Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as "Jackie's Two Lives"
Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as “Jackie’s Two Lives”

We have run a few posts about Alan Davidson before now on the blog, but not a complete summary post that serves as an appreciation of his work. Of course no summary post can be properly complete at this stage as we do not know all the stories he wrote for girls’ comics – his wife Pat Davidson has mentioned that he kept careful copies of his invoices and his scripts, but to go through those files is itself a lot of work. We can hope that we will hear more titles of stories in due course, and if so, I will certainly add them into this post. In any case, we now have story posts about all five of the Jinty stories that it is is known that Alan wrote, so the time seems right for an appreciation of him as a comics writer.

Known Jinty stories written by Alan Davidson:

Known stories in other titles:

  • Little Miss Nothing (Tammy, 1971)
  • Paint It Black (Misty, 1978)

Pat Davidson has also stated in a separate email that “[f]or older readers he contributed some excellent stories for Pink and often met up with Ridwan Aitken, the then editor. I don’t have any records of these to hand, although I remember a very original story about a hero who could predict earthquakes, which Alan much enjoyed writing. I can’t remember its title.”

Having set down these initial bibliographic details, what can we pull together in terms of an appreciation of his work, in girls comics and elsewhere?

Davidson’s work is not as strongly themed as Alison Christie‘s concentration on heart-tugging stories which forms the bulk of her comics writing. There is a clear focus on wish fulfillment in his Jinty stories: Gwen stumbles into a position where her schoolmates respect and appreciate her as she has always wanted, Jackie is swept up by a rich mother-figure who is prepared to take her away from her life of poverty, Debbie finds a mysterious valley and within it a sort of fairy godmother who will save her from her cruel family, and Kerry is likewise swept up by a rich mentor who looks like she is a route to the fame that Kerry has always wanted. The wish in question is almost always double-edged or positively treacherous: Debbie is the only one who ends up happy with getting what she has always wanted (and of course her fairy godmother figure is stern-but-kind rather than seemingly kind but morally dubious). However, Davidson plays the theme of wish fulfillment while ringing the changes: none of his stories are close repeats, even though they have this similar focus.

For Jinty‘s pages he also wrote the important science fiction story “Fran of the Floods” (1976) – perhaps not quite the first SF story that ran in this title (that is arguably 1975’s “The Green People”) but a hugely popular one that ran for some 9 months. Jinty‘s reputation as a title that ran lots of SF surely must owe plenty to the success of this key story. It is a strong story through to its end, though showing a few signs of padding in some parts of the long journey taken by the protagonist. (I note that Sandie ran a story called “Noelle’s Ark” a few years earlier which has a number of similarities without being as strong on characterization or drama: it would be interesting to know if this was something that Davidson was aware of, or perhaps even the author of.)

Davidson of course had also previously written a standout story that gave girls’ comics a key new theme: 1971’s “Little Miss Nothing” started the run of Cinderella stories which gave Tammy its reputation for cruelty and darkness. Pat Mills has lauded this as being written with a real lightness of touch and being written very much from the heart (note that he thought at the time that this was written by Alan’s wife Pat, which has since been corrected by Pat Davidson herself). We know less about what we wrote for titles other than Jinty: it seems he wrote little else for Tammy (unless Pat Davidson can correct that impression?), and only one story for Misty. “Paint It Black” was part of the opening line-up of that comic. While it was a compelling read it doesn’t seem to have struck the same chord with readers as some others from that title, and Davidson doesn’t seem to have written more for Misty (perhaps also due to the fact that he was finding success in children’s prose fiction from around that time).

It’s clear that Davidson’s writing is strong all round, and at its height was really mould-breaking (not just once, at least twice). There are ways in which it follows the conventions of girls comics writing reasonably closely: the titles of his stories tend to follow the standard set up of focusing on the girl protagonists (Gwen, Jackie, Fran, Kerry) though veering away from that in some cases (“Valley of Shining Mist” and most particularly “Paint It Black”). I’m not sure whether this all-round strength is part of the reason for another aspect of his comics career which I was struck by when looking back – he has not been associated with one particular artist, but rather been illustrated by a wide range of artists with no repeats that I know of. This contrasts with the partnership between Alison Christie and Phil Townsend, who created some seven very popular stories together for Jinty.

From the mid to late 70s, Davidson started to concentrate on prose fiction for children. It’s a little hard to search for details of his work online as he doesn’t seem to have had his own web presence and there are a few other well-known figures with the same name (such as a food writer and a cricketer). This Goodreads author page is the clearest list I have found of his prose works, while it’s also worth looking at his Wikipedia page, which tells us that he started off as a subeditor on “Roy of the Rovers” for Tiger. Writing children’s prose fiction has clear advantages over continuing in the world of juvenile comics: better recognition by your public rather than having no printed credits in the pages of the comics titles, better rewards for success in the form of royalties and translation money. At the same time, his most successful prose work, “The Bewitching of Alison Allbright”, is an effective re-working of his popular comics story “Jackie’s Two Lives”. The influence of the earlier writing clearly informs the later work too: what comics loses, children’s fiction gains.

If Davidson had been writing a decade or so later, might he have been swept up in the popularity of 2000AD and the migration that various British creators made to the US market? That only seems to have drawn in the creators working on boys’ comics, so I assume not. It is pleasant to imagine the talented writers of juvenile comics being fêted and recognized by name in a way that British publishers spent many years fighting to prevent. Ultimately however it is a sad thought: Alan Davidson, who is amongst those who most deserve that name recognition, is only now getting a small fraction of that recognition after his death.

WTFometer VII: Cinderella Story

Comixminx has devised the WFTometer, the idea of which “was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways”.

This seventh volume of the WTFometer will look at three Cinderella stories that already have entries on this blog. They are Cinderella Smith and Make-Believe Mandy from Jinty, and Bella at the Bar (original Bella story) from Tammy.

