Tag Archives: Wrongful conviction

The Black and White World of Shirley Grey [1981]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 7 February 1981 to 23 May 1981

Episodes: 16

Artist: Diane Gabbot

Writer: Jake Adams?

Translations/reprints: Tammy annual 1986

Plot

Shirley Grey’s best friend, Trisha Morris, has an accident and ends up in a coma because she defied orders and warnings in practising her diving at a dangerous cove, which tempted fate once too often. Although she was acting on Trisha’s instructions, Shirley blames herself because she had covered up about Trisha’s whereabouts to Mrs Morris. Mrs Morris also blames Shirley for the same reason (she does not know Shirley was only obeying Trisha) and lashes out at her whenever their paths cross.

In the wake of the accident Shirley swears never to lie again, but is taking it the extreme of not telling even a white lie, no matter what the circumstances. So what happens? A whole raft of circumstances where this gets Shirley gets into ever-increasing trouble as either a tattletale or a very rude girl. They are summarised as follows:

  1. Shirley twice insults the boss’s wife by giving a too-honest opinion on her clothes (hideous and don’t fit her properly because she’s too fat). As a result, Shirley’s father loses his promotion and his job is on the line, and Shirley’s parents are up in arms against her. Mum is having hysterics because they needed money from the promotion to buy a place away from the estate, which has been terrible ever since a gang of troublemakers moved in.
  2. Shirley begs a nurse to go against the Morris parents’ instructions (no visitors for Trisha except immediate family) and let her see Trisha. When Shirley is caught and the matron demands to know if the nurse let Shirley in, she says the nurse did. The nurse throws Shirley out, raging at how Shirley has repaid her – by getting her into trouble.
  3. Shirley falls foul of the school bully Evie Moore when she tells on Evie for stealing from a teacher because she can’t lie. Evie ruins Shirley’s blazer and demands menaces money of £1 a day, which Shirley can’t possibly pay, of course. When Shirley fails on her first payment Evie and her gang threaten to do something terrible to her. Shirley’s friends find their courage and rise up against the bullies, but Evie gets hurt. When the teacher asks Shirley who did it, Shirley says who it was without explaining why. Furious at how Shirley got them into trouble when they were trying to help her, the girls have everyone at school send her to Coventry. Even the teachers feel the effects of this.
  4. Evie’s final revenge against Shirley is to frame her for shoplifting. Shirley is convicted and the court is awaiting a social worker’s report before passing sentence.

All the while everyone is trying to tell Shirley she is being ridiculous, both in the way she is blaming herself and in thinking she can go through life without telling a lie because everyone has to one way or other. “You’ve got to pack it in,” says Shirley’s friend Hannah. “You can’t go through life without telling a lie – it’s not possible!” Even Evie tells Shirley she is mad about never lying, and around the district Shirley is soon derogatorily dubbed the girl who never tells lies. But Shirley says she can’t help not lying and won’t stop blaming herself. As things get progressively worse, Shirley comes to think it is all a punishment for Trisha’s accident. She fails to realise the trouble all stems from her blaming herself.

The final straw comes when Shirley overhears Mum having yet more hysterics that she can’t take any more of this and is going to have a nervous breakdown. Mum has been having nothing but these hysterics ever since Dad has lost his promotion. But when the false shoplifting charge came up Mum has been extremely selfish about it. Although she and Dad believe Shirley innocent, neither of them show her any sympathy, support or concern about it and treat her harshly. All Mum can think of is the shame of it all, that she’ll be struck on this dreadful estate, what everyone will think and how she won’t be able to hold her head up, etc, etc.

At any rate, Mum’s hysterics have Shirley decide that the only answer is to run away, which she does blindly. Shirley’s disappearance has the parents finally showing concern about her and they call the police.

Shirley finds herself back at the cove where it all started and the very cliff edge where the accident occurred. This gets very dangerous for Shirley when she falls asleep there and then the parents and police shine a blinding light in her eyes. She falls off the cliff, nearly drowns in the sea below, and takes a head injury that fractures her skull. She is rushed to hospital, and when Mum hears that it was her hysterics that made Shirley run off, she realises how selfish she has been.

Shirley finds herself in the next bed to Trisha, and still blaming herself for Trisha’s accident. The medical staff suggest Shirley talk to Trisha about their times together in the hope this will bring Trisha out of the coma. But Mrs Morris, who still blames Shirley for the accident, won’t allow Shirley near Trisha. However the same nurse from before helps Shirley to talk to Trisha secretly, and forgives what happened last time. After two weeks this brings Trisha out of the coma. Shirley finally stops blaming herself and the grateful Mrs. Morris apologises for her conduct. Shirley discontinues her vow never to tell even a white lie because she now understands “that things aren’t all black-and-white”.

But there is still the little matter of the problems Shirley created for herself with that guilt complex, and there is now a wrongful conviction hanging over her head as well. What about those?

Shirley finds most of these problems are now sorting themselves out, albeit in a somewhat contrived manner. Shirley’s remarks shocked the boss’s wife into slimming and a complete makeover. She is so grateful to Shirley that Dad gets his promotion after all. There is new hope that Shirley will be cleared of the shoplifting once the social worker get the courts to reconsider Shirley’s side of things because she was going to such extremes about not lying. What Shirley started about standing up to Evie has continued, despite her “dropping [the girls] in it”. As a result, Evie has lost her power as a bully and is no longer her “cocky, obnoxious self”. However, the girls have not forgiven Shirley. Trisha and the more forgiving Hannah try to persuade them, but they remain unmoved until they see Shirley covering up for them and telling the teacher the Coventry thing was just a misunderstanding that’s been sorted out. They go along with it and are reconciled with Shirley.

Thoughts

Essentially, Shirley has the same problem as Wanda White in Jinty’s Wanda Whiter Than White—she is taking truth-telling to extremes that causes problems both for her and for everyone around her, and it all stems from a huge guilt complex. In the end, Shirley, like Wanda, realises things aren’t all black and white and uses a white lie to help redeem herself. Unlike Wanda though, Shirley knows she is hurting people with all this extreme truth telling and feels terrible about it. But to her mind she can’t help it and she’s got to tell the truth at all times.

Again unlike Wanda, Shirley is a totally sympathetic character. She is tortured by guilt, keeps getting herself and others into constant trouble over her extreme truth-telling, becomes a victim of vicious bullying, a frame-up that gets her wrongly convicted, and nearly gets herself killed.

Like so many protagonists in girls’ comics who are suffering from a massive guilt complex, Shirley is blaming herself over something that is utterly ridiculous. If anyone is to blame, it is Trisha herself. That’s what everyone tells her, but they’re not getting through. This girl needs serious counselling and psychiatric help. But despite initial concerns about how badly Shirley has reacted to the accident and some talk of getting a doctor involved to help sort Shirley out, her parents never do so. Instead they degenerate into the common theme of parents handling things badly in girls’ serials. This is because they’re thinking too much about how the effects of it all are having on themselves. They’re not thinking about Shirley at all until her disappearance shocks them out of their selfishness.

The story also makes a serious statement about bullying and harassment, and ineptness in handling it effectively. It’s not just the vicious bullies at school that Shirley falls foul of. There is also a gang of delinquent girls who have been causing nothing but trouble ever since they moved in and turned a once-great estate into a nightmare for everyone. For example, they set fire to a lady’s washing. But nobody seems to do anything about them and by they end of the story they go unpunished. That’s pretty much how Evie Moore went too with her bullying until Shirley’s extreme truth-telling got her reported for the very first time. However, unlike Evie, they don’t add much to the story. The only time they really do so is when they chase Shirley while she is running off because she shoved one of them over. But she is too fast for them – hurrah! For the most part though, they are just distracting. Perhaps their purpose in the plot is to explain why Mrs Grey is so desperate to get away from the estate and keeps having hysterics that she’s going to be stuck there once Dad loses his chance of promotion.

