Tag Archives: Tammy

Make Headlines, Hannah! (1979-1980)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 17 November 1979 – 26 January 1980 

Episodes: 11

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Library #23 as “Fame and Fortune”

Plot

Hannah Hilton is regarded as the failure of her family, a line of success stories. She lives in the shadow of her sisters Jane and Louise, who are showered with attention and the lion’s share in everything because they are brilliant and succeed in everything. People are always whispering and laughing at what a failure Hannah is. Her apathetic parents don’t lend her any help, encouragement or sympathy, especially her mother.

Great Uncle Matt, who is paying a visit, tells Hannah he will give her £100 if she can make a name for herself in the papers upon his return. It appears to be meant as a joke as much as an incentive. Still, it sets Hannah going and she starts entering a series of events to hit the headlines and prove herself. Her actions eventually focus on the town carnival. 

However, Hannah’s every attempt to hit the headlines keeps being foiled by dirty tricks from her sisters. When they become the carnival princesses, they are in a stronger position to sabotage Hannah at the carnival. However, the sisters’ spite has the unexpected effect of Hannah acquiring help from others, though not from her apathetic parents. In fact, Mum just grumbles at how Hannah has changed since Uncle Matt’s money promise, as she’s not sitting quietly in the back seat anymore and even shouting at her sisters for their spite. By contrast, Hannah’s new friend Derek has noticed the sisters’ dirty tricks and offers help in any way he can. Another helper emerges at the carnival after Jane and Louise wreck Hannah’s attempt to present a letter to the guest pop star. To cheer her up, he gives her a costume to help raise money. Hannah is successful at this, but it doesn’t make her name. 

Jane and Louise’s next trick is to set Hannah up at a rag week fund-raising competition to make a fool of her. Following this, Hannah finds another helper, Mrs Taylor. In return for Hannah finding her lost dog, Mrs Taylor says the Colonel is just what she needs to succeed. The Colonel is a stuffed fortune-telling parrot who was a popular attraction in Victorian times. Mrs Taylor had several requests from the mayor to revive him, but as she is too old for it, she is lending him to Hannah to do so at the antiques fair. Outside, the sisters and a friend of theirs, Mandy, hear Hannah and Mrs Taylor talking about Colonel. The sisters just laugh, but it rings a bell with Mandy and she seems more intrigued. 

Soon everything looks all set for Hannah to hit the headlines when she revives Colonel at the fair, complete with reporters and the mayor all eager to see it. But on the morning of the fair, disaster strikes – someone breaks into Mrs Taylor’s cottage. The place is turned inside out and Colonel vandalised. Hannah manages to repair Colonel and is determined to put him on anyway. Before she does, she confronts her sisters over her suspicions that they were behind it. However, she is not so sure when she later hears them accusing each other of it. 

At the fair, she discovers her display stand has been dismantled because the fairground staff heard about the attack and thought she wouldn’t be able to make it. But she is surprised when Uncle Matt turns up. Derek had written to him about Hannah’s situation and he has come to help. He pushes things to get a stall for Hannah and Colonel and pictures with the mayor. But he pushes things so far for Hannah rather than helping her to do things for herself that he unwittingly pushes Hannah into the background again. 

Uncle Matt is so impressed at Hannah’s hard work at the fair that he gives her the money he promised. But Hannah feels it did not bring her the success she was looking for. What’s more, she soon discovers she still hasn’t really earned her family’s respect and her sisters still hog the family limelight. Besides that, there is still the mystery of the attack on Colonel.

Then Hannah learns more about Colonel’s history and discovers there are rumours about him guarding some sort of treasure. Believing this is the motive for the attack and figuring the culprit is someone who knows her, Hannah works out a plan to catch them. She also examines Colonel and finds a name plate on his base with the word “Domingo”, but can’t figure out what it means. 

To flush out the culprit, Hannah throws a party with Uncle Matt’s money, to gather all the people who know her. Her sisters steal the limelight at the party, but Hannah is more interested in using the party to set a trap. This entails drawing everyone’s attention to Colonel at the party, say they’re dropping him off at Mrs Taylor’s cottage, and then wait. The thieves take the bait, and Hannah sneaks inside to surprise them while Derek calls the police. The trap snares Mandy and an unnamed boy, all ready for the police. Belatedly, Hannah remembers Mandy overheard her discussing Colonel with Mrs Taylor.

The police also clear up the mystery of Domingo: it’s the name plate and last surviving piece of Nelson’s flag ship “Domingo”, and it’s worth a fortune at auction. The valuable find and catching the thieves earns Hannah the name and respect she had been seeking for so long.

Thoughts

Girls’ comics have a long tradition of serials about plain girls who never shine at anything, are written off as losers, often get teased over it, and grow tired of living in the shadows. But stepping out of the shadows is far from easy, and there are always loads of setbacks and disappointments in between. And it’s never because they are genuinely incompetent or stupid. It’s because a) they have poor self-esteem and no confidence in themselves, b) their appearance is often against them, c) their home and/or school environment is letting them down, and d) there’s always some spiteful person out to sabotage them. 

Hannah is no exception. Lack of confidence and self-esteem rather than incompetence are the obvious cause of her never winning anything, and her home environment is clearly to blame for it. It is doing nothing to build her confidence or support or help her in any way. In fact, it is doing the total opposite. Hannah’s school environment is not shown, but it is unlikely to be helping much either. A serious makeover would go a long way to building Hannah’s confidence, but nobody in the family ever gives her one. The only family member to help Hannah in any way is her Uncle Matt. After all, it is his promise of money that finally gives Hannah the incentive to make something of herself and climb out of the shadows. But even he is not quite going about things the right way. 

Hannah is lucky in that she does find genuine helpers, most notably Derek and Mrs Taylor. Many girls in similar situations don’t have even that e.g. Kathy Clowne in “Tears of a Clown” (Jinty). Without their help Hannah could never have overcome her spiteful sisters and finally made a name for herself. Some failing parents in similar stories offer last-minute help that helps redeem themselves and save the day, such as “Sheena So Shy” and “Belinda Bookworm” from Tammy. Sadly, this is not the case with Hannah’s parents.

We also note that Hannah would have won far sooner if her sisters hadn’t keep interfering, and her failures to hit the headlines have nothing to do with incompetence. We also have to wonder why the sisters bother to sabotage her at all if they’re so confident she won’t succeed in getting the money anyway: “Caterpillars will be walking to the moon and back before Hannah shines at anything!” Unlike, say, Sandra Simpkins in “Tears of a Clown”, their motives for derailing Hannah are not clear. The nearest we get to it is their telling Hannah she’s only thinking of the money, but that doesn’t sound like their real motive. Do they secretly fear she might win after all? Do they want to make doubly sure she won’t succeed and fail to get the money? Or are they just doing it out of spite and think it’s all one huge joke?

Most heroines in Hannah’s situation discover some surprise talent and try to prove themselves through it. Kathy Clowne, for example, finds she is brilliant at running, and Sheena Willcox in “Sheena So Shy” discovers how to turn her refuge in disco dancing into a fight for success. But Hannah doesn’t go this route. This is probably because she has to meet Uncle Matt’s deadline, so it’s hit the headlines any way she can as fast as she can. But instead of her just winning in the end and getting the money, the story takes the novel route of making Hannah a winner by giving her a mystery to solve. And if there is one thing girls love, it is mystery. Unravelling the mystery makes the final episode even more exciting to read. The story also takes a surprise twist of Hannah using the money she is promised to help her succeed when readers expected Hannah to just make her name and being given the money. 

There is just one question readers may be wondering: is Hannah’s triumph at the end going to be a one-off, or will it be the start of Hannah’s own success? The story gives no hint, but along the way to hitting the headlines, a number of hidden talents did come to light for Hannah: creativity, fund raising, horseshoe throwing, deduction, fortune telling with Colonel, and even ventriloquism. Any one or all of these could be taken further to boost Hannah’s confidence and further her gains as a success. And, as mentioned earlier, poor self-esteem and lack of confidence and support were at the root of Hannah’s failures. Now these are sure to get a boost, Hannah is bound to make strides in improving herself.

Tammy 5 January 1980

Cover artist: John Richardson

Cindy of Swan Lake – artist Ana Rodriguez

Sister in the Shadows (first episode) – artist Giorgio Giorgetti

Daughter of the Desert – artist Mario Capaldi

Edie the Ed’s Niece – artist Joe Collins

Ring the Changes (Strange Story) – artist unknown

Bessie Bunter

Molly Mills and the Promotion (first episode) – artist Douglas Perry, writer Maureen Spurgeon

Wee Sue – artist Robert MacGillivray

Make Headlines, Hannah! – artist Tony Coleman

Turn of the Year (Strange Story) – artist Peter Wilkes

Tuck-In with Tammy – feature 

For New Year we bring you Tammy’s New Year issue from 1980. This is the last New Year issue to use the Cover Girls. If they had known they would be dropped in October that year, we don’t think it would have been a very Happy New Year for them. It was a common in-joke for a Cover Girls cover to show someone holding a Tammy with the same cover or a tie-in cover. In this case, old year 1979 looks like he’s got the Tammy with the cover showing new year 1980 on it.

As it turned out, new year 1980 was a big one for Tammy. Just two weeks after this issue came out, Misty merged with Tammy, and the effect resonated for several years. 

The issue is chock-a-block with New Year-themed stories from the regulars. Wee Sue, Bessie Bunter, Edie, and the Storyteller with a double helping of Strange Stories are all in on the act. So is Molly, with her new story, “The Promotion”. Sadly, it’s not a good start for the New Year for her. Ironically, it’s because of something that should be very happy for her – she is chosen for the staff promotion. But the other servants don’t look happy about it, and neither is Molly. She isn’t one of the gang anymore because of the promotion. 

New Year was a popular time for girls’ comics to start new stories, and two stories start in this issue. The first is Molly’s new story. The other is “Sister in the Shadows”. Wendy Weekes is off to a new start, at her new school, but it’s already off to a bad start because everyone expects her to live up to the success of her older sister Stella. As if this weren’t bad enough, it’s also making Wendy unpopular with the other girls and a prime target for bullying.