As the name suggests, the Cinderella story means a serial where the protagonist is treated like Cinderella by cruel parents, foster parents or other type of guardian. There is often a wicked stepsister type (though not always) who is spoiled and joins in the abuse of the protagonist. Most often the protagonist’s one hope of escape comes from a talent she has discovered or special secret, but the abusers throw all sorts of obstacles in the way.

When comparing the results on the WTFometer, the scores remain the same for agency in small/large things and emotional/physical/mental security. They remain “small difference”. One reason is that the emotional/physical/mental security issues are not serious enough to go into “big difference”. For example, the abuse the protagonist endures is not severe enough to put her at risk of death, so it remains “small difference”. The variations in scores are seen in the sections on household structures and standard real-life talents. This ties in with the Cinderella format, where family structure is the basis for establishing the abuse, and where a special talent/secret is often the key to freeing the protagonist from the abuse. None of the stories hit “extreme” in any category.

First: Cinderella Smith

Score: 10

wtfometer-cinderella-smith

Cindy Smith is sent to live with her two elder cousins while her father is away. They exploit and abuse her to the point of putting her in chains and making her eat out of the dog’s dish. Although they live a luxurious lifestyle they make Cindy live in mean conditions and put her in tattered clothes. Their abuse is prompted by stinginess and hatred towards Cindy’s mother, who is now dead. Cindy takes a secret modelling job. The cousins’ dog Woozums, initially hostile to Cindy, becomes her companion and co-modelling star. Cindy also gets help from her friends at school in working against her cousins’ abuse.

This story scores a 10 on the WTFometer. This is because it is the most consistent with the patterns observed above. There is “small difference” in “standard pets” because of Woozums, which takes up the scoring slightly more. It would score higher if Cindy was an orphan, but she is not. Her father is still alive. The “standard friends” structure remains “standard”, but this is in fact unusual for a Cinderella serial, in which the protagonist tends to be more isolated from any friends to help her.

Second: Make-Believe Mandy

Score: 14

wtfometer-make-believe-mandy

Mandy Miller’s family hate her for some reason. The parents make her do all the housework and slave in their second hand clothes shop while they devote all their attention and money on their spoiled daughter Dinah. The parents always compare Mandy unfavourably with Dinah, calling her ugly, useless and not fit to be seen with her. Whenever Mandy threatens to go one better than Dinah, the parents get even more cruel with her.

Gradually Mandy realises their hatred stems from her not being related to them by blood. She is in fact a foreign princess who was left in their care when calamity struck the country. When payments for Mandy’s upkeep fell through the Millers were left stuck with her. But now officials from Mandy’s home country have located her whereabouts, and after a series of tests to determine her identity, they want her to reclaim her throne. The Millers try to stop this by locking Mandy in the coal cellar, and Mandy is making a seemingly impossible bid to escape through the coal chute.

The scoring is similar to “Cinderella Smith”. One difference that would make the scoring lower than Cindy is that the ticket out Mandy’s misery is her royal birthright, not a special talent, so standard real-life talents are ranked as “standard. However, Mandy scores “big difference” on the two-parent household category because the Millers are not Mandy’s real parents and it can be safely assumed her birth parents are dead, which would make her an “orphan”. So Mandy scores four points higher than Cindy.

Third: Bella at the Bar

Score: 24

wtfometer-bella-at-the-bar

Orphan Bella Barlow is exploited by her Uncle Jed and Aunt Gert, who wring as much money and work out of her as possible. They make her do all the housework, slave at Uncle Jed’s window cleaning business (without payment), don’t feed her properly and keep her off school.

Bella has a genius for gymnastics, but the Barlows either do not allow it because it will make no money for them or they take advantage of it if they do see a way to make money from it. This includes sending Bella to a seaside show where they will get money from her gymnastics acts. The seaside show manager exploits and abuses Bella as much as the Barlows do, and the acts she is being forced to do threaten her health.

Bella follows the same patterns as Cinderella Smith in the real-life talents and emotional/physical/mental security sections, but in other sections it scores higher. Unlike Cindy, Bella is an orphan, which means “big difference” in the two-parent category. The Barlows don’t let her go to school, which means “big difference” in the school category. There is “small difference” in the locality section because of the shift to the seaside show.

WTFometer VI – Group Slave Story

Comixminx has devised the WFTometer, the idea of which “was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways”.

In the sixth volume of the WTFometer I am putting three group slave stories through the WFTometer. The stories are Merry at Misery House and Prisoners of Paradise Island from Jinty, and Slaves of the Nightmare Factory from Girl series 2. All of them have entries on this blog.

The group slave story is where a group of girls are being held captive, used as slaves and mistreated. Settings for the slavery have included state prisons, cruel schools, orphanages, factories, workhouses, mines, farms and secret workshops. More unusual settings have included ships, circuses, restaurants, holiday camps, totalitarian regimes and dystopian worlds. Sometimes the enslavement is based on an activity, such as hockey, ballet or swimming.

Sometimes the slavers have ulterior motives for exploiting girls, such as the establishment being used as a front for an underground crime ring or forced labour racket. And there are times when the slavery takes a form that is more insidious. On the surface it looks harmless, even enjoyable, but underneath it all, its victims are being ensnared for sinister purposes.

These three group slave stories are being put through the WFTometer to see how high the settings of the their forms of slavery, the cruelties the villains inflict, and how far they went would score on the WTFometer. As part of this purpose there are two lines for physical security: one for the protagonist and one for supporting characters. This is in case the physical security of the protagonist is any different from her fellow prisoners. For example, do any fellow prisoners actually die from all the cruelty?