Evie gets some punishment in that she loses her power and her bullying days are over at that school. But it feels she got off too lightly considering what she’s done, particularly to Shirley. She is not even expelled for stealing from the teacher. The headmaster just gives her a final warning and will expel her next time. “He’s too soft,” says one girl. “He should’ve expelled her now!” We certainly agree, and we feel the story is making a comment about schools not cracking down on bullying hard enough.

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The Fairground of Fear [1976]

Sample Images

Fairground of Fear 1Fairground of Fear 2Fairground of Fear 3

Publication: Tammy 14 February 1976 to 24 April 1976

Episodes: 11
Reprints/translations: Tammy annual 1983; Tina #24 as De wraak van een clown [The Wrath of the Clown]
Artist: Diane Gabbot
Writer: Unknown

Plot

Julie Whitland was adopted as a baby by Sir Edgar Whitland, landowner of Baychurch. But her home life is miserable because Sir Edgar is a dreadful snob who keeps himself aloof from the villagers (who call him the snob on the hill) and expects Julie to do the same. She feels a virtual prisoner in her own home where she is never allowed any freedom or mix with people that Sir Edgar considers too lowly for Whitlands. Whenever she tries, Sir Edgar always drags her off, so she does a lot of going behind his back. He is always telling her that she is a Whitland and must live up to her name by keeping aloof from common people. Also, Julie has always wondered who her natural parents were. But whenever she asks questions, she is always told to leave well alone.

Fraser’s Fairground arrives in Baychurch. It looks a golden opportunity for Julie to have some fun. The clown puts on a special display for her. A brief encounter with the fairgound owner’s daughter Carla looks like another chance for friendship. But as usual, Sir Edgar pulls Julie away. In addition to the usual admonishings about being expected to be a Whitland, Sir Edgar shows her a picture of his late daughter. He tells Julie that he adopted her when his own daughter, and a baby she had, both died. When Julie asks what happened to her husband, Sir Edgar snaps that he is dead and forgotten. Hmm, did Julie hit a nerve there?

That night Julie sneaks off to the fair. But this time it looks sinister. She goes into the House of Memories (“The past will come alive before your very eyes”) and the woman from the photo appears to her in a huge crystal ball. The woman warns Julie to leave well alone, and that the fairground is evil. Then the clown comes up from behind. But this time he looks evil and frightening – and he seems to hypnotise Julie. Julie blacks out, and when she recovers she has no memory of what happened.

The fairground is soon in full swing and the whole village seems to have gone crazy about it – even the adults. Julie sneaks off to enjoy it as well. But the fairground is soon showing a sinister side; for example some people on the ghost train seem to go crazy and start attacking each other and the clown seems to be enjoying it. Carla explains that the ride does not use props but technical gadgets that produce holographic ghosts. A malfunction must have caused the people to see each other as ghosts and monsters. Then the machine malfunctions again, causing Julie to have an accident. Sir Edgar is furious and is determined to shut the fairground down. He sends a magistrate to do the job. But the clown imprisons the magistrate in a weird holographic trap in the Hall of Mirrors. Sir Edgar is annoyed when the magistrate is reported missing, because this means he cannot close down the fairground.

Julie recovers enough from the accident to sneak off to the House of Memories for more clues about her past. There she remembers what happened before. The House of Memories tells her that the only people who know the truth are Sir Edgar, Dr Pearson the village doctor, and Miss Edna Grey, his former nurse. Then it gives her a message: “You must find the fairground’s secret to find yourself.” On the way back, Julie overhears Mr Fraser and the clown talking and it sounds like the clown has a hold over Mr Fraser. The clown says they have a busy day, “a grey day” tomorrow. She races back home, against the tigers the clown has ordered to be set loose as watchdogs.

Next day, Miss Grey is arrested for pickpocketing at the fair. After speaking with Miss Grey’s sister, Julie realises what the clown meant by a “grey day” – he used a hypnotist performance to hypnotise Miss Grey into stealing. When she tries to tell Carla what her father is helping the clown to do, Carla gets angry and throws Julie out. The clown takes advantage by luring Julie back into the fairground with a holographic image of Carla, and hypnotises her once more. While in a trance, she leads Sir Edgar to the unconscious magistrate and there is a note: “Don’t try to get rid of me again, Sir Edgar. We’ve a score to settle. There’s just you and the doctor left.” The signature is a clown’s head.

This note prompts a lengthy discussion between Sir Edgar and the doctor, but Julie cannot hear what they are saying. Afterwards the doctor tells Julie that Sir Edgar is a hard man who means to destroy the fairground. He gives her a key to his house and says that if anything happens to him she must retrieve a file from his desk and give it to the newspapers.

Sir Edgar tries a petition against the fairground; the clown responds by hypnotising the villagers into attacking his home, and Sir Edgar has extra security installed. The doctor is summoned to the fairground because Carla has fallen sick. When the doctor tries to leave, the clown strikes with more holograms and then terrors in the Crazy House. He causes the doctor to have an accident. Following the doctor’s instructions, Julie heads to his house to retrieve the file.

The file reveals that fourteen years earlier the doctor had sent the clown (whose name is now revealed as Alan Barker) to prison on a false charge. Sir Edgar arrives and tells Julie that the doctor was acting on his instructions. Barker was the man who married Sir Edgar’s daughter. The trouble was, the snobby Sir Edgar considered Barker too low for a fit son-in-law: “I couldn’t stand to have that nobody part of the great Whitland family.” So he set out to destroy the marriage by framing Barker, and now Barker has returned for revenge. Sir Edgar then burns the file to prevent Barker’s name being cleared – for if it is, the great name of Whitland will be destroyed and Sir Edgar is not having that. But an image of the clown appears in the flames. Julie realises that Barker knows what Sir Edgar just did and now things are going to get a whole lot worse.

Knowing the clown is planning something against the village, Julie bravely confronts him. For the first time, she catches him without his makeup, and is surprised to find that without it he does not frighten her. She tries to plead with him but fails. The clown says that Sir Edgar can stop it by clearing his name, but Julie knows Sir Edgar will never do that. On the way out she speaks with Carla and learns that the clown is the virtual owner of the fairground; Mr Fraser got into debt and the clown bought out his bills. The clown can take over the fairground at any time and Mr Fraser is powerless against him.

Next day, Miss Grey appears in court for pickpocketing, and Sir Edgar and Julie attend the trial. Julie now realises that Miss Grey knew about the clown’s frameup and this was his revenge on her. The charge is unexpectedly thrown out when the clown strikes again with one of his machines that causes the working age men to act like children. The judge and barristers start playing leap frog, bus drivers play football, the local police play cops and robbers, engineers play cowboys and Indians, and Sir Edgar’s cook reads comics. Of course, the men all end up on the rides at the fairground. The romping men have cut the outside phone wires, and when Sir Edgar drives out to seek help he is blocked by a force field. The clown has cut Baychurch off from the outside world.

