Tag Archives: Tammy

The Stranger in My Shoes [1973]

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Published: Tammy 26 May 1973 to 28 July 1973 (skipped 7 July 1973)

Episodes: 9

Artist: Miguel Quesada

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

At Oldfield Orphanage School Lucy Townsend is the school klutz. She is constantly late, making a mess of things and putting her foot in it. So Lucy is really surprised when she is chosen for a benefactor-paid school trip to Switzerland. The headmistress says this is because Lucy has been deemed the most in need of a change of scene and it is hoped the trip will help her change her ways. As it turns out, it does. But of course it is very far from the way everyone thinks – or even expects.

An escort is supposed to be waiting for Lucy at Victoria Station. But the man is an imposter who proceeds to kidnap Lucy and render her unconscious. When Lucy regains consciousness, she finds herself in the household of Mrs Sage, who hired the man (and doesn’t pay him) to switch Lucy’s identity with that of her daughter Sandra. Sandra is facing borstal, so Mrs Sage pulled the identity switch in order to send Lucy to the borstal in Sandra’s place. Eventually it is revealed that Mrs Sage’s job at the orphanage enabled her to acquire the information she needed about Lucy and the trip to pull off the switch.

Sandra, disguised as Lucy, goes to Switzerland in her place. But although Sandra looks like Lucy, in Switzerland she makes no attempt whatsoever to act like Lucy or convince anyone that she is a nice girl. In terms of behaviour she is still the same old Sandra. Her difficult behaviour is soon getting on everyone’s nerves. They are really surprised to discover she cannot even read or write properly. So, assuming Sandra is not dyslexic or something, this shows how much the Sages have bothered with schooling. Indeed, Sandra not even trying to be a good imposter implies that she is not very clever. In fact, Sandra even brags to one girl about the switch. Unfortunately the girl does not believe it and thinks it’s just a leg-pull. Sandra is soon up to her delinquent behaviour too, and people are soon finding things are going missing.

Back in England, nobody listens to Lucy’s protests that she is not Sandra and how she has been kidnapped and her identity switched with Sandra’s – except one. In the courtroom, probation officer Mrs Bolfry has doubts because Lucy does not sound like Sandra, but she is not 100% convinced. The Sage parents pull all sorts of tricks and lies to convince the court that ‘Sandra’ is unmanageable and delinquent. Lucy tries to escape from them, but is recaptured with the help of a criminal friend of theirs. The court sentences her to six months in borstal.

Mrs Bolfry had made a tape recording of Lucy’s voice. The more she listens to it, the more her doubts grow. She takes the recording to the orphanage for the headmistress to listen to and get her opinion. But the headmistress is away on a school camp in Wales, and the receptionist does not offer any help.

At the borstal, Lucy meets an old friend of Sandra’s, Babs Brown. Babs is a tearaway and a hard case, and she is not impressed to see ‘Sandra’ looks like she is trying to go straight. Lucy gets two days in the detention room because of Babs’ tricks. Then, when Babs comes into the cell with food, Lucy uses strong-arm tactics to get something out of her – anything – that will help prove she is not Sandra. Babs recalls that Sandra has a birthmark on her right shoulder, and when Lucy shows that she has no such birthmark, Babs becomes the first to believe she is not Sandra. After hearing Lucy’s story, Babs helps to smuggle her out of borstal in a laundry basket. It’s a hoary trick, but it works. The trouble is, the laundry man sees her get out of the basket and calls the borstal.

Lucy plans to get back to the orphanage where everyone knows her and can help her prove her identity. But all the people there who knew her are away on the camp and the man at the door tells her to clear off. Mrs Bolfry is Lucy’s only hope now and she heads off to find a phone box.

Meanwhile, the police inform Mrs Sage about the escape. Guessing that Lucy is heading for the orphanage, she and her accomplice head out there, where they intercept Lucy at the phone box before she can put the call through to Mrs Bolfry. However, Lucy manages to scare them off with a bluff that she got through to the orphanage and they are on their way to collect her.

Lucy decides to jump a train to Mrs Bolfry instead, but the Sages see her trying to do so and realised she tricked them. Lucy sees the flunky chasing her and manages to get aboard the train before he nabs her. But when Lucy arrives at the Law Courts she finds the police informing Mrs Bolfry about her escape, and from the sound of things, this is making Mrs Bolfry doubt Lucy’s claims that she is not Sandra.

However, when Lucy appeals to Mrs Bolfry, she finds Mrs Bolfry still has sufficient suspicions to give her a chance. They contact the orphanage to find out where everyone is gone. They find everyone has gone to the Welsh mountains and head out there. Unfortunately Mrs Sage and her accomplice have guessed Lucy was heading for Mrs Bolfry and managed to trace her to the Law Courts. Worse, Lucy spots the man who had foiled her when she first tried to escape from the Sages. And she realises he has seen her head off with Mrs Bolfry.

Back at the borstal, Babs tells the governor that the escapee is not Sandra Sage and urges her to check out a girl going under the name of ‘Lucy Townsend’ at a school in Switzerland. The governor puts a call through to Mrs Bolfry about it and finds she has disappeared.

The man catches up with Mrs Bolfry and Lucy when the car breaks down. He tries to blackmail Mrs Bolfry for aiding and abetting. She calls his bluff and tells him to clear off, because she is convinced enough to take the risk. They fix the car and are soon on their way again. When they stop at a motorway café, the man tries to blackmail Mrs Bolfry again. This frightens Lucy into running away and head out to the school camp on her own. Meanwhile, the man is frightened off when the local inspector overhears and gets suspicious. Mrs Bolfry informs him of her suspicions.

Lucy makes her way to the school camp and convinces the headmistress of who she is despite her altered appearance. Mrs Bolfry and the inspector arrive in time to overhear this, which finally convinces Mrs Bolfry that Lucy is telling the truth. But when they tackle Mrs Sage, she denies everything. So they head to Switzerland to check things out, dragging the protesting Mrs Sage along.

Meanwhile, the girls have realised that ‘Lucy’ is doing the stealing. Hearing this, Sandra does a runner on skis. The girls give chase, as do the police when Sandra tries to sell the stolen goods and the man gets suspicious. A snowstorm is setting in, so Sandra takes refuge in a ski hut. She still has the stolen goods, which she intends to deal with after the weather clears. The girls cannot pursue because one of them has been hurt. So they head back to inform the headmistress, who has now been met by the police inquiry from England.

Lucy insists on being the one to confront Sandra, despite the snowstorm. The owner of the hut, Marcus, takes her there in his dog sleigh. They see warning signs of a potential avalanche on some chalets and Marcus sets off to warn the chalet owners. But there is no stopping the dogs from going to the hut, and they are dragging Lucy along on the sleigh. And without Marcus, Lucy is all on her own against Sandra.

At the hut, Lucy confronts Sandra and gives chase when Sandra tries to run. Then the avalanche starts and they get caught in it. Lucy manages to get out, but Sandra is unconscious. Seeing this, Mrs Sage finally gives herself away when she cries out for her daughter, and it is clear she is referring to the girl who looks like Lucy Townsend. Mrs Sage and the recovered Sandra (still looking like Lucy!) are sent back to England to face charges. The judge calls the whole plot “deplorable”; the sentences he passes are not revealed. Lucy is finally able to enjoy Switzerland. She still looks like Sandra, but the alterations should fade in time.

Thoughts

Serials about fugitives and escapes from prisons and other corrective institutions have always been popular and are one of my own favourite types of serials. Added to this one you have the identity switch, the protagonist battling to prove her identity and escape the borstal she has been thrown into, and double trouble in the form of an imposter who is blackening her name with the crimes she is committing under the identity she has stolen. There is plenty of action and excitement, with chase scenes on both sides, and the final confrontation that occurs in the face of danger for both Lucy and her evil double. It all occurs at a cracking pace that is very tightly plotted. It does not get drawn out with Lucy encountering constant setbacks and failed attempts to prove her identity, though of course the road to get there is not smooth sailing. This is a story you just have to love.

There have been plenty of stories where a girl’s identity is switched with another’s. Sometimes it occurs accidentally (Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud), and sometimes it’s deliberate, as is the case here. Most often the girl faces constant frustration and failure in her attempts to prove her identity, which are sometimes compounded by the handicap of losing her voice (Curtain of Silence), and she makes no headway until the end of the story. It’s a very common way of spinning this type of story out. But this story is an exception, and it makes a refreshing change. Lucy is more fortunate in that she makes progress early on in the story, despite the Sages, what with planting the seeds of doubt in Mrs Bolfry’s mind. At the borstal, Lucy is quick to make a breakthrough – not to mention a breakout – by meeting Babs, who happened to know Sandra and could provide Lucy with information to help her distinguish herself from Sandra. Lucy herself knows people who can help her prove her identity. Unfortunately they all just happen to be away at the moment, and she has to chase them up before the police or Sages chase her down.

By helping Lucy, Mrs Bolfry becomes in effect a fugitive herself. As the blackmailer said, what she is doing is technically aiding and abetting, and she is putting her career and freedom on the line by helping Lucy. But Mrs Bolfry persists because she has enough faith to take the risk, and we all applaud her for her courage and balls in doing what she felt was right, and really putting her neck out in order to do it.

Commendations must also be given to Babs Brown. She is initially set up as a rough, delinquent, and unsympathetic character. To make her even more unsympathetic, she gets poor Lucy sent to the detention room for something she did. But Babs redeems herself once she believes Lucy is not Sandra by helping her make the escape she so badly needed to do. Babs also tries to make headway with the authorities in helping Lucy prove her identity. It does not sound like Babs got very far there, but at least she tried and she redeemed herself even further.

The story does not dwell on the borstal much; the plotting is kept very tight and brief there, and it moves quickly to Lucy’s escape. This is very sensible story writing. From what we see of the borstal, it is not a sadistic reformatory that tortures its inmates with cruel severity as in Merry at Misery House, nor do we see any cruel guards who like to torment the inmates for their own amusement. But then, Lucy does not stay there long before her escape. There is no constant frustration with failed escapes. No, Lucy is out and running from the borstal on the first attempt.

