Tag Archives: Bella Barlow

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.

 

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Tammy 2 April 1983

Tammy 2 April 1983

Cover artist: Santiago Hernandez

  • The Secret of Angel Smith (artist Juliana Buch, writer Jay Over)
  • It’s a Dog’s Life (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
  • Bella (artist John Armstrong, writer Primrose Cumming)
  • The Button Box (artist Mario Capaldi, writer Alison Christie)
  • Strawberry Delight! Competition
  • Nanny Young (artist Phil Gascoine, writer Tom Newland)
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Thief by Night (artist Eduardo Feito) – complete story
  • Easter Bonnets – feature
  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • ET Estate (artist Guy Peeters, writer Jake Adams)

The cover of this Tammy Easter issue has always had me craving for a yummy Easter egg.

But anyway, Wee Sue, Bessie Bunter and even the Storyteller have been dropped by this stage, so how does the issue commemorate Easter? There is a feature on how to make an Easter bonnet, Easter jokes, and Easter hijinks with the Crayzees. Miss T tries a spell to enlarge Easter eggs and thinks she’s succeeded, but finds that what she has really done is shrink herself and Edie so the Easter eggs just look big to them. And when she tries to reverse a spell, she ends up turning herself and Edie into giants, so now the eggs look like mini eggs to them.

You’d think there would be an Easter tale somewhere in “The Button Box”. Instead, it’s shades of “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” with the tale of “ ‘Tough Nut’ Tara”. New girl Tara is a hard case who snubs all offers of friendship. But when it’s her birthday she gives in. She admits to Bev that, like Stefa, she reacted badly to grief and tried to harden her heart so she would not be hurt that way again, but now she realises her mistake. Thank goodness tough nut Tara was not as hard to crack as Stefa!

The complete story slot could have been used for an Easter story. Instead, it’s a reprint of a Strange Story. By this time Tammy was running reprints of Strange Stories, but the Storyteller has been replaced with text boxes.

In the serials, Abby Fox can’t help but be jealous of Angel Smith, the girl who wants to enter the family’s trapeze act while Abby is excluded because Dad does not want to lose her the way he lost her mother. Now Abby suspects “The Secret of Angel Smith”, whatever that is, and Stalky the clown could help her there. But Stalky has oddly clammed up and Abby thinks it’s because the circus boss has been at him over it.

In “It’s a Dog’s Life”, Rowan Small is bullied in the children’s home, and the bullying she gets shares some parallels with the ill-treatment Riley the dog gets next door. Both Riley and Rowan have been making progress in striking back at their abusers, but this week the bullies bring in reinforcements, which trebles the bullying for both of them. Rowan decides it’s time to run away – with Riley in tow, of course.

Bella is so badly out of training that she has to go through the basic tests to get back into gymnastics. It’s a bit of a come-down for an ex-champion like her, but at least she gets through. But Bella should have known better than to believe her devious Uncle Jed would have genuinely been hiring the private gym he found for her. And in the final panel it looks like she is about to find out the hard way…

Nanny Young is in charge of a baby this time, and there are suspicious signs that his older sister Barbara is jealous of him. Nanny tries to reach out to Barbara while looking for the solution, but so far it’s evasive.

The current Pam of Pond Hill story concludes this week. Fortune-seekers have been out to steal Goofy’s inheritance from his great-aunt, which they believe is hidden in the doll’s house that was bequeathed to him. They tear the doll’s house to pieces to find it and leave in haste when they turn up empty. It turns out they didn’t look hard enough.

In “ET Estate”, the alien invaders finally catch up with Jenny and Dora. They hold them prisoner while explaining the next stage of their plan – which will make all life (humans included) on Earth extinct, just to keep them fed!

