Secret Gymnast (1987)

Secret Gymnast cover 1

Published: Bunty Picture Library #290

Artist: Norman Lee

Note: Not to be confused with the Bunty serial “The Secret Gymnast”

Plot

Fran Farley’s father had died just as he was making a name for himself as a violinist. Fran’s mother wants Fran to follow in her father’s footsteps. She drives Fran very hard while constantly going on about the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father, which include putting her own concert career on hold. Mum even has Fran home-tutored (with an outdated tutor) because it fits in with violin practice better than school, although Fran misses school. Fran is unhappy about it all; she does not live for the violin the way her father did, and she does not feel she has enough talent to be a top violinist. But Mum won’t accept Fran does not have what it takes to follow her father.

Secret Gymnast 1

One day at the music shop Fran overhears a woman, Marion Cole, who desperately needs Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 for a gymnastics floor exercise, but the shop does not have it. Fran steps in to help it is one of her practice pieces. So Fran brings her violin to the gym to play the piece while Marion records it. Then Fran has a go at gymnastics and discovers she has a real flair and enthusiasm for it. Marion immediately suggests she join the beginners’ class.

Fran joins the class and makes her mark there immediately. But she is finding it very difficult to get a chance to speak to her mother about it, especially as Mum is now driving her extra hard to get her into a music scholarship. So it goes the way of going to the class behind her mother’s back and trying to fit gymnastics around her violin practice. Added to that, Fran finds a girl in her gymnastics class, Sylvia, dislikes her.

Nonetheless, Fran is soon good enough for a gymnastics competition. Her class all win badges and certificates, but they are put out when Fran has them miss the celebrations because she has to dash back home before her mother suspects anything. Back home, Fran hopes to show her mother what she has won. But before she can say anything, Mum says she is going to an audition with Stefan Mayer, a great German violin teacher and an old friend of her father’s. And so it all continues, juggling secret gymnastics around violin practice, which is more demanding than ever.

Secret Gymnast 2

At the audition, Fran decides to do her best. Afterwards, Mr Mayer confirms Fran’s suspicions when he tells her, in effect, that he is not seeing her father’s genius in her, only competence. He will take her on, but only for the sake of her father. Mum is overjoyed, although she will be taking on extra work to pay for the new classes. Fran is less than enthusiastic about them.

Meanwhile, secret gymnastics continue. They get more difficult to fit in with violin practice, which are even more intense because of the upcoming Mayer classes. Worse, Sylvia dislikes Fran even more after it becomes evident that Fran is better than her. When Fran gets worried her secret will be discovered at an upcoming gymnastics display, Sylvia gets suspicious and wonders if it is a way to get rid of Fran. Meanwhile, Marion hopes Fran will take part in the display because it could open up an important coaching post for her.

Then Sylvia finds Mrs Farley playing piano at her dance class. In a “casual” conversation, Sylvia’s suspicions are confirmed and Mum finds out Fran is doing gymnastics behind her back. She is horrified because she considers gymnastics as “mindless contortions” that have the potential to damage Fran’s violin arms. She moans about this to Fran when she confronts her, and all the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father. Fran says gymnastics are far more important to her than the violin, which she will never be able to play the way her father could.

Secret Gymnast 3

They retire to bed, where Mum finally begins to wonder if Fran does not really have her father’s talent. Meanwhile Fran starts sleepwalking while dreaming about competing for the Olympics, and is using the balustrade on the balcony as a beam. Mum finds her, and is terrified that Fran could fall to her death if she wakes. Fran comes off safely and wakes up. Mum was so impressed with the beautiful movements Fran made that she relents and lets Fran pursue gymnastics.

Within a month, everything has turned out splendidly (except for, presumably, Sylvia). Fran’s gymnastics are in full swing, which Mum now appreciates as an art as well as a sport. Mum has resumed her concert career, Marion gets her post, and Fran qualifies for the junior championships.

Thoughts

This story is one of my personal favourites. The story is solid and shows the writer has done their homework on both music and gymnastics. Of course there has to be a jealous rival in the gymnastics class, but she does not do much beyond telling on Fran to her mother. She pulls no sneaky tricks to sabotage Fran. This is probably because it would not fit into the 64-page booklet; if it was a serial, there would certainly be scope for dirty tricks from the rival. But it makes a nice change not to have it.

The conflict comes from the difficult mother who drives Fran way too hard, is almost absurdly comical in the way she goes on about the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father, and being way too overprotective in keeping Fran fit for violin practice. But Mum’s carrying-on about her sacrifices is selfish and disgusting in the way she uses it for emotional blackmail on Fran. She made them just to get what she wants – see Fran follow her father. It was not for what Fran wanted, and Mum is clearly deluding herself when she thinks Fran is dedicated to the violin. If she took off her rose-tinted glasses she might see that Fran is not showing the same enthusiasm or talent for the violin that her father did – so much so that he would play for six hours without stopping.

Mr Mayer can see it, but it is a pity he does not speak up more about it and perhaps talk some sense into the mother. Instead, he takes Fran just for the sake of her father, though he must know in his heart it will be a waste of time because there is no real genius.

Secret Gymnast 4

It is ironic that in gymnastics Fran shows not where her talent lies but also more appreciation for her music as well. Mum moans to Fran that she has lost rhythm in practice while rhythm is no problem for Fran in gymnastics. Mr Mayer tells Fran that she does not make Mozart speak in her violin music; in a floor exercise Fran can really feel Mozart speak in the music.

The sleepwalking resolution feels a bit contrived. On the other hand, the mother did need some shock treatment to snap her out of her selfishness towards Fran, and she gets it when she sees her daughter in danger of falling to her death. It also forces the mother to watch Fran’s gymnastics for the first time and properly judge what she dismissed as “mindless contortions”. And in the end, once Mum has stopped pushing Fran into following her father, everything is so much happier for Mum as well as Fran.

3 thoughts on “Secret Gymnast (1987)

  1. There are some similarities of theme with Jinty’s “Battle of the Wills”, where the protagonist is also required to do something she doesn’t want to do (ballet) while gymnastics is her real love. Rather than a jealous rival though there is a science fiction element: a duplicating machine is used to create a copy of her, so that the copy can go to the hated ballet lessons instead! Again, all ends happily eventually, with the selfish parental/guardian figure changing her mind in the end.

    1. Except that Kate really did have what it takes to be a top ballerina and would have if she wanted to. Fran didn’t have what it takes to be a top violinist; her playing was good but not dynamite like her father’s.

    2. What’s even worse are serials where the parent/guardian keeps pushing the talentless one while suppressing the talent of the truly talented one. This happened in “The Silver Ballerina” from Dreamer. Grandma keeps pushing Tania into being a top ballerina like her late mother although Tania has no talent, while not allowing Jane, who does have the talent, to pursue it. The girls agree that Jane will secretly go to ballet class in Tania’s place. But it turns out their identities were mixed up as babies – Tania is really Jane and Jane is really Tania. They decide not to tell grandma because she has become ill and then she dies. Tania goes on to a promising career under her own name.

      It also happened in what I think was a Judy annual and the story called “The Secret Skater”. A selfish aunt keeps pushing her niece into being a skater (who really wants to go into badminton) while suppressing the talent of another girl, who tries to pursue skating in secret. A skating coach spots her and after hearing the story, hatches on a plan to help both girls by having the aunt watch them both enter a skating contest and see who is better. It works and the aunt immediately sets out to put things right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *