Tag Archives: John Armstrong

Tammy & Jinty 9 January 1982

Tammy & Jinty cover 9 January 1982

  • Bella (artist John Armstrong)
  • Danger Dog – first episode (artist Julio Bosch?)
  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • The Shadow of Sherry Brown (artist Maria Barrera)
  • Little Sisters – first episode (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Nanny Young – first episode (artist Phil Gascoine, writers Maureen Spurgeon and Tom Newland)
  • Bessie Bunter – Old Friends (artist Arthur Martin)
  • Molly Mills and the Unhappy New Year – Old Friends (artist Douglas Perry, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • Monster Tales: The Secret of Seafleet – first episode (artist Hugo D’Adderio)
  • Sandy – A Fresh Start – first episode (artist Juliana Buch)

We are now into the new year of the Tammy & Jinty merger. Indeed, the Molly Mills story in this issue has the New Year theme, where an old superstition causes the New Year to get off to a bad start at Stanton Hall. There is no New Year theme in the Bessie Bunter story, but there is a party theme where Miss Stackpole wants to go to a dance, but her new shoes need breaking in. Bessie volunteers to help stretch them. Of course Bessie has her own agenda in borrowing the shoes for a bit – namely, to cover her tracks when raiding the kitchen.

As part of the New Year celebrations, Tammy & Jinty bring out a lineup of five new stories (count ‘em, five!). There is little doubt that these were waiting in the wings while the merger completed other serials from both Tammy and Jinty in the first weeks of the merger.

Some months before the merger, there was a letter asking for Sandy back. The Editor replied that a new Sandy story was in hand and would be published in a few months, so stay tuned for an announcement. This meant the story was kept waiting for quite a while (wonder how many other stories were kept waiting for months before publication?). This is the third (and last) Sandy Rawlings story, and it takes the then revolutionary step of featuring boyfriends and boyfriend troubles. Sandy’s boyfriend troubles stem mainly from her father who not only still treats her like a little girl (all too common) but also chooses the boyfriends for her. To make matters worse, Dad’s choices of ‘suitable’ boyfriends for Sandy are determined by his snobby attitudes and his business connections rather than Sandy’s tastes. In this story, Dad becomes Education Officer of Birchborough, which means the family is on the move straight after Christmas. But will Sandy’s New Year be happy? Given how interfering her father can be when it comes to boyfriends, we wouldn’t bet on it.

I suspect “Little Sisters”, which also starts this issue, was originally written for Jinty as it gets an appearance in the 1984 Jinty annual. I am not quite sure why it is called “Little Sisters” as there is only one little sister, Samantha “Sam” Grey. Maybe it is meant to have us thinking “these kid sisters”. As you might have guessed, Sam’s age causes all sorts of scrapes for her older sister Carol. But there are other times when little sis is a blessing for Carol.

“Nanny Young” is the first story former Jinty artist Phil Gascoine draws for the merger. Tina Young is trying to find her first job as a nanny, but her looks (everyone thinks she looks too young to be a nanny) and even her surname (Young) are against her. How can she overcome this hurdle? Of course, this being a girls’ comics, Tina’s break comes in an unexpected and humorous manner, but when Tina sees her first family, she finds this is only the first hurdle to be overcome.

“Danger Dog” may have been originally written for Misty as it uses a Misty artist. It may have been inspired by “The Plague Dogs” or “Rats of NIMH”. Beth Harris rescues her dog Sammy from a scientific research station, but there is a fear that he may be contaminated with something from it.

“Monster Tales” is the most striking feature of the new lineup because it is so unconventional. It is a series of monster-themed stories, beginning with smugglers trying their hand at wrecking, only to encounter a sea monster that got washed up from the ship they wrecked. Afterwards they all disappear without a trace and everyone gets so frightened that they clear out of the area. I wonder if this was originally written for Misty or been inspired by her, as neither Tammy nor Jinty would run such a feature.

The stories that started in the first issue of the merger continue. Bella’s still having problems gaining points in the “Superkid” contest and the track-and-field events aren’t helping so far. Then Bella finds just what she needs – gym apparatus. After a practice on it, she surprises everyone by coming back looking a champion. Will this turn things around next week?

The jealous ghost of Sherry Brown shows she is capable of hurting even her own best friend when Katy Bishop foolishly begins to become friends with her too. Sherry’s action has put both girls in danger of drowning in the weir.

In Pam of Pond Hill, Pam’s class have been temporarily housed at St Dorrit’s while Pond Hill is closed because the foundations are under repair. But St Dorrit’s is such a super-snob school that even the caretaker looks down on them. Everyone, pupils and school staff alike, go out of their way to make it clear that Pond Hill is not welcome at St Dorrit’s. The poor Pond Hill pupils are forced to take their lessons in a substandard hut, which is leaking from bad weather in this week’s episode. After a visit from their unsympathetic headmaster, Pam tries to bridge the gap between the schools by encouraging her classmates to offer olive branches to the St Dorrit’s pupils. But she soon finds that this has opened the door to more of their bullying when they play a dirty trick with Di’s hair!

Moonchild [1978]

Sample Images

Moonchild 1Moonchild 2Moonchild 3Moonchild 4

Published: Misty 4 February 1978 – 29 April 1978

Episodes: 13

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/reprints: Misty annual 1983; Misty Vol. 1 2016, published by Rebellion

Plot

All Rosemary Black wants is to lead a normal life and have friends, but she does not get much chance at home or at school. Her mother (no father is present) is severe and abusive, and she shows Rosemary no love or affection at all. She is always beating Rosemary black and blue with a cane because she thinks there is a “dark wickedness” in Rosemary that must be beaten out. What dark wickedness? Rosemary is clearly not a bad lot.

At one point Mrs Black is hauled up before the magistrate because of her treatment of Rosemary. But the magistrate dismisses the case without even a slap on the wrist. He believes parents should use more discipline, and just tells Mrs Black not to overdo it in future.