The reason Lucy is in the borstal is unconventional. Usually the protagonist is in the borstal or other penal institution because she has been wrongly convicted, such as Merry Summers in “Misery House”. But in this case the protagonist is there because her identity has been switched with the true delinquent’s. The battle is to prove her identity, not prove her innocence or expose dreadful prison conditions, as Merry is constantly trying to do.

Once Sandra gets to work in Switzerland, we have to wonder why her mother even bothered to pull the switch in the first place. Sandra just hasn’t got the brains to be a good imposter. Although Sandra looks like Lucy she does not even bother to act like her or even try to fool the girls into thinking she is nice. She remains her horrible self, so it’s very easy for suspicion to fall on her once the thefts start. She’s soon on the run as a wanted thief and can’t carry on at the school, which she would be expelled from and sent home. She’s in trouble with the Swiss authorities and could face their version of borstal. She is causing the whole plot to unravel at her end, all because she did not have the brains or inclination to pull off a convincing impersonation. In effect, Sandra just transferred her criminal traits to a new setting under a new identity instead of using her new identity to start a new life in hiding from the borstal as her parents intended. Evidently, although Sandra is a criminal, her mother did not teach her much in how to be a clever one. But it was all just as well for the real Lucy Townsend; it helped her to convince people about the identity switch.

It is pretty predictable that the ordeal turns Lucy around. She is not a problematic or selfish girl as many other protagonists start out as before their nightmare begins. She’s just a klutz and a bit thoughtless, which makes things a bit different. These faults are aggravating, but they are very minor and they don’t make Lucy unsympathetic at the beginning of the story. Naturally, these problems disappear instantly once Lucy’s ordeal begins and she becomes courageous, resourceful, quick-thinking girl. On the whole, Lucy is a good sort right from the start. This would have helped her even more in distinguishing herself from the delinquent Sandra and proving her identity.

 

Time Trap! [1977]

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Published: Tammy 11 June 1977 – 13 August 1977

Episodes: 10

Artist: Tony Highmore

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Jenny and Leonie Page are fraternal twins who live at Ploughshares Farm. Their Uncle Brian, a Professor of Paranormal Studies, wants to perform an experiment for his Physical Society to prove the existence of reincarnation. The experiment will use hypnotic regression, and Leonie is to be the test subject.

The hypnotism regresses Leonie back to a previous existence as a girl named Susannah. Susannah says she is in hiding because her life is in danger. But then Uncle Brian collapses from a heart attack and is taken to hospital, where he is soon in intensive care. Without him to bring Leonie out of the trance, she remains in it, reliving her previous existence as Susannah.

In the trance, Leonie is experiencing confusion of identity. While initially speaking in Susannah’s voice, her mind reverts to her own while she is stuck in the past. So it is in effect Susannah’s body with Leonie’s mind, in what turns out to be the 14th century. So Leonie is confused by the medieval surroundings she is in and all these medieval people all around her who call her Susannah and tell her that her life is in danger.

Leonie gets her first taste of the brutality of the times when a gang of men try to kill a boy because he is a lackey of John of Gaunt. Leonie sticks up for the boy, but she uses 20th century references, which of course the men don’t understand and they call her a “crackbrained daughter of Eve”. Indeed, Leonie’s lack of experience with the 14th century continues to lead to very awkward and even dangerous moments. As the time travel wears on, Leonie’s awareness of her 20th century identity becomes blurred and filters through in flashes. Sometimes she does not know what century her mind belongs to anymore. However, she never loses sight of getting home to Ploughshares Farm and Jenny.

Then another man comes, says Susannah is his sister and pulls her away. The lackey thanks Susannah for saving his life and says he won’t forget it. Susannah’s brother turns out to be Wat Tyler, the leader of the ill-fated Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Tyler also has a feud with Tyler and John of Gaunt; the former is accused of attacking the latter and burning his home down.

Now and then Leonie mumbles things while in her trance, which give Jenny clues as to what is going on. One of them is Leonie saying Wat Tyler is her brother. When Jenny reads that the king, Richard II, ordered all members of Tyler’s family to be executed after the Peasants’ Revolt failed, she is really afraid for Leonie. A doctor is called in but can’t help. They can only hope Uncle Brian recovers, but Jenny fears time is running out.

Back in the past, the Peasants’ Revolt is underway. They intend to march on Smithfield where Tyler will give an address to Richard II that will demand rights for peasants, equality for everyone and an end to serfdom. However, a fellow rebel named Tom Quintain fears Tyler’s address is sounding too radical and will not go down well with Richard. He sends Leonie/Susannah over to Tyler with a warning to tread more carefully with Richard and treat him with the utmost respect. But Leonie/Susannah fails to get to Tyler in time, and soon Quintain is proved right. Richard II is outraged at Tyler’s address, which really is too far ahead of its time. Worse, Tyler discovers that he has fallen into a trap set by Richard and his men, and gets struck down.

The revolt now falls apart and Tyler’s supporters abandon him. Leonie/Susannah and Quintain take Tyler to a monastery for medical attention. Mayor Walworth, a King’s man, bursts in to arrest Tyler. Walworth shows no respect for the sanctuary of the church; his men brutally murder the monk who was nursing Tyler and drag the already-dying Tyler out to be executed. Leonie/Susannah escapes with the help of Quintain.

As they pass the Tower of London, Quintain shows her a cage hanging from walls. It is a gruesome relic of what happened to the sister of another man who offended the king. They locked her in the cage while keeping her alive by lowering food to her. She was exposed to all elements for seven months before she finally perished.

Now understanding the merciless fate that awaits her, just because of who her brother is, Leonie/Susannah eagerly goes on the run with Quintain. Their plight grows even more desperate when they find out the soldiers have their descriptions and are now on the lookout for them. Quintain and Leonie/Susannah now head for the Tylers’ home in Kent.

Hearing this from Leonie’s mumblings, Jenny realises the fugitives are heading straight into a trap because Kent will be the first place Richard’s men will look. She has the University Library Service send her all they’ve got on the Peasants’ Revolt. She is sent one item that is very helpful: the original parish register of Twaintrees, which the sender thinks Tyler originated from. She finds the record of Susannah’s birth and realises that in 1381 Susannah would have been the same age as Leonie.

Fortunately, when Leonie/Susannah and Quintain arrive in Kent, they see the soldiers looking for them. The soldiers have orders to execute people for participating in the Peasants’ Revolt, on the mere pretext that they were out of the area recently. They drag off one innocent man because of this, and then they start offering rewards for names of anyone else who was absent from the village of late. Then the soldiers spot Leonie/Susannah and Quintain, but they mange to escape and get to Twaintrees, where Quintain wants to warn Tyler’s supporters to flee.

When they arrive at Twaintrees, Leonie/Susannah begins to hear Jenny’s voice. Jenny has been trying to contact Leonie, and has finally succeeded. Leonie/Susannah can now hear Jenny across the ages. She tells Leonie/Susannah that Uncle Brian is still in no state to bring her out of the trance.

Tyler’s friends take some persuading to believe Richard has betrayed them and they are in danger of their lives. They are finally convinced when a dying escapee from another village arrives and, before he dies, says Richard’s soldiers are already burning other Kentish villages and killing innocent people. Jenny tells Leonie/Susannah to tell them to head for Standfast Castle; the books she is consulting say the Kentish rebels held out by occupying the castle. They head for the castle, and Leonie/Susannah is standing by them; she is now convinced she has a part to play in their fight against Richard. The rebels get ready to fight against Richard’s men, and a sortie unfolds when the royal soldiers arrive.

Meanwhile, Jenny has made her own way to Standfast Castle. She finds the castle is broken down and incapable of holding out an army. She can only hope it was not that way in 1381. Then she finds a plaque saying the sortie was a big mistake and many of the Kentish rebels and their leaders were ruthlessly killed. Oops!

In 1381, Quintain is among those killed and Leonie/Susannah is cursing Jenny for what turned out to be bad advice. And now the soldiers are after her and all the survivors. They retreat back into the castle, where the men start to quarrel about whether their revolt was right and wondering if they will be saved or killed. The quarrel centres between Quintain and the hypocritical, cowardly turncoat Hedge Priest. Then they get a horrible shock when they see Richard’s men are now bringing on their “black thunderbolt”, a battering ram that no castle gate has ever withstood. Leonie/Susannah can only hope Jenny will come up with better advice.

Jenny goes to the Custodian of Standfast Castle and gets a historical map of the area. She is astonished to find Ploughshares Farm on it and it is in the vicinity of Standfast Castle. She contacts Leonie/Susannah and starts using the map to guide her back to Ploughshares Farm.

However, Leonie/Susannah doubts she can do that, because the black thunderbolt has now done its work and the soldiers are pouring into Standfast for the final slaughter. Moreover, the sycophantic Hedge Priest offers to betray both Susannah Tyler and all the loot the rebels have hidden. The soldiers shoot an arrow through him before he gets the chance to tell them. The final battle between the soldiers and the rebels begins.

Leonie/Susannah now proceeds to make her escape. She gets surprising help from the lackey she had saved earlier. He has come to repay his debt, and his name is now revealed to be Giles Lamport. Giles uses a rope to get Leonie/Susannah off the castle walls and down into the marshes. The soldiers do not believe Giles when he says he found no sign of Susannah in the castle. But they have grown sick of all the slaughter and decide to just leave. Leonie/Susannah is pleased to finally see some chivalry in these soldiers.

Using the map, Jenny guides Leonie/Susannah through a causeway in the marshes towards Ploughshares Farm. Unfortunately this turns out to be more wrong advice. Jenny does not realise the marshes had been drained in the 17th century, but they were not in the 14th century, so Leonie/Susannah is now getting caught in the marshes. Worse, some of the soldiers have seen the escaping Leonie/Susannah and go after her. They head towards the marshes and block her escape.

Then Leonie/Susannah overhears the soldiers saying things. They have been spooked by rumours from the rebels that Leonie/Susannah is a witch because she seemed to be talking to a spirit from another world (Jenny). So Leonie/Susannah turns it to her advantage by playing ‘spirit’ to scare them off: “Woe unto Richard, the second of that name – and thrice, thrice woe to the brutes who murder in his name!” This gets rid of the soldiers (and by 1400 they should be saying that the prophecy has come true).

Leonie/Susannah is now safe to go on her way. But she is in a very bad state from lack of food, hypothermia and getting covered in marsh mud. When she reaches the end of the causeway she has no idea which way to go, so she calls on Jenny. Jenny begins to guide Leonie/Susannah in. Along the way the girls get to see what their farm looked like in 1381: pig pens that no longer exist, oak saplings that are now trees in the 20th century, and wattle-and-daub dwellings.

Uncle Brian, though still an invalid, comes home to bring Leonie out of the trance. He arrives just in time to see her come out of the trance of her own accord now she is home. Leonie is rather confused by her change of clothes and surroundings, and it takes some moments for her to get her bearings on what century she is in. They deduce the people at the 14th century Ploughshares Farm took Susannah in, so she found safety from Richard II. The parish register reveals that Susannah married Stephan Fairman of (then) Plowshares Farm and had three sons: Wat, Tom and Harry.

Thoughts

This story could well be regarded as one of Tammy’s underrated gems. Girls’ serials featuring reincarnation have appeared elsewhere, such as Misty’s “Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel”, but this is the only serial I know of that features past life regression. This is a very fresh, innovative idea, and it’s a whole new take on the hypnotism formula, particularly hypnotism gone wrong.

Using past life regression as a time travel device is both an ambiguous and clever one. At times we are not sure as to whether Leonie is just recalling her past life as Susannah or if she is actually changing and shaping the past itself, especially when Jenny begins to interfere with well-meaning but not always well-researched advice. Is Jenny actually responsible for the deaths of all those rebels in the ill-fated sortie with the wrong advice she gives Leonie/Susannah? Or is it something that just happened anyway and what is unfolding in Leonie/Susannah’s mind just confusion from the hypnotism and the girls’ identities? After all, it is still debatable as to whether past life regression is actually true regression or if the hypnotism is playing tricks on the mind.

Once the links to Ploughshares Farm are revealed, there is a “so that’s it!” from readers. It becomes apparent as to why Susannah has reincarnated as Leonie. The story not only uses the Peasants’ Revolt and its aftermath to give us a time travel adventure but to also shape the history of Ploughshares Farm and (we suspect) the family history of the Page family.

The Middle Ages is a time period that did not seem to receive much attention in IPC’s period stories, which concentrated more on the 19th century. But this one is a powerful, relentless exploration of the Middle Ages that is so realistic because it does not spare the brutality of the age. This begins straight away with a gang of brutes who are on the verge of killing an innocent boy just because he is a servant of John of Gaunt. And it continues with people being brutally killed. Even the clergy and perfectly innocent villagers are shown no mercy. Whole villages are razed to the ground and their inhabitants left to burn, just because of Richard’s vendetta against Wat Tyler. The gruesome, barbaric punishments of the period are also featured. Though they are kept cleverly off-panel, they make their presence keenly felt, particularly in the scene where Tom shows Leonie/Susannah the cage used to torture a girl to death, just because of who her brother was.

The story totally debunks the chivalry that medieval people romanticised so much. There is no chivalry in any of the soldiers and knights in the story who do nothing but murder, pillage and vandalise in Richard’s name. They are, in the words of the rebels, “devils in armour” and “killer(s) on horseback”. The chivalry and honour comes from most of the characters that go against them, from Tom Quintain to Giles Lamport the lackey who always remembers his promise to repay Leonie/Susannah for saving his life.

Tony Highmore was a June artist whose artwork was seen most often in Strange Stories after the merger. “Time Trap” was his only serial for Tammy (apart from a mini-serial Strange Story) and it is one of his crowning moments. The medieval atmosphere is brilliantly wrought through the linework and inkwork of Tony Highmore. They are quite heavy and not fine or delicate, which really brings out the roughness and coarseness of the characters, the harshness of their environment, and even the types of dentures that prevailed at the time.

The story makes strong statements that heroes do not always survive or get things right. Readers must have cried when Tom Quintain, the brave, honourable man who takes up the mantle of Wat Tyler, becomes one of the rebels slaughtered in the Standfast Castle sortie. And Jenny, whom we expected to be the saviour of the piece once she gains the power to contact Leonie in the past, turns out to be indirectly responsible for it because she gave the wrong advice. Readers would have been even more gutted because of that. The writer sure was breaking moulds there.

The characterisation of the medieval people is also wonderfully depicted. Even minor characters get their moments. For example, Richard II only appears in a few panels but it is enough for him to make his point that he is a man who should not be underestimated although he is still young – as the rebels discover to their cost. And although Richard is shown as a handsome man in appearance, his actions show he is one of the worst tyrants and not to be trusted. Hedge Priest is another minor character who makes his mark – as a coward and weasel despite being a man of the cloth. What a contrast to the poor hapless priest who is murdered for nursing Wat Tyler!

The way in which the writer uses the Peasants’ Revolt for the time setting is very ingenious. Instead of just telling the story of the Peasants’ Revolt through the time travel element, the story uses the aftermath of the failure of the Peasants’ Revolt to bring us a fugitive story filled with bloodshed, lots of fighting, and overlap between two centuries that are six centuries apart. What makes it an even more interesting take on the Peasants’ Revolt is that the story does not focus on Wat Tyler himself, who gets killed pretty early in the piece. Instead, it concentrates on the supporters and family of Wat Tyler and the consequences they suffer from the failed revolt and gives them a chance to shine.

 

Glenda’s Glossy Pages [1975]

Sample Images

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Glenda 2

Glenda 3

Published: Tammy 13 September 1975 – 15 November 1975

Episodes: 11

Artists: Mario Capaldi, plus Tony Highmore as a filler artist in one episode

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/reprints: Tammy 1 October 1983 – 10 December 1983; De geheimzinnige catalogus [The Mysterious Catalogue] in Tina Boelboek 4, 1984

Plot

Glenda Slade lives with her widowed mother. Mrs Slade works in a low-paid job, so they live a poor existence. They are so poor that the only thing Glenda has to wear is her school uniform (which Mum had to scrape for). At school, spoiled and snobby rich girl Hilary loves to bully Glenda over her poor background.

Then one day a woman knocks at the door and shows Glenda a beautiful catalogue that is packed full of gorgeous items to order. Glenda is blown away and wants to order from the catalogue immediately. Her mother reminds her that they cannot afford it. Glenda decides to keep the catalogue in secret so she can at least dream about the items. The woman agrees and gives Glenda a strange, ominous smile as she leaves.

Glenda is surprised when the items she circles start appearing at her front door for real and there is no apparent bill to pay. Thrilled at having nice things for the first time in her life, she starts circling more and more items, which continue to appear with no apparent price to pay. At school, the items make her the centre of attention and she is pleased to get one up on Hilary, who is being pushed out as the one to admire because the girls now swarm around Glenda and the things she is getting. Even Glenda’s face is beginning to change, and she is amazed that she is beginning to look like the model in the catalogue. Hilary is jealous and then suspicious about these items of Glenda’s.

But odd, worrying things start happening to Glenda. Among them, Hilary calls the police in to investigate the items (more of her spite towards Glenda). Of course they do not believe Glenda’s story about the catalogue. But when they try to take the items they get a strange electric shock, which frightens Glenda.

Then, at the swimming pool, Glenda discovers a shocking, inexplicable change in her personality and behaviour. Hilary is having an attack of cramp in the pool, but Glenda, who is the nearest, just leaves her to drown and makes no attempt to save her at all. Glenda herself cannot understand why she acted in this way. When she realises there can only be one answer, the catalogue begins to well and truly scare her. The girls save Hilary, and in the wake of this incident, Hilary rises again as the centre of the girls’ attention while Glenda is sent to Coventry. Hilary is delighted at Glenda’s downfall. In fact, when Glenda tries to apologise to Hilary, Hilary just pulls a false act of Glenda bullying her in order to get her into even deeper trouble with the girls.

Finally, the police arrest Mrs Slade over the mystery items. They have no evidence against her, but she has a criminal record, and that is enough for them. They don’t know or believe she has reformed to the point where she has raised Glenda to be extremely strict about honesty.

Glenda is appalled at how everything is getting just worse and worse for her. And worst of all, she has a feeling the catalogue is not even through yet.

The woman appears again. Glenda confronts her and urges her to tell the police how she got the items from her catalogue for free. The woman tells Glenda that nothing in the world is free and she has to pay. Glenda then realises that she has paid after all – with all the misery and trouble she has gone through because of the catalogue. She now understands that the woman and her catalogue are evil, and they were all out to play on her greed to get her into trouble. The woman tells Glenda that she will go on paying. But Glenda is determined to beat the woman. When Glenda finds she cannot destroy or dispose of the catalogue, she tries to break its power by getting rid of the all the lovely items it brought her and sending them to a charity shop. It’s a wrench for poverty-stricken Glenda, turning her back on those beautiful things, but it does the trick. She is now able to throw the catalogue out and leaves it for the dustmen.

But Mrs Slade, who is released for lack of evidence (or maybe because of the temporary break in the catalogue’s power?) finds the catalogue and now she is the one who is tempted. Ignoring Glenda’s warnings, she orders as many items as possible so as to win the mystery prize the catalogue is offering. When the prize arrives, it is a lighter in the shape of a skull. Later, Glenda realises that a skull stands for death, and gets a horrible thought as to the price Mum is to pay. She manages to get out of school (thanks to nasty Hilary ripping her one and only skirt for a ‘joke’), rushes home to check up on her mother, and finds the skull lighter has started a fire.

The fire is spreading fast, and the skull itself seems to be fanning the flames. All the same, Mum is reluctant to evacuate and leave her lovely things behind, so Glenda has to do some persuading to make her agree to do so. However, they discover all the glossy pages’ furniture has suddenly moved to block all the exits and won’t budge. Clearly, the price the catalogue intends them to pay is for them both to perish in the fire. However, Glenda manages to create an exit by throwing the catalogue itself out the window, which makes the flames at the window die down enough for them to escape through the window. Across the street, Glenda sees the evil woman is watching, and the woman is looking absolutely furious that she and her glossy pages have failed. However, the emergency services whisk Glenda and her mother away before Glenda gets a chance to retrieve the book and stop someone else from falling into its power.