The village is in chaos and cut off. Nonetheless, Sir Edgar is unmoved. “That clown can’t beat a Whitland!” And he still refuses to clear the clown’s name, because it would mean destroying the name of Whitland. He heads out the fairground to tell the clown that “nothing he can do to this village will make me give in!” Julie now realises that Sir Edgar is an utterly selfish, ruthless man, and there is nothing or nobody that he will not destroy in the name of Whitland.

Then the doctor arrives and tells Julie that she is the only one who can stop the clown. He explains that she is the baby from the ill-fated marriage and the clown is her true father. It had only been the mother who died. She was leaving home with her baby after a quarrel with Sir Edgar over Barker, only to be killed by a falling tree. Sir Edgar faked the baby’s death to prevent Barker from claiming her. Julie heads out to the fairground to tell the clown.

There she finds Sir Edgar confronting Barker, and telling him that nothing he will do will make him confess. Barker makes one last desperate attempt to make Whitland confess. He starts the merry-go-round at high speed while Julie is standing on it. He shouts to Whitland that the merry-go-round will go faster and faster, putting Julie in ever more danger, until Sir Edgar confesses. But Sir Edgar just says, “I can’t destroy the name of Whitland. I’ve nothing to say!” He stalks off, without lifting a finger to save Julie or waiting to see what happens to her. Barker, finding the machine has jammed, risks his life to save Julie.

Upon learning that Julie is the daughter he thought was dead, Barker becomes a changed man. He stops his revenge, uses his machines to make the villagers forget what happened (though how that is going to explain away all the damage he caused is not discussed), and returns the fairground to Mr Fraser. Julie decides to leave Sir Edgar forever – his conduct at the merry go round showed her just how much he really cares for her. She is going with her father and the fairground and start a new life with them, and refuses the chance to go back to Sir Edgar as they pass by his house when they depart. Barker promises Julie that he will now use his scientific expertise to help people.

Thoughts

Like Jinty, Tammy did not use the circus theme much in her serials. “The Fairground of Fear” is one of the exceptions, though it is more fairground than circus. It can also be regarded as one of Tammy’s best stories and worthy of reprint in a Tammy volume.

“The Fairground of Fear” has the distinction of being the first serial Diane Gabbot drew for Tammy. From then on Gabbot became a regular Tammy artist, ending her run with “Rosie at the Royalty” in 1981. Her other Tammy stories included “Circus of the Damned”, “Selena Sitting Pretty”, “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey” and “Donna Ducks Out”.

“Creepy” was what one Doctor Who companion once said about clowns, and eventually he agrees with her that clowns can be creepy. So do we after the first episode of this story. After initially conveying the impression he is harmless and amusing, the clown is quick to demonstrate that clowns can be creepy and scares the living daylights out of the girl who was so thrilled with him the first time they met. It’s not so much his incredible powers but that makeup of his that makes him so frightening.

Fairground and circus stories also have a long history of demonstrating that they can be as sinister and frightening as much as they are entertaining, and this one is no exception. Even before the fairground demonstrates its strange powers, seeing it in the dead of night makes it so scary. From then on the story is filled with thrills, chills and drama that are delivered at a cracking pace. Everything that is supposed to entertain people in the fairground is instead used to scare, hypnotise, imprison or manipulate them, even from a distance. Sometimes it is in perversely amusing ways, such as when the courtroom staff play leap-frog. Other times it is frightening, such as inciting a mob to attack Sir Edgar’s home. The only beneficial element in the fairground is The House of Memories.

There are also plenty of mystery elements to keep readers engaged. Girls just love mystery, and in this case there are not one but three mysteries here: the mystery of the fairground, the mystery of Julie’s parents, and the mystery of how and why they are linked. Although everyone tells Julie to leave the mystery of her parents well alone, we know the fairground won’t allow that once the House of Memories tells Julie she must unlock its secret to find out who she really is. Julie’s true identity is going to come out, and readers are riveted to find out where it will lead and how it will help with the mystery of the fairground.

The story also has plot twists that take us by surprise as much as shock us. One is where the relationship between Julie and Sir Edgar ends up at the story’s conclusion. When we first see it, Sir Edgar appears to be just an overly strict, over-protective parent who does have his daughter’s interests at heart – in his snobbish way – but is totally misguided, blinded by snobbery, and does not understand how he is stifling his daughter’s freedom and growth. However, we expect the fairground will somehow help him to come around by the end of the story, he will be less snobby, and Julie will be on far happier terms with him. It’s been seen so many times in overprotective problem parent serials such as “The Four-Footed Friends”. However, in this case that does not happen at all. Sir Edgar is not the well meaning but misguided parent he seems to be. Little by little he reveals his true colours (snob, unpopular, arrogant, hard-hearted) until he is finally exposed as the monster he really is. He, not the clown, is the true villain of the story. He would rather his own granddaughter die than dishonour the name of Whitland, and does not lift a finger to save Julie. He is totally beyond redemption and will never change, no matter what. Julie has no hope of getting anywhere with him. In fact, she must get away from him altogether or he could destroy her the same way he destroyed her parents.

The story takes the unconventional step of ending on a bittersweet note. Barker does get his daughter back and can start a new life with her. He also changes into a much nicer man who is not so consumed with hate and revenge that he is capable of terrorism, blackmail, and even physically hurting people. But unlike other wrongly convicted people in girls’ stories, he does not get his name cleared because Sir Edgar just won’t budge on that, no matter what. At least Julie and the fairground people know the truth and the skeleton is out of the closet. But if there is any exoneration for Barker, it will have to wait until after Sir Edgar dies, and the doctor and Miss Grey will be free to tell the truth.

For all the powers the clown has unleashed through the fairground, none of them really bring about comeuppance for Sir Edgar. Sir Edgar returns home to uphold the name of Whitland, the only thing he really cares about. And it’s all he has now. He has no heirs and unless that changes fast, the name of Whitland will die with him, and good riddance to it. Clearly, nobody will miss “the snob on the hill” when he dies.

Perhaps comeuppance will come in another form. After all, being the man he is, Sir Edgar must have made a lot of enemies and likely to have destroyed others. It would not be surprising if his life ends with him being murdered in his bed or something similar.

 

Linda’s Fox [1981]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 30 May 1981 to 1 August 1981

Episodes: 10

Artist: Ron Tiner

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None.  Groot Tina Winterboek in 1982 as “Linda’s vos” [Linda’s Fox].

Plot

Linda Barnes’ policeman father, Charlie Barnes, is wrongly imprisoned for stealing the money some criminals left behind. He was convicted solely on the (perjured) testimony of “Splinter” Mallory. More likely it was Mallory himself who stole the money or is covering up for whoever did; as Linda is about to discover, he is a criminal who commits regular crime sprees in the Exchester area where he lives.

Linda and her mother lose the house that came with Dad’s job. They have to move to a rundown house with little income to live on…in Exchester. Linda finds this so depressing, but she cheers up when she finds what is in the derelict house next door: a mother fox and her cubs. She starts making friends with the foxes, and she names her favourite fox cub Ross. Mrs Barnes does not approve of Linda’s visits to the foxes because the house is derelict and dangerous. But Linda continues to feed the foxes and make friends with them.

At school Linda makes a good friend with Julie, who is constantly annoyed by the school troublemaker, Kevin Mallory. Mallory? Yes, you guessed it – Splinter Mallory’s son! Kevin is a bully and delinquent, and he leads a gang who are always causing trouble for everyone. He likes to pick on Linda and Julie in particular. Pugnacious Julie says if she were Kevin’s mother she would give him a good hiding every day to mend his ways. If only Julie knew that Kevin’s bad behaviour is because this is the way Splinter and his wife have brought him up – to be a good criminal and do a “job” (crime) right.

