Tag Archives: runaways

Always Together… (1974-75)

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1 March 1975 - final episode

1 March 1975 - final episode
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1 March 1975 - final episode
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Publication: 27 July 1974 – 1 March 1975 (29 episodes)
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: translated into Greek and published in Manina; translated into Dutch and published in Tina.

Synopsis

The story starts with Nell Harvey burying her husband; her 12 year old daughter Jill stands alongside her at the funeral to support her in this grim time. Over the years, Nell works hard at all jobs that come her way, to fulfill her dead husband’s dream of buying a home for them all to live in together. But the constant working at all the job possibilities that comes her way is too much. She disappears, and isn’t seen again for several days – until the local news report that the body of a woman has been found in the river, a woman answering to Nell’s description! The kids have no other relatives and so Jilly, now age 15, is put in the position of primary carer – if the authorities will let her, of course.

Their life in the shadows begins once they realise that the cottage that their mum had put a deposit on is too expensive for them to keep up the payments on, given that their only income would be a paper round or similar odd jobs. Of course they want to stick together – bearing in mind their mother’s prophetic last words to Jill the morning that she disappeared. The question for the rest of the serial is whether they will be able to do this. Firstly they go back to their old lodgings as squatters (the council won’t put them on the list for a council house as they are too young) but it doesn’t take long before a local bully informs the social workers about them. And of course if they are taken into care, it means splitting them up – Jilly, Beth and Johnny all into different children’s homes…

As soon as she turns 16, Jilly is determined to leave school, get a job, and to do what she can for her little family. Presents and treats for them bought with her wages only twist the knife further in the wound when she has to go at the end of the visit. It’s not long before she chucks in her job and comes to get the kids so that they can all run away together – where at least they can be a family again. It does mean living in a cave – a cave that Jilly remembers from stories that their dad told her about, from when he stayed in it many years previously.

At first it is hard for the kids to adjust, and of course there are lots of difficulties to overcome – the weather, finding food, getting money. They find friends – an artist who gives them a meal and sympathy. But if it’s not one thing it’s another – the stream near the cave turns out to be polluted, the kids are chased away from a nearby village for being “thievin’ gypsies”, and Beth still thinks their mother is only “away” rather than drowned and never coming back.

On the plus side, Jilly develops her skill at sketching and starts to sell charcoal drawings at the market, which brings in money – and they make friends with the local gypsies, which means that Johnny can go to the local school, disguised as one of them. But winter is coming and outdoor living is only going to get harder… It’s not the only danger, as Beth has one accident after another (living in a cave is hardly as safe as houses! first she falls down a quarry and later on she gets too close to the fire and is burned!). There are also close shaves with the authorities, who they are constantly afraid of being caught by. There are plenty of strokes of luck – rather implausibly on occasion (for instance the headmaster who bans all the gypsies from the local school, including Johnny of course, until Jilly accidentally knocks the headmaster over with an old pram, saving his life from a large brick that dropped down at just the right time…).

When they meet a local nosey reporter who wants to use them as a human interest story, it seems the game may be up. They manage to outsmart him, but the next challenge is Christmas – which they manage to make much more festive than is entirely likely. It’s a heartwarming sight nevertheless, to see them feasting and making merry in their “little stone palace”, still managing to stay together!

The village sees a visitor who may be positive or negative for them – it is an old friend of their father’s, come to visit his childhood haunts. The little family save him from the inclement weather and grow closer as a result. Close enough that the family friend even offers to take them home – he and his wife have never had children and have always longed to. Could this be a fairy-tale ending? In some stories, yes; but in this one, little Beth has never-ending faith that her mummy will still come home for her – and so the family must stay, for her sake.

Not long after, it comes to an even more heart-tugging ending. Beth is desperately ill and unresponsive to treatment, but a nurse recognizes Beth’s face from a sketch kept by a patient in a local convalescent home. The patient in question lives in a daze and initially doesn’t recognize them, but Jilly and Johnny recognize her – it is indeed their mother! And once she sees little Beth, all is well again.

Thoughts

This is the first Phil Townsend artwork published in Jinty, and it is likewise the first Alison Christie story in these pages too. The combination of these two creators working on heart-tugging stories was clearly popular from the start – this one ran for much longer than the other comparable serials with clear start and end points, such as “Make-Believe Mandy” and “Gwen’s Stolen Glory”. It never had the most prominent position in the story paper – first or second story or a cover spot – but then during most of this period Katie Jinx claimed the lead spot by right.

The tear-jerking element is very effective; by the end of the story even I was ready to wipe away a tear or two. The characters struggle with extreme poverty and the things that often come with it – ill-health, envy at others’ possessions, irregular schooling and even irregular heating and eating. The threat of official condemnation and sanctions is always close, with officialdom breathing down their necks. The length of the story suggests to me that it probably was spun out a little longer than it might otherwise have been, due to its popularity – I think some of the accidents towards the end are arguably a little forced and may betray a story that was getting a little over-stretched. Having said that, I think this is probably also an impression received from reading the whole story in one sitting, which is not the experience that the original readers would have had of the story on first publication. I wonder if any of the reprints or translations trimmed the length of it at all?

I quibble with the ending. Is it realistic that the mother should have been lying in a convalescent home for all that time, only to be found just at the right point to save little Beth’s life? Well, no – not that realism is the be-all and the end-all, I appreciate, but I do feel it stretches credulity a little far. The decision to turn down an adoption into the possible new life in Canada is pretty poignant though, and that could not have worked without another, happier ending just round the corner, so I can certainly see the point of the eventual ending.

