Tag Archives: Slave of the Clock

Slave of the Clock (1982)

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Page 1 of Slave of the Clock

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Slave of the Clock

Publication 17 July 1982 – 30 October 1982 (skipped an episode in Tammy 25 September 1982)

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: this Tammy story is credited to Jay Over, who also wrote Jinty‘s long-running school soap opera, “Pam of Pond Hill”. As we will see, there are also a few thematic similarities between this story and others in Jinty, raising intriguing questions about what else Jay Over may have written in this comic.

Plot: Alison Thorne is a talented dancer, but that’s not the main focus of her interest; she’s a very active girl who enjoys all sorts of things, such as art and socialising with her friends. Dancing is great fun – the first thing we hear from Alison is “Dancing makes me feel good from top to toe!” – but we also hear her think straight afterwards “I’ll have to get a move on if I’m to make it to the Youth Club on time!” In short, she’s a happy-go-lucky girl who isn’t driven by ambition or focused on talent. This isn’t a problem to her, or to her parents either, and it wouldn’t be an issue for most people. Her ballet teacher Miss Dempster, though, has ambitions on Alison’s behalf (and some ambitions for her own fame as a teacher too). Dempster takes her pupil along to creepy Miss Margolia, who promptly hypnotises Alison so that the ticking of a clock will make her think of dancing… and only of dancing… as immediately shown when some friends come round to Alison’s house the next morning and put a clock to her ear to wake her up.

Thereafter, any ticking clock will not only force Alison to dance, but also to lose awareness of her surroundings. That first time, her friends leave her dancing, because she pays no attention to them, and she doesn’t even realise they have been and gone. At the next dance class, Miss Dempster is annoyed and disappointed to see that Alison is still not giving her whole-hearted attention to the class, but then she doesn’t know yet what the real key to Alison’s slavery is – the ticking clock. Another player is about to join the story, though – a girl called Kathy, who has sadly been injured and cannot herself dance any more. Alison, fairly nobly to be honest, thinks to herself that she should be careful to take Kathy’s mind off dancing by focusing on other activities. Once again, a ticking clock – this time a wristwatch – makes Alison dance at an inopportune moment – this time, when Kathy arrives. Not surprisingly, all present think Alison is just showing off in front of Kathy, very cruelly.

Alison manages to smooth over the awkwardness and persuade Kathy that she will have fun staying at their house. I expect she would do, to, but at the same time, Miss Dempster is on the phone to Madame Margolia asking what can have gone wrong with the hypnotism – and as a result, installing a damn great cuckoo clock into her dance studio… Alison nearly doesn’t hear the clock at all as she is keenly getting involved with the local youth club show for which she has firmly ruled out dancing as an option, but she has to go around town putting up posters, and Miss Dempster gets her into the studio on that basis. And of course as soon as she hears the clock, off she goes again…

This sets the pattern for the upcoming plot: Kathy gets crosser and more upset because she thinks she is being messed around, Alison gets more upset because she is mysteriously blacking out and finding herself aching the next day as if she has danced for hours, and Miss Dempster is gleeful because she is getting her way. There is a temporary moment of guilt on the ballet teacher’s part when she feels bad about making Alison dance to her command, but as soon as the prospect of a rich new pupil arises, she gets Alison to perform once again (with a ticking clock around her neck). Not that this works out the way Dempster expects – Alison is put in positive danger by her dancing unaware of her surroundings (Kathy has to rescue her from possibly falling into a swimming pool) and of course Kathy and Alison are thus enabled to band together and realise what must be happening, unlikely though it seems. (I don’t think the rich pupil was very impressed by the relentless and absorbed dancing either! so probably no win for la Dempster on that front either.)

Alison’s parents don’t believe the wild story that the two girls bring to them, of course, but the two friends go off to find and confront Madame Margolia. But Dempster meets them outside the house, and tells them that Madame Margolia has been taken ill – and died! Will Alison never escape the curse of the ticking clock? Seemingly not – even if she is not dancing all the time, her parents are now resorting to taking her to hospital for mental treatment – and a sticking wheel on a hospital trolley triggers her off dancing again, so perhaps the curse is even getting stronger. However, it is in the hospital that they find Madame Margolia – seriously ill, but not dead (what a surprise to find that Miss Dempster lied – not!). Not that they can do anything to contact her, because Alison is whisked off to see the (very unsympathetic) doctor, who says that all this forced dancing is purely in her mind, because she is scared of failing her dance exams – and therefore her parents make her take more dance lessons, with – guess who? Miss Dempster of course. Alison pleads to do her exams with any other teacher rather than her tormentor, but her father replies: “Considering the cruel accusations you’ve made against her, I think Miss Dempster’s a fine person to take you back and help you.” So not only has she to face the cause of her problems, she even has to be grateful to that person?! That’s a nasty twist.

In fact the lessons go surprisingly well, though of course at first Alison is trembling like a leaf and hardly fit to dance. Miss Dempster is feeling guilty again and forebearing to use the power of the clock, and Alison gradually relaxes more and enjoys dance again. Temptation falls in Miss Dempster’s path once again though – can she get Alison into the International Ballet School, where it’s been her dream to have a pupil? By now we know how weak la Dempster’s will is, of course. And yes, the climax of the story is that although Alison had started to happily believe she was cured of the dancing fits, instead she is once again made to dance, for her teacher’s benefit not her own. This time the International Ballet School judges clearly reject Alison’s mechanical, hypnotic dancing, making it very clear just how misguided Miss Dempster’s actions are on all fronts – and a surprise guest appears in the form of a wheel-chair bound Madame Margolia. Alison is finally cured, though Margolia and Dempster require the two friends’ silence as their part of the bargain. There is a last reward for faithful sidekick Kathy though – the limp she has had since her injury is psychosomatic, so Margolia is able to cure her of it with one last application of (benign) hypnotism.

Thoughts: There are some silly aspects to this story – hypnotism is intrinsically an over-the-top trope, and this has the hypnotic subject nearly dancing to her death, which can strike the reader as absurd. On closer read, though, it is a pretty disturbing story, not to say chilling.

The main feature of it is perhaps that it is a ‘grownups know best’ story: protagonist Alison is quite happy as she is, and there is objectively nothing wrong with her, but a grown-up has other ideas of what’s best, and rides rough-shod over the girl protagonist’s clearly-expressed desires and aims. Miss Dempster thinks that it is a waste that Alison doesn’t use her dancing talent; in just the same way, Susie Cathcart’s grandmother thinks that Susie should be using her intellect rather than her gymnastic skill, and so makes her into the “Prisoner of the Bell“.  Similarly, headmistress Purity Goodfellow uses her mystic drug to turn the schoolchildren of Edenford into a paradise along the lines that she deems best – even if the girls need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the infirmary where she will administer the drug. I could continue with more examples – for instance “Battle of the Wills” also has a determined grandmother who makes her granddaughter practice hated ballet rather than the gymnastics that she loves, though no mind-control is seen in that story. It is not the most frequent story theme in this comic, but you can see how it would strike a chord with the readers. It’s striking not only that the girl character expresses her desires clearly and unmistakably, but also that the grown-up simply dismisses them as foolish, worthless, clearly unacceptable – and other grown-ups are likely to be persuaded into this view too, even if they had started out on the side of the (actually perfectly nice and normal) protagonist.

