge difference between the cost of production and cost of retail a huge profit. The Commander then reveals Blackmarket’s biggest customer is…Lucinda’s father, and all the wealth Lucinda used to enjoy came from the Blackmarket operation. 

Dad comes along, and it looks like he is indeed the man behind Blackmarket and the Commander is his accomplice. He offers to take Lucinda home, nobody the wiser, but Lucinda repulses him. She’s going to help her Blackmarket friends, and runs back to them, despite Dad yelling she could get him thrown in prison. 

Back at the factory, Lucinda finds the workers have recovered their true memories after a break from the pills. Now everyone rises up against the Commander. The Commander and the spivs threaten to quell the revolt with guns, but Dad soon has them rounded up with a real army. 

Dad says he was forced to act the way he did. He genuinely did not know how the Commander was providing the goods so cheaply but was growing suspicous. When the Commander found out Lucinda’s true identity, she tried to blackmail him into keeping quiet, and also get more money out of him, in exchange for Lucinda’s freedom. Dad promises he will build a proper factory on the Blackmarket site and pay the workers modern rates. But first he’s going to throw a VE-Day celebration for them all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, it was rare for Tammy to have a World War II serial. The theme was seen more frequently in Tammy’s complete stories, such as her Strange Stories. 

It’s one of Tammy’s many slave stories, but with a difference: we’re not sure what to make of it or what’s behind it, so there’s a mystery just begging to be solved. The setup being what it is, could it be people who got left behind in World War II when the town got cut off? Could Lucinda have even gone back in time to the real World War II? Is someone pulling some weird experiment? Is it someone’s crazy idea of boosting television ratings (a la Mr Grand from “Village of Fame” or “The Revenge of Edna Hack” from Tammy)? It’s certainly a very elaborate way to conduct a racket, but that’s precisely what it turns out to be. 

The racket is far more imaginative than many slave rackets we’ve seen in girls’ comics: slaves trapped in a simulation of a historical period where they can’t realise what’s going on because they’ve been drugged and everything looks like the era, and they think they’re working in a good cause. They’re totally isolated from anyone or anything able to tell them otherwise until Lucinda arrives. It certainly makes a change from seeing girls kidnapped, pulled off the streets, recruited from workhouses or pressganged in other ways to work as slave labour in factories, business operations, or rackets of various kinds. It also makes a change from punishment after punishment being piled upon the protagonist for constant resistance and failed escape attempts. Instead, the Commander tries to subdue Lucinda as she has the others – through the mind-bending drug. When that faces failure, she tries to dispose of Lucinda, and then, once she discovers Lucinda’s true identity, uses her to make herself even more of a Mrs Big of the operation. 

Having Lucinda start as an unlikeable person rather than a nice person gives her a more rounded personality and have her undergo far more character development. It must be said the panels with the bratty Lucinda are more attention-grabbing than ones of a good-natured protagonist, and this arouses our interest in the story even more. We all know Lucinda will change for the better at Blackmarket, but we are all eager to see just how the change unfolds, so we happily follow the story for this as well as unravelling the mystery of Blackmarket.

Lucinda’s initial bratty reactions to these unwashed people, being expected to dirty her hands alongside them and wartime rations are not surprising. Some problem girls are tough nuts to crack and take a while to reform. But Lucinda’s smart move to switch to playing along enables her to change fairly quickly, with little in the way of relapse, and her change for the better is realistically handled. Although Mrs Drew is clearly a villain and a hard case forewoman, we have to cheer her for ordering Lucinda the brat to clean the machinery and then the grease trap. 

Lucinda’s initial snobbishness changes to sympathy and admiration for how these people can bear up under the severe demands of wartime privations. Guilt also kicks in when she sees how others are suffering because she’s not doing her share of the work at the factory. Shock at seeing how thin the kids are from wartime diet has her change from guzzling food to sharing it. But the biggest lesson is learning the value of friendship and having friends for the first time in her life. So much so that she is willing to sacrifice the chance to go home with her father because she refuses to abandon her friends to their fate. Also adding to the change in Lucinda is the growing disorientation over where she is and keeping a grip on her identity. She knows it’s the seventies, but even before she starts the mind-bending tablets the place is getting to her and she’s beginning to think it really is World War II. It’s hard to keep up bratty behaviour against such stress. 

Lucinda is surprising even herself in the way she is changing. And the old Lucinda would be astonished at how she is now. Sharing food, willing to get her hands dirty, learning to appreciate what she took for granted, discovering the value of friendship, even stabbing herself to break the power of a mind-bending drug. The bratty Lucinda would never have dreamed of such things and only cared about luxury and the city lights. 

Subtle changes in the art reflect the changes in Lucinda’s body as well. She’s losing the weight gain from guzzling and going from being too chubby to fit into the clothes she’s ordered to slimming down to wartime proportions. Facing true hunger and restrictions on food has her learning to appreciate food, even the stodgy wartime rations. 

It’s an enormous shock to Lucinda when her own father is revealed to be the man profiting from Blackmarket. It’s the ultimate test for Lucinda’s new character: do what is right, although she’ll send her own father to prison, or take the easy way out with Dad? When Lucinda gallantly chooses the former because she won’t abandon her friends, for a moment it looks like she will go the way of Amanda Harvey, who discovers the man behind the sewing slavery racket of “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl 2) is her own father and now has to turn him in. It is a relief when Dad says he was forced into behaving the way he did and had no idea what was going on. 

Mind you, that’s assuming he was telling the truth and not covering up for himself. There was that meeting he was having way back in the first episode – right in the middle of nowhere on the moor, right where the Blackmarket racket is operating. That sure is suspicious. And it is never explained. There might be a reasonable explanation, but are we willing to give him benefit of the doubt? 

The wartime hardships these women endure arouse not only Lucinda’s sympathies but ours as well. The creative team are giving us a serious lesson on how hard life was for British people in World War II from blackouts, bombings, slaving for the war effort, food rations that are in uncertain supply, the mental stress and breakdowns from it all (“bomb happy” as they call it), and hoping against hope that VE-Day will come. The effect is telling not only on their minds but also their bodies. They’re going unwashed because washing’s difficult. It’s not even Auschwitz, yet children are thin and stunted from short food supplies and the rotten wartime diet. Yet their spirits remain unbroken, they appreciate cheeriness and sparks of luxury wherever they find it, and they find courage and strength in the wartime spirit. The story shows us that even decades after World War II ended, the wartime spirit can still resonate and its message ring for modern generations.

Granny’s Town (1973-74)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 27 October 1973 to 23 February 1974

Episodes: 18

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Pat Mills [edited to add: Mills credits the concept and direction to Gerry Finley-Day]

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Jen Young comes to the seaside town of Crone-on-Sea, also known as Granny’s Town, to help with her grandfather’s boarding house. It’s a favourite retirement place for old ladies, but so incredibly old-fashioned, with amusements, transport, accommodation and so forth that are decades out of date. Modernism seems to have bypassed it completely, and it looks like nothing ever happens there. 

However, Jen soon discovers the grannies in Granny’s Town are operating some kind of secret society/underground movement, and it’s enabling them to run the town all but in name. The movement is led by a granny known only as Her Ladyship. 

Under Her Ladyship and her granny army, the only law in town is Granny’s Law. Anyone who treats any granny rudely, crosses them in any way or interferes with them gets swiftly dealt with in mysterious ways and scared into leaving town. Innocuous granny activities such as knitting, embroidery and crochet are used as weapons to frightening effect against such people, such as sending threats or tying them up. And there are so many of them (always men) who cross the grannies. In what appears to be the first attack, which makes front page news in the local paper, a rude train conductor and businessman get tied to lamp posts with wool in a night vigilante attack, and cushions are left behind with a stitched message: “Get out of Granny’s Town”. This first attack strikes at night, but subsequent ones strike in broad daylight. Among them, an uncivil workman who won’t shut down the racket he’s making with his roadworks gets bound and and gagged and locked in a grandfather’s clock, to be near-deafened by its chiming and ordered to get out of town. A new supermarket owner threatens fierce competition against a long-standing store run by dear old Mrs Mullins; the grannies sabotage the supermarket and it soon closes down. 

There are danger signals about Granny’s Law. In one case, the grannies stake out a boorish donkey ride man on a lawn but just leave him there, with no release or keeping an eye on him. By the time Jen finds him he’s nearly dead from heatstroke. When Jen tries to investigate further, the grannies seize her, tie her to a peepshow machine, and force her head down into the machine to read a message: “Next time mind your own business, Miss Nosey Parker.” Unlike the others the grannies have forced out, that doesn’t stop Jen or drive her out. But the grannies always keep one step ahead of Jen when she tries to probe their activities.

It’s not just rudeness that brings down the wrath of the grannies. Anyone trying to modernise the old-fashioned town is also targeted. A rude developer wants to turn the movie theatre where the grannies enjoy silent movies into a bingo hall. They tie him up with film and force him to watch silents – with Charlie Chaplin as the movie projector – while tickling him to make him laugh. 

Things really heat up when the Mayor wants to enforce modernism on the town, demolish the old-style buildings, and pack off the grannies to old age homes. This brings out the granny fight military style and now they turn into a full-scale army. They send messages in code, such as using their knitting to click out out Morse, march like soldiers, organise councils of war, and rouse to Her Ladyship’s version of Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall never surrender” speech. 

Jen notices it’s not just the Mayor’s modernism the grannies are rebelling against. They’re striking against anything modern now, including football, a TV studio and cars, the last of which gets banned and the grannies take delight in the old-style horse and carriage. Things come to a head when the Mayor wants to pull down the pier and build an oil rig. The grannies’ tricks have him resigning in disgrace. After the Mayor resigns, Her Ladyship becomes Mayoress.

Now Her Ladyship is Mayoress, she swiftly becomes a cross between Queen Victoria and Hitler of the whole town. It’s unbelievably easy for her to do so. Everything just seems to turn into a police state in Granny’s Town at Her Ladyship’s command, no protest, no questions asked, no human rights issues raised. Granny’s Law shifts to making it a virtual crime to be young or modern. The grannies’ retaliation changes its focus from punishing those who are rude or abusive to grannies to those who do not support the granny rule. It begins with Her Ladyship throwing a free celebratory party and has Jen sell flags for it. Seems innocuous, but Jen discovers the party is Her Ladyship’s way of identifying anyone at the party who opposes her (by not wearing her flags) and remove them all by having them arrested – on no charge whatsoever: “It’s the orders of the new mayoress!” Jen is the only one shocked at this Gestapo-like action; the grannies just think it’s amusing and say Her Ladyship must have a very good reason for it. 

Under Her Ladyship, Granny’s Town is stripped of any remnant of modernity and reduced even further into an old-fashioned pattern that takes it right back to Victorian times. Coal and gaslights replace electricity. People are given Victorian clothes to stay warm after a power cut. Jen soon discovers the power cut is meant to be permanent. The town is mysteriously cut off from the outside world when the trains get blocked and telephone lines non-operational until after the upcoming Granny’s Day celebration. Everyone is trapped in Granny’s Town with these weird going-on. Yet nobody except Jen seems to realise something’s weird about the clock turning back to the 19th century in this town that was old-fashioned to begin with. They treat it as a joke and think what Her Ladyship is doing is just marvellous. 

Jen snoops into Her Ladyship’s house and discovers doll-sized dummies of everyone in town, with the doll of Her Ladyship rigged up as queen. She realises that is precisely how Her Ladyship intends to rule Granny’s Town. There can be no doubt it has something to do with the upcoming Granny’s Day celebration.

Jen soon discovers the dolls have another purpose – a means of terrorising people who still pose a threat to Her Ladyship. She walks into a store to get something trendy to replace her Victorian dress. The shop assistant, initially happy to help, receives the doll of himself from Her Ladyship’s house, now broken, and a note: “Greetings to you on Granny’s Day.” He screams they’re going to get him, he can’t serve Jen after all, and shuts up his shop fast. Later, Jen receives a package: it’s her own doll, now broken, and the same message. Now she really knows Her Ladyship is gunning for her. It looks like the granny retaliation, served in an underground way before, is becoming more open now the grannies are in charge. 

The elderly Misses Charity, Hope and Faith are regulars at granddad’s boarding house and have been friendly with Jen from the beginning. They are present when Jen receives the broken doll. She decides to take a chance and tell them what she’s discovered, and hope her trust is not misplaced. They give some indication they might help.

Granny’s Day is a grand celebration, with only Jen seeing the grannies lined up like an army. It is announced that Her Ladyship is going to demolish houses in certain roads as part of a new town planning scheme. Everyone, including Jen, thinks it’s just innocuous slum clearance and old houses going. Then men in terrifying oversized masks start chasing Jen. Nobody but Jen realises they are there to terrorise her; they think it’s part of the fun. 

Jen takes refuge from her pursuers in the town hall. There she finds a model of Granny’s Town, with all the dolls of the young people in town being thrown in a box and only the granny dolls on the model. Later, Jen discovers what it means and what the town planning scheme is really about: Her Ladyship has condemned all the modern buildings, just to evict the young people in them and force them to leave town, and make Crone-on-Sea the exclusive reserve of the grannies. The young people just seem to leave their homes and the town without a murmur of protest.

Misses Hope, Charity and Faith then seize Jen and say she’s coming with them. It looks like her trust in them was misplaced. She gives them the slip and disguises herself as a granny, but then it starts to rain heavily, washing off her makeup. She is discovered and taken to Her Ladyship. Her Ladyship is now on a virtual throne in the town hall. The only thing missing is the crown she wore in her model. She is now so powerful that all the grannies are under her control and doing everything she says, and she even has spies everywhere. 

She has Jen locked up to be dealt with later. While in her cell, Jen sees the rain turn into a thunderstorm. It gets so bad it weakens the sea wall, which threatens to flood the town. Misses Hope, Charity and Faith rescue Jen from her cell, saying they were secretly trying to help earlier without being detected. They realise “[Her Ladyship’s] a little silly and has to be stopped”. 

The sea wall is now cracking really badly and the water’s pouring in, but the grannies are too old and frail to do anything. There are no young people to help and no telephone to call for help, thanks to Her Ladyship. Jen starts a fire (in torrential rain!) to start a beacon that will hopefully alert the evicted people in the next town. It works, and the young and old forget their differences while they start sandbagging to stop up the wall. Jen is hit by a falling tree and knocked unconscious. 

When Jen wakes up, the town is safe and the granny rule has been dismantled. Her Ladyship fled in a hot air balloon during the storm, not to be seen again. The grannies have learned from the flooding business that they can’t live on their own and need young people. The young people are back and reconciled with the grannies. Everything is forgiven, but Jen knows she will never forget the days of Granny’s Law. 

Thoughts

In girls’ comics, one constant message has been to never underestimate a granny, whether good or evil. This message has been seen in so many stories, including Pam of Pond Hill. 

These grannies don’t just have the monopoly in Granny’s Town – they have it in the entire story itself as well. It’s always grannies in the story; grandpas never feature in Her Ladyship’s movement or on the plans for Granny’s Town. The dolls on the model are all grannies – no grandpas. In fact, the only gramps in the story is Jen’s grandfather, and even he barely appears in it. Again, it’s always a girls’ world in girls’ comics.

This story is making a particularly strong statement about ageism and Grey Power. Only it’s not doing it in a positive light, and the grannies, although they believe they are rightly striking back at abusers and threats to their old-fashioned livestyle, are not portrayed as the heroes of the story. In a humour serial, the direction the story could have taken, the granny movement would provide the readers with loads of laughs. We would all cheer the grannies on in giving these nasty types their just desserts. Instead, we all feel uneasy and creeped out about the whole thing because that’s the way Jen feels about it all. Though there is some humour to the way these nasty types are punished, it’s perverse humour and we are not laughing. There is nothing funny about being their being forced out of town by the grannies, just for one act of callousness. It’s vigilantism, and vigilantism can be very dangerous. Indeed, in several instances it does get dangerous and goes too far, such when the staked-out man nearly dies in the heat or Jen gets tied to the peepshow machine. 

Grannies are not normally people to be scared of, but you do get the creeps from these grannies and whatever they might be up to next, beginning with Her Ladyship. Her Ladyship gives Jen the chills right from the start. She never gives her name (“prefers to remain anonymous”) and never shows her face; she’s always veiled and she favours dark clothing. She’s also drawn at angles and distances that give the impression she operates at a distance and from the shadows. When she becomes Mayoress she switches from the veil to dark glasses that she never takes off, giving her a Mafia look. From the beginning to the end she never shows her face or gives her name, which makes her even more chilling. 

To make the grannies even more frightening, they remain unseen each time they strike, so we never know just who is behind the attack and it’s hard for the victim to prove anything. Panels only show groping hands reaching out to pull a trick, utensils (feather dusters, canes, hatpins, scarfs, etc) being applied to victims, the threats the grannies leave behind, and the odd clue Jen finds. Compounding the terror is that the grannies are so crafty in what they do that they always keep one step ahead and win every time. However much people really know about what’s going on, nobody does anything. After all, they are old ladies, and it’s a hard thing to rise up against old ladies. All the same, nobody has any backbone. One attack from the grannies and they run scared from town – except Jen of course. 

When the Mayor starts his campaign to modernise the town, the story goes in a vast change of direction. Up until this point it was episodic, with an unsavoury type getting a mysterious comeuppance at granny hands each week and driven out of town. Now the story structure switches to a full-scale story arc, with the grannies shifting from an underground movement to moving out more openly as an army and a political force that rises up to take over the town completely, with nobody but Jen realising. 

As the granny takeover unfolds, we wonder if Pat Mills was reading up on how Nazism came to power in Germany and why Hitler held such sway over the German people. We can definitely see the parallels. As with Hitler and Nazism, the granny movement starts off well and seems to be well intentioned; Her Ladyship does things that makes her extremely popular with her followers, just as as Hitler did with the Germans when he came to power. To her followers, Her Ladyship offers great benefits that are everything they could want and address their needs. It makes them feel like somebody, improves their lives, gives them great power, and shows everyone what Grey Power’s about. Nobody is able to touch them, and anyone who crosses them is always removed quickly, and serve them right too. As with the rise of Nazism, most people watching it all think it’s no big deal, serves good, and will benefit its subjects. At worst, the non-granny residents think it’s “a bit barmy”, but for the most part they just laugh at it. After all, these are just old biddies running the show. What harm can they do? Anyway, it’s to be expected they might be a bit dotty. As for this sudden turnback to Victorian times, aww, how quaint and nostalgic it is, the good old days are here again. Those who see the dark side of it (whether Jen or Winston Churchill) are voices crying in the wilderness. 

As with Nazi Germany, the dark side of it is how extreme it becomes and targets those who do not fit into its ideals because the person leading it all (whether Her Ladyship or Hitler) is a fanatical dictator. But nobody but an isolated few can see what a dangerous fanatic that leader is and the extremes they are capable of for their ideals, because it’s veiled as something that serves good and benefits those who follow it. Even Jen does not understand just how fanatical Her Ladyship is until she sees the models, and realises Her Ladyship is a crazy woman who is out to rule like Queen Victoria of the town and have her very own Victorian kingdom with all her granny subjects. 

The extreme led by this power-hungry fanatic is making the town exclusively granny and old-fashioned, to the exclusion of all those who are neither. Under her rule, everything in town must be how it was in the good old days, from architecture to transport. It becomes a crime to be young or modern, just as it became a crime to be non-Aryan, anti-Nazi or Jew in Nazi Germany. You don’t even have to be rude to a granny anymore to become a target of their retaliation. Simply not supporting the granny movement or not being able to do so makes you a target. Nobody but Jen seems to realise what’s going on, either because they don’t take it seriously or are blind to it. If anyone does realise it, they are likely to be too scared to speak out. Nobody puts up any fight or protest. The young people who have their perfectly sound houses condemned for no good reason just leave. There’s no picketing, demonstrations or marches on the town hall. The mod shop man just shuts up shop in terror after receiving the doll threat. The police arrest people who don’t support grannies at the party without charge or crime, because Her Ladyship ordered it. There are no human rights for anyone who isn’t a granny, but not a word is said about it. Her Ladyship has spies all over. Granny’s Town is turning into a police state right under everyone’s noses, and nobody but Jen realises. Had the storm not cut Her Ladyship’s reign short, we can just see it escalating into a reign of corruption, greed and terror for even her own subjects. Had the story been taken further, there can be little doubt Her Ladyship’s rule would have gone down this path. 

Girls’ comics have shown time and time again that when things are taken to extremes they inevitably lead to disaster and threaten self-destruction. You must learn the lessons of moderation, tolerance, and understanding that your way is not everything. This is what the grannies learn the hard way when the flood makes them realise that granny rule to the exclusion of the young is ultimately doomed to failure and destroy itself. They cannot survive on their own and need young people for things they cannot do themselves because they are too old to do it. They also need severe reminding that they were once young themselves and these young people will in turn be old people someday. Old and young must live side by side in Granny’s Town, which they do happily once Her Ladyship is gone and the emergency made them forget their differences. 

Further thoughts from Pat Mills

Pat Mills added via Twitter: “Gerry was inspired by Arsenic and Old Lace and possibly similar films. He gave me the story but because it was ‘his baby’, I did an okay job, rather than something more. Readers liked it okay, but weird mysteries were never as popular as ‘Cinderella’ stories. Great art.”

Nurse Grudge (1979)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 3 March 1979 to 12 May 1979

Episodes: 11

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Greta Jones becomes a student nurse at St Jane’s Hospital, but although she wants to be a nurse her real motive is to take revenge on the staff she believes are responsible for her doctor father’s dismissal twenty years earlier. Guiding her is her father’s old diary, which got left behind when he vanished years ago, leaving Greta to be raised in an orphanage. It is full of the names of the people who turned against him, but it never seems to explain what he was dismissed for. Greta does not know either but intends to find out from the staff. She also befriends Old Fred the hospital porter. Although Old Fred gives no sign he knows Greta’s game, he seems to take odd actions that either protect Greta or foil her tricks. 

Greta’s revenge takes the form of nasty tricks, many of which take the form of vandalism, which are pulled on whoever’s name pops up in the diary. Of course it does not take the staff long to realise a troublemaker is at work, and after one incident where Greta is spotted and nearly caught, they know it is one of the student nurses. Sister Harris, who is in charge of the student, issues a general warning for the troublemaker to desist. Greta decides to ignore this and carry on, with more caution. 

However, things get even more risky for Greta when of her fellow student nurses, Jocelyn, rumbles her after glimpsing the diary and then catching her red-handed. Greta manages to keep one step ahead of Jocelyn but can’t allay Jocelyn’s suspicions. Greta decides to set up a phony alibi during a weekend stay at Jocelyn’s: drug everyone in the household and slip back to the hospital to cause more trouble. 

Unfortunately, upon her return, the trick backfires dreadfully on Greta. It results in Jocelyn getting seriously injured and difficulties in getting help because of the vandalism Greta caused at the hospital and drugging everyone in the household. Greta is forced to do the preliminary first aid on Jocelyn herself while waiting for the ambulance. As she does so, she realises she wasn’t paying proper attention to her nurse training because she was too distracted by revenge. Only with notes from Dad’s diary is she able to provide adequate treatment. Seeing her revenge went too far, Greta decides to end it. Jocelyn, grateful to Greta, tacitly agrees to keep things quiet. Greta looks set for a fresh start.

But oh, what a time to get found out! It is now that Sister Harris discovers the diary, which got left in the ambulance by mistake, and realises Greta is the troublemaker. She marches Greta off to the hospital authorities. Greta does not deny anything and shouts it is because of how they ganged up on her father and ruined him. The staff explain that her father brought the trouble on himself. He got so carried away celebrating Greta’s birth that in a moment of carelessness, his cigar smouldered on some curtains, which started a fire that nearly burned the hospital down. His own wife perished in the blaze and he was barely able to save baby Greta. Now Greta faces expulsion, and her dream of being a nurse looks doomed. 

Then an ambulance arrives, bringing in some very sick patients from Heathrow. The ambulance men have collapsed from the illness as well. Old Fred promptly diagnoses the condition as a tropical fever that is highly contagious and could start an epidemic. He then reveals himself as…Greta’s father in disguise. 

Dad says the hospital is not equipped to deal with this particular disease, which is unknown in England but horribly contagious, and insists on dealing with it himself. Greta tearfully declares she will help as his nurse. But the staff are not listening. So Dad and Greta seize the ambulance and drive it to an embassy to get the serum for the patients. It’s a mad scramble to get there, with not only the hospital on their tail now but the police as well!

On the way, Dad explains that after his dismissal, he left England and worked in the tropics, which not only built up his expertise in tropical diseases but also rebuilt his self-esteem and confidence as a doctor after his disgrace shattered it. Eventually he returned to England but was too scared to reveal himself. So he disguised himself as Old Fred the porter at his old hospital as a form of penance. He recognised Greta, realised what she was up to, and was trying to help where possible when things were getting out of hand.


At the embassy they get the serum to help the patients and contain the potential epidemic. After this, they both feel redeemed. Impressed by their actions, the ambassador helps to sort things out with the police and St Jane’s, and offers both Greta and Dad the opportunity to help patients in the tropics. This also enables Greta to complete her training and become a nurse after all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, nursing serials were rare in Tammy. Both Tammy and Jinty used the nurse theme more often in their complete stories. Tammy did not seem to use revenge serials much either, but when she did, the best example was “The Fairground of Fear”.

Nurse Grudge had a strong influence on me when I first started reading Tammy, and it was one of my favourites. Its most lasting impact was being the first story to introduce me to the now-familiar formula in girls’ comics that whenever a protagonist is out for revenge, she so often discovers she was wrong about the whole thing and her victims were innocent. She was misguided, didn’t have all the facts, jumped to the wrong conclusion, or was deliberately fed a tissue of lies. And in these types of revenge serials there is often, but not always, a mystery is attached that needs to be solved. In other cases, the protagonist does start off with a justified motive for revenge (e.g. “The Cat Came Back…” from Suzy, “Stella Stirrer” from Tammy and “When Harry Dumped Sally” from Bunty). However, it can go too far or expose the protagonist to danger. 

In Greta’s case, it’s all because of Dad’s diary. Although Dad is suffering from guilt and shattered self-esteem, this is not reflected in his diary. Instead, it is full of Dad’s whining about how the staff went against him (without saying why or what he was dismissed for), which gave Greta the impression they all ganged up to get rid of him on some false charge. From the moment Greta could read it, she was in effect fed a tissue of lies and grew up hating St Jane’s and wanting revenge. Why Dad went this way with his diary is even more odd than the conduct of Mr Brabazon in Bunty’s “Down with St Desmond’s!”, who fed his daughter Carol-Anne a load of BS (turning her into even more of a nasty revenge-driven bunny boiler than Greta) about her mother dying of a broken heart over being wrongly expelled because he was too scared to tell her the truth. Perhaps Greta’s Dad was too ashamed to write about the details of his disgrace and could only write how everyone turned on him.

Whatever Dad was thinking, the damage was done with his diary. Because of it, Greta grew up with a grudge against the hospital, and it is reflected in her conduct. She goes about with a persistently sullen look and attitude. She wants to become a nurse, but it’s clouded by doing it for revenge, and it is affecting her full attention to her training. We later learn that because of this, Sister Harris was having doubts about Greta being a good nurse until her handling of the Jocelyn emergency convinced her otherwise. Her disguised father, although trying to protect her, does nothing to actually stop her vendetta or set her straight. In so doing, he must take even more blame for her conduct.

Greta is not all that clever with her revenge. Her tricks are just too obvious, making it all to easy for the staff to realise what’s going on and be put on high alert. There are plenty of examples of other troublemakers in girls’ comics who were so crafty and insidious at making their tricks look like mishaps or someone else’s fault (e.g. “That Girl Next Door!”, Mandy PSL #105) that nobody could even detect someone was making trouble. 

To her credit, Greta is not as evil as, say, Carol-Anne. For example, when Jocelyn begins to suspect Greta, Greta does not plot to get rid of her. By contrast, Carol-Anne destroyed a number of people who wised up to her by getting rid of them, and not an ounce of compunction about doing so. Also, Greta is has enough heart to be shocked into realising she has gone too far and decides to stop, something clearly totally beyond Carol-Anne. She also redeems herself far more than Carol-Anne, not only in her action to save the patients but in feeling remorse prior to being caught out. She also finds she has become a much happier person after she has no more grudge – a clear statement about how harbouring grudges sours your disposition and letting go of them makes you more positive.

The shock of going too far and deciding to stop and concentrate on being a nurse could have ended the story there. Instead, it’s at this point that Greta is found out, which feels so cruel. Just when she wanted a fresh start and was finding her proper course as a nurse. Still, there was the mystery to solve: what exactly led to Dad’s dismissal? In revenge serials there is often a mystery attached, and this one is no exception. However, Greta does nothing to investigate just what happened, though at one point she does express intent to find out from the staff. Sadly, it seems the only way to get caught and confront the staff was the only way to find out. And, like so many “revenge” protagonists in girls’ serials before her and since, poor Greta finds out it was all for nothing. And if she’d checked things out more, she could have avoided it altogether. 

It’s no real surprise that Fred turns out to be Dad in disguise (well, it wasn’t for me anyway). Dads (or sometimes Mums) working from the shadows in disguise have been used elsewhere, such as Mandy PSL #185 “The Traitor’s Daughter” or Jinty’s “Curtain of Silence”. But it is a bit surprising that he came back to England when he was doing so well in the tropics and away from all the disgrace in England. And at the very hospital where he disgraced himself in the first place! Still, he said it was penance, so maybe it is understandable. 

The final redemption does feel a little contrived. Why the heck would the embassy have the serum? It’s not a hospital, after all. Perhaps they were hoping the embassy would get the serum flown in or something when the hospital was neither listening to Dad nor equipped to handle the disease? Still, it is a dramatic and exciting way to not only redeem themselves but also enable them to continue their careers.

Eva’s Evil Eye (1974)

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Published: Tammy & June 22 June 1974 to 7 September 1974

Episodes: 12

Artist: Charles Morgan 22 June to 3 August 1974; John Richardson 10 August to 7 September 1974

Writer: John Wagner

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Eva Lee and her grandmother go into Clariford Camp at Wetham, a gypsy resettlement scheme run by Councillor Hawkins, where anti-Romany prejudice is rife in the community. At her new school, Eva is bullied because she is a gypsy, led by school bully Trudy Morris. The form teacher Miss Loftus is just as bullying and constantly humiliates Eva with derogatory comments about gypsies. Eva’s only friend is Mary Miller, a girl with a bad leg. 

To stop the bullying, Eva pretends to have the evil eye through a series of tricks, staged accidents, and strokes of luck. This soon has the school bullies running scared and backing off. However, Trudy is less fooled and not giving up bullying Eva that easily. She is determined to show Eva up as a fraud. Later, Eva tries the evil eye stunt on Miss Loftus to stop her bullying. The headmistress, although nicer to Eva, is not fooled about the evil eye, and warns Eva to desist. However, Trudy is still trying to have the girls gang up on her again, so Eva returns to the evil eye trick to be left in peace. 

Eva soon finds it’s not just the school bullies she has to scare off with her “evil eye”. Councillor Hawkins strips all gypsies in Clariford Camp of their vardo, something he uses to cheat them and make a profit. When his workmen try to remove gran’s horses, Eva cares them off with her evil eye pretence. Later, she pulls the same stunt on Hawkins himself (pretending to turn his workmen into mice) when he tries to take the caravan and force Eva and Gran to live in a hut.

Then Eva discovers her deception is snowballing and leading to unforeseen consequences. Mary, who has also been fooled, wants Eva to use her powers to cure her crippled leg. Trudy tries to get her parents to remove Eva from the school, and when the headmistress refuses, they organise a rally, which leads to a march on the streets all the way up to the town hall. Councillor Hawkins holds a meeting at the school. It’s very heated and angry, with only the headmistress in favour of Eva, but things turn to terror when Eva shows up. 