There is quite a bit of overlap with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, which was written and drawn by the same team some years later (published in 1978-79). “Rainbow” is also very long (36 episodes, so even longer than “Always Together…”). The orphaned family in the later story is not quite as large – there are two children rather than three, and the eldest is not as old as Jilly’s sixteen – but once again their father dies off-camera and their mother is shown much more close-up (though not for long), and the children decide they must keep together come what may. There are also more adventures in the latter story, partly due to the wartime setting and partly because the children do more travelling – from England to Scotland. The scenes where the protagonists squat in a pillbox during the depths of winter are particularly reminiscent of similar wintry scenes in “Always Together…”, though. To my mind, “Rainbow” has the slight edge on “Always Together…” in terms of giving us an ending that is both neater and (slightly) more plausible. I realise however that may just be because I have more childhood memories of reading the later story, and living it as it happened.

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For Peter’s Sake! (1976)

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Publication: 13 March 1976 – 31 July 1976

Artist: Ana Rodriguez

Writer: Unknown – but see “Thoughts”.

Update: My “thoughts” were correct – Alison Christie (now Fitt) wrote this story.

Summary

In pre-WWII Britain, Corrie and Dawn Lomax are delighted when they are presented with a baby brother, Peter. But then disaster strikes. First, Mr Lomax dies in a work accident. Then Peter falls ill. Peter’s illness is resisting effective diagnosis or cure, and he has to be treated as an outpatient because the hospital is short of beds. To add to the Lomax household stresses, money is tight (bread and dripping for tea every night now), and Mrs Lomax has no time for Corrie and Dawn. So Mrs Lomax accepts an invitation to send Corrie to Granny Mackie in Drumloan, Scotland, where Corrie can receive motherly attention.

Granny has a pram called Old Peg. She uses Old Peg for community work (carting soup, delivering mail, laundry and other uses). But what is really strange is that Old Peg also has a reputation in the community for possessing curative powers for infants. Any sick infant rocked in Old Peg seems to recover immediately. Corrie’s mother has always been sceptical about this, but Corrie and Granny believe Old Peg will do the same for Peter if only they can get the two together.

Then Granny dies. Corrie finds a note in Old Peg saying “Push it to Peter”, and the pram is equipped for a long journey. So Corrie begins a long journey of pushing Old Peg all the way from Scotland to Peter in London, sleeping in her at night, and having all sorts of adventures, mishaps and dangers on the way. She also has to keep ahead of the law, as she has been reported missing in Drumloan.

Corrie’s first misadventure is falling foul of tinkers. They pretend to hide her from the police, but then blackmail her into slaving for them. She escapes by pretending to have a game with Peg and their children, and then shooting off down a slope.

Unfortunately Corrie lost her tin opener to the tinkers and she is hungry. She finds some escaped chickens. She rounds them up and a girl at the farm gratefully gives her a meal. But the girl’s father, who is a bully, takes a dimmer view of her and throws her out.

Another problem arises when Peg loses a wheel. Corrie takes her for repairs, but the man recognises her as the missing girl and calls the police. Corrie makes a fast exit, with Peg still unrepaired. She rescues a boy from drowning and his grateful family repair Peg. And they do not turn her in when a policeman knocks.

Corrie is off again, but she has run out of food and money. She tries to find work at a village, but people turn her away and one woman cheats her because they think she is a tinker. Eventually Corrie and Peg stumble into a circus where the folk are far kinder. They pay Corrie well, and Corrie and Peg are even part of a circus act. But the circus is going north and Corrie needs to go south. It’s back to pushing Peg again.

While sleeping in Old Peg, Corrie takes a drenching in the rain. As a result, she develops pneumonia. She makes it to a house before she collapses. She is taken to hospital, where she is recognised as the runaway girl. Once she recovers, the doctor is going to take her back to Drumloan. But then he discovers what she is trying to do. He takes pity on her and gives her a train ticket to London. Unfortunately, Corrie discovers that Peg is not allowed to travel free and she has no money to cover the extra cost. She discards the ticket, but it is picked up by a woman who does need it, and she pays Corrie half fare.

But Corrie is now back to pushing Peg, and she has not recovered enough from the pneumonia. She takes a rest in the park and is feeling depressed. A Salvation Army officer gives her one of their news sheets. There is an item about Peter, which says he is still sick and Mum is taking him to the seaside in the hope of a cure. This renews Corrie’s strength to get Peg to London.

Another thing is worrying Corrie – how to write to Mum, who thinks she is still in Drumloan and will be surprised to see a different postmark. Then she bumps into an old woman, Jessie, who happens to be an old friend of Gran’s. Corrie confides in Jessie, who helps her with a cover story for writing to Mum. Jessie also gives Corrie new supplies, including the beeswax polish that is always used for Peg.

However, a new problem strikes – blistered feet because Corrie’s boots have worn through and need repair. While Corrie bathes her feet, a gypsy woman comes along with a sick baby. Her medicine does not work, but Old Peg’s magic touch soon has the baby better. The grateful gypsies help Corrie out in a number of ways, including repairing her boots and hooking Old Peg to their wagon so Corrie can ride in her for a while and rest her feet.

Soon it is back to pushing Peg. Corrie takes a rest in a park when some schoolgirls take an interest in Peg and start sketching her. But one gets suspicious that Corrie is not in school and calls social welfare. When a social welfare officer finds Corrie sleeping in Old Peg, he wheels her to a children’s home. It has the feel of a prison, with locked gates, uniforms and a detention room with a barred window. Corrie tells them her story in the hope of help, but they do not believe her. Corrie finds herself falling foul of the strict matron and a blackmailer while boisterous children bounce in Peg (and keep getting tipped out every time they do it). Corrie manages to escape the home with Peg, but the police are alerted immediately. She manages to evade them with the aid of old clothes someone throws into her pram, but now the police search for her intensifies.