Of course, the grown-up is pretty clearly shown not to have known best, in the end. As with Miss Dempster, their manipulations clearly fail on their own terms, and don’t produce the desired result even if they had seemed promising initially – free will does triumph over coercion, though it’s a long road in getting there. That’s pretty subversive to me, in a kids’ comic – it’s not just saying that grownups can get it wrong, but that they can positively be against you even when they’re not obviously evil. Dempster is very chilling – she is not as witchy-looking as Madame Margolia (a stately crone if ever I saw one), but she just doesn’t seem to care about Alison, except in flashes that are overcome all-too-easily. It’s a proper emotional abuse story, done quite strikingly. Dempster persuades herself that it’s for the right reasons, or that it will be worth it in the end, but not only does she ignore Alison’s stated wishes and aims, she disregards the pleas and the begging that the girl is driven to by the end. Lies and the use of her power for her own ends – Dempster does not look or act conventionally evil, never descending to cackling, but she is inhumanly self-absorbed nevertheless. Madame Margolia is far from innocent (quite apart from having applied the hypnotism in the first place, she also demands silence as her payment for taking it off, which is pretty much barefaced cheek on her part) but she can see the cost of the slavery much more clearly than her younger associate. If Dempster ever got the power to do hypnosis herself, I would be far more worried for the fictional world than with it staying in Margolia’s hands!

Can a computer program help us identify unknown writers? 4

Right now I am sorry to say that I haven’t had great success with the computer program that I was hoping would help us to identify unknown writers. I’m by no means declaring it to be impossible or unrealistic, but I think I will need to ask for help from the experts who wrote the program and/or who do more of this sort of analysis on a day to day basis.

My initial trials were to see if I could test a Jay Over script known to be by him against another one known to be by him, so as to see if the program could pick out a ‘known good’ example. It did do that pretty well, but it may be that I calibrated the program options too closely against Jay Over. I haven’t got to the stage of being able to say that this series of tests, done in this way, gives you a good chance of identifying this text by a known author. (Unless that known author is Jay Over, she says slightly bitterly.) And if I can’t do this reasonably reliably, there is no point (as yet, at least) in moving on to trying out unknown author texts.

In my last post about this computer program, I ran a series of 10 tests against a Jay Over text, and the program reliably picked out Jay Over as the most likely author of that text out of a supplied set of 4 test authors. It was much less reliable in picking out a test Malcolm Shaw text out of the same set of test authors: only 5 of the 10 tests suggested that Malcolm Shaw was the best fit. I have now tried the same 10 tests with an Alan Davidson text (“Jackie’s Two Lives”), and with a Pat Mills text (“Girl In A Bubble”). This means that all four of the test authors have been tested against a text that is known to be by them.

  • Unfortunately, in the test using an Alan Davidson text the program was even worse at picking him out as the ‘best fit’ result: it only did so in 2 of the 10 tests, and in 4 of the tests it placed him in last, or least likely to have written that test text.
  • In the test using a Pat Mills text, the program was rather better at picking him out as the ‘best fit’ result, though still not great: it did so in 4 out of 10 tests, and in 3 of the remaining tests he was listed second; and he was only listed as ‘least likely/worst fit’ in one of the tests.

The obvious next step was to try with a larger group of authors. I tried the test texts of Jay Over (“Slave of the Clock”) and of Malcolm Shaw (“Bella” and “Four Faces of Eve”) against a larger group of 6 authors (Primrose Cumming, Anne Digby, Polly Harris, Louise Jordan, Jay Over, Malcolm Shaw).

  • With the Jay Over text, only 7 of the 10 tests chose him as the ‘best fit’, so the attribution of him as the author is showing as less definite in this set of tests.
  • With the Malcolm Shaw texts, only 1 and 3 tests (for “Bella” and for “Eve” respectively identified him as the ‘best fit’ – not enough for us to have identified him as the author if we hadn’t already known him to be so. (He also came last, or second to last, in 4 of the first set of tests, and the same in the second set of tests.)

I should also try with more texts by each author. However I think that right now I will take a break from this, in favour of trying to contact the creators of the program. I hope they may be able to give me better leads of the right direction to take this in. Do we need to have much longer texts for each author, for instance? (We have generally been typing up just one episode for each author – I thought might be too much of an imposition to ask people to do any more than that, especially as it seemed sensible to try to get a reasonably-sized group of authors represented.) Are there some tests I have overlooked, or some analytical methods that are more likely to be applicable to this situation? Hopefully I will be able to come back with some extra info that means I can take this further – but probably not on any very immediate timescale.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following list of texts that people have kindly helped out with. You may find (as I have) that just looking at the texts themselves is quite interesting and revealing. I am more than happy to send on any of the texts if they would be of interest to others. There are also various scans of single episodes sent on by Mistyfan in particular, to whom many thanks are due.

  • Alison Christie, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” (typed by Marckie)
  • Primrose Cumming, “Bella” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Alan Davidson, three texts
    • “Fran of the Floods” (typed by Marckie)
    • “Jackie’s Two Lives” (typed by me)
    • “Kerry In the Clouds” (typed by me, in progress)
  • Anne Digby, “Tennis Star Tina” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Gerry Finley-Day, “Slaves of War Orphan Farm” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Polly Harris, two texts
    • “Monkey Tricks” (typed by Mistyfan)
    • “Midsummer Tresses” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Louise Jordan, “The Hardest Ride” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Jay Over, two texts
    • “Slave of the Clock” (typed by me)
    • “The Secret of Angel Smith” (typed by me)
  • Malcolm Shaw, five texts
    • “Lucky” (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “The Sentinels” episode 1 (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “The Sentinels” episode 2 (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “Bella” (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “Four Faces of Eve” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Pat Mills, two texts
    • “Concrete Surfer” (typed by me)
    • “Girl In A Bubble” (typed by me)
  • John Wagner, “Eva’s Evil Eye” (typed by Mistyfan)

 

 

Can a computer program help us identify unknown writers? 2

The jury’s still out at present, but I am very grateful for the kind offers of help of various sorts! I now have text versions of episodes of:

  • “Slave of the Clock” and “The Secret of Angel Smith” (Jay Over)
  • “The Sentinels” (Malcolm Shaw)
  • “Fran of the Floods” (Alan Davidson)
  • “Concrete Surfer (Pat Mills).

So I have enough to try to see if I can get the program to identify “Slave of the Clock” as being by Jay Over rather than any of the other writers. If anyone is able to send in any more texts, the following would be useful:

  • Some texts by female writers such as Anne Digby, Alison Christie, Benita Brown
  • Some more texts by the writers named above, so that I can offer the program a wider base of texts per each writer (rather than keeping on increasing the number of individual authors)

How far have I got so far? Not that far yet, I’m afraid to say. I have downloaded a copy of the program I chose (JGAAP) and I’ve got it to run (not bad in itself as this is not a commercial piece of software with the latest user-friendly features). I’ve loaded up the known authors and the test text (Slave of the Clock). However, the checks that the program gives you as options are very academic, and hard for me to understand as it’s not an area I’ve ever studied. (Binned naming times, analysed by Mahalanobis distance? What the what??) Frankly, I am stabbing at options like a monkey and seeing what I get.

I can however already see that some of the kinds of checks that the program offers are plausibly going to work, so I am optimistic that we may get something useful out of this experiment. These more successful tests involve breaking down the texts into various smaller elements like individual words, or small groups of words, or the initial words of each sentence, or by tagging the text to indicate what parts of speech are used. The idea is that this should give the program some patterns to use and match the ‘test’ text against, and this does seem to be bearing fruit so far.