A few days later, Glenda and her mother are discharged from hospital. Their old house got destroyed, so they are given a new one. Glenda’s mother is relieved that at least their new start will be an honest one, even if it is from scratch. Glenda went back for the catalogue, but failed to find it. Glenda does not know that Hilary picked up the book while dropping by to gloat over the destruction of her home, and recognised those mystery items of Glenda’s in it. And rich girl though she is, Hilary is tempted by the catalogue and sets out to make herself the envy of all the girls with it…

Thoughts

This particular “wish-fulfilment with the inevitable catch in it somewhere” story has been an enduring one in Tammy. On the Internet it still attracts positive comment and is clearly well remembered. One reason has to be that Pat Mills wrote it. Pat Mills has established himself as one of the best writers in British comics, such as in 2000AD, Battle and Misty. He has written many classics in girls’ comics, including ones from Jinty herself, such as “Land of No Tears” and “Concrete Surfer”.

The themes the story explores also help to make it an enduring one: greed, fantasy, temptation, rags-to-riches, bullying, jealousy, the supernatural, the macabre, and the threat of the Grim Reaper. The protagonists themselves are ones who remain sympathetic, even when the power of the catalogue leads them so much that their personalities begin to harden, they lose common sense and sight of themselves, and become increasingly consumed by the temptations the catalogue is offering. Glenda at least has enough sense and virtue to notice the warnings. It takes a while for her to heed the warnings enough to stop using the catalogue, not least because it is so hard to break away from having nice things for the first time in her life. But as the nightmare intensifies and the evil increasingly obvious, she finally finds the strength to do so.

Mrs Slade becomes even more consumed by greed than her daughter. This would be partly because she has not received increasing danger signals as Glenda had. But it could also be rooted in her once being a criminal. Glenda’s birth made her go straight and she clearly resolved to bring Glenda up so strictly about honesty that she would not follow that deviant path. Mum was successful there until the catalogue came along. The catalogue did not make Glenda an outright criminal, but it did corrupt her and make her stray off the honest path her mother set her on. Mum, meanwhile, is tempted because although she had stayed honest, she felt that going straight had not lifted her out of the poverty she and Glenda had always lived in and it never seemed to do her any real good. It was these feelings that made it so easy for the catalogue to tempt her.

The only truly good thing to come out of the catalogue was Glenda and her mother being given a new home and a new start. We hope it will be the start of a better life for them. In any case, we know Mum has returned to the straight path when she says that at least they will start honestly. And after they have been through with the catalogue, we imagine they will stick to the honest path even more assiduously.

At the end of the story, Hilary also falls into the grip of the catalogue. Unlike the Slades, however, we do not sympathise with her when she does so. In fact, we feel like hoping the catalogue will give Hilary her comeuppance. She already has plenty of things of her own, and unlike the Slades she can afford them because she is so rich. She has no real need for the catalogue, yet she is tempted all the same. The catalogue is clearly playing on Hilary having far less moral fibre than Glenda Slade and being a more nasty character. Throughout the story Hilary has been portrayed as nothing but a spoiled, bullying snob who is always out to stick her knife into Glenda, just because she is poor. Hilary does not even have an ounce of sympathy at Glenda losing her home: “What a shame the scruff’s house was burnt down – I don’t think.” If there were a sequel to this story, which there isn’t, we would like to see how the trouble Hilary gets into with the catalogue improves her personality and makes her nicer to Glenda by the end of the story.

The ending itself is a skilful one that makes the storytelling even more powerful. Instead of the catalogue being destroyed and never able to tempt anyone again, the story ends on a grim, ominous reminder that evil is continuous. In fact, we would not be at all surprised if this woman distributes these evil catalogues all over the place, targeting the people she thinks would be the easiest to tempt, like the poverty-stricken Slades.

A Girl Called Midnight [1980]

Sample Images

Midnight 1Midnight 2Midnight 3

Published: Tammy 16 February 1980 – 29 March 1980

Episodes: 7

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #30 (final issue); Tina Topstrip #14  as Het meisje Middernacht

Plot

Melissa and Martin Bright and their parents decide to become a foster family. The foster girl they are to adopt is named Midnight Meredith. The name “Midnight” has the kids pondering as to whether it might be a portent for something creepy. It turns out they are not far wrong.

No, Midnight is not a witch, and she has no supernatural powers. But there is something weird about her that she herself cannot understand. These are Midnight’s “moods” i.e. inexplicable trance-like states where she wanders off, not knowing what she is doing. She appears to be looking for something, but she does not know what, but she always babbles about the search in terms of “we” – not “I” – who are doing the search. Triggers for these moods include the moon ring (a gift from her mother) that she always wears, looking at her own reflection, hearing the sound of her own voice on playback, or sleepwalking. These moods are not only problematic but also dangerous at times. Melissa worries that Midnight might wander into heavy traffic or a railway line because she does not know what she is doing when she is in a “mood”. During one mood, things get even more dangerous. Midnight tries to force the family car down a road towards a place called Steepling Parva, yelling to Mr Bright that he’s going the wrong way. This sends the car crashing into a hedge! Fortunately everyone emerges with little more than cuts and bruises.

These moods are the reason why Midnight never lasts long in any foster home. Midnight had expected the Brights to be no different, and she does want to stay with them. Not surprisingly, her behaviour is a bit difficult at times, even when she is not in a “mood”, and she finds it hard to settle and ease up.

Fortunately for Midnight, the Brights are a more understanding foster family. A doctor has told them there could be a medical reason, most likely due to something traumatic in Midnight’s past, which also helps. When Midnight tries to run away in shame after the car accident, the family persuade her to stay. They want to help Midnight get to the bottom of the mystery of these moods. As Melissa observes these moods, she notices a pattern: Midnight always goes off in the same direction, going a little further each time. After the car accident, that direction seems to point to Steepling Parva. When Midnight has another mood, the family follow Melissa’s hunch and go to Steepling Parva. There they find Midnight in a field called Marsh Meadow near Steepling Parva. This mood is a real performance – Midnight is yelling and screaming “It isn’t here!”, and her clothes are in rags because she tried to look for whatever she was looking for in thorny bushes.

Next day, Melissa and Midnight return to Steepling Parva to do some investigating. They learn that many years ago, a tragedy occurred in that meadow called “The Marsh Meadow Flood”. A river burst and flooded the meadow, and it washed a lot of campers’ caravans away. Their next call is the cemetery where the flood victims are buried, and this brings on another mood. Midnight starts babbling about her mother, and how she gave her the ring before the flood separated them. Midnight’s mood takes her the grave where her mother, Margaret Meredith, is buried. There is another girl there, and each briefly mistakes the other for a ghost. When Midnight and Melissa investigate the girl, whose name is Dawn, Midnight feels that this is who she has been looking for. Dawn’s parents are there and say they have just about had enough of her “moods”…

Just then, Marsh Meadow begins to flood again. The vicar calls upon the girls and others to help get the sheep to higher ground. Once that is done, the vicar recognises Midnight and Dawn as the Meredith twins and explains that the first flood separated them as babies. Midnight was found crying in her drowned mother’s arms and put in an orphanage, while the flood waters carried Dawn away in her cot. The police found her, assumed she was abandoned, and she was adopted. Dawn also wears a ring that is a gift from the mother, who was an artist. This ring has a rising sun, just as Midnight’s ring has a moon, so the rings represent each girl’s name.

Upon questioning Dawn’s parents, Melissa discovers that Dawn has been having “moods” too; wandering off and getting closer and closer to Steepling Parva ever since her family moved to the area. Melissa realises that these moods have been the twins’ way of trying to find each other. And now they have, Melissa is confident their moods are now a thing of the past. The twins stay on with their respective families, but they can meet whenever they want.

Thoughts

This story was another of my favourites from Tammy. It appeared in the early months of the Tammy & Misty merger, so I have wondered if this story was originally written for Misty, although Juliana Buch was not a Misty artist.

The very name “Midnight” tells us it’s going to be a spine-chilling story and it enhances the mystery and weirdness of the story. Until Midnight appears in the story, we, along with the Bright children, wonder if she is going to be a witch or something. It would have been less effective if the story had been told from Dawn’s perspective and watching her “moods” unfold, because her name does not imply creepiness as “Midnight” does.

The reveal at the end – long-lost twins trying to find each other through a twins’ telepathic link – is not a great surprise. Twin telepathy has appeared before in girls’ comics. Until then, though, it must rank as one of the most potentially dangerous twin telepathy links ever used in girls’ comics. More than once it came close to causing serious injury, either for Midnight or for someone else. If nothing else, it could have put Midnight into some sort of psychiatric care or made her a target of bullying, as not everyone would be as understanding or helpful as the Brights. Midnight has lost a string of foster homes because of her moods (not surprising, because they do make her look a real weirdo) and the fact that it is due to something she does not even understand would make it even worse. Midnight was very fortunate to have more understanding people in the Brights, and this really helped her to solve the mystery of her “moods”.

Sister in the Shadows [1980]

Sample Images

Sister in the Shadows 1Sister in the Shadows 2Sister in the Shadows 3

Published: Tammy 5 January 1980 to 22 March 1980

Episodes: 12

Artist: Giorgio Giorgetti

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Stella Weekes is a girl born with the golden touch. She comes out top at everything she does, she is always a winner, and she has never lost at anything. At her old school Gatecombe Comprehensive, Stella was the star pupil and even the headmistress virtually hero-worships her; there are displays of Stella’s school achievements everywhere. Now Stella is the star of a TV sports series, Goldengirl. Stella’s parents just never stop bragging about her and they “kill the fattened calf” for her whenever she shows up.

This causes huge problems for Stella’s younger sister Wendy when she starts at Gatecombe. Wendy has grown up in the shadow of Stella’s success, and at Gatecombe she becomes overshadowed even more. Everyone, including the school staff and Wendy’s parents, expect Wendy to be another Stella and keep comparing her with Stella. On Wendy’s first day alone, she is constantly embarrassed and humiliated because the school staff make a huge fuss over her, push her to the front at everything, and give her all the plum roles and expect her to be just as brilliant at doing them as Stella. The headmistress even compares Wendy’s appearance with Stella’s – and it’s not a favourable comparison either. They only see Wendy as “Stella’s sister” instead an individual, and they expect her to be just like Stella. At home, Wendy’s parents, who are just too full of pride about Stella, are just as bad at expecting Wendy to be just like Stella. At least they do it in a somewhat more light-hearted manner. But they are too consumed with pride over Stella to even take in interest in what Wendy tries to do or lend her any support. For the parents, Wendy always takes second place to Stella. Nobody will respect Wendy for herself.