The stage where where Hawkins, Trudy’s parents and the school staff are sitting suddenly collapses. Only the headmistress is spared. The hall empties in panic. Even Eva is taken by surprise. The headmistress says she had been trying to get the education committee to strengthen those stage supports about umpteen times, but now Eva herself is wondering if she’s got powers, and Mary is now 100% convinced Eva does. Following this incident, Eva is suspended from school and Hawkins and the housing committee decide to evict Eva and her gran. 

Eva and Mary head to Clariford, where Hawkins is indeed trying to evict gran. However, the other gypsies decide they’ve had enough of Hawkins and the way he’s treated them. They turn on him and his cronies. Enraged, Hawkins yells for the police to throw them in jail, and it looks like he’s out to evict them all now. Mary urges Eva to use her power. When Eva wishes for someone to come to the rescue, who should show up but a cavalry of medieval knights! They drive off Hawkins with their lances.

It turns out the knights are from an upcoming pageant. They attacked Hawkins because they ran amok. The people running the pageant have heard about Eva and offer her the part of the Witch of Wetham, which will culminate in a mock burning at the stake. Eva accepts. 

Eva is still suspended from school, all the girls exept Trudy believe in her evil eye and are scared stiff of her, Trudy’s hell-bent on exposing her as a fraud and renew the bullying, but the headmistress wants to help her. She pulls some strings – school governor Sir Percival Lumsley – to get Eva back in school, but there is to be no more of that evil eye stuff. Eva, who had initially hated her school and the gypsy resettlement idea, now finds she wants to settle at the school and get a proper education, something she could not get because of her wandering life.

Unfortunately, Eva soon finds that stopping what she has started is easier said than done; The momentum’s too strong now. Mary’s now convinced Eva’s powers really have cured her of her bad leg. Even when Eva tries to tell her she doesn’t really have powers, Mary refuses to listen. Trudy is still a threat. Hawkins is going to close down the very gypsy camp he established and evict the gypsies, and this time he’s brought in real enforcements – the police. The townspeople turn up in force as well to watch the fun. 

Then the knights turn up again. One lifts his visor and there is no face underneath. All of a sudden everyone’s screaming that Eva’s evil eye has summoned ghost knights, and they run away in panic. Of course there’s a simple explanation – the suit’s too big for its wearer, the dwarfish Sir Percival. The gypsies are saved and Sir Percival is confident there will be no more trouble from Hawkins. Unfortunately, Sir Percival has reckoned without Hawkins working out the truth about the ghost knights. Now he’s hell-bent on stopping that pageant, and finds an old Puritan law forbidding such activities, which can still stop it going foward. 

At school, Trudy is equally hell-bent on destroying Eva. She and her gang torture Mary in the washroom with water soakings to force her to give up Eva. Eva, seeing the water mains are being worked on, takes advantage to make it look her evil eye has foiled the water soaking and then give Trudy one instead. 

Trudy decides on a change of tactics – pretend to be friendly to Eva while working out a way to crush her. Eva falls for the phony friendliness, despite Trudy having just made one big threat against her and Eva knows her threats are not idle. Eva thinks it must be her evil eye. Trudy learns about Eva’s role in the pageant, and decides to show her up as a fraud at the stake scene by adding something extra to the stake – real fire. Her reasoning: if Eva really has the evil eye she should be able to put the fire out. 

Hawkins comes up with the old law he’s found to ban the pageant. However, Trudy surrepticiously destroys it with a magnifying glass; she now has her own reasons for the pageant to continue. Everyone else, including Eva herself, thinks it was her powers at work there. Now Eva really believes she has the evil eye. 

At the pageant, Trudy covertly sets fire to the faggots at the stake. However, the fire rages out of control, nearly burning Eva alive and then spreading dangerously towards everyone else. Eva manages to free herself and then she and her gran start a bucket chain to put out the fire. Eva is now a heroine and confesses about the evil eye fraud to Hawkins himself. Realising how he drove Eva to it, Hawkins apologises. Gran and Eva are now free to stay, the townspeople will be friends with them, and Eva can get the good education she wants. Sir Percival emerges with Trudy, whom he caught in the act of starting the fire. This being a medieval pageant, Trudy is punished medieval style – clamped in the stocks and given a good pelting. 

Thoughts

Deception, even when it starts with the best intentions (or for reasons that are misguided or desperate), is never condoned in girls’ comics. When deception is used for such purposes, the story uses it as a vehicle for how lies can spiral out of control, leading to unforeseen consequences, and the protagonist finds herself caught in a deeper and deeper quagmire of lies and complications she finds increasingly difficult to extracate herself from gracefully.

In Eva’s case, the deception has extra-dangerous consequences. It comes ominously close to what Eva would have experienced in earlier centuries like the white witch she plays in the pageant. Or in a village where witch supersitions still persist and village idiots persecute a girl they believe to be a witch. We have seen this in serials such as “Witch!” from Bunty, “Bad Luck Barbara” from Mandy, and “Mark of the Witch!” from Jinty. The people of Wetham come so close to it, stopping just short of calling Eva a witch and going after her with torches, stones and pitchforks. They storm the streets with signs saying “Rid Us of the Evil Eye”, “Throw Out the Gipsy” and “Protect Our Children”. Protect their children from what? Do they seriously believe Eva has powers to turn their children into toads and such? It would seem so. Trudy’s parents actually fall for her claims that Eva has the evil eye and will turn her into a toad instead of telling her not to speak such nonsense. 

Under normal circumstances these people would be told they’re being hysterical, superstitious idiots and ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Instead, there are only two voices of scepticism and sanity about the whole thing. The first is the headmistress, the only member of school staff to support Eva: “I wish [Eva’d] stop this idea that she can work magic. I’m worried that it could lead her to real danger.” The headmistress turned out to be more right than she thought, when Trudy’s stunt almost gets Eva burned alive. Ironically, the second is Trudy, the school bully herself. She doesn’t fall for it one bit and is constantly trying to convince her idiotic cronies that Eva’s a fake so she can bully Eva again, something even she doesn’t dare do openly while everyone else believes in Eva’s evil eye. 

Similar to the aforementioned witch persecution serials, even Eva starts believing she has powers. So many things seem to happen that give the impression that it does. Coincidence, autosuggestion, manifestation, law of attraction, maybe even a genuine supernatural power from somewhere, call it what you will, it all adds to the momentum and the increasing snowballing. It can’t just stopped be stopped in an instant, though Eva realises it’s getting out of hand and does try to stop it. 

The Wetham people do draw the trouble upon themselves, especially Councillor Hawkins, and it’s their attitude that drives Eva into scaring them with her evil eye pretence. It’s not just the school bullies. We see it everywhere, such as the remarks in the local community and the openly derogatory remarks Miss Loftus makes in class. Kindly ones such as Mary Miller, the headmistress and Sir Percival are exceptions – until the end of course, when Eva wins everyone over by saving their lives and become a heroine. 

The only reason the gypsies are there to begin with is Hawkins’ gypsy resettlement camp. Presumably it’s for assimilation purposes, but profit comes into it as well, as we can see in how he forcibly sells the gypsies’ property for his own ends. He treats the gypsies badly, cheats them, and then, when he decides the settlement camp is no longer a good idea, he tries to close down the very camp he established and forcibly evict the gypsies. It is to his credit that he turns around after Eva saves his life and apologises for his conduct. That is more than can be said for Trudy, who feebly says the fire was only meant as a joke, to liven up the pageant. 

Ironically, despite itself, Hawkins’ resettlement scheme eventually has a positive effect on Eva and the gypsies. At the beginning of the story Eva hates the resettlement scheme and her new school and wants things to stay the way they are. But eventually she finds she wants to settle, get a good education, and cover the deficiencies in her education due to her nomad life. And in episode 2, where Mary says, “I hope you’ll be happy here, Eva”, somehow we already know that’s exactly how it’s going to turn out. 

Swimmer Slave of Mrs. Squall (1974)

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Published: Tammy & June 22 June 1974 to 31 August 1974

Episodes: 11

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day?

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Sue Briggs is a difficult, underachieving girl at school. Her parents and headmaster come down hard on her and their approach – constantly compare her unfavourably with her brother Barney (sporty) and sister Muriel (studious) – is counterproductive and only makes Sue angry. 

Sue’s anger drives her to snoop into Squall House. The Squalls were once big in the area; the housing estate (Squall Forest Housing Estate) was built on their land and Sue’s school is called Squall Forest School. Following bankruptcy and widowhood, there’s only Mrs Squall now, who lives as a recluse. 

When Sue sneaks in, she is surprised to discover a swimming pool on the Squall House property. When she attempts to rescue Mrs Squall’s dog Otto from drowning in the swimming pool, she realises she dived in while forgetting she can’t swim. Now both she and the dog need rescuing, which is what Mrs Squall does.  

Although Sue cannot swim, she did an impressive dive into the pool to save Otto. This leads to Mrs Squall and her domineering, forbidding companion, Miss Gort, giving Sue some basic swimming lessons. They become convinced Sue has the makings of a champion there, though Sue does not like swimming as much she does diving, and she is struggling with it. They offer her secret swimming and diving lessons to make her a swimming champion, give her a key for Squall House, and tell her she must not let anyone see her enter Squall House for her lessons. At first Sue is reluctant to proceed with this, but she changes her mind after another clash with her family. Now she’s going to show ‘em all by becoming a swimming champion. 

The lessons go pretty well, with Sue making more headway with diving than swimming, which is pretty much dog paddle. Still, Sue senses there is something odd about those ladies: Miss Gort is cold and relentless as a trainer, while Mrs Squall seems “so nice and kind” and totally under Miss Gort’s thumb. Mrs Squall also seems to be training in the pool, under the same relentless Miss Gort coaching. At home, Sue tries to secretly train but finds it too awkward to do so with the family around. And when she foolishly tries to train in the canal, she lands in serious trouble. As punishment, she is sent to work at her strict grandfather’s shop, and now she’s miles away from Squall House. 

However, Grandfather can tell Sue something interesting about Squall House. The Squalls went bankrupt when Mr Squall set his heart on his wife becoming a swimming champion and spent a fortune on the swimming pool and fittings, but then his business failed and he suicided. Grandfather does not know whether or not Mrs Squall became a swimming champion.

Back at Squall House, Sue is shown a film of the Commonwealth Diving Championships. Sue is surprised to see Mrs Squall competing there – and even more surprised when Mrs Squall grows upset and screams for it to stop, but Miss Gort shows her no mercy there. Sue takes fright, decides these ladies are loony and tries to make a run for it. But then she finds the ladies are even loonier than she thought. They now make her a prisoner of Squall House. The key’s gone, and the tree Sue used to climb it when she first entered has had its branches sawn off to prevent further climbing. And Otto, though ageing, is quite a guard dog. Miss Gort tells Sue she will remain at Squall House until “our purpose has been fulfilled”. They lock Sue up in a barred room with no food until she cooperates, which she eventually does until she can figure out an escape. 