So, an interim progress report – nothing very definite yet but some positive hints. I will continue working through the options that the program offers, to see if I can narrow down the various analytical checks to a subset that look like they are successfully identifying the author as Jay Over. I will then run another series of tests with a new Jay Over file – I’ll type up an episode of “The Lonely Ballerina” to do that, unless anyone else has kindly done it before me 🙂 – scans from an episode are shown below, just in case! That will be a good test to see if the chosen analytical checks do the job that I hope they will…

Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 1

Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 2
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Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 3
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Can a computer program help us identify unknown writers?

I don’t know yet, but I’m going to give it a go.

And I’ll need a little help from others, please.

I have been thinking about the problem of unknown writers and how we can try to identify them. In writing story posts here, Mistyfan and I sometimes raise questions about whether such and such a writer might have also written such and so other story, based on things like similar plot lines and the like. But there is a whole area of research into using computers in the Humanities, and a specific technique designed to help you attribute authorship to unknown writers: it’s called Stylometry. I want to try to use one of the pieces of software that does this – JGAAP – to see if we can get any help in thinking about who might have written what, or at  least in some cases. (Edited to add: this is written by the chap who did the analysis that strongly suggested that J K Rowling was the author of “The Cuckoo’s Egg”.)

The way it works is that I need to feed the program a number of texts from Known Authors, because it then compares the unknown writing with those known samples. (All it can ever do is say ‘this piece looks most likely to have been written by Author A out of the list of A – Z that you have given me’ – it’s just matching a sample to a known finite list, so it has limitations.) That means I need some text files (as many as possible) which are typed-up versions of stories where we already know the authors, such as the below:

  • Jay Over, Slave of the Clock / The Secret of Angel Smith / The Lonely Ballerina from Tammy 1982 and 19833
    • I can do the first two but haven’t got any copies of The Lonely Ballerina
  • Alison Christie – see list on the interview post
  • Pat Mills, various stories including Moonchild in Misty and Concrete Surfer in Jinty
    • I am in the middle of typing up the episode of Concrete Surfer included in the post about this story
  • Alan Davidson, Fran of the Floods / The Valley of Shining Mist / Gwen’s Stolen Glory
  • Malcolm Shaw, The Robot Who Cried

Can any one help by typing up one or more episodes from the stories mentioned, and sending them to me? I’m working out a standard format to use, because it’s going to be important to be consistent about things like how to indicate thought balloons or the text boxes at the beginning of each episode. We can work that out further together of course. Very many thanks in advance!

Once I have enough example files to start running them through the program, this is what I am intending to try (any comments or suggestions will be received with interest).

  1. Can I get the program to work at all?
    • If I load a credited Jay Over text as a Known Author, and a Pat Mills story likewise as a Known Author, will an episode of “Slave of the Clock” be successfully identified as a Jay Over story?
  2. What if I then compare a credited “Pam of Pond Hill” story – will the program identify this as a Jay Over story, or will the comedy style mean it is not as recognisable to the program?
  3. What if I then compare an uncredited “Pam” story with a credited “Pam” story? We think all the Pam stories were written by Jay Over but could this program show us any other views?
  4. What if I then add in more Known Authors and re-run the tests above – will the results still come out the same?
  5. And then excitingly I could try some further tests, like:
    • If I compare an episode of “Prisoner of the Bell” to “Slave of the Clock”, does the former look like the known Jay Over texts?
    • If I compare an episode of “E. T. Estate” by Jake Adams to the uncredited story “The Human Zoo”, what does the program indicate about any plausible attribution?
    • We think Benita Brown probably wrote “Spirit of the Lake” – is there any textual / stylistic similarity we can find between this and “Tomorrow Town” that we know she wrote?

Of course no stylistic attribution program is going to replace a statement from a creator or a source from the time, but we know these are thin on the ground and getting thinner, and what’s more people’s memories and records are getting more fragmentary as time goes by, so this seems worth trying. I don’t expect anything to happen very quickly on this because it does mean quite a bit of typing to get a good body of texts. If anyone is able to help on the typing front then I will be very grateful and hopefully will then be able to show any results sooner rather than later.

Apologies, I had meant to say something about the format of the text. I have a sample document which hopefully can be viewed via this link. In case that doesn’t work, this is what I mean for it to look like:

text grab

But I can add in extra detail such as the description that the text appeared in a word balloon, if I have a scan of the pages in question.

Tammy 17 July 1982

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  • Cat ‘n’ Mouse – artist Joe Collins
  • Saving Grace – first episode (artist Juliana Buch, writer Ian Mennell)
  • Moonlight Prowler – complete story (artist John Richardson – uncredited)
  • Pam of Pond Hill – new story (writer Jay Over, artist Bob Harvey – uncredited)
  • A Gran for the Gregorys – first episode (writer Alison Christie, artist Phil Townsend)
  • Come Back Bindi – first episode (artist Mario Capaldi, writer Jenny McDade)
  • Bella – new story (artist John Armstrong, writer Malcolm Shaw)
  • Nanny Young – new story (artist Phil Gascoine, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • Slave of the Clock – first episode (artist Maria Barrera but credited as Barrera Gesali, writer Jay Over)
  • The Schoolgirls’ Beauty Book – Feature

The recent entry on Jay Over was one inspiration for this entry on the Tammy issue where she starts printing credits. We owe so much to these credits, without which a lot of artists would still be unknown, including Guy Peeters and Hugh Thornton-Jones.

It looks like Tammy had a few things to iron out with the credits, because there is no credit for Bob Harvey in Pam of Pond Hill and the complete story, “Midnight Prowler”, goes completely uncredited. The credits also mark the swansong of long-standing Tammy writer Jenny McDade, who started in 1972 with “Star-Struck Sister” and wrote the first Bella story. Here McDade is credited with writing “Come Back Bindi”, but she is not credited with any other Tammy story after that.

The issue makes a completely clean break from the one before it, which was the last issue in the Tammy & Jinty merger. Instead of the merging comic just gradually fading away except for her strongest features and her logo being reduced in size before it is dropped altogether, the whole merger is dropped altogether. Gone is the Jinty logo, and there is a completely new logo for Tammy. Gone are the Monster Tales and Old Friends (which ran Molly Mills, Bessie Bunter, Wee Sue and Tansy of Jubilee Street in rotation). Even the Storyteller, who had been a long-established part of the Tammy line-up since June merged in 1974, is gone as well. Only Bella, Nanny Young, The Crayzees and Pam of Pond Hill remain. The cover itself is an artist’s rendition of an actual photograph of two readers (shown on the inside cover) who were asked to read the issue and provide feedback. “They loved it”, and they must have treasured the issue thereafter.

The old Tammy and Jinty merger clearly had been gearing up for the new look in the preceding weeks. Several stories ended in the previous issue, including the reprint of “The Human Zoo”. The reprint also cut out an episode or two from the original because of the upcoming new Tammy.

We do have to wonder what drove Tammy to undergo such a radical makeover when she was right in the middle of a merger. Was it new editorship bringing in sweeping changes, or did the editor decide on drastic action to bolster sales?

Pam and Bella have whole new adventures. Pam discovers the teachers’ frustration at the playing field being inadequate and then the land next door that the neighbour, Sir Hartley Barnett could spare. But we get the feeling that acquiring the extension won’t be as easy as that.

Meanwhile, Bella is having a mental breakdown and it is showing in her latest gymnastics performance that is so disastrous that she loses her nerve. And then she loses her memory as well after being hit by a hit-and-run driver.

