Tag Archives: Mavis Miller

Christine Ellingham – Interview

With many thanks to Christine Ellingham for sending through such detailed and interesting answers to the interview questions below – and of course also thanks to her for getting in contact in the first place!

Question 1 – Can you please give a bit of background context to your time in comics – when did you start doing work for picture strips / comics titles, and what got you into them in the first place? You say that your time as a strip artist was short – what led you to cut it short, if there was anything specific?

As with a lot of the jobs I have done over the years, I arrived at IPC, then Fleetway Publications, purely by accident and good luck.

I had been a staff layout artist plus fashion illustrator on a girls’ teenage magazine called, Go Girl! (This is where I first met Malcolm Shaw.) Go Girl! was part of City Magazines, the magazine division of The News of the World. This was in 1968.

Unfortunately, Go Girl! folded after a very short life and it was suggested that I approach Leonard Matthews, the then Director of Juvenile Publications, not sure of his correct title, at Fleetway. I did, and was offered a job there. In those days it was relatively easy to move around from one job to another.

Initially, I was placed in a department with several other people, not a specific title, where we did odd jobs for different papers, i.e. illustration, lettering, pasteup and, in the case of Alf Saporito, cartoons. I remember John Fernley being one of us, possibly Tony Hunt, though I’m not sure.

After a short period I was moved to the Nursery group, under the managing editor, Stuart Pride, and there I worked on a new publication called Bobo Bunny. This had come from Holland and needed adjusting size wise and certain content adaptation making it suitable for the UK market.

By now John Sanders was the overall editor of the juveniles. I have a feeling I wasn’t the first to be offered the position of art editor of a new girls’ paper called Tammy but I accepted it nevertheless and moved from juvenile to teenage. John Purdie was the editor and Gerry Finley-Day and Iain MacDonald made up the editorial team.

Under John, we gathered writers and artists and the aim was to compete with D.C. Thomson’s Bunty and maybe other titles of that type. I remember John and I made a trip to Rome to talk to the Giorgetti stable of artists and we were wined and dined by Giorgio Giorgetti and his American wife. We also attracted all the relevant artist’s agents, Danny Kelleher and his son Pat of Temple Arts, Linden Artists and Bardon Art for example, and collected together a group of strip artists, writers and balloon letterers.

Eventually, Tammy was launched and did very well. I was able to contribute a small amount of artwork, the back cover of the first edition is mine, but really my job was to get it all together, see the agents and in one case, the artists themselves (I remember Roy Newby used to deliver his own work) but usually the agents would deliver the artwork.

I have to admit, I was not entirely happy in the role of art editor. I had studied illustration at Hornsey College of Art and that was what I wanted to do. I left Fleetway 1971/72. Barry Coker and Keith Davis of Bardon Art represented mainly Spanish strip artists. I thought that maybe I could ‘have a go’ at doing this as a freelance and doing it from Spain. Barry and Keith took me on and my then partner and I moved to Spain. Just like that! This was 1972. Amazing really.

Christine Ellingham, 1973/74
Christine Ellingham, 1973/74

First of all my work was for D.C. Thomson; they waited for a whole series to be complete before publishing so as I was a novice and slow, this suited me. Fleetway needed an episode completed in a week, too much for me then. I am hazy about the titles, there may have been something called, “Warning Wind Bells” and another with an Egyptian theme with a character or a cat called Nofret, or these could have been later for IPC. I have a few old diaries of that time and one story I worked on I have only the initials of the title, S.O.S. I wonder what that stood for! 1972. There was “Topsy of the Pops”, “Vet on the Hill” and “Lindy Under the Lake”, all for Thomson’s circa 1973. (This is the date that I drew them, not necessarily of publication.)

As agents, Barry and Keith were superb. They made sure I was never without work, one story followed immediately after another, that I was paid promptly and they gave me such good advice regarding page layout, technique and story interpretation.

While I was still working on Tammy I started to have problems with my right hand (I am right handed), it not functioning properly. This continued to get worse when we were in Spain and instead of speeding up and refining my style the opposite was happening, my work deteriorated. Bardon Art kept me going but eventually we had to return to England in 1974, where I continued to struggle depressingly.

During the Spanish time I illustrated at least two Annual covers, Tammy 1972, including the front endpapers depicting National Costumes and Sandie Annual 1973, plus various spot illustrations. I still have these annuals. Or I could have done these before Spain.

After inconclusive tests that found nothing terribly wrong with my hand or me generally, the GP at the time suggested I learn to use my left hand. After thinking initially, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I realised this was my only option. I remember one ten-part story for Thomson’s started with me using my right hand and gradually with training, ended using my left hand. I can’t remember which story that was.

From then on things got better. I speeded up and developed my style. Bardon got me the first IPC job.  I’m not one hundred percent sure but it could have been, Cove of Secrets or Secret Cove, something like that, for the Jinty Annual possibly 1974. Also The Whittington’s Cat Princess, DCT, around the same time. To this day, I draw, paint and write using my left hand.

“Concrete Surfer” came later. That particular story stands out for me because it was such fun to do. It was all action with hardly any background, it was very modern and I love doing figure work. I remember we bought a skate board so that I could see what it looked like from all angles, a helmet too, still got them!

I cannot remember how many strip stories I worked on after “Concrete Surfer” but at some point I felt the need to move on, that I wasn’t being stretched any more. Bardon Art were no longer able to represent me, as strip was their speciality, and sadly, we parted company. I started contributing illustrations to Oh Boy, Loving and other IPC papers for older teens.

After a few years I moved on again and, as an illustrator, contributed to national newspapers, women’s magazines, house magazines, mail order publications, coin design, greetings cards and so on.

