Tag Archives: Abusive guardians

Common Cathy (1974)

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Published: Tammy 27 April 1974 to 15 June 1974

Episodes: 8

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Cathy Sampson lives for running – which she does barefoot. It’s her only joy in the miserable life she leads with her parents (or foster parents, as they referred to at one point). They treat her worse than Speed, their racing greyhound, who gets expensive steak to keep fit for racing, whereas Cathy gets a cheap diet. Living off Speed’s winnings is the only way they live, as neither of them are bothered to work. But even Speed is prone to being ill-treated.

Cathy’s ambition is to join the local athletics club and beat the local champion, Helen Douglas. Helen and her fellow athletes have heard of Cathy, but they, along with the rest of the neighbourhood, look down on her because she lives in a slum house and her parents, known as “the smelly Sampsons”, have a bad reputation. As a result, Cathy has no friends, except for Speed. Cathy also has a reputation among the athletes as a wild girl, and she is tagged with the moniker “common”, which comes as much as from her spending so much time on the common as the way she lives. 

Cathy uses her time on the common to train secretly while helping Speed to do the same; training Speed is something her parents constantly lumber her with. She has also learned how to forage for nutritious food growing there to compensate for her home diet, which is hardly suitable for training on. In the garden, she has a secret stash of money, which are her savings to join the club.

One day, Helen and the other athletes drop by Cathy on the common and tease her. Cathy gets her own back by setting Speed on Helen. She then chases after Helen herself, and discovers she is a match for Helen and could even best her. Unfortunately, Helen has realised it too, which sets the stage for what follows: not allowing Cathy to prove it to the club or overtake her as local champion. 

After her race against Helen, Cathy heads to the club to get the enrolment form for joining up. But Dad finds her secret stash for the joining fee, which all goes on steak for Speed, of course. However, after reading the enrolment form, Cathy discovers that if she can demonstrate exceptional talent, she can join without a fee. The club secretary, Mr Bennett, is a bit reluctant, as this rule is seldom applied, but eventually agrees to Cathy’s deal: if she beats Helen, she can join. What can be more exceptional than beating the club champion? The race is set for the following day. 

Helen isn’t having this, and knowing Cathy could beat her, tries to make trouble for her by reporting Speed’s attack to the police. The police warn Cathy’s parents that Speed will be destroyed if there is another complaint. This really gets their backs up as they depend on Speed for their livelihood. They go around to Helen’s place to read out the riot act to her and her family, and the scene they make gets really ugly. Mr Bennett, after seeing their conduct, is put off allowing Cathy to join, and she realises it. It looks like Cathy’s parents have ruined things for her again.

Cathy decides to go back to apologise for her parents’ conduct. There she meets Mrs Mirren, who agrees to pull a few strings. However, Dad is so angry at Cathy going back to apologise that he forces her and Speed through extra-hard training, which leaves her too exhausted to perform well against Helen, and she fails the test.

However, Mrs Mirren can’t forget Cathy and has Helen take her around to Cathy’s place. She is appalled to see the house Cathy lives in and senses Cathy is in desperate need of money to join. Cathy sees them approach. She doesn’t know if it’s jeers or second thoughts, but eventually assumes it’s the former. Meanwhile, Dad sees them both off with Speed. Mrs Mirren still won’t forget Cathy, so Helen is desperate to find a way to put her off Cathy altogether. 

Deciding money is the problem, Mrs Mirren decides to loan Cathy the money for the joining fee, encloses a note to join in time for the inter-club competition on Saturday, and has Helen deliver it. But, as Helen plans, Cathy’s parents pocket the money, which they intend to put on Speed’s race the following day. When Cathy asks questions, the parents spin a lie that Mrs Mirren doesn’t think she’d make a runner and sent 25p to feed her up as she looks skinny. Cathy’s left heartbroken and raging at Mrs Mirren for such an insult. Meanwhile, Helen tricks Mrs Mirren into thinking Cathy conned her out of the money. Now both mistakenly thinks badly of the other. 

Then, a newspaper informs Cathy that Mrs Mirren is one of Britain’s top coaches and Helen is one of her discoveries. This renews Cathy’s hopes of beating Helen and getting her chance. Meanwhile, back at the stadium, which is also used for the greyhound racing, Mrs Mirren discovers how horrible Cathy’s parents are to Speed. He’s lost the race and the money they put on him, and they’re beating him. She then overhears them rage on how they lost all that money they took from Cathy and now suspects the truth. 

Sensing Mrs Mirren has overheard them, the parents make fast tracks for home and silence Cathy, fearing Mrs Mirren will come asking questions. But Cathy overhears Mrs Mirren asking what happened to the money she sent for the joining fee. The parents try to fob Mrs Mirren off with more lies, which she doesn’t believe, but she can’t do much without seeing Cathy. Cathy, of course, now realises her parents have tricked her and is desperate to explain to Mrs Mirren, but doesn’t know where to find her. After making enquiries, Cathy realises her only hope of finding Mrs Mirren is the championship on Saturday. But when Cathy sees the crowds at the event, she realises finding Mrs Mirren will be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Then, when Cathy sees Helen running in the 800 metres, she gets a crazy idea on how to get Mrs Mirren’s attention. There’s nothing to lose, anyway. She jumps straight in and races after the competitors. The spectators are initially angry at Cathy gatecrashing the race, but they soon start cheering at her amazing speed, how she’s narrowing the gap and “going through them like a hot knife through butter” – and doing it barefoot! And this time, Cathy beats Helen.

Of course, Cathy’s win isn’t official, so the medal goes to Helen. But it’s a hollow victory for her because she’s been beaten at last, and Cathy is the hero of the event. She’s made her point, gotten Mrs Mirren’s attention, and soon explains what her parents did. Mrs Mirren replies that she guessed as much. Mrs Mirren not only takes over Helen’s training but her welfare too, so Cathy leaves her horrible parents forever. Sadly, Speed’s still in their clutches, and Cathy can only hope he wins enough to keep safe from ill-treatment.

Thoughts

This story was published in the weeks leading up to the June merge with Tammy on 22 June 1974 and ended, along with all the other running Tammy serials, the week before the merger. Yet it does not give the impression it is intended as a filler story, even if it was. The length of eight episodes feels right, and the pacing is good. Nothing feels rushed or underdeveloped. It would have worked well as a reprint in an annual somewhere.

Common Cathy was one of many serials to follow the Cinderella format, but it does have some differences from the formula, which makes it refreshing. The main one is that there is no wicked stepsister/cousin who gets the lion’s share in everything at the expense of our ill-used Cinderella protagonist. Instead, there’s a dog who gets the lion’s share of the food expense, but he’s far from spoiled. In fact, he’s as liable to be as ill-treated as Cathy herself. He’s only there for profit and income, and the parents don’t care any more for him than they do for Cathy. His racing is the only means of income for the parents, who are too lazy to work, but his winnings are subject to hit and miss, and he suffers if it’s a miss. And he serves not only as Cathy’s friend but also in helping her to become the speedster that she hopes will be her salvation from her miserable life. 

Cathy does not seem to be as much of a drudge as other Cinderella protagonists, such as Bella Barlow. For example, we don’t see her being forced to do all the work her parents are too lazy to do. The drudgery seems to be more focused on training Speed, as her father is too lazy to do it, and getting the leavings of the food expense. She is also very innovative in how she makes up for the poor diet she gets at home, so she is not underfed as some Cinderella protagonists are. But there is no question she is not well treated, and the RSPCA ought to have serious concerns about Speed too. 

The parents’ nickname, “the smelly Sampsons”, sure makes us laugh. It’s not quite clear if it’s their B.O., their slum house or what, but there is no denying they are stinkers in everything they say and do. They would live better than they do if they made their own income instead of depending on Speed’s racing, but they are too lazy for that. It’s surprising they are not involved in any criminal activities, given the type of people they are. 

Again, we have abusive parents that are not punished in any way for how they treated Cathy. But what’s even more concerning is that they still have Speed. Mrs Mirren has seen for herself that they mistreat the dog, but nothing is done in that regard. Being left on the hope Speed will win enough to stay safe is not very reassuring, especially as Cathy is no longer there to train him. The story would have ended on a much happier note if Speed had been removed from his abusive owners and maybe come along with Cathy.

A race to win is always an exciting resolution to any serial, and making it unofficial, with Cathy crashing the race out of desperation rather than being officially entered, makes it even more so. Seeing Helen seething over a hollow victory and a medal that means nothing while Cathy is cheered as the real winner gives us a whole lot more satisfaction than seeing Cathy claim an official victory and the medal. Moreover, Cathy not being officially entered in the race gives Helen no time for dirty tricks, as she’s been taken by surprise. Readers would be reading Cathy’s race to win over and over. 

Little Miss Nothing (1971)

Published: 5 June 1971 to 4 September 1971 

Episodes: 14

Artist: Updated: Miguel Rosello, Miguel Quesada and Luis Bermejo credited by David Roach

Writer: Alan Davidson

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Annabel Hayes is the drudge of her family. Her parents say she’s nothing and have eyes only for her younger sister Dora. Everything goes on Dora, including Annabel being forced to slave on her father’s market stall, and he doesn’t care that it makes Annabel late for school. At school, Annabel is brilliant at sewing. Her sewing teacher, Miss Turner, says she could make a real career out of fashion and design, and gifts her a book on dressmaking.

Then the family moves to be closer to Dora’s modelling school. Dad yanks Annabel illegally out of school to work full time to help pay Dora’s fees and tells her to lie about her age if anyone asks questions. Dad even rips up Annabel’s dressmaking book when she tries to rebel against his latest ill-treatment, but she manages to salvage the pieces. 

At her new home, Annabel is forced to sleep in an attic, but this works in her favour when she finds an old sewing machine there. Later, she discovers an evening dress and design class she could go for. After finding some materials and thread, she is in business.

As Annabel works at her sewing, she bemoans how she must everything for herself, from the nothing her parents say she is, while the spoiled Dora gets everything handed to her on a plate for her modelling and doesn’t lift a finger for herself. Well, at least Annabel has the talent. Does Dora have the talent too? We haven’t been shown that part yet. 

Annabel’s first day on the market stall goes badly, as she is forced to work on it alone with no experience in sales pitch, and she’s up against Tom, who really knows how to sell stuff on his own stall. Dad’s furious at Annabel not making any money and clouts her. And now Dora’s been recommended to the De Vere fashion house, so the pressure on Annabel to make money at the stall is worse than ever. 

Next day, Tom, who saw the way Dad treated Annabel for making no money, gives her a hand, and she makes more money on the stall. She has used some material left behind on the stall to make some items, which she hopes to sell on the stall and raise her own money for the evening sewing classes. None of them sell until towards closing time, when a Mrs Crawford, seeing the flair and design that went into making them, scoops up the lot and places an order for six bags in dark red.

Unfortunately, Dad grabs the money Annabel had just raised, leaving her with nothing to buy the red material for the bags. All the money has gone for expensive material to make Dora’s new dress – which happens to be dark red. When Dora takes the material in to be made up, Annabel makes a grab for the scraps (getting herself into a few scrapes along the way) and makes up the bags, but just as she brings them to the stall, Dad finds them. He throws the bags away – but happens to pick the moment when Mrs Crawford arrives and sees everything. She puts Dad very firmly in his place, “you dreadful man”, and forces him to apologise to Annabel. 