 

Tammy 20 May 1978

Tammy cover 20 May 1978

Cover artist: John Richardson

  • Bella (artist John Armstrong)
  • Down to Earth Blairs (artist José Casanovas)
  • Mask for Melissa (artist Angeles Felices)
  • Get Set for Chess
  • Betta to Lose (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Molly Mills and a Life of Crime (artist Douglas Perry, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • The Samaritan – Strange Story (artist Hugo D’Adderio)
  • Edie (artist Joe Collins)
  • Wee Sue (artist Mike White)
  • Circus of the Damned (artist Diane Gabbot)

 

Do you remember the first Jinty, Misty, 2000AD or other favourite comic you ever bought from the shelves? Well, this was the first Tammy I ever bought, and it was from here that my attraction to Tammy and other girls’ comics began.

I suspect even the British bobbies would get a laugh out of the joke on the cover and maybe even pin it up at the station. Perhaps Tammy knew that the UK police slang for traffic warden is “Gestapo”.

Bella has received a new job offer from a Mr Cox to introduce gymnastics to Port Tago, Australia. But when she tries to enter his hotel she gets barred because of her scruffy appearance (yes, they do have a point there Bella, and I for one would love to give you an Oubapo makeover!). So she resorts to breaking into the hotel, which gets her taken for a burglar. Can she get Mr Cox before the hotel gets the police onto her?

“Down to Earth Blairs” is Tammy’s answer to “The Good Life”. Redundancy has made the Blair family resort to a life of self-sufficiency, which they’ve come to enjoy, but there are still problems in how to make ends meet. This week it’s how to raise money to pay the rates. A gift from a gypsy gives the daughter Betsy the solution – homemade dolls made out of gypsy clothes pegs.

Melissa Mappin uses a mask to hide facial scars and works under the alias Gail Traynor in a London stage production. But hiding her face and true identity is causing problems, including giving the false impression she is stuck up. Worse, a girl who knew Melissa before the accident that scarred her face has shown up and is getting suspicious of her.

School sports star Betta James decides to start deliberately losing because she is tired of how the school and parents make her win sports all the time at the cost of social life, education, time for herself, and even being able to eat what she likes. But Betta is finding out that deliberately losing is not that easy because she is the winning kind by nature, so now she is resorting to sabotage. Unfortunately another girl is wrongly blamed for Betta’s self-sabotage. What can Betta do?

Miss Stackpole’s lesson on ancient Egypt sends Bessie off into one of her dream sequences. In the dream, she and Miss Stackpole are slaves in ancient Egypt and try to make a run for it. This leads to hijinks in the tomb of King Tut. The dream sequences in Bessie Bunter were always a favourite of mine because seeing the characters get so mixed up and put into different contexts was so funny.

Molly Mills has been on the run ever since Pickering framed her for theft from her employers, the Stantons. Now Molly’s sister Peggy is going off the rails and turning to actual crime. Molly has to resort to some shrewd measures to get Peggy straight again. Now that’s done, Molly is heading back to Stanton Hall, of all places.

There is nothing supernatural in this week’s Strange Story, although the superstitious fools in the story think otherwise. False accusations of witchcraft are levelled against a 17th century French charity worker, Marie Bisset, because her enemies want her out of the way. Fortunately Marie receives warning, and her uncle is also there to help her flee. Their escape has their pursuers actually thinking Marie has made herself disappear by witchcraft.

It’s fund-raising time for Wee Sue this week, and her big idea is the greasy pole challenge. Although it raises plenty of funds, it leads to a sticky situation in the end.

Carla Keble has been taken for tightrope star Princess Astrid and brought to Yablonski’s circus. Yablonski wants to make his circus the greatest show on Earth, which he does by blackmailing his performers into dangerous stunts, with no regard for their lives. How many people has he killed because of this? He also holds them prisoner with electric fences, guards and guard dogs, as Carla finds out when she tries to escape that night.

Further reprints from Rebellion: “Bella” and two Jinty stories

You will perhaps have already seen the latest exciting information on the internet: Rebellion Publishing is bringing out two volumes of girls comics reprints from Tammy and from Jinty respectively.

bella

Bella at the Bar” is billed, appropriately, as “A modern day Cinderella story”. At 96 pages it is the right length to include the first two “Bella” stories but the blurb is fairly general and gives little away to the aficionado as to exactly what the contents are. It seems unlikely that it includes Bella’s later struggles to reach the Moscow Olympics or travels to mysterious Arab countries where she tutors princesses – or at least not yet, as this is billed as Book One. May there be many more!