In the old stories, things are finally looking up for Hannah Hilton, who is trying to become a success after nothing but failure, in the form of her nasty sisters who keep trying to sabotage her. Hannah is about to revive an old attraction at the fair. The mayor, who had been requesting it for years, is all agog, and so are the reporters. Seems nothing can go wrong this time – but then there’s a policeman at the door. Is it Hannah’s sisters again or something far more serious?

In “Cindy of Swan Lake”, Cindy Grey goes on tour. It should be a great experience, but, as usual, she’s lumbered with the company of her jealous rival Zoe Martin, who is also out to sabotage her. Zoe’s sabotage takes the form of head games, playing on Cindy being worried sick about her beloved swan who is being poisoned by pollution.

And in “Daughter of the Desert”, the mysterious Arab figure who seems connected to a strange series of desert-related incidents at a boarding school, leads our heroines into a trap – of quicksand!

Spider Woman (1980)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy & Misty 19 January 1980 – 22 March 1980 

Episodes: 10

Artists: Jaume Rumeu 19 January to 1 March 1980; Mario Capaldi 8 March to 22 March 1980 

Writer: Bill Harrington

Translations/reprints: Misty Presents: The Jaume Rumeu Collection (2021)

In the last entry we briefly touched on the subject of Spider Woman. So here she is for the final entry in our Halloween lineup.

Plot

Mrs Webb, the villainess from Misty’s “The Black Widow”, returns. She has abandoned revenge for her husband’s death in favour of world domination, and has established a base on an island in Australasia that was once a leper colony. Her new weapon is a strain of man-eating spiders she has developed, and her plan is to use them to scare the whole world into submitting to her and her spiders. 

Accidentally stumbling into this are Paula Moore, on holiday in Australia, and her grandparents. Their boat got blown off course by a storm and they discover the ship that was the first test for Mrs Webb’s man-eating spiders. It’s a ghost ship, with crew stripped to the bones from the spiders, which are still on board. 

Sensing danger from the spiders, they quickly head back to their boat and radio mainland to report the incident, but Mrs Webb is watching them on her monitor. Posing as naval authority, she kidnaps them and strands them on her island base, with nothing but decrepit old leper huts for accommodation and tales of leper ghosts to frighten them. Gran is bitten by one of the spiders Mrs Webb left to guard their boat and falls gravely ill. In her delirium she raves about spiders and ghosts of lepers who don’t want them around. They are forced to take shelter in one of the leper huts. 

Paula goes in search of the woman who stranded them in the hope of treatment for gran. Mrs Webb has her servant, Gorza, who looks like some sort of weird, lumbering cross between a dumb waiter, Frankenstein and a ogre, capture Paula and bring her to her base. She introduces herself and her plans to Paula, and she wants Paula’s full cooperation if her family is to stay alive. She knows the Navy will soon discover the ghost ship, and she wants Paula and her family to tell them of her great power. Mrs Webb then releases Paula.

Paula finds her gran is now recovering from the bite. She tells her family who they are up against, but they discover their boat, previously guarded by the spiders, is now gone altogether. And in the bushes, something or someone is watching them. Later they find a chimpanzee in the bushes, which is not native to the island, and they conclude he must have escaped from Mrs Webb’s experiments. But gran is convinced someone else is around and raves about leper ghosts and the previous inhabitants being into voodoo and black magic. Back at the hut, they do find evidence someone else could be around, but it’s in the form of a delicious meal waiting for them. 

Back at the ghost ship, the Navy have found the horrors on board and guess who they are up against before Mrs Webb even sends her first message to them on her TV monitor. She informs them she has hostages. They are to return to the mainland and report what her spiders are capable of, and she is going to do the same to the whole world if there is no global submission to her. The Navy radio her message back to HQ and start a search of all the islands in a 30-mile radius for the hostages. However, Mrs Webb is using her helicopter to see whether they are obeying her orders or not, and when she sees they are not, she drops a case of her man-eating spiders on the ship, who are soon doing their deadly work. The Navy hose the spiders off the ship and their radar tracked her helicopter. They are now hot on her trail.

Paula and her family now discover who else is on the island: an ex-leper named Jarvis. He remained on the island after being cured of leprosy and wants to join the fight against Mrs Webb. He shows Paula and grandpa a secret entrance into her lair, and they take advantage of her absence to sneak in. But they discover the entrance is guarded by an enormous killer spider. Jarvis quickly dispatches the spider, and they enter Mrs Webb’s lair to use her equipment to call for help.

Unfortunately it’s at this point that Mrs Webb returns and catches them. Mrs Webb straps Jarvis to a table to be the first test of her latest serum – one that can turn a human being into a spider! She adds that she has not developed an antidote.

Then a bombardment from the Navy shakes the base, causing Mrs Webb to accidentally inject the serum into herself. And like she said, there is no antidote available. Gorza is knocked out by falling debris. Mrs Webb makes a run for her helicopter, but as she prepares to take off, the serum starts to take effect and one of her arms turns into a spider’s leg. 

Paula impulsively makes a rush for the helicopter but is captured by Mrs Webb. Mrs Webb uses her remaining arm to get the helicopter into the air and tries to use Paula as a hostage against the Navy. When Paula yells at them not to give in to the threat, Mrs Webb angrily throws her against the controls, causing the helicopter to pitch. Mrs Webb makes another lunge at Paula to kill her with spider venom, causing another pitch that makes her fall out of the helicopter and into the sea. The Navy fail to find her, dead or alive, or in what form. They pick up Paula and her grandparents, but Jarvis wants to stay on the island.

Thoughts

Mrs Webb was the only Misty villain to return for a sequel, and one of the few who could. Misty being Misty, she liked to send her villains to sticky ends (an end Mrs Webb finally meets in this story!). Not all Misty villains met this fate, and Mrs Webb’s first story hinted she escaped and might be back. It’s a bit odd this followup didn’t appear in Misty when there was still time for it to do so before the merger. At IPC, a sequel tended to appear within a year after the original, and the first Mrs Webb story appeared in 1978. Perhaps the sequel had not been written at that stage? Did they decide to save the sequel for the merger? Or did ye Editor trawl through old issues of Misty to see what could be brought into the merger and ordered the sequel?

When I first read this follow-up, I found Mrs Webb way too camp and over the top for my taste, an opinion that has not changed much. Also, she was more into demented grandstanding than menace, which made her even more annoying. In her first story her planning showed shrewdness and cunning despite her insanity, but now her plans don’t seem to be well thought out. She seriously believes she can scare the whole world into submission by threatening them with spiders, even if they are ones capable of eating people alive? All the Navy had to do to stop her man-eating spider attack was bring out the hoses, and the world has insecticides and fumigation as well. 

Also showing lack of proper planning is how Mrs Webb wants to make use of Paula. She captures Paula and demands her cooperation, but she does not enslave her or ever make any real use of her as she did with her two slaves Sadie and Freda in her first story. After making her demands she just lets Paula go. She does not even use an enslaving device on Paula, which she did with Sadie and Freda. Doing so would have added even more punch to the plot. Instead, one is left feeling Mrs Webb capturing Paula at all was rather pointless, and the only purpose it serves in the plot is to inform Paula what’s going on. Okay, when comparing Mrs Webb now to what she was like in her first story, it is obvious that her insanity has increased, very likely at the expense of clear thinking. So perhaps it is understandable.

Also coming across as a bit improbable is the amazing recovery gran makes after the spider bite. Her recovery, without any medication, is so miraculous it’s unbelievable. She actually leaves the island looking hale and hearty, as if she had never been bitten at all. Was she lucky and only received a sublethal bite, or did she have some kind of fluke resistance to the poison?

The story could have done with a fuller explanation of who Mrs Webb was for the benefit of readers who had not read her original story, particularly the Tammy readers. We’re given the impression she has struck before and the Navy captain says she’s “the fiend who terrorised England some years back”, but there are no details. Some flashback or explanation would have been welcome by readers who sensed another story here and wanted to know the gist at least, and it would have enhanced the story more.

On the plus side, the story sure is high on the gross-out factor, which is so rare and bold for girls’ comics. Panels showing people being eaten alive by spiders, one being driven mad with pain and throwing himself overboard, and corpses that have been eaten to the bones must have shocked Tammy readers and given them nightmares for days. It’s also high on creepiness and sinister atmosphere, and it’s not just those spiders that are genetically engineered to be dangerous weapons. It’s the setting on the leper island itself. Those sinister-looking, decaying huts that were once home to lepers and the island graveyard full of leper graves creep us out immediately. Mrs Webb and then gran’s delirium set everyone high on anxiety and terror that there could be ghosts lurking around that are every bit as evil and dangerous as Mrs Webb’s spiders. And in a place like that, we’re more than ready to believe there are ghosts or something even more diabolical. Winding us up even more is the buildup to something or someone else on the island who is watching the stranded family. It’s quite a twist to have it turn out to be benign and friendly instead of menacing.

The apex of the horror is definitely the experiment to turn a human being into a spider. A human actually turning into a spider of unknown hybrid? Cor blimey! Having Mrs Webb herself not knowing exactly what the end result will be really adds to it.

It is a great Misty-style comeuppance to have this backfire on Mrs Webb and set her on the path to turning into a spider herself. It is a pity we don’t see the final form of this transformation. It feels like another missed opportunity and we’re rather left dangling as to how it would have turned out. It would have really turned the story up a few notches to have our protagonists up against a totally transformed Mrs Webb. We can just see her as the biggest Black Widow spider you ever saw, but still with a human mind that is totally insane, rampaging like Godzilla, and maybe laying clutches of eggs that hatch into swarms of giant killer spiders. That would have turned it into a really exciting story that would have readers on the edge of their seats while giving them the stuff of nightmares. 

Tammy & June 19 October 1974

Artist: John Richardson

Becky Never Saw the Ball – artist John Armstrong, writer Joe Collins

Secret Ballet of the Steppes – artist Douglas Perry, writer Gerry Finley-Day?

Nell Nobody (first episode) – artist Miguel Quesada 

Wee Sue – artist John Richardson

Bessie Bunter

Unscheduled Stop (Strange Story) – artist John Armstrong

Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie – artist Robert MacGillivray

No Tears for Molly – artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon

Town Without Telly – artist José Casanovas

Autumn covers are also good to profile in Halloween month, and I just dug this one out from 1974.

The issue begins another Cinderella story, “Nell Nobody”. Nell must have been popular, as her run (18 episodes) was even longer than the first Bella Barlow story (12 episodes). Nell Ewart is badly treated by her aunt and uncle (confusingly, they are actually her step-parents), who only have eyes for her spoiled stepsister/cousin Rosie. They yank Nell out of school to slog at a hot dog stand to pay for Rosie’s acting fees, which dashes her hopes of pursuing drama and stagecraft at school when she’s just discovered her talent for it. At least she still has her puppet Willoughby, and we know things will somehow start from there. And could Nell’s uncle have unwittingly helped her by establishing the hot dog stand across from the TV studio and theatre?

Imagine putting Coppelia together in three days! That’s the task facing our slave dancers of the Steppes from the slave-driving Berova. Incredibly, they pull it off, but Judith collapses from the strain. Princess Petra allows them to take a sleigh ride over the Steppes for a break, but Judith smells something fishy about their drivers. 

Recepta, once a TV addict herself, is now trying to stop her father from turning the town of Boxless into a town full of TV addicts. It’s a battle of wills between them now, with Dad going as far as to bind and gag Recepta and force her to watch television. 

Miss Bigger feels confident she’s put Sue in her place this time after lumbering her with the awful task of pumping the organ for choir practice. Little does she know Sue’s had one of her brainwaves to get out of it. 

Bessie Bunter is off like a shot when Miss Stackpole says there’ll be refreshments at St. Prim’s School – without stopping to hear there’ll be a hockey match there first. And to her chagrin, she’s lumbered as goalie. She tries to wriggle out of it and to the grub, but it backfires so badly on her that she gets tangled in the goal net and unable to get to the refreshments before the others finish them. Poor Bessie.

In the Strange Story, “Unscheduled Stop”, Jenny Shaw is reaching breaking point because her parents are always arguing. Then the train they’re on makes an unscheduled stop – back in time – which shows Jenny the younger versions of her parents and what started the trouble between them. 

The Stanton Hall staff, egged on by the militant Miss Byrdy, have gone on strike to get rid of Pickering. But it’s gone too far and Miss Byrdy is arrested. The strike collapses without her, but Lord Stanton sees the point of it after catching Pickering taking a horrible revenge on the staff, and orders him to apologise. No dismissal for him though, or any real improvement in how he treats the staff. At least the staff get raises out of it, and Miss Byrdy is soon released, all charges dropped.

Uncle Meanie’s round-the-trip cruise lands the family in California and at the doorstep of another McScrimp relative, Tex McScrimp. And from the looks of the signs and barbed wire fences he has put up, he is every bit as mean, unwelcoming, and eccentric about it as Uncle Angus. The miser gene definitely runs right through the McScrimp family; Jeannie’s generation is the only one known to have skipped it. 

Becky Bates is making a comeback as a tennis player after losing her sight. But keeping her blindness a secret is causing problems. This time it’s having another accident and collapsing because of it, and her coach/Aunt Elspeth is accused of driving her too hard. 

Tammy & June 2 November 1974

Becky Never Saw the Ball – artist John Armstrong, writer Joe Collins

Nell Nobody – artist Miguel Quesada 

No Tears for Molly – artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon

Dirty Trix – artist unknown

Bessie Bunter

Menace at the Movies (Strange Story) – artist Mario Capaldi

Wee Sue – artist John Richardson

Secret Ballet of the Steppes – artist Douglas Perry, writer Gerry Finley-Day?

Town Without Telly – artist José Casanovas

We continue our Halloween theme with the 1974 Tammy Halloween issue. This is the first time the Tammy Cover Girls appear in a Halloween cover, and it’s a very nice cover. However, it also shows the inconsistency in depicting the age of the younger Cover Girl during this period. On this cover she’s a kid sister, but on the next cover she’s definitely a young teen, about twelve or so. 

The Cover Girls are the only ones commemorating Halloween. There isn’t even so much as a Halloween craft feature inside. Bessie and Wee Sue could also have emphasised the theme further with a Halloween-themed story, which they both did in later years. Instead, it’s business as usual. In the former, Miss Stackpole follows a suggestion to make Bessie a prefect to improve her conduct. But Miss Stackpole soon finds out it was bad advice – and Bessie finds out that even she can gorge herself sick! In the latter, Miss Bigger goes to such extremes in sugar hoarding during a sugar shortage that her larder is almost busting from it. But, as usual, she has reckoned without Sue. The Storyteller could have also done something with Halloween, but instead he tells a comeuppance story about a girl who is always playing truant. 

John Armstrong is now drawing “Becky Never Saw the Ball”, a story Pat Mills considers “rather silly and far-fetched”. Still, a lot of other girls’ stories could be considered that, and I could name a few stories that were far more silly and far-fetched than this one. Maybe one of these days we will do an entry on this story and you can decide for yourselves. Becky Bates is making a comeback as a tennis player after losing her sight. Added to that, she’s made a bad enemy out of Brenda Morris, even more so after she trounces Brenda this week. 

“Nell Nobody” is one of Tammy’s longest-running Cinderella stories (18 episodes!). Nell Ewart is yanked out of school and forced to slog at her uncle’s hot dog stand to pay for his spoiled daughter Rosie’s acting lessons. Nell is secretly pursuing performing ambitions of her own with puppets and turning the hot dog stand itself into a puppet theatre. But now her rotten Uncle Vic has smashed her puppet and she has no money for repairs. Unless she can think of something, her show is busted.

Molly discovers she has a double, Lady Alice Dornby. Lady Alice and Molly agree to swap roles, and Lady Alice even goes to Stanton Hall in Molly’s place at Stanton Hall when Molly has an accident. Oh dear, Molly realises that even though Lady Alice has been warned about Pickering the bully butler, she is going to get one heck of a shock when she meets him! 

“Dirty Trix” Harris has turned to cheating at athletics after being cheated herself, and the results are proving profitable for her so far. But now the coach, Miss Wood, is getting suspicious – even without Trix deciding not to cheat this week. 

The ballet slave dancers of the Steppes find they have swapped one form of slavery for another when they get kidnapped by Russian revolutionaries. Then, oddly, they find dancing can bridge the gap between them and their captors. So they create a ballet inspired by Russian revolutionary ideals, which delights the revolutionaries. Then comes the threat of war, so now there’s a desperate plan to escape back to the imperial palace to find a way to stop it. 

Mr Jones is trying to turn the town of Boxless, which previously had no television because its location blocked reception, into a television-addicted town. But his daughter Recepta, once a TV addict herself, has other ideas, and is trying to cure Boxless of TV addiction. This week, Recepta’s friend Joy thinks she has the answer. 

Nightmare at Grimm Fen (also the Face of Fear) (1976-1977)

Sample Images (as The Face of Fear, published 29 November 1975)

Published: Tammy 27 November 1976 to 5 February 1977. Plus a Strange Story prologue, “The Face of Fear”, 29 November 1975.

Episodes: 11, plus Strange Story episode

Artist: Diane Gabbot(t)

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

It’s Halloween season, so it’s time to bring out the entries on supernatural stories and covers. Leading off the lineup is this Tammy offering from Diane Gabbot(t), not just because it is a spooky story but also because it has one of the oddest publication histories ever seen in girls comics. It is very odd indeed, because what should have been the first episode of this story was instead published as a Strange Story, “The Face of Fear” (above). “The Face of Fear” appeared in Tammy on 29 November 1975, exactly one year before the serial itself began. It’s not a self-contained story, which Strange Stories usually were. Nor is it a Strange Story mini-serial, which sometimes appeared in Tammy. Strange Stories hadn’t been used that way before in Tammy or since then. Whatever was behind this aberration remains a one-off mystery that’s even stranger than a Strange Story.

Plot

(As) The Face of Fear

Patty and Mark Stephens are enthusiastic brass rubbers. At Grimm Fen, Grimmford, they go to a 12th century church, St. Frideswide’s, in search of brass rubbings. Inside the church they make a rubbing of an ominous-looking brass of a Frenchman named Robert le Mal (Robert the Evil One). They find it odd that he’s depicted as a skeletal figure wrapped in a shroud. His inscription reads: “When I wake up once more – watch out.” As soon as they finish the rubbing of Robert le Mal it gets hit by lightning and an extremely terrible storm blows up from nowhere. As they struggle to make their way back home in the storm, they hear a strange flapping sound. Back home, Dad says he saw a huge flapping figure following them. 

Next page…

Lights Out for Lucinda (1975-76)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 6 December 1975 to 7 February 1976

Episodes: 10 single episodes, 1 double episode

Artist: Ken Houghton

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Rich girl Lucinda Prior is a spoiled brat, and she guzzles a lot too (not to the proportions of Bessie Bunter but still telling). She has her chauffeur drive out to where her father is having a meeting, which is oddly in the middle of nowhere on the moor. She is surprised to find soldiers on the moor, who tell her they guard a site of a ghost town called Blackmarket, which has been sealed off because WW2 top secret gas manufacturing made it toxic.

Lucinda then finds her chauffeur has stranded her on the moor. He did so because he got fed up with her bratty behaviour. He didn’t give a thought that this could put her in danger, which it does when a mist rises and she gets lost, and then she falls into a river. She washes up in Blackmarket.