At the next town, Corrie calls in at a house to get water for her hot water bottle. The people are kind to Corrie, but she soon finds it is pretence. They are antique collectors who are after Peg. Corrie has to do a bit of breaking and entering to get Peg back.

Corrie and Peg do another family a good turn, and as a reward they give them a lift to London. But when Corrie arrives in London, she finds her family has shifted to a place nearer the hospital. While trying to find them, she comes across a headstone which looks like Peter’s. It turns out to be coincidence, but the shock has her running out into a road and being hit by a car. Mrs Lomax then finds Corrie. Corrie only has minor injuries and is soon discharged to her new address and reunited with her family.

Now it is time to rock Peter in Old Peg. But Corrie is surprised and disappointed when it does not have the curative effect that it had on other babies; Peter remains as sick as ever. Mrs Lomax explains that Peter is dying. His only chance is an American clinic, but she does not have the money for it.

Feeling Old Peg has let her down, Corrie shoves her down the road in a fit of pique. The crash rips the mattress in Old Peg, revealing that Granny had sewn her life savings into it. There is over £300, so now the Lomaxes can afford Peter’s treatment in America. Soon Corrie and Dawn, together with Peg, see Mum and Peter off on the plane. Then Corrie finds herself surrounded by reporters who want the full story of her trek from Scotland with Peg. She tells them that Peg will be giving Peter a victory rock when he comes home cured. And of course he does.

Thoughts

The writer is not known, but there are clues as to who it may be. “For Peter’s Sake!” bears some strong similarities to a 1983 Tammy story, “Room for Rosie”. Both stories feature an old boneshaker of a pram that is a real workhorse and famous in the locality for community work. Both are owned by grandmothers who bequeath them to their granddaughters upon their deathbeds and charge them with a special mission for it. Towards the end it looks as if the granddaughters have failed in those missions despite all their efforts, and they are heartbroken. But an unexpected turn of events at the last minute changes everything and ensures a happy ending.

As Tammy was running credits at this stage, we know that Alison Christie wrote Rosie. Did Christie write “For Peter’s Sake!” as well? The stories Christie was credited with indicate she specialised in emotional, heart-warming, tear-jerking stories, and this story certainly is one. Analysis of Christie’s other credited serials in Tammy (“A Gran for the Gregorys”, “Cassie’s Coach” and “It’s a Dog’s Life!”) also imply that Christie liked to end her serials with a surprise last-minute turn of events that turns a moment of black despair into a happy ending. And this is precisely how Peter’s story turns out happily…hmm. We cannot credit this story to Alison Christie without confirmation, but we would not put it past her.

Update: Alison Christie (now Fitt) has now confirmed that she wrote this story.

Stories about missions of mercy were always popular in girls’ comics. And when it’s a baby that needs saving, you can’t miss with winning the hearts of readers. We’ve also got fugitive elements, right down to a prison escape with the children’s home segment, adventure and adversity, life-threatening situations, people and situations in all shapes and sizes on Corrie’s long journey, and even a hint of the supernatural with Peg’s supposed curative powers for babies. There’s something for everyone in this story.

The conclusion has a surprise twist that does give us our happy ending – but it does not come in the way we expected and leaves things to our imaginations. We are left wondering as to why Peg’s curative power not work on Peter when it seemed to work on every other baby that was rocked in her. Was there something to Mrs Lomax’s scepticism about Peg’s curative powers after all? Was Peter’s illness beyond even the power of Peg to cure? Or was the cure withheld because something better (the money) was planned? The money not only saves Peter but helps ease the Lomaxes’ financial burdens following the death of Mr Lomax. Whatever the answer, it is a brilliant piece of plotting that gives the happy ending while avoiding trite clichés and schmaltz, and it leaves the readers wondering what statement the writer was trying to make with it.

 

 

Bound for Botany Bay (1976)

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Publication: 31 January 1976-5 June 1976
Artist: Roy Newby
Writer: Unknown

Summary
In the early 19th century, Betsy Tanner is the daughter of a farm labourer, but has dreams of being a famous artist. In a school inspection, this draws the scorn of Lady de Mortimer, who says Betsy is too old for school, although Betsy is a star pupil and clearly an artistic genius, and should work in her kitchens. Later, Betsy’s father forbids her to take the job: “No! She treats her servants worse than slaves.” Lady de Mortimer is a cruel, spiteful woman and, as we shall see, it runs in her family. And Betsy will soon discover that the classroom encounter is just the beginning of Lady de Mortimer’s persecution of her that will go all the way to the other side of the globe and the end of the story.

Fallout from the Napoleonic wars has led to economic hardship for England, and this leads to Mr Tanner being laid off. The threat of starvation has him unwisely turning to poaching from Lord de Mortimer and he gets seven years’ transportation in Botany Bay. Betsy promises him she will join him.

Lady de Mortimer has Betsy evicted because she is the daughter of a convict. Nobody will employ Betsy for the same reason and hunger drives her to steal a loaf of bread. She gets caught, but part of her welcomes it because transportation means she has a chance of finding her father. But she is sentenced to death instead for helping another prisoner, a gypsy called Liz escape, and a beadle gets assaulted in the process.

Fortunately for Betsy, Liz’s gypsy tribe knows Philip Cartwright, the editor of a powerful newspaper. Mr Cartwright uses his editorial power to start a petition, which has the sentence commuted to transportation (it also has Lady de Mortimer encountering some very angry people who pelt her!). Before Betsy departs, Mr Cartwright gives her some art materials as a parting gift.