Rebellion have chosen a strong pair of stories from Jinty to launch what is again billed as Volume One of (hopefully) a series: “The Human Zoo” and “Land of No Tears”. No cover is shown on the initial announcement on the Simon & Schuster website, but there are plenty of great images that could be used, of course. As with the Misty volumes, they have made sure to link the two stories in some clear way – this time rather than choosing the same author, they have gone for the same artist. Guy Peeters is an under-recognized girls’ comics artist and I am glad to see him get more attention.

Jinty cover 19 August 1978

Where possible, I am keen to link to the original publisher’s site. I see that the Bella book is listed as being one of the “Treasury of British Comics” line, but it is not yet mentioned on the specific website for that imprint. I found it on the Simon & Schuster website: I think that Rebellion have a distribution deal with them, which is presumably why it is listed there. I’m not quite sure why the Jinty volume is listed as being one of Rebellion’s Graphic Novels (a list that on searching seems to include “Charley’s War” and “Marney the Fox”, but also some less all-ages titles such as “Bleach”). It would be nice to see all the announced titles listed clearly on the Treasury of British Comics site, which is a good dedicated shopfront that is easy to navigate and use.

Finally, a word of warning to other sites announcing these two new titles  and future ones in the series – be careful to attribute the creators and the stories correctly. “Bella” is correctly credited as being by Jenny McDade as writer and John Armstrong as artist, but in future Bella stories it will be harder to be sure of the writer. During Tammy’s era of printing credits, Primrose Cumming is known to have been the writer of the time – hopefully the publishers will check with erstwhile editor Wilf Prigmore in case there was any other writer in between those two times, but certainly Jenny McDade did not write all the Bella stories over the ten years that it ran.

“The Human Zoo and Land of No Tears” is billed as being by Pat Mills as writer and Guy Peeters as artist. The sharp-eyed reader of this blog will spot straight away that “The Human Zoo” is known not to have been written by Mills – although the writer is not definitively established it is thought likely to have been one of Malcolm Shaw’s. That uncertainty presumably makes it harder for the publishers to be clear about the authorship: in the circumstances they can’t just say straight out that it is by Malcolm Shaw I suppose. However, that lack of clarity will muddy the waters for others and I fear it will lead to a perpetuation of the unexamined notion that Pat Mills wrote the vast majority of girls comics – something which he does not himself claim, but which others not infrequently do on his behalf.

WTFometer VII: Cinderella Story

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

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

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

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

First: Cinderella Smith

Score: 10

wtfometer-cinderella-smith

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

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

Second: Make-Believe Mandy

Score: 14

wtfometer-make-believe-mandy

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

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

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

Third: Bella at the Bar

Score: 24

wtfometer-bella-at-the-bar

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

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

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

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

Sample Images

bella-1bella-2bella-3

Published: Tammy 22 June 1974 – 7 September 1974

Episodes: 12

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Jenny McDade

Translations/reprints: Bella’s Book of Gymnastics 1981 as Bella – the Beginning; Bella at the Bar Vol. 1, 2018

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Misty merger: Tammy 12 January 1980

tammy-cover-12-january-1980

Cover artist – John Richardson

Contents

  • Sister in the Shadows (artist Giorgio Giorgetti)
  • Cindy of Swan Lake (artist Ana Rodriguez)
  • Daughter of the Desert (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Important News for All Readers! (merger announcement)
  • The New Girl – Strange Story
  • Edie the Ed’s Niece (Joe Collins)
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Molly Mills and the Promotion – last episode (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Make the Headlines, Hannah! (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Everything in the Garden – Strange Story (artist Tony Higham)
  • Edie’s Hobbyhorse – Tie ‘n’ Dye

tammy-and-misty-ad

This is the Tammy that came out the same week as the final issue of Misty. So what did the issue have to say about the Tammy & Misty merger and how did it prepare for it?

