Published: Tammy 27 October 1973 to 23 February 1974
Artist: Douglas Perry
Writer: Pat Mills [edited to add: Mills credits the concept and direction to Gerry Finley-Day]
Translations/reprints: None known
Jen Young comes to the seaside town of Crone-on-Sea, also known as Granny’s Town, to help with her grandfather’s boarding house. It’s a favourite retirement place for old ladies, but so incredibly old-fashioned, with amusements, transport, accommodation and so forth that are decades out of date. Modernism seems to have bypassed it completely, and it looks like nothing ever happens there.
However, Jen soon discovers the grannies in Granny’s Town are operating some kind of secret society/underground movement, and it’s enabling them to run the town all but in name. The movement is led by a granny known only as Her Ladyship.
Under Her Ladyship and her granny army, the only law in town is Granny’s Law. Anyone who treats any granny rudely, crosses them in any way or interferes with them gets swiftly dealt with in mysterious ways and scared into leaving town. Innocuous granny activities such as knitting, embroidery and crochet are used as weapons to frightening effect against such people, such as sending threats or tying them up. And there are so many of them (always men) who cross the grannies. In what appears to be the first attack, which makes front page news in the local paper, a rude train conductor and businessman get tied to lamp posts with wool in a night vigilante attack, and cushions are left behind with a stitched message: “Get out of Granny’s Town”. This first attack strikes at night, but subsequent ones strike in broad daylight. Among them, an uncivil workman who won’t shut down the racket he’s making with his roadworks gets bound and and gagged and locked in a grandfather’s clock, to be near-deafened by its chiming and ordered to get out of town. A new supermarket owner threatens fierce competition against a long-standing store run by dear old Mrs Mullins; the grannies sabotage the supermarket and it soon closes down.
There are danger signals about Granny’s Law. In one case, the grannies stake out a boorish donkey ride man on a lawn but just leave him there, with no release or keeping an eye on him. By the time Jen finds him he’s nearly dead from heatstroke. When Jen tries to investigate further, the grannies seize her, tie her to a peepshow machine, and force her head down into the machine to read a message: “Next time mind your own business, Miss Nosey Parker.” Unlike the others the grannies have forced out, that doesn’t stop Jen or drive her out. But the grannies always keep one step ahead of Jen when she tries to probe their activities.
It’s not just rudeness that brings down the wrath of the grannies. Anyone trying to modernise the old-fashioned town is also targeted. A rude developer wants to turn the movie theatre where the grannies enjoy silent movies into a bingo hall. They tie him up with film and force him to watch silents – with Charlie Chaplin as the movie projector – while tickling him to make him laugh.
Things really heat up when the Mayor wants to enforce modernism on the town, demolish the old-style buildings, and pack off the grannies to old age homes. This brings out the granny fight military style and now they turn into a full-scale army. They send messages in code, such as using their knitting to click out out Morse, march like soldiers, organise councils of war, and rouse to Her Ladyship’s version of Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall never surrender” speech.
Jen notices it’s not just the Mayor’s modernism the grannies are rebelling against. They’re striking against anything modern now, including football, a TV studio and cars, the last of which gets banned and the grannies take delight in the old-style horse and carriage. Things come to a head when the Mayor wants to pull down the pier and build an oil rig. The grannies’ tricks have him resigning in disgrace. After the Mayor resigns, Her Ladyship becomes Mayoress.
Now Her Ladyship is Mayoress, she swiftly becomes a cross between Queen Victoria and Hitler of the whole town. It’s unbelievably easy for her to do so. Everything just seems to turn into a police state in Granny’s Town at Her Ladyship’s command, no protest, no questions asked, no human rights issues raised. Granny’s Law shifts to making it a virtual crime to be young or modern. The grannies’ retaliation changes its focus from punishing those who are rude or abusive to grannies to those who do not support the granny rule. It begins with Her Ladyship throwing a free celebratory party and has Jen sell flags for it. Seems innocuous, but Jen discovers the party is Her Ladyship’s way of identifying anyone at the party who opposes her (by not wearing her flags) and remove them all by having them arrested – on no charge whatsoever: “It’s the orders of the new mayoress!” Jen is the only one shocked at this Gestapo-like action; the grannies just think it’s amusing and say Her Ladyship must have a very good reason for it.
Under Her Ladyship, Granny’s Town is stripped of any remnant of modernity and reduced even further into an old-fashioned pattern that takes it right back to Victorian times. Coal and gaslights replace electricity. People are given Victorian clothes to stay warm after a power cut. Jen soon discovers the power cut is meant to be permanent. The town is mysteriously cut off from the outside world when the trains get blocked and telephone lines non-operational until after the upcoming Granny’s Day celebration. Everyone is trapped in Granny’s Town with these weird going-on. Yet nobody except Jen seems to realise something’s weird about the clock turning back to the 19th century in this town that was old-fashioned to begin with. They treat it as a joke and think what Her Ladyship is doing is just marvellous.
Jen snoops into Her Ladyship’s house and discovers doll-sized dummies of everyone in town, with the doll of Her Ladyship rigged up as queen. She realises that is precisely how Her Ladyship intends to rule Granny’s Town. There can be no doubt it has something to do with the upcoming Granny’s Day celebration.
