Becky Never Saw the Ball – artist John Armstrong, writer Joe Collins
Wee Sue – artist John Richardson
Nell Nobody – artist Miguel Quesada
A Dog’s Best Friend (Strange Story) – artist Jim Eldrige
Dirty Trix – artist unknown
Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie (final episode) – artist Robert MacGillivray
Secret Ballet of the Steppes – artist Douglas Perry, writer Gerry Finley-Day?
No Tears for Molly – artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon
Town Without Telly – artist José Casanovas
It’s Guy Fawkes season, so we bring out the first Tammy Cover Girls cover with a Fifth of November theme. Oh dear, looks like a mishap struck the younger Cover Girl this time; usually it’s the older one. Hopefully they will come up with a brainwave to cover those ruined fireworks.
Bessie does not appear this week. Wee Sue could be out celebrating Bonfire Night, but she’s out playing soccer and rugby instead. This keeps striking trouble with Miss Bigger, who is looking for a missing consignment of school blazers.
It’s the final episode of Uncle Meanie – for now, anyway. At long last, he finishes off a world cruise that he’s constantly bedevilled with his penny-pinching tricks. The poor captain of that cruise ship will never be the same again. Home sweet home, all bracing for the return of Uncle Meanie to Tammy later on.
Many readers kept writing in demanding why the heck Molly doesn’t strike back at that bully butler Pickering. They must have cheered when her double, come to Stanton Hall in her place, finally does the job this week. Pickering is left utterly floored – literally.
This week’s Strange Story is drawn by what looks like a very early Jim Eldridge. So could it be an early Strange Story reprinted from June? Enough time has passed for such reprints to start appearing in Tammy. The story is about the ability of dogs to sense things people can’t.
Dirty Trix senses her cheating at athletics has finally been detected, and eavesdropping on the club coach Miss Wood confirms her fears. “I ain’t finished yet, not by a long chalk!” is her response. Don’t be so sure about that, Trix – the blurb for next week says the evidence against you is going to stack up.
Nell Nobody shows she’s a real trouper by proving this week that when disaster strikes, she can think on her feet and come up with ways to deal with the situation. She figures a way around her horrible uncle smashing the legs of her puppet by incorporating the puppet’s disability into a new act. She also creates a companion puppet (Lola) for him despite the gruelling demands of the hot dog stand she’s forced to slog at to pay for her spoiled cousin’s acting fees. Now an important-looking lady has lined up for the show Nell’s secretly using the hot dog stand for. Is Nell about to get her big break?
“Secret Ballet of the Steppes” is reaching its climax. Judith manages to get back to the palace, braving wolves, suspicious-looking men who try to drug her, and snowstorms to do so, to avert the upcoming attack against the revolutionaries. Then she discovers there’s more to it than that when she overhears the villainous Berova planning something sneaky.
Joy and Recepta’s plan to cure Boxless town of TV addiction is to bore viewers stiff with long-winded broadcasts featuring Lady Boxless. So far the results look good – Lady Boxless already has someone throwing a loafer at the screen.
Elspeth was forcibly separated from Becky after being wrongly accused of driving her too hard at tennis. Becky ran away in search of Elspeth and now she’s at a tennis match promoting ice cream in the hopes of finding her. Sure enough, Elspeth, who runs an ice cream truck, is now arriving at the same event. Will they reunite?
Nell Nobody (first episode) – artist Miguel Quesada
Wee Sue – artist John Richardson
Unscheduled Stop (Strange Story) – artist John Armstrong
Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie – artist Robert MacGillivray
No Tears for Molly – artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon
Town Without Telly – artist José Casanovas
Autumn covers are also good to profile in Halloween month, and I just dug this one out from 1974.
The issue begins another Cinderella story, “Nell Nobody”. Nell must have been popular, as her run (18 episodes) was even longer than the first Bella Barlow story (12 episodes). Nell Ewart is badly treated by her aunt and uncle (confusingly, they are actually her step-parents), who only have eyes for her spoiled stepsister/cousin Rosie. They yank Nell out of school to slog at a hot dog stand to pay for Rosie’s acting fees, which dashes her hopes of pursuing drama and stagecraft at school when she’s just discovered her talent for it. At least she still has her puppet Willoughby, and we know things will somehow start from there. And could Nell’s uncle have unwittingly helped her by establishing the hot dog stand across from the TV studio and theatre?
Imagine putting Coppelia together in three days! That’s the task facing our slave dancers of the Steppes from the slave-driving Berova. Incredibly, they pull it off, but Judith collapses from the strain. Princess Petra allows them to take a sleigh ride over the Steppes for a break, but Judith smells something fishy about their drivers.
Recepta, once a TV addict herself, is now trying to stop her father from turning the town of Boxless into a town full of TV addicts. It’s a battle of wills between them now, with Dad going as far as to bind and gag Recepta and force her to watch television.
Miss Bigger feels confident she’s put Sue in her place this time after lumbering her with the awful task of pumping the organ for choir practice. Little does she know Sue’s had one of her brainwaves to get out of it.