However, Betsy is warned “you’ll be lucky if you get to Botany Bay alive!” And Lady de Mortimer is making certain of this by giving special orders to the captain to be extremely harsh with Betsy, whom she deems a troublemaker and a desperate case. She also gives orders for special letters to be delivered to her Australian cousin, the Honourable Adeline Wortley. Betsy survives the voyage through courage, wits, kindness and, and resourcefulness with her artwork, such as doing people’s sketches in exchange for things, and her determination to find her father.

During the voyage, another convict, Judy, throws herself overboard when she is wrongly accused of stealing a necklace from paying passenger Miss Braithwaite (the real thief was her maid). Betsy throws her a barrel in the hope of it being a life-preserver. The captain does not bother to rescue Judy. But in the panel (below) where Judy throws herself overboard, there is another ship sailing not far behind. Hmmm….

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Upon arrival, Betsy becomes bonded to Lady de Mortimer’s equally cruel cousin, Miss Wortley (as per instructions in the aforementioned letters). Miss Wortley takes great pleasure in inflicting harsh punishments on Betsy to break the “wickedness” of the girl who she labels a dangerous convict and a desperate case. These include confiscating her art supplies, forcing her to work in the hot sun until she collapses from sunstroke, and locking her in a dark cupboard. Miss Wortley treats her other servants, Miss O’Flaherty, and an Aborigine girl named Mary (a slave who was bought by Miss Wortley) just as badly. Eventually Betsy and Mary run off, along with the art supplies. As Betsy makes ready to escape, she learns that a Judge Denver is married to Miss Wortley’s sister (who is another nasty piece of work). Miss Wortley hates Judge Denver because he is a humanitarian and also, he recently rescued Betsy from one of her tortures.

When Miss Wortley discovers the escape, she is furious and means to drag the girls back in chains. And so the hunt for Mary and Betsy begins. The pursuit includes redcoats and an Aborigine tracker, Kangaroo Joe. Joe finds the girls but decides to help them by faking their deaths. The ruse works and the search is called off.

Betsy has also been making enquiries about her father and gets some leads. From the sound of them, he has also escaped and on the run. Unfortunately the trail has them falling foul of another nasty rich lady, Mrs Mallaquin. Mrs Mallaquin kidnaps escaped convicts and makes them slave in an opal mine. Betsy discovers her father fell foul of Mrs Mallaquin too, but escaped the mine. When Mrs Mallaquin discovers Betsy is his daughter, she takes revenge by trying to kill Betsy and Mary in the mine with an explosion. But they not only escape but finish the racket by sealing the entrance to the mine and removing the guards’ weapons to ensure the other prisoners can now escape.

They then find Mr Tanner. Mr Tanner tells them he has found gold, and Mary has some opals from the mine to add to the savings. Mr Tanner uses it to buy a farm, under the assumed name of Johnny Flynn. Everything goes well until Miss Wortley catches up with Betsy and drags her back. Mr Tanner and Mary go to the rescue.

Miss Wortley stops at an inn, and Betsy is bound and locked in the attic. But when she looks out the window, she is surprised to see Judy! It turns out that the barrel did save Judy after all. It kept her afloat until she was picked up by a trading schooner (aha!), married the skipper, and is now doing well. Once Betsy alerts Judy to her situation, Judy helps her escape.

Betsy makes her way back home, but then finds her father and Mary have gone after her. So she goes after them, and meets up with Mary. They head off to Miss Wortley’s to find Mr Tanner. Meanwhile, Mr Tanner gets a job at Miss Wortley’s under an assumed name – but is then shocked to see Lady de Mortimer arrive! Lady de Mortimer recognises him and gives chase. Mary and Betsy save him and they head off on horseback. They meet up with an Aborigine tribe who disguise Betsy and her father as Aborigines. But Mr Tanner realises that they cannot keep running forever, and they cannot lead normal lives because they are escaped convicts.

Then a bush fire starts. The people of Port Jackson (where Miss Wortley lives), will be caught napping, so Betsy and her father head back to warn them, although they will be risking recapture. Judge Denver listens to their warnings, and the Tanners lead a fire brigade to put out the fire.

Afterwards, Miss Wortley has the Tanners arrested as escaped convicts. She tells the authorities that Judge Denver ordered them (he did not) to receive the sentence for escaped convicts and slaves – fifty lashes. Lady de Mortimer herself is eager to watch: “villains must never get the upper hand.”

But Judge Denver rescues them in the nick of time. He has just been elected governor, so he has the power to grant the Tanners free pardons, and he does so for saving the town from the fire. He then frees Mary by buying her off Miss Wortley: “Take [the money] or I’ll make life in Port Jackson most uncomfortable for you, sister-in-law!” Miss Wortley has no choice: “Even that old dragon won’t cross swords with the new governor,” Denver gleefully tells the Tanners.

The Tanners can now return to their farm as free people and they legally adopt Mary. Betsy is now free to pursue her art career as well, and Judge Denver gives her a good start – painting for his official residence.

Thoughts
The Jinty & Lindy merger seemed to be big on period stories that commented on the harshness, cruelties, and exploitations of previous centuries. This story follows straight on the heels of another Roy Newby story, “Slaves of the Candle”, which deals with a Victorian racket where girls are kept locked in a basement room to make candles. Others included “Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud” (cruelties of Victorian domestic service) and “Bridey below the Breadline” (aftermath of the Great Fire of London). This may have been a carryover of Lindy, which seemed to have an emphasis on such stories. Two examples were “Nina Nimble Fingers” and “Poor Law Polly” – both of which were drawn by Newby.

Convicts. Now, normally when strips discuss convicts, they are either escaped criminals or wrongly convicted people. But here the people did commit the crimes they were convicted of. Yet they were not bad people, black hearted villains or dangerous criminals that the judiciary and gentry label them. They were victims of circumstance, poverty, discrimination, working class oppression, and 19th century law which inflicted harsh punishments for even minor offences and had little tolerance for mitigating circumstances. The Tanners are driven to crime by the threat of starvation inflicted by harsh people and economic times. Liz is driven to stealing the watch that landed her in gaol because nobody would give her a job because she was a gypsy. Judy was convicted of robbery, has a more violent streak, and her tendency to bully and lash out at the other convicts does not make her popular with them. To be fair, though, she would be traumatised by the loss of her sister (to the gallows) and now transportation. And she mellows when Betsy shows her kindness (getting medical aid when Judy is flogged) and then throwing her the barrel that saves her from drowning. When we see Judy again, she is barely recognisable as the snappy sourpuss she was on the convict ship. She is wearing fine clothes, happily married, and has a far more cheerful disposition.

The real villains are the people who keep labelling the Tanners and other convicts as such. Lady de Mortimer, Miss Wortley and her sister, the gaolers, the captain of the convict ship, the Beadle, Mrs Mallaquin and Miss Braithwaite – all of them are cruel, unfeeling, bullying people who get away with cruelty and exploitation because of their high positions in society. And they are all hypocrites; they label the Tanners and other convicts evil, black hearted villains, but they are the ones who are black hearted and evil, and take delight in inflicting their cruelty in the name of self-righteousness and morality on the people labelled convicts.

Jinty sure was making a big statement on the inequities that arise from class distinction as the harshness of 19th century law with this story. But it goes further; Jinty makes strong social commentary on humanitarianism and reformists and 19th century issues. In prison, Betsy does not just want hope of a reprieve – she wants improvements in the prison system and gives Mr Cartwright sketches of the prison conditions to help. It so happens that Mr Cartwright is a friend of 19th century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, so Betsy’s pictures will indeed be a big bonus in the campaign for prison reform. We also see condemnation of slavery: Miss Wortley bought Mary, so she is a real slave; once the convicts arrive in Botany Bay, Betsy is informed that they will become slaves all but in name, and the way she is bonded to Miss Wortley is akin to slavery; Mr Tanner compares Lady de Mortimer’s treatment of her servants to slavery. And finally, there is comment on the evils of racism, which would have been more endemic for the times. Liz cannot get a job because she is a gypsy, and Mary becomes a slave because she is coloured.

But of course all these injustices are never allowed to triumph altogether in this story. Courage, resourcefulness and kindness always win through one way or another and the oppressed people in this story always seem to get laugh one way or another. Liz was sentenced to hang for being a gypsy as much as a thief – but she got away in the end. Judy threw herself overboard when Miss Braithwaite’s maid had her carry the can over the stolen necklace – but she triumphed by surviving long enough to be picked up and ending up in a good marriage. Betsy suffered torture after torture through the machinations of Lady de Mortimer and her various agents, but she never allowed Lady de Mortimer to break her spirit. She always survived and slipped through the net somehow, and in the end she won her freedom while Lady de Mortimer and Miss Worley walk away defeated and furious. And Judge Denver, the only one to show any kindness in the family he married into, gets the last laugh as well over them. He becomes governor, and in a position where he is in a position to teach his nasty sister-in-law and her cousin a lesson.

Like you said, Lady de Mortimer – villains must never get the upper hand!

Girl in a Bubble (1976)

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Publication: 18 September 1976-11 December 1976

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

Four years ago Helen Ryan was diagnosed as having no resistance to germs. Since then, she has lived in a plastic bubble at Blackheath House under the care of Miss Vaal. Miss Vaal is always making notes in her black book and Helen wonders what is in that book. In all those four years, Helen’s parents have never visited, nor has Helen had any company except Miss Vaal and the nursing staff. Painting is one of the few things Helen is allowed to do, but Miss Vaal never shows Helen’s pictures to anyone either.

Helen feels fine now and longs to come out of the bubble or at least have some company. Miss Vaal brings in a group of girls to visit Helen, but they just tease and torment her. Unbeknown to Helen, Miss Vaal paid them to do so in the hope that Helen will become too frightened to seek company anymore. However, one of the girls, Linda Siggs, regrets what she did and sneaks back to Helen. She thinks it is daft for Helen to live in a bubble and encourages Helen to come out.

When Helen emerges, she does not die immediately from germs as Miss Vaal said. There are no ill effects at all. Helen comes to Linda’s school, where she paints a picture, “The Bubble People” (her imaginary friends while she was in the bubble). The teacher, Miss Williams, is struck by how talented Helen is and invites Helen to an after-school art class. Helen accepts with alacrity. Helen then goes back to the bubble and asks Linda to let her out again the next day.

However, Helen has not noticed there is a flower stuck in her hair, which alerts Miss Vaal to what she has done. She punishes Helen by enclosing her in darkness for two days without food. This punishment is meant to break Helen’s spirit and discourage her from wanting to leave the bubble again. And Linda’s bid to release Helen again comes unstuck when she is waylaid by the police. So Helen lets herself out, something she never had the nerve to do, and goes off to her art class. Helen is alarmed when she finds Miss Williams has a cold, and she believes she has no germ resistance. This has the other girls teasing her, including a jealous girl called Nina, and Helen runs off. She bumps into Linda, who has been released by the police. Linda, who does not believe there is anything wrong with Helen, persuades her not to go back to the bubble. When Miss Vaal finds out Helen has gone, she says there will be terrible consequences, and will deal with Helen harshly.

