Publication: 27 July 1974 – 1 March 1975 (29 episodes)
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Alison Christie
Translations/reprints: translated into Greek and published in Manina; translated into Dutch and published in Tina.
The story starts with Nell Harvey burying her husband; her 12 year old daughter Jill stands alongside her at the funeral to support her in this grim time. Over the years, Nell works hard at all jobs that come her way, to fulfill her dead husband’s dream of buying a home for them all to live in together. But the constant working at all the job possibilities that comes her way is too much. She disappears, and isn’t seen again for several days – until the local news report that the body of a woman has been found in the river, a woman answering to Nell’s description! The kids have no other relatives and so Jilly, now age 15, is put in the position of primary carer – if the authorities will let her, of course.
Their life in the shadows begins once they realise that the cottage that their mum had put a deposit on is too expensive for them to keep up the payments on, given that their only income would be a paper round or similar odd jobs. Of course they want to stick together – bearing in mind their mother’s prophetic last words to Jill the morning that she disappeared. The question for the rest of the serial is whether they will be able to do this. Firstly they go back to their old lodgings as squatters (the council won’t put them on the list for a council house as they are too young) but it doesn’t take long before a local bully informs the social workers about them. And of course if they are taken into care, it means splitting them up – Jilly, Beth and Johnny all into different children’s homes…
As soon as she turns 16, Jilly is determined to leave school, get a job, and to do what she can for her little family. Presents and treats for them bought with her wages only twist the knife further in the wound when she has to go at the end of the visit. It’s not long before she chucks in her job and comes to get the kids so that they can all run away together – where at least they can be a family again. It does mean living in a cave – a cave that Jilly remembers from stories that their dad told her about, from when he stayed in it many years previously.
At first it is hard for the kids to adjust, and of course there are lots of difficulties to overcome – the weather, finding food, getting money. They find friends – an artist who gives them a meal and sympathy. But if it’s not one thing it’s another – the stream near the cave turns out to be polluted, the kids are chased away from a nearby village for being “thievin’ gypsies”, and Beth still thinks their mother is only “away” rather than drowned and never coming back.
On the plus side, Jilly develops her skill at sketching and starts to sell charcoal drawings at the market, which brings in money – and they make friends with the local gypsies, which means that Johnny can go to the local school, disguised as one of them. But winter is coming and outdoor living is only going to get harder… It’s not the only danger, as Beth has one accident after another (living in a cave is hardly as safe as houses! first she falls down a quarry and later on she gets too close to the fire and is burned!). There are also close shaves with the authorities, who they are constantly afraid of being caught by. There are plenty of strokes of luck – rather implausibly on occasion (for instance the headmaster who bans all the gypsies from the local school, including Johnny of course, until Jilly accidentally knocks the headmaster over with an old pram, saving his life from a large brick that dropped down at just the right time…).
When they meet a local nosey reporter who wants to use them as a human interest story, it seems the game may be up. They manage to outsmart him, but the next challenge is Christmas – which they manage to make much more festive than is entirely likely. It’s a heartwarming sight nevertheless, to see them feasting and making merry in their “little stone palace”, still managing to stay together!
The village sees a visitor who may be positive or negative for them – it is an old friend of their father’s, come to visit his childhood haunts. The little family save him from the inclement weather and grow closer as a result. Close enough that the family friend even offers to take them home – he and his wife have never had children and have always longed to. Could this be a fairy-tale ending? In some stories, yes; but in this one, little Beth has never-ending faith that her mummy will still come home for her – and so the family must stay, for her sake.
Not long after, it comes to an even more heart-tugging ending. Beth is desperately ill and unresponsive to treatment, but a nurse recognizes Beth’s face from a sketch kept by a patient in a local convalescent home. The patient in question lives in a daze and initially doesn’t recognize them, but Jilly and Johnny recognize her – it is indeed their mother! And once she sees little Beth, all is well again.
This is the first Phil Townsend artwork published in Jinty, and it is likewise the first Alison Christie story in these pages too. The combination of these two creators working on heart-tugging stories was clearly popular from the start – this one ran for much longer than the other comparable serials with clear start and end points, such as “Make-Believe Mandy” and “Gwen’s Stolen Glory”. It never had the most prominent position in the story paper – first or second story or a cover spot – but then during most of this period Katie Jinx claimed the lead spot by right.
The tear-jerking element is very effective; by the end of the story even I was ready to wipe away a tear or two. The characters struggle with extreme poverty and the things that often come with it – ill-health, envy at others’ possessions, irregular schooling and even irregular heating and eating. The threat of official condemnation and sanctions is always close, with officialdom breathing down their necks. The length of the story suggests to me that it probably was spun out a little longer than it might otherwise have been, due to its popularity – I think some of the accidents towards the end are arguably a little forced and may betray a story that was getting a little over-stretched. Having said that, I think this is probably also an impression received from reading the whole story in one sitting, which is not the experience that the original readers would have had of the story on first publication. I wonder if any of the reprints or translations trimmed the length of it at all?
I quibble with the ending. Is it realistic that the mother should have been lying in a convalescent home for all that time, only to be found just at the right point to save little Beth’s life? Well, no – not that realism is the be-all and the end-all, I appreciate, but I do feel it stretches credulity a little far. The decision to turn down an adoption into the possible new life in Canada is pretty poignant though, and that could not have worked without another, happier ending just round the corner, so I can certainly see the point of the eventual ending.
There is quite a bit of overlap with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, which was written and drawn by the same team some years later (published in 1978-79). “Rainbow” is also very long (36 episodes, so even longer than “Always Together…”). The orphaned family in the later story is not quite as large – there are two children rather than three, and the eldest is not as old as Jilly’s sixteen – but once again their father dies off-camera and their mother is shown much more close-up (though not for long), and the children decide they must keep together come what may. There are also more adventures in the latter story, partly due to the wartime setting and partly because the children do more travelling – from England to Scotland. The scenes where the protagonists squat in a pillbox during the depths of winter are particularly reminiscent of similar wintry scenes in “Always Together…”, though. To my mind, “Rainbow” has the slight edge on “Always Together…” in terms of giving us an ending that is both neater and (slightly) more plausible. I realise however that may just be because I have more childhood memories of reading the later story, and living it as it happened.