Bessie Bunter is off like a shot when Miss Stackpole says there’ll be refreshments at St. Prim’s School – without stopping to hear there’ll be a hockey match there first. And to her chagrin, she’s lumbered as goalie. She tries to wriggle out of it and to the grub, but it backfires so badly on her that she gets tangled in the goal net and unable to get to the refreshments before the others finish them. Poor Bessie.
In the Strange Story, “Unscheduled Stop”, Jenny Shaw is reaching breaking point because her parents are always arguing. Then the train they’re on makes an unscheduled stop – back in time – which shows Jenny the younger versions of her parents and what started the trouble between them.
The Stanton Hall staff, egged on by the militant Miss Byrdy, have gone on strike to get rid of Pickering. But it’s gone too far and Miss Byrdy is arrested. The strike collapses without her, but Lord Stanton sees the point of it after catching Pickering taking a horrible revenge on the staff, and orders him to apologise. No dismissal for him though, or any real improvement in how he treats the staff. At least the staff get raises out of it, and Miss Byrdy is soon released, all charges dropped.
Uncle Meanie’s round-the-trip cruise lands the family in California and at the doorstep of another McScrimp relative, Tex McScrimp. And from the looks of the signs and barbed wire fences he has put up, he is every bit as mean, unwelcoming, and eccentric about it as Uncle Angus. The miser gene definitely runs right through the McScrimp family; Jeannie’s generation is the only one known to have skipped it.
Becky Bates is making a comeback as a tennis player after losing her sight. But keeping her blindness a secret is causing problems. This time it’s having another accident and collapsing because of it, and her coach/Aunt Elspeth is accused of driving her too hard.
We continue our Halloween theme with the 1974 Tammy Halloween issue. This is the first time the Tammy Cover Girls appear in a Halloween cover, and it’s a very nice cover. However, it also shows the inconsistency in depicting the age of the younger Cover Girl during this period. On this cover she’s a kid sister, but on the next cover she’s definitely a young teen, about twelve or so.
The Cover Girls are the only ones commemorating Halloween. There isn’t even so much as a Halloween craft feature inside. Bessie and Wee Sue could also have emphasised the theme further with a Halloween-themed story, which they both did in later years. Instead, it’s business as usual. In the former, Miss Stackpole follows a suggestion to make Bessie a prefect to improve her conduct. But Miss Stackpole soon finds out it was bad advice – and Bessie finds out that even she can gorge herself sick! In the latter, Miss Bigger goes to such extremes in sugar hoarding during a sugar shortage that her larder is almost busting from it. But, as usual, she has reckoned without Sue. The Storyteller could have also done something with Halloween, but instead he tells a comeuppance story about a girl who is always playing truant.
John Armstrong is now drawing “Becky Never Saw the Ball”, a story Pat Mills considers “rather silly and far-fetched”. Still, a lot of other girls’ stories could be considered that, and I could name a few stories that were far more silly and far-fetched than this one. Maybe one of these days we will do an entry on this story and you can decide for yourselves. Becky Bates is making a comeback as a tennis player after losing her sight. Added to that, she’s made a bad enemy out of Brenda Morris, even more so after she trounces Brenda this week.
“Nell Nobody” is one of Tammy’s longest-running Cinderella stories (18 episodes!). Nell Ewart is yanked out of school and forced to slog at her uncle’s hot dog stand to pay for his spoiled daughter Rosie’s acting lessons. Nell is secretly pursuing performing ambitions of her own with puppets and turning the hot dog stand itself into a puppet theatre. But now her rotten Uncle Vic has smashed her puppet and she has no money for repairs. Unless she can think of something, her show is busted.
Molly discovers she has a double, Lady Alice Dornby. Lady Alice and Molly agree to swap roles, and Lady Alice even goes to Stanton Hall in Molly’s place at Stanton Hall when Molly has an accident. Oh dear, Molly realises that even though Lady Alice has been warned about Pickering the bully butler, she is going to get one heck of a shock when she meets him!
“Dirty Trix” Harris has turned to cheating at athletics after being cheated herself, and the results are proving profitable for her so far. But now the coach, Miss Wood, is getting suspicious – even without Trix deciding not to cheat this week.
The ballet slave dancers of the Steppes find they have swapped one form of slavery for another when they get kidnapped by Russian revolutionaries. Then, oddly, they find dancing can bridge the gap between them and their captors. So they create a ballet inspired by Russian revolutionary ideals, which delights the revolutionaries. Then comes the threat of war, so now there’s a desperate plan to escape back to the imperial palace to find a way to stop it.
Mr Jones is trying to turn the town of Boxless, which previously had no television because its location blocked reception, into a television-addicted town. But his daughter Recepta, once a TV addict herself, has other ideas, and is trying to cure Boxless of TV addiction. This week, Recepta’s friend Joy thinks she has the answer.
