Tag Archives: high-diving

Diving Belle (1981)

Sample Images


Published: 4 April 1981 – 6 June 1981 (10 episodes)

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none known


Diving is big in the McBane family. Dad works as a deep-sea diver and his daughter Belle shows promise on the high-diving board. Dad is currently working on the oilrig at the “Fogbank”. The locals have misgivings about an oilrig on the Fogbank because of a superstition that the Fogbank is unlucky. Dad laughs at the superstition. He and his colleagues set off on a shift in their new bathyscaphe.

Later, Belle rescues a woman named Betty Black who is in danger of drowning. Betty says she will return the favour, but then she disappears.

There is an explosion out at the Fogbank rig, which causes Belle to have a bad accident at diving practice. The rig had blown up and is later abandoned. The bathyscaphe got lost, which means Dad is too, and the search is eventually called off. The doctor confines Belle to bed for a week, and of course she has lost her nerve for high diving.

However, Betty Black has other ideas. She says she has gypsy blood and can foresee the future. What she foresaw has her telling Belle that she must start diving again and be at her peak within days. Betty says she was a high-diving champion before she injured her back – so she couldn’t save herself when she was drowning – but she can still coach Belle to the upmost.

Belle is not 100% sure of Betty’s credibility or coaching credentials. She suspects Betty may be a thief too. Still, instinct keeps telling her to trust Betty. Betty is very insistent that Belle re-train as fast as possible, for time is limited. Betty’s tactics certainly are strong-armed in making Belle overcome her shattered nerves from diving, but it works. The coaching is not only intense but also takes liberties in finding avenues in which to train. They break into school for secret diving practice. When the caretaker discovers them it’s training on the cliffs with an improvised diving board. The board breaks, so next it’s Betty having Belle take the place of a stunt diver at the funfair. This really crosses the line to dangerous because Belle has to dive from a board that’s even higher than an international diving board, and she has to land in a shallow tub of water! Nonetheless she manages to pull it off. They then have to do a hasty retreat when the fairground people discover Belle is not their stunt diver. Next they gate-crash a garden party so Belle can use the diving board there. They are discovered and their efforts to get away cause chaos.

They arrive back at Belle’s home, where the police are waiting. They say Betty is wanted for burglary, shoplifting and common theft, and Belle has some serious explaining to do as well. Then Betty has the final vision of where Belle is meant to do the dive, and she must do it right now. They break away from the police and do a crazy dash to get there, with the police in hot pursuit. The place for the dive is none other than the abandoned oilrig – which means Belle has to do an extremely dangerous dive from the height of the oilrig!

Belle trusts her instincts, which say that she and Betty are doing the right thing. She dives, much to the horror of everyone who is watching below. They realise a dive from that height would make her go extremely deep in the ocean. Deep enough, it would seem, for Belle to find Dad’s bathyscaphe, which is all caught up in the legs of the oilrig. Belle’s dive and ensuing rescue save the men in the nick of time, for they were on their last hour of oxygen.

Afterwards it is surmised the blast sent the bathyscaphe all the way to the ocean bottom, out of reach of the initial search. It then floated upwards, but got caught in the oilrig’s legs and the search had been called off by then. If not for Belle’s dive and Betty’s visions the men would have died. So the police drop the charges against Betty. It turns out she had been quite truthful about being a diving champion before her injury. Belle resolves to win so many medals for Betty that she will become the most sought-after coach in Britain.


Now this could well be the most intense and offbeat “comeback” serial in girls’ comics. A girl loses her nerve after an accident, but she sets out to make a comeback, either because she loves her sport too much or something vital, such as saving a beloved horse, depends on it. In Belle’s case it is the latter, but the story is irregular in that Belle has no idea exactly what the comeback is supposed to be for. Not even Betty, who is having the visions in the first place, knows exactly what it is about. Her powers don’t give her the full picture, only flashes. The final vision only reveals where the all-important dive has to be. It doesn’t reveal why the dive has to be done. Some readers might guess it has something to do with saving Dad and his comrades, but it’s all kept mysterious until Belle finds the bathyscaphe. However, the reveal should come as no surprise to readers.