Mrs Black is not only abusive but strange as well. She does not allow gas or electricity at her house (Rosemary has to do her homework by candlelight). She does not allow Rosemary any freedom or dress fashionably like other girls, and she clamps down on any bids for these with more abuse, and bigotry to rival any fundamentalist. She doesn’t even allow Rosemary to have birthday parties (something that will have dire consequences later). Strangest of all, Mrs Black sometimes looks at Rosemary as if she’s afraid of her – now what could be the reason for that? Mrs Black’s dress sense is just as bizarre; she always goes out wearing a black cloak. This makes her look like a witch, which is precisely what everyone whispers whenever they see her.

Yes, Mrs Black has clearly got quite a reputation around the town for weirdness if not witchiness. It seems Rosemary does too; there is graffiti on a wall that says: “Rosemary Black is a weirdo”. It looks like someone else wrote “true” underneath that.

We get a pretty good idea on who wrote that graffiti when we get to Rosemary’s school. Girls pick on Rosemary because there’s something strange about her that nobody can really pinpoint. The worst bully is Norma Sykes, who’s a bad lot and got ‘delinquent’ written all over her (and where does she get those fags of hers when she must be underage, like Rosemary?). Her reason (or excuse) for tormenting Rosemary is that in her view Rosemary deserves it for being so weird, and her daily fix is getting Rosemary to cry. Norma has two cronies, Freda and Dawn, and she constantly holds them to their oath of loyalty to her.

Anne is Rosemary’s only friend at school. Anne gives Rosemary a more fashionable hairdo, which exposes a crescent moon-shaped mark on her forehead. After Rosemary finds the moon mark, strange things do begin to happen to her in earnest. It’s like there’s some sort of power growing inside her; small objects move and a television set goes on the blink for no apparent reason when Rosemary is around. The power gets stronger when the moon is full, and the school nurse finds the mark is burning red hot although Rosemary has no temperature. But the first really spectacular event occurs when one of Norma’s tricks (match in a piece of chalk) sets Rosemary’s hair on fire. Rosemary seems to subconsciously lash out at Norma – and then a bookcase starts toppling towards the bully. Norma narrowly avoids being flattened.

Rosemary is sent to the school nurse, who refers her to the school doctor, Dr Armstrong, about the moon mark. Afterwards, Rosemary and Anne discuss this strange power that seems to be growing. It grows even more when it enables Rosemary to save Anne from a nasty accident and they realise strong emotion is key. That night, a full moon prompts Rosemary to practise with the power, and she gains more control over it.

When Mrs Black sees what Rosemary is doing, she really goes berserk. She yells that she knew it would happen and it was the evil she had been trying to beat out of Rosemary all along. She really brings the cane on this time to teach Rosemary not to use her “wicked gift”. However, Rosemary snatches the cane away with her powers: “No! You will not hit me…ever again!” And wouldn’t you know it – Mrs Black never beats Rosemary again!

Meanwhile, Norma wants revenge on Rosemary because of the punishment she got for the match trick (although her cronies did the lines for her) and brings out her big guns. Norma’s plan, called “Operation Rosemary”, is intended to hurt Rosemary where it hurts most by crushing the thing that Rosemary desires the most. In order to find out what this desire is, Norma directs Dawn to become ‘friendly’ with Rosemary. Anne is to be pushed out of the way in order to help this along. Dawn is to gain enough of Rosemary’s trust for her to say what the desire is. Then they will concoct the way to ruin it.

Next day, Rosemary is surprised at Dawn suddenly coming all over friendly and helpful to her. Even Norma is leaving her alone. Rosemary wonders if the other girls are starting to accept her. Anne is suspicious at this sudden friendliness from Dawn and warns Rosemary to be the same. Anne’s suspicions make things too difficult for Dawn to break them up. Norma decides hard measures are required to get rid of Anne, so she fouls Anne at a hockey match to put her in hospital.

Meanwhile, Dr Armstrong is intrigued at Rosemary’s moon mark. He becomes even more intrigued when the needle bends inexplicably when he tries to give Rosemary an injection. He wants to refer her for further testing. For this he gives Rosemary a consent form for her mother to sign. Mrs Black throws the form away, saying the gift is evil and she does not want that sort of interference.

That night Rosemary has a strange nightmare of a raging fire where Norma, Freda, Dawn, and even Anne are laughing hysterically at her. Then she falls into the fire. Upon awakening, Rosemary checks on her mother, and is surprised to find a photograph of a beautiful woman who also has the moon mark. Mrs Black explains that it is Rosemary’s grandmother. Grandmother also had the “evil” gift and something terrible happened to her because of it. Mrs Black tells Rosemary not to use that gift or something similar will happen to her. Rosemary can’t really believe it because Grandmother looks a nice woman to her and she is soon feeling a bond with her. Mrs Black goes crazy and tries to burn the photograph, but Rosemary rescues the photograph with her powers. At this, Mrs Black washes her hands of Rosemary entirely, though just what she means by that is not clear. To help decide things, Rosemary retrieves the consent form and forges her mother’s signature on it so she can have the tests.

Dr Armstrong watches Rosemary’s powers in action at the tests. This includes her powers going berserk and smashing up the laboratory when she gets distressed at the sight of Anne being carried away on a stretcher. Dr Armstrong tells her that her power is called telekinesis. Rosemary tells him about her grandmother having the power and the mother’s attitude about it. So Dr Armstrong now wants to interview Mrs Black. Unbeknownst to Rosemary, Dr Armstrong is getting greedy and wants to use his discovery to catapult him to the heights of fame in science.

Dawn finally convinces Anne and Rosemary of her friendliness with a get-well present (flowers raided from the park flowerbed) in hospital. However, Dawn is still having problems obtaining the information Norma wants. And Rosemary is also getting the impression that they are being shadowed. At Dawn’s house, Rosemary uses her powers to distract Dawn’s kid brother from a tantrum by moving his toys telekinetically. He is thrilled with these fascinating antics with his toys. Then Rosemary is very surprised when another power, which is even stronger than hers, takes control of one of the toys and throws a scare into Dawn. Now where could that power have come from? Well, there is one other person with the power who’s been mentioned in the story…could that be a clue?