First: Prisoners of Paradise Island

wtfometer-prisoners-of-paradise-island

Score: 19

This is one of the more insidious group slave stories. A hockey team is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. But instead of being subjected to all sorts of cruelties and being abused and exploited, the girls are treated to every kind of luxury and pampering their kidnapper, Miss Lush can offer. Only the hockey team captain, Sally Tuff, realises it’s a gilded cage. Miss Lush is deliberately spoiling the girls with too much luxury and pampering so as to make them too fat and unfit to win a hockey championship, and she is going to take punts against them. After many failed bids at escape or make the girls see reason, Sally calls in their sports teacher Miss Granley for help. But when Miss Lush finds out, she tries to kill them both.

On the WTFometer there is a difference between Sally’s physical security and those of the other hockey players. They are subjected to deceptively luxurious treatment that threatens to damage their health, but it does not put them in any physical danger. However, Sally is put in physical danger when Miss Lush tries to kill her. So her physical security scores higher. Taking the hockey players away from their locality and onto a tropical island also scores points. This story would score more if its cruelties were more severe, but as it is it scores 19.

Second: Merry at Misery House

wtfometer-merry-at-misery-house

Score: 26

This was the longest-running group slave story in Jinty (and in girls’ comics). In the 1920s Merry Summers is wrongly sent to a reformatory called Sombre Manor. It is better known as Misery House, and for good reason. The reformatory staff are sadistic, hypocritical and corrupt, and inflict tortures that include beatings, starvation, drip dungeons and stocks. They are capable of leaving sick girls to die of neglect, and only Merry’s efforts to get medical attention for them one way or other saves their lives. Eventually it is revealed the Misery House staff are engaged in illegal dealings, and when Merry discovers this they try to kill her.

Physical security for both the protagonist and supporting characters is the same: big difference because of high risk of death or injury, but nobody actually dies. The setting of a juvenile prison and historical time period also help bring the scoring of the story to 26.

Third: Slaves of the Nightmare Factory

wtfometer-slaves-of-the-nightmare-factory

Score: 33

Natalie Jones and Amanda Harvey are kidnapped for slave labour in a secret dress factory located deep underground in London’s wasteland. Girls are sent to the dreaded Punishment Box if they fail to meet strenuous dress quotas. Food is terrible and monotonous. Basic necessities and medical facilities are totally absent because the kidnappers care nothing for the girls’ welfare.

Girls are showing more psychological effects of their ordeal, which means a “big difference” score on the mental security. The prison settings also raise scores in the free will/agency sections. The physical security for the protagonist scores “big difference”, and indeed co-protagonist Natalie almost dies from the ordeal. But what makes this story score the highest, with 33 points, is the “extreme” rating in the physical security for supporting characters. This is because one slave girl, Ellen Crawley, actually dies while trying to escape, in circumstances that suggest murder or at least culpable homicide.

Bella at the Bar (1974) – first Bella Barlow story

Sample Images

bella-1bella-2bella-3

Published: Tammy 22 June 1974 – 7 September 1974

Episodes: 12

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Jenny McDade

Translations/reprints: Bella’s Book of Gymnastics 1981 as Bella – the Beginning

Plot

Orphan Bella Barlow lives with her Uncle Jed and Aunt Gert, who abuse and exploit her. Their exploitation is motivated by laziness, tight-fistedness, greed, and squandering their money on gambling (bingo, dog racing), and in Jed’s case, drinking. Their background must come into it as well as they are low working class people who don’t look very far above the poverty line and they live in a very seedy house. They make Bella do all the housework, the cooking (while making her eat separate, substandard food and often starve her altogether), and make her a slave at Uncle Jed’s window cleaning business. They never pay her anything, making the excuse that her board and keep are the payment. They keep her away from school and are not above beating her. And if they see any way to make money out of Bella they will seize upon it.

Bella lives for gymnastics and has rigged up makeshift apparatus in the back yard (probably cobbled together from the scrap Jed collects). She uses every spare moment she can to work on it. Oddly, Jed and Gert do not interfere with her makeshift apparatus although they disapprove of her “wasting time” on it instead of working.

While working at the window cleaning, Bella comes across a gymnastics class at a school and immediately wants to be part of it. The teacher, Miss Mortimer, is happy to have Bella, especially after she helps a pupil in trouble.

However, there are two problems. First, grasping Uncle Jed won’t give permission because there is no money in it. Second, the school is an exclusive one and the snobby headmistress would not allow a “guttersnipe” like Bella into the classes. So although it would put her job at risk, Miss Mortimer decides to coach Bella in secret out of school hours because Bella is so talented. Meanwhile, Bella gets around Jed by tricking him into thinking she is getting money from the gymnastics by taking a secret car washing job (and the employer later exploits her too, with blackmail). When Jed and Gert hear that Bella could be good enough to compete internationally, they (mistakenly) think there could be big money in it for them. So they allow the classes and Bella to practise at home, and they start treating her kindly, with proper feeding and not lumbering her with so much work.

Soon Bella is making such progress that Miss Mortimer enters her in a competition for experience. Unfortunately at this moment the snobby headmistress finds out about Miss Mortimer secretly coaching Bella. Bella has to go or Miss Mortimer gets the sack, so it’s the end of Bella’s coaching with Miss Mortimer.

Bella keeps this secret from Jed and Gert, otherwise it will be back to the old drudgery with renewed vengeance. She lets them go on thinking things are just carrying on. She finds ways to keep up her exercises but has to go into the competition without proper coaching for it or even really knowing what she is supposed to be doing. Despite the difficulties and no win, Bella makes a respectable impression on officials, who say she could go far with more experience. Bella also makes some contacts among the other competitors, who go to the gym class run by Mr Benson, head of the sports centre. Mr Benson has also noticed Bella and offers her a place in his own gymnastics class. Jed declines as he still thinks Miss Mortimer is coaching Bella, and is not willing to pay the fee either. Bella has to put up money from her secret work (now a babysitting job) to pay the fee and join Mr Benson’s gym club.