Nanny Young’s new job takes her to the Glendale Children’s Holiday Home – but soon finds it is not a holiday camp with the welfare officer, Agatha Primm, running the place like an army camp! The children aren’t happy about it either, and Peter Hopkins is always out to pull a prank over it.

There must have been some scripts left over from “Monster Tales”, because the new-look Tammy continued to run complete stories with a monster theme for a while. The first is “Moonlight Prowler” and the monster is vampire-wolf, who plunders the villagers’ livestock. At least that is what Mr Wyss has the villagers believe while he makes a fortune out of them by claiming to hunt the monster. The monster is really his stepdaughter, whom he forces to wear a wolf costume for him to chase around after and secretly steal the livestock. But the fraud backfires when the real vampire-wolf shows up! It’s even implied that the fake vampire-wolf and the real one are one and the same.

The first serial to start is a mystery story, “Saving Grace”. Sue Blackstone is delighted to catch up with her old friend Grace Clark in a new school after four years apart. But then Sue discovers her friend has changed for the worse over those four years, and the mystery Sue sets out to unravel is what caused the change and whether anything can be done about it.

The second serial, “A Gran for the Gregorys”, reunites Jinty’s Alison Christie/Phil Townsend team for another tear-jerker story. The Gregory children have lost their beloved gran, and her loss is telling on the management of the household after Dad goes abroad to work. Then Ruth finds out about adopting grans and sets out to adopt one for the family. But of course the quest won’t be straightforward and there are going to be a lot of candidates who will disappoint.

The third serial, “Come Back Bindi”, was Jenny McDade’s swansong in Tammy. Bindi was a short-lived serial when it had potential to be spun out longer. Perhaps it was not all that popular or was meant to be a filler story. Bindi the dog has run away because she wrongly blames herself for her owner’s accident. However, Bindi is essential to the girl’s recovery, so finding her is urgent. But it is not easy, because Bindi has lost her collar.

The last serial is one of Tammy’s best-remembered stories, “Slave of the Clock”. Alison Thorne is a talented ballerina but doesn’t have the dedication to take her talent further. But then Alison meets a fanatical ballet mistress whose idea of making pupils more dedicated to ballet is “the power of the clock” – hypnotise them into dancing whenever they hear the ticking of a clock. Of course this can only lead to trouble.

 

 

Jay Over

Jay Over is one of the few Jinty writers we know the name of; this is really down to the fact that Tammy started printing artist and writer credits in its pages at a time overlapping with the long-running “Pam of Pond Hill“. Thanks to those credits, we also know that Over wrote at least three serials in Tammy: “Lonely Ballerina”, “The Secret of Angel Smith”, and “The Slave of the Clock”.

Pam 1

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Stories credited to Jay Over:

  • Pam of Pond Hill (1979 – 81 in Jinty, continued in Tammy until 1984)
  • Slave of the Clock (Tammy, 1982; artist Maria Barrera)
  • The Secret of Angel Smith (Tammy, 1983; artist Juliana Buch)
  • The Lonely Ballerina (Tammy, 1983; artist Maria Barrera)

“Pam of Pond Hill” was one of the longest strips that ran in Jinty, though not to be compared with Tammy‘s regular character Bella Barlow, still one of the most well-known characters in girls’ comics. We know that Bella was written by more than one person – credited authors include Primrose Cumming, Jenny McDade, and Malcolm Shaw – but all the credits we have for “Pam” indicate that this story seems to have been written by Jay Over throughout all that time.

Mistyfan writes at length about how well the character and voice of Pam comes across in her serial: the dialogue is vivid and the stories are realistic. Re-reading a number of the stories, I also was struck by how much variety is packed into the short story arcs that this serial is made up of, and how humane the stories are. Tess Bradshaw is the class fat girl but she is given a backstory that is considerably more nuanced than something just relating to her size or appetite. Indeed, in one of the Tammy stories Tess is given the chance to shine while still keeping to her old self rather than slimming down or similar: a frustrated ballerina, she becomes a genuinely triumphal synchronized swimming star. Likewise, Pam’s boyfriend Goofy, who is a funny-looking clumsy kid as you’d expect from his nickname, has real musical talents and a kind heart which he allows to be shown, at least sometimes. Of course sometimes Pam is unrealistically able to pull a solution out of the bag in the way a real 11 year old would find it hard to do, but hey, she’s the heroine of her own story – and even then she’s not always a winner.

If not for those printed credits, I think not many people would make a connection between the soap-opera comedy of “Pam” and the angsty mystery of “Slave of the Clock”. The three serials that Jay Over is credited with in Tammy are focused on mystery and on the athletic arts of ballet and trapeze. The only one of those three stories that I have read fully is “Slave of the Clock”; Mistyfan’s entry on 1979 Jinty story “Prisoner of the Bell” briefly summarizes the plot of the later Tammy story and draws parallels between the two. Could they both have been written by Over? Certainly we know that writers for a comic often wrote more than one for the same title, and multiple stories at the same time. Over could easily have started a career in girls’ comics writing rather earlier than the 1979 “Pond Hill” debut. If only there was a way to analyse the story writing itself rather than relying on very incomplete records and memories that are hard to elicit…

Tammy, 19 Feb 1983

Tammy, 19 Feb 1983

Tammy, 19 Feb 1983

Battle of the Wills (1977)

Sample Images

Battle of the Wills 1Battle of the Wills 2Battle of the Wills 3 1

Publication: 2/7/77-1/10/77

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown, but see “Thoughts”

 

Plot

Kate Wills is a selfish, unsavoury girl – but then, so is her grandmother, in the way she treats Kate. Grandmother keeps forcing Kate to follow in her footsteps and be a ballerina, but Kate wants to be a gymnast. The two are constantly at war over ballet vs. gymnastics. Grandmother just does not comprehend that Kate cannot realise her full potential as a top ballerina because having ballet constantly forced upon her has made her hate it. She believes (or deludes herself) that the gymnastics is just a passing craze and Kate will soon love ballet. She squelches every attempt Kate makes to pursue gymnastics, including cutting gymnastics articles out of newspapers and sacking servants who disobey her instructions (because Kate intimidated them) to keep Kate away from gymnastics. And what’s worse, grandmother always wins in the end.

 

Then, grandmother says she is going away on a year-long world trip to visit her old ballet haunts. Kate sees the advantages immediately, especially when told she will receive an allowance of £50 a week. She goes off to enrol at the gymnastics college under the name of Kate Holmes, and the allowance will cover her fees. Sounds too easy? It is – the family lawyer, Perkins, tells Kate that the allowance will stop if her ballet training does, and he is going to monitor her to make sure she keeps up her ballet. It looks like grandmother has won again.

 

Then Kate is reminded of an article she saw earlier about a Dr Morrison who claimed to have invented a machine that can duplicate living beings. It was dismissed as a hoax, but Kate seizes upon it as the means to be in two places at once, which would solve her problem. So she heads off to Morrison (a female scientist) and demands that a clone be made of her. Morrison agrees when Kate points out that a clone of a human being rather than animals would be far more convincing proof that her machine is genuine.