Mrs Crawford says she wants to have tea with Annabel to discuss things. Sensing what a rich friend Annabel’s suddenly got, Dad realises he could take advantage, especially for Dora. 

All of a sudden, Dad goes all nice to Annabel at home, and tags along with her to the tea. Mrs Crawford says she wants Annabel to work for her in the fashion business and needs a guardian’s consent. Dad gives it, and then he puts on a great “poor man act” to cadge some junk for the stall. While doing so, he helps himself to some more valuable items Mrs Crawford bought at auction. Annabel discovers this and runs off to return them, with Dad giving chase. She manages to get them to Mrs Crawford, but Dad tries to put the blame on her. It looks like the end of Annabel’s job with Mrs Crawford, and Dad’s furious at how Annabel has wrecked his chance of a fortune. Unknown to them both, Mrs Crawford is not convinced Annabel took the paintings. 

Annabel is now so heartbroken and fed up that she just runs away, leaving the market stall unattended. Dad’s livid when he discovers this. When Mrs Crawford returns to the market stall to make further enquiries about the paintings, Dad tells her about Annabel’s disappearance and yells at her for interfering.

Meanwhile, it’s time for Dora’s modelling audition at the De Vere school. We’re finally shown just how good Dora is at modelling, and no, she definitely does not have what it takes. Dora overhears Miss De Vere say she was the only one she was not impressed with. 

But Dora gets an even bigger shock when she sees the row between Mrs Crawford and Dad at the market stall – Miss De Vere and Mrs Crawford happen to be the same person! (Later, they find out De Vere is Mrs Crawford’s professional name.) So Dad and Dora really need Annabel now, to pull strings with her “rich friend”, if Dora is to get the modelling job. 

The hunt for Annabel begins, with the family all anxious, and all nice and making a big fuss when they find Annabel injured and save her from drowning at the embankment. Saying things are sorted out with Mrs Crawford, they have Annabel bring her over to tea, and Dora tearfully asks Annabel to say the reason she didn’t do so well at the audition was because she was worried about her disappearance. Annabel falls for it despite the show of phony niceness they had shown before. The end result is Mrs Crawford taking on Annabel as a trainee designer and Dora as a model, and both are to report to her fashion house. Unknown to them, Mrs Crawford is not entirely fooled, but is not sure just who to believe. 

But of course Dora doesn’t want Annabel coming with her to their appointment at the fashion house. So, as they set off to report, Dora “loses” Annabel, and makes sure she is the one with the address. Annabel had no idea what the address was to begin with and can’t find it herself (no doubt, something else they made sure of). At the fashion house, Dora tells Mrs Crawford Annabel has changed her mind and not coming. The family make sure Mrs Crawford and Annabel don’t meet up when Mrs Crawford comes around asking questions and spin them both lies about the other. Annabel is left thinking Mrs Crawford now thinks she’s unreliable and wants nothing more to do with her; Mrs Crawford still has her suspicions but not sure what to think. As Dad planned, Annabel’s back on the market stall, thinking she’s Little Miss Nothing again. 

Meanwhile, Dad’s received a crooked offer from a friend of his, Harry Marks, and there’s an ominous hint it has something to do with Mrs Crawford. Dora doesn’t want it, saying she now has everything she needs to advance in modelling without “any crookery”. But then there’s a further development that could change her mind…

By now, Mrs Crawford has seen enough of Dora to confirm her earlier impressions that she is not modelling material. Her suspicions have also deepened as to why Dora is at her school and Annabel is not. Mrs Crawford confronts Dora over it all, shows her the bags Annabel had a natural talent for making, and says it’s Annabel she wants at the school, not her. At this, Dora’s jealousy overboils. She says she made the bags, not Annabel. Her proof? Her dress, which is made from the same material, and she claims she made the bags from the scraps. Sceptical, Mrs Crawford decides to test her by telling her to bring in something else she designed. 

Of course, Dora cons Annabel into doing the design for her, saying it’s home-based design work Mrs Crawford is offering as preliminary for a second chance at the fashion house. This time, Mrs Crawford really does fall for Dora’s trick and now thinks Annabel is a liar and a cheat. She is also so impressed with the design that it’s going into her autumn collection, Dora will model it, and the design is soon made up. 

Meanwhile, Annabel finally finds the address for Mrs Crawford’s fashion house and nips along to see how things are going with her design. The results are the whole truth blowing up right there and then right in front of everyone. Mrs Crawford sacks Dora, throws her out, and Dora angrily rips up the dress to spite her. 

Annabel finally gets her job at the fashion house, but then loses the roof over her head. Her family throw her out because of what happened. Not knowing where else to go, she heads for Mrs Crawford’s fashion house, now locked up, and slips in for the night. Unfortunately for her, she has left a window open, which unwittingly sets the stage for the Hayes’ next move. 

Burning with rage and thirsty for revenge, Dora is now all too eager to listen to that earlier proposition from Harry Marks. This entails stealing Mrs Crawford’s fashion designs for his buyer, a rival fashion designer. They find it easy to break in through that open window, and then Dora discovers Annabel fast asleep there. Dora seizes her chance for revenge on Annabel by planting one of her shoes at the scene of the crime and then tipping off the police about the break-in. The frame-up works, and now Mrs Crawford is back to believing Annabel is the cheat. Dora’s crowing over this, convinced she can now worm her way back into Mrs Crawford’s favour. Annabel tearfully makes a run for it.

Annabel soon guesses who was behind it all. But she can’t prove anything. Her only chance is to confront her family. First stop is back home, and after she confronts her mother, she realises she must check out the market. She arrives in time to see Dad and Dora hand over the designs to Marks. Dora is promptly interested in working for Marks’ buyer as a model, and all three head for his fashion house. They don’t realise Annabel is desperately hanging on at the end of their car. The designs are handed over to the fashion designer, a man looking as shady as Marks, and he agrees to take Dora on as a model. He’s doing so on the spot, by looks alone and no audition, which shows how professional he is in comparison to Mrs Crawford. 

Unwilling to report even her horrible family to the police, Annabel decides to just burst in and grab the designs to return to Mrs Crawford. When they try to block her, she escapes by window, but takes a fall and damages her knee. Despite it, she manages to run to Mrs Crawford’s before her knee gives way. She desperately rings the doorbell for help, only to find nobody in; Mrs Crawford, still thinking Annabel took the designs, had decided to go away for a bit. Dad and Dora catch up, but rather than hand the designs over, Annabel rips them up. At this, Dad starts thrashing Annabel, as the buyer said the deal is off without the designs. He is caught red-handed by Mrs Crawford, who had suddenly decided to return. She has seen enough to realise who really had stolen the designs and who to believe now. 

Dad is jailed for his role in the theft. Dora is let off because of her age, but it’s the end of her modelling hopes. Now she is the one miserably and bitterly slogging on the market stall (how this fits in with her being even more underage to work on it than Annabel is not explained), and she is humbled. 

A month later, Annabel’s design receives the loudest applause at Mrs Crawford’s fashion show, and she’s on her way to a brilliant career in fashion and design. Mrs Crawford finds out Annabel is not the Hayes’ natural child. They adopted her in infancy but went off her when Dora arrived. Mrs Crawford, who had always wanted children, now adopts Annabel as her own. Annabel takes pity on Dora after seeing her plight at the market stall. She arranges for Mrs Crawford to take her in at the fashion house, and they are reconciled. 

Thoughts

“Little Miss Nothing” is one of Tammy’s most pivotal stories and definitely in her Top 10 of the best. In fact, Pat Mills is one to regard it as one of the most ground-breaking serials ever in girls’ comics: “it was the first of its kind” in establishing the template of the Cinderella stories for other Cinderella stories to follow. And they followed big style! Among them in Tammy were “Jumble Sale Jilly”, “Nell Nobody”, “Sally in a Shell”, and “Sadie in the Sticks”. Cinderella-based Jinty stories, such as “Make-Believe Mandy” and “Cinderella Smith”, also owe their roots to “Little Miss Nothing”, as does the 1983 “Cinders on Ice” in Princess II. Most significant of all, the Cinderella template set by “Little Miss Nothing” led to the creation of Bella Barlow. 

Mind you, “Little Miss Nothing” was not quite the first of its kind. The text story version of “The Sad Star”, an even grimmer Cinderella story from Mandy, predated it by a few months, and went on to become Mandy’s most popular text story ever and enjoy several reprints, in both text and picture story form. There may be other Cinderella stories at DCT to predate Tammy’s ground breaker here, but there is currently no confirmation. Was it a case of “Little Miss Nothing” being the first of its kind to matter? Or it being the first of its kind at IPC? Or was it the template it set for others to follow?

In his Millsverse blog, Pat Mills said on “Little Miss Nothing”:

“Little Miss Nothing by Alan Davidson in Tammy (1971) was hugely popular – equivalent in success at the time to Judge Dredd in 2000AD. It was the first of its kind and it was such a massive hit that it was meticulously studied and analysed by the editorial staff. They identified its vote winning ‘formula’ and then endlessly duplicated it with subsequent remarkably similar serials. I recall there were at least ten ‘begats’ of this ground-breaking story.”

Wow, a pioneering girls’ serial with success the equivalent of Judge Dredd is serious stuff! 

The template of the Cinderella serial “Little Miss Nothing” can be seen as follows: 

  1. The protagonist is treated as a drudge by cruel guardians.
  • The protagonist is also exploited to feed the indulgences of a wicked stepsister type. This element is not always used in a Cinderella serial, as in the case of Bella Barlow.
  • The protagonist has a talent/secret to keep her spirits up. It is her only joy in life, and she fights to keep it up against all odds. 
  • Her talent is spotted, enabling her to find a fairy godmother figure and friends to help her, achieve her dream, and ultimately help her to break free of the ill-treatment. But in between there are still obstacles and ill-treatment from the cruel guardians, which often include their causing a fallout between the protagonist and her fairy godmother. 

Cinderella has always been a popular fairy tale, told in many versions and cultures throughout the eons. So Tammy was guaranteed a hit if she used the Cinderella theme as a ground-breaker. Modelling, fashion and design have always been popular in girls’ comics, so throwing those into the mix were guaranteed to make it even more popular. Plus there is the growing undercurrent of criminal conduct in addition to the abuse to make it even more exciting. Readers would be on the edge of the seats to see how that unfolds.

The writing is mature, well-paced, and well-constructed, particularly in how it keeps the ill-treatment of Annabel within the bounds of realism. We can easily imagine a real-life child being treated that way. It does not go over the top or taken to excess, which has happened in some Cinderella serials. For example, Annabel is not kept frequently underfed, as in the case of Bella Barlow, or put in chains, as in the case of Cinderella Smith. The reasons behind the Hayes’ increasing exploitation of Annabel are also well-grounded in realism: she was not their own flesh and blood as Dora was; they were unfit guardians and unprincipled people by nature; and they would never be able to afford Dora’s modelling on their own income, so they need Annabel to generate the income required.

Also realistic is how so many key people, from Miss Turner to Tom, do sense the Hayes are unfit guardians, but although they are helpful and sympathetic, none of them take any action against the abuse itself. This has been an all-too-common phenomenon for many years.