Jed gets impatient about Bella’s gymnastics not bringing him money and means to see Miss Mortimer about getting Bella into winning competitions and being a money spinner. Bella tries to stop him seeing Miss Mortimer and find out everything, but fails. The Barlows are furious to discover their mistaken assumption that Bella’s gymnastics would make them money. It’s back to the old mistreatment. Worse, Bella’s confidence in her gymnastics has taken a knock because she is now under the impression she does not have what it takes to become a top gymnast.

While the Barlows are out the girls from Mr Benson’s class drop by and persuade Bella to come to class, which restores her confidence. She does so well that Mr Benson chooses her to take part in a gymnastics display for charity. Much to Bella’s surprise, Gert agrees to it. Bella realises there must be an underhand reason for it, but decides to concentrate on the show.

After the display Bella receives encouragement from Mr Benson that she could become good enough to compete for England. However, the Barlows do not allow her to continue with Mr Benson. They only allowed her to perform in the show in the hope that their friend, Murton Stone, the owner of “The Strolling Stones” seaside theatrical show, would take her on for gymnastics acts in his show. Stone agrees to it, and Bella reluctantly decides to go along with it because she thinks it would enable her to keep up gymnastics.

In terms of proper treatment, Bella soon finds she isn’t much better off at The Strolling Stones. The Stones are as stonyhearted as their names suggest. In fact, the Stones tell their spoiled daughter Amelia to make as much use of Bella as she likes. Amelia seizes upon with this with alacrity because she hates Bella. On top of the exploitation and bullying from Amelia, Bella finds that Stone himself exceeds even Uncle Jed for slave-driving her.

When it comes to the gymnastics acts Stone strips away all the dance elements in Bella’s floor routines when Amelia protests that she is the dancer of the show (which she doesn’t have much talent for). He tells Bella to stick exclusively to the acrobatic elements in her gymnastics performances, which are to be spiced up to the max and look as spectacular as possible. Before long Bella notices her body is acting up after the performances, but fails to realise it is a danger signal. She puts up with the Stones’ mistreatment because she thinks the show is the only way to keep up gymnastics and it is better than nothing at all.

But Bella soon finds out otherwise when Mr Benson catches up with her at the seaside show. When he sees the souped-up acrobatics in Bella’s act he tells her to stop immediately, because they are both improper gymnastics and damaging to her body. When Bella tries to tell him why she can’t stop, he misunderstands and does not give her a chance to fully explain. He thinks she is putting money over her wellbeing and leaves in disgust.

By now Bella’s body is well and truly telling her how right Mr Benson is. She realises she must get out fast. But if she simply leaves, Jed and Gert will just send her back. So she tries to get the sack by putting on bad performances. Unfortunately it backfires, and as a result Bella finds herself forced into humiliating burlesque gymnastics acts and being an abused clown sidekick in Amelia’s dancing routine.

In the end Bella simply runs away from the Stones and heads home. When she arrives she finds Jed and Gert have gone away on a two-week holiday (no doubt by using the money they made from the Stones’ exploitation of her). This proves fortunate because it gives Bella freedom to pursue gymnastics and make her own money without hindrance.

Unfortunately her misunderstandings with Mr Benson are making him think she is unreliable and irresponsible. He allows her to return, but Bella gets the impression he will expel her if she does not overcome her difficulties in getting to classes. Moreover, her gymnastics have deteriorated because of the seaside show abuse and she has to make extra efforts to get back into shape.

Then child welfare discover Bella is living on her own and insist on putting her in a children’s home. Bella does not like the prison-like home, especially when she gets on the wrong side of the unpleasant staff. Moreover, she is desperately worried that their interference will make her miss her next gym class.

So Bella just runs off to get there. But on the way she helps out at a road accident, which leaves her badly injured and she is hospitalised. She missed her gym class and now fears she is out of Mr Benson’s class for good. However, it turns out the men she helped at the accident were big Russian officials. They reward her with a place at a top Russian gymnastics school.

Thoughts

This is one of the most pivotal girls’ serials ever because it changed the course of girls’ comics history. Bella, who started out as just another serial in her first story here, proved so popular that she went on to become a regular in Tammy who held a joint record with Molly Mills for Tammy’s longest-running character (10 years each). Bella Barlow remains one of the most beloved and best-remembered characters ever in girls’ comics. She also changed the course of the career of her artist, John Armstrong, and he himself modelled her on his own niece.

However, the subsequent history of Bella and her sequels will be excluded from this discussion. It will concentrate on the first story itself.

One thing that would have made the first Bella story so popular is that it is firmly rooted in the Cinderella formula that had been in Tammy from issue one. It would remain frequent in Tammy until the late 1970s. It is atypical in that there is no wicked stepsister figure, but then it is difficult to imagine the wicked stepsister figure fitting into the Barlow household. After all, the Barlows squander so much money on what they do raise that they could hardly afford to spoil a wicked stepsister. The nearest we get to the wicked stepsister is Amelia Stone, but she is not part of the Barlow household.

Bella is set in the Tammy tradition of abused heroines who endure countless trials, torments and setbacks of all sorts before the happy ending. From the start she encounters obstacles and people that not only hinder her ambition to be a gymnast but also mistreat her at every turn. Bella has problems even with the people who do help her (Miss Mortimer, Mr Benson) until she meets the Russian officials. And readers would have lapped it up. They just loved the stories of ill-used heroines being forced through tribulations and tortures of all descriptions.

The abuse and hindrance Bella suffers at the hands of the Barlows stems from both their personalities and their working class background. They don’t live well and Jed is unlikely to make much money from his window cleaning business. All the same, they would be living better than they do if they used their money more sensibly and did not squander it on gambling and booze. They would also do a whole lot better if they worked more, but they are too lazy and selfish to do so. The only thing they work hard at is finding ways to make money any way they can, especially by wringing it out of Bella.