The first hint of it comes on the cover, with the Devil in a sandwich sign announcing “there’s exciting news in Tammy – on sale now!” I’ve always been struck at how that Devil character bears a striking resemblance to Pickering, the bully butler in Molly Mills. Is Tammy having a bit of an in-joke here?

As far as room goes, there is not much space to make room for a reasonable proportion of Misty stories. All the serials are still running and one, “Sister in the Shadows”, is only on its second episode. The announcement about the merger informs Tammy readers that not only will all their regular favourites be there but there will also be a new Bella story starting. In other words, Tammy isn’t reducing any of her own features to make room for more features from Misty, such as “Beasts”, “Nightmare!” and (we suspect) “Monster Tales”. There must have been great disappointment among former Misty readers that the proportion of Misty was miniscule compared to the Tammy one. I myself hoped that once the current Tammy stories finished more Misty stories would take their place, but I was disappointed there. Why couldn’t Tammy have done some double episodes of Hannah, the serial closest to finishing, so she would be finished off by the time of the merger and there would be more space for Misty stories in the merger issue?

In discussion of the stories, in part two of “Sister in the Shadows” Wendy continues to have what must rank as one of the worst first days at school in history. On top of the king-sized collywobbles she came with, she is encountering constant embarrassment and humiliation as teachers keep comparing her to her sister Stella, who was once the star pupil at the school, and Wendy can’t live up to their expectations. It’s not endearing her to her fellow classmates either and the stage is clearly set for some bullying.

“Daughter of the Desert” features a school that is strangely reverting to a desert pattern after an Arabian princess comes to the school. In an exciting but very odd episode, the two protagonists find themselves in a quicksand trap, which is supposed to be part of the strange desert pattern. Then the quicksand mysteriously disappears into a hard concrete road when the girls return with their headmistress to investigate.

Cindy decides to throw away her ballet career for the sake of her swans, who are being poisoned by chemical pollution. Despite the pollution the swans find the strength to persuade Cindy to continue, much to the chagrin of Cindy’s jealous rival Zoe. Now Zoe is now back to scheming against Cindy to become the star dancer of their village.

Molly Mills gets promoted but deliberately sets out to lose it once she decides she was happier with the status quo as a servant. Miss Bigger buys a sedan chair for charity – but trust her to lumber Wee Sue and her friend with the job of carrying it to her place! Then thieves steal the chair, and it’s up to Wee Sue’s big brain to sort them out. The promise of a hamper lures Bessie out for ice-skating practice, but of course there have to be hijinks.

Hannah’s latest attempt to hit the headlines fails again because her prop got vandalised. At first she suspects her sisters, who have been sabotaging her every effort so far, but now she isn’t so sure. Sounds like a mystery to tie up, and will it have any bearing on Hannah’s campaign to prove herself?

There is a double-up of Strange Stories this week. The first is about a new girl named Stella who is perfect at everything. But Tracey Roberts thinks there is something odd about it all, and about the star on the bracelet Stella always wears. Then, when the star falls off Stella’s bracelet she falls mysteriously ill and Tracey gets strange visions from her parents urging her to find the star. The second is a parable about how beauty can be found even in the most unexpected places. Once Chris Dale learns this lesson she agrees to have the eye surgery she had refused before.

Incidentally, the blurb announcing the new Bella story says she will have a crack at the Moscow Olympics (which of course will be a “struggle”). Older Bella readers would know that she had never succeeded in competing at the Olympics. Her 1976 Montreal bid only got her as far as performing in the opening ceremony. Will Bella succeed in competing at the Olympics this time?

Combining Tammy serials and regulars in Tammy’s Christmas Issue 1977

Art: John Armstrong

Bella Game 1Bella Game 2

Art: Robert MacGillivray

Tammy Christmas feature
Tammy 1977 Christmas celebrations

I was perusing through the Tammys and came across these features that appeared in the issue for 24 December 1977. I put them up to show how Tammy sometimes brought characters from her serials and regulars together in special features and how fascinating it was to see so many characters and features from Tammy combined together. Recent or running serials team up with the Tammy regulars for these special features in the 1977 Christmas issue. This never happened with Jinty.