 

The cloning works – but too well. The clone believes she is the real Kate, and hates ballet and wants gymnastics as much as Kate does. Morrison says she cannot tell them apart and the machine to reverse the process will not be ready for months. In the meantime, she sorts the matter with a coin toss – the winner goes to the gymnastics college and changes her hairstyle to differentiate her from the loser, who is forced to go home and the hated ballet, under Perkins’ constant guard (something that threatens to turn him into a nervous wreck because Kate is such a handful). But she isn’t having that, so now the battle of ballet vs. gymnastics is being fought between the two Kates, with ballet Kate playing tricks on gymnast Kate to get the gymnastics she wants, while gymnast Kate fights her every inch of the way to hold on to them.

 

Further complications arise when gymnast Kate’s selfish nature makes her extremely unpopular at the college. Only one girl, Pauline, has tried to be friends at first, but Kate alienates her when she blackmails her way into taking Pauline’s place in a gymnastics display. It gets even more complicated when gymnast Kate finds out that Perkins is Pauline’s father, which creates hijinks in preventing him or Pauline from seeing the wrong Kate or even both of them when their paths meet over various gymnastics events where ballet Kate is always causing trouble for gymnast Kate. Added to that is a constant cloud hanging over gymnast Kate – is she really the clone, and if so, are her days as a gymnast numbered by how soon Morrison perfects the reversal machine?

 

Then gymnast Kate discovers Morrison has the reversal machine already, not months away as she said before. Morrison says it was just not ready to test on humans at the time and has a further bombshell – she tells gymnast Kate that she is the clone. This gives gymnast Kate such a shock that she goes into a state of catatonia and amnesia and wanders about in a daze. She ends up in hospital, but runs off when a news item about the Tynchurch gymnastics display she was meant to participate in jogs her memory just enough for her to go there. She arrives there still in her daze, but somehow able to perform.

 

Meanwhile, grandmother sends ballet Kate a new ballet instructor from Russia, Alicia, who takes the right approach with her. Instead of forcing Kate to dance, Alicia encourages her with praise and taking her to a ballet performance to inspire her. It works; ballet Kate is soon surprising herself at enjoying ballet for the first time in her life. She now feels quite happy to leave gymnast Kate to her own devices at the college.

 

But before ballet Kate changes her mind about ballet, she tries to pull one last trick on gymnast Kate at the Tynchurch display. However, she gets caught up with the doctors who are looking for gymnast Kate and then finds out about the state she is in. So she decides to help gymnast Kate instead.

 

Meanwhile, Pauline finally rumbles there are two Kates, and ballet Kate explains everything to her. But gymnast Kate has taken off in a daze once again, and ballet Kate finds out from Morrison what is wrong. Morrison also wants the two Kates to come to a science convention, where she will demonstrate her reversal machine in public by merging them back into one. Ballet Kate tracks down gymnast Kate and explains. They head off to the convention, with gymnast Kate now resigned to her fate. Pauline comes along and so does Alicia, who has been informed of the situation.

 

At the convention, there are protests on all sides that the experiment is cruel and inhuman and should be stopped immediately. This raises hopes that the clone will be spared. However, the scientists’ opposition has Morrison take matters into her own hands and turn the reversal machine straight on the Kates. However, it is ballet Kate who disappears, not gymnast Kate. This is because Morrison lied about which one was the clone to protect her work until she was ready to prove it to the convention. But the scientists are so horrified that they ban her duplicating machine and have her arrested. Morrison expresses no remorse; only anger that the scientists do not appreciate her genius.

 

Kate returns home, full of grief over her clone. However, the experiences she went through have turned her into a more considerate girl who has now realised how selfish she has been. So when Kate hears that the real reason her grandmother went away was to seek medical treatment in Russia for a serious heart condition, but her post-treatment prognosis is uncertain, she decides to give up her gymnastics and humour her still-infirm grandmother about pursuing ballet.

 

Alicia and Pauline feel the sacrifice Kate is making will be too much for her. So Alicia comes up with a plan. She persuades Kate to go for the national gymnastics championship she was training for, while, unknown to Kate, she puts grandmother in the audience – under protest. The hope is that once grandmother actually sees Kate’s gymnastics, she will come around. But grandmother has severe prejudices about the gymnastics she has never even watched properly as well as being opposed to Kate pursuing them, and her reaction to Kate performing is inscrutable.

 

By the end, it looks like the plan has failed and Kate has left in tears, without even checking the results of the competition. She thinks it is the end of her gymnastics and does not even know her grandmother was there until Alicia owns up. However, grandmother eventually proves she has come around, by not only in accepting the trophy Kate has won on her behalf but also in the acceptance speech she gives. She is proud to support Kate’s dream of going to the Olympics, and her prognosis is now good.

 

Thoughts

 

This story is one that crops up frequently in Jinty discussions and seems to have endured with readers. It certainly is a cut above your average story about the protagonist fighting difficult parents who keep pushing her in the direction they want and have no respect for what she wants, which drives her to go behind their backs all the time. Here the protagonist resorts to what could be the most unique solution to the problem in the history of girls’ comics – having a clone created so she can be in two places at the same time. But the solution brings its own problems that act as the obstacles the protagonist so often faces when going behind her parents’ backs to pursue her path: keeping the secret, hijinks when things go a bit wrong, thinking fast when faced with the threat of discovery, and jealous rivals who are so often thrown into the mix. And the difficulties facing gymnast Kate are all compounded by a constant, niggling thought that surely none of her counterparts in other comics have ever faced – which Kate is the real one and which is just the clone whose life will end when the reversal machine is ready? And when the truth is revealed, which will win out – ballet or gymnastics? Of course we are all rooting for the gymnastics, but what is grandmother going to say about it when she comes back? It will be back to square one for Kate – unless grandmother is persuaded to change her mind.

 

What further adds to the appeal of the story is that the protagonist herself starts out as an unlikeable character and not a fully sympathetic one. This is quite unusual for this type of story; usually a protagonist fighting a difficult parent to pursue her dreams is a sympathetic character, such as Glenda Noble in “The Goose Girl”. However, although we sympathise with Kate’s situation, we do not sympathise with her character. She is pushy, even bullying, selfish, and does not see beyond herself. She is not above blackmailing Pauline and does not care about the servants who get sacked because of the constant war between her and her grandmother. So there is far more character development in this story; we know that Kate will change somehow, and we all the more interested in following her story to find out just how she will change and where it will lead in the battle over ballet vs. gymnastics.

 

It is not too much of a surprise that it is shock treatment that turns Kate around, though more extreme because she is threatened with a (false) near-death experience as well. It could hardly be anything else. What is a surprise is that what turns the clone around is the very last thing she expected – beginning to like ballet. And it is all because her new ballet teacher goes about things the right way – being likeable, encouraging and inspiring to induce Kate to pursue ballet out of her own interest – not forcing ballet upon Kate as grandmother does because it is what she wants, and not listening to what Kate wants. It is a rare lesson that any difficult parent/teacher learns in girls’ comics – learning to go about things the right way instead of the wrong way of forcing things upon people. If ballet Kate had been the real Kate after all, the story could have ended in quite an unconventional manner for this type of genre – the protagonist now doing what the parent wants because it is now what she wants instead of gaining the freedom to pursue what she wants.