Helen goes back to Miss Williams, but the other girls still cause trouble. When Helen leaves, she is caught by the police, whom Miss Vaal called in. Miss Williams tries to rescue Helen, but the head, prompted by nasty Nina, tells the police to take Helen. However, Helen escapes the police with Linda’s help.

They sneak to Blackheath House to get hold of the black book to find out why Miss Vaal keeps Helen in the bubble. In Miss Vaal’s office, Helen is shocked to discover Miss Vaal had been spying on her in the bubble via a two way mirror. They find the book, which reveals that Helen’s immune system recovered three years back (the doctor must have misdiagnosed Helen and she in fact only had weakened resistance). The reason Miss Vaal has kept Helen in the bubble since then was to compile evidence for a report on how being cut off from the outside world affects a human. They realise Miss Vaal is insane and quickly leave, taking the book with them as evidence. Then Miss Vaal catches Linda, and Helen volunteers to return so Miss Vaal will release Linda. Linda goes back to tell Miss Williams what is going on. Miss Williams makes arrangements with Miss Vaal to go and see Helen. But Miss Vaal injects Helen with a drug to make her pretend she is happy with Miss Vaal. Miss Williams is fooled.

When Helen recovers from the drug, she escapes from the bubble with the aid of the black book – and for once it is Miss Vaal who is shut in the bubble! But Helen had to leave the black book behind in the bubble. And Miss Vaal warns her that she will come crawling back to the bubble because there is nothing else for her. Hmm, now what can Miss Vaal mean by that?

However, Helen finds Miss Williams and this time she succeeds in convincing her. Miss Williams persuades Helen to go and see her parents about the matter, and Linda comes too. Helen also finds a book has been written that is based on her Bubble People picture; it just needs her parents’ signature to say it is unaided.

Once they arrive, Linda takes off, feeling she is no longer needed – big mistake, as it turns out Helen still needs help. Unknown to Helen, there is another girl at her parents’ house who looks like her and is called Helen too.

Helen sees her father and tries to tell him she has recovered. But he treats her like a stranger and slams the door in her face. Then she sees the other Helen and realises her parents got another girl (a foster girl) to take her place. Helen then recalls what Miss Vaal said when she escaped, and wonders if this is what she meant. Meanwhile, Dad phones Miss Vaal; he did not believe Helen’s claims that she has recovered and is angry at Miss Vaal for the escape. We learn that Mrs Ryan had a bad breakdown following Helen’s incarceration. The foster-Helen is meant to keep Mrs Ryan happy and Dad does not want the real Helen to spoil things.

The police get back on Helen’s tail, and then she is spotted by her mother and foster-Helen. Mrs Ryan recognises Helen and embraces her. Helen tells her mother she has recovered, but the police say that Helen is an escaped patient who has imagined it all. Then Dad catches up and has Helen returned to the bubble. Helen finds that Miss Vaal has put in extra security, including a lock on the bubble door, to stop her escaping again.

Meanwhile, Mrs Ryan confronts her husband about what he has done. He justifies his actions as a clean break his wife needed because of her breakdown. Mrs Ryan does not look impressed. Moreover, she and foster-Helen are more inclined to believe Helen’s claims of recovery, but Mr Ryan does not listen. Then Miss Williams turns up over Helen’s book and her failed appointment with the publisher. When she hears what happened, she tells Mr Ryan that she is surprised at his attitude. She then tells them that Miss Vaal is insane and means to keep Helen imprisoned. She points out that Helen has been out of the bubble with no ill effects, which does support her claims of recovery. She also challenges Mr Ryan if he finds it more convenient to forget about Helen. This gets through to Mr Ryan and they all race off to Blackheath House to rescue Helen.

At Blackheath House, Helen tries to scare Miss Vaal into releasing her, but it backfires. Instead, Miss Vaal turns off the air supply to suffocate Helen in the bubble. The bubble collapses, but Helen escapes with the aid of a knife she used for sharpening pencils. Miss Vaal finds Helen has escaped and is in the middle of angrily assaulting her when the family arrive and catch her in the act. Miss Vaal is arrested, and Mr Ryan apologises to his daughter. They are now a reunited family and Helen has a sister as well (also named Helen – well, they will have to sort that one out). Helen catches up with Linda and asks her to come on holiday with them. Helen’s book is published and is making her famous.

Thoughts

“Girl in a Bubble” is no doubt one of Jinty’s most insidious, disturbing and frightening stories. It is all the more frightening because we know it is based on real life. In the days before bone marrow transplants, people with no resistance to germs really were encased in sterile plastic bubbles like this. The most famous case was David Vetter, “The Bubble Boy”, who had been confined to a plastic bubble since birth. The emotional and psychological effects on him were painted in a far rosier light in the media than they actually were. David eventually died because a bone marrow transplant had not been screened properly.

The blurb says that this story is eerie, and the moment we see Helen in the plastic bubble, we know immediately that the story will deliver on that. We have seen girls imprisoned in dungeons, prison cells, workhouses etc often enough – but plastic bubbles? That is not something you see every day except in science fiction films or medical programmes. It is no wonder that the girls who see Helen in the bubble find it weird and freaky. Those plastic gloves attached to the bubble that are used to deliver things to Helen – ugh, that really creeps you out! And then, when Helen discovers the two-way mirror which enables Miss Vaal to spy on her from her office, that really makes your skin crawl.