Bella’s move to the seaside show is no escape from exploitation and abuse either. The hindrance it gives to Bella’s gymnastics is even more of a threat than the Barlows because Bella is incapable of recognising it as such. She thinks that it at least is enabling her to do gymnastics. She does not realise the stunts Stone is forcing her to do are actually detrimental to both her gymnastics and her body until Mr Benson informs her.

When we first meet Bella we are impressed at what a perky figure she is despite all the abuse she suffers at home. We have to wonder how she does it. And from the first, her determination to pursue gymnastics despite all her difficulties really shines through. She has an unusual companion in the form of her bucket, which is a rather cute element. However, the bucket does not last long as a helper and not referred to as such again.

As is the case with so many of Tammy’s Cinderella stories, Bella has only one thing that makes her miserable life worthwhile and could be her ticket out of her misery if she keeps it up despite everything. In this case it is gymnastics.

The gymnastics themselves would have helped to popularise the story. The serial came out at a time when Olga Korbut was creating huge publicity for the sport. Tammy had run one other gymnastics story, “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” in 1972, but it was Bella who caused gymnastics to really take off in Tammy and made gymnastics one of the most central features in Tammy right to the end of her life. Moreover, the gymnastics are all brought to life through the brilliant rendering of John Armstrong. Nobody in girls’ comics has ever matched Armstrong for drawing gymnastics. He drew the gymnastics in a realistic, fluid, anatomical style that would have had readers crying out for more. There can be no doubt that the choice of artist was one of the biggest factors in making the first Bella story so popular.

The plotting is well structured and the pace strong and tight, with no meandering or padding just to spin it out. One puzzling thing comes right at the end, when the Russian officials say they have found out about Bella’s miserable home life. How did they manage to find that out, especially as the Barlows must still be away? It sounds a bit pat and contrived there.

It is not hard to see why the first Bella story was so popular. It was a strong, well-written story that was based on established formulas that had long guaranteed popularity in Tammy, and it was filled with lots of emotion and drama and strong, convincing characters. Rather than the more hackneyed ballet or horse riding the story used a sport that had only recently been spotlighted and popularised, which would have been quite refreshing. And the choice of artist to bring the gymnastics to life could not have been bettered and would have left readers hankering to see more of it.

But just what was it that made the first Bella story so popular that readers were writing in demanding a sequel as soon as her first story finished? What made Bella so different to the other Cinderella stories that had gone before and after her that enabled her to spawn a sequel and then more sequels? Finding the answers would probably spin a thread of speculation a mile long. Certainly the final panel helped. It had a slightly open ending, which left scope and even a hint for a possible sequel. Perhaps Tammy planned it that way. The editor would have seen the popularity of Bella and did not want to close the door on her altogether, just in case. Well, if that was the editor’s intention, the rest is history.

Tammy’s 5th Birthday Issue 7 February 1976

tammy-cover-7-february-1976

Cover artist: John Richardson

  • Sarah in the Shadows – first episode (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Return of the Silver Mare – Strange Story (artist Veronica Weir)
  • Lights Out for Lucinda – last episode (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Molly Mills and the Aviator – first episode (artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • A Monumental Detective – Strange Story (artist Tony Higham)
  • Wee Sue (artist John Richardson)
  • A Lead Through Twilight – first episode (artist Douglas Perry)

It is now 46 years since Tammy was first launched, on 6 February 1971. The first Tammy and Tammy’s 10th birthday issue have already been covered on this blog, so we will commemorate the anniversary with Tammy’s 5th birthday issue.

The Cover Girls are the first to honour the occasion, in their usual humorous style. Let’s hope they managed to sort out that little glitch with the birthday cake. Or maybe the Tammy team saw the funny side, just as the readers did.

As soon as we open the cover we see the first of Tammy’s “birthday gifts” to us, which is the first episode of “Sarah in the Shadows”. Tammy is celebrating her 5th with five new stories, two of which start this week, two next week, and the fifth the week after that. In Victorian times Sarah is thrown out into the street after her unfortunate uncle is thrown into debtor’s prison. All she has to survive on is her gift for paper cutouts and shadow play. The other birthday gift story, “A Lead Through Twilight”, is the last story in the issue (talk about bookends!). Carol Trent is losing her sight but won’t speak up about it or seek treatment because she is terrified her sourpuss uncle will send her away. But can she seriously expect to get away with hiding the fact that she’s going blind? And if the uncle finds out, will he do what Carol fears? Carol befriends a dog, Twilight, who could be her guide dog, but there is a definite mystery about him.

The birthday gift stories starting in the next issue are “The Fairground of Fear” (Diane Gabbot’s first serial for Tammy) and “Sit It Out, Sheri” (which will give John Armstrong a change from Bella). To make way for them, “Lights Out for Lucinda” is being finished off with a double episode. Lucinda has discovered the reason for the bizarre town of Blackmarket where everyone is being drugged into thinking it is still World War II and being forced to live that way. This peculiar ruse is all so the commander can provide a cheap workforce that are being paid 1940s rates instead of modern ones – to none other than Lucinda’s father! Fortunately for Lucinda it turns out he was a dupe and then a victim of blackmail before he finally manages to help put things right.

The last “birthday gift” story, starting 21 February, is a Hugh Thornton-Jones story, “Claire’s Airs and Graces”. Claire pretends to come from a posh background because of the snobby girls at her new school. This was the only Thornton-Jones serial in Tammy; his artwork was otherwise confined to Wee Sue episodes and Strange Stories.