The work was still there after my retirement but the need to move on again got the better of me and now I paint, back in Spain.


Question 2 – On the blog we are always very keen to try to establish any creator credits for artists and writers, as these are otherwise very likely to get lost in the mists of time. As far as we can tell from the art style, it looks like you drew three stories for Jinty (“Race for a Fortune” (1977-78), “Concrete Surfer” (1978), and “Dance Into Darkness” (1978) plus some covers and spot illustrations, as well as a story in the Lindy Summer Special (1975) and in the Jinty Annual 1978. It may be asking too much at this distance in time, but what other work do you recall doing and in which publications?

I would have to look at these stories that you mention to verify that I actually drew them! As I have said, Concrete Surfer stands out because for me it was a joy to do. The others, some I have managed to see on line and they do look vaguely familiar. At the time I used my partner as a model. I found men more difficult to draw than women and girls and I have noticed him in certain frames even though I tried hard to make them not look like him! When I see him I know that I did that one!

Cover 19780708
Jinty 8 July 1978: cover shows “Dance Into Darkness”

Question 3 – At the time it was very usual for artists and writers to work quite separately from each other, particularly freelance creators. Was this the case with you, or did you know others working in the same area? I ask partly in case there are any interesting stories or anecdotes that you can relate at this distance in time, but also in case you remember any names of people on the creative or publishing side that can feed in to our information of who did what.

Yes, this was the case for me. Artists do lead a solitary life and being freelance meant I would be at my desk not wanting to be interrupted. The deadlines, especially for IPC, were pretty tight. In my case the work would be delivered to Bardon Art and they would take it to the publication in the case of Fleetway, a few minutes walk away. Though in Spain I posted it directly to DCT. Nevertheless, Barry and Keith were very much involved and would add their comments sometimes.

While we were in Spain the work was rolled into a tube and posted. The tubes had to be open at both ends, some string threaded through and tied and a description of the contents had to be stuck to the outside, or left with an official at the post office.

I did meet one artist in Spain, Miguel Quesada. It was he who told me how to send artwork to England. He and some of his very large family, (a lot of mouths to feed), visited us unexpectedly. He was one of Bardon’s and a contributor to Tammy. I never met any of the other artists apart from Roy Newby, but that was before I was a contributor myself.

I did meet John Jackson when he was the art editor of Jinty and of course, Mavis Miller.

Question 4 – I am keen to understand more about the creative and publishing processes of the time. Presumably the writer supplied a script, and the editor chose the artist, but I don’t know how everything interacted. Did you get any guidance (say as part of the written script) or conversely any interference from the editor or art editor, or was the published page pretty much under your design control including the composition of the page?

Yes, the editor would choose the artist, art editors didn’t have much say in the matter, (Though this is just from my experience of working on Tammy.) And I think the editorial team would have suggested an idea for a story to the writer, again, this is how it happened on Tammy.

The artists were given a lot of guidance. Before even starting, we would be briefed on the content and theme of the story, to get to know the main characters. In the case of IPC the scripts would come one at a time, having only just been written, probably. The artist would receive a document containing the dialogue for each balloon and the positioning of the balloons had to be in that same order in the frame, also, there would be instructions on the action and mood in the frame, i.e. the heroine to look sad, the bad girl to look vindictive; a closeup and so on. The composition of each frame would be influenced by the order and size of the balloons and the overall design of the page would have had input from the editor. Quite a lot to work out, now I come to think of it! [An example of a script has been previously sent in by Pat Davidson, wife of Jinty story writer Alan Davidson: see link here.]

I always had to submit pencil roughs that would be shown to the editor for his/her comments. In Spain there were many visits to the post office, pencils going off to Stan Stamper in Dundee, coming back with comments, a finished, inked episode flying off, the two passing each other on the way. Also, we artists had to work ‘half up’ so there was a lot of ground to cover. [‘Half up’ means using a larger piece of art paper – half as much again as the finished size, so that for instance if the finished publication is 10 inches by 12 inches, half up would be 15 inches by 18 inches – with the artwork being photographically reduced in size during the production process.]


Question 5 – A slightly self-indulgent question but with a point to it – how did you come across the Jinty blog? Was it a case of happening to suddenly remember something you worked on years ago and searching for it, or being sent to it? (I ask because I would love to hear from other creators from the time, and if there is anything I can do to increase the chances of someone posting a comment saying that they wrote or drew a story from the time, I will certainly consider it.)

I’m trying to think. How did I find it? I get carried away on the internet sometimes. I think  I was looking up an old friend of my now husband’s, the two of them used to work together on Eagle, Swift, Robin and Girl papers, as balloon letterers and layout artists. I started looking at Girl artwork as I do have a couple of Girl Annuals, No.3 and No.5. I noticed that the writers and artists all got a credit; one name I recognised was the artist Dudley Pout, I wonder if he contributed to any of the Jinty stories? Though he was probably of another generation.

The friend of my husband had died but in reading his obituary I found links to other sites and by then I was interested to see if any of my work was featured anywhere, the only title I could think of was, “Concrete Surfer”!

First episode of the 1978 story “Concrete Surfer”

300th post!

Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, we are continuing to move on with posting to and extending this blog. Since the 200th entry in November 2014, we have very nearly completed the posts on Jinty Annuals and Holiday Specials, including looking at an annual from precursor title June too. More stories have been covered, such as popular story “The Forbidden Garden“; Mistyfan has been doing the bulk of this work, which is much appreciated. She has also forged ahead with writing numerous posts on individual issues too, helping to fill in many gaps. This includes curiosities like the advert for the very first Jinty! However, there are still further gaps for us to get to; for instance back around the 200th post a comment asked for a post on “Battle of the Wills”, and no doubt there are many other favorites people are looking forward to. The story theme posts were added to with the entry on Sports stories, but again these story theme posts could well be added to.