But Wendy does not have a golden touch like Stella. She suffers from poor self-esteem because she is being constantly expected to follow in Stella’s footsteps when she considers herself the opposite of Stella. Worse, it does not take long for the other girls to pick up on how Wendy pales in comparison to her sister. They understandably resent how the big fuss over Wendy is not giving them a chance, while not understanding that Wendy does not like it any more than they do.

As a result, Wendy becomes a target of bullying, with the girls constantly teasing her because she isn’t living up to Stella’s reputation while all adults around her keep expecting her to do so. Wendy’s worst enemies are Angela and Honey, who also like to play dirty tricks on Wendy whenever she tries to prove herself, so as to make her the laughingstock again. Furthermore, they have the whole class send Wendy to Coventry and they call her “weak sister Wendy”. Even their families get in on the act; Angela’s brother Adam helps them play a trick on Wendy to get her into trouble with the headmistress. There seems to be no limit to their bullying; at one point they cause Wendy to take a fall during a bar exercise and land on top of the gym teacher, and then they have the nerve to blame Wendy when the teacher has an attack. Fortunately for Wendy, the doctor sorts them out. At least there is one person who is sticking up for Wendy, but nobody else is there to talk to the parents or help sort out the bullies.

Following a misunderstanding, Angela and Honey think Wendy tricked them out of their chance to meet their heartthrob Gregg Vanderley, who is Stella’s co-star. After this, their spite grows even worse. They try to frame Wendy for stealing exam papers. When this fails, they trick Wendy into an old tower and intend her to have a nasty accident. Wendy breaks her wrist because of this. The doctor has her stay off school until further notice.

But even while laid up in bed with a broken wrist, poor Wendy gets no respite from being constantly compared to her sister. Instead of offering sympathy, Wendy’s mother scolds her for missing out on the end-of-term school exams because of her injury while Stella always came out top in them. All the same, it is just as well the bullies’ trick had Wendy miss the exams, because the constant comparison with Stella and the bullying had inevitably impeded her progress during the term. From the sound of things, the parents have been getting reports that Wendy is not doing well at school.

While in bed, Wendy ponders over another thing she has noticed: Stella has not contacted her family of late, not even when she was in the neighbourhood recently with Vanderley. Also, the TV network is running repeats of Goldengirl instead of the new season, which Wendy finds suspicious. So Wendy takes advantage of her remaining time off school to go to London and do some investigating.

Wendy’s suspicions are confirmed when she discovers Stella has lost the Goldengirl job and been evicted from her exclusive flat because she could no longer afford the rent. At the TV studio Wendy learns Stella lost the job because she became a victim of her own success: viewers got bored of her and lost sympathy with her because she kept winning all the time. It looks like Stella’s replacement is having similar confidence problems to Wendy, which explains why the new season has not screened.

Stella disappeared instead of going home, because she was too afraid and ashamed of what the parents will say because they’re so full of themselves about her. Also, Stella has not experienced disaster before, so Wendy realises she must be taking it extremely badly. Furthermore, Stella is completely broke; Wendy later learns Stella frittered away her salary on the high life instead of investing it, except for a trust fund.

At Vanderley’s suggestion, Wendy investigates a derelict house that other out-of-work actors are using to squat in. When Wendy sees the house, she cannot believe her sister would even set foot in such a smelly, run-down, graffiti-smeared place that is falling to pieces. But Wendy soon finds that this is indeed where Stella is shacking up now. Moreover, Stella, who once earned a top salary as Goldengirl, is now working at a grotty café for an obviously very low pay. Wendy finds Stella working there, and she looks absolutely miserable.

Despite the depths she has sunk to, Stella cannot bear the thought of going home and facing her parents, or what people are going to say behind her back. But it is here that Wendy finds a whole new confidence when she persuades Stella to do so. She gets very bold and assertive in not taking “no” for an answer and insisting on taking Stella home. And screw what people are going to say; Wendy loudly describes what she has been through at school to illustrate that if she can put up with that sort of treatment, Stella can too. Stella listens, and begs Wendy to go on helping her. Wendy does more in that regard when their prideful parents start whining about what the neighbours will say when they hear what happened. Wendy retorts, “Bother the neighbours!” She describes the situation she found Stella in and says, “Would you rather I’d left Stella where she was, Mum?” The parents are humbled at this and offer comfort to Stella. Once Stella recovers, she becomes determined to work her way out of her bad patch.

Then Stella expresses concern about the bullying Wendy is experiencing at school and how it is bound to get worse once the bullies hear about her losing the Goldengirl job. Wendy, emboldened by her new assertiveness, says she has the confidence to deal with them now.

Sure enough, Angela and Honey get a real surprise when Wendy returns to school. When they try to bully Wendy over Stella’s dismissal, she comes right back at their teasing. She also threatens to go to self-defence classes if there is any more of their bullying (a bluff). To reinforce her point, Wendy pulls an arm lock on Angela that Stella had taught her, who in turn had learned it from Angela’s idol Vanderley. Wendy tells the girls she is going to try out for the school choir (she hopes that will help her become respected in her own right) and she jolly well hopes she will have more fun next term than she has had so far. Angela and Honey are humiliated, especially when the other girls begin to laugh at Angela’s humbling.

Thoughts

This is a Tammy story I have come to appreciate more upon revisiting it. It’s not that I disliked the story initially; it’s just that I was more taken with other stories in Tammy at the time.

Girls’ comics have frequently run stories where a girl suffers because she is compared unfairly and unfavourably with a more successful sibling, or, in some cases, a parent. This one is a bit different than most. The more common formula is for the protagonist to constantly strive to prove herself and win some respect, which she eventually does with some talent she discovers or an act of heroism (e.g. “Make the Headlines, Hannah!”, also from Tammy). Of course things don’t go smoothly and she frequently comes up against an enemy who is always trying to sabotage her.

This serial has that theme, but runs it to a slightly lesser extent than most. And the ending breaks the formula completely. The heroine does not prove herself at long last with some talent/heroic act, winning respect and everything ends happily. Instead, Wendy gains confidence by learning to stand up for herself. This starts with standing up to the sister who has always overshadowed her, and using everything she has short of physical force to stop hiding in that miserable run-down hovel, come home, get back on her feet again, face up to those parents of theirs, and deal with what people are going to say about her. Wendy’s new assertion continues with the parents when they start to whine about what others will say, and it gives her a whole new confidence in standing up to the bullies. And instead of school changing overnight for the protagonist, which is the more common ending, the story ends on the hope that school will improve for Wendy, but whether it does so remains to be seen. This is a more realistic ending that avoids the clichéd “new improved school ending”, which makes a very nice change.

It is easy to understand why Tammy went with this ending when we examine Wendy’s home life. Having Wendy prove herself somehow just would not have been enough, because the parents were just too consumed with pride over Stella to even notice what Wendy does. They need to have that pride of theirs deflated before they start taking Wendy more seriously. And they get it when they find out about Stella’s job loss and Wendy tells them off for thinking about what people will say about Stella’s downfall instead of thinking about Stella and what she is going through. We sense that they will become better parents to Wendy after this.

Stella, too, needed a lesson, and she gets it from the story’s resolution. There is no evidence in the story that Stella’s success turned her into an insufferable big head, which has happened in other stories e.g. “Last Chance for Laura” from Bunty. It is possible that Stella had become a big head, but there is no evidence of it. But even if Stella was not big headed, it sounds like she was in serious need of a fall if she was squandering her salary on high living instead of using it wisely. Further, she had never developed the emotional and psychological tools to deal with failure because she had not encountered failure until she loses the Goldengirl job. Wendy’s whole new assertiveness not only saves her from the miserable squatting but also helps her find the courage and inner strengths to rise above her bad patch. In so doing, we sense Stella will emerge an even bigger success than ever because she gained strength, new coping skills and lessons from that bad time.

Stella had also neglected Wendy because she was always too busy. So Wendy rescuing Stella and helping her to get through her trouble would definitely get Stella finally paying more attention to Wendy. Stella in turn becomes the one to help Wendy stand up to the bullies, by teaching her self-defence techniques, and being a more thoughtful sister towards her.

Rita, My Robot Friend [1980-1981]

Sample Images

Rita 1Rita 2Rita 3

Published: Tammy 6 December 1980 to 28 February 1981

Episodes: 13

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Orphan Jenny James has grown up in orphanages. Her grandfather, a scientist named Professor James, is finally traced and agrees to take her in. Jenny now hopes she will never be lonely again. As it turns out, her hopes are to take a very odd turn.

The Professor is kind enough, and he is your typical absent-minded professor. But he has a big problem that shapes the course of the entire story: He does not get on with his neighbours. In the neighbours’ view, his property is an eyesore. His laboratory house looks as eccentric as he is, and it must be said that it is untidy. This is because he does not make the time to maintain it because he gets so absorbed in his work. Moreover, sometimes his experiments go wrong, which aggravates the neighbours even more. They also regard him as a mad scientist, and they scorn him and call him names like “the old fool” and “the old goat”, despite his renown in scientific circles as a genius. (Did Thomas Edison have problems like this with his neighbours, we wonder?) Snobbery may come into it too, if the family next door have anything to go by. They are so rich that when their daughter Angelina rips a seam in her blazer they buy her a new one although it is a simple matter to repair the current one.

When Angelina finds out Jenny is Professor James’ granddaughter, she turns all the girls against Jenny at her new school, for no other reason than who Jenny’s grandfather is. Unfortunately for Jenny, she is in the same class as Angelina, which makes it even easier for Angelina to keep Jenny an outcast. It looks like Jenny will be lonely again after all.

