Published: Tammy 3 March 1979 to 12 May 1979
Artist: Tony Coleman
Translations/reprints: None known
Greta Jones becomes a student nurse at St Jane’s Hospital, but although she wants to be a nurse her real motive is to take revenge on the staff she believes are responsible for her doctor father’s dismissal twenty years earlier. Guiding her is her father’s old diary, which got left behind when he vanished years ago, leaving Greta to be raised in an orphanage. It is full of the names of the people who turned against him, but it never seems to explain why or what he was dismissed for. Greta does not know either but intends to find out from the staff. She also befriends Old Fred the hospital porter. Although Old Fred gives no sign he knows Greta’s game, he seems to take odd actions that either protect Greta or foil her tricks.
Greta’s revenge takes the form of nasty tricks, many of which take the form of vandalism, which are pulled on whoever’s name pops up in the diary. Of course it does not take the staff long to realise a troublemaker is at work, and after one incident where Greta is spotted and nearly caught, they know it is one of the student nurses. Sister Harris, who is in charge of the student, issues a general warning for the troublemaker to desist. Greta decides to ignore this and carry on, with more caution.
However, things get even more risky for Greta when of her fellow student nurses, Jocelyn, begins to suspect her after glimpsing the diary and then catching her red-handed. Greta manages to keep one step ahead of Jocelyn but can’t allay Jocelyn’s suspicions. Greta decides to set up a phony alibi during a weekend stay at Jocelyn’s: drug everyone in the household and slip back to the hospital to cause more trouble.
Unfortunately, upon her return, the trick backfires dreadfully on Greta. It results in Jocelyn getting seriously injured and difficulties in getting help because of the vandalism Greta caused at the hospital and drugging everyone in the household. Greta is forced to do the preliminary first aid on Jocelyn herself while waiting for the ambulance. As she does so, she realises she wasn’t paying proper attention to her nurse training because she was too distracted by revenge. Only with notes from Dad’s diary is she able to provide adequate treatment. Seeing her revenge went too far, Greta decides to end it. Jocelyn, grateful to Greta, tacitly agrees to keep things quiet. Greta looks set for a fresh start.
But oh, what a time to get found out! It is now that Sister Harris discovers the diary, which got left in the ambulance by mistake, and realises Greta is the troublemaker. She marches Greta off to the hospital authorities. Greta does not deny anything and shouts it is because of how they ganged up on her father and ruined him. The staff explain that her father brought the trouble on himself. He got so carried away celebrating Greta’s birth that in a moment of carelessness, his cigar smouldered on some curtains, which started a fire that nearly burned the hospital down. His own wife perished in the blaze and he was barely able to save baby Greta. Now Greta faces expulsion, and her dream of being a nurse looks doomed.
Then an ambulance arrives, bringing in some very sick patients from Heathrow. The ambulance men have collapsed from the illness as well. Old Fred promptly diagnoses the condition as a tropical fever that is highly contagious and could start an epidemic. He then reveals himself as…Greta’s father in disguise.
Dad says the hospital is not equipped to deal with this particular disease, which is unknown in England but horribly contagious, and insists on dealing with it himself. Greta tearfully declares she will help as his nurse. But the staff are not listening. So Dad and Greta seize the ambulance and drive it to an embassy to get the serum for the patients. It’s a mad scramble to get there, with not only the hospital on their tail now but the police as well!
On the way, Dad explains that after his dismissal, he left England and worked in the tropics, which not only built up his expertise in tropical diseases but also rebuilt his self-esteem and confidence as a doctor after his disgrace shattered it. Eventually he returned to England but was too scared to reveal himself. So he disguised himself as Old Fred the porter at his old hospital as a form of penance. He recognised Greta, realised what she was up to, and was trying to help where possible when things were getting out of hand.
At the embassy they get the serum to help the patients and contain the potential epidemic. After this, they both feel redeemed. Impressed by their actions, the ambassador helps to sort things out with the police and St Jane’s, and offers both Greta and Dad the opportunity to help patients in the tropics. This also enables Greta to complete her training and become a nurse after all.
As with Jinty, nursing serials were rare in Tammy. Both Tammy and Jinty used the nurse theme more often in their complete stories. Tammy did not seem to use revenge serials much either, but when she did, the best example was “The Fairground of Fear”.