When Kevin and his gang try to block the staff exit to a cinema after being banned for causing trouble there once too often, the girls spot them and call the police in. The police march Kevin straight home to his parents, where the only telling off they give is that Kevin needs to be more clever so as not to get caught. It is at this point that Splinter learns that the Barnes family are in the neighbourhood and tells Kevin to stay away from them. Too bad for Splinter that Kevin couldn’t tell him where the Barneses actually lived, though…but more on that later.

Meanwhile, the cubs are growing. As they do, they naturally start to venture into the world outside, where they encounter clashes with city life, and bigger, unfriendly animals – including Kevin and his gang. These adventures and misadventures progressively break up the litter until Ross is the only fox left in the derelict house.

It is at this point that Ross begins to cross paths with Splinter himself, which will prove to be Splinter’s undoing. It begins one night when Splinter tries to steal takings from the zoo. But he is foiled when Ross disturbs a lion, which rouses the zookeeper and he spots Splinter. Splinter has to run for it.

Then Splinter sees a house with an open window and proceeds to burgle it. Too bad for him he does not know it is the Barneses’ house. Or that Ross breaks the Barneses’ milk bottle, which wakes Mrs Barnes and alerts her to the burglary. Moreover, while Splinter makes his getaway, he cuts his feet on the broken milk bottle, and Mrs Barnes catches his licence plate number as well.

When the police trace the number back to Splinter, he goes into hiding – in the derelict house next door to the Barneses. He chases Ross off, who digs his own lair under the house. As Splinter is now next door to the Barneses, he soon finds out the joke fate played on him that night: “Damn bad luck I picked their house to burgle out of all the houses in town!”

Linda learns from Kevin that it was Splinter who burgled them. But Mum says that even if he were caught it would not help Dad. A confession to the frameup is the only thing that would. Linda has also guessed the hand, um, paw that Ross played in foiling the burglary.

A heavy downpour sets in; this, combined with the foundations that were weakened by Ross’s digging, causes the derelict house to collapse. It takes Linda’s bedroom wall with it, so that house is no longer fit to live in. Linda and her mother safely evacuate from the house. Linda is anxious about Ross, but Ross managed to escape as well. However, Splinter is not so lucky; they find him trapped, injured and calling for help under the debris of the collapsed house. Linda says she will only do so if he makes the confession to clear her father. Desperate and terrified, Splinter agrees to do so.

Dad is freed by Mallory’s confession, reinstated to the police force, and given a huge amount of compensation. They use the money to buy a house in the country. Linda, still wondering what happened to Ross, says Ross would feel quite at home here too. Little does she know Ross has in fact made his own way to the same place and is settling in very happily.

Thoughts

There have been hundreds of girls’ serials dealing with frameups. But it’s a very nasty twist to make a policeman the victim of a frameup. And it’s all on the word of one man against a police officer who clearly has an unblemished record and a sound reputation. In fact, one policeman expresses disbelief that Charlie Barnes is guilty because he does not seem the type to him. And PO Barnes is that while Mallory is…what? A police informer? A jailhouse snitch? An accomplice turning Queen’s evidence? What? It is presumably something to do with his nickname, but we are never told why he’s called “Splinter”.

And from the sound of it, there is not one shred of corroboratory evidence; PO Barnes goes down solely on Mallory’s evidence and nothing else. It sounds outrageous, but in fact that is how it really is in the English legal system and in many other Western legal systems (Scotland is one exception) that are modelled on it: a person can be charged, tried, and even convicted on the testimony of a single witness, without any corroboration whatsoever. Even a questionable witness, such as a jailhouse informer, can bring a person to trial. Not surprisingly, there have been many cases that illustrate how dangerous it can be for a criminal case to depend on a single witness without corroboration. The writer may or may not have been aware of this flaw in the English legal system, but either way they deserve a pat on the back for such realism.

When the foxes and Julie are first introduced, they are set up as pillars of support and comfort for Linda as she goes through her ordeal of her father’s false imprisonment and the downturn of her home life in the wake of it. Julie is a real standout. It’s not only because she’s strident, pugnacious, does not hesitate to stand up to Kevin and his gang, and is a really good friend who helps Linda cope with her ordeal. It’s also because she’s one of the few black protagonists we see in girls’ comics, and this makes the story stand out even more. The foxes add light relief and emotional appeal against the angst. They even dashes of humour to the story. For example, Ross accidentally gets into one of the boxes Kevin’s gang are using to block the cinema exit. They get a surprise when Ross bursts out of the box and helps to foil their trick!

Once it’s established that the Barneses have moved into the same neighbourhood as Mallory and that he’s committing regular crime sprees there, the stage is clearly set for exposing Mallory and clearing Dad. The question is how it is all going to fit together. Maybe Linda will expose Mallory, perhaps with Julie’s help?

It’s a real surprise twist when Mallory is the one to destroy himself, with some unknowing help from Ross: first by picking the wrong house to burgle, and then picking the wrong place to hide. In addition, he injures his feet on the Barneses’ broken milk bottle during his botched burglary. Wow, the karma is really biting there! We can imagine the police must have turned up something in the Mallory house with their search warrant that would link Mallory to other crimes as well.

It must have been both a surprise and a shock to readers when Linda tells Mallory that she will not get help for him unless he makes the confession to clear her father (below). Readers are more used to heroines being too nice to be downright mean to the villain, regardless of what the villain has done to them. But then, it was pressure that was required to make Mallory confess, and Linda was seizing upon what looked like her only chance to get that confession. After all, she could not depend on Mallory to make the confession out of gratitude for saving him (trite) or remorse (not bloody likely!). Besides, we know Linda wouldn’t really have refused to get help for Mallory.

Lindas Fox 4

It’s another delightful twist when Ross ends up in the same place as the Barneses in the country and it rounds off the story completely. Readers smile at the last panel where Linda wishes Ross was there, not knowing that he is and sharing the same panel with her. Let us hope they find each other again in their new home.

Paula’s Puppets [1978]

Sample Images

Paulas Puppets 2aPaulas Puppets 2bPaulas Puppets 2c

Published: Jinty 4 February 1978 to 22 April 1978

Episodes: 12

Artist: Julian Vivas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De poppen van Petra [Petra’s Puppets] (in: Tina 1979, Tina Topstrip 54, 1983).

Plot

Paula Richards has come out top athlete at Handley Athletics Club and has a very jealous rival in Marnie. Paula’s father is a prominent man because he owns the biggest toy factory in town. Unfortunately Dad has spoiled Paula ever since her mother died, so she’s a bit on the selfish side. For example, Paula just finds it boring to hear that her father’s factory has taken a downturn in recent months instead of worrying. She isn’t too worried either when a fire burns Dad’s factory to the ground; she just tells him the insurance will put everything right.

For everyone else, though, the fire was the worst thing that could have happened because the factory was the source of the town’s employment. Now they are rendered jobless and there’s no other work around. Then nasty rumours go around the town that Dad burned his own factory down for the insurance; even the housekeeper Mrs Black believes it and walks out on the Richards family. Dad is getting really down but Paula is merely angry over Mrs Black and thinks it’s just a stupid fuss over a “silly old fire”. She goes off to the burned out factory, where she finds some wax puppets that have survived the fire. She gives vent to her anger about Mrs Black by making one puppet look like her and giving it a big fat wart on the nose.