But then Jenny accidentally brings a robot her grandfather had just created to school, and it is in the form of a human girl. Jenny dubs the robot “Rita” and uses her as an ‘instant friend’. The robot can be taken apart and reassembled, so it is portable. This is very handy for Jenny. She can take Rita anywhere in a bag, assemble Rita in order to play with her, then quickly dismantle her and hide her in the bag (or somewhere that’s handy) again. Angelina (and some teachers) can’t understand how this girl seems to be able to appear and disappear so quickly. Jenny also contrives a school uniform for Rita (acquiring and mending that discarded blazer of Angelina’s) so Rita can blend in at school.

However, Angelina is determined to find out who this mystery friend is that is defying her campaign against Jenny and is constantly trying to get a close look at her. This leads to the story rollicking in misadventures and close shaves when Jenny assembles Rita to be her companion, and then she has to find quick, resourceful ways to keep ahead of Angelina and dismantle/hide Rita quickly whenever Angelina gets too close. Jenny also has to improve her own science (which is less impressive than her grandfather’s) for Rita’s maintenance and odd repair from their brushes with Angelina. Sometimes Angelina’s attempts to find out the truth about Rita backfire on her too, such as getting into trouble with teachers. But sometimes things get a bit dangerous. On one occasion Angelina is skulking behind a cabinet to look at Rita, only to send it toppling and almost causes a nasty accident. Fortunately Rita has super-strength and stops the cabinet from falling altogether.

Jenny and Rita also begin to have the odd close call with the new science teacher, Miss Watt. Jenny is worried that Miss Watt, being scientific, will realise Rita is a robot. Eventually she decides not to take Rita to school anymore because she thinks Miss Watt is getting suspicious. She does not realise Miss Watt is an old student and admirer of her grandfather and therefore a potential ally.

Jenny decides to use Rita outside school and takes her out on a weekend trip to the beach. But even there she bumps into Angelina and there are more close calls. At one point Jenny even puts Rita in a Star Wars-style film display so Rita is concealed in plain sight among other robots. Sometimes pulling the wool over Angelina’s eyes has its lighter moments.

However, Jenny does not get away with it altogether. When Angelina sees Jenny return alone but the mystery friend appears with her at the house the next day, she realises the secret of the mystery friend is in the house. And when she remembers the Professor does not bother locking his door, she realises how easy it will be to get in there.

One evening Angelina’s family hold a barbeque and invite the entire neighbourhood. Another of the Professor’s disasters has upset the neighbours again, so they are all too happy to sign a petition Angelina’s mother is now circulating to get rid of him for good. Jenny overhears everything from her bedroom window and seethes at the names that they are calling him while not understanding what a genius he is.

Later, Angelina seizes her chance to sneak into the Professor’s house to find out the truth about Jenny’s mystery friend. And this time, she succeeds. She laughs at Jenny for using a robot like a doll (and when you think about it, Angelina is right). She is all set to have everyone at school teasing Jenny rotten over it.

But outside, Angelina’s friends have discovered that the barbeque has started a fire, which sets the Professor’s house ablaze. The Professor, Jenny and Angelina are trapped in a raging inferno and their only chance is the rocket capsule he has just invented. Using Rita as a heat shield, they make their way to the Professor’s laboratory, where he has the rocket capsule. Angelina collapses from the smoke and Jenny has Rita pick her up. Unfortunately there is no room in the capsule for Rita herself. So there is a heart-wrenching scene as Jenny watches Rita’s outward human shell being burned away to expose the metal automaton underneath, before debris begins to fall on her.

The Professor’s house burns to the ground, much to the horror of the neighbours who had tried to get rid of the Professor before – and Angelina’s parents, who think she died in the fire too. Everyone is thrilled to see Professor and the girls have survived thanks to the rocket capsule. Their rescue even makes TV news, and Miss Watt is delighted to reunited with the professor she had so admired as a student.

There is a deeply moving, tearful scene when Jenny goes back to the disaster site to look for Rita. But there’s no response on the controls and Jenny realises Rita must have been destroyed. She is heartbroken and thinks she is going to be alone again. But Angelina comes up, full of remorse and apologies, and offers to be Jenny’s friend. Jenny joyfully accepts Angelina’s offer.

When Angelina’s parents hear they were responsible for the fire, they offer to pay for a new house and laboratory. But the Professor spares them of that because he can rebuild himself with the money he makes from the sale of his rocket capsule to the United States (at Miss Watt’s suggestion). The Professor can also afford to employ staff to help delegate his work and keep his property maintained, so he gets along with his neighbours better now. Jenny is not lonely anymore because she has a real friend now, in the changed Angelina.

Thoughts

“Rita, My Robot Friend” was one of my favourites when it came out. It must have been with others too; I saw a comment on the Internet somewhere that somebody hoped it would appear in a reprint.

The story uses the “secret companion” formula i.e. a secret companion who helps assuage loneliness and bullying the protagonist suffers, and sometimes helps in other ways, such as clearing a relative’s name. But unlike other secret companion stories – or robot stories for that matter – that I have encountered in girls’ comics, Rita is not interactive. She has no consciousness, artificial intelligence or speech, while many other robots in girls’ serials are capable of it e.g. “The Robot Who Cried” (Jinty). Nor does she speak a word of dialogue in the entire story although the Professor says she can talk. Perhaps the writer/editor thought the story would get too complicated if Rita was interactive, and it was complicated enough what with all things Jenny had to do to keep Rita’s secret safe from Angelina. Or perhaps they thought an interactive Rita would detract too much from Jenny and they wanted to keep the focus of the story on Jenny vs. Angelina.

The story has a definite “love thy neighbour” message. We can understand the neighbours being annoyed at the Professor’s untidy property. But ridiculing him as a kook despite his renown as a scientist shows just how little they have actually tried to be friends with him. And being related to the Professor is no excuse for how Angelina treats Jenny and turning everyone at school against her. We get a definite hint that a mean streak is involved as well when Angelina says, “It must be horrid not to have a friend! Haw, haw!” She knows Jenny is in earshot and Jenny realises it is meant to hurt her. Angelina is clearly a spoiled child too, and her parents are also intolerant of the Professor. Neither of these would help matters.

In deception stories, the ruse always unravels in the end, even if there is some justification for it. This one is no exception. There was no way Jenny could have kept up the deception indefinitely and she herself found it increasingly complicated to keep it up. Fortunately, as with so many deception stories, it unravels at the point of the story where everything can be set up for the resolution – in this case, the fire. Although it destroys the house it also resolves all the antagonism between the Professor and his neighbours that started the trouble. And there are very compelling scenes in the final episode to make it a strong one. For example, although Rita’s lack of interaction meant she could never be developed as a character, the panels showing her being destroyed in the fire because she has to be sacrificed are heart-breaking ones. As a matter of fact, these panels are so poignant that I am showing them below. The panels showing Angelina’s reconciliation with Jenny are also deeply moving and tearful ones, and are not in the least bit trite.

Rita destruction

 

No Haven for Hayley [1981]

Sample Images

Hayley 1Hayley 2Hayley 3

Published: Tammy 21 March – 23 May 1981

Episodes: 10

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Mrs Moore’s home is known as “the Haven” because she works so much for charity. Unfortunately Mrs Moore is exhibiting symptoms of a workaholic. She is so busy and over-zealous with charity projects, and cramming her life with so many charity works that she is neglecting her own daughter, Hayley, and letting her down all the time. She takes Hayley for granted and makes her a dumping ground for tasks she has agreed to take on but has no time for because her schedule is too crowded. Worst of all, Mum never stops to listen to Hayley or help Hayley with any problems. Even if Mum does listen a bit, she just doesn’t seem to understand what Hayley is talking about and Hayley just can’t get through to her. Ironically, one of Mum’s campaigns is for “latch-key” children.

The situation gets worse when Mum decides to foster problem children – on top of all her other work. Typically for Mum, she applies for fostering without consulting or even telling Hayley beforehand; she takes it for granted that Hayley will help out.

Also typically for Mum, she lumbers Hayley with the job of minding the foster children because she won’t make the time for it with all her other charity work. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the fostering itself is a nightmare for Hayley. First she is saddled with a pair of horrors who take over her room, mess up her things and constantly play tricks on her, but Mum won’t let Hayley even raise her voice to them.

But if Hayley thought those two horrors made her life hell, they are nothing on the real problem child to follow, Fenella Briars. Fenella comes from the long line of scheming foster children who take advantage of anyone who fosters them and push out the protagonist with sneaky tricks. This is what she proceeds to do with Hayley and succeeds in turning Mum and everyone at school with her tricks while taking advantage of them all and playing on their sympathy and gullibility.

Then, when Fenella tries to con hospital patients out of money during another of Mum’s charity works, a Nurse Harris catches her out. Fenella tries to put the blame on Hayley, but senses Nurse Harris has seen through her. Indeed Nurse Harris has, and tells Hayley to put Mum in touch with her so she can put her straight about Fenella. But Fenella makes a hasty exit from the Haven before they can do so, on pretext that Hayley is making her feel unwelcome there. And communications being what they are between Hayley and her mother, Mum is not put straight about Fenella and thinks Hayley’s ‘spite’ is the reason for her fostering failure. As a result, Mum loses faith in Hayley, thinks Hayley is turning selfish, and their relationship and communication problems grow even worse.

This misunderstanding has devastating consequences when Hayley organises a door-to-door collection for her school. Mum, as usual, is too busy to listen or help. But worse, Mum never told Hayley that she had been running three door-to-door collections along the streets that Hayley is using for her collection because of her lack of faith in Hayley because of Fenella. The result? People are angry about yet another door-to-door collection so soon after the others, so the collection turns into a disaster. Hayley’s fellow collectors blame her for it and don’t listen to her protests that Mum never told her about the other collections.

When Hayley confronts her mother over the door-to-door collections, Mum explodes over her fostering disappointment and shouts at Hayley. This is too much for Hayley. She blunders out of the house in tears and gets hit by a car. During a semi-conscious state Hayley rambles her problems with Mum to Sister Harris, who then has a serious talk with Mum. Presumably she also puts Mum wise about Fenella at long last, though the serial does not record this or Mum’s reaction.

Mum tells Hayley that she has used “a whole host of good deeds” to fill the gap left in her life following the death of Hayley’s father. But she now realises she has overdone it so much that she crowded Hayley out. Hayley agrees to forgive Mum and they are reconciled.

Six months later, everything has improved for both Hayley and her mother. Mum and Hayley now co-operate as a team on charity projects, with Mum listening to Hayley and even asking her for suggestions. For Hayley, “The Haven” is at last living up to its name.

Thoughts

This is a disturbing and well-crafted exploration of the damage that poor listening and breakdowns in communication can inflict on a relationship. It also proves that effective communication is essential not only for the people in the relationship, but also for the people surrounding them. As the communications between mother and daughter break down, it is not just Hayley who suffers. The bad communications also have an effect at Hayley’s school and, ironically, they undermine Mum’s charity work as well. Perhaps the greatest irony is when Hayley wants to organise her own door-to-door collection, but Mum, as usual, is too busy to listen or help. If Mum had just spared a few moments to listen, all that would have been avoided and she would have taken great pride in seeing Hayley run her own charity collection.

The serial makes deft and almost cruel use of irony to reinforce its points; for example, Mum remonstrating Hayley for being “selfish” on that fateful night, while she herself is selfish in thinking only of her work. It shows there is more than one kind of selfishness, and parents can take their children for granted, too.

The introduction of the foster children, and also a gang of yobs who attack Hayley, add the villainy that intensifies Hayley’s already-existing problems with Mum to the breaking point in the climax. Fenella’s ‘cuckoo-in-the-nest’ scheming has been used countless times in girls’ comics, especially in DCT titles. On this occasion it is used as a plot element rather than driving the plot itself, which makes it a bit different. But even without Fenella’s scheming, Mum’s fostering plans were clearly doomed from the start because she was just too busy, lacked the cohesion with Hayley to work effectively with a problem child for the reasons stated above, and it is obvious she never even thought the idea through properly in the first place.

The reason Mum made herself way too busy with charity work – to compensate for the death of her husband – is credible and rooted in realism. We can even imagine that Mum became addicted to charity work. But she became so consumed with charity work that she lost sight of other things in life, especially Hayley. Girls’ comics have frequently warned about not taking things to extremes (e.g. Jinty’s “Worlds Apart”) and do things in moderation. Apparently, even good things like charity work or generosity should be done in moderation as well, because taking them too far could do more harm than the good they are meant to do. DCT made similar points with stories like “Hard Times for Helen” and “Minnie the Meanie”, both from Judy.

The resolution of the story – Hayley getting hit by a car, rambling her problems to a person in authority who then has a word with Mum – is hardly new in girls’ comics. For example, “Hard Times for Helen” used a similar resolution. But what makes the plotting better in this case is that the accident occurs at the end of the penultimate episode. This enables the whole of the final episode to be used for the resolution of the story instead of a few panels crammed onto the last page, so there is more scope for development of the resolution. We are even shown panels of just how things have changed for Hayley after she was discharged from hospital, not just Mum apologising and promising things are going to be different, as Helen’s mother does at the end of “Hard Times for Helen”. The only shortcoming is that we are not shown Mum’s reaction when Nurse Harris tells her the truth about Fenella and that she had been wrongly blaming Hayley. Considering that the misunderstanding over Fenella is what caused the accident in the first place, not showing how the misunderstanding is resolved is glaring. Perhaps they felt they didn’t have the room to cover it, but couldn’t they have tried to squeeze in an extra line or two to do so? It would have made the ending more satisfying for the readers.

 

Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as "Jackie's Two Lives"
Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as “Jackie’s Two Lives”

We have run a few posts about Alan Davidson before now on the blog, but not a complete summary post that serves as an appreciation of his work. Of course no summary post can be properly complete at this stage as we do not know all the stories he wrote for girls’ comics – his wife Pat Davidson has mentioned that he kept careful copies of his invoices and his scripts, but to go through those files is itself a lot of work. We can hope that we will hear more titles of stories in due course, and if so, I will certainly add them into this post. In any case, we now have story posts about all five of the Jinty stories that it is is known that Alan wrote, so the time seems right for an appreciation of him as a comics writer.

Known Jinty stories written by Alan Davidson:

Known stories in other titles:

  • Little Miss Nothing (Tammy, 1971)
  • Paint It Black (Misty, 1978)

Pat Davidson has also stated in a separate email that “[f]or older readers he contributed some excellent stories for Pink and often met up with Ridwan Aitken, the then editor. I don’t have any records of these to hand, although I remember a very original story about a hero who could predict earthquakes, which Alan much enjoyed writing. I can’t remember its title.”

Having set down these initial bibliographic details, what can we pull together in terms of an appreciation of his work, in girls comics and elsewhere?

Davidson’s work is not as strongly themed as Alison Christie‘s concentration on heart-tugging stories which forms the bulk of her comics writing. There is a clear focus on wish fulfillment in his Jinty stories: Gwen stumbles into a position where her schoolmates respect and appreciate her as she has always wanted, Jackie is swept up by a rich mother-figure who is prepared to take her away from her life of poverty, Debbie finds a mysterious valley and within it a sort of fairy godmother who will save her from her cruel family, and Kerry is likewise swept up by a rich mentor who looks like she is a route to the fame that Kerry has always wanted. The wish in question is almost always double-edged or positively treacherous: Debbie is the only one who ends up happy with getting what she has always wanted (and of course her fairy godmother figure is stern-but-kind rather than seemingly kind but morally dubious). However, Davidson plays the theme of wish fulfillment while ringing the changes: none of his stories are close repeats, even though they have this similar focus.

For Jinty‘s pages he also wrote the important science fiction story “Fran of the Floods” (1976) – perhaps not quite the first SF story that ran in this title (that is arguably 1975’s “The Green People”) but a hugely popular one that ran for some 9 months. Jinty‘s reputation as a title that ran lots of SF surely must owe plenty to the success of this key story. It is a strong story through to its end, though showing a few signs of padding in some parts of the long journey taken by the protagonist. (I note that Sandie ran a story called “Noelle’s Ark” a few years earlier which has a number of similarities without being as strong on characterization or drama: it would be interesting to know if this was something that Davidson was aware of, or perhaps even the author of.)

Davidson of course had also previously written a standout story that gave girls’ comics a key new theme: 1971’s “Little Miss Nothing” started the run of Cinderella stories which gave Tammy its reputation for cruelty and darkness. Pat Mills has lauded this as being written with a real lightness of touch and being written very much from the heart (note that he thought at the time that this was written by Alan’s wife Pat, which has since been corrected by Pat Davidson herself). We know less about what we wrote for titles other than Jinty: it seems he wrote little else for Tammy (unless Pat Davidson can correct that impression?), and only one story for Misty. “Paint It Black” was part of the opening line-up of that comic. While it was a compelling read it doesn’t seem to have struck the same chord with readers as some others from that title, and Davidson doesn’t seem to have written more for Misty (perhaps also due to the fact that he was finding success in children’s prose fiction from around that time).

It’s clear that Davidson’s writing is strong all round, and at its height was really mould-breaking (not just once, at least twice). There are ways in which it follows the conventions of girls comics writing reasonably closely: the titles of his stories tend to follow the standard set up of focusing on the girl protagonists (Gwen, Jackie, Fran, Kerry) though veering away from that in some cases (“Valley of Shining Mist” and most particularly “Paint It Black”). I’m not sure whether this all-round strength is part of the reason for another aspect of his comics career which I was struck by when looking back – he has not been associated with one particular artist, but rather been illustrated by a wide range of artists with no repeats that I know of. This contrasts with the partnership between Alison Christie and Phil Townsend, who created some seven very popular stories together for Jinty.

From the mid to late 70s, Davidson started to concentrate on prose fiction for children. It’s a little hard to search for details of his work online as he doesn’t seem to have had his own web presence and there are a few other well-known figures with the same name (such as a food writer and a cricketer). This Goodreads author page is the clearest list I have found of his prose works, while it’s also worth looking at his Wikipedia page, which tells us that he started off as a subeditor on “Roy of the Rovers” for Tiger. Writing children’s prose fiction has clear advantages over continuing in the world of juvenile comics: better recognition by your public rather than having no printed credits in the pages of the comics titles, better rewards for success in the form of royalties and translation money. At the same time, his most successful prose work, “The Bewitching of Alison Allbright”, is an effective re-working of his popular comics story “Jackie’s Two Lives”. The influence of the earlier writing clearly informs the later work too: what comics loses, children’s fiction gains.

If Davidson had been writing a decade or so later, might he have been swept up in the popularity of 2000AD and the migration that various British creators made to the US market? That only seems to have drawn in the creators working on boys’ comics, so I assume not. It is pleasant to imagine the talented writers of juvenile comics being fêted and recognized by name in a way that British publishers spent many years fighting to prevent. Ultimately however it is a sad thought: Alan Davidson, who is amongst those who most deserve that name recognition, is only now getting a small fraction of that recognition after his death.

Bella at the Bar (1974) – first Bella Barlow story

Sample Images

bella-1bella-2bella-3

Published: Tammy 22 June 1974 – 7 September 1974

Episodes: 12

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Jenny McDade

Translations/reprints: Bella’s Book of Gymnastics 1981 as Bella – the Beginning

Plot

Orphan Bella Barlow lives with her Uncle Jed and Aunt Gert, who abuse and exploit her. Their exploitation is motivated by laziness, tight-fistedness, greed, and squandering their money on gambling (bingo, dog racing), and in Jed’s case, drinking. Their background must come into it as well as they are low working class people who don’t look very far above the poverty line and they live in a very seedy house. They make Bella do all the housework, the cooking (while making her eat separate, substandard food and often starve her altogether), and make her a slave at Uncle Jed’s window cleaning business. They never pay her anything, making the excuse that her board and keep are the payment. They keep her away from school and are not above beating her. And if they see any way to make money out of Bella they will seize upon it.

Bella lives for gymnastics and has rigged up makeshift apparatus in the back yard (probably cobbled together from the scrap Jed collects). She uses every spare moment she can to work on it. Oddly, Jed and Gert do not interfere with her makeshift apparatus although they disapprove of her “wasting time” on it instead of working.

While working at the window cleaning, Bella comes across a gymnastics class at a school and immediately wants to be part of it. The teacher, Miss Mortimer, is happy to have Bella, especially after she helps a pupil in trouble.