The diving is still going better than the swimming, but the latter finally turns into proper swimming and Sue is enjoying it more. However, the swimming training grows more and more gruelling, with Sue being only allowed to dive as a reward for swimming well. Mrs Squall, a brilliant diver, is put through the same intense training as Sue. Soon after, Mrs Squall, who seems to be dominated by Miss Gort, offers to help Sue. She says that her nerve broke at that event, causing her to fail, but Sue has the something extra that could be their ticket to freedom.

The police come door-to-door knocking in search of Sue, and Sue is quickly locked away. She finds a secret chamber and a book full of swimming photos. She finds a photograph of what looks like a younger Miss Gort who won the 1936 freestyle championship. The name is Alice Bradshaw. Sue wonders if Alice Bradshaw is Miss Gort. (Hang on, it’s Miss Gort, not Mrs Gort – what’s going on here?) 

Miss Gort tears up the photo and tells Sue she will be entered in a competition on Saturday, which gives Sue hope of escape. However, at the competition Sue finds she has been entered under the name Alice Bradshaw to elude the police search. Sue agrees to the competition when Mrs Squall says not doing so will destroy hope of her being free. Sue wins second place, which boosts her confidence.  

Afterwards the ladies show Sue a faked newspaper report to trick Sue into thinking her parents think her disappearance is one of her tricks and they intend to send her away. This eliminates all thought of escape drives Sue further into their clutches in the mistaken belief they offer her a glorious future as a champion, whereas her family think she’s good for nothing.

Sue decides to sneak into the secret chamber for more clues but gets locked in. Then Miss Gort and Mrs Squall enter, with the latter appearing to be in a hypnotic state. Miss Gort opens up a cabinet full of swimming trophies, her past triumphs, but says Mrs Squall failed to continue the success, so they are carrying on with Sue Briggs. Sue manages to slip out, taking the album with her. It confirms Alice Bradshaw/Miss Gort was a former swimming champion. Sue realises something must have gone wrong afterwards, hence the reclusiveness. Miss Gort is trying to regain her triumphs through Mrs Squall, which failed. Now Miss Gort is doing it with Sue, through some hypnotic power she has. Sue now suspects Miss Gort has the same power over her when she trains her, and there is something inhuman about her, something Sue can’t put her finger on.

Sue is entered in another event, and with Miss Gort staring at her all the time with that weird power, she knows she can’t lose. Then a reporter distracts Miss Gort, and Sue suddenly loses form and begins to lose. Miss Gort realises this and puts full power on her gaze, and suddenly Sue feels the strength again, but does not recover enough to win. After a row between Miss Gort and Mrs Squall over the distraction, Sue is convinced Miss Gort has hypnotic powers. On the way back, Sue catches a glimpse of her house, and although still fooled by the fake newspaper report, realises she misses her family very badly.

Meanwhile, the reporter is still sniffing. He gathers details on the Squalls, which are pretty what Sue’s grandfather has already said, but now we learn Mr Squall was a wealthy inventor and suicided because his wife failed to become the champion he wanted her to be. And that reporter wants to know where Miss Gort fits in. At Sue’s next event, which she wins, the reporter follows to find where they keep her. 

The reporter manages to sneak into Squall House. Sue quickly tells him what’s going on and to alert her family, but then Otto drives him off. One night the reporter returns to help Sue escape, but Mrs Squall attempts to drown him in the swimming pool. Sue saves the reporter and goes after Mrs Squall. The trail leads Sue to the truth about Miss Gort and why she’s so inhuman. The fact is, she’s not human at all – she’s a robot! 

Mrs Squall then reveals herself to be the one behind the swimmer slave gig the whole time, through the robot. She was only acting the part of helpless hypnotised victim in Miss Gort’s power and being “fellow prisoner” to Sue. She explains that she failed as a swimming champion because she did not train hard enough, leading to ruin for the family and her husband’s suicide. Before he died, Mr Squall built the robot as a last hope, to help Mrs Squall find someone to train as a champion and succeed where she had failed. All that stuff Sue found in the secret room about Miss Gort/Alice Bradshaw was planted there to mislead her (but Mrs Squall never explains who Alice Bradshaw never was).  

The robot hypnotises Sue into becoming a brilliant swimmer for the final medley, with the starting gun acting as the trigger for the hypnotic suggestion. Sue knows it’s cheating but has no control over the phenomenal way she is swimming now. 

Then the reporter escapes, appears at the pool, and gets into a fight with Mrs Squall, who opens fire on him. This shot confuses Sue, causing the hypnotic power to break and Sue to lose the medley. The shot hits the robot, causing it to malfunction and turn on Mrs Squall; they both fall into the swimming pool and the robot short-circuits. Mrs Squall is taken into mental care. Sue is happily reunited with her family, but is still grateful for the start Mrs Squall gave her in becoming a swimming champion.

Thoughts

As with other problem girl serials (such as “Black Sheep of the Bartons” and “Jackie’s Two Lives” (Jinty) and “Queen Rider” (Tammy)), Sue is pretty much the orchestrator of her own problems with her family and school. After all, she does nothing to make her family proud of her. In such serials, the protagonist fails to realise her bad attitude and wrong way of thinking were at the root of her problems. Once she wakes up and changes her attitude, things become far happier for her and those around her. We can imagine the same happened with Sue and her family once she returned home with new confidence and hugging her new ambition to be a champion. 

But from the beginning, Sue is also a sympathetic character. We can see how hard her family is on her and they are taking the wrong approach in comparing her to her brother and sister all the time. They’re not trying to find out what the problem is, or maybe try a different approach. Sue thought she was good for nothing and could not be good at anything, and this was reflected in her conduct. The fact that they never trusted her with a key – Miss Gort and Mrs Squall were the first to do so – says a lot, and Sue really responds to someone showing trust in her for once. It’s also one reason why Miss Gort and Mrs Squall were so successful in trapping Sue – they were the reversal of her family in the way they treated her: trust, praise, and seeing the potential of a champion in her and offering to bring it out, while her family tells her she’s a “no-good”. 

Stories where creepy, reclusive ladies take advantage of girls dissatisfied with their home life to lure them away, make them captive through mind games and other means, and use them for their own purpose have been seen elsewhere in girls’ comics. Examples include “Jackie’s Two Lives” and “The Gypsy Gymnast” (Tammy). As these examples illustrate, the lure can be built up over time until it’s ready to snare the girl, but in this case Sue is caught and trapped by episode three. From there, for the rest of the story, rather than focusing on escape it’s more about unravelling the mystery about what’s going on while doing what she’s told. 

Although the training is gruelling and even frightening, there are advantages that Sue thrives on (increasing strength, confidence and faith in herself), which gives her reasons to continue with it – and also to stay in the power of her captors. She is going from non-swimmer to the makings of a champion and has finally found something she is good at. She feels confidence she has never felt before and she finally feels she’s good for something. From what we glean, this is the reason why Sue was such a problem girl. She had no vocation in life until Mrs Squall and Miss Gort help her find it, in contrast to her family’s constant criticism and comparing her to her more successful siblings. Even while the ladies hold her captive they still give her what she never got from her family: boost her confidence, make her feel appreciated, and also make her feel like a somebody. 

Miss Gort’s training methods are not as over the top as in some stories. In “The Chain Gang Champions” (Tammy), for example, the Duchess’s notoriously extreme methods of training girls as athletes include forcing them to complete runs in ever-decreasing time limits while holding a man hostage to be fed to a hungry bear! All the same, it’s not only intense to the point of being inhuman; there’s something really weird about it that makes it frightening and creepy. It’s made even creepier by the fact that the hypnosis is not revealed all at once. Instead, it’s gradually revealed in stages, starting with those frightening eyes Miss Gort has that Sue suddenly notices. Eventually Sue begins to draw the right conclusions. 

Except that they turn out not to be the right conclusions at all. The truth is totally awry from what Sue and the reader have been led to believe. We’re all built up to think that Miss Gort is using her dominant personality and additional asset of hypnotic ability to make Mrs Squall every much her prisoner and puppet as Sue is. It’s a setup we’ve seen elsewhere in serials such as “Secret Ballet of the Steppes” and “Vision of Vanity Fayre” in Tammy. But in fact it’s in fact Miss Gort who is the puppet (a robot) and Mrs Squall is the real instigator. She had only been acting the part of a hapless victim in the grip of a tyrant, fooling Sue the whole time, and the clues Sue found the house were red herrings planted to mislead her. Woah, now that is a twist to take us totally by surprise! 

The twist would work better if we are told just who Alice Bradshaw really was and how she fits into the whole thing, but that’s never explained. The only conclusion is that Alice Bradshaw was the mother of either Mr or Mrs Squall and Mr Squall built the robot in her likeness. It would also explain why Mr Squall was so set on his wife becoming a swimming champion. 

Sadly, it was Mr Squall being determined his wife should become a swimming champion that led to the whole mess. Such obsession always spells trouble in girls’ comics, but in this case it’s even worse. It went tragically wrong, drove Mr Squall to suicide (now that’s a strong thing to have in a girls’ comic!), and turned Mrs Squall’s mind. She must have also felt guilty over her husband’s death, blaming herself for his suicide because she failed as a champion swimmer. As she’s led away by police, Sue feels sorry for her, and so do we. If Sue does become a swimming/diving champion, and we sincerely hope she does, it would go a long way towards peace for Mrs Squall. 

The Clock and Cluny Jones (1973)

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Published: Tammy 27 January 1973 to 14 April 1973

Episodes: 12

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Bill Harrington

Translations/reprints: Misty annual 1985 as “Grandfather’s Clock”

Plot

Cluny Jones is a bully. She is the terror of the school where she does not pull her weight and cheats and cribs at classwork and games. Her justification for her conduct is that life is tough and you have to be tough to get what you want, something her orphaning has made her believe in. Also part of the problem is that she is indulged too much by her kind Aunt Mabel, whom she takes advantage of.

An inheritance comes for Cluny from her late grandfather in Scotland. Cluny is chagrined to see it is not money but a grandfather clock he made himself, and she has a good mind to sell it. However, when Cluny opens the clock in search of any hidden money, she soon finds out it is no ordinary grandfather clock. When it strikes thirteen, she suddenly feels as if she’s falling into a void inside the clock. Then she finds everything is different somehow and everyone she knows behaves the opposite of how they were before – including herself. Aunt Mabel is now an abusive tyrant and more rough in appearance. Cluny is forced to go to school in tatty uniform, and her toughness is gone; instead, she is timid. She is also brilliant, the “swot” of the school. The pupils, whom she bullied before, get so jealous at her winning the Craigavon scholarship they start beating her up. Cluny finds herself terrified of this instead of duffing them up as she would back home, and she wonders why the heck she can’t stand up to them.

