In honour of Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, we bring you a Tammy that commemorated it. The Cover Girls start things off. Oh dear, talk about a burnt offering. Inside, Tammy provides recipes for pancakes. Let us hope that anyone who tried the recipes had better luck than little sis on the cover. Tammy finishes off Pancake Tuesday with a page of pancake jokes on the back cover. They are probably reprinted from some other Pancake Tuesday issue.
Over the previous three issues, Tammy had progressively started five new stories in honour of her fifth birthday issue. But that’s over now, and all five stories are up and running.
The first to open was “Sarah in the Shadows”. Sarah is trying to raise the money to get her uncle out of debtor’s prison, but she is fast learning that greedy types, particularly the debt prison governor, are making as much money as they can out of her and any money she tries to raise. This is giving her no chance at all to clear the debt. We get the feeling that even if Sarah does clear the debt, her uncle will never be free with that prison governor around.
Starting in the same issue was “A Lead Through Twilight”. Carol is trying to conceal that her sight is failing because she is terrified her sourpuss Uncle Matt will pack her off as useless. Really, how long can you hide a thing like that? And how long can Carol hide the stray dog, Twilight, who she is using as a guide dog, from Uncle Matt, who hates dogs? Not long. People have already detected both secrets, and we’re only four episodes in.
The next issue started the next two stories, “Sit it Out, Sheri” and “The Fairground of Fear”.
In the former, Sheri’s having problems with her see-sawing confidence from the strange chair she has acquired. It’s swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other, from arrogance to her old wallflower self who couldn’t say boo to a goose. And now her horrible stepmother is trying to sell the chair off. Sheri managed to stall the buyer this time, but he’ll be back.
In the latter, the snobbish Sir Whitland is out to get rid of the fair after Julie has an accident there, and he sends in a magistrate to do the job. But the Fairground of Fear won’t be closed down so easily with that creepy clown around, who traps the magistrate in a terrifying hall of mirrors!
“Claire’s Airs and Graces” was the last of the five, starting in the previous issue. It was the only serial Hugh Thornton-Jones drew for Tammy. His artwork for Tammy was seen more often in Wee Sue later on, along with some Strange stories and one complete story (the only Hugh Thornton-Jones story to receive a credit during Tammy’s credits run, which is how we know his name). Claire is pretending at her new school that she comes from a posh background when in fact her parents have suddenly gone down in the world. But close calls, complications and prices to pay for the sham are already starting.
A snooty type, Sylvia Hill, is causing trouble in Wee Sue when the class is on holiday at Craigmore Sports Centre. As with Claire, it turns out Sylvia is living a lie and fooling the other girls into thinking she’s a posh girl. Sue figures Sylvia out but graciously helps her to put things right. Incidentally, the episode gives Wee Sue’s height as four feet, assuming it’s not a figure of speech.
In Bessie Bunter, Cook is having problems with a new soup tureen and all food’s on hold until she works out what. The girls have to cook their own, and Bessie is demonstrating that she is brilliant at eating food but terrible at cooking it! Nobody realises it’s due to a faulty gardening syringe, which accidentally squirted plant food into the tureen.
In the Strange Story, a strange Spanish knight helps Maria Fernandez and her family out of financial trouble and gruelling jobs by leading her to a find of Spanish coins. But who was the knight, once Maria establishes it’s not her brother playing Don Quixote again?
Lord Stanton’s niece Serena is an aviatrix who is brilliant at landing – in trouble. This time she’s got Molly and herself locked up by a nasty bloke called Arnold Wharton, who is very interested in her plane. Charlie manages to get Molly out, but they run into more trouble while getting away. Meanwhile, Wharton still has Serena. There is also something very odd about him, and it’s increasingly suspicious.
We now complete our look at “possession” stories with this 1976 story from Tammy.
Sheri Soames is a shy, scruffy girl. She has no confidence and no idea how to stand up for herself, and always sits things out because of it. She is bullied at home by her stepmother, who steals all the money Sheri earns for bingo, takes advantage of her father’s absence to treat her as a drudge, and never bothers with the rent; at school she is bullied by Kay Thorpe (later spelled Thorp in the story); and also by Mr Dobbs at the second-hand shop where she works. Her only friend at school is Mary. Sheri auditions for the role of Marie Antoinette in the school play but fails because of her lack of confidence.