It is also credible in how the contrasting upbringings Dora and Annabel have had have shaped the ways in which one will get to where she wants and the other not. Dora, even if she did have the talent for modelling, has been too spoiled to learn the lesson that to achieve your dream, you must work hard and have guts, determination and persistence against obstacles and challenges, and be grateful for all the help and encouragement you can get. In fact, Dora never learned to work at all, as everything was just handed to her on a plate by her parents. The only thing she works hard at is being nasty. When she ends up on the market stall, she is working for the first time. But she is not making any effort to work her way out of it as Annabel did. Instead, she’s wallowing in bitterness, jealousy and misery as she works on the stall. It takes yet another thing handed to her on a plate – Annabel’s kind offer – to help her out of it. 

Annabel, by contrast, won’t give up her dream, but she has to do everything for herself against all obstacles set down by her family. This includes the constant knocks to her self-esteem as her parents call her a nobody while they hit her. The saving grace is the good people who raise Annabel’s confidence by telling her she has talent and could go far and offer various means of help. But everything, whether good or bad, all helps to give Annabel far more tools to get where she wants than Dora. 

The reconciliation between Dora and Annabel at the end of the story is typically fairy tale, very sweet, and in line with Cinderella. But it is a bit hard to understand how Dora could ever go back to the fashion house all. Surely Mrs Crawford would not want her anywhere near it after what happened. And what could Dora do at the fashion house anyway, as she has no talent for modelling or fashion? 

Would just leaving Dora on the market stall have made more sense as well as give us more satisfaction? Dora’s counterpart in “Nell Nobody” meets a similar comeuppance, and it gives readers great satisfaction to see her just left there to slog and hate every minute of it. On the other hand, the final panel between Dora and Annabel is very moving, as Dora sheds tears for the first time in the story. It leaves us wanting to think things will work out between Dora and Annabel somehow. 

Friends of the Forest (1976)

Published: Jinty 27 December 1975 – 10 April 1976

Episodes: 16

Artist: “B. Jackson”

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Published: Jinty 27 December 1975 – 10 April 1976

Episodes: 16

Artist: “B. Jackson”

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Published as ‘Vrienden door dik en dun’ (Friends through thick and thin) in Tina in the Netherlands in 1988.

Plot

Sally Harris and her mother live in the New Forest. Sally has made a special bond with a deer named Star and taught Star tricks. Unfortunately, the grasping Walkers have spotted this and inform Josh Green, a circus boss who badly needs a new attraction for his ailing circus. When Green tries to buy Star off Sally, she tells him to shove off and runs away into the forest with Star. But Green isn’t giving up so easily, and now he and the Walkers are working together to capture Star.  

Sally returns, hoping Green has cleared off, but finds her mother has had a bad accident. Mum is now in hospital with a damaged spine, and she will be there for a while. To avoid being taken into care and separated from Star, Sally accepts the Walkers’ offer to take her in while Mum is in hospital. She is a bit surprised at this, as the Walkers have always been so rough and unfriendly. But she soon finds out that they are not only in league with Green to get hold of Star but also working her to the bone as an unpaid slave. Miss Knight, Sally’s teacher, soon suspects something’s wrong. Sally realises this, but doesn’t confide in Miss Knight because she doesn’t want to go into a home and be cut off from Star. 

The Walkers capture Star, but there’s surprise help from a strange girl, who helps Star escape. Her name’s Maya Lee, and she is a gypsy girl who is hiding from the forest to avoid a children’s home, which is prison to her. Sally soon discovers Maya has her own cosy little homemade setup in the forest. She also has the gypsy gift of communicating with animals, which gives her a rapport with the New Forest animals. They are able to warn Maya when danger’s coming. In this case, it’s two men, Ramsden and Blakeley, presumably from social welfare. They grab Sally in mistake for Maya, and they say living wild in the forest is not good for her. Maya uses her special talents to get the New Forest ponies to scare them off, and it throws a scare into the Walkers as well.

The Walkers hatch another plan to get hold of Star: lock Sally in her room, to lure Star in search of her. To make sure she has no opportunities to slip away at school, they escort her to and from school (which makes Miss Knight even more suspicious). Then Leaper, Maya’s pet squirrel, appears at the classroom window. Sally uses the squirrel to smuggle a note to Maya about what’s going on and warn her and Star to stay away. Sally also sees Blakeley and Ramsden making queries at the Walker farm about Maya. They blow the stunt Maya pulled on them out of proportion, calling her a savage who attacked them. 

Then Mrs Viney from social welfare calls, and through her Sally finds out Ramsden and Blakeley are not from social welfare as she assumed. So, who are they, and what do they want with Maya? Sally listens in on them and finds out some old man is paying them to find Maya. Mrs Viney hears about these imposters and is now making serious queries with the Walkers about it. This distraction enables Sally to slip away to warn Maya.

But when Sally reaches Maya’s treehouse, she discovers Green is there too. Maya manages to scare him off with her animal friends. Maya knows about Ramsden and Blakeley, who have been trying to find her since she was young, and her parents instructed her to run like hell from them, fearing they were trying to take her away from them. 

At the Walker farm, Green discovers the Walkers have failed in their latest plan with Sally, and angrily tells them he’ll get Star without their help. The Walkers talk him around, telling him about Ramsden and Blakeley being after something in the forest, which has given them a new plan. This involves their suddenly being nice to Sally, saying they are through with Green, and Sally is free to see Star. Sally isn’t fooled by their phony niceness and suspects a trap. 

Meanwhile, Ramsden and Blakely have gotten Sergeant Parker and Mrs Viney involved in getting hold of Maya and putting her in care. They organise a posse, beater-style through the woods, to search for her. Mrs Viney’s son Billy tells Sally he’s a long-standing friend of Maya who has been smuggling food to her, and he warns her about the posse. Sally realises the Walkers will be part of it to catch Star. They hit on a plan to hide Maya and Star in Mrs Viney’s attic (the last place she’ll look!). Another gypsy, Old Bella, helps them. Sally also drops a hint to Miss Knight, the only other person she trusts, about Maya.

But Blakeley and Ramsden are watching outside the Viney house and suspect what’s happening. The Walkers, recalling Billy’s fondness of the New Forest, also suspect he is helping Maya and advise Mrs Viney to watch him. 

When the posse is assembled next morning, Bella tells Sally the crystal ball has sent a warning for Maya. She says she saw a house like a prison and an angry old man, then Ramsden and Blakeley, who will capture Maya because of Star. 

Sally bumps into Miss Knight, and this time tells her the whole story (minus where Maya and Star are hiding). But Sally and Billy find Maya and Star have vanished from the attic and realise the Walkers have taken them to their farm. Sally finds them locked in the barn and manages to free Maya. Freeing Star takes a bit more doing, but Sally succeeds with Leaper’s help. Sally then heads over to Miss Knight’s for help, but overhears a conversation that sounds like Miss Knight is going to help Green get his hands on Star. 

Meanwhile, Sally discovers the posse have discovered Maya’s hideout in the forest, so no more safety for her there. She meets up with Old Bella, who advises that Maya rejoin her tribe and not go near Star, for that is how they will be captured. 

Later, Miss Knight finds Star in her garden, which makes her realise Sally must have overheard. Instead of turning Star over to Green, she conceals her from him, but Green realises his quarry is around when he sees the footprints. Sally comes upon the scene and, using the strange telepathic link between her and Star, tells her to make a run for it (knocking Green over in the process). Sally now comes to a decision: she and Star are going to leave the area and live like gypsies as best they can. 

Meanwhile, the Walkers and Green have discovered Star and Maya’s escape from the farm, and the raving Green says to find them in 24 hours or the deal’s off. Elsewhere, Miss Knight is demanding explanations from Blakeley and Ramsden. Surprisingly, they tell Miss Knight they just want to tell Maya she’s a heiress. 

Bella informs Maya that her mother was a non-Romany who married a Romany, and gets a clearer vision of the house that Maya feared was a prison. Maya now sees it does not look like a prison. It looks more like a grand mansion. Then there’s another vision – of Star getting hurt. Soon afterwards, Star gets shot by a hunter. 

Sally and Maya have to take her to a vet, Mr Wilson. Of course Mr Wilson asks questions about how it happened. Sally decides to just tell him everything. Miss Knight, Ramsden and Blakeley catch up. Miss Knight says she was trying to trap Green into an admission of guilt of illegally taking a deer from the New Forest in earshot of witnesses (Sergeant Parker secretly listening). 

What happens to Green exactly is not recorded, but it is fair to assume that he and his circus are soon dealt with. The Walkers hastily leave the district once word of their treatment of Sally spreads.

The mansion in the vision is White Towers, owned by Colonel Weatherby. Colonel Weatherby explains Maya is his granddaughter, the product of a forbidden marriage and elopement between his daughter and a gypsy. He disinherited his daughter (so that was the angry old man!), but had a change of heart once he heard about the birth of his only heir, Maya. He had been searching for her discreetly and hired Ramsden and Blakeley for the job. White Towers is Maya’s inheritance. She agrees to stay there, is very happy no hunting is allowed there, and Sally and Star can come too. Sally stays at White Towers until her mother recovers. Once Mum is back, Colonel buys the Walkers’ old farm and puts Sally and her mother in charge of it, all help supplied. 

Thoughts

It’s a nice surprise twist that the house Maya feared was a prison turned out to be her inheritance and the two men who wanted her were not the monsters they seemed to be. Nor was being captured because of Star the disaster that Old Bella thought it was. Having Old Bella misconstrue her own crystal ball gazing and get things wrong (something we will see elsewhere, such as in Jinty’s “Destiny Brown”) puts even more of a twist on the tale. Ramsden and Blakeley and the grand house turned out to be all right and helped to give Maya a happy ending. Mind you, Blakeley and Ramsden sure were giving the wrong impression. After all, they were being a bit heavy-handed in their approach, such as when they made the grab on Sally when they mistook her for Maya, or when they arranged the posse to find Maya. The buildup was they were out to put Maya into care, and their conduct has you more than convinced that they really were going to do that. If they’d taken a different approach, things could have been sorted much more quickly.

By contrast, you don’t get things wrong with the Walkers or Josh Green. One look at them ought to tell you the sort they are and to steer well clear of them. It’s a bit surprising the Walkers don’t seem have the reputation around the district they ought to have, even though we learn they are careful to stay onside with the police. What a contrast to Miss Knight, who is perceptive about things right from the start, so we know it’s her who’s going to be key in resolving the story. Put Miss Knight on the force any time!

This is a solid, rollicking story, and a plot so full of twists and turns, plenty of chasing, dodging, getting captured and escaping, and increasing layers of complexity and mystery that it leaves you a bit out of breath at times. There are also touches of both humour and intrigue with these strange connections with the forest animals who often get these pursuers in the story their just desserts and leave you laughing. We’ve also got the Cinderella elements (Sally’s abuse at the Walker farm), the shifty circus owner, and the mystery of why Blakely and Ramsden want Maya. If there’s one thing girls love in girls comics, it’s mystery. And of course, there are the animals, and animal stories are always popular. The affinity Maya and Sally have with the animals heightens the animal elements even more; readers are on the edge of their seats to see what the power does next to help save the day. What’s not for a girl to love in this story?

