Published: Mandy: #454 (27 September 1975) – #460 (8 November 1975)
Reprinted: #970 (17 August 1985) – #976 (28 September 1985)
When Jill Bailey is orphaned, she goes to live with her Uncle Jack, Aunt Betty and cousin Marilyn, who run “The Weeping Willow” Hotel. Jill’s parents did not talk about them and she soon finds out why: they are callous, selfish people who care nothing for her. They tell her that if she is to stay, she will have to work for her keep – which is of course their excuse to use her as unpaid slave labour at the hotel. Jill soon finds her cousin Marilyn is no better. She is a lazy, selfish girl who just uses Jill to wait on her and do all the work.
Jill does have a kind relative, her Aunt Kate. Aunt Kate could take Jill in. The trouble is, Aunt Kate lives in New Zealand.
At least Jill finds friends in Mrs Smith the Cook and Barbara the part-time chambermaid, who are not treated well at the Weeping Willow either. Cook tells Jill about the Posy Princess competition, where contestants win posies at various tests, and the girl who wins the most posies wins. As this year’s Posy Princess competition is the centenary one, there is a special prize of a month’s holiday anywhere in the world.
This prize would enable Jill to get to New Zealand and track down Aunt Kate. However, Jill is initially nervous at such a challenge and does not think she is up to it. Eventually Cook’s encouragement and the chance to escape her horrible relatives spur her on.
However, Marilyn is entering the Posy Princess competition as well. And of course she is doing everything she can to sabotage Jill. But Jill often gets help from Cook and Barbara, who do everything they can to help foil Marilyn’s schemes and make sure Jill wins the heats.
And there are times when Marilyn’s dirty tricks backfire and unwittingly end up helping Jill. For example, in the first test she tries to ruin Jill’s outfit by sending her out in drenching rain to do shopping. But it’s Cook to the rescue with a new outfit and Jill has to do an impromptu speech as she lost the other one with her ruined outfit. But the judges like her appearance and speech so much that they give her more posies than Marilyn. So thanks to Marilyn’s trick, Jill ended up doing better than she anticipated in the first test.
Marilyn’s next trick, in a first aid test, causes Jill to lose a posy for lateness. But Jill passes the test itself with flying colours, so remains equal with Marilyn.
In the third test, for cookery, Marilyn thinks she has been more successful with her dirty tricks. She ruins the sponge cake Jill has made for it and its replacement is not as good as the first. But the sponge cake is only one half of the test, and by the end of the second half (making a difficult trifle with the sponge), Jill remains equal with Marilyn.
The next test is to make a dress. Marilyn tries to sabotage Jill by locking up the sewing machine. When Jill finishes the dress on another machine with Barbara’s help, Marilyn tries to make her miss the event by sending her out on an errand. But Barbara, posing as Jill, foils Marilyn again, and now Jill is one posy ahead of her.
It looks like the fifth test – a beauty contest – has Jill beat because the hotel drudgery is ruining her appearance. But Cook has some remedies (lemon juice to whiten the red hands and oil to soften them). Marilyn lends an unwitting hand in trying to ruin Jill’s hairstyle and dress, which in fact results in Jill going in for replacement styles that are more becoming. So Jill ends up with more posies than Marilyn.
In the next test, Marilyn tries another trick to put Jill out of the way, and this time it is more successful. Jill ends up stranded at Drayford Market with no hope of getting to her test – high tea with the Mayor and Mayoress – on time. She gets a lift back, but the ride is too slow and the driver won’t stop giving her lectures on the history of the area. But it all comes in useful when the mayor gives her a second chance to take the test, which demands good knowledge of the district. Jill, being new to the district, would not have been able to pull that off if it hadn’t been for the driver and Marilyn’s trick. So although Marilyn’s subterfuge did cost Jill a posy, it backfired in the end (again) by helping her pass the test.
So Jill is still in the lead, but only by one posy, and there is just one test to go. This means the last test is going to be tight.
The test is one for “personality, tact and general helpfulness”. A secret judge will be watching the five remaining contestants for this. Marilyn assumes the secret judge is the latest guest at the hotel, and goes out of her way to impress him with out-of-character hard work and good service. Along the way she tries to sabotage Jill again by tripping her up while she is lugging a trolley in order to create a bad impression on the man. She then brags to Jill that she did that to make sure Jill does not win the final round. To make doubly sure, Marilyn tries to make Jill miss the last contest by forcing her to slave in the kitchen all week.