At Mr Dobbs’ shop, Sheri is allowed to have a chair said to be a Louis XIV chair once owned by Marie Antoinette herself but a dealer, Mr Crispin, said was fake. It has a strange effect on her. After periods of sitting in it she feels wonderfully refreshed and confident. She takes more pride in her appearance and sheds her ghastly specs. She starts standing up for herself, albeit in an oddly pompous, old-fashioned manner that leads to arrogance at times, which sometimes leads to trouble, and has no problems re-auditioning Marie Antoinette for the school play (to Kay’s chagrin). But the effects don’t seem to last, causing Sheri to fall back to her old self just as she makes strides with her new confidence and going back to the specs and being bullied by Kay and her stepmother.
Sheri also begins to have strange visions of voices out for her blood and people out to kill her. As the visions get stronger, they take the form of ghoulish-faced, bloodthirsty French revolutionary lynch mobs and even the guillotine. These visions always seem to appear as Sheri’s confidence fades, as if they are an after-effect.
As the confidence-building does not seem to last, Sheri sits in the chair more and more to get more of that confidence, and gives her bully stepmother a lot of shocks with it, which leave her frightened and sweating. Sheri’s schoolwork improves, particularly in regard to the French Revolution. But her arrogance is growing too; she acts like a haughty queen who thinks everyone and everything is beneath her, such as flinging her lines away: “Pah! What does a person of my consequence want with such piffling trifles!” She does not seem to get into any trouble over not doing the lines; instead, the teacher praises her for her improved classwork.
Sheri discovers her stepmother has sold her chair to Mr Crispin. At this, she now realises the chair is genuine and the old twister is trying to get his hands on it for a fraction of its value. Her brimming confidence from the pickup enables her to foil the pickup and retain the chair, but is warned Mr Crispin will be back. After an evening of forced drudgery from stepmother as her confidence ebbs again, then giving her money-grabbing stepmother the shock of her life after sitting all night in the chair – “You are a thieving knave who steals money and sells things that do not belong to you” – she sends Mr Crispin packing, with his money returned. However, Mr Crispin isn’t giving up on the chair that easily.
At school, Sheri’s haughtiness grows worse. She demands to know where Mary’s curtsey is, and when she is outraged to find her name not on the list for the hockey team, Kay challenges her to a hockey test. Kay is stunned when Sheri does brilliantly, and when Kay tries to nobble her, she attacks with Kay her stick. Then the nightmares return. This time, Mary appears as a friend who tries to pull her to safety from the mob, but they throw her into prison. When she comes to, she is in the team and is expected to perform as she did, but she is back to her scared, useless self. After this, Mary, who had been sceptical about Sheri’s story about the chair, becomes more convinced and wants to help.
Sheri finds herself again under threat of losing her chair, this time from bailiffs who confiscate all the furniture to cover stepmother’s non-payment of rent. Sheri is homeless after this and is now staying at Mary’s. They learn the chair is in the distraint pound. Mary manages to sneak the keys for the distraint pound from her father, but it’s the wrong set and they have to break in to take back the chair. Inside, they are caught by a policeman, who places Sheri in the chair, which has Sheri soon behaving in the haughty manner towards the surprised policeman and she demands the return of her chair. She even has the policeman carry it out for her. They run for it with the chair and hide it in a barn. The visions return, this time showing Sheri crying out from behind bars: “Let me out, I am your queen!”, but her cries fall on deaf ears with the French revolutionaries, who remain out for her blood.
At the hockey match, Sheri’s haughty behaviour reaches heights like never before. She gets so angry at the “insolence” that she lashes out at the captain of the opposing team. The opposing team turns ugly at this, which triggers more nightmares of the French revolutionaries. Sheri locks herself in the pavilion, suffering nightmares of them coming into her cell, tying her hands behind her and leading her out while screaming “Death! Death!” The sports mistress is not impressed and sends Sheri home in disgrace, to face the headmistress on Monday. Mary suggests Sheri tell the headmistress what’s going on, but they have to collect some evidence about the chair. Which means asking Messrs Dobbs and Crispin some questions.
On the way, they discover stepmother convincing the policeman from the distraint pound that Sheri is out of control and wants her taken into care. And after what happened at school, Sheri is terrified she will be locked up as a delinquent or something. Her only hope is the chair again and get the confidence to talk her way out of things as usual. They head back to the barn but find the chair gone. Moreover, they don’t realise Kay is eavesdropping and now she is tailing them.