Mrs Black is called up to the school. She tells the doctor and the nurse that the power and accompanying moon mark had run in the family for generations. Apparently she is the black sheep in reverse because she is the only one in the family without it. She says she was lucky in escaping the “curse” (pull the other one, as we see later!). As a child, Julia (Mrs Black’s first name) did not really mind her mother’s power and just thought it was strange.

Then one night the power caused a terrible tragedy in the family. Grandmother was surprised by an intruder in the house, panicked, and used her telekinesis to hit him with an iron, which unwittingly caused his death. Too late she discovered that it was her own husband, who had gone AWOL from the army and was sneaking back to see them. Julia saw how her mother’s telekinesis had unwittingly killed her own father. From that moment on, Julia went against her mother, who was imprisoned because the police did not accept it was an accident (probably because they did not believe how it happened). Mrs Black had not seen her mother since then (she was raised in child welfare after that) and believes she died in prison. She blames the power for her father’s death, and calls both it and her mother evil. When she had Rosemary, she was horrified to discover her baby had the power too. Her harshness (which she begins to regret a bit) was meant to crush it and stop another terrible thing happening.

The doctor and nurse try to reason with Mrs Black, saying the tragedy was not really her grandmother’s fault. The power itself is not evil; such thinking does not belong in this day and age. She does not listen and tells the doctor she will not have any more of his tests on Rosemary.

Rosemary’s 13th birthday is coming up. This finally prompts her to tell Dawn what she would really like – a birthday party, which is something her strict mother has never allowed. So now the next phase of Operation Rosemary is planned. Norma says she will be Rosemary’s fairy godmother (a very evil fairy, of course) and give Rosemary “a very special birthday party” where they “give her da woiks!” Soon after, Dawn tells Rosemary they are organising a birthday party for her, and her house will be used for it. Dawn has arranged for her parents and kid brother to be absent from the house (to get them out of the way, of course).

Mrs Black now tells Rosemary the story about the grandmother and just what she means when she says something terrible will happen if she keeps using the power. Rosemary gives in and promises not to use the power.

But that night, Rosemary is surprised when that other power returns, and it is trying to enter the house. Being stronger than Rosemary’s, it wins the fight. The door opens to reveal…Grandmother (died in prison, huh?).

Grandmother says she has been watching Dawn, figured out her game (that toy terror was an attempt to scare Dawn off) and come to warn Rosemary. Mrs Black finds Grandmother in the house and is not making her welcome. Grandmother rebukes Mrs Black for the way she treated Rosemary. When Rosemary says it was meant for her own good, Grandmother says that’s not the real reason. The truth is that Mrs Black is jealous because she was the only one in the family without the power, and she took it out on Rosemary. One look at Mrs Black’s face confirms this, as do her comments that if she had inherited the power she would have used it for evil: “Oh, what I could have done with the power!” Rosemary goes upstairs all confused and just wanting to be ordinary. After Grandmother’s visit, the relationship between Rosemary and her mother becomes so bad that they are hardly speaking to each other.

Unfortunately, Rosemary does not heed Grandmother’s warning about Dawn. In her view she can trust Dawn because Anne does now (haven’t you heard of misplaced trust, Rosemary?). So the party/final stage of Operation Rosemary goes ahead at Dawn’s house.

At the party, Norma and her gang lock Anne up so she cannot interfere with Operation Rosemary. It is a birthday party where everything is designed to be horrible and reduce Rosemary to tears. The birthday ‘surprises’ include presents filled with nasty things such as worms, and a birthday cake laden with the most vile ingredients Norma could find: fag butts, cat meat, fish bones, rotten eggs and the like. The bullies ruin Rosemary’s newly made party dress by spraying all over it, and all over her as well. Upstairs they bully Rosemary further with ‘party games’. But they didn’t mean the balustrade to break and Rosemary fall off the staircase.

Then the bullies are really surprised to see Rosemary floating in mid air! (We learn later that Grandmother was holding her telekinetically.) Rosemary says it’s her turn now, so Operation Rosemary now meets Rosemary’s revenge as Rosemary’s real party begins. Rosemary starts using her telekinesis to attack the bullies. One of the best moments is where she telekinetically throws the vile ‘birthday cake’ right into Norma’s face. Talk about a taste of your own medicine! As she goes, Rosemary shouts that she is now figuring out their whole plan, and she also finds and releases Anne. The bullies are terrified, terrorised and trying to run. Norma exposes herself as the coward she really is with ludicrous excuses for what she did and attempts to sacrifice her cronies to save herself (and she has the nerve to expect them to swear perpetual loyalty to her!).

But the worst is yet to come. Norma lights a fag to calm herself, which starts a fire that spreads fast. The girls begin to laugh hysterically as they become trapped in the fire, which fulfils what Rosemary saw in her dream. Rosemary tries to extinguish the fire telekinetically – but finds that she can’t! She has over-extended the power and now it has burned out, rendering her powerless.

Then Grandmother appears, and extinguishes the fire with her own powers. However, the strain on her powers has been too much, and she dies in hospital. Grandmother dies content, as she feels she has made amends for that other tragedy, which blighted her life with guilt. Rosemary regrets not listening to her grandmother’s warnings, and also that she did not get the chance to spend longer with her.

The police collect enough evidence on the nightmare party to send Norma to approved school. The fates of Dawn and Freda are not recorded, but no doubt these will include the reactions of Dawn’s parents to the state of the house and trouble with the police.

Mrs Black disappears, leaving Rosemary on her own. Anne’s family gladly take her in. So Rosemary finally has the normal life she wanted, but is saddened at the price she has paid for it.

Thoughts

This was one of the stories in Misty’s first lineup. Like Misty’s other first serials (“The Sentinels” and “The Cult of the Cat”), “Moonchild” still endures and is well remembered. There are strong indications that it was very popular, and writer Pat Mills attributes much of this to the artist, John Armstrong.

Many of Misty’s stories drew on popular literature and films. This one is definitely based on Stephen King’s Carrie. There is no mistaking the parallels. The protagonist is a bullied girl who possesses the power of telekinesis. The telekinetic is the product of a broken home, family tragedy, and an abusive, bigoted mother and absent father. The telekinetic uses her telekinesis to wreak a terrifying revenge on tormentors who tried to destroy her big night with cruel tricks. There are also some Rosemary’s Baby references thrown into the mix (the name of the protagonist and the Mia Farrow hairstyle she gets). And is Dr Armstrong named after the artist, John Armstrong?

There have been zillions of stories about bullying, but the drawing card of this one is – what if the bullied girl has the power? Yes, wouldn’t we love to have a power like that to strike down a bully! We want to follow this story as soon as we read the blurb on the splash page because it is just something we would love to do ourselves.

The exact origins of the power are not defined and the grandmother herself does not know where it came from. All she knows is, the power has been in the family for generations. The telekinesis is clearly hereditary, but it is not just some genetic mutation as in Carrie. It is linked to the moon mark and the moon itself, which the telekinesis draws its power from. This suggests some sort of supernatural or SF origin, and the undefined but clear connection with the powers of the moon makes the story even spookier. The insinuation of a supernatural origin also suggests that the power passing over Rosemary’s mother is not simply a genetic mutation skipping a generation. The grandmother tells her daughter she was probably not given it because she would have used it badly, and she could just well be right.

Mrs Black is at least saner than her counterpart in Carrie, who may have a borderline personality disorder as well as being a religious fanatic who should feel right at home at Westboro Baptist Church. When we learn the reason for Mrs Black’s attitudes about the power Rosemary has, she even becomes more sympathetic and her conduct more understandable, although not excusable. It is easy to understand how the shock and grief of losing her father, her mother becoming his killer, her happy family life shattered forever, and spending the rest of her childhood in orphanages could affect her mind and cause her to become so twisted and irrational. Thereafter, she became terrified of the power, regarding it as an evil thing, and fearing that it could cause another terrible thing to happen in her life. Regarding the power as an evil thing that had to be crushed in Rosemary is not unlike the Dursleys’ attitude towards magic and why they treated Harry Potter so cruelly because of it. Mrs Black could also share the same roots as Tamsin’s grandmother in “Combing Her Golden Hair”. The grandmother outwardly treated Tamsin in harsh, unfair and even absurd ways. However, it turned out that the grandmother in fact meant well. She was just not going about things in the best way. Moreover, she did not realise that she was fighting a losing battle against a supernatural heritage.

Unlike Tamsin’s grandmother though, Mrs Black loses that sympathy she ultimately gains when we learn that the real reason for her treatment of Rosemary is jealousy because she was denied the power. And after saying that the power is evil, we learn that Mrs Black would have used it for evil herself if she had been born with it (what a nerve!). Neither Rosemary nor her grandmother use the power that way. No, the power itself is not evil; it is the way that it is used.

Those eccentricities Mrs Black has are more difficult to understand. Her attitude towards Rosemary’s power does not explain why she bans gas and electricity at her house and keeps the place in the dark ages with candlelight. Does she have some weird thing about modernity? Or is it to save money by not having to pay power bills? And why does she wear that weird, sinister cloak when she goes out instead of a simple coat, which makes her such a magnet for gossip that she’s a witch or weirdo? And if Mrs Black hates her mother so much because of the telekinetic accident that killed her father, why does she keep a photo of her around the house? And why does she just disappear at the end of the story? It certainly is a very quick way to get rid of her (and good riddance!), which would open up a new life for Rosemary where she can live happily and normally. And given the way things were going between her and Rosemary it is probably not too surprising. But it is not really explained at all. Doesn’t she even leave a note? We have to wonder just how much Mrs Black really loved Rosemary in the first place – if she ever loved Rosemary at all.

The evil in the story does not come from the power but from people’s cruelty. This comes in the forms of the abusive mother, and the bullies at school, though we see some other abusive people around, such as a kid who taunts Rosemary and calls her a witch. Norma is always saying to her cronies that Rosemary deserves to be hurt because she’s so weird, but that’s just her excuse of course. She just does it because she is a bully, a bad sort, and looks like she is on her way to delinquency. She comes from a line of John Armstrong bad girls with short black hair, leather jacket and knee high boots. June Roberts, who was the bane of Bella Barlow in her 1979 story, is perhaps the best example. Unlike Norma, June changes her ways in the end.

Norma has no compunction about anything she does and will go to any lengths to get her own way. When Dawn and Freda sometimes get qualms about Operation Rosemary, Norma pushes them to continue with it. Norma is also extremely clever and a smooth talker who bluffs or talks her way out of fixes, though she does not always succeed. Her cronies say she would be top of the class if she tried, but the only thing that interests Norma about school is bullying Rosemary. Norma’s tag line to get out trouble is to bluff people with the threat that she will set her father on them as he is the [whatever]. She even tries it on the police when they say they will send her to approved school! As there is only one instance where this bluff actually succeeds, we get the impression it’s more cheek than anything else.

From the brief glimpse we see of Norma’s home life, her misconduct is clearly rooted in her parenting. Although Mrs Sykes suspects the truth about the horrible thing (the ‘birthday cake’) that Norma is making, she does not investigate further because she is heading off to bingo. She wonders if she should send Norma to the doctor to get her head examined, but Norma’s line “Don’t nick any of me fags on your way out” indicate what sort of example Mrs Sykes sets to her daughter.

At times, Norma can be witty and delivers very funny lines, mostly when she is being impudent or planning something. One of the best examples is where she styles herself as fairy godmother to bring Rosemary her birthday party: “Norma Sykes, fairy godmother – dreams come true a specialty. Magic wand no extra charge.” It must be said Norma delivers the only comic relief we see in this unsettling, grim story, even if she is also the main villain.