However, there are two problems. First, grasping Uncle Jed won’t give permission because there is no money in it. Second, the school is an exclusive one and the snobby headmistress would not allow a “guttersnipe” like Bella into the classes. So although it would put her job at risk, Miss Mortimer decides to coach Bella in secret out of school hours because Bella is so talented. Meanwhile, Bella gets around Jed by tricking him into thinking she is getting money from the gymnastics by taking a secret car washing job (and the employer later exploits her too, with blackmail). When Jed and Gert hear that Bella could be good enough to compete internationally, they (mistakenly) think there could be big money in it for them. So they allow the classes and Bella to practise at home, and they start treating her kindly, with proper feeding and not lumbering her with so much work.

Soon Bella is making such progress that Miss Mortimer enters her in a competition for experience. Unfortunately at this moment the snobby headmistress finds out about Miss Mortimer secretly coaching Bella. Bella has to go or Miss Mortimer gets the sack, so it’s the end of Bella’s coaching with Miss Mortimer.

Bella keeps this secret from Jed and Gert, otherwise it will be back to the old drudgery with renewed vengeance. She lets them go on thinking things are just carrying on. She finds ways to keep up her exercises but has to go into the competition without proper coaching for it or even really knowing what she is supposed to be doing. Despite the difficulties and no win, Bella makes a respectable impression on officials, who say she could go far with more experience. Bella also makes some contacts among the other competitors, who go to the gym class run by Mr Benson, head of the sports centre. Mr Benson has also noticed Bella and offers her a place in his own gymnastics class. Jed declines as he still thinks Miss Mortimer is coaching Bella, and is not willing to pay the fee either. Bella has to put up money from her secret work (now a babysitting job) to pay the fee and join Mr Benson’s gym club.

Jed gets impatient about Bella’s gymnastics not bringing him money and means to see Miss Mortimer about getting Bella into winning competitions and being a money spinner. Bella tries to stop him seeing Miss Mortimer and find out everything, but fails. The Barlows are furious to discover their mistaken assumption that Bella’s gymnastics would make them money. It’s back to the old mistreatment. Worse, Bella’s confidence in her gymnastics has taken a knock because she is now under the impression she does not have what it takes to become a top gymnast.

While the Barlows are out the girls from Mr Benson’s class drop by and persuade Bella to come to class, which restores her confidence. She does so well that Mr Benson chooses her to take part in a gymnastics display for charity. Much to Bella’s surprise, Gert agrees to it. Bella realises there must be an underhand reason for it, but decides to concentrate on the show.

After the display Bella receives encouragement from Mr Benson that she could become good enough to compete for England. However, the Barlows do not allow her to continue with Mr Benson. They only allowed her to perform in the show in the hope that their friend, Murton Stone, the owner of “The Strolling Stones” seaside theatrical show, would take her on for gymnastics acts in his show. Stone agrees to it, and Bella reluctantly decides to go along with it because she thinks it would enable her to keep up gymnastics.

In terms of proper treatment, Bella soon finds she isn’t much better off at The Strolling Stones. The Stones are as stonyhearted as their names suggest. In fact, the Stones tell their spoiled daughter Amelia to make as much use of Bella as she likes. Amelia seizes upon with this with alacrity because she hates Bella. On top of the exploitation and bullying from Amelia, Bella finds that Stone himself exceeds even Uncle Jed for slave-driving her.

When it comes to the gymnastics acts Stone strips away all the dance elements in Bella’s floor routines when Amelia protests that she is the dancer of the show (which she doesn’t have much talent for). He tells Bella to stick exclusively to the acrobatic elements in her gymnastics performances, which are to be spiced up to the max and look as spectacular as possible. Before long Bella notices her body is acting up after the performances, but fails to realise it is a danger signal. She puts up with the Stones’ mistreatment because she thinks the show is the only way to keep up gymnastics and it is better than nothing at all.

But Bella soon finds out otherwise when Mr Benson catches up with her at the seaside show. When he sees the souped-up acrobatics in Bella’s act he tells her to stop immediately, because they are both improper gymnastics and damaging to her body. When Bella tries to tell him why she can’t stop, he misunderstands and does not give her a chance to fully explain. He thinks she is putting money over her wellbeing and leaves in disgust.

By now Bella’s body is well and truly telling her how right Mr Benson is. She realises she must get out fast. But if she simply leaves, Jed and Gert will just send her back. So she tries to get the sack by putting on bad performances. Unfortunately it backfires, and as a result Bella finds herself forced into humiliating burlesque gymnastics acts and being an abused clown sidekick in Amelia’s dancing routine.

In the end Bella simply runs away from the Stones and heads home. When she arrives she finds Jed and Gert have gone away on a two-week holiday (no doubt by using the money they made from the Stones’ exploitation of her). This proves fortunate because it gives Bella freedom to pursue gymnastics and make her own money without hindrance.

Unfortunately her misunderstandings with Mr Benson are making him think she is unreliable and irresponsible. He allows her to return, but Bella gets the impression he will expel her if she does not overcome her difficulties in getting to classes. Moreover, her gymnastics have deteriorated because of the seaside show abuse and she has to make extra efforts to get back into shape.

Then child welfare discover Bella is living on her own and insist on putting her in a children’s home. Bella does not like the prison-like home, especially when she gets on the wrong side of the unpleasant staff. Moreover, she is desperately worried that their interference will make her miss her next gym class.

So Bella just runs off to get there. But on the way she helps out at a road accident, which leaves her badly injured and she is hospitalised. She missed her gym class and now fears she is out of Mr Benson’s class for good. However, it turns out the men she helped at the accident were big Russian officials. They reward her with a place at a top Russian gymnastics school.

Thoughts

This is one of the most pivotal girls’ serials ever because it changed the course of girls’ comics history. Bella, who started out as just another serial in her first story here, proved so popular that she went on to become a regular in Tammy who held a joint record with Molly Mills for Tammy’s longest-running character (10 years each). Bella Barlow remains one of the most beloved and best-remembered characters ever in girls’ comics. She also changed the course of the career of her artist, John Armstrong, and he himself modelled her on his own niece.

However, the subsequent history of Bella and her sequels will be excluded from this discussion. It will concentrate on the first story itself.

One thing that would have made the first Bella story so popular is that it is firmly rooted in the Cinderella formula that had been in Tammy from issue one. It would remain frequent in Tammy until the late 1970s. It is atypical in that there is no wicked stepsister figure, but then it is difficult to imagine the wicked stepsister figure fitting into the Barlow household. After all, the Barlows squander so much money on what they do raise that they could hardly afford to spoil a wicked stepsister. The nearest we get to the wicked stepsister is Amelia Stone, but she is not part of the Barlow household.

Bella is set in the Tammy tradition of abused heroines who endure countless trials, torments and setbacks of all sorts before the happy ending. From the start she encounters obstacles and people that not only hinder her ambition to be a gymnast but also mistreat her at every turn. Bella has problems even with the people who do help her (Miss Mortimer, Mr Benson) until she meets the Russian officials. And readers would have lapped it up. They just loved the stories of ill-used heroines being forced through tribulations and tortures of all descriptions.

The abuse and hindrance Bella suffers at the hands of the Barlows stems from both their personalities and their working class background. They don’t live well and Jed is unlikely to make much money from his window cleaning business. All the same, they would be living better than they do if they used their money more sensibly and did not squander it on gambling and booze. They would also do a whole lot better if they worked more, but they are too lazy and selfish to do so. The only thing they work hard at is finding ways to make money any way they can, especially by wringing it out of Bella.

Bella’s move to the seaside show is no escape from exploitation and abuse either. The hindrance it gives to Bella’s gymnastics is even more of a threat than the Barlows because Bella is incapable of recognising it as such. She thinks that it at least is enabling her to do gymnastics. She does not realise the stunts Stone is forcing her to do are actually detrimental to both her gymnastics and her body until Mr Benson informs her.

When we first meet Bella we are impressed at what a perky figure she is despite all the abuse she suffers at home. We have to wonder how she does it. And from the first, her determination to pursue gymnastics despite all her difficulties really shines through. She has an unusual companion in the form of her bucket, which is a rather cute element. However, the bucket does not last long as a helper and not referred to as such again.

As is the case with so many of Tammy’s Cinderella stories, Bella has only one thing that makes her miserable life worthwhile and could be her ticket out of her misery if she keeps it up despite everything. In this case it is gymnastics.

The gymnastics themselves would have helped to popularise the story. The serial came out at a time when Olga Korbut was creating huge publicity for the sport. Tammy had run one other gymnastics story, “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” in 1972, but it was Bella who caused gymnastics to really take off in Tammy and made gymnastics one of the most central features in Tammy right to the end of her life. Moreover, the gymnastics are all brought to life through the brilliant rendering of John Armstrong. Nobody in girls’ comics has ever matched Armstrong for drawing gymnastics. He drew the gymnastics in a realistic, fluid, anatomical style that would have had readers crying out for more. There can be no doubt that the choice of artist was one of the biggest factors in making the first Bella story so popular.

The plotting is well structured and the pace strong and tight, with no meandering or padding just to spin it out. One puzzling thing comes right at the end, when the Russian officials say they have found out about Bella’s miserable home life. How did they manage to find that out, especially as the Barlows must still be away? It sounds a bit pat and contrived there.

It is not hard to see why the first Bella story was so popular. It was a strong, well-written story that was based on established formulas that had long guaranteed popularity in Tammy, and it was filled with lots of emotion and drama and strong, convincing characters. Rather than the more hackneyed ballet or horse riding the story used a sport that had only recently been spotlighted and popularised, which would have been quite refreshing. And the choice of artist to bring the gymnastics to life could not have been bettered and would have left readers hankering to see more of it.

But just what was it that made the first Bella story so popular that readers were writing in demanding a sequel as soon as her first story finished? What made Bella so different to the other Cinderella stories that had gone before and after her that enabled her to spawn a sequel and then more sequels? Finding the answers would probably spin a thread of speculation a mile long. Certainly the final panel helped. It had a slightly open ending, which left scope and even a hint for a possible sequel. Perhaps Tammy planned it that way. The editor would have seen the popularity of Bella and did not want to close the door on her altogether, just in case. Well, if that was the editor’s intention, the rest is history.