They go to question Mr Dobbs. He says he lost the records of the chair’s purchase in the Blitz, but he did buy it on a trip to France. At Mr Crispin’s they find a matching chair and learn Sheri’s chair and this one are a valuable pair of chairs that belonged to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who used them the day before the wrathful Paris mob struck. The chairs need to be together to be of value, which explains why Mr Crispin is so determined to get Sheri’s chair. They then discover Mr Crispin has called the police but manage to give the police the slip.
Back at the farm they discover the chair in a field with a scarecrow in it. Sheri gets a fright when the scarecrow’s head falls off – she is reminded of the ultimate fate of Marie Antoinette. Then the police catch up and lead the girls away. Kay tries to take the chair, but the police bring the chair to the station with the girls.
At the police station they are surprised to find Mr Soames, Sheri’s father, there too. He retired from the sea, lost track of Sheri, but has now caught up and heard about stepmother (and now we’re wondering why the heck he married her in the first place). He says he now works at a detective agency and a very strange client had him track down the chair, which he says genuinely belonged to Marie Antoinette. He believes there is something spooky about the chair and it is giving Sheri terrible nightmares. He has her sit in the chair again, saying it is the only way to see the nightmares through. Sheri now realises she becomes Marie Antoinette in the visions, and of course the latest vision is Sheri/Antoinette meeting her appointment with Madame La Guillotine. Everyone gets a fright when Sheri’s head drops back as the blade falls in the vision, but it’s just a faint.
The nightmare is not finished. A soothsayer appears and leads Sheri/Antoinette away from the guillotine, saying it happened again and none of it would have if she had listened to him. The soothsayer tried to warn Marie Antoinette that the way she treated her subjects would cost her her head if she did not change her ways and treat them differently. When she refused to listen he put a spell on her chair in the (vain) hope the visions she would see would make her see sense before it was too late. The spell was not supposed to affect anyone but Antoinette, but it did affect Sheri because of her desire to have the role of Marie Antoinette in the school play.
Things are sorted out at school, Sheri gets the role of Marie Antoinette, and tells a rather confused Kay about her new confidence and no more pushing around from her. The chair is restored, cleaned up and put on display in a case where it can’t affect anyone else. Sheri is now sure of permanent confidence and no more sitting out for her. The client – whom Sheri recognises as the soothsayer – rewards Sheri and her father with money to start a happy new life.
In more recent times, historians (e.g. Alison Weir) have seriously revised the image of Marie Antoinette who said “let them eat cake” (which never comes up in the story) and single-handedly started the French Revolution with the haughty, callous way in which she treated her subjects. She was in fact a much kinder person than that. However, this story was written before that revisionism, and the image of Marie Antoinette paying the price for her arrogance with her throne and life was how she tended to appear in girls’ comics (Misty’s “One Last Wish” for example).
Girls’ comics were never good at historical accuracy either, but things go a bit far when Mr Soames says, “[Marie Antoinette] was just a girl, nor much older than you. What did she know about being a queen?” Come on, Antoinette was 47 when she died, a grown woman with children! It’s also funny we never see Antoinette’s husband in these visions although the chair was one of a pair that belonged to both of them. It’s a girls’ world in girls’ comics all right, regardless of setting, whether it’s alien planets, lost civilisations, visions or whatever.
Now these quibbles have been said, we move on to how the story handles the “possession” theme. It certainly is stranger than possession/evil influence stories usually are because the force is not inherently evil. It is just the personality of an unsavoury person that, unlike other “evil influence” serials such as “Portrait of Doreen Gray”, probably does not even intend to be a bad influence on the protagonist. It is not quite clear whether Sheri is being possessed by the spirit of Marie Antoinette or if her personality is just influencing Sheri’s. It is also unusual for the actual power behind it all not to be evil either. Instead, it was intended to change Marie Antoinette for the better before it was too late for her. Sheri just got caught up in it when she wasn’t supposed to be. In a different serial it would be a redemption story, only in Antoinette’s case it failed.
As with Doreen Gray, Sheri’s confidence turns to dangerous arrogance, which gets her into trouble. But that is not the main concern that should put her off using the chair. It is the terrible price she pays afterwards – the ever-increasing nightmares, which were meant to be the warnings for Antoinette to change her ways but are now scaring the living daylights out of Sheri. This makes the story even more frightening than the more usual ominous warnings that the object the protagonist is using to increase her confidence is dangerous. Because of these nightmares, Sheri develops a love/hate relationship with the chair, fearing it as much as she feels she needs it.