Even where real life bubble people were loved, they would suffer psychologically as a result of their isolation. So we can imagine the effects on Helen, who is being kept in deliberately isolated conditions and then inflicted with harsh treatment to keep her under control once she demands freedom. Her only friends are the imaginary Bubble People (who are sadly underdeveloped and only seen once, in Helen’s painting). Once Helen escapes from the bubble, we can see the effects the isolation has had on her. For example, she cannot paint a picture while the other girls are crowding around because she is so used to doing it alone. She does not have the tools to stand up to the girls who tease her either, and she bursts into tears. On the other hand, her confidence begins to grow as well. She could have left the bubble at any time but was too scared too. Then, after she is encouraged to do so once, desperation is strong enough for her to find the courage to release herself. It is also fortunate that there must have been some lapses in Miss Vaal’s vigil; she failed to spot Helen escaping on either occasion, despite the two-way mirror. Maybe she was too busy poring over her black book to notice?

Once we find out why the parents have not visited Helen in four years, we are deeply shocked at Mr Ryan’s conduct. He virtually abandoned Helen to her fate in order to spare his wife’s feelings? All right, so he would not want his wife to have another breakdown. And he probably did feel guilty about Helen – after all, it was Miss Williams’ sting at his conscience that finally galvanised him into action. Besides, we would not put it past Miss Vaal to pull a few dirty tricks to stop the Ryan parents visiting. Even so, his irresponsible, neglectful conduct is appalling. Moreover, he virtually threw Helen right back into the bubble – was it because he was really concerned about her life or was it to protect the cosy shell he had built around his wife? Or was he feeling embarrassed over his guilty conscience? Whatever he was thinking, he unwittingly condemned Helen to near-death when Miss Vaal tries to kill her.

Bubble 5

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The scenes (above) where Helen struggles to breathe and escape the plastic walls which are now collapsing in on her are truly terrifying. Everyone knows that plastic can suffocate you, and Helen finds the very experience of the plastic clinging to her horrible. Fortunately, another lapse in Miss Vaal’s vigilance – not removing the sharpening knife – came to the rescue. But the true rescue must go to Linda and Miss Williams, the only two people to show real common sense and perspective in this entire story. Linda showed it most of all when she said the bubble was daft and Helen did not need it – but little did she know how right she was there, or in encouraging Helen to come out of the bubble.

 

 

 

Song of the Fir Tree (1975-6)

Sample Images

Fir Tree 1

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Fir Tree 2

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Fir Tree 3

Publication: 6 September 1975-31 January 1976
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Unknown
Summary
Solveig Amundsen and her brother Per are two Norwegian children who are prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. They and their mother (now dead) have been sent there by Grendelsen, a rich and powerful man whom Mrs Amundsen accidentally found out was a traitor who had betrayed their Resistance group. Solveig draws strength from the resolution that they will return to their home with the big fir tree and the song their mother used to sing, “The Song of the Fir Tree” – hence the title. She is also determined to return to Norway and expose Grendelsen, as she and her brother are the only ones who know what he has done. (As the story develops, one gathers that Grendelsen is regarded as a respectable man and there are no suspicions that he is a Nazi collaborator.)

From the outset, Solveig proves the stronger one, with spirit, strength and determination to survive and make it back home, while Per has a weaker constitution. He is more prone to illness, demoralisation and almost succumbs to the camp conditions. He needs constant buoying up physically and mentally, and he would never survive without his sister.

The end of the war comes and the Allies liberate the camp. But Solveig recognises Grendelsen among the Norwegian officials who have come to collect them. Realising he has come to silence them, Solveig and Per go on the run, with Grendelsen in relentless pursuit. And Grendelsen soon proves he knows what he is doing in tracking people (and Solveig and Per never think to cover their tracks), and is very clever at tricking the authorities into helping him. And so the stage is set for a fugitive story going all the way from Germany to Norway, and all the assorted adventures, betrayals, misfortunes, lucky breaks, helpers and enemies the two children encounter along the way as they run for their lives. And all the while Solveig sings the song of the fir tree to keep her brother’s spirits up.

As the story progresses, another man joins the hunt for Solveig and Per – their father, Captain Amundsen. Captain Amundsen has returned from the war, discovered his children are alive, and is trying to catch up with them. He finds out about Grendelsen’s manhunt, and Grendelsen discovers the father is also searching. So it is a three-way journey and hunt, with Grendelsen and Captain Amundsen coming close to each other as they both search for the children, with the father constantly coming tantalisingly close to his children. However, the children’s constant attempts to evade Grendelsen also mean that their father constantly misses them. Each time Captain Amundsen comes close, he finds they have just taken off because of Grendelsen or whatever, which is heartbreaking and frustrating for the poor father and the reader. His biggest heartbreak comes when it looks like Grendelsen has finally killed the children by setting them adrift in a derelict boat and left it to sink. He does not know the children were rescued in the nick of time. He heads home for Norway, vowing to make Grendelsen pay.

Along the way, the children also become entwined in the fates of the sadistic Sergeant Strang and their fellow inmate Rachel Brodsky, the two concentration camp characters introduced in the first episode (above). The first occurs when the children go on a path that a local warns leads to a bad place rumoured to be haunted – haunted by Holocaust victims apparently, because the bad place turns out to be an abandoned concentration camp. The children take shelter in it anyway, not realising that Strang is doing the same thing.

We see that Strang has fallen a long way down from the hulky bullying Nazi with the whip and vicious dog. Forced into hiding from the Allies, he is now living rough, ragged and scared. Also, his mental state has deteriorated, exposing the coward he really is – or maybe a guilty conscience, as Grendelsen suspects? Strang even believes the voices he hears (Solveig and Per) are the ghosts of the people who died in the camp. It gets even worse for Strang when Grendelsen shows up (he would) and gets Strang to help him. Strang ends up breaking his leg and Grendelsen abandons him: “Then that’s your hard luck!” Fortunately for Strang, a more decent man is about – Captain Amundsen, who gets help for him. So Strang is not left to die a slow, painful death, but his final fate afterwards is not revealed. The story turns back to Captain Amundsen, whose quest to catch up with his children and Grendelsen has failed yet again.

