Tag Archives: Linda Stephenson

Tammy 29 October 1983

Tammy cover 29 October 1983

  • Lucky by Name… (artist Juliana Buch, writer Malcolm Shaw)
  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Glenda’s Glossy Pages (artist Mario Capaldi, writer Pat Mills)
  • The Nightingale’s Song – complete story (artist Douglas Perry, writer Roy Preston)
  • The Button Box (artist Mario Capaldi, sub-writer Linda Stephenson)
  • Spell of Fog – first episode (artist Tony Coleman, writer Jake Adams)
  • Room for Rosie (artist Santiago Hernandez, writer Alison Christie)
  • Lonely Ballerina – final episode (artist Maria Barrera, writer Jay Over)
  • Make a Mask for Halloween! – feature (writer Chris Lloyd)

Halloween is coming up. So I am bringing out the last Halloween issue Tammy ever published. The cover is very nice, and the girls look like Trick-or-Treaters or organising their Halloween party. Inside, we have instructions for making a Halloween mask and the Crayzees go to a Halloween fancy dress ball. Miss T and Edie are rather chagrined when the human-sized Snoopa wins first prize for dressing up as Miss T!

In last week’s issue, Tammy had a blurb about a spooky story starting this issue in commemoration of Halloween. It is “Spell of Fog”. A film crew arrives at the village of Wolfen to make a film about Alice Compton, a girl who was burned at the stake for witchcraft and rumoured to haunt the spot where her ashes were scattered.  So when the film producer announces his plans to do a historically inaccurate, sensationalised film where Alice is truly evil and an agent of the Devil instead of one of the hapless victims of witch hunts, it really is asking for trouble. Sure enough, a mist is soon arising on the spot where Alice is said to haunt, and it’s clearly blowing in the opposite direction of the wind…

Surprisingly, “Room for Rosie” is celebrating Guy Fawkes one week early and passing over Halloween altogether. Pauline Wheeler is trying to honour her dying gran’s last request to find a good home for her beloved pram, “Rosie”, but so far no luck. Meantime, Rosie is being put to more of the 101 uses that she was so famous for with Gran. This week it’s carrying the Guy for the penny-for-the-routine. Rosie does not do much to sort out the problem of the week, which is where to have the bonfire after the kids lose their regular lot for it.

You’d think there would be a Halloween story in the Button Box. Instead, it’s a story to reassure you that a representative will always be on hand to sort out any problems you may have when you are on holiday abroad.

The complete story is about a promising singer, Suzy Nightingale, who loses her power of speech and singing from the shock of her mother’s death. She nurses her namesake back to health when it is injured, and notices that the nightingale has remained silent all the while, just like her. But all of a sudden the nightingale regains its power of song, which prompts Suzy to regain hers.

“Lonely Ballerina” reunites the creative team from ballet story Slave of the Clock. This was the last ballet story Tammy ever published (not counting “I’m Her – She’s Me!”, although it does have ballet in it). Tanya Lane arrives at Mary Devine’s ballet school, only to find it’s nothing but a mess, she’s the only serious pupil there, and there is a mystery to unravel. The reveal (not very credible and does not make the story one of Tammy’s best) is that Mary’s sister Betty has been struggling to keep the ballet school going after an accident rendered Mary catatonic. This was a foolish thing to do, as Betty knows nothing about ballet. Even more unwisely, she tried to conceal Mary’s condition instead of explaining the situation, getting help, and keeping the school closed until her sister recovered. Mary did not do so until the final episode. In the meantime, the school fell apart, efforts to hide the secret from the governors have now failed, the story is all over the newspapers, and the school faces closure. But of course, being a girls’ story, things end happily.

“Lucky by Name” is a foal named Lucky who seems to have powers over other animals. Unfortunately more and more people are beginning to notice. Now Lucky has made two rich and powerful enemies over it, and they look like they are threatening serious trouble.

Glenda gets a really freaky sign that her “glossy pages” have supernatural powers that could be dangerous. Mum lights a fire where Glenda hid her glossy pages and elsewhere, the bike she got from them catches fire! Yet there’s not a trace of damage on the bike or glossy pages. Then there’s even more trouble when the police come around and demand to know where Glenda got that nice stuff that is way beyond her means, and are not going to believe it came from those glossy pages. What can Glenda do? Or, more to the point, what are those glossy pages going to do?

The latest Pam of Pond Hill story ends this week. Dad has been facing down a supermarket rival whose cut-price fruit & veg have been threatening his greengrocer business. But just when that problem looks all sorted out, the supermarket gets vandalised and Pam is suspect because of the recent bad blood between the two businesses and an item, which was given to her, was found at the scene of the crime.