Jen soon discovers the dolls have another purpose – a means of terrorising people who still pose a threat to Her Ladyship. She walks into a store to get something trendy to replace her Victorian dress. The shop assistant, initially happy to help, receives the doll of himself from Her Ladyship’s house, now broken, and a note: “Greetings to you on Granny’s Day.” He screams they’re going to get him, he can’t serve Jen after all, and shuts up his shop fast. Later, Jen receives a package: it’s her own doll, now broken, and the same message. Now she really knows Her Ladyship is gunning for her. It looks like the granny retaliation, served in an underground way before, is becoming more open now the grannies are in charge.
The elderly Misses Charity, Hope and Faith are regulars at granddad’s boarding house and have been friendly with Jen from the beginning. They are present when Jen receives the broken doll. She decides to take a chance and tell them what she’s discovered, and hope her trust is not misplaced. They give some indication they might help.
Granny’s Day is a grand celebration, with only Jen seeing the grannies lined up like an army. It is announced that Her Ladyship is going to demolish houses in certain roads as part of a new town planning scheme. Everyone, including Jen, thinks it’s just innocuous slum clearance and old houses going. Then men in terrifying oversized masks start chasing Jen. Nobody but Jen realises they are there to terrorise her; they think it’s part of the fun.
Jen takes refuge from her pursuers in the town hall. There she finds a model of Granny’s Town, with all the dolls of the young people in town being thrown in a box and only the granny dolls on the model. Later, Jen discovers what it means and what the town planning scheme is really about: Her Ladyship has condemned all the modern buildings, just to evict the young people in them and force them to leave town, and make Crone-on-Sea the exclusive reserve of the grannies. The young people just seem to leave their homes and the town without a murmur of protest.
Misses Hope, Charity and Faith then seize Jen and say she’s coming with them. It looks like her trust in them was misplaced. She gives them the slip and disguises herself as a granny, but then it starts to rain heavily, washing off her makeup. She is discovered and taken to Her Ladyship. Her Ladyship is now on a virtual throne in the town hall. The only thing missing is the crown she wore in her model. She is now so powerful that all the grannies are under her control and doing everything she says, and she even has spies everywhere.
She has Jen locked up to be dealt with later. While in her cell, Jen sees the rain turn into a thunderstorm. It gets so bad it weakens the sea wall, which threatens to flood the town. Misses Hope, Charity and Faith rescue Jen from her cell, saying they were secretly trying to help earlier without being detected. They realise “[Her Ladyship’s] a little silly and has to be stopped”.
The sea wall is now cracking really badly and the water’s pouring in, but the grannies are too old and frail to do anything. There are no young people to help and no telephone to call for help, thanks to Her Ladyship. Jen starts a fire (in torrential rain!) to start a beacon that will hopefully alert the evicted people in the next town. It works, and the young and old forget their differences while they start sandbagging to stop up the wall. Jen is hit by a falling tree and knocked unconscious.
When Jen wakes up, the town is safe and the granny rule has been dismantled. Her Ladyship fled in a hot air balloon during the storm, not to be seen again. The grannies have learned from the flooding business that they can’t live on their own and need young people. The young people are back and reconciled with the grannies. Everything is forgiven, but Jen knows she will never forget the days of Granny’s Law.
In girls’ comics, one constant message has been to never underestimate a granny, whether good or evil. This message has been seen in so many stories, including Pam of Pond Hill.
These grannies don’t just have the monopoly in Granny’s Town – they have it in the entire story itself as well. It’s always grannies in the story; grandpas never feature in Her Ladyship’s movement or on the plans for Granny’s Town. The dolls on the model are all grannies – no grandpas. In fact, the only gramps in the story is Jen’s grandfather, and even he barely appears in it. Again, it’s always a girls’ world in girls’ comics.
This story is making a particularly strong statement about ageism and Grey Power. Only it’s not doing it in a positive light, and the grannies, although they believe they are rightly striking back at abusers and threats to their old-fashioned livestyle, are not portrayed as the heroes of the story. In a humour serial, the direction the story could have taken, the granny movement would provide the readers with loads of laughs. We would all cheer the grannies on in giving these nasty types their just desserts. Instead, we all feel uneasy and creeped out about the whole thing because that’s the way Jen feels about it all. Though there is some humour to the way these nasty types are punished, it’s perverse humour and we are not laughing. There is nothing funny about being their being forced out of town by the grannies, just for one act of callousness. It’s vigilantism, and vigilantism can be very dangerous. Indeed, in several instances it does get dangerous and goes too far, such when the staked-out man nearly dies in the heat or Jen gets tied to the peepshow machine.
Grannies are not normally people to be scared of, but you do get the creeps from these grannies and whatever they might be up to next, beginning with Her Ladyship. Her Ladyship gives Jen the chills right from the start. She never gives her name (“prefers to remain anonymous”) and never shows her face; she’s always veiled and she favours dark clothing. She’s also drawn at angles and distances that give the impression she operates at a distance and from the shadows. When she becomes Mayoress she switches from the veil to dark glasses that she never takes off, giving her a Mafia look. From the beginning to the end she never shows her face or gives her name, which makes her even more chilling.