 

This story is also pretty unconventional for Jinty in another manner. Although Jinty was known for her SF stories, the mad/eccentric scientist was one SF theme that seldom featured. But in this case it does, and what’s more, Dr Morrison is not your average mad scientist. Most mad scientists in girls’ comics are out for world domination or whatever. They often a dash of campiness about them and behave like maniacs. But this doctor is a completely cold fish, and what makes her even more chilling is that her true colours are not apparent at first. When we first meet Morrison, she seems a sympathetic character. She has been wronged because the science establishment rejected her machine as a hoax, lives in a dingy residence, and when the two Kates are created, she seems to be in a real dilemma. At one point she even comes to the rescue of gymnast Kate in fooling Perkins. But once her lies begin to unravel, her cold, ruthless nature begins to appear. Ballet Kate realises how heartless Morrison really is and that neither of them are much real to her; she just sees them as an “interesting experiment”. And the climax of the story, where Morrison wipes ballet Kate from existence without a flicker of remorse, just to prove herself to the convention, despite all their protests, has to be one of the most ruthless and cold-blooded scenes ever depicted in girls’ comics. This must have been a moment where the Jinty team really wanted to kick some butt; none of the clichéd last minute saves, as was what the Kates hoped for when the scientists protested that the experiment be stopped.

 

Jinty was also known for her sports stories, and “Battle of the Wills” was the first Jinty story to feature gymnastics. The other Jinty stories that did were “Land of No Tears”, “Wild Rose” and “Prisoner of the Bell”. Unfortunately, the gymnastics in all these stories were marred by one glaring error – having girls perform gymnastics on parallel bars, rings and Pommel horse. This is incorrect because they are used in men’s gymnastics. Some more accurate research into gymnastics could have been done there.

 

“Battle of the Wills” shares roots with several other stories that have me wondering that if at least some of them had the same writer. Kate’s ambitious but selfish nature that softens into a more considerate one sounds similar to how another selfish Jinty girl, Pandora, develops in “Pandora’s Box”. In “Prisoner of the Bell” Susie Cathcart also wants to pursue gymnastics, but her grandmother keeps forcing her to be an academic (and Susie is a confirmed underachiever) and thinks gymnastics are nonsense, just as Kate’s grandmother does. In this case, the grandmother uses hypnotism to compel her. The same goes for Alison Thorne in Tammy’s “Slave of the Clock” in 1982. Alison is another talented but reluctant ballerina. Unlike Kate, Alison does not hate ballet; she is just not passionate enough to make it her career. Then Alison meets a ballet teacher who goes about things the wrong way in the extreme – she hypnotises reluctant ballet students into doing ballet whenever they hear the ticking of a clock. The last was written by Jay Over, a known Jinty writer. It raises the possibility that Over wrote “Battle of the Wills” and “Prisoner of the Bell” because of various similarities they have with “Slave of the Clock”.

 

When comparing “Battle of the Wills” to “Prisoner of the Bell” or “Slave of the Clock”, it emerges as more superior in terms of character development. Once Alison and Susie are freed from the hypnotism they pretty much go back to what they were, as if nothing had happened. But Kate has grown, and become more considerate and mature. And if ballet Kate had indeed been the original, she would have really surprised herself. “Battle of the Wills” is also more superior in terms of lessons learned. The other two show what can happen when you go about things the wrong way and try to force them on other people. Seldom do you get the lesson about the results you can get when you go about things the right way. But this is what happens when Alicia appears in the place of the grandmother. Kate sees how different Alicia is and responds accordingly. However, there is no Alicia for Susie (to help her appreciate education more) or Alison (to encourage her to pursue her ballet talent to the full).

Edited to add: I have produced and added in a WTFometer. This story scores quite highly at 33.

Battle of the Wills WTFometer

Female writers in a girls’ genre

This is my 100th post! To celebrate, a thinky piece of the sort I particularly enjoy having the space to do here on this blog. Comments and further information very welcome indeed, as ever, but especially useful for this sort of wider coverage article.

For a genre based around a female readership, you could be forgiven for thinking there were hardly any women involved in producing British girls comics. In 1998 I first started writing about Jinty, and looking back at that article (published in feminist ‘by women for people’ zine GirlFrenzy), the few names mentioned were of men: Jim Baikie, Casanovas, Pat Mills. These were the only creators I recognized from having seen them, their work, or their commentary in the fairly male world of British mainstream comics.

Some years later I met Pat Mills in person, and he subsequently attended the Oxford-based comics festival CAPTION2004, during which I interviewed him about his editorial and authorial role in Jinty, Misty, and Tammy. Some more creator names were added to the pot, but really only two female names stood out – those of Mavis Miller and of Pat Davidson, of which Pat Davidson was the only name of a writer. (I was by then aware of Trini Tinture’s work, too.) Additionally, I’d also managed to ask Phil Gascoine who wrote “Fran of the Floods”, but he could remember no names, just that it was a female writer.

As recently as early last year, therefore, there was so little information readily available that it was still possible for Adi Tantimedh’s post on Bleeding Cool to attribute the authorship of the vast majority of stories in girls comics to Pat Mills or to ‘the creators of Judge Dredd and 2000AD’. (He subsequently corrected the article text to read ‘his fair share of the series in Jinty were written by Pat Mills.’) This isn’t helped by the fact that when in that interview Pat M did give us Pat Davidson’s name, it was linked to a fairly sweeping assessment of women writers: “Generally, it was male writers in this field. I think Pat Davidson is the only woman I can think of who genuinely had a better touch in the way she did this, she wrote far more from the heart, the rest of us were 23-year-old guys killing ourselves laughing as we wrote this stuff, but she wrote from the heart, and it was quite genuine.”

We’re now in a position where we can bring together more information so that we can bring a more nuanced analysis to bear. Alison Christie is now known to have written not only a great swathe of Jinty stories, but also to have written many stories for other titles before, afterwards, and simultaneously (very literally!). We also have heard that Veronica Weir wrote at least one story for Jinty. (We also know that one of the writers was Len Wenn, then only a few years away from his retirement age and hence also quite far from the demographic highlighted by Mills.) Generally we now know what could have been guessed before, which is that creating comics was quite a good profession for women at the time: drawing or writing comics is something that a young mother can do from home! We also know that the same people worked for a range of comics; we could have guessed that from the artists, but a writer can be working on more than one script at the same time more easily than an artist can, so they are if anything more likely to be working for multiple titles.

To try to get a view on the historical context, we can note that there are a couple of titles that ran credits for at least some of their time. Girl was the first title to be dedicated to a readership of girls: it ran from 1951-64 and included creator credits (I don’t know whether the credits continued throughout the whole run though). Towards the other end of the main period of publication of girls’ comics, Tammy also ran creator credits for a little while from the middle of 1982. I haven’t got access to any very complete information about the stories and creators in Girl, but looking at the Wikipedia page for it I found a couple of names I’m unfamiliar with – Ruth Adam and Betty Roland, who wrote a number of stories between them. These included the nursing strip “Susan of St Bride’s” and the adventure strip “Angela Air Hostess” respectively, both of which were popular stories featuring resourceful, independent female characters. Looking at Catawiki’s entries on Girl would take more time to do properly than I currently have available, but I note that a sample issue from 1955 picked randomly includes these two female writers plus two others (Valerie Hastings and Mollie Black).