Nurse Grudge had a strong influence on me when I first started reading Tammy, and it was one of my favourites. Its most lasting impact was being the first story to introduce me to the now-familiar formula in girls’ comics that whenever a protagonist is out for revenge, she so often discovers she was wrong about the whole thing and her victims were innocent. She was misguided, didn’t have all the facts, jumped to the wrong conclusion, or was deliberately fed a tissue of lies. And in these types of revenge serials there is often, but not always, a mystery is attached that needs to be solved. In other cases, the protagonist does start off with a justified motive for revenge (e.g. “The Cat Came Back…” from Suzy, “Stella Stirrer” from Tammy and “When Harry Dumped Sally” from Bunty). However, it can go too far or expose the protagonist to danger.
In Greta’s case, it’s all because of Dad’s diary. Although Dad is suffering from guilt and shattered self-esteem, this is not reflected in his diary. Instead, it is full of Dad’s whining about how the staff went against him (without saying why or what he was dismissed for), which gave Greta the impression they all ganged up to get rid of him on some false charge. From the moment Greta could read it, she was in effect fed a tissue of lies and grew up hating St Jane’s and wanting revenge. Why Dad went this way with his diary is even more odd than the conduct of Mr Brabazon in Bunty’s “Down with St Desmond’s!”, who fed his daughter Carol-Anne a load of BS (turning her into even more of a nasty revenge-driven bunny boiler than Greta) about her mother dying of a broken heart over being wrongly expelled because he was too scared to tell her the truth. Perhaps Greta’s Dad was too ashamed to write about the details of his disgrace and could only write how everyone turned on him.
Whatever Dad was thinking, the damage was done with his diary. Because of it, Greta grew up with a grudge against the hospital, and it is reflected in her conduct. She goes about with a persistently sullen look and attitude. She wants to become a nurse, but it’s clouded by doing it for revenge, and it is affecting her full attention to her training. We later learn that because of this, Sister Harris was having doubts about Greta being a good nurse until her handling of the Jocelyn emergency convinced her otherwise. Her disguised father, although trying to protect her, does nothing to actually stop her vendetta or set her straight. In so doing, he must take even more blame for her conduct.
Greta is not all that clever with her revenge. Her tricks are just too obvious, making it all to easy for the staff to realise what’s going on and be put on high alert. There are plenty of examples of other troublemakers in girls’ comics who were so crafty and insidious at making their tricks look like mishaps or someone else’s fault (e.g. “That Girl Next Door!”, Mandy PSL #105) that nobody could even detect someone was making trouble.
To her credit, Greta is not as evil as, say, Carol-Anne. For example, when Jocelyn begins to suspect Greta, Greta does not plot to get rid of her. By contrast, Carol-Anne destroyed a number of people who wised up to her by getting rid of them, and not an ounce of compunction about doing so. Also, Greta is has enough heart to be shocked into realising she has gone too far and decides to stop, something clearly totally beyond Carol-Anne. She also redeems herself far more than Carol-Anne, not only in her action to save the patients but in feeling remorse prior to being caught out. She also finds she has become a much happier person after she has no more grudge – a clear statement about how harbouring grudges sours your disposition and letting go of them makes you more positive.
The shock of going too far and deciding to stop and concentrate on being a nurse could have ended the story there. Instead, it’s at this point that Greta is found out, which feels so cruel. Just when she wanted a fresh start and was finding her proper course as a nurse. Still, there was the mystery to solve: what exactly led to Dad’s dismissal? In revenge serials there is often a mystery attached, and this one is no exception. However, Greta does nothing to investigate just what happened, though at one point she does express intent to find out from the staff. Sadly, it seems the only way to get caught and confront the staff was the only way to find out. And, like so many “revenge” protagonists in girls’ serials before her and since, poor Greta finds out it was all for nothing. And if she’d checked things out more, she could have avoided it altogether.
It’s no real surprise that Fred turns out to be Dad in disguise (well, it wasn’t for me anyway). Dads (or sometimes Mums) working from the shadows in disguise have been used elsewhere, such as Mandy PSL #185 “The Traitor’s Daughter” or Jinty’s “Curtain of Silence”. But it is a bit surprising that he came back to England when he was doing so well in the tropics and away from all the disgrace in England. And at the very hospital where he disgraced himself in the first place! Still, he said it was penance, so maybe it is understandable.
The final redemption does feel a little contrived. Why the heck would the embassy have the serum? It’s not a hospital, after all. Perhaps they were hoping the embassy would get the serum flown in or something when the hospital was neither listening to Dad nor equipped to handle the disease? Still, it is a dramatic and exciting way to not only redeem themselves but also enable them to continue their careers.