The second occurs towards the end of the story. The children bump into Rachel, who is trying to get to Palestine. But she is doing it illegally with the help of an underground group because Palestine will not take any more immigrants (the strongest inference to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in this story).  Grendelsen stumbles across them and holds all three at gunpoint – something he has been doing several times already, but the children always escape with the help of a rescuer. And this is no exception; the smugglers arrive and rescue the children. Rachel is soon on her way to Palestine, but Grendelsen has the authorities arrest Per and Solveig for helping illegal immigrants. However, the children escape once more with connivance from a sympathetic soldier (the only one who shows any good sense in this story – for the most part, authority figures think Grendelsen is the one to believe).

Of course it all comes to a head when the paths of all three parties finally meet. It happens at a port, where Solveig and Per try to catch a boat to Norway. Grendelsen arrives with the idea of stealing a boat, corners the children and holds them at gunpoint – again. He does the same with Captain Amundsen, who has (by fluke) arrived at the same spot. But then a bolt of lightning sends a tree toppling over Grendelsen, which kills him. And the tree is…a fir tree. Yep. After that it’s a happy reunion and return to their home with the big fir tree.

Thoughts
For some reason World War II stories were very rare in Jinty. The only other Jinty serials with this theme were “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (1978) and “Daddy’s Darling” (1975), which were also drawn by Phil Townsend. Perhaps Jinty’s emphasis on science fiction, fantasy and sport became so strong that other themes fell by the wayside? It is noteworthy that “Daddy’s Darling” also appeared in 1975, at the time when Jinty was still following Tammy’s lead in producing serials that focused on darkness, cruelty, hardship and raw emotion to tug at your heartstrings.

And this is what the story clearly sets out to do. The cover says: “They must escape – or die! A story to tug at your heart.” And it must have done, because this serial ran for five months!

“Song of the Fir Tree” had a mix of the usual three-page spreads and two page spreads throughout its run. This is very unusual. Occasionally an episode was reduced to two pages if space demanded it, or increased to four or even six if there was pressure to finish it quickly. Sometimes a story was reduced from three pages to two, as was the case in “The Secret of Trebaran” from Tammy. But what could be the reason for the mix of two and three page spreads for this story? Was the writer under pressure from the editor to condense some episodes into two pages for space reasons? Or did the writer sometimes come up with ideas that only required two pages?

But on to the story itself. “Song of the Fir Tree” certainly catches your attention for featuring the Holocaust – a subject usually delicately avoided or addressed fleetingly when girls’ comics ran World War II stories. Any use of Nazi prison camps tended to focus more on captured civilians or soldiers being used as slave labour, such as in “Wendy at War” from Debbie. But here you get an immediate taste of the Holocaust the moment you see the first episode. Of course you don’t get too much of a taste; once the children are liberated, the rest of the story is focused the fugitive issue once Grendelsen shows up. But as mentioned above, the concentration camp not only comes back to bite twice, but a second camp is introduced, with ironic consequences for the Nazi villains.

The journey also incorporates statements about Nazi Germany and the aftermath of World War II, such as in the devastation from the war bombing seen everywhere in the story. But the focus is more on the effects of the war on the people Solveig and Per encounter during their journey. For example, Solveig and Per take refuge at a farm where young Luise is sympathetic but warns that her Aunt Johanna will not be, so they have to stay hidden from the aunt. When Aunt Johanna discovers the fugitives, Per and Solveig find themselves caught between two Germans who were on either side of Hitler. Luise’s father was anti-Nazi and paid the price for it (taken away, never to be seen again), but Luise upholds his ideals. However, Luise’s Aunt Johanna still has her Nazi Party membership card, which Luise uses to blackmail her into putting up with the runaways until they are ready to leave. This encounter makes a strong statement that not all Germans liked Hitler. There were decent Germans in World War II, and being German did not necessarily mean being Nazi. Winston Churchill understood this – he always said “Nazis” in his speeches, not “Germans”.

Other good Germans are introduced too, such as the Schulmans, a kind farming couple who nurse Per back to health when he falls ill. Per wants to stay and is tired of running. But Grendelsen shows up again – yes, dear Per, as long as Grendelsen is around, you will have no peace wherever you go. Mr Schulman shows more kindness when he picks a fight with Grendelsen, who has cornered the children again. It looks like the fight ends in Grendelsen dying in a river, but the children take the hint and take off again. Just as well, because they soon discover that Grendelsen is not dead and is back to chasing them again.

People who are less kind (apart from Grendelsen and Strang) seem to be fewer, but they crop up occasionally. One example is a gang of street urchins that Per and Solveig fall in with. They leave Per carrying the can over a stolen watch, but Solveig pleads with the authorities that it is because the urchins are homeless and starving after the war, and the authorities take pity on the urchins.

Do we also get a sly message about environmentalism with the constant imagery of the fir tree, and its use as a symbol of hope, steadfastness and, ultimately, retribution and salvation? There is even a hint of prophecy, as the fir tree song speaks of “wild skies” and “storm” – and in the final episode, a storm does break out and sends the fir tree toppling over Grendelsen.

Indeed, “Song of the Fir Tree” ran about at the same time as Jinty’s best-remembered story about ecology, “Fran of the Floods”, where warmer temperatures cause world-wide flooding. So it is possible that they slipped an environmental message in here too. Or maybe somebody on the Jinty team had a fondness for fir trees and wanted to a story that incorporated them? Whatever the inspiration for the fir tree, you will emerge with a whole new respect for trees – especially fir trees – after reading this story.