Then Dad really is charged with burning down the factory and protests his innocence as the police take him away. Everyone turns against Paula when word about it spreads. Dad has no chance at his trial; everything seems to point to his guilt. Even Paula thinks the jury is right when they find him guilty, and she turns on him as well.

Meanwhile, Paula is very surprised to see Mrs Black has developed a swelling on her nose, which looks just like the wart she moulded on the puppet. Paula now begins to wonder if the puppets have some sort of power, and whether she can use it to get revenge on the town.

The only friends Paula has left are club coach Joanne Phillips and her father, who was her father’s partner in the business. They take her in, and Joanne encourages Paula not to give up her athletics. However, the girls, led by Karen Thompson, want Paula out. They refuse to run in the relay team unless Joanne gives Paula’s place in the team to Marnie. Joanne refuses to give in to their blackmail while Paula angrily walks out – and towards the puppets for her revenge. She models one on Karen and mimics Karen getting a sprained ankle from a fall in the high jump. This is precisely what happens to Karen later. So the puppets’ power is definitely for real.

Paula is too angry to realise some of the girls have become apologetic, including Karen before the fall happened. Lindy seems more sympathetic, but something makes Paula so ruthless that she nobbles Lindy during the hurdles. An inquiry is now pending and Paula is in danger of being banned. She begins to wonder if the puppets are a bad influence and she should stop using them. But she does so anyway, with a puppet made to look like Lindy. At the inquiry, she directs the puppet to have Lindy say it was a mistake. It works, but Lindy has now lost her sympathy for Paula. Paula wonders if she should destroy the puppets while Joanne advises Paula to stop thinking everyone is against her.

That advice is hard to take when Paula sees “Get out of Handley, Paula Richards” daubed on the old factory wall. Two girls, one of whom resembles Lindy, wrote the graffiti, and passers by just let them go because they are hostile to Paula too. Paula goes back to the Lindy puppet for revenge, but gets really scared when she gets startled and drops the puppet.

The hurdles race is being re-run, and this time Paula resolves to win it fairly. But the other girls are not, what with hiding Paula’s running gear in the gym attic and taking the ladder away when she tries to retrieve it. Lindy comes in and offers to help by crossing a beam. Paula sees the beam looks dangers, but finds she can’t make a sound when she tries to warn Lindy – and then realises why when she remembers her own words of revenge against Lindy just before she dropped the Lindy puppet. So the beam cracks under Lindy and she falls to the floor, which renders her comatose. The girls confess to the trick on Paula, while Lindy’s brother blames Paula for the accident, but out of the bitterness towards her father: “We heard how Lindy risked her life for the daughter of a jailbird!”

Paula tries to destroy the puppets but finds they won’t burn. So she decides to give up the athletics club because of the hostility towards her that tempts her to use them. However, Joanne is not having that and wants Paula to enter a cross-country championship. Paula agrees, but starts ducking out of school to train for the event because she wants to avoid temptation to use the puppets because of the bullying at school.

Meanwhile, Paula’s athletics club enemies have begun to notice a pattern about the things that have happened to them and are beginning to (correctly) suspect Paula has something to do with it. One girl, Rhoda, puts her name down for the cross-country event so they get another chance for revenge. They also discover Paula is playing truant in order to train, and spitefully sneak on her. When Joanne hears, Paula makes the excuse that it was the bullying, which Joanne finds understandable. She withdraws Paula from school and teaches her at home. Paula also starts getting personal training from Joanne, but does not realise Marnie is spying on her and trying to figure out her weaknesses.

Discovering there is still no change in Lindy’s condition, Paula decides to see if the puppets can be used for good for a change. She dresses one like Lindy and another like herself, and mimics Lindy waking up when she goes to visit her in hospital. She does not realise Marnie is trying to spy on her while she is doing this. After Paula leaves, Marnie investigates the puppets’ hiding place. She thinks nothing of the puppets she finds, but takes the puppet made to look like Paula for her kid sister.

Paula succeeds in waking up Lindy, and in doing so finally discovers the joy of helping people. However, she soon finds this does not improve people’s attitude towards her. Lindy’s brother remains as hostile as ever towards her, and has the hospital ban Paula from seeing Lindy.

Then Paula discovers that Marnie has taken the puppet she had made to look like herself. She manages to sneak into Marnie’s flat and retrieve the puppet without being detected. But she is very surprised to find Marnie lives in such a shabby, rundown place and overhears it’s because that like everyone else in town, Marnie’s family have been driven into poverty and no job for the father after the factory fire. Marnie moans at how Paula does not understand poverty because she has always lived in luxury, and that she had always taunted her for dressing shabbily.

Paula realises Marnie is right and now understands why Marnie hates her so much. Recalling how she had taunted Marnie about wearing tatty plimsolls just before the fire, Paula decides to give her a present of her spare pair of plimsolls to make amends. But Marnie just throws it in her face and Paula soon finds out the reason why – everyone but her (Joanne wouldn’t tell her) knows that her father has just escaped from prison!

Thinking that getting her father recaptured is the only way to make everyone stop hating her, Paula turns to her puppets to do it. Later, when Dad shows up, he protests his innocence and asks for her help in proving it, but Paula turns him in. Dad is deeply hurt, which has Paula believe him for the first time and she now hates herself for what she did.

The newspaper prints the story of how everyone’s hatred drove Paula to betray her father. This has the athletics club girls repenting how they treated her and now wanting to be friends. They invite her to Lindy’s “welcome back” party, but things get ruined when they start whispering as to what a crook her father is. Paula sticks up for her father and then walks out.

She asks the puppets for help in clearing her father, at which one of them walks to the puppets’ prop box and points to it. Inside she finds a letter to Mr Phillips that she cannot understand. The correspondent says that in accordance with the instructions of Mr Phillips’ last letter, he is cancelling all future supplies of raw materials to the factory. Now what the heck does this have to do with Dad’s innocence?

Paula takes the letter to Joanne for help in understanding it. Joanne gets upset when she reads it and demands to know where Paula got it. Of course she does not believe Paula’s story about the puppets and thinks it was all crazy imagination. This leads to Joanne having a big argument with her father; she tells him it can’t go on and it’s having Paula imagining things. Next day, Paula finds them both gone to attend to some business, and nobody to cheer her on when the cross-country event begins. Paula’s heart is not in the race, and it shows – but then Dad appears to cheer her on! Now Paula is spurred on to win, and she does.

Dad explains that Mr Phillips burned down the factory to cover up that he had been embezzling from the factory; the letter was proof he had been cancelling orders for raw materials and withholding the money. He did not mean Dad to take the rap, but had been too frightened to confess. However, Joanne, who has had her suspicions about the embezzling, has persuaded him to do so. So Dad has been vindicated and released.

Joanne now tries to leave town as she thinks Paula no longer wants to be her friend. However, she misses the train because she went back for the puppets as a memento of Paula, which enables Paula to catch up and prove she still wants to be friends. Paula believes it was the power of the puppets that made Joanne miss the train. Joanne seems to believe in their power now and asks Paula if she still needs them. In response, Paula leaves the puppets behind at the station for someone else in need of help. Hmmm…

Thoughts

There have been countless stories in girls’ comics about dolls/puppets with supernatural powers, but this is the only Jinty serial to use the theme. The serial is even more unusual for not following how the formula is used. The cover introducing the serial says the puppets have evil powers, but as the story develops they do not come across as evil. Usually evil dolls/puppets in girls’ either exert an evil power over the protagonist that forces her to act nasty or out of character, or they cause trouble, mayhem or destruction for our protagonist. But that is not the case at all with these puppets. They do have powers, but how their power works depends on how they are used, which can be for good or evil. It depends on the intentions and scruples of the user, and how carefully he or she thinks before using them.