I would always like to do more Creator posts. It was particularly gratifying to be able to do an interview with writer Alison Christie and with artist Keith Robson; getting people to talk about their memories of how things worked and how they did them is really important. As with so many creators, writer Len Wenn is not able to be interviewed but Keith Robson was able to give us some first-hand information that helped to fill out more details on his work. Likewise, Terry Magee wrote in to give us more background on script conferences, which are often mentioned in people’s information about how the editorial process worked. It was also good to be able to correct the attribution of “Angela’s Angels” and do a post on artist Leo Davy, who it is now credited to. There are plenty of creators that could be posted about right away, but if anyone ever has a lead for a creator who is happy to be interviewed for this blog, that would be absolutely excellent. We’re particularly looking for any information on Mavis Miller, who would be able to shed so much light on the names and details behind so much of this comic and others.

There has also been quite a few other general and analytical pieces, such as my post about readers’ memories of the stories they read a long time ago, and one on Female writers in a Girls’ Genre. I also enjoyed writing a series on What Makes a Story Work? Most recently, we have gone back to the WTFometer idea and there are now five posts on this, analyzing some 14 stories so far. Even within a themed group you can get a wide range of story arcs, going from relatively mundane to extreme with serious danger of death or loss of autonomy.

One unexpected direction that this blog has taken is the extension of our knowledge to cover the area of translations and foreign editions. This followed the publication of the Alison Christie interview; comments on this highlighted the fact that a number of her stories had been the subject of European Translations. I had already seen some Dutch translations of Jinty stories, but I would never have predicted the range of the translations we now know about, including into Greek and Indonesian! This work could not have happened without the input of people reading the blog – particularly Marc, Peggy, Sleuth, Yulia, Ruth B. I’m really grateful for this widening of the network that we’re building together. Here’s to the next few hundred posts – I am sure there will be many more to come.

Further thoughts on script conferences

You may have seen that Terry Magee made a series of illuminating and interesting comments on the Len Wenn post: these described the processes and principles behind script conferences in more detail. To make them more visible and easier to find in the future, I repeat them here. Many thanks, therefore, to Terry for sending in these details!

Len had worked on Fleetway boys’ comics in the 1950’s – either The Sun or The Comet, knew artists like Geoff Campion and colleagues like the famous/infamous Sid Bicknell (Uncle Sid to some). Len was a very fair chap and encouraged me to write. He was a soldier in the North African desert in the Second World War, telling me some of his experiences such as having to dig trenches in the sand – with the danger of being buried alive, which he actually saw happen. He told me other things about the Fleetway crowd that I can’t repeat.

I lost track with Len after I went freelance, but I’m real glad he survived on Buster
and continued writing for Mavis on Jinty. They were a good team. As for their script conferences, they happened around every six weeks or so with just two writers on separate occasions – Frank Redpath (Lucky’s Livin Doll) and Jack Johnson (very talented writer and great bloke). I only ever was at one script conference, but didn’t contribute much as Mavis and Len were too good to keep up with!

Fleetway was a friendly company, the opposite to the dreadful DC Thomson. I never worked there, but heard tales from those who did, like John Wagner. DC Thomson was owned and run by two old brothers who were right control freaks – no staff allowed to use the phones unless with permission. The two brothers didn’t talk to each other for years, communicating notes slipped under doors and so on. They lived in a mansion outside Dundee, one in the east wing and the other in the west wing. A weird story itself! Shiver me timbers!, as Captain Hurricane would say!

(then a question from me)

Thanks for this, Terry! Can you tell any more details about the script conferences themselves – if writers weren’t normally present, then what was the aim of them – did Mavis and Len use them to write their own stories, or to decide general ideas that they would send on to freelance writers, or what?

My pleasure, shipmate (still talking as Captain Hurricane whose letter I used to write in Battle comic for some years)! I was only the one time in a script conference and that was In Mavis Miller’s office along with Len Wenn and the author Jack Johnson (might have been John Johnson). They discussed ideas and plots for Jack’s stories for June & School Friend. I think he wrote three of them every week. They were plans for something like next 6 weeks’ episodes. It was the same for Frank Redpath and Lucky’s Living Doll (the most popular number one in June & School Friend).

I used to hear them talking quite loudly and excitedly with lots of laughs through the wall of the office next-door. I was sub-editor sharing the office with Art Editor Colin Parker (we could see the Scales of Justice statue of the Old Bailey from our window). In the next office along was other sub-editor Jackie Davis, who was engaged to Colin (they eventually married) and art assistant Roger Prickett. Colin went on to become Art Editor on the Daily Express. His elder brother, Jack Parker, was Editor of Look & Learn. Very talented people.
Fleetway (basically still the former Amalgamated Press), was packed with gifted journalists, authors, artists, both staff and freelance. It was positive-thinking and forward-looking, which is why John Purdy was able to bring in new people like Gerry Finley-Day and Pat Mills with new ideas. Although it was done surreptitiously and that didn’t go down well at Fleetway. I was there and I saw it happen!