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The Button Box [1982-84]

Sample Images

Button Box 1Button Box 2Button Box 3Button Box 4

Tammy: 20 November 1982 – 16 June 1984

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Main Writer: Alison Christie

Sub-writers: Ian Mennell and Linda Stephenson

The button box is a Jackson family heirloom, and every single button in the box has a story behind it. When Beverley Jackson becomes confined to a wheelchair after a road accident, Gran gives her the box so Bev can use the stories to occupy her mind and cheer herself up whenever she is feeling down. Bev knows all the stories by heart (she must have a photographic memory or something) and every week she dips into the box for a story to tell. The stories have accumulated not only over the years, but the centuries as well – and they are still growing as Bev makes her own additions from her assorted holidays, friends, teachers, penpals, and even celebrities. Some new additions are being made even as an episode unfolds. In these cases the narrator is the donor, who is telling Bev the story before donating the button to the box.

The buttons come from all walks of life, social classes and cultures across the world and centuries. Therefore the buttons can be used as vehicles to explore a multitude stories that are set in a whole variety of backgrounds, cultures and eras. Since people of both sexes and all ages use buttons, readers get a multitude of different types of people starring in a Button story, including soldiers, beggars, teachers, celebrities, performers, lovers and even a boy or two. The buttons are also educational. For example, readers get snippets of information about the history of buttons and the things people used to do with them. Among them are the game of “touch buttons”, from the bygone days when kids played with everyday items, and charm-string buttons, which were popular with American ladies in the 19th century. The person to add the last button to the string and finish it was the husband-to-be.

A number of the buttons are directly linked to Bev’s family history. The Black Glass button tells the story of how her grandfather and grandmother met; the Black Op-Art button does the same for Bev’s parents. If Bev gets married, no doubt there will be yet another button to tell that tale. The very first button story, that of the Broken Pink Button, tells readers that Bev’s gran wanted a sewing kit for her sixth birthday but her mother said she is too young for it. Gran proved otherwise by sewing the pink button on her cardigan. Sure enough, she got the sewing kit for her birthday. During her birthday party the button got broken, but grandmother keeps it as a “precious memory”.

The buttons tell stories to entertain, educate, inspire or chastise, but nearly always they have a moral of some kind. For example, many buttons tell rags-to-riches stories, such as the Coin Button and Imitation Jewel Button. In these cases their owners kept the buttons to remind them of their origins and keep their feet on the ground. Pity coachman Billy Lowe of the Coachman’s Button tale didn’t do that. Lowe marries into the nobility and becomes so arrogant he turns into a monster. Then, when he is given a coachman’s button (a shopping muddle) it reminds him of his coachman origins and thereafter he wears the button inside his sleeve to keep reminding himself. Bev’s friend, Prue Holt, who has overheard the story and realised she let her own good fortune go to her head, starts doing the same.

Even when a button starts as a mere novelty item it ends up teaching the very message it exhibited as a novelty. One is the Liar Button, which is inscribed with the words, “YOU LIAR”. It is a novelty button but it was actually used to punish a girl who told lies to impress her friends. The T Button is simply a button inscribed with a letter “T”, but it became attached to a story featuring “T’s”. Tara is nicknamed “The Tomorrow Girl” because she is an habitual procrastinator. Then Tara gets a shock when she thinks she has put off one thing too many and become indirectly responsible an accident. Fortunately it turns out to be a false alarm, but Tara resolves to become “Tara the Today Girl”.

Bev is only too happy to give buttons away to people who need them. The Walnut Button which Bev gave to a newcomer named Tara is unusual because the button came into her collection with no known story to tell, but left her collection with one: “The Cracking of Tough Nut Tara”. Tara is so affected by grief that she freezes up and refuses all offers of friendship to avoid further hurt. On her birthday, when the only presents she has received are from her parents, the tough nut finally cracks, realising that she has only made herself even more miserable. Bev takes pity on Tara and gives her a special birthday card with the walnut button sewn on to make a point about what a tough nut she has been. One can just see Tara showing the walnut button to another girl who is rejecting friendship and telling its story to her.

Other buttons tell stories of inspiration, courage, and even equal rights. The motto of the Ladybird Button is “never give up”. The Dog’s Nose Button is an instruction in overcoming stage fright, which Bev uses to buck her mother up when she is nervous about giving a speech. Southpaws will cheer the story of the Daisy Button. In the 1920s, Lena Brown loves sewing but hates her school sewing lessons because the teacher keeps forcing her to sew right-handed although doing so makes her sewing suffer. The teacher is silenced when Lena wins a prize for sewing a blouse left-handed after breaking her right arm.