Tammy & Jinty merger in “Old Friends”, 26 December 1981 to 10 July 1982
Artists: (Sandie) Vicente Torregrosa Manrique. (Tammy) Mario Capaldi, John Richardson, Robert MacGillivray, Richard Neillands, Mike White, Hugh Thornton-Jones, John Johnston, Jim Eldridge
Writers (known): Terry Magee, Maureen Spurgeon, Iain MacDonald; Gerry Finley-Day also involved
We are now going to take a look at Sue Strong, better known as Wee Sue, and her development from her debut in Sandie to her final years in Tammy.
Wee Sue was one of the first stories to appear in Sandie. Sandie was launched on 12 February 1972 and ran until 20 May 1972, and was drawn by Vicente Torregrosa Manrique. Tammy readers would have been surprised to see how Wee Sue looked back then, as it was radically different to the Tammy version. It was a serial, not a regular weekly feature, and it was played for drama, not light relief. There was no “story of the week” format where Sue’s famous big brains would come up with ways to get out of various scrapes, being the bane of the bullying Miss Bigger, or sorting out someone’s problem. In fact, there is no Milltown, no Milltown Comprehensive, and no Miss Bigger. The logo was different too.
Instead, Sue is a scholarship girl at exclusive Backhurst Academy, which has emphasis on sport. But it is facing closure, so Sue is trying to come up with a way to save it. Sue has other problems too, such as facing prejudice because she is a scholarship girl. Sue’s appearance is also different from the one Tammy readers are more familiar with. She is still a midget, but she has freckles and a more rigid bob style than the tousled one she would acquire in her later stories.
Still, the elements Sue became known for in Tammy were there from the beginning. She is always proving you should not estimate her because she is small. Indeed, her size often comes in handy. She has that reputation for brilliant ideas, particularly when she had to pull something out of her hat to save the day. Sometimes she moves in mysterious ways to do so, but she always knows what she is doing. She is always willing to help others, even more unsavoury types. She even sacrifices herself for them, often at the price of taking a dent in her popularity. She is not afraid to stand up to bullies and sort out nasty types. She is always kind, brave, thoughtful and generous.
The first Wee Sue story ended in Sandie on 20 May 1972. More than a year later Sandie merged with Tammy on 27 October 1973. Wee Sue and “Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie” were the only Sandie stories to cross over into the merger. Considering that the first Wee Sue story had ended in Sandie over a year before with no known sequels, the choice of reviving her for the merger is a surprising one. Were there plans for a Wee Sue sequel in Sandie that didn’t get off the ground but made their way into the merger? Or did the editor trawl through the issues of Sandie until he found something he thought had potential for the merger besides Uncle Meanie?
On the Jinty site Iain MacDonald has commented “…The other character I wrote and helped create was Wee Sue. Gerry Finlay Day suggested the character. I wrote most of the early ones.” It is not clear if MacDonald is referring to the original Sue from Sandie or the reboot in Tammy, but the reference to Finley-Day does suggest the latter.
Whatever was behind bringing Sue into the merger, it was an inspired choice. Sue became one of the most popular and enduring characters in Tammy. But for this, a sweeping overhaul of Wee Sue was undertaken. Former Sandie readers must have been taken aback to see it.
In her debut episode in Tammy (below), Sue began to take on the form familiar to Tammy readers. She is now a regular strip with self-contained episodes (in later years she occasionally had two-parters and even mini-story arcs). She now has the logo familiar to Tammy readers, and she would retain it for the rest of her run. She has moved to Milltown, a poor industrial town. Instead of the posh academy she attends Milltown Comprehensive. There is more emphasis on her living in poverty, such as her patched uniform. The poverty angle disappears later in the strip, though her parents clearly remain working-class people. Sue still has her freckles from her original story, but her bob has a spiky look. The bob would later take on a softer style and the freckles disappeared.
It is also the episode where Miss Bigger makes her first appearance. She, along with Miss Tuft the games mistress, are new to the comprehensive, and they make it clear they are both bully teachers. This is definitely the Tammy influence (dark stories laden with misery and cruelty) on Sue. Both of these teachers hate Sue from the moment they meet her. In the first episodes there is a harder edge to their nastiness. For example, in one episode Miss Tuft is determined to get Sue into trouble for theft although she knows Sue is innocent. The teachers also bully an autistic girl, who gets diagnosed thanks to Sue (very advanced for 1973!). Miss Tuft soon disappeared, leaving Miss Bigger to carry on as the arch-nemesis of Wee Sue. Well, there is room for only one arch-nemesis in a regular strip after all.
Despite the harder edge, there are elements of humour. For example, in Sue’s first Tammy episode, she gets the better of Miss Bigger with the help of an onion johnny. As time passed, the cruelty, though still present in the form of Miss Bigger, would be reduced as the comedy took more of a front seat. Wee Sue evolved into a lightweight strip as she became more cheeky, wise-cracking, even mischievous, and often getting into slapstick scrapes.
Miss Bigger remained as mean and pompous as she had been in her first episode, but she soon took on a more comic presence as well. As she did so, her features evolved from the rather flat, slim look in her first episode to becoming more wryly grotesque and tartar-looking. Mario Capaldi, Miss Bigger’s first artist, eventually gave her the distinctive jagged choppers that would gnash furiously whenever she shouted – which was often. Her nose changed too, becoming more distinctive, in a comical way. Under Robert MacGillivray it became an overgrown bulbous nose, similar to the one he eventually gave Uncle Meanie when he came over to Tammy.