Other authors for June & School Friend were freelance and hardly ever came in to the editorial offices and sometimes never, as was the same for artists. Although Scott Goodall, freelance author, was often there, thumping away on a Bluebird typewriter at any spare desk going. They were referred to as authors in the Fleetway days, not writers, and the word ‘comic’ wasn’t used. They were girls’ papers or juvenile publications, sounding more adult and serious… Knockout and Buster were comics, due to their humorous strips.  Freelances were also paid in guineas, not plain pounds. We were paid salaries, not wages, with accounts in Coutts Bank of the Strand, the Queen’s bank and very posh… Fleetway could be snooty copared to D C Thomson, who seemed more down-to-earth although weird as I eventually discovered. Fleetway/IPC artists were better, more arty and often really fantastic.

Features on June & School Friend were written by Robin May, who also wrote a lot
for Look & Learn. There were no restrictions on freelancing for publications. I wrote Tarzan and The Saint for TV Tornado while subbing on June & School Friend. Fleetway and IPC were always trendy, being in the centre of London where it was all happening (or supposed to be happening!). There were lots of women’s magazines in the building like Woman, Woman’s Own, Options, Woman’s Weekly and others I can’t remember, plus cool mags like Rave and Fab 208, so we’d often see famous pop stars like Marianne Faithful, The Beatles, Adam Faith and so on. It was glamorous!

Mavis Miller didn’t write any stories or features, she concentrated on the editing. Len Wenn didn’t write anything for June & School Friend. Maybe he did for his new paper Sally. Just remembered: staff member Cecil Graveney used to write Bessie Bunter and Sindy (toy doll). Cecil was old Amalgamated Press, in his late 50s or early 60s then. Mavis in her 30s and Len in his 40s (I think – I’m terrible at telling ages). One artist who occasionally drew illustrations for features was in his 80s. A jolly chap with a big smile who reminded me of Father Christmas. I regret not remembering his name. When you think about it, he must have been drawing for Amalgamated Press in the 1920s and have known people who were at the very start of ‘comics’ in the 1890s. His artistic style was still very 1920s. A real link with the past and great to meet him.

Of course, there were dark sides to Fleetway/IPC. Not sure if I want to go into that!

Thanks again to Terry for sending in these memories and explanations.

Len Wenn

Len Wenn (1918 – 2003) wrote various stories for Jinty, as confirmed by Keith Robson in this comment. At present the list of his confirmed story titles is very minimal; if further information comes in we’d love to add to it in the future.

Len Wenn, from around 1973
Len Wenn, from around 1973

(with thanks to Keith Robson for the photo)

Len was the editor who launched the IPC girls’ comic Sally, which ran from 1969 to 1971; he subsequently edited the IPC boy’s humour comic Buster from 1971 to 1981. There are some references to Len, and to Keith Robson, in Dez Skinn’s article about his IPC Fleetway days here. Terry Magee also refers to Len Wenn and Mavis Miller holding script conferences in IPC during his time there (see subsequent additions to the Terry Magee interview): “Len and Mavis collaborated on scripts for June & School Friend and Sally. … Horace Boyten also used to join their script conferences before he retired in 1966.  Horace was a very nice chap, quiet and modest, the writer behind “The Silent Three”.  Len and Horace were very Amalgamated Press…easy-going kind of fellows.  Probably too gentle for the challenging changes ahead.”

In fact the two stories we have confirmation that he wrote are not only solid, memorable Jinty stories, they have a lot of bite to them. “Go On, Hate Me!” is a powerful grudge/revenge story that wraps up well; the shorter, to-the-point “The Birds” has strong horror elements that make it genuinely scary at points. If he was too gentle for the changes in the working environment as Terry suggests, he certainly could write to the spec of the newer breed of comic that was represented by Jinty, Tammy, Misty, and the like.

The idea of multiple collaborators within the editorial office working on script conferences is intriguing. Alison Christie has confirmed in her interview that she had very little editorial direction, which I assume would be because she had already proved herself as a trusted steady hand, capable of delivering solid stories to schedule. Were the in-house script conferences to determine the suggestions that might be made to other less trusted writers, or to propose girls-story takes on big hits from books and tv, or just to write their own content? There were so many pages to fill alongside the comics stories, from ‘hints & tips’ features or non-fiction articles, plus text stories, that this must have kept the editorial team pretty busy in any case. The collaborative aspect of story writing in those conferences was a gift that must have been limited to only specific cases, given that most freelance creators never met each other.

It seems that Len worked for IPC primarily rather than moving from DC Thomsons as so many others did. Alison Christie recalled in an email relating to life in the IPC offices:
“I was always wondering when any of [the titles] would be merged or axed. I appreciated working for IPC, they paid so much more than DC Thomson’s did. I had to join the NUJ, though – which Thomsons, being non-union, abhorred. I could do that, of course, as I was freelance. But some employees of DCs were in the NUJ, and held clandestine meetings in Dundee, which I attended. I didn’t realise until I’d read Keith’s interview that while working in IPC, he was able to freelance for other papers, including DCT’s. No way could I have done that while working in DCTs, or Keith either. There was the sword of Damocles hanging over you if you were found out and possible sacking would ensue.” So IPC paid better and was unionised, but then of course it also suffered from strike action, and from the pernicious policy of hatch-match-dispatch, at which point the creators, and presumably the editorial staff, could suddenly find themselves in the suds. Ending up as editor of long-running title Buster, Len will have been reasonably safe from these dangers, though one assumes the feelings in the office could run pretty high at those times.

Leo Davy

One of the things I am most appreciating about this blog is the way that it is able to take part in an expanding network of resources: the existing UK girls’ comics blogs, the Comics UK forum, Catawiki, the original creators or editors where we are able to make contact with them, and interested fans and experts internationally. This not only means that things known in one area (artists of specific strips, contents of individual issues) are made more readily available to other interested parties, but also that inconsistencies can be corrected and new knowledge promulgated. This is particularly important as, sadly, there is no single reliable source of this information in the shape of publishing archives or editorial records; I recently spoke to copyright holders Egmont who confirmed that they have no editorial files or information held from that time. This makes our current networking and sharing of memories, information, and analysis the only way we can come up with a good picture of who did what, when, how, and where.