Thirteen strikes again, Cluny falls back into the void, and then finds everything has gone back to normal. But she’s at school, not in front of her grandfather’s clock where it all started, and realises something is weird about that clock. Cluny checks inside it and finds a message. It reads: “If money you require, step into the mire, if real riches you esteem, slip into my timely stream. The bridge of time is my thirteenth chime.” Cluny can’t figure it out.

After this bizarre experience, you would expect Cluny to steer well clear of that clock and try to get rid of it fast. But greed has taken over and is drawing Cluny back to the clock and the mystery about it. She still hopes there is a fortune inside the clock and thinks the note is promising it. She wonders if there is a connection with that other existence. Fuelled by greed, Cluny forces the clock to strike thirteen. She is back in the other reality, this time with everything flashing past at lightning speed. And the abuse is even worse: Aunt Mabel throws crockery at her and then says she’ll pay for those broken dishes, and at school the bullies attack her with such force they nearly drown her, but the thirteenth chime saves her in time. Inside the clock she finds another rhyming message, and this time she understands it: she rushed time by forcing the clock to strike thirteen and in future please wait for thirteen to strike. 

Greed over what “real riches” seems to promise draws Cluny back to the clock. She wants to figure out “timely stream” and decides to seek the “genius” she is in the other universe so she can figure it out at school. But the thirteenth chime has stopped. Cluny soon finds out why: Aunt Mabel sent it for an overhaul, thinking the thirteenth chime must mean it is time to get the clock fixed. Worse, she has sent it to a crooked firm, Manson’s, who swindle Cluny with another clock when she tries to get the clock back. She has to do a bit of breaking and entering to do it. She finds the clock just as it strikes thirteen, and she’s off again. In the other reality she finds Manson’s even worse: it’s a clock factory, and Mr Manson is even more cruel and coarse-looking. Cluny soon finds the abusive Aunt Mabel yanked her out of school to slave in the factory. She is sacked for cutting her finger and bleeding all over the goods. Aunt Mabel kicks her out to find another job, and she’s not to come back until she’s got one. 

Instead, Cluny heads to school in search of the science teacher, Miss Jarvis, to help her figure things out. With Miss Jarvis’ help, Cluny soon realises she is stepping in and out of a parallel timestream, one of many that run concurrent with her own. 

Cluny’s search for a job is fruitless, leaving her stuck on the streets because Aunt Mabel said not to come back until she had a job. Then, when Aunt Mabel catches up she’s all sweetness and light – and neat as a pin. Cluny soon finds out why: in this timestream grandfather is still alive and he’s paying a visit. Aunt is sucking up to him in the hopes of money from his will, as he’s filthy rich. It’s the cruel Aunt Mabel’s turn to be put out when grandfather’s present for Cluny is…the grandfather clock. 

Cluny now realises the notes she got in the grandfather clock were in grandfather’s writing, but Aunt Mabel takes them from her before she can figure them out further. Grandfather is very kind and takes Cluny out on treats, but he makes it clear he knows what she’s like in her own timestream, and if she’s ever like that again – remember him. Before he leaves, he tells Cluny that if things are getting too much she has no need to wait for the thirteenth chime – just touch the pendulum lightly and wish to go the time and place she wants. Cluny can now come and go as she pleases with the two timestreams. 

But the nasty Aunt Mabel sells the clock, leaving Cluny stranded in the harsh timestream. She fits Cluny up with a job at the Saracen Hotel, which means more drudgery with another cruel employer, Mr Frinton. On the plus side, it turns out to be where Aunt Mabel sold the clock. Unfortunately Cluny does not use the pendulum correctly and finds herself still stuck in the harsh timestream. 

Worse, she is arrested for attempted theft of the clock and assault on Mr Frinton. She soon finds that in this timestream there is no separate legal system for minors – “thank goodness” says the judge. Cluny is tried in an adult court and sentenced to an adult prison for eighteen months. The prison is as harsh as everything else in this world, where the guards and inmates alike bully Cluny. Now Cluny is doubly trapped by the timestream, with no hope of return unless she can escape from the prison and back to the clock, which looks hopeless. 

Then escape comes unexpectedly. Cluny’s two bully cellmates break out, and when Cluny discovers this, they drag her along at knifepoint, intending to kill her when they get the chance. But things go wrong with the getaway. When the police give chase, their getaway van goes over a cliff. It looks like the two convict women came a cropper below. Cluny is thrown clear, and it is not long before she realises the police are hunting for her. 

Fortunately Cluny ended up where grandfather lives and he helps her. He indeed knows what she is like in the other universe; this was all to teach her a lesson, and show her how horrible things can be if everyone was like her instead of being kinder to one another. Cluny promises to be different if she can return to her own timestream. 

Grandfather starts to build a second timestream clock to return Cluny to her timestream, but just as he finishes it, a policeman arrives in search of Cluny. Grandfather hypnotises the policeman into sleep, but the interruption he caused sends them off course, causing them to fail to change timestreams. Fortunately the clock sent them to Saracen Hotel, where the first timestream clock is. They are also facing down a very angry Mr Frinton. Grandfather keeps Mr Frinton hypnotised while Cluny uses the clock to return to her timestream. Grandfather stays behind, unable to go with Cluny, his fate uncertain, saying he can always make another clock. 

Back home, Cluny now realises the “riches” the note was on about meant the riches that come from being kind, and that is the course she will pursue from now on. The clock is back as well, and now Cluny wants to keep it. There is some hint from the clock suggesting that grandfather is all right in the other timestream.

Thoughts

“The Clock and Cluny Jones” holds the distinction of being Tammy’s first science fiction story, a genre she used less often than Jinty in her serials, but it became more frequent after Misty and Jinty merged with her. The science fiction elements have been very deftly combined with something the early Tammy was very well known for: dark stories laden with cruelty that is increasingly piled up against ill-used heroines, especially orphans, who remain unbroken by it all but are desperate to find some way to escape their abusive existence and find happiness. 

Tammy turns one of her own favourite premises right on its head by starting off this orphan as the opposite of how she is usually set up in the Tammy universe. Instead of being a cruelly abused orphan suffering at the hands of abusive guardians (as Bella Barlow was) and others at school and work, she is a tough, bullying orphan with a kind guardian, and she is the one who makes everyone else’s lives a misery. The irony is, when Cluny is flung into the other timestream, it is the other timestream that is more like the setup that Tammy used for her ill-used orphans: cruel guardians, school bullies, slave-driving employers, everything against the heroine, and any scrap of kindness they find (such as grandfather) is an oasis for them instead of taking it for granted (such as the kind Aunt Mabel) in Cluny’s own timestream. In the harsh timestream, Cluny herself is more like the ill-used victim heroine frequently seen in the early Tammy. This is not only in what she endures but also because her personality, rendered the opposite of what it was before, makes her unable to fight back as she would in her own timestream. 

Parallel worlds are commonly used in girls’ serials for “what if?” (The Sentinels from Misty) or dystopias based on out-of-hand extremes (Worlds Apart from Jinty). In this case we have a parallel world ruled by an extreme – extreme bullying. It is so extreme that it often turns ugly, coming close to murder more than once for Cluny in the story. It is a stroke of genius to use a parallel reality where virtually everyone is a bully, with rare exceptions such as grandfather and Miss Jarvis, to show Cluny the bully how terrible the consequences of bullying can be if everyone followed her philosophy and behaved tough to get what they want. The result is harsh, brutal, bullying people who shape a world that follows a very dark path. Nowhere is it more frightening than when Cluny falls foul of its legal system. Kids are treated the same as adults, no separate facilities for them, and everything, from the police to the prison, is brutal, bullying and violent. There are even “nasty penalties” for witchcraft, suggesting the brutality of this reality has made it backward in many ways. Grandfather is threatened with these penalties when a policeman sees the clock paraphernalia and stacks of books in his house, making us hope all the more he managed to get away. Perhaps he used another clock to jump into yet another timestream.

It is most unusual for a bully to be used for a redemption serial. More often girls’ comics went for spoiled brats, snobs, selfish girls and bigheads to put through the mill to transform them into better people, not protagonists who are downright nasty. But using a bully for a redemption story is the case here, which makes a very nice change. Cluny isn’t quite as evil as some bullies we’ve seen in girls’ comics (The Honourable S.J. and Nancy Norden from “Be Nice to Nancy!” from Judy for example), and much of her bullying stems from the wrong attitude, which she needs to learn is wrong. But her bullying needs to be sorted out and straight away we want her to get her comeuppance. It takes a while and a full stranding in the bully timestream for the message to sink in, though. Her initial trips to the timestream do not make her stop to think about her own bullying and she is still doing it at school.

Bullies were used more as antagonists to make life hell for the protagonist until their expected comeuppance at the very end. It’s good to see a bully get her comeuppance through a redemption story for once, and it’s a real twist to do so by turning her into the bully victim. And it begins with stripping Cluny of everything that made her a bully and taking everything for granted to make her appreciate you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – by giving her the total opposite in another reality. 

The pace of the story is really cracking and hard-hitting. For example, Cluny’s time in the prison does not last any more than it needs to. In just one episode Cluny is sent there and left shivering with cold because her cellmates have stolen her blankets; in the very next episode she escapes with those same cellmates. It’s also very frightening and eerie, and it’s disturbing to see Cluny drawn to the harsh timestream as much as she is scared of it because of her greed and mistaken belief that riches await her somewhere if she pursues that timestream. But we can tell straight away what that note about “real riches” means and Cluny’s letting herself in for big trouble by pursuing it instead of keeping away from that clock and its thirteenth chime. Once she learns her lesson we will not be at all surprised if the clock no longer strikes thirteen.

Tammy’s first science fiction story is definitely one of her very best serials, and it’s beautifully rendered by the ever-popular John Armstrong artwork. There is so much in it to make it a firm favourite with readers. It is not only fast-paced, exciting, intriguing and frightening; in many ways it is also atypical of girls’ serials, especially in having a bully being the one to go through the redemption process. 

Sit It Out, Sheri (1976)

Sample Images

Published: 14 February 1976 to 24 April 1976                      

Episodes: 11

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

We now complete our look at “possession” stories with this 1976 story from Tammy. 

Plot

Sheri Soames is a shy, scruffy girl. She has no confidence and no idea how to stand up for herself, and always sits things out because of it. She is bullied at home by her stepmother, who steals all the money Sheri earns for bingo, takes advantage of her father’s absence to treat her as a drudge, and never bothers with the rent; at school she is bullied by Kay Thorpe (later spelled Thorp in the story); and also by Mr Dobbs at the second-hand shop where she works. Her only friend at school is Mary. Sheri auditions for the role of Marie Antoinette in the school play but fails because of her lack of confidence. 