One reason why Miss Bigger’s appearance became more caricaturised was that Wee Sue passed into the hands of several artists who were strong on slapstick, caricature and humour. John Richardson, who took over from Mario Capaldi, was the first to take Wee Sue into this area, and his run on Sue was a long one. In fact, he took over in the same episode of Sue as Capaldi, on 14 September 1974, giving the readers the best of both worlds (or a lot of confusion, with the same episode switching from one artist to another). When Richardson took over, Sue took on a sharper, more clever look.
Over time other artists continued the humour, though some brought it off better than others. Other artists to draw Wee Sue were John Johnston, Hugh Thornton-Jones, Richard Neillands, Jim Eldridge, Mike White and Robert MacGillivray.
Despite the grotesque comic looks she acquires, Miss Bigger is so vain beyond imagining that she actually believes she is beautiful. Her vanity extends to her abilities as well; she believes she is capable of any feat that borders on superhuman, including being a better ballerina than Margot Fonteyn or winning World War II single-handed. In one episode we see this vanity runs in the Bigger family: Miss Bigger shows Sue her illustrious family album of Bigger women, who all look like her and come up with grand schemes that make no sense and don’t look at all successful (below). We frequently see Sue take advantage of Miss Bigger’s vanity, either to get what she wants out of her or to fix Miss Bigger’s sneaky schemes or mountains of homework.
There is also confusion about Miss Bigger’s first name. It was first established as Lillian, but later in the run it was Amelia.
From the first episode Miss Bigger gives the impression she is not a very good teacher; the onion johnny, for example, makes it clear that Sue’s French is better than hers. In another episode, Miss Bigger gives a German lesson, but her accent is terrible. Some episodes on Miss Bigger’s own days at school imply she has a dark past there: bullying and lousy school reports.
Unfortunately Miss Bigger is also notorious for giving out such great big piles of homework that we suspect she does it to deliberately torture her class. She is also known for making the girls’ lives a misery if she’s in a filthy mood. For example, in a Valentine-themed episode she lumbers the girls with extra homework when they’re set to go to a Valentines Day party because she’s upset she didn’t get a Valentine. Frequently Sue has to come up with schemes to keep Miss Bigger in a good mood or placate her when she’s in a bad one, or the class suffers.
In the earliest episodes Miss Bigger wore a formal outfit. But later in the Capaldi run she acquired the more casual outfit that would stay with her for the rest of the strip: skirt and sweater (later a cardigan or jacket) and black blouse. This outfit became her trademark. In fact, in one episode Miss Bigger’s trademark outfit inadvertently starts a new fashion in Milltown called “the old frump look” after a rack full of her outfits (all the same outfit!) gets mixed up with a clothes rack bound for a fashion show.
Because Sue was the bane of Miss Bigger she was sometimes branded a troublemaker by school authorities. But what Sue was really known for was her big ideas to save the day. She could always be counted on to come up with a brainwave to fix any situation, such as helping her classmates and parents, coming to the rescue of people in trouble, foiling tricksters, bullies, criminals, and Miss Bigger’s mean schemes, raising school funds, and sometimes helping Miss Bigger.
However, sometimes Sue really was naughty. In one episode, she takes a satchel to school that is so full of sweets it’s a wonder she doesn’t give herself diabetes, and she eats them in class. The sweets land her in so many sticky situations (including her toffee bar ripping Miss Bigger’s skirt and exposing her undies!) that she is right off sugar by the end of the day. It was in episodes like these that Miss Bigger was allowed to triumph against Wee Sue, so the bully teacher did win on occasion. But for the most part, Sue is a nice girl.
Miss Bigger frequently steals the credit for Sue’s big ideas whenever she sees the way to take advantage of it. This is something she gets away with a lot, but at least there is always a consolation for Sue, such as money, and in one instance, a trip to Spain.
Wee Sue remained a popular regular in Tammy, even having a special story to commemorate Tammy’s 10th birthday (below). Miss Bigger, for once having an inspired idea, takes the class on a tour at King’s Reach Tower for a behind-the-scenes look at Tammy. Sue falls asleep over the Tammys in the copy room, where she dreams of past and present Tammy characters. They all come together for a big birthday party, including Miss Bigger.
Then Jinty merged with Tammy on 28 November 1981. This was the beginning of the end for Sue. After a few weeks of not appearing in the merger, she reappeared as part of an “Old Friends” feature, which she shared in rotation with Bessie Bunter, Molly Mills and Tansy of Jubilee Street (the last of which being a surprise revival, having officially ended in the last issue of Jinty). In fact, Sue was the old friend to lead off the feature on 26 December 1981. Except for her first Old Friends episode, the Wee Sue appearances were entirely new material, as were the appearances of Tansy and Molly. This made them more refreshing to see. Only Bessie was on repeats. But it was clear that all four were on their very last legs. Sure enough, Old Friends disappeared with a revamped Tammy launched 17 July 1982, so Wee Sue was buried in the same grave as Tansy, Bessie and Molly. However, Sue continued to make appearances in the Tammy annual to the very end, though it was with repeats.