I posted back in November about the artist attribution we have been giving for “Angela’s Angels”; we have given the name of the artist as Alberto Cuyas, though in fact we seemingly should have listed him as Manuel Cuyàs. However, Sleuth from Catawiki has recently emailed me a number of pages of art definitively credited to Manuel Cuyàs and to Leo Davy, confirming to me that we should change the attribution of “Angela’s Angels” to the latter artist (now done).

There is quite a bit of artwork attributed to Leo Davy and Phil Townsend together; they drew two Girl strips together, “Susan of St Bride’s” and “Calling Nurse Abbott!”. There is some similarity here of faces and other details when compared to “Angela’s Angels”: look at the bottom left of the first page and the bottom right of the second.

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“A Scooter To Sydney” is credited to Leo Davy alone, as is a smashing adaptation of “The Day of the Triffids” – Bill’s face in the second row of panels, in particular, is a very good match with the “Angela’s Angels” artwork to my mind. (Moreso than the art on “Sydney”, which is in a very finished style.)

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Here are some more faces from the nursing strips:

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Finally, some more “Angela’s Angel’s” artwork for comparison:

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Cuyàs has similarities of style; he is a vigorous artist with lots of movement in his drawing, and his characters are not pretty-pretty. However, his faces are distinctively different (those noses!) and he often signs his work. His art appeared in June & Schoolfriend, Bunty, and other classic girl’s titles, and some of it was reprinted in Jinty: the 1979 Jinty annual (post to follow) includes the rather fun collected story “Trudy on Trial!” (originally published between 24 June 1972 and 19 August 1972 according to Deskartes Mil). The 1975 Jinty annual republishes the story “Eve’s Dream” which I assume is also from June & Schoolfriend, though I would be grateful for confirmation of this.

Manuel Cuyàs
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Manuel Cuyàs
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There is very little information available on the internet about Leo Davy. As Girl printed credits for writers and artists, we can attribute the following stories to him:

  • Susan of St Bride’s (with Phil Townsend)
  • Calling Nurse Abbott! (with Phil Townsend)
  • The Day of the Triffids (adaptation of the John Wyndham book)
  • A Scooter to Sydney
  • The Red Pennant

The only Jinty strip attributable to him is “Angela’s Angels”, including a short story featuring the same characters in the Jinty 1974 annual. There is also a longer list of titles available on Catawiki here; I haven’t reviewed it fully or sense-checked it for any oddities yet, though.

Looking at those strips in Girl, Leo Davy has a very classic, elegant style. The strips he draws are energetic and also pretty neat and meticulous; “Angela’s Angels” is less meticulous to my eye, looking in some places as if it was pencilled but not fully inked or painted. Could this be a sign of an experienced draughtsman towards the end of his career, still drawing beautifully but less carefully and precisely?

Leo Davy fits well as the artist on “Angela’s Angels” – especially in the first issues of a new title, getting an experienced artist on a nursing story to do another makes good sense! Cuyàs would also be unsurprising as an artist in Jinty, having probably previously worked with Mavis Miller or colleagues of hers, but compared to the themes in his previous stories it would be a little more of a leap for him to turn up as the creator on a nursing story.

With particular thanks to Sleuth from Catawiki

Alison Christie: Interview

Alison Christie is credited with writing a number of stories in Tammy. She recently contacted this blog and clarified that she also wrote a number of stories for Jinty and other IPC titles, as well as for a number of DC Thompson titles. She continues to write for children, using her married name, so do look for Alison Mary Fitt when searching her out! She kindly agreed to do an email interview for this blog, for which many thanks are due.

Alison Mary Fitt
Alison Mary Fitt, credited in Tammy as Alison Christie

Questions for her:

1 I saw a little on the Scottish Book Trust site that you started writing for DC Thomson on leaving school. Can you tell me a bit more about writing for girls’ comics and how long that career lasted? For instance, what titles did you write for, and on what basis (in house, freelance)? You said on the Scottish Book Trust site that you were “at one point turning out an episode a week for six picture story serials” – when would this have been, and how did you even manage it?!

On leaving school I worked in DC Thomson as a junior sub editor on Bunty, and was soon subbing scripts that came in from freelance writers. However, at that time, some of the serials were written in-house, so I got my first chance to write a serial, called “Queen of the Gypsies”. Later, I was moved to their new nursery comics which came out by the name of Bimbo, then Little Star, then Twinkle for girls. I wrote lots of text- and picture-stories for these, in house – though freelancers were used as well. After I got married, I still worked in-house at DCs… but then had 3 children in quick succession – so left and went freelance, submitting scripts for Twinkle, which had replaced the other two titles. I also freelanced for the various DC’s girls magazines, Judy, Debbie, Mandy, Nikki, Tracy etc…writing picture stories for them, though oddly enough, didn’t ever submit any story-line to Bunty, the mag I started on.

Then I thought I’d branch out and give IPC a go, and submitted a story-line to Mavis Miller of Jinty [at that point still editor of June & Schoolfriend] . She accepted it right away, and there began my freelance work for IPC, with June, Jinty, then Tammy, some stories for Misty – and, later, when the magazine Dreamer (for younger girls) started, and included photo stories, I wrote a serial called “Who Stole Samantha?” about a missing doll. Dreamer was short-lived, however, as was Penny, another IPC mag for younger girls. I wrote a serial for that entitled “Waifs of the Waterfall”. I have to say DC Thomson was a great training-ground as far as writing picture stories was concerned.