Lucinda is astonished to find Blackmarket inhabited by people who are still living in World War II, right down to thinking they’re living in the Blitz. Blackmarket is surrounded by guards who ensure nobody ever leaves, even to the point of opening fire on them. The Blackmarket people say nobody is allowed to leave because the work they do is top secret. They don’t listen when Lucinda tries to tell them the war has long since ended. Soon Lucinda finds she’s in a virtual madhouse with nothing but 12-hour shifts in a WW2 factory, with constant blackouts, no street lighting, stuffy rooms from the blackouts, lack of decent food, and sections of the place that do look bombed-out. It’s all women and girls around her; all the men apparently off to war. Any men present are the army guards, seen only at a distance, and the sneaky spivs (black marketeers).

Certainly a shock to the system for anyone, but Lucinda’s spoiled behaviour is making it even harder for her to handle it. She is expected to pitch in and help the war effort with factory work, and is mortified to work alongside the unwashed and dirtying her hands. But the factory forewoman, Mrs Drew, isn’t the sort to take no for an answer. Moreover, Miss Guzzler is now faced with wartime rations, which lack nutrition and taste. Her spoiled conduct has them calling her “Her Ladyship”. 

Lucinda quickly switches to playing along as best she can, saying she’s confused and suffering memory loss after London bombing, which serves well as a cover for her not having the ID card they keep demanding or ration books. But she still hasn’t broken the pattern of her old behaviour, and is also taking advantage of good-natured people who try to help her, such as her new friend Annie. When Lucinda is told to clean a factory machine and slapped for not doing it, she foists it onto another worker, Gert, but is reported for shirking. To make Mrs Drew even angrier, Gert collapsed because of it. Lucinda’s punishment is to clean the canteen grease trap. 

At this, Lucinda makes a run for it, only to find the way she came has now been sealed, which not only cuts off this means of escape but also cuts Blackmarket even further off from the outside world. Lucinda is now convinced the gas is no longer a danger, so why is the army keeping Blackmarket sealed off? 

Lucinda then encounters a spiv who offers her chocolate flogged from the army, but the chocolate’s even worse than the war rations. She takes other foodstuffs the spiv offers in exchange for her watch. She offers it to Annie and her mother for making up for eating their cheese ration. But the WPC, who have called in about Lucinda’s shirking, confiscate it, and now Lucinda’s in trouble for black marketing as well as being work shy. 

Next day, Lucinda has to clean the canteen grease trap for shirking, which is a vile job. But this time she feels guilty when Annie and her friends pitch in to help her, as she knows this cuts into their 12-hour shifts and they will have to work even longer at the factory. She also begins to sympathise with the women and girls for the life they have to lead in Blackmarket. So much so that she begins to develop the wartime spirit and starts sharing food instead of scoffing it. Lucinda’s also impressed these people can find ways to cheer themselves up despite their hardships. It makes her realise how materialistic and hedonistic her old life was, and she’s making friends for the first time in her life. As time goes on, she begins to like her new way of life because of the friends she’s making, and is surprises herself at how selfless she is becoming. For example, she takes a box of chocolates she obtained earlier from the spivs to Gert to atone for the way she treated her. Along the way she gives a lot of the chocolates to kids who are so thin from wartime rations. Only two are left for Gert, who doesn’t mind when she hears why, and Lucinda did not scoff any of them.

As time goes on, Lucinda finds herself growing confused about whether it is the seventies or WW2. She’s hearing radio newsbroadcasts about how the war’s going, and now she’s even finding herself even thinking like she’s in WW2. Is the place getting to her and having a brainwashing effect, or is something else at work? She has to keep a grip on herself. 

Lucinda is finally introduced to the person in charge of Blackmarket: Commander Hobbs. The Commander issues Lucinda with an ID card and ration cards, but also strips her of her modern clothes and puts her in factory clothes to work in the factory. The Commandant later burns Lucinda’s clothes, destroying the one proof Lucinda belatedly realised she had to show WW2 has long since ended – made in Germany clothes. Lucinda also discovers the Commander deliberately removed the label saying so, who destroys it right in front of Lucinda. 

An air raid strikes, and even the spivs help to cheer people up in the air raid shelter. But Lucinda’s the only one to notice there is no evidence of bombing afterwards and says this out loud. The Commander’s reaction to this makes Lucinda suspect the Commander faked it, but Lucinda realises she’s made the mistake of alerting the Commander to her suspicions. 

Another thing that’s odd is that Lucinda has been at the factory for some time now, but it’s not been established just what they are manufacturing. And since it can’t be for the war effort as they believe, than what or who is it for? They also have to take pills with their rations – ostensibly, vitamin pills. When Lucinda resists taking hers because she hates tablets, Mrs Drew forces her to take it. 

Hearing the spivs are smuggling their goods in from over the wire, Lucinda tries to enlist a spiv to get a message out for help, but he accuses her of being a spy. Lucinda’s resistance against this strange setup has earned her a reputation as a troublemaker and possible Hitler sympathiser. 

Suspicious, Annie takes Lucinda to the Commander, where they overhear an odd remark between the Commander and the spiv about the vitamin pills making Lucinda “safe”. Following this and a strange spell of confusion where she finds herself thinking it is WW2, Lucinda suspects the vitamin tablets are really some sort of mind-bending drug. She decides to test her theory by not taking her pill, but the Commander and Mrs Drew force her to. Lucinda soon feels the effect of the drug, and is forced to stab her hand to break its power. She finds the pain sorely needed to keep a grip on her identity, as the effects of the pill are still lingering. 

There’s another air raid alarm. Now convinced it’s all a fake, Lucinda just walks out of the air raid shelter. Sure enough, there’s no air raid out there, and she suspects the sounds are coming from a door marked “Top Secret No Admittance”. But on the other side of the door the Commander has Lucinda on CCTV and, seeing the threat she poses, presses the red button. This causes an explosion to simulate a house being bombed, and Lucinda is caught in the debris. She is rescued from the rubble and now wondering if there really was a bomb raid. But Mrs Drew makes a slip of the tongue that has her realise the truth. 

Lucinda decides to play along, pretending she has succumbed, until she figures out what to do. Despite what happened before, she again tries to get the spivs to help her. Their reaction to refusing even bribery to help her makes her realise they must be in league with the Commander. The spivs chase Lucinda to the factory, where the workers rally around Lucinda and duff up the spivs for cheating them all the time. 

The fight distracts the Commander long enough for Lucinda to slip into into her top secret room. There she discovers the elaborate and definitely not 1940s technology that’s behind the whole charade. She’s also interested in what’s in an open filing cabinet, but then the Commander and Mrs Drew return. Lucinda manages to slip out, knocking out Mrs Drew in the process, and head back to the factory. At the factory it’s payday, at WW2 rates of £2/14/6, and what the spivs have reported to the Commander about Lucinda has aroused her suspicions. 

Lucinda turns to telling the workers there is no more WW2, they’re being brainwashed by those tablets, and they should take a look behind the locked door. She persuades them to stop taking the tablets, and they are also suspicious by the Commander and Mrs Drew’s reactions. The Commander threatens to blow up the factory at this sudden insurgence and takes Lucinda away to her office. 

In her office the Commander admits to the charade. She recruited WW2 Blitz widows as it was easier to bend their minds, and threw some kids into the mix for more authenticity. The spivs (and presumably the phoney army guards) are escaped convicts. She was using the women as cheap labour, using the WW2 simulation to pay them at 1940s rates instead of modern ones (and with predecimal currency in an era that has dispensed with £sd?!). The goods the workers make are sold at modern prices, making the huge difference between the cost of production and cost of retail a huge profit. The Commander then reveals Blackmarket’s biggest customer is…Lucinda’s father, and all the wealth Lucinda used to enjoy came from the Blackmarket operation. 

Dad comes along, and it looks like he is indeed the man behind Blackmarket and the Commander is his accomplice. He offers to take Lucinda home, nobody the wiser, but Lucinda repulses him. She’s going to help her Blackmarket friends, and runs back to them, despite Dad yelling she could get him thrown in prison. 

Back at the factory, Lucinda finds the workers have recovered their true memories after a break from the pills. Now everyone rises up against the Commander. The Commander and the spivs threaten to quell the revolt with guns, but Dad soon has them rounded up with a real army. 

Dad says he was forced to act the way he did. He genuinely did not know how the Commander was providing the goods so cheaply but was growing suspicous. When the Commander found out Lucinda’s true identity, she tried to blackmail him into keeping quiet, and also get more money out of him, in exchange for Lucinda’s freedom. Dad promises he will build a proper factory on the Blackmarket site and pay the workers modern rates. But first he’s going to throw a VE-Day celebration for them all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, it was rare for Tammy to have a World War II serial. The theme was seen more frequently in Tammy’s complete stories, such as her Strange Stories. 

It’s one of Tammy’s many slave stories, but with a difference: we’re not sure what to make of it or what’s behind it, so there’s a mystery just begging to be solved. The setup being what it is, could it be people who got left behind in World War II when the town got cut off? Could Lucinda have even gone back in time to the real World War II? Is someone pulling some weird experiment? Is it someone’s crazy idea of boosting television ratings (a la Mr Grand from “Village of Fame” or “The Revenge of Edna Hack” from Tammy)? It’s certainly a very elaborate way to conduct a racket, but that’s precisely what it turns out to be. 

The racket is far more imaginative than many slave rackets we’ve seen in girls’ comics: slaves trapped in a simulation of a historical period where they can’t realise what’s going on because they’ve been drugged and everything looks like the era, and they think they’re working in a good cause. They’re totally isolated from anyone or anything able to tell them otherwise until Lucinda arrives. It certainly makes a change from seeing girls kidnapped, pulled off the streets, recruited from workhouses or pressganged in other ways to work as slave labour in factories, business operations, or rackets of various kinds. It also makes a change from punishment after punishment being piled upon the protagonist for constant resistance and failed escape attempts. Instead, the Commander tries to subdue Lucinda as she has the others – through the mind-bending drug. When that faces failure, she tries to dispose of Lucinda, and then, once she discovers Lucinda’s true identity, uses her to make herself even more of a Mrs Big of the operation. 