Of more immediate applicability to the subject of this blog, the women who wrote for Tammy may well have done so for Jinty too; luckily for me, there is more information available to me on who did what there, as co-writer Mistyfan has kindly sent me an index of Tammy stories. We can therefore look in some detail at the comics stories running in Tammy during the second half of 1982, where we find:

  • “Bella” written by both Malcolm Shaw and by Primrose Cumming
  • “The Button Box”: created by Alison Christie, specific individual episodes written by Ian Mennell or Linda Stephenson
  • “Nanny Young” written by Tom Newland and Maureen Spurgeon
  • “Rae Rules OK”written by Gerry Finley-Day
  • “Come Back Bindi” written by Jenny McDade
  • “Saving Grace” written by Ian Mennell
  • “A Gran for the Gregorys” written by Alison Christie
  • “Slave of the Clock” written by Jay Over
  • “Tomorrow Town” written by Benita Brown
  • “Cross on Court” written by Gerry Findley-Day
  • “Cuckoo In the Nest” written by Ian Mennell
  • “Romy’s Return” written by Charles Herring
  • Out of the 12 complete stories on the Tammy index I am referring to, two seem to be uncredited while three were written by Roy Preston, four by Maureen Spurgeon, one by Chris Harris, one by Ray Austin and one by Barry Clements

That’s fairly evenly spread; there are more male writers than female overall but not by that much. A count by number of pages printed might show a different picture, but then I also haven’t included the writers of text stories (in particular Anne Digby). We can also have a quick look at the Catawiki entry for an individual issue from the time (I chose issue 600) which lists stories by Benita Brown, Anne Digby, and Maureen Spurgeon – I assume that the Anne Digby is an illustrated text story rather than a comic. Another issue, 609, has more stories by female writers: two stories by Maureen Spurgeon, one by Alison Christie, and one by Primrose Cumming. In the absence of a concerted effort to count the number of pages written by women over a few representative issues (any volunteers?) I’d estimate that some 15% – 40% of the comic at a time might have been written by women: under half of the content for sure, but a substantial section.

Clearly we only have two very solid data points here – Girl in the 50s and 60s, and Tammy in the early 80s – but the fact they corroborate each other is strongly suggestive that yes, over the decades of comics published for a readership of girls, female writers have always been present, and in reasonable numbers rather than as the odd exceptional talent. They have written popular stories both in their own right and as jobbing writers taking on someone else’s initial creation. Can we say anything else about that, for instance about what sort of stories they wrote? Now that is rather more difficult, because we have to factor in individual preferences of writers. Alison Christie is clearly a writer of heart-tugging stories, so we can attribute a female writer to a number of stories in that style. That doesn’t mean that other female writers have the same preferences: Benita Brown is credited as the writer of a science fiction story, and Veronica Weir’s one known outing as writer was on a story with spooky overtones but mostly concerned with loneliness and survival. I don’t know the Tammy stories list above well enough to say what themes they represent, but in the list of Jinty stories we just don’t know enough about who wrote what to say anything much more concrete.

Likewise, can we say anything much to compare how well the stories worked with the gender of the author – could we say that the stories made by young men killing themselves laughing were better or more effective than those by women or indeed by older men such as Len Wenn? One difficulty is that in judging effectiveness or memorability, individual reader preferences will come strongly into play – my own list of top stories is skewed to the spooky, mystical, and science fictional and away from the heart-tuggers. Mostly though I think we just don’t know enough about who wrote what, in Jinty at least, to be able to say whether the the most popular, longest-running, most memorable, or otherwise most effective stories tended overall to be written by one group of writers versus another. We have examples written by women (“Stefa’s Heart of Stone”) and by young men (“Land of No Tears”, “The Robot Who Cried”), but the vast majority still lie in the camp of ‘unknown writer’.

Writing this post has sparked off other thoughts that felt a bit tangential to the main point of this piece; I will follow up with more on ‘What makes a story work’ (and indeed how can we tell that it does work).

Edited in Aug 2015 to add: subsequent discussion on the Comics UK Forum leads me to add another known female writer to the list of names acquired to date: Jenny Butterworth, writer of the long-running series “The Happy Days” in Princess Tina (amongst other stories).

Edited in December 2015 to add: we now know that “Fran of the Floods” was not written by a female writer; it can be attributed to Alan Davidson per his wife’s recent comments. At the time of writing, Davidson was a family man who also did not fall in the category of “23 year old guy killing himself laughing” at what he was writing.

Edited in January 2016 to add: Anne Digby has sent in an interview with information about writing comic stories for titles such as Tammy. It is noteworthy that she did not only produce text stories for this title, but also comics adaptations of her previously-published novels.

Edited in March 2016 to add: Phoenix on the Comics UK forum scanned and uploaded a snippet from the Guardian of a letter from one Mary Hooper, writer for Jackie in particular, but perhaps also for other titles?

Edited in January 2017 to add: clarification that Alison Christie (Fitt) created “The Button Box” and was the main writer on the story, though some individual stories were farmed out by editor Wilf Prigmore to Ian Mennell and to Linda Stephenson.

Prisoner of the Bell (1979)

Sample Images

Bell 1

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Bell 2

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Bell 3

Prisoner of the Bell

Publication: 20/1/79-28/4/79

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown – but see thoughts

Plot

Susie Cathcart and Lorraine Kent are notorious at school for being the class clowns who come up with all sorts of “screwy” dodges to get out of schoolwork. They can’t be bothered with education; their attitude is that life is for fun and they will manage fine without O Levels. The only lesson Susie does care for is gym and she has a natural talent for gymnastics. Their work-dodging tactics are the talk of the staff room, but neither the school nor the parents seem to do anything to sort them out.

Then Grandmother Cathcart comes to live with the family because she is now infirm and wheelchair-bound. Dad had run away from her because she was domineering and hard, and he is not scholarly while Grandmother Cathcart lives for it. In fact there is a warning that she takes it a bit far, what with the piles of academic books she brings with her.

Gran has brought something else with her too – a bell that she uses to summon Susie. The bell soon seems to have a strange power over Susie; every time she hears it, she goes into a trance. Gran has learned about Susie’s attitude to education and begins to use the bell to force her to do her homework. Susie becomes bewildered by her mysteriously done homework that she cannot remember doing. The teachers are pleasantly surprised. Lorraine is furious and then becomes suspicious and starts investigating. And she soon notices things, such as Susie apparently sleepwalking to Gran and having the vocabulary for a French test drilled into her. Lorraine begins to suspect what Gran is up to. She tries to warn Susie, but Gran realises Lorraine has become suspicious and is keeping one step ahead.

But Gran is not doing it just to improve Susie’s schoolwork. She means to force Susie into her own mould of being an assiduous, dedicated, brilliant scholar. She will make no room for Susie’s gymnastics, which she considers “nonsense”. So in addition to using the bell’s power to force Susie into doing her homework, Gran starts interfering with Susie’s gymnastics, such as implanting suggestions into Susie’s mind to turn her off gymnastics. As a result, the PE teacher is furious when Susie says gymnastics is bad and must not waste time on them, and Susie becomes scared of heights and begins to lose her nerve and confidence for gymnastics. This has consequences that Gran did not foresee, such as Susie losing her nerve at the top of a tree and going through the humiliation of being rescued by the fire department. And the PE teacher books Susie for a gymnastics course at Harford Manor to get her nerve back.

But Gran is not having that. She nearly has having Susie spending the money Lorraine raised for Susie’s course on books. Lorraine stops this in the nick of time and applies to come on the course too in order to protect Susie. At Harford Manor, Susie begins to break through the suggestions and regain her nerve. But Gran will not let up and books herself for a holiday to the disabled to get up to the village near Harford Manor. She plays a trick to get Susie expelled. Lorraine takes the blame to save Susie but gets herself expelled and unable to protect Susie any further on the course. When Gran finds out, she posts the bell to Susie. Its power has Susie packing her bags instantly, which has her walking out on British selectors.