Can a computer program help us identify unknown writers? 4

Right now I am sorry to say that I haven’t had great success with the computer program that I was hoping would help us to identify unknown writers. I’m by no means declaring it to be impossible or unrealistic, but I think I will need to ask for help from the experts who wrote the program and/or who do more of this sort of analysis on a day to day basis.

My initial trials were to see if I could test a Jay Over script known to be by him against another one known to be by him, so as to see if the program could pick out a ‘known good’ example. It did do that pretty well, but it may be that I calibrated the program options too closely against Jay Over. I haven’t got to the stage of being able to say that this series of tests, done in this way, gives you a good chance of identifying this text by a known author. (Unless that known author is Jay Over, she says slightly bitterly.) And if I can’t do this reasonably reliably, there is no point (as yet, at least) in moving on to trying out unknown author texts.

In my last post about this computer program, I ran a series of 10 tests against a Jay Over text, and the program reliably picked out Jay Over as the most likely author of that text out of a supplied set of 4 test authors. It was much less reliable in picking out a test Malcolm Shaw text out of the same set of test authors: only 5 of the 10 tests suggested that Malcolm Shaw was the best fit. I have now tried the same 10 tests with an Alan Davidson text (“Jackie’s Two Lives”), and with a Pat Mills text (“Girl In A Bubble”). This means that all four of the test authors have been tested against a text that is known to be by them.

  • Unfortunately, in the test using an Alan Davidson text the program was even worse at picking him out as the ‘best fit’ result: it only did so in 2 of the 10 tests, and in 4 of the tests it placed him in last, or least likely to have written that test text.
  • In the test using a Pat Mills text, the program was rather better at picking him out as the ‘best fit’ result, though still not great: it did so in 4 out of 10 tests, and in 3 of the remaining tests he was listed second; and he was only listed as ‘least likely/worst fit’ in one of the tests.

The obvious next step was to try with a larger group of authors. I tried the test texts of Jay Over (“Slave of the Clock”) and of Malcolm Shaw (“Bella” and “Four Faces of Eve”) against a larger group of 6 authors (Primrose Cumming, Anne Digby, Polly Harris, Louise Jordan, Jay Over, Malcolm Shaw).

  • With the Jay Over text, only 7 of the 10 tests chose him as the ‘best fit’, so the attribution of him as the author is showing as less definite in this set of tests.
  • With the Malcolm Shaw texts, only 1 and 3 tests (for “Bella” and for “Eve” respectively identified him as the ‘best fit’ – not enough for us to have identified him as the author if we hadn’t already known him to be so. (He also came last, or second to last, in 4 of the first set of tests, and the same in the second set of tests.)

I should also try with more texts by each author. However I think that right now I will take a break from this, in favour of trying to contact the creators of the program. I hope they may be able to give me better leads of the right direction to take this in. Do we need to have much longer texts for each author, for instance? (We have generally been typing up just one episode for each author – I thought might be too much of an imposition to ask people to do any more than that, especially as it seemed sensible to try to get a reasonably-sized group of authors represented.) Are there some tests I have overlooked, or some analytical methods that are more likely to be applicable to this situation? Hopefully I will be able to come back with some extra info that means I can take this further – but probably not on any very immediate timescale.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following list of texts that people have kindly helped out with. You may find (as I have) that just looking at the texts themselves is quite interesting and revealing. I am more than happy to send on any of the texts if they would be of interest to others. There are also various scans of single episodes sent on by Mistyfan in particular, to whom many thanks are due.

  • Alison Christie, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” (typed by Marckie)
  • Primrose Cumming, “Bella” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Alan Davidson, three texts
    • “Fran of the Floods” (typed by Marckie)
    • “Jackie’s Two Lives” (typed by me)
    • “Kerry In the Clouds” (typed by me, in progress)
  • Anne Digby, “Tennis Star Tina” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Gerry Finley-Day, “Slaves of War Orphan Farm” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Polly Harris, two texts
    • “Monkey Tricks” (typed by Mistyfan)
    • “Midsummer Tresses” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Louise Jordan, “The Hardest Ride” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Jay Over, two texts
    • “Slave of the Clock” (typed by me)
    • “The Secret of Angel Smith” (typed by me)
  • Malcolm Shaw, five texts
    • “Lucky” (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “The Sentinels” episode 1 (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “The Sentinels” episode 2 (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “Bella” (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “Four Faces of Eve” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Pat Mills, two texts
    • “Concrete Surfer” (typed by me)
    • “Girl In A Bubble” (typed by me)
  • John Wagner, “Eva’s Evil Eye” (typed by Mistyfan)