Having Lucinda start as an unlikeable person rather than a nice person gives her a more rounded personality and have her undergo far more character development. It must be said the panels with the bratty Lucinda are more attention-grabbing than ones of a good-natured protagonist, and this arouses our interest in the story even more. We all know Lucinda will change for the better at Blackmarket, but we are all eager to see just how the change unfolds, so we happily follow the story for this as well as unravelling the mystery of Blackmarket.

Lucinda’s initial bratty reactions to these unwashed people, being expected to dirty her hands alongside them and wartime rations are not surprising. Some problem girls are tough nuts to crack and take a while to reform. But Lucinda’s smart move to switch to playing along enables her to change fairly quickly, with little in the way of relapse, and her change for the better is realistically handled. Although Mrs Drew is clearly a villain and a hard case forewoman, we have to cheer her for ordering Lucinda the brat to clean the machinery and then the grease trap. 

Lucinda’s initial snobbishness changes to sympathy and admiration for how these people can bear up under the severe demands of wartime privations. Guilt also kicks in when she sees how others are suffering because she’s not doing her share of the work at the factory. Shock at seeing how thin the kids are from wartime diet has her change from guzzling food to sharing it. But the biggest lesson is learning the value of friendship and having friends for the first time in her life. So much so that she is willing to sacrifice the chance to go home with her father because she refuses to abandon her friends to their fate. Also adding to the change in Lucinda is the growing disorientation over where she is and keeping a grip on her identity. She knows it’s the seventies, but even before she starts the mind-bending tablets the place is getting to her and she’s beginning to think it really is World War II. It’s hard to keep up bratty behaviour against such stress. 

Lucinda is surprising even herself in the way she is changing. And the old Lucinda would be astonished at how she is now. Sharing food, willing to get her hands dirty, learning to appreciate what she took for granted, discovering the value of friendship, even stabbing herself to break the power of a mind-bending drug. The bratty Lucinda would never have dreamed of such things and only cared about luxury and the city lights. 

Subtle changes in the art reflect the changes in Lucinda’s body as well. She’s losing the weight gain from guzzling and going from being too chubby to fit into the clothes she’s ordered to slimming down to wartime proportions. Facing true hunger and restrictions on food has her learning to appreciate food, even the stodgy wartime rations. 

It’s an enormous shock to Lucinda when her own father is revealed to be the man profiting from Blackmarket. It’s the ultimate test for Lucinda’s new character: do what is right, although she’ll send her own father to prison, or take the easy way out with Dad? When Lucinda gallantly chooses the former because she won’t abandon her friends, for a moment it looks like she will go the way of Amanda Harvey, who discovers the man behind the sewing slavery racket of “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl 2) is her own father and now has to turn him in. It is a relief when Dad says he was forced into behaving the way he did and had no idea what was going on. 

Mind you, that’s assuming he was telling the truth and not covering up for himself. There was that meeting he was having way back in the first episode – right in the middle of nowhere on the moor, right where the Blackmarket racket is operating. That sure is suspicious. And it is never explained. There might be a reasonable explanation, but are we willing to give him benefit of the doubt? 

The wartime hardships these women endure arouse not only Lucinda’s sympathies but ours as well. The creative team are giving us a serious lesson on how hard life was for British people in World War II from blackouts, bombings, slaving for the war effort, food rations that are in uncertain supply, the mental stress and breakdowns from it all (“bomb happy” as they call it), and hoping against hope that VE-Day will come. The effect is telling not only on their minds but also their bodies. They’re going unwashed because washing’s difficult. It’s not even Auschwitz, yet children are thin and stunted from short food supplies and the rotten wartime diet. Yet their spirits remain unbroken, they appreciate cheeriness and sparks of luxury wherever they find it, and they find courage and strength in the wartime spirit. The story shows us that even decades after World War II ended, the wartime spirit can still resonate and its message ring for modern generations.

Granny’s Town (1973-74)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 27 October 1973 to 23 February 1974

Episodes: 18

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Pat Mills [edited to add: Mills credits the concept and direction to Gerry Finley-Day]

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Jen Young comes to the seaside town of Crone-on-Sea, also known as Granny’s Town, to help with her grandfather’s boarding house. It’s a favourite retirement place for old ladies, but so incredibly old-fashioned, with amusements, transport, accommodation and so forth that are decades out of date. Modernism seems to have bypassed it completely, and it looks like nothing ever happens there. 

However, Jen soon discovers the grannies in Granny’s Town are operating some kind of secret society/underground movement, and it’s enabling them to run the town all but in name. The movement is led by a granny known only as Her Ladyship. 

Under Her Ladyship and her granny army, the only law in town is Granny’s Law. Anyone who treats any granny rudely, crosses them in any way or interferes with them gets swiftly dealt with in mysterious ways and scared into leaving town. Innocuous granny activities such as knitting, embroidery and crochet are used as weapons to frightening effect against such people, such as sending threats or tying them up. And there are so many of them (always men) who cross the grannies. In what appears to be the first attack, which makes front page news in the local paper, a rude train conductor and businessman get tied to lamp posts with wool in a night vigilante attack, and cushions are left behind with a stitched message: “Get out of Granny’s Town”. This first attack strikes at night, but subsequent ones strike in broad daylight. Among them, an uncivil workman who won’t shut down the racket he’s making with his roadworks gets bound and and gagged and locked in a grandfather’s clock, to be near-deafened by its chiming and ordered to get out of town. A new supermarket owner threatens fierce competition against a long-standing store run by dear old Mrs Mullins; the grannies sabotage the supermarket and it soon closes down. 

There are danger signals about Granny’s Law. In one case, the grannies stake out a boorish donkey ride man on a lawn but just leave him there, with no release or keeping an eye on him. By the time Jen finds him he’s nearly dead from heatstroke. When Jen tries to investigate further, the grannies seize her, tie her to a peepshow machine, and force her head down into the machine to read a message: “Next time mind your own business, Miss Nosey Parker.” Unlike the others the grannies have forced out, that doesn’t stop Jen or drive her out. But the grannies always keep one step ahead of Jen when she tries to probe their activities.

It’s not just rudeness that brings down the wrath of the grannies. Anyone trying to modernise the old-fashioned town is also targeted. A rude developer wants to turn the movie theatre where the grannies enjoy silent movies into a bingo hall. They tie him up with film and force him to watch silents – with Charlie Chaplin as the movie projector – while tickling him to make him laugh. 

Things really heat up when the Mayor wants to enforce modernism on the town, demolish the old-style buildings, and pack off the grannies to old age homes. This brings out the granny fight military style and now they turn into a full-scale army. They send messages in code, such as using their knitting to click out out Morse, march like soldiers, organise councils of war, and rouse to Her Ladyship’s version of Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall never surrender” speech. 

Jen notices it’s not just the Mayor’s modernism the grannies are rebelling against. They’re striking against anything modern now, including football, a TV studio and cars, the last of which gets banned and the grannies take delight in the old-style horse and carriage. Things come to a head when the Mayor wants to pull down the pier and build an oil rig. The grannies’ tricks have him resigning in disgrace. After the Mayor resigns, Her Ladyship becomes Mayoress.

Now Her Ladyship is Mayoress, she swiftly becomes a cross between Queen Victoria and Hitler of the whole town. It’s unbelievably easy for her to do so. Everything just seems to turn into a police state in Granny’s Town at Her Ladyship’s command, no protest, no questions asked, no human rights issues raised. Granny’s Law shifts to making it a virtual crime to be young or modern. The grannies’ retaliation changes its focus from punishing those who are rude or abusive to grannies to those who do not support the granny rule. It begins with Her Ladyship throwing a free celebratory party and has Jen sell flags for it. Seems innocuous, but Jen discovers the party is Her Ladyship’s way of identifying anyone at the party who opposes her (by not wearing her flags) and remove them all by having them arrested – on no charge whatsoever: “It’s the orders of the new mayoress!” Jen is the only one shocked at this Gestapo-like action; the grannies just think it’s amusing and say Her Ladyship must have a very good reason for it. 

Under Her Ladyship, Granny’s Town is stripped of any remnant of modernity and reduced even further into an old-fashioned pattern that takes it right back to Victorian times. Coal and gaslights replace electricity. People are given Victorian clothes to stay warm after a power cut. Jen soon discovers the power cut is meant to be permanent. The town is mysteriously cut off from the outside world when the trains get blocked and telephone lines non-operational until after the upcoming Granny’s Day celebration. Everyone is trapped in Granny’s Town with these weird going-on. Yet nobody except Jen seems to realise something’s weird about the clock turning back to the 19th century in this town that was old-fashioned to begin with. They treat it as a joke and think what Her Ladyship is doing is just marvellous. 

Jen snoops into Her Ladyship’s house and discovers doll-sized dummies of everyone in town, with the doll of Her Ladyship rigged up as queen. She realises that is precisely how Her Ladyship intends to rule Granny’s Town. There can be no doubt it has something to do with the upcoming Granny’s Day celebration.

Jen soon discovers the dolls have another purpose – a means of terrorising people who still pose a threat to Her Ladyship. She walks into a store to get something trendy to replace her Victorian dress. The shop assistant, initially happy to help, receives the doll of himself from Her Ladyship’s house, now broken, and a note: “Greetings to you on Granny’s Day.” He screams they’re going to get him, he can’t serve Jen after all, and shuts up his shop fast. Later, Jen receives a package: it’s her own doll, now broken, and the same message. Now she really knows Her Ladyship is gunning for her. It looks like the granny retaliation, served in an underground way before, is becoming more open now the grannies are in charge. 

The elderly Misses Charity, Hope and Faith are regulars at granddad’s boarding house and have been friendly with Jen from the beginning. They are present when Jen receives the broken doll. She decides to take a chance and tell them what she’s discovered, and hope her trust is not misplaced. They give some indication they might help.

Granny’s Day is a grand celebration, with only Jen seeing the grannies lined up like an army. It is announced that Her Ladyship is going to demolish houses in certain roads as part of a new town planning scheme. Everyone, including Jen, thinks it’s just innocuous slum clearance and old houses going. Then men in terrifying oversized masks start chasing Jen. Nobody but Jen realises they are there to terrorise her; they think it’s part of the fun. 