There is also great humour in the way Sheri stands up for herself Antoinette-style when she’s under the influence. Readers must have been laughing out loud when the horrible stepmother received lines such as: “Out, peasant! How dare you enter my private room without permission! Back to your pots and pans!” and “How dare you burst in here! Get out and knock if you want to see me! Do it again and you’ll lose your head!” Or when the policeman was told: “Insolence! Am I not above the law?” and “You are getting above your station!”
It is so distressing for Sheri that the confidence just does not seem to last and she is back to her old self. In the end, what made Sheri’s own confidence stick was realising she could be confident if she wanted to, and if you want things to be different you have to work at it, not sit back and just hope they will be different. “It’s all a case of mental attitude,” she tells Kay. And this was the lesson she learned from the chair.
A Lead through Twilight (artist Douglas Perry) – final episode
This is Tammy’s Easter issue from 1976. You might feel sorry for the younger Cover Girl, who gets a much smaller egg than her big sister. But on many covers she is the one who is the bane of her older sister. Inside, Tammy commemorates Easter with an Easter competition, “Easter Fun Parade” (Easter-themed jokes on the back cover), and Bessie Bunter. Cliff House revives old Easter customs: pie scrambling and orange rolling. Bessie wants to get in on the action, but of course it’s for eating rather than participating. Bessie’s classmates roll her lemons to teach her a lesson, and she cops a mouthful of lemon before she realises what they are. However, Miss Stackpole takes pity on Bessie’s miserable lemon face and rolls her a huge Easter egg to give her a happy ending.
In the Strange Story, Joanne Lyons is taught a lesson about greed, but not for Easter eggs. After Joanne takes a horseshoe (she mistakenly thought it was stealing), she finds herself oddly haunted by horseshoes, especially when she tries to cheat or gets greedy.
In Tammy’s 5th birthday issue she started a lineup of five new stories over three issues as “birthday gifts”. In this issue four of them end, which opens up a lineup of four new stories in the next issue. Not surprisingly, Bella Barlow is in the lineup.
Throughout “Sarah in the Shadows”, Sarah Cole has been using her talent for paper cut-outs to get out of all sorts of scrapes. In the final episode this week it includes saving the life of music hall star Tilly Travers and bringing down Tilly’s evil partner, Mr Ford, who is in cahoots with the corrupt debtors’ prison governor. For reasons that are not satisfactorily explained, they are both determined to destroy Sarah and keep her unfortunate uncle in debtors’ prison. But now they are exposed, Tilly says she will make sure they never work again, and gives Sarah and her uncle jobs.
John Armstrong’s current story, “Sit it out Sheri”, makes extremely liberal use of the myth of Marie Antoinette as a haughty, hard-hearted woman who single-handedly started the French Revolution with the way she treated the lower orders. A soothsayer bewitched Antoinette’s chair in the vain hope it would help her see the light before it was too late. Centuries later the same chair helps Sheri Soames overcome her shyness, but at the cost of giving her all the arrogance of Marie Antoinette, and this has gotten Sheri into terrible trouble. For a moment, Sheri even looks decapitated when she relives the moment where Antoinette is guillotined! Fortunately, enough people become convinced about the chair for Sheri to get out of trouble. Sheri retains her confidence, and the soothsayer is pleased he had more success with her than Antoinette.
Alan Barker uses all the powers of “The Fairground of Fear” to get Sir Whitland to confess that he framed Barker on the charge that sent him to prison, just because he regarded Barker as too low to marry into his family. But Barker finds out the hard way that nothing he does will get the hard-hearted Whitland to do that. Barker settles for a surprise reunion with his daughter, whose death Whitland had faked to prevent him from claiming her.
In the final episode of “A Lead through Twilight”, farmers are after Twilight because they think he’s a sheep worrier. Fortunately they all see Twilight tackle the real sheep worrier, and Twilight is cleared. The scientific research used on Twilight is used to give Carol her sight back.