Sue lasted in Tammy for a proud nine years, including her Old Friends appearances. But if you include the Sandie year, Sue ran for 10 years, which means she holds a joint record with Bella for longevity and one year behind Molly at 11 years.
The First-Footer – Strange Story (artist John Armstrong)
Edit the Ed’s Niece (artist Joe Collins)
Molly Mills and the Season of Goodwill (artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon) – final episode
Nightmare at Grimm Fen (artist Diana Gabbot(t))
Wee Sue (artist John Richardson)
Olympia Jones (artist Eduardo Feito, writer Anne Digby) – final episode
Welcome to our first entry for 2021! And there’s no better way to begin than with a New Year’s issue from the past.
The Tammy annual was often a running gag at Christmas/New Year time during the Cover Girl era, and this cover is no exception. The advantage of the Cover Girls and regulars such as Bessie and Sue meant Tammy could make in-jokes about the Tammy annual, to the amusement of readers.
Wee Sue, Edie, Bessie and the Storyteller all have New Year-themed stories as well. Miss Bigger finds bats in the belfry (literally) when she’s in charge of ringing in the New Year. Later, Sue needs the bells for more than ringing in the New Year – saving juniors from a nasty accident! Edie makes 16 New Year resolutions, and even she knows she won’t keep them all. Bessie’s class dress up in fairy tale costumes for a New Year party, with Bessie as Humpty Dumpty. In the Strange Story, Nina Prentice scoffs at superstitions and fortune-telling but is left wondering after something strange happens with the first-footer custom for New Year. The happy ending of Molly’s “Season of Goodwill” story with Lord Stanton willing to save the children’s home from closure rounds it off nicely as well.
Cathy is now a full actress, but all she feels is terror because of whoever is trying to drive her off, and they are very nasty about it. Their latest is switching Cathy’s makeup kit with that of her mother Constance, who’s been dead for years. Now, how did her enemy get hold of that anyway? Could it even be a clue to their identity?
Robert Le Mal’s fulfilled his threat to take control of birds, animals and people. But now he goes one further – taking control of power lines!
Val gets a lift from Spain to Gibraltar. Now she has to cross a desert by camel train. But she doesn’t realise that some male members of the camel train are offended by her not being covered Muslim style and they fear it will incur Allah’s displeasure.
The bossy head prefect, along with the snobs, sends Babe & Co on a hare and hounds paperchase, which crosses paths with a fox hunt. When Babe hides the fox in her bag, it causes everyone to get chased, with the antagonists getting stuck in the mud.
It’s the final episode of “Olympia Jones”, and I used to read it over and over. The villainous Rotts must have been as surprised as they were shocked to meet their Waterloo at Olympia’s trial when they thought they had her stitching all sewn up. But Olympia’s old friend Amanda Fry changes everything with some detective work. Olympia is fully exonerated at the trial and goes on to win her Olympic gold after all. However, there’s no doubt the best scene belongs to lousy Linda Rott the horse-beater when she discovers she’s been caught out (below).
Personally, I’ve always wished the material in the final episode had been expanded into a story arc lasting a few more episodes. There’s so much jam-packed into the episode that so much gets short shrift or omitted, such as the final fate of the Rotts and the full story of Olympia at the Olympics. Maybe Anne Digby intended to develop things further with more episodes but ye Editor wouldn’t agree.
Replacing Olympia next week is a non-Bella John Armstrong serial, “Katie on Thin Ice”. Bella tended to start in the second quarter and finish late in the year, but 1981 and 1982 were exceptions to this.
The issue is actually dated 25th December. Did Tammy/Jinty readers actually get their 25th December issue on Christmas Day itself? Was the issue postdated and distributed early, before the Christmas holidays? Or did readers have to wait until after the Christmas holidays for their 25th December Tammy/Jinty to arrive? Where I come from, the Christmas issue didn’t arrive until March (that’s how long it took for girls’ comics to ship), so I wouldn’t know.
Bessie, Molly, Wee Sue and Edie all have Christmas-themed stories. I like the Bessie Christmas story so much I’ve reproduced it below.
The Strange Story is also a Christmas story. The Christmas spirit is lost on Cathy Summers, who is grieving too much for her grandmother. Then she has an accident while decorating the Christmas tree and her condition is very bad. In hospital there is a strange visitor – grandma – and Cathy makes a miraculous recovery.
No Christmas celebration for Babe of St. Woods, but she still has a ball sorting out some stuck-up boys from a boys’ school. The boys also like to play rotten pranks and eventually try pouring white paint on Babe and her friends, but Babe makes sure they hit the wrong targets – namely, the mounted police!