In the hands of Paula Richards, we are deeply worried as to how things will go with the puppets. Paula, though not downright nasty, is definitely spoiled and selfish. Moreover, she has good reason to be bitter and vengeful, what with everyone turning against her because of something that she is not responsible for. This could easily send Paula down an extremely dark path. Even a good-natured girl could find it hard to resist the lust for revenge against the way all these people are treating her.

Admittedly, some of the hostility may have been Paula’s own fault for not being very nice to people to begin with. We see this in the case of Marnie. From the beginning, Marnie comes across as a spiteful, jealous girl who is taking advantage of Paula’s downfall to make things even harder for her. It’s a surprise when we learn that Marnie did have a reason to hate Paula in the first place because Paula teased her over her shabby gear.

It’s also surprising to see that the terrible consequences of using the puppets for revenge and personal gain are what begin to turn Paula around. She tries to stop using them, but really she can’t avoid temptation to use them against the people who hate her because it’s everywhere and there’s no hiding from it. So she hits on the idea of trying to use them more wisely, and it works. Paula also begins to open her eyes to how there are people who are less fortunate than herself and no longer puts them down as she did before. Sadly, her efforts to reach out to them and help them more go unappreciated because they feel nothing but hate and bitterness towards her. Joan’s advice that acts of kindness will make people less nasty towards her proves to be woefully inadequate because everyone’s just too full of hate. It takes the shock treatment of seeing what they drove her to – turning her own father in – to make at least some of them stop and think.

The other theme in this story – clearing a wrongly accused father – also breaks with the formula that girls’ serials usually follow when they use this theme. Usually it is the daughter who believes the father is innocent, sometimes when nobody else does. This is what sustains her throughout the story, but Paula does not even have that. She believes her father is guilty too, which makes her even more bitter because she feels he’s let her down. In effect, she disowns him and does not even visit him in prison. It takes the shock of how she hurt her father and his frantic pleas of innocence to finally get through to her. And she finally does what she clearly should have done in the first place – turn to the puppets for help in clearing up the trouble. And would you believe they held the solution to the problem all this time – the evidence in their box! All Paula had to do was ask.

Having it turn out the protagonist was staying with the people who were responsible for her father’s false imprisonment all this time is not an unusual one; “The Girl with the Power” from Tracy is one example where this happened. What is unusual is that these are people with a conscience who are struggling to find the courage to put it right. Until they do, they are pillars of support for Paula and the only friends amid all the enemies she has in town. Usually they are unscrupulous crooks who not only take advantage of the father taking the rap for them but also take advantage of the protagonist as well. Again, “The Girl with the Power” is one example of this.

The final fate of the puppets – being left for someone else needing help to find – also goes against the usual formula of evil dolls/puppet serials. Usually they either get destroyed or lose their powers, but neither happens. The story ends on a worrying note that they might end up in the wrong hands; perhaps even with somebody with no scruples at all. We can only hope Paula is right in that they can influence whom they end up with because that person needs help.

Always a Prisoner [1981]

Commando cover

Published: Commando #1502, 1981

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover), Alejandro Martinez Ruiz (story)

Writer: Bill Fear

Reprint: Commando #2828, 1995

Plot

Harry Dane’s lot always seems to be brutal imprisonment, with him shoving his fist at it whenever he can. Harry begins to go this way in 1935, when desperation makes his friend Ted Taplow steal £15 from work to pay off a gambling debt while knocking out the elderly cashier in the process. But when the alarm is raised and police are searching all the men, Taplow panics and plants the money on Harry to save himself. Harry and his protests of innocence do not have a chance in court, not least because he cannot understand how it happened.

Prisoner

Harry spends five years in “one of the hardest, grimmest prisons in England”, and the prisoners’ lot is harsh, backbreaking quarry work. While in prison, Harry’s cellmate, “The Prof”, helps him to figure out Taplow framed him. From then on Harry is fuelled by a near-monomaniacal determination to make Taplow pay, which helps him to survive. However, it also drives him into an escape bid that fails, and because of it he has to serve his full sentence before he can confront Taplow.

When Harry is released in 1940, it is World War II. He finds Taplow has gone into the army and his battalion is stationed at Hong Kong. He joins Taplow’s regiment in the hope of tracking down Taplow, and his brutal prison experiences help him adapt quickly to basic training and army discipline. He also fends off bullies who pick on a weedy cadet, Archie Duckfield, and he and Archie become friends. Harry’s battalion does meet up with Taplow’s in Hong Kong, and he finally finds Taplow (now an NCO). He then proceeds to give Taplow a revenge punch in the face.

Inevitably, this gets Harry court martialled, and he is sentenced to 12 months. The guards hate Harry for striking out at an NCO, so they go out of their way to break him, with little regard as to how they do it. Harry responds with thoughts and threats of punching them, and he has plenty of experience in handling prison brutality. Fortunately for Harry, Japan begins to attack Hong Kong, and all the soldiers in the detention barracks are released to join the fight.

Prisoner 2

So now it is Archie and Harry’s first action, which goes badly, and Hong Kong falls. They are forced to retreat, and in the end the Japanese capture them. Now Harry faces a whole new brutal imprisonment, in the form of a Japanese POW camp and all the conditions Japanese POW camps are infamous for. But this time there is a consolation: Taplow has been captured too and is now a fellow prisoner, right alongside Harry!

When Archie hears about Taplow’s frameup of Harry, he points out something Harry had not thought of: get a confession out of Taplow to clear him. But although Taplow’s guilt is obvious from his body language, Taplow makes it obvious that he will not be easily persuaded to confess. Rather, Taplow is desperate to get away from Harry as much as the prison camp. He breaks out with several others, but the Japanese guards catch up and slaughter all but Taplow. He is brought back to the camp and sentenced to death. Archie and Harry save Taplow because they want that confession, but the ungracious Taplow refuses to give it. All they can do is hide Taplow in the roll call under the alias of Dyson and keep a close eye on him.

Prisoner 3

Then the commandant is ordered to send the most able-bodied prisoners to Japan for slave labour. Harry, Archie and Taplow/Dyson are among those selected. They are locked into the sweltering hold of a rusty tramp steamer for the journey, which soon leads to an increasing mortality rate. Fortunately, fate intervenes in the form of a US submarine that torpedoes the steamer, which enables the prisoners to make a break for it. Harry and Archie find a raft, and pick up another prisoner in the water, Claude, which will prove very fortunate for Harry. Claude tells them they are not far from the Chinese coast. If they can make it, they stand a chance of escape.

Then they find Taplow about to be eaten by sharks and rescue him. Taplow’s water/shark ordeal has broken him down enough for them to finally succeed in getting a verbal confession out of him. Now all they have to do is get Taplow somewhere to make a written one.

When they reach the coast, Japanese soldiers arrive on a motor launch, looking for survivors from the prison ship. But Harry is not having another round in a Japanese POW camp; he says he has had enough of prisons. After getting a rifle off one of the Japanese soldiers, Harry uses it to take out all his long-standing anger against his brutal imprisonments straight out on the Japanese soldiers.

Unfortunately Taplow panics and gets shot dead when he tries to run. With Taplow gone, there can be no written confession and Harry is despondent. Archie consoles him with the thought that at least he and Claude know the truth.