And now we come to Rosemary herself. All she wants is to lead a normal life where she is loved, accepted, and have lots of friends. But in order to get there, she has to unravel the mystery of why her mother keeps denying them to her, what this thing is that her mother has about ‘wickedness’, and just what the ‘weirdness’ is that nobody can really explain but makes her a magnet for bullying. It is not surprising that they are connected. It all comes from Rosemary’s telekinetic heritage and how it turned Mrs Black into a monster – and eccentric – from grief, hatred and jealousy. It is ironic that the very thing that lay at the root of all Rosemary’s troubles was the only way out of all the abuse and bullying she suffers because of it.

Rosemary does not kill anyone as Carrie does before she herself finally dies in the story. However, this story does not shy away from its own tragedy and deaths. We cry for the grandmother when she finds she unwittingly killed her own husband with her telekinesis. We cry even more so when we see that Julia does not understand that her mother didn’t mean to do it or how bad she feels about it. The grandmother too probably began to hate her own power after that, whereas it is not so much the power but panic that was the problem. A normal person could well do the same thing with a gun or poker if they were in the same situation. It is a relief to see Grandmother finally find peace over the tragedy on her deathbed.

Rosemary’s friend Anne is a real brick in that she not only stands by Rosemary all the way but also does not condemn her power as evil or witchcraft. Rosemary’s power does not frighten her either. Instead, she is one of the people with a more level-headed attitude about it and compares it to Uri Geller, which in her mind must give it scientific validity. She helps Rosemary to explore, develop and understand the power. Anne also tries to encourage Rosemary to stand up for herself more, which is something Rosemary begins to do as the power gives her more confidence. Anne has the sense to rightly suspect Dawn’s supposed friendliness is not all it seems, but eventually she gets duped by a bunch of get-well flowers and how much they must have cost. Didn’t it occur to them that the flowers might not have been bought at all?

Dr Armstrong would also be a real friend to Rosemary if he had a better attitude. He assures Rosemary that her power is not evil as her mother says; it is scientific and he gives her the scientific name for it. Dr Armstrong also tries to reason with the mother and get her to accept that the power is not evil. The trouble is, he starts getting too greedy and ambitious over Rosemary’s power. He wants to make his name with it and has no respect for Rosemary’s feelings over it. The nurse is far more sympathetic and tries to plead with the doctor that she has the right to lead a normal life.

Losing the power in the end is not unusual in girls’ comics. But in this case it really is the only way for Rosemary to start leading a normal life, though not before she is finally rid of all that domestic and school abuse of course. Still, we can’t help but hope that the power of the moon will restore Rosemary’s powers. Maybe they will consider it for a new Moonchild story in the new Misty material that is beginning to come out?

 

Jinty and Penny 20 September 1980

Jinty 20 September 1980

Cover artist: Mario Capaldi

Contents in this issue:

  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Girl the World Forgot (artist and writer Veronica Weir)
  • Tears of a Clown (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Behind the Screen: Charlie’s Angels
  • Wheels of Fate (artist John Armstrong) Gypsy Rose story
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • A Spell of Trouble (artist Trini Tinturé) – final episode
  • Child of the Rain (artist Phil Townsend)

Looks like Betty, the sports mistress from the future serial “Life’s a Ball for Nadine”, is supervising the javelin on the cover. Well, it does look rather like Betty.

The trouble in “A Spell of Trouble” solves itself in a four-page finale, which looks like it has bumped “Winning Ways” this week. The witches, who have been pressing Angela to become a witch, find out – the hard way – that making Angela White a witch is only a recipe for disaster because she’s such a bungling menace. So they restore the Blacks’ powers, but please, please, keep Angela as a non-witch from now on! And now that’s all been sorted out, Angela and Carrie can become friends. In two weeks’ time Jinty will start another witchcraft story, “Sue’s Daily Dozen”, which will be the last witch serial she will ever run.

Everyone in Pam’s class is vying for the ten places on the French trip. Even the class larrikins Fred and Terry are, but only once they find out it will mean missing the last week of term. Those two will do anything to get out of some lessons – even swotting up French and crawling to the French teacher. But then Pam notices that something seems to be bothering her friend Tracy…

Shona finds out she is now the girl the world forgot: a radio broadcast announces that she has been presumed dead and the search for her has been called off. Tantalisingly, it does not inform her whether her parents survived or not. At least Shona finds the island is kitted out for survival, with a source of fresh water and an abandoned croft, and she’s got other company on the island – a talking crow.

In “Tears of a Clown”, Kathy’s respite from the bullying is over. The bullying is back now, and it’s worse than ever. Then the upcoming sports day gives Kathy new hope to prove her running talent. But considering her luck in proving it so far, she might be wise not to set her hopes too high. And what about spiteful Sandra, the bully who keeps thwarting Kathy’s efforts to prove her talent?

Tansy and the gang from Jubilee Street go off to apprehend some smugglers – only to find they were just actors for a television show. Fortunately their interference makes the scene even better, so it will be retained and they will see themselves on television next week.

Jemma’s strange problem with rain gets her withdrawn from the school tennis team. And now it’s about to land her in big trouble with her teacher!

Sir Roger’s bragging about how brave he is, but just how brave is he really? He apprehends some burglars, but it’s due more to hijinks and dumb luck than courage.

The Gypsy Rose story is yet another recycled John Armstrong Strange Story from Tammy. Gail Hawkins goes on holiday with her uncle and aunt. She is plagued by a constantly passing lorry, but no lorry has been allowed on that road since one caused a fatal accident some years back. And it is a French lorry, just like the one that caused the accident…but there can’t be such things as ghost lorries, surely?

Jinty and Penny 13 September 1980

Jinty 13 September 1980

Cover artist: Mario Capaldi

Contents in this issue:

  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Girl the World Forgot (artist and writer Veronica Weir)
  • Tears of a Clown (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Back to School! (craft feature)
  • Phantom of the Fells (artist John Armstrong) Gypsy Rose story
  • Behind the Screen: Grange Hill
  • A Spell of Trouble (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Winning Ways #25: Tennis – the Grip (writer Benita Brown)
  • Child of the Rain (artist Phil Townsend)

Jinty commemorates it being “back to school” after the summer holidays with a “back to school” craft page and doing a feature on Grange Hill for “Behind the Screen”.