Neither Jill nor Marilyn realise the window cleaner has seen and heard everything. But when Jill makes it to the contest with Cook’s help, she discovers the window cleaner was the secret judge, not the guest. And of course he declares Jill the winner of the Posy Princess competition. Marilyn, who came second, is appointed Jill’s attendant. Marilyn has unwittingly helped Jill to win again, and this time it is the top prize itself!
A month later, Jill is heading for New Zealand to find Aunt Kate. Her horrible relatives can only watch in seething silence as Jill departs. On the plane there is a nice surprise for Jill. Cook is coming too, both as Jill’s chaperone and to escape the hotel as well.
There is no doubt this is a Cinderella story. The emphasis is more on the wicked stepsister than the wicked step-parents – er, uncle and aunt, whom we don’t see much of in the story. But then the main conflict of the story is meant to focus on Marilyn and Jill as they both compete for the Posy Princess competition.
In our brief glimpses of Uncle Jack, we immediately sense that the conflict between Marilyn and Jill mirrors the conflict between Uncle Jack and his late brother Bill (Jill’s father). Jill’s father never spoke of his brother, and Jill soon finds Uncle Jack does not speak of his brother kindly either. When he meets Jill he is not in the least bit overjoyed to see her and says, “You look like [my brother], I must say – good for nothing!” Clearly a case of good brother vs. bad brother, and now the same good vs. bad passes to the next generation in the Posy Princess competition.
Our Cinderella protagonist shows she is human and at first is less proactive than most of her counterparts. Jill only enters the contest out of desperation and Cook’s encouragement. But at the beginning she lacks confidence: “I can’t enter, though. I’m hopeless at tests”. Jill finds the first challenge – speaking in public and being “judged on poise and praise” so daunting. But thanks to Marilyn’s unwitting help and Cook’s genuine help, Jill not only passes the first test but also discovers a whole new skill – thinking on her feet. Her confidence is growing, and along the way she develops in courage, such as where she plucks up enough courage to go apologise to the mayor after she misses his appointment. Jill almost sits out the final judging because she thinks Marilyn has cast her in a bad light with the secret judge, so Cook helps her once again by insisting on taking her there herself. It was just as well because Jill would have missed the grand prize otherwise. Ultimately the newfound strengths in Jill’s character impress the secret judge: “she managed to stay polite and cheerful under the most difficult and trying circumstances”.
During the story Jill always needs support and advice from Cook and Barbara. In so many Cinderella-type stories the protagonist has only herself to depend on because there is nobody else to turn to except a fairy godmother figure who is sympathetic but either does not realise what is going on or is powerless to intervene. But in this case it is different in that the fairy godmother helps throughout. It is also different in that Jill is less proactive than most Cinderella-type protagonists. She is less capable of getting herself out of the scrapes and obstacles that her nasty relatives put in her path. If not for Cook and Barbara she would never have made it through the competition. But it makes a delightful change to see the Cinderella protagonist have help throughout the story for once instead of having to battle on alone. There is no doubt Cook is the Fairy Godmother figure of the serial. The artwork even gives her the semblance of a fairy godmother in her kind, grandmotherly appearance.
Marilyn, the wicked stepsister figure, unwittingly helps Jill to win as well. So many of her tricks end up backfiring and give Jill a helping hand where Jill would have failed. If Marilyn had left things alone, Jill would have fallen behind her without her needing to do anything really dirty. But although Marilyn’s tricks do get Jill docked a couple of posies, Jill never falls behind Marilyn and even gets ahead of her because of so many misfired tricks. It is poetic justice that Marilyn unwittingly helped Jill to win the contest itself as well.
The Posy Princess competition itself lends to the fairy tale elements of the story. In fairy tales heroes and heroines face so many trials before they win through and live happily ever after, and this is paralleled in the tests the contestants face. The parallel is reinforced even more if you count up the tests. There are seven of them, and seven is a magical number that is often found in fairy tales. Seven tests also structures the length of the story, so it is not too long or drawn out. The grand prize turns Jill into a princess, which is what happens to Cinderella herself in the end. The secret judge is clearly the Prince Charming figure. He is even more charming in that he says nothing about Marilyn’s dirty play; instead he says he has chosen Jill because she impressed him the most. Perhaps he felt it would be a more fitting punishment for the cheat to be appointed attendant to the girl she tried to sabotage.
It is fitting that the final test is one for character integrity, because that is the most appropriate one for Marilyn to fail at and for Jill to pass with flying colours. And it reinforces the fairy tale retribution for the wicked stepsister figure and reward for the good stepsister figure.