It is a bit of a let-down not to hear the final fate of Josh Green, and the Walkers aren’t punished as much as they should have been. They leave the district when word of their treatment of Sally gets out, but they don’t get much more than that. We’re left a bit worried about what they might get up to in their new locality. It’s also a bit surprising to hear Sally is willing to stay on at the Walkers’ old farm – even with her mother – after the way she was treated there. Surely it would have too many bad memories for her, and Sally would be happier at White Towers. Still, the final panels are filled with such happiness for the girls and their beloved animal friends at White Towers that we are more than satisfied it’s a happy ending.

Too Old To Cry! (1975-76)

Sample Images

Published: Jinty 8 November 1975 – 6 March 1976 

Episodes: 18 

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot 

Nell (short for Eleanor) has grown up in Blackthorn House, a very grim pre-WW2 orphanage run by the cruel Mrs Arbuthnot, who is also very cunning and can lie her way out of any situation. Nell has the additional problems of being plain and having crooked teeth and a lame leg, which makes her a bit clumsy. Children have to toughen up fast to survive in the orphanage, and Nell has developed serious toughness. She is not tough to the point of scorning tenderness; the other children respect her for being kind and helping them as much as she can. A newcomer at the orphanage gives Nell a gold necklace in return for helping her.

Then Nell stumbles across her orphanage record. It informs her about a Mrs Grace, a woman who is her legal guardian, her mother maybe, and paying for her upkeep. This and the gift of the necklace prompt Nell to run away from the orphanage in search of Mrs Grace. She seizes her chance while the hawk-eyed Mrs Arbuthnot is on temporary absence from the orphanage. Along the way she swaps the necklace for a dress she plucked from a washing line and lands a washer-up job at a café. This earns her enough money for the train fare to the town where Mrs Grace lives. 

However, Nell is shocked to see what she finds at the address: Academy of Beauty and Grace for Ladies. Being no beauty, she is at a loss as to how to introduce herself. She watches the academy for a while. While doing so, she observes the arrival of one very reluctant newcomer, Sara Wellby, who will play a big part in her story. Sara’s mother is forcing her to attend the academy to forget “all that nonsense” i.e. horse riding, which she disapproves of for snobbish reasons and also because (with more justification) she thinks Sara’s head is too full of it. 

Eventually Nell decides to just go for it after seeing Mrs Grace looks a nice person. But right on Nell’s heels are Mrs Arbuthnot – who claims Nell is a bad lot and stole the necklace from her – the owner of the dress Nell took, and policemen! Once Mrs Grace realises who Nell is, she kindly sorts things out and arranges with Mrs Arbuthnot to let Nell stay at the academy. Mrs Arbuthnot seems only too happy to do so, saying she does not want Nell back. So Mrs Arbuthnot is gone (for now, anyway) and everything looks a lived-happily-ever-after fairy tale ending for Nell. 

However, Nell is soon down to earth with a bump when she discovers she is not welcome at the academy. She overhears Mrs Grace saying she just took her in for personal reasons but wants her kept out of sight, downstairs, because of her looks.

When Nell confronts Mrs Grace about what she overheard, Mrs Grace is impressed by her spunk. But she refuses to explain the mystery and tells Nell the story is she will take her on as a pupil. Nell realises Mrs Grace is just keeping her out of charity and she will be beholden to her. This offends her pride, but there’s not much option. 

But really – is a beauty academy seriously taking on an ugly duckling with a limp and a rough ‘n’ tough attitude from her harsh orphanage upbringing as a pupil? In an establishment where the other pupils are glamour and grace and posh? And Mrs Grace never really wanted Nell in the first place because of her physical shortfalls? If this is not a joke, it’s a recipe for trouble. Not surprisingly, things get off to a bad start for Nell with the other girls. Nell is quick to realise not to let word get around about her orphanage origins. Nell has many angry/crying fits at feeling unloved and unwanted at the academy, and her reactions at being perceived as an embarrassment by the establishment because she’s a rough kid become aggressive.

Things begin to look up when Nell makes a friend in Sara. She loves her horse, Mister Flicker; she wants to be a professional show jumper, but, as already stated, her parents disapprove. She only agreed to come to the academy if Mister Flicker came too, but is angry at Mrs Grace because there’s no sign of him. Nell strikes a friendship with Sara, and it is the only thing making life at the academy bearable for Nell where she’s an unwanted misfit. 

Mrs Grace, offering to be more friendly with Nell, explains that Mister Flicker’s arrival has just been delayed by a vet check, but she does not approve of the growing friendship or either girl getting too interested in horses. Nonetheless, Nell covers for Sara in class when Mister Flicker does arrive and she wants to help him settle. 

Unfortunately, those lovely hair products in class are too big a temptation for a scruffy kid from an orphanage that did not offer much in the way of decent body wash products. And when Nell uses them to help clean Sara up from the stables, things go a bit wrong. Sara unwittingly uses hair dye and ends up looking like a piebald pony. She takes it in good part and gets a short haircut to go with it. But when Mrs Grace hears what happened and why, she orders Nell not to mix with the other girls. However, this does not stop the girls’ friendship.

Next, Sara wants to secretly enter gymkhanas with Nell’s help. The event is being held at near a contest the school is entering, one to find the prettiest hands for an advertising campaign at Wickley Factory. Nell is surprised to hear from Sara that though her face is plain, her hands are pretty enough for enter. So the plan is for Nell to enter the hand contest under Sara’s name while she sneaks off to the gymkhana – where she fails dismally. Not enough preparation, rushing her horse, not putting him first, say the judges. Worse, Sara hadn’t bargained on Nell actually winning the hand contest in her name! 

Of course the deception is discovered. Nell cops worse punishment than Sara (such as getting a whacking on her hands in front of everyone but Sara doesn’t) though Sara is to blame too. The girls blame Nell for the trouble Sara got into, and discovering her orphanage background turns them even more against her. Now she’s even more isolated at the academy, with nothing but her rough ‘n’ tough hide developed from her orphanage years to keep her going. Sara is banned from seeing Mister Flicker for a month or speaking to Nell, and her friendship with Nell sours.

Despite everything, Wickley is still interested in Nell for their campaign. Hearing this, Nell’s hopes rise again, but she has to work with them in secret. 

Then disaster strikes again when Nell overhears a conversation in the stables about a horse being destroyed and mistakenly thinks it’s Mister Flicker. She tries to hide him in a shed, but her actions make him ill. Sara thinks Nell tried to kill Mister Flicker out of spite for ending their friendship. She has the girls cut Nell so dead they draw a death head on her door. This has a spooky, frightening effect on her. Nell feels the death head is cursing her, and it shows in her performance. Worse, her deal with Wickley falls through because it would expose the secret to Mrs Grace. And she needed the money from the job to pay for Mister Flicker’s treatment, but now she can’t afford it. 

Next, it’s Open Day, and Nell sees a chance to use some of the goods to raise the money. Again things go wrong when a policeman spots her selling cheap food to poor kids. He means to escort her back safely to the academy, but the embarrassment wrecks the Open Day and the story of the orphanage child at the academy now circulates among the stuck-up parents.

Nell sneaks into Mrs Grace’s office to find out the truth about herself, but accidentally starts a fire that almost burns the school down and Mrs Grace is injured. Sara, who saw Nell sneak into Mrs Grace’s office, thinks Nell started the fire on purpose and won’t listen to Nell’s pleas that it was an accident. The school is temporarily closed and the girls are sent home. Nell, who has nowhere to go, is taken in at none other than Sara’s house! 

The long, messy trail of disasters and misunderstandings at the academy is not making Nell’s stay at the Wellbys’ a happy one. Sara now thinks Nell is strange and dangerous; her distrust of Nell has her spending far more time with Mr Flicker than ever, which has Nell thinking Sara cares more about Mister Flicker than her; Sara’s snobby parents are mortified to find Nell is a common kid; Nell tries to run away when she discovers this, but this just leads to more misunderstandings and trouble with Sara; and Nell thinks all she can do is put up with things under yet another luxurious but hostile roof with everyone against her.

Things couldn’t get any worse? They do when Mrs Arbuthnot shows up again. She’s after Mrs Wellby’s money, as “donations” for the orphanage, and forces Nell to help her. She also gets hold of Mister Flicker to sell on for a good price. When Sara finds out, she has Nell take her to the orphanage. Sara is shocked to see what a horrible place Nell has come from, and finds the treatment of Mister Flicker just as bad. He’s in the coal shed with nothing but stale bread – which he only got because the orphans kindly smuggled it in. Mrs Arbuthnot had no intention of feeding him. Sara is all for removing Mister Flicker right then and there, but Nell, who knows it is technically stealing and Mrs Arbuthnot can lie her way out of anything, persuades Sara that they have to find another way. They strike a bargain: Sara helps Nell prove Mrs Grace is her mother and Nell will help get Mister Flicker back. The orphanage kids will keep an eye on Mister Flicker. Unfortunately Sara’s parents are caught up in party preparations to celebrate their anniversary, so it’s a bad time for Sara and Nell to approach them about their little problems. 

During the party, one of the orphanage kids arrives with bad news: Mrs Arbuthnot has suddenly advanced her plans for Mister Flicker and he’s gone. Fortunately, another orphanage kid, Tim, sneaked into the horse box and laid a trail, enabling them to find Mister Flicker, and discover Mrs Arbuthnot sold him to a racket. Sara gets the police, the racket is sorted out, and Mister Flicker is back. What happened to Mrs Arbuthnot is not clear, but angry remarks from Mrs Wellby give the impression she is now sorted out too. However, Sara’s parents are more concerned about the embarrassment this has caused them and send Nell back to the academy. They are definitely not going to help Nell discover her past, and Sara is so wrapped up with Mister Flicker she forgets her side of the bargain to Nell. This has Nell feeling let down and unloved again.

Nell discovers the fire she accidentally started at the academy has destroyed Mrs Grace’s private papers, dashing her hopes of proving her past. The housekeeper snaps at her in anger for starting the fire. This is the last straw for Nell and she runs off, leaving a note. She heads to the shed where she hid Mister Flicker but breaks her leg, and it’s pouring rain. She’s in serious danger but manages to crawl into the shed.

Nell’s note is discovered, and a search party finds her in the nick of time. Sara realises this is partly her fault for the way she failed Nell, and she apologises. Also shocked by what happened, Mrs Grace tells Nell the truth. Nell’s mother was a servant employed by Mrs Grace, but she unwittingly caused the mother’s death. She then sent Nell to the orphanage, paying for her upkeep, without realising how cruel the orphanage was. Mrs Grace now officially adopts Nell, arranges treatment for Nell’s lame leg and crooked teeth, and gives her a complete makeover. The academy is converted into a decent orphanage for the orphans. Nell and Sara go to college, and they will help run the place when they return, complete with horse riding.  

Thoughts

The story could easily have taken the route of Nell enduring the harshness at the orphanage while trying to do something about it, failing time and time over but never giving up, and ultimately succeeding. The formula has been frequently seen in girls’ comics, such as Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”, “The Worst School in the World” from Judy, and “The School for Unwanted Ones” from Bunty. 