Adding to the mystery is that we, along with Belle, can’t be 100% certain that Betty can be trusted. Only intuition tells Belle to keep on trusting Betty, against the face of the more suspicious aspects about the woman. And in the end, intuition turns out to be 100% right. This story sure is a salutary lesson in trusting your gut.

What turns out to be a race against time against the dwindling oxygen supply in the bathyscaphe makes for very tight plotting. There can be no mucking around with padding to stretch out the story, or go gently with Belle’s shattered nerves after the accident. Of course retraining Belle for the dive still does not go smoothly, which is to be expected. Betty has to be very inventive in devising ways to train Belle up as avenue after avenue closes. Unfortunately this leads to conflict with the law, which is all the more reason for saving the men with the all-important dive.

Story theme: Sports

Many apologies for the long break in between posts. Life has got hectic and the run-up to Christmas didn’t help!

Jinty and Penny cover 7 February 1981

Stories featuring sports are very prevalent across the range of girls’ comics titles. This clearly taps into both the day-to-day experiences of many or most schoolgirls (playing on their hockey or netball teams) and into aspirational ideals (winning regional or national contests, going on to have a career in their chosen sport, excelling at unusual sports). At one end of this theme, many many stories will have some element of sports included, simply as a part of the protagonist’s daily life; I don’t count these as “sports stories” per se. At the other end of the spectrum, there are stories that are clearly mostly about the pursuit of excellence in the protagonist’s chosen sport, with a sprinkling of some complicating factor to spice the story up, such as peer rivalry. And in between there are stories where the sports element are strongly included but given a reasonably equal weighting with other elements.

To me, therefore, a “sports story” needs to feature the sport in question as the main story element, or with equal weight with the other elements. Often the story positively teaches us various details of that sport in a didactic way, as if part of the expectation is that readers might have their interest sparked by that story and go on to take it up themselves. The protagonist is someone who takes seriously the idea of practice, learning, improvement in their chosen area: they are not just naturally gifted without trying at all, and part of the drive of the story is about their drive to improve or to excel.

It seems obvious, but it also needs to be a sport not an art: as you would expect, there are plenty of ballet stories, and these are excluded from my categorisation. Ballet has its rivalries but it is not a competition with winners and losers, except in artificial ways that the writer might set up (for instance in “The Kat and Mouse Game”, the ‘winner’ gains a contract with an influential ballet impresario).

Finally, it is worth remembering Jinty also had a strong focus on sports in ways that lay outside of the stories themselves: for a period of time there was a specific sports section in the comic, with articles about specific sports, improvement hints and tips (such as how to win at a bully-off in hockey), and interviews with sports women and men. Over and above this, there was a lengthy period where Mario Capaldi drew cover images illustrating a very wide range of sports – netball and rounders, yes, but also archery, bob-sledding, ski-jumping… These are not sports stories, but form part of the context in which the sports-themed stories need to be read.

Core examples

There are so many strong sports stories that it is hard to choose a single one as a core example. A wide range of sports are represented: ones that a schoolgirl might well have direct experience of such as hockey, gymnastics, running; and more unusual ones like judo, water-skiing, and figure skating.

“White Water” (1979-80), drawn by Jim Baikie and included in the sports section that Jinty ran for a year or so from late 1979, is a classic example of a story that includes teachable elements as well as dramatic ones. Bridie is in a sailing accident with her father, who is killed: her grieving mother moves them away from the sea and into an industrial city that depresses Bridie mightily. As well as grieving for her father, she also has a gammy leg that was badly hurt in the accident, so Bridie is pretty fed up; but she then finds out about a local canoe club. She is determined to learn canoeing, especially once she is told about sea or white-water canoeing. Along the way there are rivalries and misunderstandings – her mother hates the idea of Bridie doing anything at all like sailing, and the existing star of the canoe club doesn’t like the challenge represented by this bright (and sometimes tetchy) new member. But the story includes lots of information about canoeing techniques, certainly enough to either help interest a reader in the sport, or even to help someone already learning it.

You can see below the wide range of sports represented in Jinty.

