Tag Archives: Politics

Boss of Beadle Street [1973]

Sample Images

Boss of Beadle Street 1Boss of Beadle Street 2Boss of Beadle Street 3

 

Published: June & Pixie 31 March to 14 July 1973

Episodes: 16

Artist: Audrey Fawley

Writer: Unknown

Reprints/translations: None known

Plot

Liz Green is a very bossy, pushy girl, especially when she gets bright ideas about helping someone. She barges right in with her “help” without a by-your-leave or do-you-mind and won’t stop until she gets her way – which she almost invariably does, she’s such a steamroller. In Beadle Street where she lives, she is notorious for it. She gets herself into constant trouble with the residents who chase her off for her unwarranted interference. But Liz never learns. As far as she is concerned, she is just trying to help and people just don’t listen because they don’t take take her seriously. Nora, Liz’s best friend, tells Liz her day will come. Nora will come to regret her words.

Before we go on, Nora is Liz’s voice of reason, but it’s a voice that constantly falls on deaf ears against the bulldozer Liz. Nora comes from the long tradition of the good friend in girls’ comics who sticks by the protagonist, no matter what crap the protagonist gives her and drives her to distraction. She takes in quite a bit already with her bossy friend and her bright ideas, but, as you might have guessed, it’s all about to amplify to levels Nora never expected.

It starts when Liz and Nora are researching for a history project and discover the long-forgotten bylaw 381, which says that anyone living on the site where the old beadle’s house once stood can claim the rights and responsibilities of the beadle. After Liz determines her house stands on that site, there is no stopping Miss Bossyboots from enacting that bylaw to style herself as the new beadle, and Boss of Beadle Street. Everyone will have to do what she says now, and doing everything her way will all be for their own good and they will thank her for it.

The residents of Beadle Street just about turn into a lynch mob when they see what bright idea Liz is hatching with them under the bylaw. But the mayor says it’s the law, Liz is within her rights, and they have to obey. He slyly adds that Liz also has the responsibility of solving everyone’s problems as beadle. He appears to be calculating that this will soon have Liz so fed up she will give up being a beadle.

But he has miscalculated. Liz solving residents’ problems goes surprisingly well and she begins to win them over to her side. She sorts out the street tearaway Tony Atkins, which his parents never tried to do and is good at solving neighbourhood disputes. These successes impress the council, the residents begin to take to their beadle, and her fame is growing as a celebrity.

However, as Liz is such a bossyboots, it’s all to easy for it all to go to her head – and it does. Liz is soon acting arrogantly towards Nora and even her own mother. She also neglects her friendship with Nora because the demands of sorting problems is making her too busy for that, and all she cares about is beading Beadle Street.

When Liz goes power mad, the good she does is soon outweighed by the bad. Liz acts like a dictator, imposing unfair rules on the residents, which she posts up for them to see, and fines those who don’t obey.

Among them:

1: Everyone must walk on the left in the street.

2: When meeting the Boss, doff your cap. If you don’t have one, bow or curtsey. When Nora protests against this rule, Liz forces her to sweep the street while wearing a sign that says: “I have disobeyed the boss. I must sweep this street in punishment. Let everyone learn from me!”

3: Every dog must be leashed. Every dog must have a weekly bath. Every dog must have a daily half-hour walk and brush-down afterwards. The Boss is conducting rigorous inspections to make sure this rule is kept, and fines people who fail to do so, regardless of excuse (now what does she do with the money from those fines, anyway?). The people hit back at this rule by lumbering Liz with a litter of eight puppies and say she must obey her own rules in looking after them.

Yes, revenge and backlash are striking back at Liz. On another occasion, it happens when  Liz unwisely makes Tony highwayman at an ambitious street costume party. Tony takes advantage to wreak havoc and Liz gets into big trouble.

But the backlash is too small and piecemeal to make a real dent in Liz’s power. And Liz’s swollen beadle head continues to grow. She actually starts dressing up as a beadle and patrols the street in her beadle costume. This makes her even more of a celebrity and curiosity, and tourists take photos of her. She uses the money from this for more beadle mania, and this time she really goes overboard. She buys beadle runner and beadle servant outfits for Nora and Mum and browbeats them in her usual manner, plus threats of fines, until they agree to wear them. Even worse, she bosses them into painting the house a gaudy gold, which she thinks befits the beadle’s house. Surely even Mr Bumble would be mortified! Liz treats Mum (now forced to do housework in the servant’s outfit) and Nora like slaves, giving them constant orders and having them at her beck and call all the time. What the hell is next – is the Beadle going to bring back the workhouse or something?

Before Liz gets the chance, the residents decide enough is enough and this time they really get together to make a stand. Everyone, including Mum and Nora, empties out of Beadle Street, leaving Liz on her own and nobody to boss around. And they won’t come back as long as Liz stays beadle.