Sadly, Jinty/Tammy bit the dust around 1985, and suddenly vanished without any notification of this to their writers or artists. I continued writing for the DC Thomson stable of girls’ papers, but they all gradually gave up the ghost.

I have never stopped writing, though – and am now writing children’s books.

Six serials a week? Yes, at one point I was doing this, despite having 3 young children, working mostly at night when they were in bed. One of the freelance writers for one of the DC girl’s papers had died, and I was asked to finish his serials – so, along with 3 other serials for DC girl’s mags, plus a couple for Tammy and Jinty, that made six stories at that particular time.

2 What stories did you write in your comics career? Are there specific ones that stand out to you at this distance in time (for good or for ill)?

Alison reviewed her files and supplied the following list of stories that she wrote, with her own summaries

  • “The Grays Fight Back” (First story submitted to Mavis Miller, who was then editor of June & Schoolfriend, about a troubled family.)

War-time stories written for Mavis Miller / Jinty

  • “My Name is Nobody” (orphaned child in London Blitz who couldn’t remember her name) written for June & Schoolfriend when MM was the editor of that title [identified on the Comics UK Forum as “Nobody Knows My Name”, starting in the 20 November 1971 edition of June. It was illustrated by Carlos Freixas.]
  • Daddy’s Darling” (spoilt girl evacuee)
  • “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (This ran for 36 weeks)

 Other Jinty stories

Jinty & Lindy serial

  • For Peter’s Sake!” (Girl pushing her Gran’s old pram from Scotland to England for her baby brother Peter)

Tammy & Jinty serial

  • “Lara the Loner” (girl who hated crowds)

 Tammy serials

  • “A Gran for the Gregorys”
  • “The Button Box” (series)
  • “Cassie’s Coach” (Three children living in an old coach in London in Victorian times)
  • See also the list on Catawiki of titles credited to her – from issue 590 to 684 (last issue of Tammy was 691). NB number 590 was the first one to regularly credit creators and it stopped doing that a bit before 684 by the looks of it. Titles in [square brackets] below are credited to Alison Christie on that source.
  • [It’s A Dog’s Life Tammy 1983 623 – 629]
  • [Room for Rosie Tammy 1983 646 – 667]

Tammy complete stories

  •  Olwyn’s Elm A storyteller story, may have been published in another title?
  • Bethlehem’s Come to Us (Christmas 1983 issue)
  • Message of a Flower
  • [Dreams Can Wait]

Serials for other titles

  • “Second Fiddle to Sorcha” (musical story) published in one of the DCT titles [identified on the Comics UK Forum: “Second Fiddle To Sorcha} ran in Mandy 880 (26 November 1983) – 887 (14 January 1984)]
  • [edited to add: “I Must Fall Out With Mary!” published in Mandy in 1986]

I wrote more stories for Jinty than Tammy for, having firstly written for June & Schoolfriend (edited by Mavis Miller), I then wrote for Jinty when she became editress of that. When I finally took a trip down to King’s Reach Tower to meet her in person, I was then introduced to Wilfred Prigmore of Tammy, and began writing for Tammy as well. I was writing for Mavis in 1971. I know this because that’s when the youngest of my 3 children was born, and being hospitalised and hooked up on a drip, I was still writing my current serial for her, and I remember she commented, ‘That’s devotion to duty!’

I may well have written more serials than these, but foolishly did not keep files of them all.

I loved writing them all – but liked the heart-tuggers best, of which there were plenty! I think “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was one of my favourites. I had the 3 children spending Christmas in a concrete pill-box. On mentioning this to my driving instructor at the time, who was a retired army major, he said, “Must have been bloody cold!” I liked “Always Together” too – and “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”.

3 You have mentioned separately that Keith Robson asked you in later years whether you were the writer on “The Goose Girl”, so clearly artists didn’t (always?) know who wrote the stories they worked on. Was this the usual way of doing things? It looks like many of your stories were illustrated by Phil Townsend; how aware of this in advance were you, and did it mean that for instance you had the chance to write to his strengths, or anything like that?

No, artists would not likely know who wrote the stories they worked on, unless the name of the writer was somewhere on the script. I had no say at all in who illustrated my stories, just sent them in, and the Editors farmed them out to an artist. Which is why I had no idea it was Keith Robson illustrating the Goose-girl, not that at the point I’d have known who he was. Only when Tammy started to put the author and illustrator’s names in, did I know who the illustrators were, mostly Phil Townsend and Mario Capaldi, both talented artists. I never met or communicated with either of them.

4 On the blog, we’d love to fill in more names of people associated with Jinty and related titles. Do you remember any other writers or artists that you worked with or knew of? Do you have any memories of working with them, directly or indirectly?

Sorry, but I don’t know of any artists, writers, who wrote for Tammy, Jinty, at that time – being freelance and working from home meant I didn’t meet any. I did meet Mavis Miller , the Jinty editor – but then she left to get married and I did not hear any more about her, though I did try to find out for a while. Also met Wilfred Prigmore.

I know of Pat Mills (who at one time had the temerity to write on a blog that females were no use writing for girl’s magazines such as Jinty -men were better at it! He worked in DCTs then down at IPC himself, and wrote for Tammy and possibly Jinty.)

But I have never actually met him. I did know the in-house artists at DCTs, but mostly freelance artists were used from outside, and I didn’t know them either.