The “Nightmare at Grimm Fen” began when Patty and Mark Stephens did a brass rubbing of an evil knight, Robert le Mal, which brought him back from beyond the grave. The ghost has powers over birds, animals, people, telephone wires and airwaves to spread his influence and make everyone do his bidding, and our heroes are being surrounded by it. He’d have influence over the Internet too if it had existed at the time. Wow, not many ghosts in girls’ comics are that powerful, and it didn’t take our medieval knight long to to discover how to use 20th century technology.
Bella spent a lot of 1976 stowing away, getting stranded in foreign countries and having all sorts of adventures in order to get to the Montreal Olympics. Now Val in “Towne in the Country” is doing the same while trying to join her father’s veterinarian expedition in Africa. Right now she’s stranded in Spain and is shocked at the cruelties of bullfighting.
In “Curtains for Cathy”, Cathy Harley is the daughter of a famous actor but wants to make her own way as an actress, right down to working under another name. But she has an enemy trying to stop her. Whoever it is has left a dummy of her to frighten her. It doesn’t stop her from a brillant performance, which gets her four curtain calls.
Olympia Jones has just made it to the Olympics team, only to face her darkest hour (what a cruel irony in the Christmas issue). She’s under arrest for horse theft and (in effect) animal cruelty, she’s lost her horse Prince, and her hopes of getting to the Olympics look dashed. It’s all a frameup and conspiracy, hatched by her old enemies, the Rotts, to get their hands on the fortune Prince is now worth. Olympia hasn’t got one iota of evidence to prove she’s telling the truth and everything looks hopeless to her. However, the last panel of the episode should make things obvious to readers how that’s all going to change and they’ll all be hankering for the next issue to see exactly how it all pans out.
Tammy really is gearing up for Christmas now. Her Christmas craft feature is on how to make Christmas decorations. Edie is writing out her Christmas present list (with the Tammy annual included of course). Wee Sue’s class is putting on A Christmas Carol with Sue cast as Tiny Tim, and she takes quick action to stop a Christmas tree from starting a fire. Miss Bigger was cast as Scrooge (perfect role for her) and is given an offer of a role in a pantomime. Sue doesn’t tell Miss Bigger what kind of role it will be in case she turns into the Christmas grinch. As part of Christmas Bessie & Co are repairing old toys for the children in hospital, but a rocking horse leaves Bessie champing at the bit. Stanton Hall is being decorated for Christmas – but trust Pickering to act the grinch. Then Molly discovers the local children’s home is facing closure, and Pickering, of all people, gives her an idea on what to do about it.
Babe at St Wood’s goes to the fair but falls foul of a conman. He leaves her and her friends stranded on the roller coaster with the help of the snobs before going off on business of his own – stealing silverware. Then he falls foul of Babe and her gangster-taught skills. Babe proceeds to take revenge on the snobs, who have unwisely hidden themselves in the human cannonball cannon…
Val puts her vet skills to good use on the ship she stowed away from when she cures their mascot dog of an illness. In return they don’t hand her over to the authorities. Unfortunately a storm blew them off course and now Val is stranded in Spain.
A shot makes Cathy faint, but it didn’t come from the gun she bought – so where did it come from? Back at the theatre, Cathy again hears that voice telling her to leave the stage, and that person knows her real name. To make their point clear, they throw down a dummy placard of her, and it’s hanging by the neck. We have to wonder along with Cathy – is this a sick joke or a final warning?
In the Strange Story, dressing up as a cavalier (the brother) and Puritan girl (the sister) for a pageant has them arguing – which is nothing unusual for them. Then they have an encounter with a real cavalier whose brother became a roundhead. The brothers recognised each other too late in a cavalier/roundhead fight and ended up killing each other. The cavalier has regretted ever since that he never got the chance to make things up with his brother. After this, the brother and sister patch up their quarrel very quickly and become good friends.
Mark is still sceptical about Patty’s claims that the evil Robert Le Mal is back in business despite what is happening, including finding Robert Le Mal’s coffin open, chains broken and his body gone. However, Mark is finally convinced when a gang of brainwashed fisherman in the grip of Le Mal start attacking their refuge in Le Mal’s castle, chanting “Seek! Seek! Seek and destroy! … We must do our master’s bidding!” These guys have really got our heroes trapped. Can they find a way out?
A way out is something Olympia could really do with right now against the Rotts’ frameup. She does succeed in a temporary escape from the Rotts’ first attempt to seize her beloved horse, which lasts just long enough for them to make the last qualifying event for the Olympics team. The Rotts are now forced to go through police, a court case and “a lot of fuss” to get their hands on the horse and the fortune he’s worth when they expected a quick and easy killing handed to them on a plate. Still, they think it’ll be just an inconvenience to their plot, not a threat. Couldn’t possibly become their Waterloo. After all, there is nothing Olympia can prove. And Olympia fears the same when she’s arrested on the Rotts’ trumped-up charge of horse theft.
Oops, looks like the Cover girls are having a little trouble with what is probably an early Christmas present. Inside, Tammy adds a Christmas/New Year competition to her buildup towards Christmas. Her Christmas crafts feature this week is how to make gifts for little children.