To make the grannies even more frightening, they remain unseen each time they strike, so we never know just who is behind the attack and it’s hard for the victim to prove anything. Panels only show groping hands reaching out to pull a trick, utensils (feather dusters, canes, hatpins, scarfs, etc) being applied to victims, the threats the grannies leave behind, and the odd clue Jen finds. Compounding the terror is that the grannies are so crafty in what they do that they always keep one step ahead and win every time. However much people really know about what’s going on, nobody does anything. After all, they are old ladies, and it’s a hard thing to rise up against old ladies. All the same, nobody has any backbone. One attack from the grannies and they run scared from town – except Jen of course.
When the Mayor starts his campaign to modernise the town, the story goes in a vast change of direction. Up until this point it was episodic, with an unsavoury type getting a mysterious comeuppance at granny hands each week and driven out of town. Now the story structure switches to a full-scale story arc, with the grannies shifting from an underground movement to moving out more openly as an army and a political force that rises up to take over the town completely, with nobody but Jen realising.
As the granny takeover unfolds, we wonder if Pat Mills was reading up on how Nazism came to power in Germany and why Hitler held such sway over the German people. We can definitely see the parallels. As with Hitler and Nazism, the granny movement starts off well and seems to be well intentioned; Her Ladyship does things that makes her extremely popular with her followers, just as as Hitler did with the Germans when he came to power. To her followers, Her Ladyship offers great benefits that are everything they could want and address their needs. It makes them feel like somebody, improves their lives, gives them great power, and shows everyone what Grey Power’s about. Nobody is able to touch them, and anyone who crosses them is always removed quickly, and serve them right too. As with the rise of Nazism, most people watching it all think it’s no big deal, serves good, and will benefit its subjects. At worst, the non-granny residents think it’s “a bit barmy”, but for the most part they just laugh at it. After all, these are just old biddies running the show. What harm can they do? Anyway, it’s to be expected they might be a bit dotty. As for this sudden turnback to Victorian times, aww, how quaint and nostalgic it is, the good old days are here again. Those who see the dark side of it (whether Jen or Winston Churchill) are voices crying in the wilderness.
As with Nazi Germany, the dark side of it is how extreme it becomes and targets those who do not fit into its ideals because the person leading it all (whether Her Ladyship or Hitler) is a fanatical dictator. But nobody but an isolated few can see what a dangerous fanatic that leader is and the extremes they are capable of for their ideals, because it’s veiled as something that serves good and benefits those who follow it. Even Jen does not understand just how fanatical Her Ladyship is until she sees the models, and realises Her Ladyship is a crazy woman who is out to rule like Queen Victoria of the town and have her very own Victorian kingdom with all her granny subjects.
The extreme led by this power-hungry fanatic is making the town exclusively granny and old-fashioned, to the exclusion of all those who are neither. Under her rule, everything in town must be how it was in the good old days, from architecture to transport. It becomes a crime to be young or modern, just as it became a crime to be non-Aryan, anti-Nazi or Jew in Nazi Germany. You don’t even have to be rude to a granny anymore to become a target of their retaliation. Simply not supporting the granny movement or not being able to do so makes you a target. Nobody but Jen seems to realise what’s going on, either because they don’t take it seriously or are blind to it. If anyone does realise it, they are likely to be too scared to speak out. Nobody puts up any fight or protest. The young people who have their perfectly sound houses condemned for no good reason just leave. There’s no picketing, demonstrations or marches on the town hall. The mod shop man just shuts up shop in terror after receiving the doll threat. The police arrest people who don’t support grannies at the party without charge or crime, because Her Ladyship ordered it. There are no human rights for anyone who isn’t a granny, but not a word is said about it. Her Ladyship has spies all over. Granny’s Town is turning into a police state right under everyone’s noses, and nobody but Jen realises. Had the storm not cut Her Ladyship’s reign short, we can just see it escalating into a reign of corruption, greed and terror for even her own subjects. Had the story been taken further, there can be little doubt Her Ladyship’s rule would have gone down this path.
Girls’ comics have shown time and time again that when things are taken to extremes they inevitably lead to disaster and threaten self-destruction. You must learn the lessons of moderation, tolerance, and understanding that your way is not everything. This is what the grannies learn the hard way when the flood makes them realise that granny rule to the exclusion of the young is ultimately doomed to failure and destroy itself. They cannot survive on their own and need young people for things they cannot do themselves because they are too old to do it. They also need severe reminding that they were once young themselves and these young people will in turn be old people someday. Old and young must live side by side in Granny’s Town, which they do happily once Her Ladyship is gone and the emergency made them forget their differences.
Further thoughts from Pat Mills
Pat Mills added via Twitter: “Gerry was inspired by Arsenic and Old Lace and possibly similar films. He gave me the story but because it was ‘his baby’, I did an okay job, rather than something more. Readers liked it okay, but weird mysteries were never as popular as ‘Cinderella’ stories. Great art.”