“Claire’s Airs and Graces” is the only ‘birthday gift’ story that is still running. Claire Weston-Jones has her classmates thinking she has a more privileged home life than she actually does because she fears the derision of her more snobby classmates if they discover the truth. As expected, living the lie causes all sorts of complications, and this week Claire’s parents could have been really hurt for it. They make the effort to provide a spread for Claire’s classmates, but nobody turns up because Claire doesn’t want them to see her house is not the palace they have been led to believe.
This week’s Wee Sue story also has a moral about living a lie. Sue’s classmate Ann spun a big yarn to her French penfriend Louis about her interests, and even sent a picture of Sue, saying it was herself, because Louis is a small person. Now Louis is visiting, so Ann wants Sue to help keep up the pretence. But the pretence unravels when it turns out Louis is much taller than Ann thought (got metrics and imperials mixed up).
Molly Mills has received an offer for a change of employment. Spiteful Kitty and Betty try to sabotage it by planting Lady Stanton’s hat on a snowman and looking like Molly did it, so it looks like it’s the end of that chance. But everyone is taken by surprise when Lord Stanton’s response is promote Molly to head chambermaid!
Sarah in the Shadows – first episode (artist Mario Capaldi)
Return of the Silver Mare – Strange Story (artist Veronica Weir)
Lights Out for Lucinda – last episode (artist Ken Houghton)
Molly Mills and the Aviator – first episode (artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
A Monumental Detective – Strange Story (artist Tony Higham)
Wee Sue (artist John Richardson)
A Lead Through Twilight – first episode (artist Douglas Perry)
It is now 46 years since Tammy was first launched, on 6 February 1971. The first Tammy and Tammy’s 10th birthday issue have already been covered on this blog, so we will commemorate the anniversary with Tammy’s 5th birthday issue.
The Cover Girls are the first to honour the occasion, in their usual humorous style. Let’s hope they managed to sort out that little glitch with the birthday cake. Or maybe the Tammy team saw the funny side, just as the readers did.
As soon as we open the cover we see the first of Tammy’s “birthday gifts” to us, which is the first episode of “Sarah in the Shadows”. Tammy is celebrating her 5th with five new stories, two of which start this week, two next week, and the fifth the week after that. In Victorian times Sarah is thrown out into the street after her unfortunate uncle is thrown into debtor’s prison. All she has to survive on is her gift for paper cutouts and shadow play. The other birthday gift story, “A Lead Through Twilight”, is the last story in the issue (talk about bookends!). Carol Trent is losing her sight but won’t speak up about it or seek treatment because she is terrified her sourpuss uncle will send her away. But can she seriously expect to get away with hiding the fact that she’s going blind? And if the uncle finds out, will he do what Carol fears? Carol befriends a dog, Twilight, who could be her guide dog, but there is a definite mystery about him.
The birthday gift stories starting in the next issue are “The Fairground of Fear” (Diane Gabbot’s first serial for Tammy) and “Sit It Out, Sheri” (which will give John Armstrong a change from Bella). To make way for them, “Lights Out for Lucinda” is being finished off with a double episode. Lucinda has discovered the reason for the bizarre town of Blackmarket where everyone is being drugged into thinking it is still World War II and being forced to live that way. This peculiar ruse is all so the commander can provide a cheap workforce that are being paid 1940s rates instead of modern ones – to none other than Lucinda’s father! Fortunately for Lucinda it turns out he was a dupe and then a victim of blackmail before he finally manages to help put things right.
The last “birthday gift” story, starting 21 February, is a Hugh Thornton-Jones story, “Claire’s Airs and Graces”. Claire pretends to come from a posh background because of the snobby girls at her new school. This was the only Thornton-Jones serial in Tammy; his artwork was otherwise confined to Wee Sue episodes and Strange Stories.
It looks like the Storyteller is celebrating too, because he is presenting two Strange Stories this week. Molly apparently is celebrating with a new story, but the title really should say “aviatrix”, not “aviator”. Although Bessie’s caption says “Bessie celebrates our birthday in her own special way”, her story has no bearing whatsoever on the celebrations or even on birthdays. She’s trying to help catch bank robbers but has forgotten the licence plate number of their vehicle. The police are trying to jog her memory but of course she is more interested in eating. Wee Sue’s story also has nothing to do with the celebrations. It’s all hijinks when Miss Bigger gets herself locked in a ball-and-chain because she disregarded a “do not touch” sign: “I’m a teacher. It doesn’t apply to teachers.” Silly woman!
Of course there is a competition to mark the occasion too, but this won’t be until next week.