Jen takes refuge from her pursuers in the town hall. There she finds a model of Granny’s Town, with all the dolls of the young people in town being thrown in a box and only the granny dolls on the model. Later, Jen discovers what it means and what the town planning scheme is really about: Her Ladyship has condemned all the modern buildings, just to evict the young people in them and force them to leave town, and make Crone-on-Sea the exclusive reserve of the grannies. The young people just seem to leave their homes and the town without a murmur of protest.

Misses Hope, Charity and Faith then seize Jen and say she’s coming with them. It looks like her trust in them was misplaced. She gives them the slip and disguises herself as a granny, but then it starts to rain heavily, washing off her makeup. She is discovered and taken to Her Ladyship. Her Ladyship is now on a virtual throne in the town hall. The only thing missing is the crown she wore in her model. She is now so powerful that all the grannies are under her control and doing everything she says, and she even has spies everywhere. 

She has Jen locked up to be dealt with later. While in her cell, Jen sees the rain turn into a thunderstorm. It gets so bad it weakens the sea wall, which threatens to flood the town. Misses Hope, Charity and Faith rescue Jen from her cell, saying they were secretly trying to help earlier without being detected. They realise “[Her Ladyship’s] a little silly and has to be stopped”. 

The sea wall is now cracking really badly and the water’s pouring in, but the grannies are too old and frail to do anything. There are no young people to help and no telephone to call for help, thanks to Her Ladyship. Jen starts a fire (in torrential rain!) to start a beacon that will hopefully alert the evicted people in the next town. It works, and the young and old forget their differences while they start sandbagging to stop up the wall. Jen is hit by a falling tree and knocked unconscious. 

When Jen wakes up, the town is safe and the granny rule has been dismantled. Her Ladyship fled in a hot air balloon during the storm, not to be seen again. The grannies have learned from the flooding business that they can’t live on their own and need young people. The young people are back and reconciled with the grannies. Everything is forgiven, but Jen knows she will never forget the days of Granny’s Law. 

Thoughts

In girls’ comics, one constant message has been to never underestimate a granny, whether good or evil. This message has been seen in so many stories, including Pam of Pond Hill. 

These grannies don’t just have the monopoly in Granny’s Town – they have it in the entire story itself as well. It’s always grannies in the story; grandpas never feature in Her Ladyship’s movement or on the plans for Granny’s Town. The dolls on the model are all grannies – no grandpas. In fact, the only gramps in the story is Jen’s grandfather, and even he barely appears in it. Again, it’s always a girls’ world in girls’ comics.

This story is making a particularly strong statement about ageism and Grey Power. Only it’s not doing it in a positive light, and the grannies, although they believe they are rightly striking back at abusers and threats to their old-fashioned livestyle, are not portrayed as the heroes of the story. In a humour serial, the direction the story could have taken, the granny movement would provide the readers with loads of laughs. We would all cheer the grannies on in giving these nasty types their just desserts. Instead, we all feel uneasy and creeped out about the whole thing because that’s the way Jen feels about it all. Though there is some humour to the way these nasty types are punished, it’s perverse humour and we are not laughing. There is nothing funny about being their being forced out of town by the grannies, just for one act of callousness. It’s vigilantism, and vigilantism can be very dangerous. Indeed, in several instances it does get dangerous and goes too far, such when the staked-out man nearly dies in the heat or Jen gets tied to the peepshow machine. 

Grannies are not normally people to be scared of, but you do get the creeps from these grannies and whatever they might be up to next, beginning with Her Ladyship. Her Ladyship gives Jen the chills right from the start. She never gives her name (“prefers to remain anonymous”) and never shows her face; she’s always veiled and she favours dark clothing. She’s also drawn at angles and distances that give the impression she operates at a distance and from the shadows. When she becomes Mayoress she switches from the veil to dark glasses that she never takes off, giving her a Mafia look. From the beginning to the end she never shows her face or gives her name, which makes her even more chilling. 

To make the grannies even more frightening, they remain unseen each time they strike, so we never know just who is behind the attack and it’s hard for the victim to prove anything. Panels only show groping hands reaching out to pull a trick, utensils (feather dusters, canes, hatpins, scarfs, etc) being applied to victims, the threats the grannies leave behind, and the odd clue Jen finds. Compounding the terror is that the grannies are so crafty in what they do that they always keep one step ahead and win every time. However much people really know about what’s going on, nobody does anything. After all, they are old ladies, and it’s a hard thing to rise up against old ladies. All the same, nobody has any backbone. One attack from the grannies and they run scared from town – except Jen of course. 

When the Mayor starts his campaign to modernise the town, the story goes in a vast change of direction. Up until this point it was episodic, with an unsavoury type getting a mysterious comeuppance at granny hands each week and driven out of town. Now the story structure switches to a full-scale story arc, with the grannies shifting from an underground movement to moving out more openly as an army and a political force that rises up to take over the town completely, with nobody but Jen realising. 

As the granny takeover unfolds, we wonder if Pat Mills was reading up on how Nazism came to power in Germany and why Hitler held such sway over the German people. We can definitely see the parallels. As with Hitler and Nazism, the granny movement starts off well and seems to be well intentioned; Her Ladyship does things that makes her extremely popular with her followers, just as as Hitler did with the Germans when he came to power. To her followers, Her Ladyship offers great benefits that are everything they could want and address their needs. It makes them feel like somebody, improves their lives, gives them great power, and shows everyone what Grey Power’s about. Nobody is able to touch them, and anyone who crosses them is always removed quickly, and serve them right too. As with the rise of Nazism, most people watching it all think it’s no big deal, serves good, and will benefit its subjects. At worst, the non-granny residents think it’s “a bit barmy”, but for the most part they just laugh at it. After all, these are just old biddies running the show. What harm can they do? Anyway, it’s to be expected they might be a bit dotty. As for this sudden turnback to Victorian times, aww, how quaint and nostalgic it is, the good old days are here again. Those who see the dark side of it (whether Jen or Winston Churchill) are voices crying in the wilderness. 

As with Nazi Germany, the dark side of it is how extreme it becomes and targets those who do not fit into its ideals because the person leading it all (whether Her Ladyship or Hitler) is a fanatical dictator. But nobody but an isolated few can see what a dangerous fanatic that leader is and the extremes they are capable of for their ideals, because it’s veiled as something that serves good and benefits those who follow it. Even Jen does not understand just how fanatical Her Ladyship is until she sees the models, and realises Her Ladyship is a crazy woman who is out to rule like Queen Victoria of the town and have her very own Victorian kingdom with all her granny subjects. 

The extreme led by this power-hungry fanatic is making the town exclusively granny and old-fashioned, to the exclusion of all those who are neither. Under her rule, everything in town must be how it was in the good old days, from architecture to transport. It becomes a crime to be young or modern, just as it became a crime to be non-Aryan, anti-Nazi or Jew in Nazi Germany. You don’t even have to be rude to a granny anymore to become a target of their retaliation. Simply not supporting the granny movement or not being able to do so makes you a target. Nobody but Jen seems to realise what’s going on, either because they don’t take it seriously or are blind to it. If anyone does realise it, they are likely to be too scared to speak out. Nobody puts up any fight or protest. The young people who have their perfectly sound houses condemned for no good reason just leave. There’s no picketing, demonstrations or marches on the town hall. The mod shop man just shuts up shop in terror after receiving the doll threat. The police arrest people who don’t support grannies at the party without charge or crime, because Her Ladyship ordered it. There are no human rights for anyone who isn’t a granny, but not a word is said about it. Her Ladyship has spies all over. Granny’s Town is turning into a police state right under everyone’s noses, and nobody but Jen realises. Had the storm not cut Her Ladyship’s reign short, we can just see it escalating into a reign of corruption, greed and terror for even her own subjects. Had the story been taken further, there can be little doubt Her Ladyship’s rule would have gone down this path. 

Girls’ comics have shown time and time again that when things are taken to extremes they inevitably lead to disaster and threaten self-destruction. You must learn the lessons of moderation, tolerance, and understanding that your way is not everything. This is what the grannies learn the hard way when the flood makes them realise that granny rule to the exclusion of the young is ultimately doomed to failure and destroy itself. They cannot survive on their own and need young people for things they cannot do themselves because they are too old to do it. They also need severe reminding that they were once young themselves and these young people will in turn be old people someday. Old and young must live side by side in Granny’s Town, which they do happily once Her Ladyship is gone and the emergency made them forget their differences. 

Further thoughts from Pat Mills

Pat Mills added via Twitter: “Gerry was inspired by Arsenic and Old Lace and possibly similar films. He gave me the story but because it was ‘his baby’, I did an okay job, rather than something more. Readers liked it okay, but weird mysteries were never as popular as ‘Cinderella’ stories. Great art.”

Nurse Grudge (1979)

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Published: Tammy 3 March 1979 to 12 May 1979

Episodes: 11

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Greta Jones becomes a student nurse at St Jane’s Hospital, but although she wants to be a nurse her real motive is to take revenge on the staff she believes are responsible for her doctor father’s dismissal twenty years earlier. Guiding her is her father’s old diary, which got left behind when he vanished years ago, leaving Greta to be raised in an orphanage. It is full of the names of the people who turned against him, but it never seems to explain what he was dismissed for. Greta does not know either but intends to find out from the staff. She also befriends Old Fred the hospital porter. Although Old Fred gives no sign he knows Greta’s game, he seems to take odd actions that either protect Greta or foil her tricks. 

Greta’s revenge takes the form of nasty tricks, many of which take the form of vandalism, which are pulled on whoever’s name pops up in the diary. Of course it does not take the staff long to realise a troublemaker is at work, and after one incident where Greta is spotted and nearly caught, they know it is one of the student nurses. Sister Harris, who is in charge of the student, issues a general warning for the troublemaker to desist. Greta decides to ignore this and carry on, with more caution. 