At Pond Hill, school’s much happier because a school camping trip to France is planned. Pam’s so enthused that she’s boning up on her French, much to Miss Peeble’s surprise. But there’s one problem: the school can only take ten pupils because that’s all the room there is in their vehicle. So there is no guarantee Pam will even go.

In “Child of the Rain”, Jemma’s odd reaction to rain is causing a real nuisance at school and she’s running the risk of letting the school tennis team down because of it.

School is now looking up for Kathy the class clown because her classmates decide Sandra has gone too far and start protecting her from Sandra’s bullying. But Kathy loses that protection when her clumsiness turns a classmate’s party into custard and a stereo system is wrecked! Now it’s back to square one for her, and we are warned that the bullying will grow even worse next week.

“A Spell of Trouble” is on its penultimate episode. The witches find out Angela is still not a witch and carry out their threat to strip the Blacks of their powers because of it. But when Angela sees how hard this is on her Black relatives because they’ve never gotten by any other way except witchcraft, she decides to become a witch after all, for their sakes. She doesn’t think it’s going to be that easy, though, and we have a feeling she’s right.

Shona becomes the “Girl the World Forgot” once the searchers find her empty life raft and draw the apparent conclusion that she is dead. Nobody knows that Shona and her dog Scuffer are in fact washed up on a deserted island and waiting for rescue.

Aunt Agnes comes to stay at Stoney Hall, and she’s so house-proud she insists on cleaning everything in sight, while Sir Roger likes it dusty and cobwebby.

Tansy’s holiday gets even weirder when she and June find their way out of the cave they got lost in and find a gang of smugglers – in pirate costumes(?). She runs to the other Jubilee Street residents to get help in rounding them up.

This week’s Gypsy Rose is another recycled John Armstrong Strange Story, which is reprinted from Tammy. An arrogant mountaineer learns that the fells should not be underestimated, even if they are “flea bites” compared to the mountains she’s climbed, and they can be dangerous for those who do not know them. She learns that dogs should not be underestimated either. But we wonder what her opinion on ghosts will be after this episode?

Jinty and Penny 30 August 1980

Jinty cover 30 August 1980

Cover artist: Mario Capaldi

  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Tears of a Clown (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • A Spell of Trouble (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Black Rory’s Curse (artist John Armstrong) – Gypsy Rose story
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Behind the Screen: Happy Days (feature)
  • Minnow (artist Peter Wilkes) – final episode
  • Winning Ways #24: A Squat Vault (writer Benita Brown)
  • Blind Faith (artist Phil Townsend) – final episode
  • Alley Cat (artist Rob Lee)

On the cover we see Betty, the sports mistress from the future serial “Life’s a Ball for Nadine”, supervising the high jump. Oh, just kidding! But the sports mistress does bear a striking resemblance to Betty.

In the letter column there is a letter from one reader saying she cuts out the “Winning Ways” and gives them to her P.E. teacher, who pins them on the gymnasium wall. Benita Brown must have been so chuffed.

Both “Blind Faith” and “Minnow” finish this issue. Clare has to forfeit her win because she entered under false pretences, but she has made her point about Cromwell being able to jump despite his blindness, so he’s safe now. Minna has to do a life-or-death swim to shore to get away from her kidnappers, which is a real test for a girl who’s only recently learned to swim. Her escape can be viewed on the Peter Wilkes page in the panel gallery.

Their replacements next week are “Girl the World Forgot” and a new Phil Townsend sports story, “Child of the Rain”, which, come to think of it, was Jinty’s one and only tennis story. “Girl the World Forgot” is a castaway story, something that Jinty has not used since her earliest days with “Desert Island Daisy“, but it clearly takes the theme seriously, while Daisy used it for laughs.

Spiteful Sandra is at her worst this week to make sure Kathy stays “the clown”, and it makes this episode a really cruel one. Under cover of pretend kindness, she tricks Kathy into eating too much food to stop her demonstrating her running talent at the sports centre. And just look at the monstrous amounts of food she’s coercing poor Kathy to eat. Talk about gavage!

Pam guesses who has taken her witch ball and resorts to some sneakiness to get it back – while tricking the thief into making a fool of herself and cheer up her depressed gran into the bargain.

This week Tansy discovers just how superstitious the residents of Jubilee Street are. Although she herself remains a sceptic, she eventually decides to bone up on superstitions for luck: “better safe than sorry!”

Sir Roger thinks modern people don’t know how to make others suffer through torture these days. But after a trip to the funfair and trying out its rides, he changes his mind.

This week’s Gypsy Rose story is another recycled Strange Story, which originally appeared in June. It treats Jinty readers to some John Armstrong artwork. The old maxim “you can’t take it with you” is put to the test with Black Rory, a robber baron who was so greedy that not even death would make him part with his ill-gotten loot; he had himself buried in full armour in a stone room with all his riches. It looks like being beyond the grave is not stopping his greed either, because his spirit is taking possession of generous Carly and making her insatiably greedy. And then he disappears from the stone room altogether…to spread even more greed…?

Angela’s off to a boarding school, and Carrie goes along to ensure her bungling cousin stays there. But it all backfires in the end and they’re still stuck with Angela.

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

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 22 June 1974 – 7 September 1974

Episodes: 12

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Jenny McDade

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tammy’s 5th Birthday Issue 7 February 1976

tammy-cover-7-february-1976

Cover artist: John Richardson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No-One Cheers for Norah (1972)

Sample Images

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“No-One Cheers for Norah” was one of Sandie’s very first stories. It is going to be discussed here because it has been mentioned in several Jinty blog entries as sharing parallels with Jinty’s “Toni on Trial”. There has been speculation it was the same writer. A promising athlete (or swimmer in Norah’s case) finds her career under threat from an old theft charge that was levelled at her mother/father.