5 Clearly there were similarities in your stories for Jinty: they were often tear-jerkers (Stefa, Bow Street Runner, Somewhere Over The Rainbow) and many of them illustrated by the same artist. Perhaps because they were drawn by different artists, I would identify a slightly different vibe about some other stories: The Goose Girl about independence, and Darling Clementine, a sports story with a ‘misunderstood’ angle. Were you ever asked to write to specified themes, formulas, or ideas given by the editorial department, or were you left to your own devices and inspiration? 

Yes, I was asked to write to a specific theme, but only once. Mavis Miller asked me to write a serial based on Catherine Cookson’s The Dwelling Place. Which resulted in “Always Together”.

Many thanks again to Alison for sending in all this information – and of course for writing so many of these excellent and well-loved stories in the first place! Many thanks also to the folk on the Comics UK Forum for the detective work in finding some original titles and dates of publications noted above.

Edited to add a couple of follow-up questions and points of information:

6 You mention DCTs as a great training ground for writing comics serials. Can you tell us anything of the tips or techniques you either were specifically taught, or learned by osmosis? For instance, the style of these comics is to plunge straight into the story headlong – in The Spell of the Spinning Wheel, the father is lamed in the first couple of pages – and the protagonists are very central to every page and indeed almost every panel of the story, so that very little is told without reference to that main character. And perhaps there are also differences between boys’ comics of the time, with lots of action and less mystery, and girls’ comics?
Re training in DCT, nobody actually ‘trained’ me – but subbing other freelancers’ scripts as they came in was very informative. Can’t think why as a seventeen year old, (I was only sixteen when I started on the Bunty) I was allowed to do this – but after all this subbing I had a fair idea how to write scripts myself. The main point was to keep the story flowing from picture to picture – thus the captions at the top or sometimes bottom were important connectors to the following picture. Also, the last picture was always a cliff-hanger – so the reader would want to buy the comic the next week! The stories always had a main character, who did feature in all or most of the pictures, either prominently or in the background, which was fair enough, as the story was all about them.
Re boy’s comics at the time – yes, they were action-based, fighting, war stories, and adventures as you would expect, not full of emotional stories like the girl’s comics were.

7 Did you keep any copies of the original scripts? Have you ever (did you at the time ever) compare the script you wrote with the resulting printed version, and notice differences, big or small, for better or for worse?

Yes, I have copies of some of the original DCT stories I wrote for their girl’s comics. Re comparing my original script to what it ended up as on a printed page – I guess there might have been some minor changes to the text, as they likely had people subbing freelance stories that came in down in IPC too. I really can’t remember. But I was always happy with the artwork on all my stories.

Alison also clarified that she wrote both “I’ll Make Up For Mary” in Jinty, and in 1986 the similarly-titled “I Must Fall Out With Mary”, published in Mandy. She also wrote “Tina’s Telly Mum” in Tammy, and “No Medals for Marie” in Jinty. Less certainly, she wrote ‘a short story … for Tammy, about a girl leaving school, junior school it was, a kind of whimsical tale about a girl who, on her leaving day, is very glad to escape all the horrible things she’s had to put up with there… but, at the very end, is hanging her school tie on the railing, and thinking, So why am I so sad at leaving then?… I think it was called Goodbye school, or Leaving Day, or something. ‘ And ‘”My Shining Sister”, a Tammy story, also rang a bell. I did write a story about Marnie, the daughter of an astrologer, who found a girl in a field, who is dazed as she’s had some kind of fall. Marnie’s family take her in, and she becomes the sister that only child Marnie has ever wanted. However, the girl, Sorcha, turns out to be one of the Seven sister stars… and has somehow fallen to earth…. Sorcha keeps being drawn to the number six – aka she has six sisters – Marnie tries to stop her seeing or being with groups of six girls, or going on a number six bus… in case she remembers where she has come from. If I remember right, Marnie has already worked out Sorcha is a fallen star. Anyway, story ends I think with Marnie helping her to return to her sisters, realising this is where she really belongs – but happily still sees her ‘sister’ through her dad’s telescope. I don’t know if you have a Tammy issue with “My Shining Sister” in it… but, unless some other writer has written a similar story, ie at the time when credits were being given to writers and artists… I have a feeling this is my story also?’

Terence Magee: Interview

Photo of Terence Magee in 2014

Terence Magee, formerly on the editorial team of various comics, and writer of Merry at Misery House amongst other stories, has kindly given the following interview. In addition, we hope that more information will follow from him in the future.

On initial contact with Terence Magee, he gave the following as general background on his work in British comics:
Editor Mavis Miller formulated the idea for ‘Merry At Misery House‘ and I wrote the episodes.

I had worked as sub-editor on Mavis’s first comic June & School Friend 1966-1971 at Fleetway House, so I knew a lot of people working there on staff and as freelances.

In fact, I had a long and varied career in comics, on staff and as a freelance author, boys’ as well as girls’ comics from 1960-1991. I was there in 1971 when the big changes happened – when John Purdy brought in Pat Mills and John Wagner to shake things up. The safe and gentle middle-class stories gave way to gritty, working-class yarns.

I remember feeling sorry for the old-school people who couldn’t keep up. It got pretty ruthless. Most of them were discarded, Mavis adapted fast and survived well until the early 1980s. But even she had enough of it in the end and left. The girls’ comics disappeared soon after. Maybe they were shaken up a bit too much.