There are heaps of buttons that warn against judging on appearances. The Volcano Button tells us not to underestimate people who seem shy. The Rusty Raincoat Button and Snake Button warn against intolerance and not being hasty to judge people just because they seem different.

On a related theme, some button stories leave you thinking about something in a different light. The Warden’s Button reminds us that traffic wardens are human beings just like us; they just do an unpopular job. If you think Girl Guides are stuffy and uncool, the Guide Button will have you thinking again; its story relates how a lost dog was reunited with its owner thanks to guide training.

Button stories about kindness and generosity being returned manifold are one of the most popular themes in the strip. For example, the story about Austrian “Tinies” Buttons is about a selfish girl who learns to share her toys when she sees what a poor girl has for a toy – a lump of wood done up as a doll. And if you think you are not talented at anything, the story of the Imitation Jewel Button teaches you that if you are kind, you have the greatest talent of all.

The Acorn Button and Ivory Buttons teach environmental messages, and you could say the Barrel Button has a message about recycling. When a friend is about to throw an old barrel on a bonfire, deeming it useless, Bev stops her with the barrel button story to demonstrate how useful a barrel can be. In the story, a water barrel helps save the day when an American pioneering family is hit by rustlers. The barrel gives its name to the frontier town that springs up soon afterwards.

Even when the button story conveys no explicit moral, one can still be implicit. For example, Bev tells the story of the Eye Button to entertain a child, but we can hear a moral in the story: think outside the box. Nina’s dream of becoming a nurse is shattered because she does not meet the physical requirements. Nina’s parents advise her to set her mind on something else, but she cannot. Then, when Nina uses an ‘eye’ button to mend a toy, an astute neighbour spots the solution. Through her, Nina does become a nurse – at the dolls’ hospital. The Eye Button is one of the button stories on how some of the buttons got people launched on new jobs and careers.

One of the more amusing button stories is the Mattress Button, and its story of how greed (and not caring for your relatives) brought its own punishment. A grasping couple are waiting for their uncle to die so they can seize the fortune he has stashed somewhere. What they don’t know is that the money is hidden in his bedroll – which they have just thrown into a bonfire!

Not all the button stories come from Bev’s collection. She collects button stories during visits, holidays and public exhibitions. A golf club exhibits buttons that were specially made to promote equal rights for women golfers. A priceless dress decorated with pearl buttons is being auctioned and the pearl buttons carry another rags-to-riches story. The Button Church gets its name from three silver buttons given by a poor girl because they were all she had to give. The buttons become an inspiration for the vicar when the church is bombed during the war and has to be rebuilt. The three silver buttons are set in the wall of the church, reinforcing Christ’s message of giving all you have.

Since we have a disabled girl as the star of the show, it is not surprising that a number of the buttons tell stories about the disabled. One example is the Star-Shaped Button. When Emma Drake goes blind she spends a whole year brooding, calling herself a “useless cabbage,” refusing to help herself and spurning her parents’ every attempt to buck her up. Finally, Emma changes her mind when her enhanced sense of feel leads the police to the robber who burgled the house. Bev gives the star button to her friend Alison to give her confidence in starting blind school.

Perhaps the best button story of all is the Salvation Army Button, which is reproduced above. This story even prompted a letter to Tammy. The button’s appearance is dull, but Bev considers it her brightest button because the Salvation Army brightens lives, as it did for Milly Hawkins, the daughter of a Victorian beggar-woman. After being orphaned, raised in a cruel orphanage, turned out to learn her own living and finally driven to the brink of suicide, everything turns around when a retired Salvation Army officer gives Milly her jacket. Naturally, Milly joins the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army Button may have brightened lives, but there are buttons in Bev’s collection that have actually saved lives. For example, the Soldier’s Button is about a World War I soldier who is dying from his injuries. His buttons save his life: they reflect moonlight and get him spotted by friendly locals. The Horn Buttons (made from the hooves of cattle) save the life of a tearaway boy who has got himself into one scrape too many: he is dangling by his braces and could plunge to his death unless those horn buttons live up to their promise.