When examining this story I also noticed it shares parallels with “Tricia’s Tragedy”, so it could be the same writer here too.

Published: Sandie #1, 12 February 1972 – #12, 29 April 1972

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Norah Day is a keen swimmer, but her widowed father is so poor they are driven to training her in the canal. Nonetheless she has managed to win one trophy.

Dad falls ill and Norah is sent to stay at rich Uncle Phillip’s while he’s in hospital. Straight off the mark though, her relatives treat her like a piece of dirt. They call her a “slum kid”, a disgrace to the family, and they don’t let the neighbours even see her. Cousin Lorna says she doesn’t want her friends to know Norah is her cousin. They make her sleep in a shabby attic when they could easily give her a nice room. At mealtimes they won’t let her share the table with them and she has to eat separately. They see her as being more useful as a servant. In fact, that is what they lead Mrs Maddox, the president of the Dolphins Swimming Club that Lorna is a member of, to believe – that Norah is their new help. Lorna even throws Norah’s newly won trophy out the car window!

When Norah tries to join the Dolphins Swimming Club too, Lorna rips up Norah’s swimsuit and tells her to get out of the club. The relatives are making it loud and clear that they are not going to let Norah keep up her swimming, especially as it could pose a threat to Lorna’s swimming career. Swimming club President Mrs Maddox says she wants Lorna to win the club championship again and she thinks Lorna is now ready for bigger things. Besides, there are the swimming club fees Norah can’t afford and of course her horrible relatives won’t cover them.

Determined to keep up her swimming, Norah turns to swimming in the park lake. Eventually Mrs Maddox notices Norah and offers her a free place, but she has to go through a trial, which Norah wins despite a number of faults in her swimming. They decide the faults can be corrected with proper training, and on the whole Norah has potential as a swimmer. They agree to let Norah compete in the championship finals. Lorna realises how big a danger her cousin is. She still lets Mrs Maddox think Norah’s the family servant and enrols her at the club under a false name. The other club members are snobby and look down on Norah too, and the committee is quite snobby towards her as well. Meanwhile, Mrs Maddox senses that Norah reminds her of someone, but can’t quite place it.

When the news gets back home, the family predictably treat Norah worse than ever. However, Mrs Maddox eventually discovers how badly they are treating Norah, and how they have led people to believe she is their servant because they were too snobby to let them know the truth. Mrs Maddox is the most important person in town, so being shown up in front of her is extra-humiliating for the nasty relatives.

Poor Norah still has to wait upon her snooty relatives, though. And they still pose a threat to her swimming: Uncle Phillip says he has to tell Mrs Maddox who Norah really is because of the difficult position Norah has put them in. Meanwhile, Mrs Maddox begins coaching to correct Norah’s swimming faults and she begins to improve.

But then Uncle Phillip tells Mrs Maddox what he had been planning to tell her, and making the excuse it was the reason they had put up the story Norah was their servant. Whatever it is, it has Mrs Maddox deeply shocked and telling Norah it is best they don’t meet again. Norah has no idea what it is about. When she confronts Lorna, Lorna says her father was a crook who served jail time. Norah thinks Uncle has been telling Mrs Maddox a pack of lies. Lorna picks a fight with Norah, which Uncle and Aunt blame Norah for. He says he’s not keeping Norah in the house any longer and sends her to his clothing factory in Claydon, where he instructs his manager to give her all the worst jobs.

Norah goes to see Mrs Maddox, who says the story is true. Norah’s father was once the secretary of the club, but was sent to jail for stealing a sum of £480 from the club twenty years ago. Realising Norah is not like her father (as Uncle said), Mrs Maddox resumes Norah’s training. She is going to put Norah in the Dolphins team and get the English selectors to take a look at her. This is something Norah’s father always wanted as his imprisonment robbed him of that chance, but he can now fulfil it through Norah.

Norah goes to see her father. Dad’s condition has worsened, and the only thing keeping him going is the hope Norah will be selected for England. His thought bubbles reveal he is innocent of the charge that sent him to prison. So who is guilty?

After visiting her father Norah can’t go back to her uncle’s, so she sleeps in her dad’s house. But then new tenants move in. Norah has no choice but to go back to her uncle’s – only to be thrown right out of the house. They figure a night of roughing it in bad weather will make Norah unfit for the selections. Norah sneaks into her uncle’s factory to spend the night there.

While looking for food Norah comes across an old document, which reveals Uncle Phillip set up his business with a down payment of £480. This is the exact amount Norah’s father was accused of stealing, and the date of the down payment corresponds with the time the money was stolen. Norah recalls that Uncle Phillip used to bear a physical resemblance to Dad. Then she puts two and two together.

Uncle Phillip now catches her in the act and she confronts him over what she has deduced: he stole the money and left Dad to carry the can over it when (presumably) they mistook Uncle Phillip for Dad because of the physical resemblance. When she tries to run for it he knocks her out and locks her in the cellar (at least with some food and water). Norah escapes through a drain, but has to swim for her life against a torrent of dye waste being released from the factory. By the time she arrives at the baths she is bright purple!

Norah tells Mrs Maddox what happened and what she has discovered about Uncle Phillip, flourishing the document she still has (and has somehow survived the dye bath). She also begs to be allowed to compete for her father’s sake. Mrs Maddox says they will sort out the theft business later, and tells Norah she can compete. Everyone knows this is going to be tough because they know Norah is exhausted from that dye bath swim and Lorna won’t give an inch. And the Dolphins club girls are still unfriendly to Norah. As the race unfolds, however, cheers are heard for Norah as people see how well she is swimming despite everything. Norah’s determination, lust for revenge, and amended swimming faults are outweighing her tiredness. She wins against Lorna and is selected for England.

Afterwards, Mrs Maddox tells Norah her uncle just slunk off and the guilty look on his face told her all she needed to know. Mrs Maddox then tells Lorna to pack up and leave the Dolphins Club: “there’s not very much to be said for you either!” Lorna is roundly booed as she goes, for word has been around. Soon after, Lorna and her parents move away in shame.