At Mr Dobbs’ shop, Sheri is allowed to have a chair said to be a Louis XIV chair once owned by Marie Antoinette herself but a dealer, Mr Crispin, said was fake. It has a strange effect on her. After periods of sitting in it she feels wonderfully refreshed and confident. She takes more pride in her appearance and sheds her ghastly specs. She starts standing up for herself, albeit in an oddly pompous, old-fashioned manner that leads to arrogance at times, which sometimes leads to trouble, and has no problems re-auditioning Marie Antoinette for the school play (to Kay’s chagrin). But the effects don’t seem to last, causing Sheri to fall back to her old self just as she makes strides with her new confidence and going back to the specs and being bullied by Kay and her stepmother. 

Sheri also begins to have strange visions of voices out for her blood and people out to kill her. As the visions get stronger, they take the form of ghoulish-faced, bloodthirsty French revolutionary lynch mobs and even the guillotine. These visions always seem to appear as Sheri’s confidence fades, as if they were an after-effect. 

As the confidence-building does not seem to last, Sheri sits in the chair more and more to get more of that confidence, and gives her bully stepmother a lot of shocks with it, which leave stepmother frightened and sweating. Her schoolwork improves, particularly in regard to the French Revolution. But her arrogance is growing too; she acts like a haughty queen who thinks everyone and everything is beneath her, such as flinging her lines away: “Pah! What does a person of my consequence want with such piffling trifles!” She does not seem to get into any trouble over not doing the lines; instead, the teacher praises her for her improved classwork. 

Sheri discovers her stepmother has sold her chair to Mr Crispin. At this, she now realises the chair is genuine and the old twister is trying to get his hands on it for a fraction of its value. Her brimming confidence from the pickup enables her to foil the pickup and retain the chair, but is warned Mr Crispin will be back. After an evening of forced drudgery from stepmother as her confidence ebbs again, then giving her money-grabbing stepmother the shock of her life after sitting all night in the chair – “You are a thieving knave who steals money and sells things that do not belong to you” – she sends Mr Crispin packing, with his money returned. However, Mr Crispin isn’t giving up on the chair that easily.

At school, Sheri’s haughtiness grows worse. She demands to know where Mary’s curtsey is, and when she is outraged to find her name not on the list for the hockey team, Kay challenges her to a hockey test. Kay is stunned when Sheri does brilliantly, and when Kay tries to nobble her, she attacks with Kay her stick. Then the nightmares return. This time, Mary appears as a friend who tries to pull her to safety from the mob, but they throw her into prison. When she comes to, she is in the team and is expected to perform as she did, but she is back to her scared, useless self. After this, Mary, who had been sceptical about Sheri’s story about the chair, becomes more convinced and wants to help.

Sheri finds herself again under threat of losing her chair, this time from bailiffs who confiscate all the furniture to cover stepmother’s non-payment of rent. Sheri is homeless after this and is now staying at Mary’s. They learn the chair is in the distraint pound. Mary manages to sneak the keys for the distraint pound from her father, but it’s the wrong set and they have to break in to take back the chair. Inside they are caught by a policeman, who places Sheri in the chair, which has Sheri soon behaving in the haughty manner towards the surprised policeman and she demands the return of her chair. She even has the policeman carry it out for her. They run for it with the chair and hide it in a barn. The visions return, this time showing Sheri crying out from behind bars: “Let me out, I am your queen!”, but her cries fall on deaf ears with the French revolutionaries, who remain out for her blood.

At the hockey match, Sheri’s haughty behaviour reaches heights like never before. She gets so angry at the “insolence” that she lashes out at the captain of the opposing team. The opposing team turns ugly at this, which triggers more nightmares of the French revolutionaries. Sheri locks herself in the pavilion, suffering nightmares of them coming into her cell, tying her hands behind her and leading her out while screaming “Death! Death!” The sports mistress is not impressed and sends Sheri home in disgrace, to face the headmistress on Monday. Mary suggests Sheri tell the headmistress what’s going on, but they have to collect some evidence about the chair. Which means asking Messrs Dobbs and Crispin some questions. 

On the way, they discover stepmother convincing the policeman from the distraint pound that Sheri is out of control and wants her taken into care. And after what happened at school, Sheri is terrified she will be locked up as a delinquent or something. Her only hope is the chair again and get the confidence to talk her way out of things as usual. They head back to the barn but find the chair gone. Moreover, they don’t realise Kay is eavesdropping and now she is tailing them.

They go to question Mr Dobbs. He says he lost the records of the chair’s purchase in the Blitz, but he did buy it on a trip to France. At Mr Crispin’s they find a matching chair and learn Sheri’s chair and this one are a valuable pair of chairs that belonged to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who used them the day before the wrathful Paris mob struck. The chairs need to be together to be of value, which explains why Mr Crispin is so determined to get Sheri’s chair. They then discover Mr Crispin has called the police but manage to give the police the slip.

Back at the farm they discover the chair in a field with a scarecrow in it. Sheri gets a fright when the scarecrow’s head falls off – she is reminded of the ultimate fate of Marie Antoinette. Then the police catch up and lead the girls away. Kay tries to take the chair, but the police bring the chair to the station with the girls. 

At the police station they are surprised to find Mr Soames, Sheri’s father, there too. He retired from the sea, lost track of Sheri, but has now caught up and heard about stepmother (and now we’re wondering why the heck he married her in the first place). He says he now works at a detective agency and a very strange client had him track down the chair, which he says genuinely belonged to Marie Antoinette. He believes there is something spooky about the chair and it is giving Sheri terrible nightmares. He has her sit in the chair again, saying it is the only way to see the nightmares through. Sheri now realises she becomes Marie Antoinette in the visions, and of course the latest vision is Sheri/Antoinette meeting her appointment with Madame La Guillotine. Everyone gets a fright when Sheri’s head drops back as the blade falls in the vision, but it’s just a faint.

The nightmare is not finished. A soothsayer appears and leads Sheri/Antoinette away from the guillotine, saying it happened again and none of it would have if she had listened to him. The soothsayer tried to warn Marie Antoinette that the way she treated her subjects would cost her her head if she did not change her ways and treat them differently. When she refused to listen he put a spell on her chair in the (vain) hope the visions she would see would make her see sense before it was too late. The spell was not supposed to affect anyone but Antoinette, but it did affect Sheri because of her desire to have the role of Marie Antoinette in the school play. 

Things are sorted out at school, Sheri gets the role of Marie Antoinette, and tells a rather confused Kay about her new confidence and no more pushing around from her. The chair is restored, cleaned up and put on display in a case where it can’t affect anyone else. Sheri is now sure of permanent confidence and no more sitting out for her. The client – whom Sheri recognises as the soothsayer – rewards Sheri and her father with money to start a happy new life. 

Thoughts

In more recent times, historians (e.g. Alison Weir) have seriously revised the image of Marie Antoinette who said “let them eat cake” (which never comes up in the story) and single-handedly started the French Revolution with the haughty, callous way in which she treated her subjects. She was in fact a much kinder person than that. However, this story was written before that revisionism, and the image of Marie Antoinette paying the price for her arrogance with her throne and life was how she tended to appear in girls’ comics (Misty’s “One Last Wish” for example). 

Girls’ comics were never good at historical accuracy either, but things go a bit far when Mr Soames says, “[Marie Antoinette] was just a girl, nor much older than you. What did she know about being a queen?” Come on, Antoinette was 47 when she died, a grown woman with children! It’s also funny we never see Antoinette’s husband in these visions although the chair was one of a pair that belonged to both of them. It’s a girls’ world in girls’ comics all right, regardless of setting, whether it’s alien planets, lost civilisations, visions or whatever.

Now these quibbles have been said, we move on to how the story handles the “possession” theme. It certainly is stranger than possession/evil influence stories usually are because the force is not inherently evil. It is just the personality of an unsavoury person that, unlike other “evil influence” serials such as “Portrait of Doreen Gray”, probably does not even intend to be a bad influence on the protagonist. It is not quite clear whether Sheri is being possessed by the spirit of Marie Antoinette or if her personality is just influencing Sheri’s. It is also unusual for the actual power behind it all not to be evil either. Instead, it was intended to change Marie Antoinette for the better before it was too late for her. Sheri just got caught up in it when she wasn’t supposed to be. In a different serial it would be a redemption story, only in Antoinette’s case it failed. 

As with Doreen Gray, Sheri’s confidence turns to dangerous arrogance, which gets her into trouble. But that is not the main concern that should put her off using the chair. It is the terrible price she pays afterwards – the ever-increasing nightmares, which were meant to be the warnings for Antoinette to change her ways but are now scaring the living daylights out of Sheri. This makes the story even more frightening than the more usual ominous warnings that the object the protagonist is using to increase her confidence is dangerous. Because of these nightmares, Sheri develops a love/hate relationship with the chair, fearing it as much as she feels she needs it. 

There is also great humour in the way Sheri stands up for herself Antoinette-style when she’s under the influence. Readers must have been laughing out loud when the horrible stepmother received lines such as: “Out, peasant! How dare you enter my private room without permission! Back to your pots and pans!” and “How dare you burst in here! Get out and knock if you want to see me! Do it again and you’ll lose your head!” Or when the policeman was told: “Insolence! Am I not above the law?” and “You are getting above your station!”

It is so distressing for Sheri that the confidence just does not seem to last and she is back to her old self. In the end, what made Sheri’s own confidence stick was realising she could be confident if she wanted to, and if you want things to be different you have to work at it, not sit back and just hope they will be different. “It’s all a case of mental attitude,” she tells Kay. And this was the lesson she learned from the chair. 

Portrait of Doreen Gray (1983)

Sample images

Published: Tammy 21 May 1983 to 6 August 1983

Episodes: 12

Artist: Tony Coleman (credited as George Anthony)

Writer: Charles Herring

Translations/reprints: None known

Continuing our possession/evil influence serial theme, we take a look at what can happen when possession/evil influence strikes a girl who wants to improve her lot or strengthen her character. Conversely, the possession/evil influence actually helps the girl to do just that – well, at least at first. But its nature being what it is, it is inevitable that the girl eventually senses the dark side of how she is changing. 

Plot

Doreen Gray is the butt of teasing at school because she is a very shy girl. The worst of the bullies is Jane Quarles. Jane secretly knows Doreen can be more than what she is in the school sports teams if her shyness didn’t get the way, but of course she doesn’t want Doreen to step out of the shadows.

One day, Jane and her gang tease Doreen about being too shy to have a birthday party, and the teasing culminates in their chasing Doreen across the school pool. It backfires when Doreen unwittingly swims so well to get away from them that swimming team captain, Ann offers her a trial for the swimming team, but it’s too much for Doreen’s shyness to take.