The only thing missing from the button collection is the supernatural. However, Alison Christie said in an interview that she intended the strip to end with Bev regaining the use of her legs while reaching for a button, implying that there was something supernatural about the buttons all along. If this ending had been used, it would most likely have been in Tammy’s final issue before her merge into Girl. However, it never happened due to Tammy’s sudden disappearance after 23 June 1984 from a strike. The last published Button Box story appeared 16 June 1984 and was a regular story. No Button Box story appears in the last published issue of Tammy.

Female writers in a girls’ genre

This is my 100th post! To celebrate, a thinky piece of the sort I particularly enjoy having the space to do here on this blog. Comments and further information very welcome indeed, as ever, but especially useful for this sort of wider coverage article.

For a genre based around a female readership, you could be forgiven for thinking there were hardly any women involved in producing British girls comics. In 1998 I first started writing about Jinty, and looking back at that article (published in feminist ‘by women for people’ zine GirlFrenzy), the few names mentioned were of men: Jim Baikie, Casanovas, Pat Mills. These were the only creators I recognized from having seen them, their work, or their commentary in the fairly male world of British mainstream comics.

Some years later I met Pat Mills in person, and he subsequently attended the Oxford-based comics festival CAPTION2004, during which I interviewed him about his editorial and authorial role in Jinty, Misty, and Tammy. Some more creator names were added to the pot, but really only two female names stood out – those of Mavis Miller and of Pat Davidson, of which Pat Davidson was the only name of a writer. (I was by then aware of Trini Tinture’s work, too.) Additionally, I’d also managed to ask Phil Gascoine who wrote “Fran of the Floods”, but he could remember no names, just that it was a female writer.

As recently as early last year, therefore, there was so little information readily available that it was still possible for Adi Tantimedh’s post on Bleeding Cool to attribute the authorship of the vast majority of stories in girls comics to Pat Mills or to ‘the creators of Judge Dredd and 2000AD’. (He subsequently corrected the article text to read ‘his fair share of the series in Jinty were written by Pat Mills.’) This isn’t helped by the fact that when in that interview Pat M did give us Pat Davidson’s name, it was linked to a fairly sweeping assessment of women writers: “Generally, it was male writers in this field. I think Pat Davidson is the only woman I can think of who genuinely had a better touch in the way she did this, she wrote far more from the heart, the rest of us were 23-year-old guys killing ourselves laughing as we wrote this stuff, but she wrote from the heart, and it was quite genuine.”

We’re now in a position where we can bring together more information so that we can bring a more nuanced analysis to bear. Alison Christie is now known to have written not only a great swathe of Jinty stories, but also to have written many stories for other titles before, afterwards, and simultaneously (very literally!). We also have heard that Veronica Weir wrote at least one story for Jinty. (We also know that one of the writers was Len Wenn, then only a few years away from his retirement age and hence also quite far from the demographic highlighted by Mills.) Generally we now know what could have been guessed before, which is that creating comics was quite a good profession for women at the time: drawing or writing comics is something that a young mother can do from home! We also know that the same people worked for a range of comics; we could have guessed that from the artists, but a writer can be working on more than one script at the same time more easily than an artist can, so they are if anything more likely to be working for multiple titles.

To try to get a view on the historical context, we can note that there are a couple of titles that ran credits for at least some of their time. Girl was the first title to be dedicated to a readership of girls: it ran from 1951-64 and included creator credits (I don’t know whether the credits continued throughout the whole run though). Towards the other end of the main period of publication of girls’ comics, Tammy also ran creator credits for a little while from the middle of 1982. I haven’t got access to any very complete information about the stories and creators in Girl, but looking at the Wikipedia page for it I found a couple of names I’m unfamiliar with – Ruth Adam and Betty Roland, who wrote a number of stories between them. These included the nursing strip “Susan of St Bride’s” and the adventure strip “Angela Air Hostess” respectively, both of which were popular stories featuring resourceful, independent female characters. Looking at Catawiki’s entries on Girl would take more time to do properly than I currently have available, but I note that a sample issue from 1955 picked randomly includes these two female writers plus two others (Valerie Hastings and Mollie Black).