The school rowing teams are out in Babe at St Woods this week, and a rival school team is not playing fair. But of course they haven’t counted on Babe and her gangster skills. This week Babe draws on motorcycling skills the mob taught her.
In this week’s episode of “Towne in the Country”, the whole focus of the story shifts from an “All Creatures Great and Small” theme to a journey theme. Val even gets a new hairstyle especially for it – a bob – much to her father’s consternation. Dad accepts a job in Africa, but Val is not accepting that she has to stay behind at boarding school. Oh, no, she’s going to follow him to Africa. In fact, she stows away on his ship. Then she finds out it’s the wrong ship and worse, she’s been caught.
Gee, now what was the thinking behind this abrupt change in the direction of the story – someone inspired by the 1976 Bella story where she stows away all the time and ends up in all sorts of places to get to the Montreal Olympics? Personally, I feel it would have been more logical to just end the current story with this episode and start the Africa saga with a sequel under a different title. Besides, “Towne in the Country” was the perfect title for the original story theme, but I don’t think it really suits the change in direction.
Cathy was warned there was a dark side to theatre: jealous types, dodgy types, mean types, etc. Now the reality must be sinking in. Trixie hates Cathy and is making her life a misery. She gets even worse when Cathy jumps from assistant stage manager to take Trixie’s part in the production. At least Cathy will get some money now. There is a second girl, Hermia, who looks like she’s out for trouble too. Added to that, there’s this other enemy out to make things curtains for Cathy and they look a lot more dangerous than Trixie and Hermia. But Cathy’s day is really ruined when she is sent out to find a rifle for the play and thinks the gun is unloaded. All of a sudden there’s a bang and she’s lying on the ground!
In the Strange Story, a Roman charioteer keeps having a recurring dream and goes to a soothsayer about it, who advises him to get a golden talisman if he is to win the event. He thinks he has found it in a slave child and buys her. Then he has to make an agonising decision between his desire to win and his conscience over slavery.
Edie goes to a fancy dress party dressed as Molly Mills – but a bully goes dressed as Pickering, and Edie does not have Molly’s talent for getting the last laugh over Pickering. She comes back with a black eye. Poor Edie.
Bessie tries to keep the boiler from being repaired in order to stall an exam. The boiler gets repaired in the end, but for once Bessie foils an exam and the other girls are pleased with her.
The seal saga ends this week for Molly Mills. Claire goes in to the lake to rescue Smiley after he gets tangled in fishing wire, but he ends up saving her. After this, Claire is allowed to keep Smiley and it’s a relief they no longer have to hide him.
Sue agrees to collect an animal from the zoo for a youth club fete – but nobody told her it was going to be a baby elephant! She is drawing a lot of laughter and hijinks as she tries to get him to the youth club, but a mouse scares him right back to the zoo. A toy shop manager comes to the rescue and allows Sue to take a giant toy elephant instead. Much easier to manage.
In “Nightmare on Grimm Fen” we finally get the backstory of Robert Le Mal. He had black magic powers, which he used to make dark birds terrorise everyone. The people eventually rose against him and killed him. But even as they did so, he said he would return, and watch out, because when he does, he will control all birds, animals and men, who will make him ruler of the land. And here come the birds already!
“We’ll handle it all with discretion” said animal welfare guy when he agreed to take Olympia Jones’ horse off her (without police involvement) on behalf of the Rotts after being tricked into thinking she mistreated the horse and then stole him from the Rotts. Well, that’s not how I would describe how he’s handled it. “Professional”, “well planned” and “knows what he’s doing” are not descriptions I would use either. In fact, he’s bungled it so badly that he ends up chasing a fleeing Olympia and horse down the road, right in front of everyone. So much for discretion.
It’s the first Tammy December issue for 1976, and Tammy sure isn’t wasting time building up to Christmas. She has a feature on how to make Christmas presents for the men in your family for the benefit of readers who are a bit cash-strapped for presents. It is the first instalment of a Christmas countdown feature.
Babe hasn’t taken much interest in athletics so far at St Wood’s, and now she’s got to contend with a head prefect who is running it all like an army drill sergeant – with help from Babe’s archenemies the snobs of course. The episode also gives us more of the Olympics theme that’s been running through Tammy during 1976.
Speaking of the Olympics, what’s up with Olympia Jones?
Uh-oh! Olympia Jones doesn’t realise her hopes of an Olympic gold are under threat from the evil Rotts. They’re out to get their hands on the fortune her horse Prince is now worth as an Olympic prospect through their mug from LOLA (animal welfare society). They tricked LOLA guy into thinking Olympia mistreated Prince (it was themselves). Now they’ve tricked him into thinking she stole Prince as well, and is he able to please, please, get Prince back for them, as they don’t want the police involved.
LOLA guy says no problem, we’ll just walk into her next event, take Prince and drop him off to you, no need for the police. Groan…looks like LOLA guy will do anything for the Rotts. He should be asking serious questions about all this – like what the heck were the Rotts thinking in allowing this (as LOLA guy thinks) animal abuser to just make off with the very horse she was abusing in the first place and do absolutely nothing about it until now? He also says “we’ll handle it all with discretion”. But LOLA guy’s first move at the event isn’t exactly discreet – or smart – and puts Olympia on the alert before he’s even made his real move.