Instead, when Nell first escapes from the orphanage, the story takes the unusual route of not having her dragged back there and face terrible punishment, which does not stop her from trying again. The cruel matron, rather than being the main antagonist throughout the story, is used to help set up the early episodes and then the resolution of the story. In the meantime, Nell’s first escape attempts succeeds, only to lead her down the ugly duckling/misfit route where she just finds herself more and more of an outcast, and her efforts to do something helpful or find out who she is just get her into ever-increasing trouble. For all the luxuries her new life brings her, it is not bringing her the love or happiness she craves. She finds herself actually pining for the orphanage; grim and cruel though it was, at least she was among her own and had friends. She discovers that “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (Proverbs 15:17) is all too true. 

Nell’s story shares similarities with Little Orphan Annie: an abused but feisty orphan (Nell/Annie) running away from an orphanage to find her parents and strikes it good with rich people; the orphanage run by a cruel woman (Mrs Arbuthnot/Miss Hannigan) who abuses her and then takes advantage of the adoptive rich people to make money; the orphan failing to reunited with her birth parents but is adopted by the lovely rich person (Mrs Grace/Daddy Warbucks). As with Annie, Nell has no given surname (at least, not in the story), which further adds to the mystery. 

But unlike Daddy Warbucks, Mrs Grace does not really want Nell. She is only taking her in because she is responsible for her and, as we ultimately discover, she is also feeling guilty about the death of Nell’s mother. Even so, she could have done a lot more to help Nell instead of making Nell feel she’s an embarrassment to the establishment and best kept out of the way. Giving scruffy, plain Nell a makeover, particularly after she discovers Nell’s hands are beautiful, would have gone a long way to making Nell feel a lot more confident and giving her a sense of belonging in the academy. When she finally does give Nell a makeover at the end of the story, ugly duckling Nell has turned into such a swan the readers would be hard put to recognise her. 

Nell is surrounded by snobby girls who look down on her because she’s rough and common. Being an outcast in a posh place because you’re not posh is a common thing in girls’ comics, but in Nell’s case it is even more heart-breaking because she’s a lonely orphan who came to seek the love she craved, only to find herself in a gilded cage, in the lap of luxury, but nobody cares for her. At Sara’s house, things get even worse for Nell because even Sara has turned against her. The irony is that at the orphanage, Nell dreamed of luxury, only to find that luxury without love is meaningless. The grim orphanage becomes preferable because at least she had friends, but there is no crawling back to it. 

The snobs also find it suspicious as to why Mrs Grace has her at all. When they find out Nell’s orphanage background, they are not surprised to find out it is a form of charity. Nell does not like the charity either. This is not just because it hurts her pride; it’s also because it’s not what she wants. She wants the love and caring she believes she should be getting from the woman she thinks is her mother. But why the hell isn’t she getting it? She feels so let down, which adds to her misery.

Nell’s rough reactions to the snobbishness against her, borne of the toughness she developed in the orphanage, are not endearing the people at the academy to her. And in some ways, Nell’s tough conduct is making things worse for her. It does give the impression she is too tough, maybe even delinquent. So, when things Nell does keep going wrong, it is all too easy for even Sara to get the idea Nell is a bad lot. But to the reader, Nell’s feistiness is admirable. She has beans and backbone while most protagonists in girls’ comics tend to take things in silence.  

Sara could almost be in the role of Sandy the dog, Annie’s faithful friend. But unlike Sandy, Sara is not doing much to help Nell beyond being her only pillar of support in the academy. And she isn’t that much of a pillar of support or a friend either. In fact, Nell does more to help Sara (or at least tries to) than the other way around. It is not until the very end that Sara at last seriously helps Nell and becomes a real friend.

In some ways Sara is a sympathetic character; her snobby mother is forcing her to give up riding, just because she disapproves of it. To do so, she drags Sara off the beauty academy, which Sara quite understandably hates. We have seen similar things in girls’ comics time over, such as “Battle of the Wills” from Jinty. And in the end, riding wins out. 

But Sara has one serious problem – she is selfish. She is too absorbed with Mister Flicker and cares for nothing and nobody but him. As a result, she is not thinking of others, which limits her ability to make friendships because she is too selfish to reciprocate them. The way she keeps getting Nell to help her carry on riding against orders is on the verge of taking advantage of her. 

Sara has to learn that riding is not everything. It takes shock treatment, which Sara gets at the final episode, to make her realise this. In the end, Sara is still riding, but she is doing it in a more sharing and caring manner at the new orphanage, and showing that she is now looking beyond herself and riding. Mrs Grace is now looking beyond her narrow horizons too, and putting her efforts into something really caring and loving as well as giving Nell the love she has been expecting for so long.

Sit It Out, Sheri (1976)

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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 are 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 her frightened and sweating. Sheri’s 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. 

Knight and Day (1978)

Sample Images

Knight and Day 1aKnight and Day 1bKnight and Day 1c

Published: Jinty 20 May 1978 – 26 August 1978. Not to be confused with “Day and Knight” (1984), Princess/Tammy

Episodes: 15

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Pat Day’s mother abandoned her four years earlier and never bothered with her since. Pat is now happily fostered with the Hargreaves, has a foster-brother named Terry, and she has just qualified for the school county swimming team.

Then Pat’s mother, now remarried as Mrs Knight, successfully applies to get her back. Pat protests that she doesn’t want to go back to her or leave the Hargreaves. Mrs Hargreaves can’t believe social welfare is allowing it after how the mother treated Pat before, but it’s no use. The Hargreaves have no rights, not even visitation rights. Pat has to go back to her mother. Terry gives her a parting gift: his precious Chinese coin, which he has turned into a pendant for her.

But Pat soon finds out her mother only wanted her so she, her new husband and stepsister Janet could get a council flat. Neither parent cares about Pat, and Janet bullies her and makes her life a misery. Ironically, it is soon obvious that the parents aren’t particularly good to Janet either.

Later, Pat finds out Janet is the school bully and hated by the whole school. Moreover, Janet is the unbeaten school swimming champion. She thinks she’s the greatest. And she does not like the threat Pat poses to her there. She also intercepts and destroys a letter the Hargreaves send to Pat. All Pat has now are swimming and the coin pendant.

School is of little help because once the girls realise Pat is the school bully’s stepsister, they want nothing to do with her. Moreover, Janet cunningly poisons them against Pat by pretending to act nice to her at their expense. One girl, Laura, sees through this trick, but can’t convince the others.

However, the girls cheer when Pat beats Janet at swimming (finally) and gets a place on the swimming squad. Soon Pat is impressing the swimming teacher with her diving and swimming capabilities. But Janet is furious over her humiliation and is playing dirty tricks to get revenge. Her first is getting Pat lumbered with a paper round, on pretext of the family needing extra money. As planned, this cuts into Pat’s time for her swimming coaching.

The only drawback to this plan is that Janet has to do the round as well. Meanwhile, the man hiring Pat lets his daughter Cheryl accompany Pat on the first round. Cheryl is afraid of water and can’t swim, and Pat offers to teach her. She and Cheryl become friends, much to Janet’s chagrin. At school, Laura guesses the real reason why Pat got lumbered with the paper round. She still believes Pat is not like Janet, but again nobody is listening to her.

Cheryl’s dad hears about the coaching problem and offers to pay Pat to teach Cheryl to swim. So Pat can now get her coaching and Janet gets lumbered with the paper round. And Dad says she has to do it or feel the back of his hand. Ha, ha!

A package arrives for Pat from the Hargreaves, with money and a lovely swimsuit, but Janet steals it and shows it off in front of Pat at Cheryl’s swimming lesson. When Pat sees Janet in the swimsuit she finds it odd, because her foster parents were going to buy her a costume like that. Janet takes advantage to taunt her that not hearing from them (because she intercepts the mail) shows how much they care for her. This really hurts Pat, and Janet loves it. She pulls other nasty tricks, such as shaking Pat off the diving board and trying to poison Pat’s mind against the Hargreaves. Cheryl is more suspicious about the origins of the swimsuit and tries to convince Pat that Janet is just being spiteful and bullying, but Pat is still fooled by Janet’s phony kindness to her.

At home, Mum gives Pat a letter; it came with the parcel and Janet overlooked it. Once Pat reads it she realises what Janet did. Pat confronts Janet, says she now sees Janet for what she is, and takes her swimsuit back.

The parents slap both of them for fighting. Both Pat and Janet cry over it. Janet’s trying not to, but Pat can hear it, and she now realises why Janet is the way she is. But she’s had enough and is also scared she will end up like Janet because of those parents. So she runs back to the Hargreaves. However, the police are there when she arrives and take her back to the Knights.

To the police, Mum puts on a good show of loving mother who was worried sick over Pat running off. But once they’re gone, Mum hits Pat for running off, and spills her guts over how she really feels about Pat. She never loved Pat or her father, never wanted Pat at all, and only got her back so they could get the council flat. Otherwise, she would have been quite happy never to see Pat again. But now they’re stuck with each other, she says, and there’s no escape. There is little doubt that lumbering herself with the daughter she never cared for, just to qualify for the flat, is turning Mum’s unfeeling towards Pat into downright hate.

After this frightening scene with her mother, Pat starts cracking up. It begins with outright rebellion. When Janet tries to steal Pat’s swimsuit again, she cuts it up rather than let her take it. She smashes crockery, threatens to wreck the flat, and defies her mother when she tries to force her to eat. This looks like the beginning of a hunger strike because Pat refuses to eat all day. Then she turns to depression, thinking the whole light has gone out of her life and there is no escape from her miserable home life. She is snappy to the other girls at school. Again, Laura correctly guesses what’s wrong. At the school gala Pat refuses to dive and just bombs off the diving board. Worst of all, she shoplifts a bracelet from a store, not realising security caught her on the store camera.

Suddenly, Pat is struck by guilt and wants to return the bracelet, but not eating all day is catching up and she feels faint. A policeman sees this and takes her home, where her parents give her a terrible beating for breaking the crockery. However, Cheryl discovers this when she comes to the door to enquire after Pat. She realises Pat’s parents are mistreating her.

Even Janet is shocked at the state Pat is in after the beating, and it’s the start of a whole new relationship between them. The parents force Pat to stay home until the injuries heal as they don’t want the teachers to see them and ask questions. They force Janet to stay home as well, to make sure Pat does not go to school. Janet protests that this means missing the swimming competition, but Dad clouts her: “If you don’t want to end up like her, you’ll do what you’re told!”

Seeing Janet’s new-found sympathy, Pat agrees to stay at home – but then remembers the bracelet. She slips out to return it, disguising her bruises as best she can with a scarf and dark glasses, but her attempt to return the bracelet goes wrong. What’s more, security recognises her from before and alerts the staff and police.

They don’t believe Pat was trying to return the bracelet. But then the police remove her glasses and scarf and see she is a battered child. The police realise she needs serious help and offer to do so. However, Pat is overcome by shame and runs off.

Meanwhile, at school, Janet is beginning to redeem herself. She threatens to menace a girl but stops when she sees how terrified the girl is, just like Pat, and makes a kind offer of help with swimming instead. This surprises everyone and Laura realises the change in Janet. Janet further redeems herself when she leaves the swimming to go home and check on Pat.

By now, Pat hasn’t eaten for two whole days. At the canal, lack of food, the beating and running from the police take their toll and she collapses. She falls into the canal, hasn’t the strength to swim, and she’s got cramp and blacking out. Someone needs to rescue her or she’ll drown.

Cheryl has been following Pat about the beating, and now she’s the only one to help. The trouble is, she can’t swim and is scared of water. Nonetheless, she bravely goes in to save Pat but soon realises it’s beyond her. Janet sees how foolhardy Cheryl is and tells her to get out fast. Janet rescues Pat herself.

In hospital, Pat goes into a coma for three months. Despite this, she has horrible nightmares about her ordeal and her mother separating her from the loving Hargreaves forever. But when she wakes up from the coma, she finds everything has been sorted out. The store did not press charges over the bracelet. Janet and Cheryl helped the police inquiries about the battering. The parents were prosecuted and given suspended sentences. Pat returns to the custody of the Hargreaves, who are adopting her now. Pat’s swimming coach is arranging special coaching for her in her own town, and now Pat couldn’t be happier.

As for Janet, she’s now the heroine for saving Pat and her redemption is complete at school. She has taken over giving Cheryl swimming lessons. Cheryl’s brave attempt at rescue had clearly been the first crucial step she had to take to overcome her problem with water. Mind you, Janet still thinks she’s the greatest! Pat and Janet are reconciled and all is forgiven. There’s still rivalry between them at the swimming gala, but it’s friendly. Janet is staying on with her parents, who weren’t quite so bad to her, and is hopeful they will treat her better because social welfare is watching.

Thoughts

“Knight and Day” is cast in the mould of the Cinderella theme, a common formula in girls’ comics, but goes against it in several ways. In so doing, it depicts a far more realistic and grimmer picture of the horrors of domestic child abuse. First, the heroines in the Cinderella serials are usually resilient and refuse to broken by the cruelties they are subjected to. They come up with ways to fight back, usually with a little secret or talent of some sort. But not in the case of Pat. From the outset, her only response is to cry a lot. She still clings to her swimming and pendant for comfort and hope, but on the whole she is far less resilient than most Cinderella-type protagonists such as Bella Barlow. There can be little doubt it stems from her being damaged by her mother’s initial neglect, and the damage is exacerbated by her being forcibly removed from the home where she was loved and happy.

Second, when Pat finally fights back, it is first by standing up to Janet and then running off, then lashing out and hunger strike, and even a mutinous act of shoplifting. But then depression sets in. Pat loses all fight and hope, and self-inflicted food deprivation is not helping. Her will is just about broken. This is quite surprising as it’s not normally how Cinderella heroines in girls’ serials react. Sure, they can get depressed and demoralised, but they usually bounce back somehow. On the other hand, it is pretty close to how things would be in real life with an abused child, which makes the story very realistic indeed.

Third, Pat may be the worst-off daughter, but it’s a surprise to see the parents don’t spoil Janet or treat her as the favourite at Pat’s expense, which is usually the case in similar serials e.g. “Make-Believe Mandy”, also from Jinty. In fact, they’re not fit parents for Janet either. For example, Janet comes home soaked to the skin from the paper round, but they don’t care and haven’t even left any breakfast for her: “We’re not your bloomin’ servants. Make your own.” And the only thing for that is a slice of stale bread. They also clout Janet as much as they do Pat, although they don’t go as far as to beat Janet all over.

Finally, the parents use both girls for their own advantage, not just the ill-used heroine. They use Pat to get the council flat. None of the money either girl earns from the paper round or the swimming coaching goes to them, as it should. Instead, the parents pocket it all. The pretext is that the parents are hard up. There may be some truth in this, but it is still blatant exploitation. The girls should at least have some of it.

We get some secondary characters who are more perceptive of what is wrong. Laura correctly guesses at every turn what is going on. Unfortunately she can’t be of further help because all the other girls overrule her and even threaten her with Coventry if she speaks to Pat. So she gets little development as serious help for Pat and takes no part in the resolution of the story. That part belongs to Cheryl, whose attempts to help Pat help her to overcome her own problem: her water phobia. Cheryl also witnessed the beating, which would be of immense help to Pat.

Social welfare and the police are, as usual, depicted as totally useless and until the near the resolution of the story. Up until then they are totally fooled by Mrs Knight’s phony acts of concerned mother and don’t listen to Pat’s protests.

We wish the parents could have been given a proper jail sentence instead of a suspended one, but presumably it was because they could take care of Janet. As it is, they would have lost their council flat because they no longer qualify, and now have the stigma of abusive parents.

We agree with Pat that it’s no wonder Janet is such a bully with those parents of hers. Although she does not show it, it is clear she is also miserable with her home life. Her response to it is toughen up in order to survive, not cry miserably all the time like Pat: “[Crying] won’t do any good. You’ve just got to learn to survive…keep your nose clean,” is her advice to Pat after the beating. But for all this acting tough, it is obvious that Janet is full of hurt from her parents’ treatment, and she’s taking it out on the girls at school with behaving hard and tough and bullying. So, although Janet is mean, spiteful and bullying, she is a more sympathetic character than is usually the case for wicked stepsisters in Cinderella-type serials. It’s not just Pat we want rescued from the situation; it’s Janet too. If something is not done about her unfit parents and dysfunctional home life, she will spiral down a very dark path indeed, as Pat begins to once her ill-treatment gets too much. Not to mention have no chance of redemption from her spiteful bully behaviour.

It would take a horrible shock for Janet to realise that bullying’s not the way, and she gets it when she sees the horrific beating Pat gets from her parents. Though they had frequently slapped both girls, they had never gone that far before. Janet would be terrified by this; after all, suppose they do the same to her? They even threaten her with it. This is the turning point for Janet, and it’s realistic because it’s credible.

As is often the case with bullies and dysfunctional children, the parents are Janet’s bad behaviour. Both of them are selfish, unfeeling, abusive people. They clearly deserve each other but are not at all fit to be parents. Even after Janet grows hopeful her relationship with her parents will improve, we seriously doubt they will show her any genuine love because they’re just not the loving type. We rather wish the Hargreaves could take Janet too.

Ironically, if Janet had been on the right side of things instead of a bully, she would have been the resilient Cinderella heroine we expect in a girls’ serial. In fact, she would have been a much stronger one than usual as she is not given to tears and has learned the hard knocks of being tough in order to survive. We would have cheered the story for having a heroine like this all the way.

Note: The unknown artist of this story has not been linked to any other serial or title at IPC, and this was his/her only story for Jinty. It is presumed the artist was a guest artist from DCT. If anyone has any information about the artist or other serials he/she drew, it would be much appreciated.

 

No Cheers for Cherry (1978-79)

Sample Images

No Cheers for Cherry 1No Cheers for Cherry 2No Cheers for Cherry 3

Published: Jinty 2 September 1978 – 13 January 1979

Episodes: 17

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Geen applaus voor Sandra [No Applause for Sandra] in: Groot Tina Zomerboek 1983-4)

Plot

In Inverglay, Scotland, Cherry Campbell dreams of going on stage and has already taught herself several song-and-dance numbers. One day Cherry’s Aunt Margot from England comes to visit. She’s a cunning, manipulative woman out to bamboozle her naïve sister out of priceless family heirlooms. But there’s worse. She also gets her hands on Cherry, saying she will develop Cherry’s talent at their theatre business, Theatre Rose.

The reality is, Aunt Margot only wants Cherry as unpaid help, a slave to the whole family on the barge, as her son (Marvin) and daughter (Michelle) are too selfish and lazy to help out. Uncle Bernard treats Cherry slightly better. He seems to have a soft spot for her, but he sure knows how to act sweet and kind when it comes to fooling her, and for the most part he exploits her as much as the rest of the family.

Cherry is shocked to see the reality of Theatre Rose. It’s a barge and the stage is one the family set up and take down wherever they stop. It’s not what she expected and she wonders if it really will help her dreams of making it on stage. Moreover, it is soon obvious that Cherry’s relatives are far better actors when it comes to swindling than the stage. Theatre Rose is not making much money and audiences are not impressed with the performances. In one episode a bunch of schoolkids give Aunt and Uncle a well-deserved pelting (and we don’t just mean the ham acting). From the sound of it, it happens to them all the time. In another episode, Michelle and Marvin send the audience to sleep with their wooden acting, which is because they don’t care about the family business anymore; they want to break away from Theatre Rose and make their own way as performers.

What keeps Cherry in their power is that she is just as naïve and good-natured as her mother. For this reason, she just can’t see she is being taken advantage of, not even when it is staring at her right in the face. For example, she notices that she has done nothing but housework since she arrived instead of learning how to perform but thinks nothing of it. In another episode, she is forced to work in cold, wet clothes after nasty Marvin sends her flying into freezing water until she becomes ill. But not even this makes her wake up to the way she is being treated.

What’s more, her relatives are very cunning at pulling the wool over her eyes, to the extent of convincing her that all the slaving she is doing is all for the benefit of her training as an actress. And as long as Cherry doesn’t realise she is being abused, she is making no moves to escape or seek help. There’s no schooling either where she might get help or welfare taking a hand; her uncle and aunt keep her off school so she can continue slaving for them, and Cherry is only too happy to be off school to realise why.

One evening Cherry puts on an impromptu song-and-dance number for her relatives and Uncle Bernard instantly sees her star quality – and the money it will make for them. But they don’t say that to her. However, they don’t want her getting downhearted and going home because they will lose their skivvy. So Uncle Bernard suckers her even more by promising to coach her and have her think that it will be his doing that makes her a star when her big break comes. But he’s not offering her real coaching at all; it’s all part of keeping her as the barge skivvy. What coaching Cherry gets comes from herself. Unknown to them, she learns the scripts of their plays as a secret understudy so she can step in when one of the relatives can’t perform, and prove herself that way.

Her chance comes when Marvin skips off to play guitar at a club instead of performing at the family play. Aunt and Uncle grudgingly allow Cherry to replace Marvin as she knows the lines: “Anyhow, most of the old ducks in the audience were asleep last night. They probably wouldn’t notice if a performing seal went on in Marvin’s place!”

But Cherry has to turn things around into a Charlie Chaplin-esque comedy performance because that’s the only way her costume will allow it. As a result, the performance is a smashing success (for once) and everyone loves her. Cheers for Cherry at last. It’s her first debut, and Cherry even discovers a press cutting about it later. Will it lead to better things with her relatives?

Not really. They are just as bad as ever, and next night they hustle her away when she’s about to do a repeat performance because a social welfare officer is sniffing around and getting too close to Cherry’s situation.

Then Cherry gets spotted by famous actress Eena Blair, who offers her an audition. Her relatives are out to take advantage, to the point of snatching the bracelet Eena gave her and selling it, which breaks Cherry’s heart. But they doll her up in such a ridiculous way that she fails the audition because she feels wrong. Even her scheming uncle is sincerely disappointed for her and gives her genuine advice: keep going and keep faith in herself.

Later, Cherry bumps into her classmates from Inverglay. They offer her a chance to go home, but Uncle cons her into staying with crocodile tears about how she’s breaking his heart at leaving. Another chance to escape gone, without Cherry even realising it.