The following were the questions sent to TM, and his answers:
1. Can you give a brief background of the professional and publishing context – how you came to work in comics in the first place and what it was like at the time (for instance, was most work done in house at that time, or with freelancers? what was the size of the market? etc).
(TM) I’d always been able to cook up a story since my schooldays and then I won a prize in a Daily Mirror Children’s Literary competition. Going into journalism seemed natural. I started as office boy on Lion comic at Fleetway Publications. There was a huge amount of artistic talent there, you could smell it (and that Cow gum!). Subbing for editors like Ted Bensberg (War Picture Library) and Mavis Miller (June & School Friend) I learnt a lot.

As for market size, it was enormous in the 1960s and 1970s. Some representative of the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) once told me that comics made bigger profits than women’s magazines.

2. What stories and titles did you work on, apart from ‘Merry’ at Jinty? Any particular standouts for you, at this distance in time?
(TM) I wrote many stories for many titles over the years, too many to mention. I think some of my best stuff was for girls’ comics – “Slave of the Trapeze” (Tammy), “Prisoners of Paradise Island” (Sandie), “Merry at Misery House” (Jinty).

I went from editorial to freelance writing and back to editorial again, ending up as editor of Battle Picture Weekly when that epic story “Charley’s War” was running. Superlative work by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun.

3. What’s your view on the great shake-up that you mention? Was John Purdy’s intervention a sensible one in the face of the changing market, and did it go too far or not far enough?
(TM) Fleetway went kitchen-sink. Stories got rough and tough, dark and edgy and very working-class. It was bound to happen just like other culture shifts at that time. Just a bit sad to see older Fleetway types knocked aside, people who had helped me in previous years.

4. I would love to credit more artists and writers from Jinty in particular but in other comics too. As a starting point, do you remember who the artist on “Merry” was? Are there other artists you worked with that you can detail for us, or other writers (again, particularly in Jinty but also in other comics if you can remember them)?
(TM) I never did know the artist for “Merry at Misery House”. The style looks dead right. It was great to find out through your Jinty website that “Merry at Misery House” is number ten in the Jinty Top Ten of favourite stories (though it says the writer is unknown). I think the Merry character had an impact on me, too, because I’ve recently written a book The Snow Witch about a chirpy girl called Merry. Completely different story set back in the Ice Age, the book’s on Amazon Kindle.

There’s a heck of a lot of writers and artists (and letterers) I knew. So I’ll stick to Battle Picture Weekly at the moment. Artists like Geoff Campion (Cooley’s Gun) and Eric Bradbury (Death Squad) who would never let you down. And top ones like John Cooper (Johnny Red) and Phil Gascoine (The Sarge). Amazingly prolific writers like Scott Goodall (The Wilde Bunch), Tom Tully (Johnny Red), Alan Hebden (War Dog).

But there were others on other comics such as author Fred Baker and artists John Gillat and Julio Schiaffino, geniuses at football stories (Hot-Shot Hamish and Billy’s Boots) for Tiger & Scorcher. Guys like that and Mavis Miller and Ted Bensberg – they don’t get the credit they definitely deserve. (Edited to add: Norman Worker was the Editor of Lindy and Wilf Prigmore was the Group Editor for the girls comics Tammy, Jinty, Misty.)

5. I feel strongly that the stories and art in girls’ comics overall were generally of an extremely high quality and of a storytelling value that can be shown by the strong and fond memories that have since surfaced from readers of the time. At the same time, of course they were subject to the normal commercial realities of the time, the editorial sifting to weed out less popular stories and extend more popular ones; and the comic titles themselves were subject to the ‘hatch, match, dispatch’ process. Can you talk a bit about these competing pressures, both as a creator and as someone with an editorial background? What surprising gems came out because of this competing issues (perhaps some daft and odd stories created under deadline pressure) and what might have been sacrificed?
5)  Lindy was a tax dodge of some kind, I heard. I wrote “Hard Days for Hilda”, but it ended along with the comic after 20 issues. I don’t know the name of the artist. It was a shame that contributors weren’t named in credits in girls’ comics. It happened in later boys’ comics like Battle and 2000AD. [JS comment: and in Tammy later on, too.]

As an editor, I always started up a serial with serious intent of it being liked by the readers. Battle ran 3-page completes, using different artists and sometimes trying out new ones.  But all had to be of high standard.

Editors were possessive with contributors and fought to hold on to them. I can credit myself with having recognised Cam Kennedy’s natural gift for drawing for comics. I started him on his first serial “War Dog” and then “Fighting Mann”. Most important of all, the readers were very impressed by Cam’s unique art.

Many thanks indeed to Terry for this useful and interesting interview!

Edited to add: Terry sent in some further comments subsequently, below.

“Looking at the 3 pages of the final episode [of Merry at Misery House], I’m pleased I wrote it so tightly. The influence of George Orwell probably as I was always a big fan. I like his clarity and conciseness. I got the idea for placards and slogans at Sombre Manor from ‘1984’. Coincidentally, I was living in the Basque Country, my wife’s homeland, under Franco’s fascist rule when I wrote ‘Misery House’. I saw many nasty things typical of a police state which affected me and maybe gave strength to the story.”

“I can see that you admire Mavis Miller. And you’re right to. Besides being an excellent and solid journalist through and through, she was very creative. Also confident, quick-thinking and good to work with. It’d be great if you could interview Mavis. As I suggested before, you could try Steve Holland, a real expert on British comics. He might have details for Len Wenn, you never know, who could be a link. Len and Mavis collaborated on scripts for June & School Friend and Sally. Len was editor of Sally. … Horace Boyten also used to join their script conferences before he retired in 1966. Horace was a very nice chap, quiet and modest, the writer behind “The Silent Three”. Len and Horace were very Amalgamated Press… easygoing kind of fellows. Probably too gentle for the challenging changes ahead.”