Prisoner 4

They make their way to the Japanese motor launch, and nobody seems to be there. But Archie discovers otherwise when a solitary guard on board shoots him dead. Harry and Claude are so enraged that they pump all their magazines into the soldier. After burying Archie, they make their way to China on the motor launch, where they meet up with Chinese forces and safety. Soon they are back in England.

Claude testifies on Harry’s behalf about the verbal confession Taplow made. As he is Lieutenant-General Sir Claude Trelawney, V.C., his word carries weight, and Harry is cleared of his wrongful conviction. Harry is promoted to sergeant, gets a medal and leads the regiment on D-Day.

Thoughts

This was the first-ever Commando I bought because it had themes that appealed to me: wrongful convictions, imprisonments, and struggles to survive and escape. It also has slave story elements, so it may have drawn some inspiration from girls’ comics. Yet there is still plenty of action in it – mainly from Harry Dane’s angry fist or his rifle when he has one – to keep the boys happy. The story clearly draws inspiration from “The Count of Monte Cristo” as well, which has always been a popular story.

Indeed, we see echoes of the Count (Edmond Dantes) in Harry himself with his early reactions to his false imprisonment. Like Edmond Dantes, Harry cannot understand the circumstances of his false imprisonment. He is still a good-natured naïve, trusting fellow who does not realise the one he trusted most is the one who is responsible. Like Dantes, it is not until he talks it over with another prisoner who can provide the right insights that he works out the truth. And like Dantes, it is from that point on that Harry becomes the angry, embittered man who is out for revenge.

Unlike Dantes, however, Harry never quite gets to the point where he fears things have gone too far and whether he really is in the right to pursue revenge. This could be due to Harry’s change of tactics towards Taplow. At first he is merely out for revenge against Taplow, which he expresses by beating him up. But when Archie points out that only Taplow can clear him by making a confession, Harry becomes more restrained towards Taplow and does not abandon him to his fate when his life is threatened. The only time Harry’s lust for revenge really gets out of hand is when he lashes out against the Japanese soldiers towards the end and pumps them full of lead. And it’s not even personal – he’s just taking out all his rage against all the prison guards in his life out on them. At least it sounds like Harry begins to find peace once he gives vent towards his anger. And he certainly does once his name is cleared: the story tells us he is a “changed man”.

Prisoner 5

The story certainly makes a strong statement about the evils of prison brutality and human rights abuse. Still, it would be foolish to expect much from the Japanese guards of the POW camps. They had a different way of thinking that made them particularly cruel to their POWs during World War II. Perhaps we should not expect much of the HMS prison guards either. This story was set in the 1930s, and harsh prison conditions and treatment were considered more the norm than they are now. It is the guards of the army prison who come across as the most repugnant out of the assorted prison guards that Harry encountered. While the other guards are pretty much the same in how they treat Harry and their other prisoners, these guards deliberately go out their way to break Harry in any way they can out of pure viciousness.

As for Ted Taplow, the man responsible for all of Harry’s troubles, the only point in his favour was that he was driven into stealing the money out of desperation. The bookkeeper’s goons were leaning on him and making threats that he would end up in the river if he did not pay. He did not intend to slug the cashier, an elderly man. He only did so because the cashier had caught him by surprise and he felt he had come too far to turn back. Otherwise, Ted Taplow comes across as a despicable, cowardly, unsympathetic character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He shows no remorse or guilt over what he did, or what Harry went through because of him. And he was supposed to a good friend of Harry’s, the two having been mates since school. He refuses to confess at all, not even when Harry and Archie save him from the death sentence. He only confesses because his defences have broken down, but we don’t trust him to keep his word to make a written confession once they return home. Getting shot while running away is a fitting end to a man who is at heart a coward and a weasel, and we are not sorry he died. Yet Taplow’s death is shattering because Harry’s chance of that written confession died with him, so it is one of the powerful dramatic points in the story.

The death of Archie Duckfield is even more powerful. Archie’s death is absolutely gutting for everyone because he is such a likeable, sympathetic character and had a somewhat nerdy look. Initially this made him a target for bullying, but Harry helped him there and we sense he grows into a more confident character, though there is little room in the story to develop this more. He also provides light relief against the grimness of the story, as does Harry’s cellmate, The Prof. The Prof comes across as a father figure. Although he is in for counterfeiting, we warm to him immediately because he is a likeable, sympathetic character. He likes to help prisoners out with their problems, which makes him even more sympathetic. He is definitely the equivalent of the Abbe Faria from the Count of Monte Cristo in the way he helps Harry to work out Taplow committed the crime he was convicted of.

Prisoner 6

When Claude is introduced, his level head and his quiet modesty (not revealing himself as a senior officer and a knight to boot) are a welcome, calming contrast to the rage of Harry Dane. And when we see Claude’s leadership qualities and resourcefulness as they fight for survival against the Japanese soldiers, we can see why Claude has risen so far in the army.

The Prof, Archie and Claude don’t just provide light relief and offset the anger and bitterness of Harry Dane. All three of them, in their own respective ways, help Harry to clear his name. The first helps Harry work out the truth, the second points out a confession from Taplow is more in order than mere revenge, and the third provides the vital testimony to clear Harry.

It is ironic that Harry owes many of his qualities as a soldier and a survivor to Ted Taplow. If Taplow had not framed him, Harry would never have gone through the experiences that toughened him up physically and mentally to endure the rigors of basic training, the horrors of POW captivity, survival on the run, and ultimately to lead the regiment on D-Day as a sergeant. Had Harry simply carried on as a factory worker until World War II broke out, it is less likely that he would have cut it so well in the army. And he naturally comes to appreciate freedom and there are things far worse than being in combat. As he takes his regiment up Normandy Beach, his words of encouragement are: “Come on lads. There’s far worse places to be than this one. I know – I’ve been there!” One can only hope he was not captured again and found himself in a German POW camp.

No-One Cheers for Norah (1972)

Sample Images

noone-cheers-for-norah-2anoone-cheers-for-norah-2bno-one-cheers-for-norah-2-002

“No-One Cheers for Norah” was one of Sandie’s very first stories. It is going to be discussed here because it has been mentioned in several Jinty blog entries as sharing parallels with Jinty’s “Toni on Trial”. There has been speculation it was the same writer. A promising athlete (or swimmer in Norah’s case) finds her career under threat from an old theft charge that was levelled at her mother/father.

When examining this story I also noticed it shares parallels with “Tricia’s Tragedy”, so it could be the same writer here too.

Published: Sandie #1, 12 February 1972 – #12, 29 April 1972

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Norah Day is a keen swimmer, but her widowed father is so poor they are driven to training her in the canal. Nonetheless she has managed to win one trophy.

Dad falls ill and Norah is sent to stay at rich Uncle Phillip’s while he’s in hospital. Straight off the mark though, her relatives treat her like a piece of dirt. They call her a “slum kid”, a disgrace to the family, and they don’t let the neighbours even see her. Cousin Lorna says she doesn’t want her friends to know Norah is her cousin. They make her sleep in a shabby attic when they could easily give her a nice room. At mealtimes they won’t let her share the table with them and she has to eat separately. They see her as being more useful as a servant. In fact, that is what they lead Mrs Maddox, the president of the Dolphins Swimming Club that Lorna is a member of, to believe – that Norah is their new help. Lorna even throws Norah’s newly won trophy out the car window!