This stance certainly has its effect. It isn’t long before Liz is feeling lonely, miserable, and scared at night. She is also hungry and cold because Mum turned off the gas. It has her ready to give in by the time Nora comes to check up on her, but she is too proud to publicly resign as beadle for that reason because it would mean loss of face.

Nora suggests re-checking the bylaw to see if there is an “out” clause that would enable Liz to quit the beadle job gracefully. They soon find there is one. In fact, if Liz’s enemies had checked the bylaw they could have used it themselves to stop her. A resident may put in an application for cancellation of the beadleship, but the council must hold a vote on it. As Liz can’t put in an application for the cancellation of her own beadleship, she dons a disguise to do so.

You would think the Beadle Street residents would be only too happy to vote to strike Liz down as beadle, but there is a most surprising U-turn from one of the residents, Mrs MacFish. Forgetting what drove her out of Beadle Street, Mrs MacFish starts a campaign to keep Liz as beadle. And Mrs MacFish is such an orator that she soon has the other residents forgetting the bad things and remembering the silver lining, such as Liz the Beadle generating extra custom for the store. So, to make sure everyone votes against her, Liz declares more of those unpopular rules she will impose on Beadle Street.

Liz is quite relieved to not be beadle anymore, just an ordinary girl again. She throws a party to celebrate and renews her friendship with Nora. She is still a big bossyboots though; it’s too much in her nature for her to change there, and she hasn’t really learned not to be such a bulldozer. So when Nora stumbles across “Ye Ancient Right of King of Beadle Street”, she doesn’t say a word to Liz, and hopes that law will stay hidden and forgotten about!

Thoughts

There have been plenty of stories on the evils of “grownups know best”, with what they think they know best being imposed by methods that range from the just plain misguided and narrow to the subversive and even downright abusive. But the message is always that it is totally wrong and choice and free will must not be trampled on in the name of discipline, perfection or whatever. “Dracula’s Daughter“, “Children of Stepford” and “Slave of the Clock” are classic examples.

But here the premise is turned inside out with “kids know best”, which is quite a twist. Liz Green, a mere kid, is just as sincere and adamant that she knows as best as the grown-up meddlers in stories like the ones mentioned above. Yet she turns out to be no better than they are. Although she has her good qualities, most notably in sorting problems, her bossiness and narrow-mindedness in always believing she knows best makes her totally unfit for the job of beadle, especially when she becomes increasingly power mad and her rules and orders become increasingly outrageous and unbearable. Like her grown-up counterparts in “grownups know best” she started out with a degree of well meaning to her intentions, but her intentions became increasingly dark and corrupted as power went to her head. She either has to be brought down entirely or made to wake up in some way.

This time the adults are the ones made to suffer, right alongside the kids. Even Liz’s mother is made to suffer. Mum should give her daughter a jolly good spanking, but Liz always gets her way with Mum because she’s so forceful, and her father, being dead, is not there to have a say, or a belt with him.

It’s not too much of a surprise that Liz does not change all that much in the end; one has gotten the feeling she’s just plain bossy by nature and won’t ever change. Being on her own deflates her power and she finally wants to give up being beadle and go back to the way she was. But she has not really learned her lesson. Although she is pleased to be an ordinary girl again, she does not wake up to how horrible she’s been or really apologise to anyone, and clearly should not be trusted with power.

When reading this story, one is reminded of the words of another (in)famous fictional beadle: “The law is an ass!” Too right, especially if the law is antiquated, has no place in modern society. It should have been struck out years ago and could cause serious, even ridiculous problems if reenacted because the need for that law has long since disappeared.

 

Curtain of Silence (1977)

Sample images

Curtain 1

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Curtain 2

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Curtain 3

Publication: 8/5/77-20/8/77

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

Reprint: Tina Topstrip #52 as Achter het stille gordijn (Behind the Silent Curtain)

Plot
Yvonne Berridge lives for cycling and is a promising champion in the sport. But she is a selfish girl who thinks only of winning. When Yvonne is offered the chance of being reserve on the British team to a cycling tour in Mavronia, an Iron Curtain country, all she thinks about is getting there and winning medals, and does not care about the financial difficulties the trip is causing her family. As Yvonne takes off for Mavronia, her mother gets an awful feeling – which of course proves prophetic.

Meanwhile, the Mavronian cycling star, Olga Marcek, is despairing. Her trainer, Madam Kapelski, is a slave driver who pushes her too hard and gives her no rest, relaxation or fun. And Olga bears a striking resemblance to Yvonne; just a couple of small differences can tell them apart.

There is more prophetic warning when Yvonne arrives in Mavronia. A gypsy woman keeps approaching her with warnings of danger and she must leave quickly. Yvonne is shaken, but her selfishness soon resurfaces.