In “Towne in the Country”, that pesky pedlar who’s been selling fake animal medicine and cheating a lot of people finally gets cornered – by the tiger everyone else has been trying to find! Val, the only one who has gained the tiger’s trust, is going to step in.
Cathy starts her new job as assistant stage manager. She has already made an enemy, Trixie, who suspects where she has really come from. Worse, Cathy is nearly broke after being forced to use up so much of the allowance her father gave her. Well, it was her idea to do that assistant stage manager job for nothing! And now this other enemy who made that threatening phone call to Cathy’s father is now making whispered threats to Cathy herself. And it looks suspiciously like they nearly made her fall off a train as well.
The “Nightmare at Grimm Fen” is intensifying. It reaches the point where everything breaks down and Grimmford is cut off. Patty blames the evil knight, Robert Le Mal, she and her brother Mark unwittingly brought back to life. Mark is still sceptical about Le Mal, but then their father claims to have seen him.
Miss “Stackers” Stackpole is giving a lesson on the 21st century and anticipates that robots will be doing more and more of the things that used to be done by people. This has Bessie drifting off into a dream of what that would be like…robots bringing her grub and doing her lines for her, a robot Stackers teaching her class…well, her dream soon turns into a nightmare. Bessie’s dream sequences are among my favourite Bessie Bunter episodes.
The Storyteller asks us if we believe in fairies. Heather Silver is wondering about that after an encounter with a strange woman who claims to have fairy descent. This is followed by curious events that get Heather’s redundant father a new job and Heather fulfilling her dream of going to vet college.
Miss Claire and Molly find a helper to help hide Smiley the seal, but keeping him secret is still proving problematic and Pickering is still on the hunt for him. And now it looks like a couple of fishermen have caught Smiley.
In “Wee Sue”, two girls have a fallout over netball on the eve of a netball final, so it’s vital to make them see sense fast. Unfortunately Sue’s efforts to patch things up only seem to make it worse. So she has to resort to a bit of cunning, which has the bonus of bringing extra custom to a coffee bar.
Two new stories begin this issue: “Curtains for Cathy” and “Nightmare at Grimm Fen”.
In the former, Cathy Harley wants to make her own way on the stage, not because she’s the daughter of a famous actor. She’s even willing to do it the hard way and take all the hard knocks she’s been warned about. So she takes an assistant stage manager job under an assumed name at a rundown theatre, and she even agrees not to be paid for it. But no sooner has Cathy gone when Dad receives a threatening phone call saying he won’t see Cathy again and the curtains are coming down for her! We don’t think Cathy counted on that as part of the hard knocks she was willing to risk – but can she take it anyway when whoever it is starts their game?
In the latter, Mark and Patty Stephens make a brass rubbing of an evil medieval knight, Robert Le Mal. Then there are warning signs they shouldn’t have done that and they return to the place to reverse the damage. But as they do so, the weather grows stormy and there’s a horrible flapping sound.
It’s unusual for Robert MacGillivray to draw a historical story, but he does so with this week’s Strange Story. The story appears below for those who like MacGillivray artwork.
The snobs are cooking up trouble for Babe – literally – this week. It must be said that the gangster know-how she pulls to foil their scheme really does stretch credibility.
There’s a hunt for a loose tiger in “Towne in the Country”, and there’s a hunter after it with safari ideas. Val spots it first and, realising it’s hurt, decides to risk herself to treat it.
Miss Claire is trying to hide a baby seal with Molly’s help, but of course it’s a load of trouble for them both. Now there are further complications. The first is Pickering, who mistakes the seal for a monster and has all the staff hunting it. The second is another man finding the seal – and Molly doesn’t like the look of him!
Sue plans a party. Unfortunately Mum accidentally scratches the new LP she was going to use for it, and the stores are sold out because it’s so hot. Then a stroke of luck and Sue’s habit of doodling bring her to the pop star himself, who agrees to perform live at her party after she does him a favour.
Bessie Bunter pulls a crooked raffle to raise more food for herself, but of course she gets caught out. Her punishment is a notebook to be filled with lines. She never seems to get expelled for those naughty schemes of hers.
In this week’s episode of “Olympia Jones” it’s the long-awaited (and dreaded) return of her archenemies, the Rotts. We get the satisfaction of seeing that sacking Olympia for Linda Rott’s animal cruelty to escape prosecution from animal welfare has rebounded on them: “Takings down again…Sometimes I regret sacking Olympia Jones. She certainly knew how to train the animals.” They overlooked that Olympia was too valuable as animal trainer for Linda’s horse act, and her absence has caused the circus to suffer.
Then the Rotts discover the circus horse they mistreated has now become a show-jumping Olympic prospect under Olympia – which makes him worth a fortune. Now new cruelty is underway as the Rotts plot how to get their hands on that money.