However, things get even more risky for Greta when of her fellow student nurses, Jocelyn, rumbles her after glimpsing the diary and then catching her red-handed. Greta manages to keep one step ahead of Jocelyn but can’t allay Jocelyn’s suspicions. Greta decides to set up a phony alibi during a weekend stay at Jocelyn’s: drug everyone in the household and slip back to the hospital to cause more trouble. 

Unfortunately, upon her return, the trick backfires dreadfully on Greta. It results in Jocelyn getting seriously injured and difficulties in getting help because of the vandalism Greta caused at the hospital and drugging everyone in the household. Greta is forced to do the preliminary first aid on Jocelyn herself while waiting for the ambulance. As she does so, she realises she wasn’t paying proper attention to her nurse training because she was too distracted by revenge. Only with notes from Dad’s diary is she able to provide adequate treatment. Seeing her revenge went too far, Greta decides to end it. Jocelyn, grateful to Greta, tacitly agrees to keep things quiet. Greta looks set for a fresh start.

But oh, what a time to get found out! It is now that Sister Harris discovers the diary, which got left in the ambulance by mistake, and realises Greta is the troublemaker. She marches Greta off to the hospital authorities. Greta does not deny anything and shouts it is because of how they ganged up on her father and ruined him. The staff explain that her father brought the trouble on himself. He got so carried away celebrating Greta’s birth that in a moment of carelessness, his cigar smouldered on some curtains, which started a fire that nearly burned the hospital down. His own wife perished in the blaze and he was barely able to save baby Greta. Now Greta faces expulsion, and her dream of being a nurse looks doomed. 

Then an ambulance arrives, bringing in some very sick patients from Heathrow. The ambulance men have collapsed from the illness as well. Old Fred promptly diagnoses the condition as a tropical fever that is highly contagious and could start an epidemic. He then reveals himself as…Greta’s father in disguise. 

Dad says the hospital is not equipped to deal with this particular disease, which is unknown in England but horribly contagious, and insists on dealing with it himself. Greta tearfully declares she will help as his nurse. But the staff are not listening. So Dad and Greta seize the ambulance and drive it to an embassy to get the serum for the patients. It’s a mad scramble to get there, with not only the hospital on their tail now but the police as well!

On the way, Dad explains that after his dismissal, he left England and worked in the tropics, which not only built up his expertise in tropical diseases but also rebuilt his self-esteem and confidence as a doctor after his disgrace shattered it. Eventually he returned to England but was too scared to reveal himself. So he disguised himself as Old Fred the porter at his old hospital as a form of penance. He recognised Greta, realised what she was up to, and was trying to help where possible when things were getting out of hand.


At the embassy they get the serum to help the patients and contain the potential epidemic. After this, they both feel redeemed. Impressed by their actions, the ambassador helps to sort things out with the police and St Jane’s, and offers both Greta and Dad the opportunity to help patients in the tropics. This also enables Greta to complete her training and become a nurse after all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, nursing serials were rare in Tammy. Both Tammy and Jinty used the nurse theme more often in their complete stories. Tammy did not seem to use revenge serials much either, but when she did, the best example was “The Fairground of Fear”.

Nurse Grudge had a strong influence on me when I first started reading Tammy, and it was one of my favourites. Its most lasting impact was being the first story to introduce me to the now-familiar formula in girls’ comics that whenever a protagonist is out for revenge, she so often discovers she was wrong about the whole thing and her victims were innocent. She was misguided, didn’t have all the facts, jumped to the wrong conclusion, or was deliberately fed a tissue of lies. And in these types of revenge serials there is often, but not always, a mystery is attached that needs to be solved. In other cases, the protagonist does start off with a justified motive for revenge (e.g. “The Cat Came Back…” from Suzy, “Stella Stirrer” from Tammy and “When Harry Dumped Sally” from Bunty). However, it can go too far or expose the protagonist to danger. 

In Greta’s case, it’s all because of Dad’s diary. Although Dad is suffering from guilt and shattered self-esteem, this is not reflected in his diary. Instead, it is full of Dad’s whining about how the staff went against him (without saying why or what he was dismissed for), which gave Greta the impression they all ganged up to get rid of him on some false charge. From the moment Greta could read it, she was in effect fed a tissue of lies and grew up hating St Jane’s and wanting revenge. Why Dad went this way with his diary is even more odd than the conduct of Mr Brabazon in Bunty’s “Down with St Desmond’s!”, who fed his daughter Carol-Anne a load of BS (turning her into even more of a nasty revenge-driven bunny boiler than Greta) about her mother dying of a broken heart over being wrongly expelled because he was too scared to tell her the truth. Perhaps Greta’s Dad was too ashamed to write about the details of his disgrace and could only write how everyone turned on him.

Whatever Dad was thinking, the damage was done with his diary. Because of it, Greta grew up with a grudge against the hospital, and it is reflected in her conduct. She goes about with a persistently sullen look and attitude. She wants to become a nurse, but it’s clouded by doing it for revenge, and it is affecting her full attention to her training. We later learn that because of this, Sister Harris was having doubts about Greta being a good nurse until her handling of the Jocelyn emergency convinced her otherwise. Her disguised father, although trying to protect her, does nothing to actually stop her vendetta or set her straight. In so doing, he must take even more blame for her conduct.

Greta is not all that clever with her revenge. Her tricks are just too obvious, making it all to easy for the staff to realise what’s going on and be put on high alert. There are plenty of examples of other troublemakers in girls’ comics who were so crafty and insidious at making their tricks look like mishaps or someone else’s fault (e.g. “That Girl Next Door!”, Mandy PSL #105) that nobody could even detect someone was making trouble. 

To her credit, Greta is not as evil as, say, Carol-Anne. For example, when Jocelyn begins to suspect Greta, Greta does not plot to get rid of her. By contrast, Carol-Anne destroyed a number of people who wised up to her by getting rid of them, and not an ounce of compunction about doing so. Also, Greta is has enough heart to be shocked into realising she has gone too far and decides to stop, something clearly totally beyond Carol-Anne. She also redeems herself far more than Carol-Anne, not only in her action to save the patients but in feeling remorse prior to being caught out. She also finds she has become a much happier person after she has no more grudge – a clear statement about how harbouring grudges sours your disposition and letting go of them makes you more positive.

The shock of going too far and deciding to stop and concentrate on being a nurse could have ended the story there. Instead, it’s at this point that Greta is found out, which feels so cruel. Just when she wanted a fresh start and was finding her proper course as a nurse. Still, there was the mystery to solve: what exactly led to Dad’s dismissal? In revenge serials there is often a mystery attached, and this one is no exception. However, Greta does nothing to investigate just what happened, though at one point she does express intent to find out from the staff. Sadly, it seems the only way to get caught and confront the staff was the only way to find out. And, like so many “revenge” protagonists in girls’ serials before her and since, poor Greta finds out it was all for nothing. And if she’d checked things out more, she could have avoided it altogether. 

It’s no real surprise that Fred turns out to be Dad in disguise (well, it wasn’t for me anyway). Dads (or sometimes Mums) working from the shadows in disguise have been used elsewhere, such as Mandy PSL #185 “The Traitor’s Daughter” or Jinty’s “Curtain of Silence”. But it is a bit surprising that he came back to England when he was doing so well in the tropics and away from all the disgrace in England. And at the very hospital where he disgraced himself in the first place! Still, he said it was penance, so maybe it is understandable. 

The final redemption does feel a little contrived. Why the heck would the embassy have the serum? It’s not a hospital, after all. Perhaps they were hoping the embassy would get the serum flown in or something when the hospital was neither listening to Dad nor equipped to handle the disease? Still, it is a dramatic and exciting way to not only redeem themselves but also enable them to continue their careers.

Swimmer Slave of Mrs. Squall (1974)

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Published: Tammy & June 22 June 1974 to 31 August 1974

Episodes: 11

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day?

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Sue Briggs is a difficult, underachieving girl at school. Her parents and headmaster come down hard on her and their approach – constantly compare her unfavourably with her brother Barney (sporty) and sister Muriel (studious) – is counterproductive and only makes Sue angry. 

Sue’s anger drives her to snoop into Squall House. The Squalls were once big in the area; the housing estate (Squall Forest Housing Estate) was built on their land and Sue’s school is called Squall Forest School. Following bankruptcy and widowhood, there’s only Mrs Squall now, who lives as a recluse. 

When Sue sneaks in, she is surprised to discover a swimming pool on the Squall House property. When she attempts to rescue Mrs Squall’s dog Otto from drowning in the swimming pool, she realises she dived in while forgetting she can’t swim. Now both she and the dog need rescuing, which is what Mrs Squall does.  

Although Sue cannot swim, she did an impressive dive into the pool to save Otto. This leads to Mrs Squall and her domineering, forbidding companion, Miss Gort, giving Sue some basic swimming lessons. They become convinced Sue has the makings of a champion there, though Sue does not like swimming as much she does diving, and she is struggling with it. They offer her secret swimming and diving lessons to make her a swimming champion, give her a key for Squall House, and tell her she must not let anyone see her enter Squall House for her lessons. At first Sue is reluctant to proceed with this, but she changes her mind after another clash with her family. Now she’s going to show ‘em all by becoming a swimming champion. 

The lessons go pretty well, with Sue making more headway with diving than swimming, which is pretty much dog paddle. Still, Sue senses there is something odd about those ladies: Miss Gort is cold and relentless as a trainer, while Mrs Squall seems “so nice and kind” and totally under Miss Gort’s thumb. Mrs Squall also seems to be training in the pool, under the same relentless Miss Gort coaching. At home, Sue tries to secretly train but finds it too awkward to do so with the family around. And when she foolishly tries to train in the canal, she lands in serious trouble. As punishment, she is sent to work at her strict grandfather’s shop, and now she’s miles away from Squall House. 

However, Grandfather can tell Sue something interesting about Squall House. The Squalls went bankrupt when Mr Squall set his heart on his wife becoming a swimming champion and spent a fortune on the swimming pool and fittings, but then his business failed and he suicided. Grandfather does not know whether or not Mrs Squall became a swimming champion.