Mr Day recovers and is eager to start a new life now that his name has been cleared. This includes marrying Mrs Maddox, and Norah welcomes her as a stepmother. Six weeks later, Norah wins her first race for England.

Thoughts

These will be discussed in context of the parallels with “Toni on Trial” and “Tricia’s Tragedy”. There certainly is a parallel with Toni in that a wrongful charge of stealing from a sports club was levelled at the protagonist’s parent years before and is threatening her own sports career. However, the wrongful charge is a much more powerful plot driver in Toni than in Norah. In Toni it’s established by part three and casts a cloud over the protagonist that just won’t go away because the townsfolk just won’t forget and the real culprit keeps fuelling it. So Toni is anxious to get to the bottom of it all for her own sake as well as clearing her mother’s name. In Norah the wrongful charge is not even revealed until nearly two thirds of the way through the story, and it’s only done so because Uncle Phillip believes it’s the only way to neutralise the threat Norah poses to Lorna. Even after it’s established, clearing the parent is not a priority. It only happens by sheer luck in Norah finding the document, drawing the right conclusions, and Mrs Maddox believing her. The wrongful charge and exoneration serve more as part of the plot resolution and punishing the unpleasant relatives than driving the plot as they do in Toni. The story format is more like a Cinderella story than an “exoneration” story, as was the case with Toni.

The parallels with Tricia are much stronger. First, both stories feature swimming. Second, a rogue uncle is responsible for a wrongful accusation against the protagonist’s father, which has driven him and his family deep into poverty while the rogue uncle’s family have grown richer and cruel to them because of it. Third, in both Norah and Tricia the protagonists can’t afford to train at the baths so they have to resort to a quarry pool (Tricia) or a canal or lake (Norah). Fourth, divisions between rich and poor have created further rifts between the poor protagonist and her unpleasant rich relations, who just rubbish her and her family. But the nasty relatives are not content with this and try to ruin the protagonist even more to stop her triumphing over their daughter at an important swimming match. In the case of Tricia it’s to stop her inheriting money from her grandfather. In Norah, it’s because they’re so snobby they don’t even want people to know she is family. Fifth, in both Norah and Tricia the unpleasant relatives take advantage to bully the protagonist, turn her into a slave, and pull all sorts of nasty tricks to stop her beating the cousin in the swimming match. Finally, in Norah and Tricia it all culminates in the swimming match where everything is at stake and it’s a battle for revenge. And once the truth is established, both the unpleasant cousins in Norah and Tricia are roundly booed off and soon move away in shame with their parents.

Jinty and Penny 6 September 1980

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Stories in this issue:

(Cover artist: Mario Capaldi)

  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Girl the World Forgot (artist and Veronica Weir) – first episode
  • Tears of a Clown (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • The Swim For Life: A Jinty and Penny Special Story (artist John Armstrong)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Unscheduled Stop – Gypsy Rose story (artist John Armstrong)
  • Mork ‘n’ Mindy: Behind The Screen (Feature)
  • A Spell Of Trouble (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Child of the Rain (artist Phil Townsend) – first episode

Many thanks to Derek Marsden for the copy of this issue, which he kindly sent on to me.

Pam is on a roll – her ‘witch ball’ brings her luck or so she thinks, and indeed it seems to be the case. By returning it to its rightful owner, her school benefits from help to go on a school trip to France (which leads us on to a whole other set of stories).

“Girl The World Forgot” starts this issue. Initially it looks like an adventure story with a castaway plot, but later on it turns spooky. It is beautifully drawn by Veronica Weir, and through a comment on this blog we found out that it was also written by her too – one of only a very few cases where we know the artist and writer were the same person.

Kathy Clowne is bullied by Sandra Simkins, as so often in her time at school. This time Sandra paints Kathy’s face in greasepaint to make her up in clownface. Not realizing that this has happened, Kathy snaps when a teacher comments ‘What have you done to your face?’ and of course a punishment now looms – even though really it is all Sandra’s fault.

“The Swim For Life” is referred to as a ‘special story’ – it’s a complete two-page story that is presumably reprinted from an earlier title, but unusually it doesn’t fit into the mold of a Strange Story which was normally changed into a Gypsy Rose one. This one is a straightforward adventure story with a brave dog saving the brother and sister who went out in a speedboat and got into difficulties. There are no supernatural elements though, unlike in the Gypsy Rose story “The Unscheduled Stop” – which is likewise by John Armstrong. In this latter story, Jenny Shaw’s parents are arguing non-stop, until an unscheduled train stop shows her the reason in their earlier history for their bitterness, and a way to fix their future.

The letters page this week includes a letter from Sophie Jackson, a science fiction fan, who loved “Land of No Tears” and asked for more SF like that story and “The Human Zoo”. She also specifically said how much she liked the artist who drew both stories and also others such as “Black Sheep of the Bartons” and “Pandora’s Box”, and wanted more by that artist. Perhaps this was part of the reason why the Jinty editors commissioned “Worlds Apart”, also drawn by Guy Peeters?

(I also take this opportunity to comment on the fact that the form that you were supposed to send in with your letters, saying which your favourite stories were, has an issue number printed on it which is otherwise not shown elsewhere. This issue is number 320.)

Finally, it’s also the first episode of spooky-mysterious tennis story, “Child of the Rain”. Drawn by Phil Townsend, this story is flavoured with elements of the South American rainforest, which lends it particular interest in my eyes as I was living in South America at precisely this time. Despite this attraction, I have to admit it’s not the strongest story ever. Jemma West is a keen tennis player and hates the rain because it stops her playing – that is, until an accident in the rain forest, after which she starts to love the rain and to find it gives her extra strength and energy. It shares some similarities with “Spirit of the Lake” (mystery / supernatural elements, and sporting details) which we think is likely to have been written by Benita Brown – I wonder therefore if this story also might have been penned by the same writer.