Yvonne’s arrogance and selfishness do not make her popular with her team-mates. She soon wins successes, but this makes her more arrogant and unpopular. Her arrogance also upsets her trainer, Mr Foster, and it does not go unnoticed by Madam Kapelski either. And she is so caught up in herself that she does not bother to write to her family.

When Yvonne and Olga meet, they are stunned by their near-resemblance to each other, but soon strike up a friendship. Yvonne does not realise that Madam Kapelski instructed Olga to do this; she is taking advantage of Yvonne’s arrogance as she realises Yvonne is the only one who could beat Olga. But Olga has an agenda of her own; she is taking advantage of Yvonne and their resemblance to each other to hatch a plan to escape from Mavronia. But Olga’s plan goes dreadfully wrong when a ship crashes into their boat while they are swapping identity papers.

The accident kills Olga while the shock renders Yvonne mute. So Madam Kapelski takes advantage of Yvonne’s inability to speak and resemblance to Olga. She alters Yvonne’s appearance to look exactly like Olga and forces her to pose as Olga and cycle for Mavronia. Olga’s body is buried in England in Yvonne’s name. Yvonne resists at first, but eventually complies when Madam Kapelski threatens her and Olga’s cousin Tanya (who has discovered the deception) with the dreaded State Home for Children of Dissidents. Tanya warns her not to tell even Olga’s cousin Igor what is going on because people ‘disappear’ in this country – and Madam Kapelski’s brother is in the secret police.

Nevertheless, Yvonne does not give up hope of escape. She refuses to let Madam Kapelski break her will, but Madam Kapelski realises it and becomes equally determined to break Yvonne. This is on top of her regular severity as a trainer that drove Olga too hard. So it is a constant battle of wills between them. Yvonne’s spirit refuses to break, but of course the ordeal is knocking the selfishness and arrogance out of her. She finds that cycling glory, which was all she cared about before, is now leaving her cold because she is getting it the wrong way. And the rebellion keeps fermenting with Igor wanting to rise up and Tanya warning him not to.

Tanya tells Yvonne Olga’s story. The Marcek parents were journalists who participated in a rebellion against the Party and went on the run when it failed. They were betrayed by an informer and then shot and left for dead by soldiers. Olga learned that her mother was rescued, nursed back to health and smuggled out of Mavronia. But by this time Olga was in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. Tanya’s own parents were executed for participating in the rebellion.

Yvonne spots the gypsy woman who tried to warn her before. She and Tanya contrive a plan for escape with the gypsies’ help. But it fails because Madam Kapelski’s police spy, Elsa, gets suspicious.

Then Madam Kapelski takes Yvonne and Tanya to England to participate in a cycling match against the British team. But she has an ulterior motive – use the sight of England and no hope of escape there to break Yvonne entirely. However, people who knew either Yvonne or Olga get suspicious, and this includes Igor. A strange woman in black starts shadowing Yvonne. Then Yvonne’s little brother Andy recognises her.

Tanya and Yvonne tell Andy the truth, but don’t know the room is bugged. So Madam Kapelski kidnaps Andy and holds him at the Mavronian embassy to blackmail Yvonne into winning an event. But the woman in black sees the kidnapping and rescues Andy.

When Madam Kapelski hears this, she panics. She has her goons try to kill Yvonne at the cycling event, but instead the shock of the attack restores Yvonne’s voice. She can now tell everyone what happened, only to find the police have been onto it already – with the help of the woman in black, who is Olga’s mother! Mrs Marcek had suspected Yvonne was not Olga, and her suspicions were confirmed once she talked to Igor.

Madam Kapelski is arrested, and also faces big trouble from the Mavronian government, who did not know about her passing Yvonne off as Olga. Yvonne is reunited with her family, Tanya stays in England with her aunt, and Igor returns to Mavronia to carry on the fight for freedom. The British team hold a party to celebrate Yvonne’s return. Yvonne declares that the returned Yvonne is a better team-mate than the one who went away.

Thoughts

From the moment we read the first episode, we know where this story is going to lead when we see that Yvonne is a selfish girl and the unfortunate Olga Marcek is almost a dead ringer for her. Yes, Yvonne is going to swap places with Olga, and it has something to do with her emerging a changed and better person by the end of the story. It’s just a matter of how the details unfold as the story develops.

There have been plenty of stories about unpleasant girls changing for the better. Sometimes they make poor stories because the change is not handled in a realistic manner. But in this case it is, and the beauty is that it does not come all at once in the story. In the early episodes her selfishness is given free rein and grows as it feeds off her successes while making her increasingly unpopular and causing trouble with her coach. But at the same time both Madam Kapelski and Olga notice it and are taking advantage of it in their different ways. It is the “pride before a fall” approach, with the pride going on an extra high.

Then comes the fall. When it strikes, the ordeal Yvonne goes through is more than a shock to the system. She has a terrible accident, then is kidnapped, held prisoner, forced to cycle in a deception, and frustrated by the loss of her voice and unable to call for help. But there is more; she also becomes victim to state oppression and has to learn to tread carefully if she is to survive. She now thinks of her family, fears she will never see them again, and regrets how she was so thoughtless about them before. And while she cycles as Olga, she now gets what she came to Mavronia – winning medals and receiving cycling glory. But instead of revelling in it as she did before, it leaves her cold. She has what she wanted, but in a manner that makes it undesirable. She finds she has lost her lust for glory and even has to fake it to fool Madam Kapelski. Ironically, the unruliness that was annoying before now becomes true courage as Yvonne refuses to let Madam Kapelski break her and commits acts of defiance.

A slave story where the captor takes advantage of a girl’s inability to speak (or remember her past) to blackmail her into fraud, crime or other subterfuge is a very well-established formula in girls’ comics. But here it is taken even further because it’s not just the usual matter of getting away from the villain and regaining your voice or memory. It’s a matter of getting away from the whole country, which is a repressive, Iron Curtain country where people ‘disappear’, and they get executed or thrown into oppressive institutions designed to provoke fear, as represented in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. It’s a far cry from what Yvonne is used to in the country where she comes from, and Tanya says as much. And there is no respite from the eyes of the state; once Yvonne is forced to impersonate Olga, she finds herself under constant, insidious guard of the state police and learns what it is like to be under Big Brother. And she is now like the people who live in that oppressive state and dream of escape to the West. Except that Yvonne’s case, the West is home.

At the time the story was published, the politics in it were very topical. The Cold War was still strong, the threat of nuclear war was ever-present, the Berlin Wall was still up, and people from the East were constantly trying to find ways to escape to the West. It looks more dated now that the Cold War has ended and the Berlin Wall long since demolished – or is it? The rise of Putin warns that the Cold War could resurface. The Soviet Union may be gone, but cases like Pussy Riot and the Greenpeace 30 show that Russia is still just as intolerant to political dissent as much as it was when this story came out. And there are still oppressive, totalitarian states in the world. So politics may change, but oppression and totalitarianism always persist one way or another.

And people who live under totalitarianism are made to suffer because the state cares little for their welfare. For example, women grumble at the expense paid on the place of sport where Yvonne is to compete, “yet how many of us ever taste meat?” We get to see a bit more of how oppressive this country is once Yvonne herself falls victim to it and finds out what happens to people who rise against it, such as the fate of Olga’s parents, or the children who are put in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. The Home, which seems to be a combination of harsh school and outright prison, would be worthy of a slave story in its own right.

It is the power of the totalitarian state that makes Madam Kapelski such a powerful villain. Girls’ comics have abounded with harsh, demanding coaches who drive their charges too hard and care little for their welfare (“Sheilagh’s Shadow”, June) or villains who kidnap girls and enslave them with sport (“Swim for Your Life, Sari”, Tammy). But few have been backed by the power of a totalitarian state – or at least the threat of it – to force their charges to do what they want. And no doubt it has played a huge role in shaping Madam Kapelski into a brilliant but ruthless coach who demands way too much and permits no rest, relaxation or fun. It is possible that this is how Mavronia itself treats its children. We see echoes of Madam Kapelski’s demanding attitudes in the teaching methods at the State Home for Children of Dissidents; they do not tolerate “slackness” and poor schoolwork means a night in the punishment room. And like the state itself, Madam Kapelski is intolerant; in England, when she hears The Who on the radio, she snarls, “these pop musicians would never be tolerated in Mavronia!” Inwardly, Yvonne retorts, “Don’t tolerate very much at all there, do you, Madam Kapelski?”

Although escape looks hopeless with the constant guard they are under, we know it has to happen. But there are so many threads and possibilities floating around in the strip we don’t know which one it will be. Will it be the gypsies who tried to warn Yvonne? Will it be the people who start to get suspicious when Yvonne is taken back to England? Will it be Yvonne’s mother, who never quite believed her daughter was dead and had premonitions that something awful was going to happen to her in the first place? And what about Olga’s mother, who escaped Mavronia? And how come nobody seems to try the British embassy in Mavronia? Oh, well.

It’s realistic that escape does not happen at once and hopes of escape are constantly dashed. Yvonne falls into despair and tears as each attempt fails, and Madam Kapelski is delighted. Her plan to break Yvonne seems to be working perfectly, and taking her back to England itself would be in her view a masterstroke. A return to England would raise Yvonne’s hopes to their fullest, so they would hit their crushing lowest as they are constantly dashed. But there were things that Madam Kapelski did not count on when she took Yvonne back to England, and this turned her masterstroke into her undoing.