Back at Squall House, Sue is shown a film of the Commonwealth Diving Championships. Sue is surprised to see Mrs Squall competing there – and even more surprised when Mrs Squall grows upset and screams for it to stop, but Miss Gort shows her no mercy there. Sue takes fright, decides these ladies are loony and tries to make a run for it. But then she finds the ladies are even loonier than she thought. They now make her a prisoner of Squall House. The key’s gone, and the tree Sue used to climb it when she first entered has had its branches sawn off to prevent further climbing. And Otto, though ageing, is quite a guard dog. Miss Gort tells Sue she will remain at Squall House until “our purpose has been fulfilled”. They lock Sue up in a barred room with no food until she cooperates, which she eventually does until she can figure out an escape. 

The diving is still going better than the swimming, but the latter finally turns into proper swimming and Sue is enjoying it more. However, the swimming training grows more and more gruelling, with Sue being only allowed to dive as a reward for swimming well. Mrs Squall, a brilliant diver, is put through the same intense training as Sue. Soon after, Mrs Squall, who seems to be dominated by Miss Gort, offers to help Sue. She says that her nerve broke at that event, causing her to fail, but Sue has the something extra that could be their ticket to freedom.

The police come door-to-door knocking in search of Sue, and Sue is quickly locked away. She finds a secret chamber and a book full of swimming photos. She finds a photograph of what looks like a younger Miss Gort who won the 1936 freestyle championship. The name is Alice Bradshaw. Sue wonders if Alice Bradshaw is Miss Gort. (Hang on, it’s Miss Gort, not Mrs Gort – what’s going on here?) 

Miss Gort tears up the photo and tells Sue she will be entered in a competition on Saturday, which gives Sue hope of escape. However, at the competition Sue finds she has been entered under the name Alice Bradshaw to elude the police search. Sue agrees to the competition when Mrs Squall says not doing so will destroy hope of her being free. Sue wins second place, which boosts her confidence.  

Afterwards the ladies show Sue a faked newspaper report to trick Sue into thinking her parents think her disappearance is one of her tricks and they intend to send her away. This eliminates all thought of escape drives Sue further into their clutches in the mistaken belief they offer her a glorious future as a champion, whereas her family think she’s good for nothing.

Sue decides to sneak into the secret chamber for more clues but gets locked in. Then Miss Gort and Mrs Squall enter, with the latter appearing to be in a hypnotic state. Miss Gort opens up a cabinet full of swimming trophies, her past triumphs, but says Mrs Squall failed to continue the success, so they are carrying on with Sue Briggs. Sue manages to slip out, taking the album with her. It confirms Alice Bradshaw/Miss Gort was a former swimming champion. Sue realises something must have gone wrong afterwards, hence the reclusiveness. Miss Gort is trying to regain her triumphs through Mrs Squall, which failed. Now Miss Gort is doing it with Sue, through some hypnotic power she has. Sue now suspects Miss Gort has the same power over her when she trains her, and there is something inhuman about her, something Sue can’t put her finger on.

Sue is entered in another event, and with Miss Gort staring at her all the time with that weird power, she knows she can’t lose. Then a reporter distracts Miss Gort, and Sue suddenly loses form and begins to lose. Miss Gort realises this and puts full power on her gaze, and suddenly Sue feels the strength again, but does not recover enough to win. After a row between Miss Gort and Mrs Squall over the distraction, Sue is convinced Miss Gort has hypnotic powers. On the way back, Sue catches a glimpse of her house, and although still fooled by the fake newspaper report, realises she misses her family very badly.

Meanwhile, the reporter is still sniffing. He gathers details on the Squalls, which are pretty what Sue’s grandfather has already said, but now we learn Mr Squall was a wealthy inventor and suicided because his wife failed to become the champion he wanted her to be. And that reporter wants to know where Miss Gort fits in. At Sue’s next event, which she wins, the reporter follows to find where they keep her. 

The reporter manages to sneak into Squall House. Sue quickly tells him what’s going on and to alert her family, but then Otto drives him off. One night the reporter returns to help Sue escape, but Mrs Squall attempts to drown him in the swimming pool. Sue saves the reporter and goes after Mrs Squall. The trail leads Sue to the truth about Miss Gort and why she’s so inhuman. The fact is, she’s not human at all – she’s a robot! 

Mrs Squall then reveals herself to be the one behind the swimmer slave gig the whole time, through the robot. She was only acting the part of helpless hypnotised victim in Miss Gort’s power and being “fellow prisoner” to Sue. She explains that she failed as a swimming champion because she did not train hard enough, leading to ruin for the family and her husband’s suicide. Before he died, Mr Squall built the robot as a last hope, to help Mrs Squall find someone to train as a champion and succeed where she had failed. All that stuff Sue found in the secret room about Miss Gort/Alice Bradshaw was planted there to mislead her (but Mrs Squall never explains who Alice Bradshaw never was).  

The robot hypnotises Sue into becoming a brilliant swimmer for the final medley, with the starting gun acting as the trigger for the hypnotic suggestion. Sue knows it’s cheating but has no control over the phenomenal way she is swimming now. 

Then the reporter escapes, appears at the pool, and gets into a fight with Mrs Squall, who opens fire on him. This shot confuses Sue, causing the hypnotic power to break and Sue to lose the medley. The shot hits the robot, causing it to malfunction and turn on Mrs Squall; they both fall into the swimming pool and the robot short-circuits. Mrs Squall is taken into mental care. Sue is happily reunited with her family, but is still grateful for the start Mrs Squall gave her in becoming a swimming champion.

Thoughts

As with other problem girl serials (such as “Black Sheep of the Bartons” and “Jackie’s Two Lives” (Jinty) and “Queen Rider” (Tammy)), Sue is pretty much the orchestrator of her own problems with her family and school. After all, she does nothing to make her family proud of her. In such serials, the protagonist fails to realise her bad attitude and wrong way of thinking were at the root of her problems. Once she wakes up and changes her attitude, things become far happier for her and those around her. We can imagine the same happened with Sue and her family once she returned home with new confidence and hugging her new ambition to be a champion. 

But from the beginning, Sue is also a sympathetic character. We can see how hard her family is on her and they are taking the wrong approach in comparing her to her brother and sister all the time. They’re not trying to find out what the problem is, or maybe try a different approach. Sue thought she was good for nothing and could not be good at anything, and this was reflected in her conduct. The fact that they never trusted her with a key – Miss Gort and Mrs Squall were the first to do so – says a lot, and Sue really responds to someone showing trust in her for once. It’s also one reason why Miss Gort and Mrs Squall were so successful in trapping Sue – they were the reversal of her family in the way they treated her: trust, praise, and seeing the potential of a champion in her and offering to bring it out, while her family tells her she’s a “no-good”. 

Stories where creepy, reclusive ladies take advantage of girls dissatisfied with their home life to lure them away, make them captive through mind games and other means, and use them for their own purpose have been seen elsewhere in girls’ comics. Examples include “Jackie’s Two Lives” and “The Gypsy Gymnast” (Tammy). As these examples illustrate, the lure can be built up over time until it’s ready to snare the girl, but in this case Sue is caught and trapped by episode three. From there, for the rest of the story, rather than focusing on escape it’s more about unravelling the mystery about what’s going on while doing what she’s told. 

Although the training is gruelling and even frightening, there are advantages that Sue thrives on (increasing strength, confidence and faith in herself), which gives her reasons to continue with it – and also to stay in the power of her captors. She is going from non-swimmer to the makings of a champion and has finally found something she is good at. She feels confidence she has never felt before and she finally feels she’s good for something. From what we glean, this is the reason why Sue was such a problem girl. She had no vocation in life until Mrs Squall and Miss Gort help her find it, in contrast to her family’s constant criticism and comparing her to her more successful siblings. Even while the ladies hold her captive they still give her what she never got from her family: boost her confidence, make her feel appreciated, and also make her feel like a somebody. 

Miss Gort’s training methods are not as over the top as in some stories. In “The Chain Gang Champions” (Tammy), for example, the Duchess’s notoriously extreme methods of training girls as athletes include forcing them to complete runs in ever-decreasing time limits while holding a man hostage to be fed to a hungry bear! All the same, it’s not only intense to the point of being inhuman; there’s something really weird about it that makes it frightening and creepy. It’s made even creepier by the fact that the hypnosis is not revealed all at once. Instead, it’s gradually revealed in stages, starting with those frightening eyes Miss Gort has that Sue suddenly notices. Eventually Sue begins to draw the right conclusions. 

Except that they turn out not to be the right conclusions at all. The truth is totally awry from what Sue and the reader have been led to believe. We’re all built up to think that Miss Gort is using her dominant personality and additional asset of hypnotic ability to make Mrs Squall every much her prisoner and puppet as Sue is. It’s a setup we’ve seen elsewhere in serials such as “Secret Ballet of the Steppes” and “Vision of Vanity Fayre” in Tammy. But in fact it’s in fact Miss Gort who is the puppet (a robot) and Mrs Squall is the real instigator. She had only been acting the part of a hapless victim in the grip of a tyrant, fooling Sue the whole time, and the clues Sue found the house were red herrings planted to mislead her. Woah, now that is a twist to take us totally by surprise! 

The twist would work better if we are told just who Alice Bradshaw really was and how she fits into the whole thing, but that’s never explained. The only conclusion is that Alice Bradshaw was the mother of either Mr or Mrs Squall and Mr Squall built the robot in her likeness. It would also explain why Mr Squall was so set on his wife becoming a swimming champion. 

Sadly, it was Mr Squall being determined his wife should become a swimming champion that led to the whole mess. Such obsession always spells trouble in girls’ comics, but in this case it’s even worse. It went tragically wrong, drove Mr Squall to suicide (now that’s a strong thing to have in a girls’ comic!), and turned Mrs Squall’s mind. She must have also felt guilty over her husband’s death, blaming herself for his suicide because she failed as a champion swimmer. As she’s led away by police, Sue feels sorry for her, and so do we. If Sue does become a swimming/diving champion, and we sincerely hope she does, it would go a long way towards peace for Mrs Squall.