Susie begs to know why Gran is doing this to her. Gran explains that when she was a girl she had a thirst for knowledge but was denied education because she was female. So she taught herself, which led to the accumulation of her books on every subject. And one subject is…hypnotism.

Gran says she now intends to teach Susie everything she knows and, through Susie, achieve the greatness she had been denied. Susie now bends to Gran’s academic drive completely. Susie’s parents, who had not done much about Susie’s laziness at school before, come over to Gran’s side.

Lorraine is horrified, particularly when she sees how ill and tired Susie looks from the way she is being pushed by her Gran and how terrified Susie gets when she even thinks of gymnastics. Lorraine persuades Susie to come on a trip to Crystal Palace in the hope the Russian gymnasts will restore Susie’s nerve. But when Gran tags along, Lorraine gives up on breaking Gran’s power.

Then stormy weather causes the bus to crash into a river. Gran is knocked unconscious. The girls are ordered to climb out, but Gran’s power over Susie has her too terrified to do so. Lorraine tries to force Susie, but in the end carries her out after she faints. Meanwhile, Gran suddenly realises that her interference with Susie has nearly killed her. She agrees to go into a home and stop interfering with Susie’s life. Susie returns to her old self in terms of schoolwork and gymnastics, and is selected for the British junior team.

Thoughts

This is one story where our feelings for both the protagonist and antagonist are mixed. We can’t help feeling that Susie is overdue for a comeuppance of some sort for the way she dodges her schoolwork and laud Gran for being the one who actually steps in to do something about it. And Gran does have a point about the Cathcart parents having been too indulgent about allowing Susie to become too slack in schoolwork (perhaps it was the father not being scholarly himself?), and Susie has serious attitude problems to schoolwork that need to change. She and Lorraine think only of enjoying themselves and reckon they will manage fine without O Levels. That is not how it is in the real world where good school results are key to making your way in the job market.

But as Gran’s motives unfold, it becomes apparent that she is not doing it all for the right reasons or going about it the right way and we get increasingly worried about Susie. We become even more sympathetic for Susie as we see the effects on her, physically and psychologically, as she loses her nerve and confidence, and is utterly confused and frightened by the changes in her behaviour that she cannot explain. She looks as if she is on the verge of a mental breakdown. And in the final episode, Susie is looking ill and tired because of the way Gran keeps driving her to study, but only Lorraine seems to notice.

When Gran reveals why she is driving Susie this way, we have some sympathy for her as it is quite understandable that she wants to achieve what she had been frustrated in her girlhood because her gender was against her. From the sound of things, she failed to achieve it through her son because he was a non-scholar. But she sees more promising material in Susie; hence her relentless drive to achieve it by training Susie’s brain into more academic thinking.

Unfortunately Gran takes it too far with Susie because she is too relentless and demanding. She is far too consumed with academia and makes no room for other things in life, hence her intolerance of Susie’s gymnastics. She considers it nonsense because it is not academic and to her mind it is detracting from academic study. Moreover, she is by nature a domineering, hard woman. Her domineering personality drove her son away when he was younger and she has not learned from that mistake.

We see so much of Grandmother Cathcart in real life: people who get bitter because their dreams were denied; demanding parents who drive their children too hard; parents who want to achieve ambitions or frustrated dreams through their children; parents who won’t allow their children to be themselves and keep forcing them into what they want rather than considering what the children want. To say nothing of people who get fixated on particular things and take them to extremes.

Those extremes include consequences that the antagonist did not foresee because she was too one-tracked to think through the consequences of her actions. When Gran starts implanting suggestions to turn Susie against gymnastics, this leads to serious consequences when Susie loses her nerve for heights and climbing, and it nearly takes her life because she is unable to take the climbing action that would have saved her. This has Gran waking up at last, and she realises what can happen when you interfere with someone’s mind with hypnotism. This is a lesson that another hypnotist, Madame Margolia, learns several years later in Tammy’s “Slave of the Clock”. Madame Margolia is an obsessive ballet teacher and her idea of curing reluctant ballet students is to implant suggestions into their minds to dance when they hear the ticking of a clock. She does this  to Alison Thorne, who has the talent to become a top ballerina but is not interested in a ballet career. Madame Margolia believes the hypnotism will make Alison more devoted to dancing, but of course it just causes a lot of distress and trouble for Alison, particularly as she can’t stop dancing when she hears a clock. Madame Margolia did not mean the effect to go that far, and once she sees it, she undoes the hypnotism. Jay Over was credited with writing “Slave of the Clock”, and it has me wondering if Over wrote “Prisoner of the Bell” as well. Both stories have similar themes of interfering people who try to instil dedications of various types into girls by means of hypnotism, but end up causing nightmares for these girls because they did not consider the consequences of their actions. Over was credited with writing “Pam of Pond Hill”, so there is no doubt he was a Jinty writer.

Gran’s sudden realisation as to what she has done does seem a bit too quick and a bit jarring. After all, how did she know that it was her hypnotic suggestions that prevented Susie from making the climb to save herself? She was not there to see it and Lorraine was still life-saving Susie in the river at the time Gran made her exclamation of remorse. Maybe someone saw the difficulty the girls were having in evacuating and told Gran? Or perhaps it was the bump on the head? Such things have been known to do incredible things in girls’ comics, particularly when it comes to the resolution of a story.

It is a bit disappointing that in the end Susie returns to her old self in terms of schoolwork. You would think something had changed, such as Susie becoming more mature and serious. But then again, Gran’s interference may have put Susie even further off schoolwork, and there is the old adage that leopards do not change their spots. And it does avoid a more clichéd ending of having Susie learn her lesson and becoming more dedicated to schoolwork, which is refreshing. And if Jay Over did write the story, perhaps Lorraine and Susie are forerunners of Fred and Terry, the class layabouts in “Pam of Pond Hill”. But some may question what messages Jinty is giving here.

Dance into Darkness (1978)

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Publication: 17 June 1978 – 30 September 1978

Artist: Christine Ellingham

Writer: Unknown (but see below)

Marionette has done such an excellent summation and analysis on this serial over at her Tammy blog that I feel I can scarcely improve upon it. The link can be found here.

Essentially, Della Benson envies the disco dancing ability of Rozelle and wishes she could dance like that. Rozelle tells Della that she will be able to – if she is willing to pay the price. Della assumes this means dancing lessons, but we know it means something even more sinister.

No, it isn’t Della’s soul. The price is that Della must carry the curse that Rozelle’s family has suffered since Medieval times. It is a curse that turns the victim into a creature of darkness. They can only live in the dark. There are advantages, such as being able to see in the dark and attracting night creatures. But they cannot stand light, which blinds them, and they  cannot even function in the daytime without wearing dark glasses. For Della, there is an additional problem with the curse – whenever she hears disco music, she cannot stop dancing until it stops. This gets her into a lot of trouble, such as wrecking a record shop and getting suspended from school.

There is no cure for the curse (and no origin given either), but the curse can be passed on to another person – in exchange for something that person wants. But will Della be able to find such a person? More to the point, will she be able to bring herself to pass it on? Or will she be under the curse of darkness forever?

On a side note, I wonder if Jay Over wrote this story. Della not being able to stop dancing when she hears disco music has echoes in Slave of the Clock, a story that Over wrote for Tammy in 1982. Here, Allison Thorne cannot stop dancing (ballet dancing this time) whenever she hears the ticking of a clock after she meets a ballet mistress with hypnotic powers.