Doreen’s father is an antique dealer who could be richer than he is, except Mr Quarles (Jane’s father) is always picking his brains for free advice on the best antiques to buy, which is how he has grown so wealthy. Doreen can see how Mr Quarles is using Dad, shy though she is, but Dad is too good-natured to realise this or how Mr Quarles is cheating him out of antiques that could benefit him instead. 

One day Mr Gray brings home a Victorian portrait that has been painted over. He bought it for the value of the frame. Then the black paint begins to flake, showing another portrait underneath, and Dad removes the paint altogether. They are surprised to find the portrait is of a girl who is a dead ringer for Doreen. She also looks a girl who always got her own way and anything she wanted. As Doreen gazes at it, she suddenly surprises her father when she demands the portrait for her birthday – which she has now dubbed “The Portrait of Doreen Gray” – and a party to celebrate. 

Doreen notices odd things, such as a whisper in her ear saying “You can get what you want, too!”, and when Jane and Carole challenge Doreen at the swimming trial, she sees the portrait staring up at her from the water, which spurs her to win the trial and a place in the team. Oddest of all, the girl’s face in the portrait seems to be able to change expressions, which seems to have an effect on Doreen. She is growing more confident to the point of being demanding.

Dad notices unsettling changes in Doreen. One is pretending to the other girls that she sat for the portrait herself. He is disturbed, as he is suddenly reminded of a certain Oscar Wilde story and warns Doreen about it. Although he has misgivings about letting Doreen have the portrait, he eventually lets her have it. 

At the party Doreen continues to pretend the portrait is of her. Jane’s nose is put out of joint at this and she quickly leaves. Doreen noticed Jane had her eye on the frame and realised its value. Afterwards, Mr Quarles is after the frame and Dad is willing to sell it because he needs the money (something he’d have more of if he wised up to Mr Quarles). Realising Jane’s hand in this, Doreen hides the portrait in the attic where she can secretly visit it and feel its influence strengthening her. She pretends to Dad that it was stolen. The ladder to the loft is too unsafe to bear Dad’s weight, so she is confident he won’t find it. Any pricks of conscience (such as cheating Dad), second thoughts or worry when she finds her behaviour becoming arrogant (which it does as the story progresses) somehow get overridden every time she’s near the portrait and it seems to make a look at her. 

Doreen is still having problems with self-confidence at school. Although she is in the swimming team, she is struggling to find her feet at netball. Egged on more by Jane’s remarks than the portrait, Doreen not only makes her way into the team but pushes Jane out of it as well. Finding out Jane intends to make her the lame duck in a swimming match against a rival school, Doreen is spurred on to come first. But she is becoming arrogant and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Ann drops Doreen from the team, saying she’s become too big-headed. But the influence of the portrait (this time in the form of tears and sympathetic looks) has Doreen thinking Ann is just being jealous. She challenges Ann to a swimming match, where she pushes Ann out of her position as captain and takes her place. Yet she persuades Ann to stay in the team – leaving no place for Jane. Jane’s nose is out of joint again.

To humiliate Doreen, Jane challenges her to a tennis match. Doreen is not experienced enough at tennis, but she is riding on such success she feels confident she can win without the portrait and tells it so. Doreen senses the portrait is laughing at this but presses on with her resolve. However, Jane slaughters her, and Doreen is left thinking she does need the portrait after all.

In revenge for her humiliation, Doreen pulls a long-overdue comeuppance on Mr Quarles, who is again taking advantage of Dad. Mr Gray identifies some candlesticks Mr Quarles has his eye on at an auction as fakes. Then Doreen sees the portrait winking at her from a mirror, and suddenly gets an idea. She tricks Mr Quarles into thinking they’re valuable and waste money on buying them. When Mr Quarles finds out, he and Dad exchange angry words, and it looks like Mr Quarles won’t be able to use him anymore.

Mr Quarles has to cancel the family holiday because of the money he lost through Doreen’s trick, so next day an angry Jane tackles Doreen. Doreen deals to her with a good shove. Realising the change in Doreen started with the portrait, Jane suspects it was not stolen and wangles her way into Doreen’s house to do some investigating. In the loft she discovers Doreen with the portrait, but is then scared by a rat sitting on top of it. Doreen won’t shoo the rat away until Jane agrees to stay silent, which she does. Realising the portrait helped her keep her cool when Jane discovered the truth, Doreen is now more drawn to it than ever before. 

At netball, Doreen’s growing big-headedness gets her dropped from the team. The netball captain, Clare, adds that Doreen isn’t going to take her place as she did with Ann. (Oh, dear, is Doreen starting to get a reputation at school because of that portrait?) When Doreen visits the portrait, she suddenly knows how to not only worm her way back into the netball team but steal Clare’s position as captain as well – and succeeds at both. 

Meanwhile, Mr Quarles is worming his way back into taking advantage of Mr Gray, this time by paying him fees (sops, more like) for his advice on antiques. This leads to an angry exchange between Doreen and Dad, and she takes refuge in the loft with the portrait. 

Then Doreen hears her father climbing up the ladder to apologise and on the verge of discovering the truth. But he has forgotten the ladder is dangerous for him to climb, and Doreen is shocked to find herself tempted to not warn him. Eventually she does, but too late – the ladder collapses and he is hanging on for dear life. Doreen is again shocked to find herself tempted to loosen her grip and let him fall. Fortunately she overcomes it and tries to save him, but only succeeds with the help of a man who has arrived in the shop. 

The man is the previous owner of the portrait, and Doreen now confesses to hiding it. The man explains the portrait is evil. It is of a Victorian girl who was always able to influence people although she was so young. She died in debtors’ prison when her family was ruined. The man’s grandfather bought it for his daughter, who also bore a resemblance to the portrait. Then grandfather discovered it was exerting an evil influence over her. He tried to destroy the portrait but couldn’t, so he ordered it painted over and hidden. It was kept that way until money troubles forced the man to sell the portrait. Then he grew concerned and tracked the portrait down. He says he will now take the portrait, but Doreen screams, “No! It’s mine!” and runs off with it. Dad and the man are relieved to find Doreen meant it was hers to destroy, which she does by pulling it out of the frame and throwing it in a vat of boiling tar in the road. Then she finally allows Dad to have the frame (but let’s hope Mr Quarles doesn’t get his hands on it!).

Thoughts

You don’t need to look far to see what inspired the story. However, it is more the title that draws on the Oscar Wilde story than the premise itself, which is firmly rooted in the evil object formula seen so many times in girls’ comics. Most often the evil object makes the girl do terrible things against her will or without her even realising, but this is not really the case here. Rather, the portrait acts more like the magic object that can help a shy girl become more confident, stand up to bullies who make her life miserable, and advise her on what to do when she wants to her own way or get out of sticky situations. But as it is an evil object, not a beneficial one, it is not helping her for the sake of it.

There are indeed positive sides to how Doreen changes (becoming more confident), but there is a dark shadow all the way. Doreen never turns totally to the dark side, but she does get disturbed by horrifying changes in herself: becoming arrogant and big-headed, going behind Dad’s back, finding insidious ways to get her own way in everything, even being tempted to let Dad fall to his death rather than him discovering where she hid the portrait. But until the end of the story it does not take much for one look at the portrait to smooth over any twitches of conscience or second thoughts. 

Portraits with an evil influence have been seen elsewhere in girls’ comics. Stories with this theme include “The Painting” (Bunty), “The Portrait of Paula” (Suzy) and “Penny and the Portrait” (Mandy). Another, on a more comical note, is “The Happiest Days” (Tammy), where the frightful portrait of the school founder casts such a pall over the school it has to be gotten rid of, which our protagonist tries to do in all sorts of hilarious ways. After finally succeeding, she is surprised to find a more savoury version of the portrait. 

But this portrait is far more insidious for several reasons. First, unlike other spooky portrait stories we don’t even know who the girl in the portrait is, and right up to the end of the story her name remains unrevealed. This adds an extra note of mystery to the story and the portrait. Is she a witch (a common reason why a portrait is evil in girls’ comics), someone who died tragically, someone out for revenge, or someone just plain bad? 

The portrait does not speak as some evil portraits do, such as “The Painting” from Bunty. Instead, it exhibits its influence through facial expressions and, at times, through distance. Yet its influence is so subtle Doreen doesn’t even realise what it’s doing, which makes it all the more creepy.

Second, setting itself up as the magic friend/object who can help Doreen makes it all the harder to fight against because it seems a friend to her, one she can’t do without in becoming a success and beating the bullies. It always seems to offer a friendly listening ear when Doreen has a problem in getting her way or trouble with Jane. 

Third, the portrait is very cunning in the way it influences Doreen through its expressions. It seems to smile in delight when Doreen tells her how she dealt to Mr Quarles. It turns on the waterworks when Doreen thinks it is making her big-headed and then sympathetic looks to convince Doreen that Ann is just being jealous. In other words, it really sets itself up to appear a genuine friend. But we can sense the portrait is only manipulating Doreen to strengthen its hold over her. One example is the episode where Doreen loses against Jane after telling the portrait she doesn’t need it to win against her, then she reverts back to dependency on the portrait after losing. We’re left thinking the portrait planned the whole thing. Another example is the rat in the loft that frightens Jane. We have a strong feeling the rat was not sitting on top of the portrait by accident!  

Fourth is the way these bad ideas just seem to pop into Doreen’s head and she surprises herself with them. There’s never an evil voice in her head telling her to do these things, though she does get one whisper in her ear: “You can get what you want, too!” Yet we know it’s the portrait all the same. 

Fifth, for an evil object story, it’s unusual in that the evil object does not force the protagonist to do terrible things as other “evil object” stories often do. It is more like the serials where the protagonist gets into bad company with a false friend who is a bad influence on her and taking advantage of her. The protagonist can’t see her for what she is (or ignores it) because the sneaky girl is so slick and manipulative in the way she keeps the protagonist close to her. “The Kat and Mouse Game” (Jinty) is one example of this, and “Lessons from Lindy” (Bunty) is another. This must have been what the girl in the portrait was like when she was alive, except that unlike Kat or Lindy, not even death stops her. There can be no doubt she was a girl who always got her own way in everything (except debtors’ prison), and not even death stops her there either. Through her portrait she gets her own way through others by leading them to think she is helping them get their own way in everything.

Finally, it must be said there is good coming out of the portrait influencing Doreen. It helps Doreen to overcome her shyness, give Mr Quarles a long-overdue comeuppance, stand up to Jane, and step out of the shadows at school to take prominence in school teams. Setting itself up as a good thing makes it all the harder to realise it is evil and fight against it. For this reason, for all the new confidence Doreen shows, it is not until she finds the power within her to destroy the portrait that she shows her whole new strength of character.