It looks like the Storyteller is celebrating too because he is presenting two Strange Stories this week. Molly apparently is celebrating with a new story, but the title really should say “aviatrix”, not “aviator”. Although Bessie’s caption says “Bessie celebrates our birthday in her own special way”, her story has no bearing whatsoever on the celebrations or even on birthdays. She’s trying to help catch bank robbers but has forgotten the licence plate number of their vehicle. The police are trying to jog her memory but of course she is more interested in eating. Wee Sue’s story also has nothing to do with the celebrations. It’s all hijinks when Miss Bigger gets herself locked in a ball-and-chain because she disregarded a “do not touch” sign: “I’m a teacher. It doesn’t apply to teachers.” Silly woman!

Of course there is a competition to mark the occasion too, but this won’t be until next week.

Rhoda Miller – Interview

Rhoda Miller was a subeditor at DC Thomson and at IPC, working on girls comics and magazines between 1966 and 2008. In answer to my questions, she wrote the biographical piece below, which I am very happy to be able to publish. Many thanks, Rhoda!

I began work in August 1966 on Diana magazine in Dundee. Editor was George Moonie, Chief sub Ken Gordon. There were two other men subs and about four girls. From day one I was expected to write features and was sent out, (untrained!) to interview people such as The Walker Brothers, Amen Corner, Davy Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick and Titch (?). Story ideas were discussed at “story sessions” and ideas sent out to script writers. The subs’ job was to prepare them for publication. Sometime, this meant a complete re-write! In 1970, I was in a one-way love affair and decided to move to London. A bit drastic, but there you go!

When I applied to IPC they had just paid off a lot of people and the unions wouldn’t let them take anyone new on. But John Purdie was keen to have someone from Thomsons, he took me on as a free lancer, but I was to work in the office full time, and if anyone asked, I was to tell them I was a “visiting free lancer”.

I was put in Desmond Pride’s old office with Annie Deam, who had recently been removed from her post of School Friend editor, and like me, was working on projects. Eventually I went onto Sandie and worked as a sub. My days of working there are very hazy, and I wasn’t there very long before personal circumstances propelled me back to Dundee. I do remember the art editor, though. His name was John Jackson, and he had come from Eagle, and I remember the artists agent, Jack Wall, and his best mate, an artist whose surname was MacGillivray (can’t recall his first name) [Robert MacGillivray] but MacGillivray’s nephew was the legendary Ali McKay who also worked for IPC for quite a few years.

Back in Dundee, I rejoined DC Thomsons, and went to The Bunty, where Harold Moon was editor, Ian Munro chief sub. These were amongst the happiest days of my working life. I was there for several years, writing scripts for “The Four Marys” among others. At this time, the company still employed several long-standing script writers. One of the most prolific was a lady called Olive K Griffiths. Her scripts needed a lot of re-writing, as I recall. In the weekly comic we didn’t have features, but we did in the annuals, and these the staff were required to write.

After that, it was Spellbound with Ken Gordon editing, and David Donaldson chief sub. By this time, some of the subs were writing more and more of the scripts, and the company was employing fewer outside script writers. Spellbound, a spooky magazine, only ran a few years before it ran out of steam. I remember we had a lot of interference from Norman Fowler, who was one of our managing editors.  He was keen to have horse racing stories in all the magazines!

After Spellbound, it was Mandy under Alan Halley, but when I objected to him wanting to run a horrible story about a wealthy couple planning to kidnap a poor girl and use her as a blood donor for their ill daughter, we fell out and I went to Nikki, where I wrote “The Comp”. As I say, my memory is not great for dates, or how long I was on each magazine, but in 1997, I was chief sub editor on Animals and You. Frances O’Brien was editor.

“Luv, Lisa” was my idea, and was quite an innovative idea, as it was a “dear diary” photo story rather than an illustrated one. Richard Palmer was the photographer (he also worked for IPC). After Animals and You, Frances and I moved to work on a new project, of which nothing came, but we did come up with the concept of The Goodie Bag Mag, and I worked on that with her, until I took early voluntary severance in 2008.

The artists who worked for us (that I remember ) were Claude Berridge, George Martin, David Matysiak, and Norman Lee. Spellbound had an amazing Spanish artist drawing one of our stories, but again the name escapes me! [I assume this may have been Romero who drew Supercats; if Rhoda is able to confirm then I will update.]

[Edited to add the following further additions from Rhoda, below. I had asked why she felt that the publishing industry moved from story-heavy titles to ones that were more focused on features or freebies, and about credits for artists and writers.]

I really cannot explain why the comics became less content and more free gifts, except to suggest that research showed children were less inclined to read great screeds of type and preferred more pictorial and less copy. The free gift phenomenon was very much a case of “the opposition are doing it, so should we.”

As to naming the script writers/artists, it was certainly a DC Thomson policy not to allow anyone to be credited. But some of the Spanish artists sneaked their names on and a blind eye was turned. Mainly because they were indispensable. Indeed, it was only in the past twenty years that Thomson allowed their newspapers reporters and columnists to get bylines!

Wenna the Witch (1974)

Sample Images

wenna-the-witch-14-sep-1wenna-the-witch-14-sep-2wenna-the-witch-14-sep-3

Published:  10 August 1974 – 2 November 1974

Episodes: 13

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Wenna de heks [Wenna the Witch] in Tina 1976, Tina Topstrip 34, 1981; Greek translation in Manina; Indonesian translation Wenna, Si Penyihir [Wenna, the Witch] Tina TopStrip 34.

Plot

Wenna Evans (formerly Lomax) is the foster-daughter of the Evanses, who live in the Welsh village of Llarygg. It is a village where the locals still believe in witches. Still, that has never been a problem for Wenna. She has always seen herself as a girl like any other, and so do the villagers.

But all that changes when a stranger named Mr Burr arrives. He declares in public, right in front of the villagers, that he is looking for Wenna Evans because his research has uncovered that women in her Lomax ancestry were burned at the stake for witchcraft. (More likely they were victims of ignorance, superstition and persecution, probably because they possessed psychic powers of some sort.) Mr Burr thinks Wenna may have inherited the powers and asks her, right in front of everyone, whether she has ever noticed anything unusual about herself, particularly any “dark stirrings” or even visions? Now either this man has absolutely no tact or common sense, or he’s as ignorant and superstitious as the villagers themselves. Of course Wenna is absolutely outraged and yells at him to go away and not come back. As Mr Burr leaves he has a bad accident, and the villagers think Wenna put a curse on him.