Another break comes when Cherry joins a street busker in a performance and gets noticed again. This time it’s Doris Keene of “The Keene Kids”, an agency that provides young actors for commercials. Aunt and Uncle are all for it (because of the money of course) and put on a free show so Doris will see her in action. But Michelle gets jealous at Cherry getting all the breaks and steals the audition for herself. She gets a job in commercials and is happy to break away from Theatre Rose.

What finally frees Cherry from her sly relatives is news that her mother has been involved in an accident, and this time she insists on returning home. The problem is money, which Cherry still doesn’t realise her aunt and uncle are pocketing at her expense. They have even spent the money Cherry just earned at another performance on a whole new wardrobe for Michelle at her new job.

Then an audience, remembering Cherry’s one-night Charlie Chaplin-esque performance, turn up in droves to see her again. Cherry puts on her self-taught song and dance numbers and raises a huge sum of money. Aunt Margot is all set to pocket it and spend it on home comforts, but Uncle Bernard’s kinder half towards Cherry prevails (or maybe he doesn’t want to risk Cherry finally realising the truth). He lets her have all the money and gives her permission to go home, saying her talent outclasses the Theatre Rose and there is nothing more they can do for her.

Aunt Margot is furious: “What about your grand plans for her? She was going to keep us in clover, you old fool!”

This is said right in front of Cherry, but she still doesn’t grasp the significance. Instead, she is full of tears and gratitude towards her uncle, and to the very end she fails to realise they’ve being exploiting and cheating her from the very beginning.

Cherry returns home and is relieved to see her mother has recovered. But she suffers from people gossiping about her failure as an actress. Plus her schoolwork is lousy because her Aunt and Uncle kept her off school. She has also lost heart in pursuing the stage.

Then Cherry is asked to participate in a variety show for charity, which she intends to be her swansong. However, her performance is televised and gets her noticed, and she receives an offer to star in a children’s show.

Thoughts

This story is in the vein of the Cinderella theme, which was prevalent in Jinty and Tammy during the 1970s. It’s also one of the last at IPC because the theme was phasing out by the late 1970s at IPC (though it remained popular at DCT). The difference is that this Cinderella just doesn’t realise that she is a Cinderella and is being taken advantage of by grasping, manipulative relatives. So, unlike Cinderella Smith, Make-Believe Mandy and other Cinderella types in girls’ comics she is not trying to escape the abuse or fight against it, because she just can’t see it for what it is. And others can’t see it either because it is itinerant (travelling with the barge) and Cherry is not going to school where someone might realise what is going on and help her. Nor can Cherry use her talent to console herself against the abuse and use it as a means of escape as so many of her counterparts have done.

So how the heck can this Cinderella escape from this situation? It clearly lies in either Cherry wising up or something freeing her from the exploitation, or even both. One possibility is that Cherry might win respect from her guardians as her talent develops and they treat her better. But we soon see that’s no good either. Like so many other abusive relatives they either get jealous of it (Michelle) or take advantage of it and pocket the profits (Aunt and Uncle). Maybe Uncle Bernard’s soft side for Cherry will somehow help; his attitude seems to improve a bit, such as when he is genuinely disappointed she failed her audition. Or maybe the people who take an interest in her might make her an offer that frees her without realising. But nothing seems to work, and it gets increasingly frustrating to watch as Cherry remains in the clutches of her mean relatives without her even realising what is going on.

In the end, Cherry does become a star and gets a lot of big breaks during her time with Theatre Rose. But did Theatre Rose actually help her to do it – in spite of itself? Would Cherry would have gotten those breaks without Theatre Rose? Did Uncle Bernard really help develop her talent after all, albeit in an underhand, roundabout way? After all, her mother can’t afford acting school, so she was less likely to get a break if she had stayed in Inverglay. Guess Jinty leaves it up to her readers to decide.

Still, the fact remains that Cherry’s relatives got away with exploiting her without any consequences whatsoever. Michelle even got a plum job out of it, which she wouldn’t even have got without Cherry. We are left wishing Theatre Rose gets struck by lightning and sinks to the bottom of the river or something.

Katie on Thin Ice (1977)

Sample Images

Katie on Thin Ice 1

Katie on Thin Ice 2

Katie on Thin Ice 3

Published: Tammy 8 January 1977 – 9 April 1977

Episodes: 14

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

It is winter 1815 and it’s so cold the Thames has frozen. Katie Williams comes to the Port of London to greet her father, who is returning from the Napoleonic Wars. But bad news awaits her: Dad perished in the wars and now she’s an orphan. He has left a couple of things for Katie: a pair of ice skates and a bag of money.

The money bag is promptly snatched by a thief named Annie. Katie manages to catch up to Annie and demand her bag back. Then a cold-looking woman named Mrs Winter appears, saying she is a benefactor for Napoleonic war orphans and apologises for Annie. She offers to take Annie into her home for war orphans. The home looks respectable enough, but Katie senses something is strange about it.

Next day Katie tries out her skates on the frozen Thames and sees an angry mob chasing Susie, a girl from the orphanage. Katie helps Susie by leading them off, but then finds out too late why they were chasing her: she had stolen a necklace. Mrs Winter is now revealed to be a female Fagin type and she runs her orphanage as a den of thieves and pickpockets. As nobody will believe Katie was duped into helping Susie, Mrs Winter has snared Katie, blackmails her into crime, and says those skates and the frozen Thames will be the perfect getaway every time Katie steals.

Annie, Katie soon learns, is the most vicious of the thieves. She is also jealous of Katie because Katie has usurped her position as favourite after saving Mrs Winter’s life. Katie suspects Annie tried to kill her when a lamp warning of a hole in the ice got moved and she spots candle grease on Annie’s hand later on.

Katie is forced to go along with the racket; for the most part just watch helplessly and provide diversions on the ice while the thieves make their getaway. But she does not downright steal anything and is determined to find a way to stop it. In one attempted thieving she is pleased to mess up and go back empty handed, even though it means a beating. In another attempted raid she saves a girl’s life when Annie attempts to send her sliding to her doom over the edge. The girl is Claire Stern, ironically the daughter of a magistrate. The magistrate wants Katie to give Claire ice-skating lessons. Anxious to keep up her façade of respectability, Mrs Winter agrees.

The lessons start well, but Katie can see Annie following and out to rob the Sterns. She pulls a fast one on Annie when she tries it, which gets Annie a beating, but now Annie’s really out to get her.

Mrs Winter has the gang attempt to raid the ships, but it goes wrong and Susie is arrested. Katie manages to rescue Susie, but now Susie is seriously ill. And Mrs Winter says Katie must steal the money needed for Susie’s treatment – and stealing had been something Katie had been trying to avoid with Mrs Winter. Eventually Katie smashes an apothecary’s window to grab some medicine, but leaves money to pay it. When Miss Winter finds out, she beats Katie for not stealing.

By this time Katie has become known to the police as “the ice thief” and they are on the lookout for her. They almost nab her with a net as she makes her way back from the apothecary, but an amazing leap to grab an ice shard to rip her way through the net saves her.

But Inspector Hawkfinch, who has seen Katie skate as both the ice thief and Claire’s skating teacher, suspects her, and Katie knows it. At Claire’s next lesson he tries to trick Katie into replicating the leap, but she is too sore from the beating to do it. So it looks like suspicion is allayed. But now Katie has another problem: Claire says she is going to use her skating lessons to help the police catch the ice thief!

Claire is getting ready to set her trap on the Thames, but her speed skating is still not up to the ice thief’s and needs more coaching there. That night Mrs Winter forces Katie to go help stealing at a warehouse, saying they will kill Susie if she doesn’t. Katie warns them the police are on the lookout, and they say they will provide the decoys while Katie gets away on the ice. But Claire spots her and, as Katie is still weakened from the beating, Claire could well catch her. Katie uses a stolen tapestry like a sail to make her getaway.

But when Claire tells Mrs Winter she almost caught the ice thief, it puts Claire in danger from Mrs Winter. Katie tries to protect Claire by offering to steal Claire’s skates. But she fails, and she soon discovers Mrs Winter has set Annie onto Claire. Annie tries to set a coach toppling on top of Claire, and Katie saves her. Next, Annie tries to burn down Claire’s house, with her and Katie in it. Again, Katie’s quick action saves the day. Her own skates get damaged, though.

London is going to have an ice fair on the Thames, which means more pickings for Mrs Winter. At the fair they meet up with Claire, who says her skates got destroyed in the fire. It looks like Claire is now safe from Mrs Winter. But Susie is still sick and they are using her as a hold over Katie. Katie decides it’s time to make a break for it, with Susie. After tying up Annie, Katie tries to get away Susie away on a sledge on the Thames, but Claire catches her, revealing she managed to get her skates fixed. And Katie’s damaged skates left a trail from her house to Mrs Winter’s.

Claire now realises Katie is the ice thief, but thinks it’s Katie’s own operation. Katie tries to tell Claire it is Mrs Winter who is behind everything, but Claire does not listen. People think she’s a respectable woman and benefactor of war orphans. Katie and Susie are turned over to Mrs Winter, who locks them in the icehouse. Katie manages to get them out of the icehouse – and lock Mrs Winter’s crony Ena in the icehouse.

Katie discovers that Mrs Winter is planning to send the whole ice fair under the river by spreading salt on the ice. This is because there are people there, including Claire, her father, and her own pickpockets, who know or suspect too much. Katie meets up with Claire and her father and tries to tell them about Mrs Winter, and that she was forced into crime. They still don’t listen – until they see Mrs Winter’s charges at work for themselves and they finally suspect her. Then the salt takes effect, breaking up the ice. Katie and Claire go the rescue of many trapped people, including the pickpockets, on the ice. Everyone is pulled clear of the ice, and Katie and Claire have to sacrifice their own skates so they will be saved too.

Across the ice, Mrs Winter fumes at failing to kill them. Annie overhears her and, realising she was also intended to be a victim, takes revenge by throwing her cutpurse knife at the bag of salt at Mrs Winter’s feet. This breaks up the ice under Mrs Winter and sends her to her death in the icy waters of the Thames. Annie then clears out to find warmer and greener pastures for her pickpocketing.

Claire’s father promises the orphans he will arrange a better life for them.

Thoughts

Tammy’s choice of artist must have caught her readers by surprise. John Armstrong didn’t usually draw a period serial (though he did plenty of period stories for the Strange Stories). Or a skating serial for that matter, despite his aptitude for sports stories. By this time Armstrong was known more in Tammy for his Bella stories and only older readers would remember he once drew Tammy stories that had nothing to do with Bella. But when we view this story, we wonder why the hell he wasn’t given more of a chance to do more of such stories.

The story formula itself is one we see more often in the DCT titles, such as “The Courage of Honor Bright” (Mandy). An orphaned girl discovers too late she has fallen foul of a racket in the Fagin vein, but she refuses to become part of it. She is the one oasis of honesty and courage against a racket that has destroyed honest principles in the other waifs, whether by offerings of a good home, intimidation, abuse, or taking advantage of worse-natured children. She fights all the pressures to turn her into one of the criminal gang and desperately tries to find a way to escape and bring down the racket. The Fagin villain rues the day he or she ever ensnared this girl in the operation. It is unusual to see the formula in Tammy though, which makes the story even more of a surprise.