When Norah tries to join the Dolphins Swimming Club too, Lorna rips up Norah’s swimsuit and tells her to get out of the club. The relatives are making it loud and clear that they are not going to let Norah keep up her swimming, especially as it could pose a threat to Lorna’s swimming career. Swimming club President Mrs Maddox says she wants Lorna to win the club championship again and she thinks Lorna is now ready for bigger things. Besides, there are the swimming club fees Norah can’t afford and of course her horrible relatives won’t cover them.

Determined to keep up her swimming, Norah turns to swimming in the park lake. Eventually Mrs Maddox notices Norah and offers her a free place, but she has to go through a trial, which Norah wins despite a number of faults in her swimming. They decide the faults can be corrected with proper training, and on the whole Norah has potential as a swimmer. They agree to let Norah compete in the championship finals. Lorna realises how big a danger her cousin is. She still lets Mrs Maddox think Norah’s the family servant and enrols her at the club under a false name. The other club members are snobby and look down on Norah too, and the committee is quite snobby towards her as well. Meanwhile, Mrs Maddox senses that Norah reminds her of someone, but can’t quite place it.

When the news gets back home, the family predictably treat Norah worse than ever. However, Mrs Maddox eventually discovers how badly they are treating Norah, and how they have led people to believe she is their servant because they were too snobby to let them know the truth. Mrs Maddox is the most important person in town, so being shown up in front of her is extra-humiliating for the nasty relatives.

Poor Norah still has to wait upon her snooty relatives, though. And they still pose a threat to her swimming: Uncle Phillip says he has to tell Mrs Maddox who Norah really is because of the difficult position Norah has put them in. Meanwhile, Mrs Maddox begins coaching to correct Norah’s swimming faults and she begins to improve.

But then Uncle Phillip tells Mrs Maddox what he had been planning to tell her, and making the excuse it was the reason they had put up the story Norah was their servant. Whatever it is, it has Mrs Maddox deeply shocked and telling Norah it is best they don’t meet again. Norah has no idea what it is about. When she confronts Lorna, Lorna says her father was a crook who served jail time. Norah thinks Uncle has been telling Mrs Maddox a pack of lies. Lorna picks a fight with Norah, which Uncle and Aunt blame Norah for. He says he’s not keeping Norah in the house any longer and sends her to his clothing factory in Claydon, where he instructs his manager to give her all the worst jobs.

Norah goes to see Mrs Maddox, who says the story is true. Norah’s father was once the secretary of the club, but was sent to jail for stealing a sum of £480 from the club twenty years ago. Realising Norah is not like her father (as Uncle said), Mrs Maddox resumes Norah’s training. She is going to put Norah in the Dolphins team and get the English selectors to take a look at her. This is something Norah’s father always wanted as his imprisonment robbed him of that chance, but he can now fulfil it through Norah.

Norah goes to see her father. Dad’s condition has worsened, and the only thing keeping him going is the hope Norah will be selected for England. His thought bubbles reveal he is innocent of the charge that sent him to prison. So who is guilty?

After visiting her father Norah can’t go back to her uncle’s, so she sleeps in her dad’s house. But then new tenants move in. Norah has no choice but to go back to her uncle’s – only to be thrown right out of the house. They figure a night of roughing it in bad weather will make Norah unfit for the selections. Norah sneaks into her uncle’s factory to spend the night there.

While looking for food Norah comes across an old document, which reveals Uncle Phillip set up his business with a down payment of £480. This is the exact amount Norah’s father was accused of stealing, and the date of the down payment corresponds with the time the money was stolen. Norah recalls that Uncle Phillip used to bear a physical resemblance to Dad. Then she puts two and two together.

Uncle Phillip now catches her in the act and she confronts him over what she has deduced: he stole the money and left Dad to carry the can over it when (presumably) they mistook Uncle Phillip for Dad because of the physical resemblance. When she tries to run for it he knocks her out and locks her in the cellar (at least with some food and water). Norah escapes through a drain, but has to swim for her life against a torrent of dye waste being released from the factory. By the time she arrives at the baths she is bright purple!

Norah tells Mrs Maddox what happened and what she has discovered about Uncle Phillip, flourishing the document she still has (and has somehow survived the dye bath). She also begs to be allowed to compete for her father’s sake. Mrs Maddox says they will sort out the theft business later, and tells Norah she can compete. Everyone knows this is going to be tough because they know Norah is exhausted from that dye bath swim and Lorna won’t give an inch. And the Dolphins club girls are still unfriendly to Norah. As the race unfolds, however, cheers are heard for Norah as people see how well she is swimming despite everything. Norah’s determination, lust for revenge, and amended swimming faults are outweighing her tiredness. She wins against Lorna and is selected for England.

Afterwards, Mrs Maddox tells Norah her uncle just slunk off and the guilty look on his face told her all she needed to know. Mrs Maddox then tells Lorna to pack up and leave the Dolphins Club: “there’s not very much to be said for you either!” Lorna is roundly booed as she goes, for word has been around. Soon after, Lorna and her parents move away in shame.

Mr Day recovers and is eager to start a new life now that his name has been cleared. This includes marrying Mrs Maddox, and Norah welcomes her as a stepmother. Six weeks later, Norah wins her first race for England.

Thoughts

These will be discussed in context of the parallels with “Toni on Trial” and “Tricia’s Tragedy”. There certainly is a parallel with Toni in that a wrongful charge of stealing from a sports club was levelled at the protagonist’s parent years before and is threatening her own sports career. However, the wrongful charge is a much more powerful plot driver in Toni than in Norah. In Toni it’s established by part three and casts a cloud over the protagonist that just won’t go away because the townsfolk just won’t forget and the real culprit keeps fuelling it. So Toni is anxious to get to the bottom of it all for her own sake as well as clearing her mother’s name. In Norah the wrongful charge is not even revealed until nearly two thirds of the way through the story, and it’s only done so because Uncle Phillip believes it’s the only way to neutralise the threat Norah poses to Lorna. Even after it’s established, clearing the parent is not a priority. It only happens by sheer luck in Norah finding the document, drawing the right conclusions, and Mrs Maddox believing her. The wrongful charge and exoneration serve more as part of the plot resolution and punishing the unpleasant relatives than driving the plot as they do in Toni. The story format is more like a Cinderella story than an “exoneration” story, as was the case with Toni.

The parallels with Tricia are much stronger. First, both stories feature swimming. Second, a rogue uncle is responsible for a wrongful accusation against the protagonist’s father, which has driven him and his family deep into poverty while the rogue uncle’s family have grown richer and cruel to them because of it. Third, in both Norah and Tricia the protagonists can’t afford to train at the baths so they have to resort to a quarry pool (Tricia) or a canal or lake (Norah). Fourth, divisions between rich and poor have created further rifts between the poor protagonist and her unpleasant rich relations, who just rubbish her and her family. But the nasty relatives are not content with this and try to ruin the protagonist even more to stop her triumphing over their daughter at an important swimming match. In the case of Tricia it’s to stop her inheriting money from her grandfather. In Norah, it’s because they’re so snobby they don’t even want people to know she is family. Fifth, in both Norah and Tricia the unpleasant relatives take advantage to bully the protagonist, turn her into a slave, and pull all sorts of nasty tricks to stop her beating the cousin in the swimming match. Finally, in Norah and Tricia it all culminates in the swimming match where everything is at stake and it’s a battle for revenge. And once the truth is established, both the unpleasant cousins in Norah and Tricia are roundly booed off and soon move away in shame with their parents.