 

 

Tammy’s 10th Birthday Issue

Tammy 7 February 1981

Cover artist: Robert MacGillivray

Characters/serials on the cover: Sandy Rawlings; Molly Mills; Belinda Bookworm; Wee Sue; Bella Barlow; Mary Moldesworth from Bessie Bunter?; Push-along, Patti; Bessie Bunter; Miss Bigger

  •  Bella (artist John Armstrong)
  • The Black and White World of Shirley Grey – first episode (artist Diane Gabbot, writer Jake Adams?)
  • Push-along, Patti (artist Juliana Buch)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Help Yourself to a Holiday – competition
  • Molly Mills and the Echoes from the Past – new story (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Edie and Miss T (artist Joe Collins)
  • Tune-In (feature)
  • Belinda Bookworm (artist Giorgio Giorgetti)
  • Imaginary Abbie – Strange Story from the Mists (artist Eduardo Feito)
  • Rita My Robot Friend (artist Tony Coleman)

While it is out of the garage, I am going to discuss the issue where Tammy celebrated her 10th birthday (sadly, this is something Jinty never reached). Tammy certainly pulls out the stops to celebrate: her commemorative cover; Edie and Miss T redecorating their rooms with 10 years’ worth of Tammy; Miss Bigger taking Wee Sue and her friends on a special tour to the Tammy office; and Molly reflecting on her 10 years at Stanton Hall (once Pickering points out she had been there that long). And of course it wouldn’t be complete without celebratory competitions.

When revisiting past Tammy characters, we see that the focus is on ones who are currently running (Belinda Bookworm), have appeared in comparatively recent years (Thursday’s Child, Cindy of Swan Lake), or whose memory still lingers on (Olympia Jones, Babe of St Wood’s). The only really early Tammy character to reappear is Cat Girl. There are no Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’, Aunt Aggie, School for Snobs, Beattie or any of the characters from the first years.

(click thru)

However, the Molly story does reflect back on the early days and hints at how different the tone of Tammy was back then. Molly not only remembers the time she arrived at Stanton Hall but also how much more cruel Pickering was back in the early days.  Indeed, the Molly strip has become tamer now in comparison to what it was in Tammy’s early years. It has clearly been toned down. Pickering is still a bully who picks on Molly, but the stocks, beatings, dungeons and cold duckings in the lake are now a thing of Tammy’s past, thank goodness. Even the catty Betty and Kitty, who played a dirty trick that nearly got Molly sacked on her first day, have lost their cattiness and are more friendly with Molly.

(click thru)

Tammy herself has been toned down as well. When she was first launched, she revelled in stories filled with darkness, cruelty, torture and suffering. But readers loved it and her sales rocketed. Stories with the Cinderella theme or slave theme (girls used as slaves in one form or another) abounded, and a number of them, such as “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’” and “The Four Friends at Spartan School” really pushed the envelope with the tortures their heroines went through. But by the late 1970s these had all faded. All that remained of them was Bella Barlow, who is still badly treated by Jed and Gert Barlow, although she has just rescued them from hard times.

But Tammy had not gone all light and soppy. Her current stories, “Belinda Bookworm”, “Push-along, Patti” and “Rita My Robot Friend” all feature heroines who are being bullied/ostracised at school and trying to rise above it. Tammy’s new story, “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey”, will also feature some extremely vicious and horrifying bullying in the weeks ahead.

It has been just over a year since Misty merged with Tammy. The Misty logo is smaller now and there have been fewer spooky stories than when Misty joined. But the Strange Stories from the Mist continue, as do Edie and Miss T and the Misty horoscope.

Edie and Miss T 1