Mrs Winter comes from a long tradition of sinister villainesses who pass themselves off as respectable benefactors in girls’ comics. In reality, it’s a front for their criminal operation and maintaining a façade of respectability to the outside world. In this case, it’s entrapping orphans from the Napoleonic Wars and turning them into pickpockets to line her pockets. At first glance the home looks fine and the orphans well cared for. There are no hints of the child abuse that helps to maintain Mrs Winter’s hold over the orphans or the punishments (beatings, the ice house, threatening to expose a sick girl to the cold until she dies) for those who refuse to steal. Yet even before the protagonist realises the façade there are warning signs about Mrs Winter. She does look like a creepy, cold crone. Even her name is a warning and ties in with the running theme of cold and ice.

The ice-skating itself is also unusual in that it’s not being done for competitions or battling to keep up the skating against obstacles, as in most skating serials. Instead, the skating is the vehicle that both entraps the protagonist and provides her means of hope and escape against the nightmare she has fallen into. It’s beautifully drawn against the backdrop of the frozen Thames and the life and culture that used to develop on the Thames when it froze over. Those days must be bygone ones now in an age of global warming.

The theme of Katie running on thin ice runs throughout the story. The ice grows increasingly thinner in a metaphoric sense as Katie struggles to keep ahead of the tightening grip of the law before she can prove herself and find a way to escape the racket she has fallen into. The skating is both entrapping and assisting Katie, and we have to wonder which will get her first. When Claire wants to use her skating lessons to help catch the ice thief, Katie well and truly is caught in her forced double life and the thin ice is reaching breaking point.

Finally, the ice breaks up altogether – literally. It was only a matter of time. After all, spring will come and melt the ice on the Thames, which would put an end to the “ice thief”. But it’s Katie’s nemesis Mrs Winter who falls under it (below), not Katie. The only reasons Katie herself does not fall under any ice despite all the close calls are quick wits, quick reflexes, and smart moves on the ice.

Katie on Thin Ice 1
Image credit: “Katie on Thin Ice”, Tammy 1977.

The demise of Mrs Winter, cold-hearted and frosty in every sense of the word, is a shocking yet fitting one. It’s poetic justice – dying by the very means she used to try to kill everyone at the ice fair and it ties in with the thin ice thread. “You’re the one on thin ice now!” Annie mocks. We just love it. It gives us more satisfaction than Mrs Winter simply being arrested. But who would know the wanted Mrs Winter has died except Annie? Perhaps her body will be fished out of the river and they will assume she fell foul of her own scheme.

We still hope the long arm of the law will catch up to Annie eventually. After all, she is a very vicious criminal and a dangerous person, and she has a lot to answer for. Despite the period setting she belongs to the John Armstrong tradition of evil tough girls drawn like Norma Sykes from Misty’s “Moonchild“.

The Proto-Bella Barlow?

A Leap Up for Lindy 1A Leap Up for Lindy 2A Leap Up for Lindy 3A Leap Up for Lindy 4A Leap up for Lindy ad

Once you have read through the images, you will see that this story bears a striking resemblance to Bella Barlow, right down to our ill-used heroine practising gymnastics on makeshift apparatus in the backyard. Mr Barr is even a dead ringer for Jed Barlow. At least the Barrs are nowhere near as abusive towards Lindy as the Barlows are towards Bella. All the same, we are so pleased to see how they are, um, persuaded to support Lindy’s gymnastics in the end.

A Leap Up for Lindy appeared in Girls’ Crystal 1976, yet a panel from it was used two years before in the merger issue of Tammy and June to advertise next week’s episode of Bella at the Bar (above). So A Leap Up for Lindy could actually be part of the history of Bella Barlow and could even be described as a proto-Bella.

But just what is Lindy’s place in Bella’s history? Is it a complete story, or is it the first episode of a serial that never was? If it was meant to be a serial, did it get nixed for some reason and what was produced got recycled in the Girls’ Crystal? Was it a serial that was discarded in favour of Bella Barlow? Or was it an unused story from much earlier and elements of it were recycled into Bella Barlow?

Whatever the story was, Lindy looks like a most intriguing part of Bella history that has been sadly overlooked. It is a great pleasure to rescue this proto-Bella from obscurity and hopefully give her more speculation and discussion in Bella history.

Mouse [1979]

Sample Images

Mouse 1Mouse 2Mouse 3

Publication: Tammy 13 January 1979 to 3 March 1979

Episodes: 8

Artist: Maria Dembilio
Writer: Unknown
Translations/Reprints: Tammy Holiday Special 1984

Plot

Mary Malloway is nicknamed “Mouse”, and it’s not just because she wears a mouse pendant. She is an extremely shy girl as a result of her upbringing with her solo mother, who has taught her to beware of strangers. Mary’s life is constantly disrupted because her mother changes locations so much, and always goes for shabby backstreet flats; she says it’s because they cannot afford decent accommodation – well, that’s what she says anyway. She is stringent with security, having them lock themselves into their bedrooms at night, and Mary has to be home from school on the dot. Mary feels as if they are in hiding and suspects Mum has a deeper motive for her actions.

At Mary’s latest school, Mary’s friend Sukie is determined to bring her out of her shell, and persuades her to enter a fancy dress competition. When Mary finds what looks like a peasant girl’s dress in her mother’s wardrobe, she enters the competition in it. Sukie is placed first, Mary second, and a reporter takes their photograph. Curiously, having her photo taken is another thing Mrs Malloway has never allowed Mary to do.

In a London hotel, two Sicilian brothers, Innocente and Salvatore Malvia, see the photograph. Salvatore recognises Mary as his daughter from the mouse pendant he gave her at her christening. He says they can now take her back to Sicily as La Mamma intended.

Meanwhile, Mary finds out that the peasant costume is actually her mother’s wedding dress. Mum explains that she married Salvatore Malvia on a holiday in Sicily, in defiance of her parents (who disowned her as a result) and Salvatore’s tyrannical mother, La Mamma. As a result, La Mamma did not make Mum welcome in her home, the Casa Malvia. Her attitude forced Mum to run away with Mary as soon as she was born. But ever since, Mum had lived in terror that the Malvia family would come and snatch Mary away from her. Hence the upbringing Mary has had. So Mary had been right about them living in hiding – in hiding from the Malvias. But that photograph had been the one slip that enabled the Malvias to find Mary. Soon after, Mum’s worst fears come true when Salvatore and Innocente abduct Mary and drag her off to Sicily.

At the Casa Malvia, Mary discovers that La Mamma only wants her back for one thing – to to marry her off to one Rico Cefalu in exchange for a vineyard from his family. La Mamma is a domineering matriarch who rules the Malvia household with an iron fist. She keeps her entire family under her thumb, treats them like servants, and expects them to obey her without question. Indeed, Salvatore and Innocente are terrified of her and completely under her thumb although they are now grown men. The Malvia family themselves rule Sicily with an iron hand and are all-powerful.

Mary is desperate to find a way to escape before the betrothal ceremony (fortunately she is not old enough for the marriage itself). She finds some stalling tactics, and also takes solace in a mouse she has befriended. But she can find no real way out of the iron grasp that La Mamma keeps over everyone, and finds people are too scared of La Mamma to help her. However, she does make it clear to her father that she is not happy about her forced betrothal to Rico.

Back in England, Mum has realised the reason for Mary’s disappearance. But the police say they cannot do much because it is the Sicilian court system that will apply, and they are known to be sympathetic to fathers. Mum knows it is up to her, but she does not have the wherewithal.

Meanwhile, Mary’s father teaches her to row during a fishing expedition. He also shows her Santa Agata where he married Mum. Mary is surprised at this, because she realises he will surely guess that she will use her knowledge about rowing to steal a boat and get to Santa Agata. She suspects her father is secretly helping her to escape.

But then the betrothal ceremony finally comes. Mary is particularly annoyed that she has not even met her arranged bridegroom beforehand (an all-too-common thing in the world of arranged marriages, Mary). When Mary steals a glimpse of an approaching boy who may be Rico (it’s not established if it is him), she becomes even more desperate to escape – he looks a cruel, bullying boy who would make an abusive husband. Mary takes a boat and tries to row to Santa Agata. But the currents are too strong and force her back. She nearly drowns but her father, who had anticipated this, rescues her.

However, Mary was right about Salvatore wanting to help her. For the second time in his life (the first was marrying Mum) he defies La Mamma. He found the courage after realising how unhappy Mary was. In so doing, he will be leaving La Mamma and the Casa Malvia forever, for there is no going back. “Innocente can take over there as La Mamma’s heir – as La Mamma’s walking, talking puppet!” He takes Mary to Santa Agata so she can telephone the British consul. When they arrive at Santa Agata, Mary asks to see the church where Salvatore married Mum. But when they arrive at the church, they are surprised to see Mum there too! Sukie’s father loaned her the money to fly to Sicily after Mary. Salvatore insists on repaying the loan himself as he feels guilty about kidnapping Mary. Mum, Salvatore and Mary are now one family and go for their first-ever meal together.

Thoughts

International parental child abduction and forced marriage – these things must have been a shock for the Tammy readers when they read this. It was pretty strong, daring stuff for a girl’s comic. Today, these themes in the story feel more relevant because international child abduction and girls being sold into forced marriages are so topical in the wake of cases like Not Without My Daughter, Sold, and the mass abduction of the Nigerian girls. For this reason, this serial now looks really ahead of its time and could be regarded as an underrated gem.

The story also touches on the issue of solo mothers who raise their children on their own. In real life, they often face disadvantage and even stigma, particularly in the welfare system. Mrs Malloway, who had defied her parents in order to follow her heart in marrying the man she loved, has her marriage blown apart by her unfriendly mother-in-law and her husband not having the guts to stand up to her. Plus there are differences in cultures that she clearly did not take into consideration, but the reality must have sunk in fast after the marriage. For example, this culture has arranged marriages and indebted slaves (the boy Seppi, for example, works for the Malvias in payment for a debt his family owes them). Mrs Mallory’s flight to England with Mary and having to raise Mary on her own, without a father or parents to help is far grimmer than what most solo mothers have to face because she also has the constant fear that her in-laws will come back for Mary.

There is no mention of the Mafia, but this is Sicily, the home ground of the Mafia, after all. The power the Malvias wield in Sicily sounds as tyrannical and frightening as that of the Mafia, though without the violence. Indeed, if the Malvias were the Mafia, La Mamma would be the Godfather. Come to think of it, there is a similarity in the names: Malvia and Mafia.

The story also touches briefly on the fate that so many girls sold into forced marriages so often face – cruel husbands and domestic abuse. When Mary sees the boy who may be her betrothed husband (the boy’s identity is not clarified) she realises she will be sold into one such marriage if it is indeed Rico, and she will have a very lucky escape if she can pull it off. Even if the boy is not Rico, we feel for any girl who gets betrothed to him, because he is a cruel boy who would make a cruel husband.

In the end everything works out happily, with Mary not only escaping but also helping to reunite her parents and mend their broken marriage and years of separation. We can see they on their way to becoming one complete, happy family unit. Seldom does any child abduction that arises from a marriage of mixed cultures end so well for the parties concerned.