  • Prisoners of Paradise Island (1974) – hockey
  • Hettie High and Mighty (1975) – hockey
  • Ping-Pong Paula (1975) – table tennis
  • Tricia’s Tragedy (1975) – swimming
  • Miss No-Name (1976) – athletics
  • Go On, Hate Me! (1976-77) – athletics, particularly running
  • Battle of the Wills (1977) – gymnastics and ballet.
  • Concrete Surfer (1977) – skateboarding
  • Cursed to be a Coward! (1977) – swimming
  • Curtain of Silence (1977) – cycling
  • Spell of the Spinning Wheel (1977) – cross-country running
  • Darling Clementine (1978) – water-skiing
  • Wild Rose (1978) – gymnastics
  • Black Sheep of the Bartons (1979) – judo
  • Prisoner of the Bell (1979) – gymnastics
  • Waves of Fear (1979) – swimming/hockey/orienteering
  • Toni on Trial (1979-80) – athletics
  • White Water (1979-80) – sailing/canoeing (see above for details)
  • Blind Faith (1980) – showjumping
  • Tears of a Clown (1980) – long-distance running
  • Child of the Rain (1980) – tennis
  • Minnow (1980) – swimming
  • Spirit of the Lake (1980) – figure-skating
  • Tearaway Trisha (1980) – cycling
  • The Bow Street Runner (1981) – long-distance running
  • Diving Belle (1981) – high-diving
  • Life’s A Ball for Nadine (1981) – netball (and disco dancing, competitively)


Edge cases

As ever, there are clearly-related stories that don’t quite fit in the main theme. Sports are such a pervasive trope in the life of Jinty and other girls’ comics precisely because they were an important part of many girls’ school lives. Of course they also made up a big part of other popular fiction read by girls; it becomes a reinforcing theme that is always available for use.

  • Jackie’s Two Lives (1974-75) – features a mentally disturbed woman grieving over her late daughter and trying to recreate her in another girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
  • Wanda Whiter than White (1975-6) – the main story theme is constant trouble with an interfering, tale-telling girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
  • Champion In Hiding (1976) – the champion in question is a sheepdog, trained to win at dog trials
  • Rose Among the Thornes (1976) – the main story theme is family rivalry, but there are sections where Rose is involved in running races in her local village
  • Stage Fright! (1977) – includes some realistic elements of sailing
  • Land of No Tears (1977-78) – gymnastics and swimming as part of the futuristic competition to find the most perfect schoolgirl
  • The Changeling (1978) – main character loves horseriding and this is used as part of the abusive family/wishfulfilment story
  • Knight and Day (1978) – really a story about an abusive family but includes a family rivalry based around swimming and competitive diving
  • Paula’s Puppets (1978) – a story of magical objects and group strife, but includes elements of athletics (running)
  • Combing Her Golden Hair (1979) – a strange comb has the protagonist rebelling against her strict grandmother, whose rules include a ban on swimming
  • Freda’s Fortune (1981) – mostly wish-fulfilment gone wrong, with horseriding
  • Holiday Hideaway (1981) – protagonist has gymnastic skills
  • Worlds Apart (1981) – each dream-like parallel world featured a society built around an individual’s interests, and this included a sporty girl’s world


Other thoughts

This is probably one of the most pervasive themes you could possibly have in a girls’ comic; no doubt those who are expert in other comics titles will be able to mention many more examples of stories and of unusual sports featured in them. Reviewing the list above, I am surprised not so much by the number of stories as of the range of sports included. Of course the sports that girls played on a regular basis at school – hockey, swimming, athletics, netball, running – would feature in the girls’ comics. Even then, the weighting of specific sports doesn’t seem entirely even, mind you – in Jinty there was only one netball story compared to two or three hockey stories, and a few athletics stories. There is a noticeable absence of lacrosse stories despite the fact they are a staple of girls school prose fiction (I am sure they must be included in some other comics titles). I also don’t recall any rounders stories, which was a very typical summer sport for girls to play.

I am sure that other titles included some aspirational sports such as figure-skating or show-jumping as Jinty did, and the inclusion of some ordinary if less usual sports such as orienteering doesn’t seem unlikely either. However, the fact that skate-boarding, table-tennis, and judo were included as part of the range of stories shows, I think, that Jinty wanted to push the boat out and include elements that were not just a bit unusual, but also modern, fresh, and popular in the wider world: elements that were not marked as ‘élite’ and expensive.