So now the villagers think Wenna is a witch and the persecution begins. Her worst enemy is Blodwen Hughes, an expelled schoolgirl who has always been jealous of her. Blodwen’s job in a village shop is the perfect vantage point for her to spread the gossip about Wenna and fan the flames as much as she can. They get inflamed even more when Blodwen is taken ill and says Wenna put the evil eye on her.

Bad things happen one way or other and they are blamed on Wenna. Unfortunately some of them look a bit uncanny, such as when Wenna is surrounded by an angry mob while at the water pump and wishes for them to be swept away – and then jets of water shoot out of the pump, which drives them off. They all blame Wenna’s witchcraft, notwithstanding that their stone-throwing ruptured the pump in the first place.

There are actions Wenna takes that do not help matters. She borrows a book on witches to help her better understand what she is faced with. But when word leaks out it fuels the rumours against her. Wenna goes to the Gallows Hill, which is shunned and feared because it is said to have druid powers. She calls upon the ancient druids to grant her wish to make the villagers stop persecuting her. Unfortunately the villagers see her and accuse her of casting a spell that causes an accident.

At times Wenna herself wonders if she has powers, and there is evidence of it too. Mr Evans tells her that her ancestors were a strange lot and her mother was said to have second sight. Just before the encounter with Mr Burr Wenna had a vision of herself looking absolutely terrified. During the night she had a vision of Mr Burr’s operation and wished for his recovery – and next day she hears he had a miraculous recovery at the time when she wished for it. There are moments of anger where she wishes the villagers would be swept away or suffer in some other way. Then either something happens or she has visions of something happening, and she’s full of doubt about herself and wondering if the villagers are right after all.

Wenna has some friends, in the form of Myfanwy “Fan”, her dog Taffy (thank goodness Taffy isn’t a cat, or the villagers would persecute him as much as Wenna!), her foster parents, and Dr Glynn the village doctor who sticks up for her and chastises the villagers for their stupidity. As the persecution intensifies Wenna gets banned from school and shunned in the street. Angry villagers tell Wenna’s foster parents to throw her out or suffer themselves, which forces Wenna to run off at one point. It escalates into a stone-throwing mob trying to drive her out of the village.

Meanwhile, there has been heavy rain that is showing no sign of abating.

The violence drives Wenna back to Gallows Hill, where she thinks she will be safe because the villagers are too scared of the place. She falls asleep and has an ominous dream of villagers being drowned in floodwaters from the heavy rain. Next day Fan comes to warn her that the villagers have guessed where she is and are coming after her, despite their dread of Gallows Hill. Wenna escapes by taking a tumble down a ravine called Devil’s Gullet, where she stows away aboard a truck. The villagers are baffled by her disappearance (for the time being).

The truck is going to the dam, which is in danger of bursting. Wenna overhears the engineers saying that if the dam breaks the water will flood Devil’s Gullet. They think the dam is holding – just – but when Wenna tries to cross the dam to get away from her enemies she discovers it is beginning to burst. She has more visions of the village flooding and villagers drowning in the floodwaters.

Wenna informs the engineers that the dam is bursting, and she decides to put aside all the things the villagers have done to her in order to help them. They all head to the village to warn the villagers. They pass by the witch-hunting villagers at Gallows Hill, who have now realised Wenna went down into Devil’s Gullet. The mob goes down after her, too crazed with witch-hunting fervour to heed the engineers’ warnings that the ravine is going to flood. Wenna goes down after them and, pretending to be a witch, scares them into going back up the hill and away from the floodwaters. Unfortunately she does not make it herself and the floodwaters carry her away.

Back on the hillside, the engineers tell the mob Wenna actually saved their lives by scaring them out of Devil’s Gullet, and it was Wenna who raised the alarm about the damburst. The engineers then do what they can to mitigate the flood damage to the village.

The villagers change their minds about Wenna when they learn how she helped save the village. They are stricken with remorse and think they have driven her to her death when they find her washed up in front of the village cross. However, Wenna is still alive and Fan says it is a miracle. When Wenna recovers, the villagers greet her with apologies, smiles and flowers. Even arch-enemy Blodwen has come around and says Wenna has powers to work small miracles. Wenna comes to accept that she may have inherited genuine powers from her Lomax ancestors, but everyone knows she will use them for good.

Thoughts

Lingering witch-beliefs in some rural areas of Britain have formed the basis for a number of girls’ serials where the protagonists are persecuted by villagers who still believe in witches. The formula was not used much, but some stories that had it include Mandy’s “Bad Luck Barbara” and Bunty’s “Witch!” Jinty ran two serials with the formula, the first being Wenna and the second being “Mark of the Witch!”.

Wenna is in line with the typical formula of the villagers believing the protagonist is a witch because of her alleged ancestry. How it starts is so astonishing as to be unbelievable. Nobody ever thought Wenna was a witch until Mr Burr comes barging into the village, tells people he has discovered she is descended from these executed Lomax witches, and then starts questioning Wenna right in front of everyone about what powers she has. What the hell was this man thinking? At best he’s incredibly stupid and tactless, not to mention rude, and deserves to get his face slapped. At worst he too is a witch believer who deliberately stirred things up against the girl he believed to be a witch. Whatever his motivation, the damage was done.

It is a common thread in the formula for odd things to happen to the protagonist (nightmares, visions, voices in the head, shouting at persecutors and then things happen to them) that have her wondering if she does indeed have strange powers. However, in Wenna it is more overt, such as her visions of villagers drowning. In similar serials, such as “Witch!”, these weird occurrences are usually kept more ambiguous in order to leave scope for readers to make up their own minds.

Wenna has more support than most of her counterparts do. Usually there is only one person who sticks by them, but they don’t always do so for the duration of the story as Fan does. Sometimes they abandon the protagonist and go over to the other side, as in the case of “Witch!”. However, in this case Fan not only sticks by Wenna but so do the foster parents, Taffy the dog, and the doctor.

The resolution of the story – the villagers change their minds about Wenna because of her heroism in the flood – ensures a happy ending, if not a realistic one. When witch-believers brand someone a witch the label sticks, if not extremely hard to remove, and casts a long shadow. For this reason the endings to “Bad Luck Barbara” and “Witch!”, are more realistic, where the protagonist leaves the village with the villagers still hating her.

Wenna is notable for two things. First, it was the first Jinty story drawn by Carlos Freixas. Two more Freixas stories followed: “Slave of the Mirror”, which replaced Wenna, and the best-remembered one, “The Valley of Shining Mist”. Second, it was the first Jinty story to have the protagonist narrate the story herself. The only other Jinty strip to do so was “Pam of Pond Hill”.

Jinty #5, 8 June 1974

jinty-8-june-1974

Katie’s jinxing has a water theme this week, from jinxing water skiers to having the swimming team walk miles in the rain.

Judy tries to get help from the police about the haunting, but of course they’re not going to believe a thing like that. And Judy is even more terrified to realise that whatever is causing the haunting and making her friends dress like Victorian girls is going to target her next!

Gwen is riding high on the glory she has stolen. Of course that means a fall sooner or later, and it is already starting. Julie Waring is getting suspicious and has also overheard Gwen’s troubled conscience speaking out loud. Is Gwen about to be caught out?

The girls try to bust out of Misery House, but they not only fail but are also duped into playing a cruel trick on Carla, who was caught during the escape. One up to Misery House, but we know there will be a next time.

Angela’s Angels are accused of stealing, but it turns out the patient was foisting the blame onto them. We see acid-drop Angela has a heart: she sticks up for the Angels when they are accused and covers up for one somewhat errant Angel later on.

The scheming girls did not mean Yvonne to take a fall down the stairs when they soap the soles of her shoes, and only her acrobatic skills save her. It doesn’t cut much ice with jealous Lisa though, who is furious when Yvonne is chosen over her for the Dance of the Four Cygnets.

Miss Madden’s test for Mandy this week is very odd, even for her. She has Mandy dress up like a princess and then puts her in a posh room, where a two-way mirror enables Miss Madden and her colleagues to watch Mandy. Then Mandy panics for some reason when she hears the tune from a music box. Now what could have brought that on?

The influence of the Indian necklace has Gail’s friends turning away from her while she gets very sneaky and deceptive in getting what she wants. Daisy’s Victorian employers turn up their noses at coconuts and are not impressed with her fishing. It all ends up with their going hungry and Daisy slipping away, full of fish, so they don’t lumber her again. Dora helps out a dog that is being mistreated, but makes sure the dog doesn’t go to the dogs’ hotel either.

Jinty #40, 1 March 1975

Cover 1 March 1975

Stories in this issue:

  • The Jinx from St Jonah’s (artist Mike White)
  • Tricia’s Tragedy (artist Ana Rodriguez)
  • Merry at Misery House (writer Terry Magee)
  • Do-It-Yourself Dot (artist Alf Saporito)
  • The Kat and Mouse Game (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Prisoners of Paradise Island (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • The Hostess with the Mostest
  • Dora Dogsbody (artist José Casanovas)
  • Bird-Girl Brenda (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Always Together… (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie) – last episode
  • Slave of the Mirror (artist Carlos Freixas)

Katie fools a pony-napping gang in the cover story – there are some crooks who are stealing away the foals of some wild ponies and selling them to a nearby pony riding school. You’d think the school would soon spot that the ponies are wild, but the crooks tell them that ‘they’ll soon settle down’! Well, luckily Katie has hitched a couple of rides – first on one of the mother ponies trekking after her stolen baby, and then in the truck taking the ponies away. So she soon foils the plans, and is a hero to the neighbourhood.

Tricia’s tragedy takes place in this issue – cousin Diana dives too close to Tricia when she is in the pool, and the next thing Tricia knows, Diana seems stunned… unconscious! and when she wakes up, suddenly the cousin has been struck blind.

In Merry at Misery House, she is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of the sinister figure – the joker who is turning the place upside down, but only at times when Merry is blamed for the pranks! But at last the prankster gets Miss Ball dismissed as deputy warden – and Merry finally gets a clue as to what is happening. We are promised that she will be unmasking the joker – next week.

The Kat and Mouse Game” is nearing its climax. Mouse is still dancing Kat’s part and letting her take the credit, but is hurt because Kat doesn’t seem to be acting like a real friend and taking any interest in Mouse’s small dance solo. The scheming Kat plots to sabotage even this small triumph – but we can tell that it will rebound on her, one way or another. The sample page on the story post shows you what happens in the following week’s episode…

The Prisoners of Paradise Island aren’t yet seeing through the luxury trap that Miss Lush has set for the hockey team. Sally Tuff has managed to get out a radio message to Miss Granley, their sports mistress – will she be the saving grace?

It is the last episode of Always Together…. Little sister Beth is desperately ill but all is sorted out in the final few pages – even to the extent of restoring the lost mother and the family home!

Finally, in “Slave of the Mirror“, Mia is still being manipulated by the mirror at the times when she feels most resentful for her sister’s bossy ways. But nice old Major Rose has build Mia a beach hut that she can escape to when she feels stressed out. She does so, and prepares to go for a dip – unaware that she is being watched by two men. Are they sinister stalkers such as we would expect them to be nowadays, or far more benign?