Ballet in the Blitz

  • Ballet in the  Blitz – Judy:  #102 (23 December 1961) – #118 (14 April 1962)
  • Reprinted – Judy: #1011 (26 May 1979) – #1026 (08 September 1979)

Plot

In the year 1941, Brenda Howard is a  student at Madame Nicole’s Ballet School in London. The ballet school stays opened despite the heavy bombing in London. While in an air raid shelter waiting for the all clear, Brenda suggests distracting the scared people by dancing for them. When the pupils return to the school they find its been bombed. They have to go to a rest centre. Brenda sneaks out and goes back to the school to find a photograph of her dad. She is suprised when she is grabbed by her father. He brings her to a safe place and explains that he is part of the secret service. They have been watching the school becuase they suspect someone at the school is a part of a German spy ring. With the school bombed they can’t keep watch on it anymore so they enlist Brenda to look out for any suspicious activity. They show her a picture of someone believed to be part of the ring, it’s a man a deformed ear and they give her a phone number to ring if she ever sees a ballet school person in contact with the man.

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Later the class are underground during another air raid signal, Brenda picks up a hat dropped by a man and is abruptly interrupted by her teacher Miss Maxwell. When Miss Maxwell gives the hat back to the man, Brenda notices his deformed ear. After this the girls have been set up to regularly dance underground. While on the makeshift stage Brenda notices the man near Miss Maxwell again, but he leaves before she can investigate further. She does notice that Maxwell now has a different headscarf and wonders why she would swap it with the man. She decides she must get a closer look at the scarf but Miss Maxwell never leaves it anywhere, even sleeping with it under her pillow. Brenda creates a distraction so she can grab the scarf, but has to go underground during another air raid. Miss Maxwell also ends up in the same shelter, so she hides the scarf,  but then is unable to get it back. Brenda has another unsuccessful attempt looking for it in Miss Maxwell’s apartment.

Miss Maxwell introduces a new dancer, John Cronin, to the ballet group, who will dance with the girls. Brenda is chosen to partner with him. One night while dancing underground John “slips” while holding Brenda and she falls towards the tracks where there is an oncoming train. Brenda manages to twist herself in the air, tumbling clear of the train. Brenda is sure that it was no accident and John is out to get rid of her, and thinks that him and Miss Maxwell must be working together with the Germans. Later the class are giving a show at an aircraft gun base and Brenda spots the man with the crumpled ear. She follows him and finds a guard knocked out, before she can go get help she is grabbed and trapped in the ammunition store with a fire.

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Brenda is surprised when it is John Cronin that rescues her. When she asks him why he did it, he admits that he is a spy and he knows that she suspected him but he is sick of the whole business and couldn’t let her die. He promises to tell her everything when they can find some place private to talk. They arrange to meet later at a bombed out building. Brenda sees him standing by the building and is horrified when a nearby explosion causes the wall to collapse on him. He stood no chance but a rescue party member gives Brenda the scarf he found in his hand. Brenda is still trying to figure out what the clue the scarf holds, when another attempt on her life is made, and she ends up in hospital. Her father forbids her to carry on with her investigation as its too dangerous.

Shortly afterwards Brenda rescues a dog, and she convinces her father that he can be her guardian and she will be able to keep investigating with Raff looking out for her. When she find a part of a scarf she believes is being used for the spies, she is surprised when Raff tracks down the owner and it belongs to Madame Nicole.  She now has two suspects, so she keeps an eye on both teachers. An encounter with a rescue worker makes her think the scarf pattern is being used as a map. She goes to ring her father but someone is watching her and takes a shot at her.

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The bullet just misses Brenda, she manages to meet up with her father and shows him how the scarves work as maps. Her father figures out the markings are locating anti-aircraft gun positions. Brenda goes back to the theatre where the class are putting on a show. Unknown to her an agent is going to mark the building with a flare so that a German aircraft can target the theatre. Luckily Raff  finds the flare and brings it to Brenda. Brenda goes to the roof and sees a Spitfire shooting down the bomber. The pilot, Jimmy, hearing how Raff and Brenda helped save the theatre arranges to meet up with her but they are kidnapped. Brenda manages to free Raff, who then attacks their captors. Soldiers capture the men including the man with the crumpled ear. In order to find out who was helping the spies Jimmy and Brenda stay in the empty house pretending to be tied up. When the enemy agent approaches, her torch light makes it hard for Brenda to see her face. Jimmy acts too soon and she escapes. They give chase and the spy tries to get lost in the crowd but Brenda recognises her shoes and Miss Maxwell is revealed as the spy. Later Madame Nicole is told everything, and while watching Brenda perform on stage she commends Mr Howard on his brave daughter.

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Thoughts

I find that most stories in these comics don’t fit neatly into one theme. This is a story which might be categorised as another ballet story but even though ballet features (and “ballet” is in the title) the focus is more on the war and spies. It has mystery, thrills, adventure and some really tense cliffhangers, which, makes it an exciting read. The use of cliffhangers are very effective here, including; when Brenda falls in front of the train, when she is nearly shot and the shadow of spy before being revealed. It keeps you wanting to find out what is going to happen next issue.

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Also quite dramatic is John’s death, while he starts off as a threat to Brenda, his heroic rescue of Brenda helps redeem him, so his sudden death is sad. Of course his death also prolongs the mystery of who is the spy in the school. While it seems obvious that it is Miss Maxwell as she always looks suspicious, the story is successful in setting up a red herring that it could be Madame Nicole. The art does well at capturing the World War II era and also does well at the ballet and action scenes. It’s an enjoyable story with lots going on and a good protagonist. One small problem is the rest of Brenda’s class are merely background, Brenda doesn’t appear to have any good friends, standing quite apart from the rest of the class. in fact the only person she appears to be close to, is John.

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