Of more immediate applicability to the subject of this blog, the women who wrote for Tammy may well have done so for Jinty too; luckily for me, there is more information available to me on who did what there, as co-writer Mistyfan has kindly sent me an index of Tammy stories. We can therefore look in some detail at the comics stories running in Tammy during the second half of 1982, where we find:

  • “Bella” written by both Malcolm Shaw and by Primrose Cumming
  • “The Button Box”: created by Alison Christie, specific individual episodes written by Ian Mennell or Linda Stephenson
  • “Nanny Young” written by Tom Newland and Maureen Spurgeon
  • “Rae Rules OK”written by Gerry Finley-Day
  • “Come Back Bindi” written by Jenny McDade
  • “Saving Grace” written by Ian Mennell
  • “A Gran for the Gregorys” written by Alison Christie
  • “Slave of the Clock” written by Jay Over
  • “Tomorrow Town” written by Benita Brown
  • “Cross on Court” written by Gerry Findley-Day
  • “Cuckoo In the Nest” written by Ian Mennell
  • “Romy’s Return” written by Charles Herring
  • Out of the 12 complete stories on the Tammy index I am referring to, two seem to be uncredited while three were written by Roy Preston, four by Maureen Spurgeon, one by Chris Harris, one by Ray Austin and one by Barry Clements

That’s fairly evenly spread; there are more male writers than female overall but not by that much. A count by number of pages printed might show a different picture, but then I also haven’t included the writers of text stories (in particular Anne Digby). We can also have a quick look at the Catawiki entry for an individual issue from the time (I chose issue 600) which lists stories by Benita Brown, Anne Digby, and Maureen Spurgeon – I assume that the Anne Digby is an illustrated text story rather than a comic. Another issue, 609, has more stories by female writers: two stories by Maureen Spurgeon, one by Alison Christie, and one by Primrose Cumming. In the absence of a concerted effort to count the number of pages written by women over a few representative issues (any volunteers?) I’d estimate that some 15% – 40% of the comic at a time might have been written by women: under half of the content for sure, but a substantial section.

Clearly we only have two very solid data points here – Girl in the 50s and 60s, and Tammy in the early 80s – but the fact they corroborate each other is strongly suggestive that yes, over the decades of comics published for a readership of girls, female writers have always been present, and in reasonable numbers rather than as the odd exceptional talent. They have written popular stories both in their own right and as jobbing writers taking on someone else’s initial creation. Can we say anything else about that, for instance about what sort of stories they wrote? Now that is rather more difficult, because we have to factor in individual preferences of writers. Alison Christie is clearly a writer of heart-tugging stories, so we can attribute a female writer to a number of stories in that style. That doesn’t mean that other female writers have the same preferences: Benita Brown is credited as the writer of a science fiction story, and Veronica Weir’s one known outing as writer was on a story with spooky overtones but mostly concerned with loneliness and survival. I don’t know the Tammy stories list above well enough to say what themes they represent, but in the list of Jinty stories we just don’t know enough about who wrote what to say anything much more concrete.

Likewise, can we say anything much to compare how well the stories worked with the gender of the author – could we say that the stories made by young men killing themselves laughing were better or more effective than those by women or indeed by older men such as Len Wenn? One difficulty is that in judging effectiveness or memorability, individual reader preferences will come strongly into play – my own list of top stories is skewed to the spooky, mystical, and science fictional and away from the heart-tuggers. Mostly though I think we just don’t know enough about who wrote what, in Jinty at least, to be able to say whether the the most popular, longest-running, most memorable, or otherwise most effective stories tended overall to be written by one group of writers versus another. We have examples written by women (“Stefa’s Heart of Stone”) and by young men (“Land of No Tears”, “The Robot Who Cried”), but the vast majority still lie in the camp of ‘unknown writer’.

Writing this post has sparked off other thoughts that felt a bit tangential to the main point of this piece; I will follow up with more on ‘What makes a story work’ (and indeed how can we tell that it does work).

Edited in Aug 2015 to add: subsequent discussion on the Comics UK Forum leads me to add another known female writer to the list of names acquired to date: Jenny Butterworth, writer of the long-running series “The Happy Days” in Princess Tina (amongst other stories).

Edited in December 2015 to add: we now know that “Fran of the Floods” was not written by a female writer; it can be attributed to Alan Davidson per his wife’s recent comments. At the time of writing, Davidson was a family man who also did not fall in the category of “23 year old guy killing himself laughing” at what he was writing.

Edited in January 2016 to add: Anne Digby has sent in an interview with information about writing comic stories for titles such as Tammy. It is noteworthy that she did not only produce text stories for this title, but also comics adaptations of her previously-published novels.

Edited in March 2016 to add: Phoenix on the Comics UK forum scanned and uploaded a snippet from the Guardian of a letter from one Mary Hooper, writer for Jackie in particular, but perhaps also for other titles?

Edited in January 2017 to add: clarification that Alison Christie (Fitt) created “The Button Box” and was the main writer on the story, though some individual stories were farmed out by editor Wilf Prigmore to Ian Mennell and to Linda Stephenson.