Comic Annuals were a very popular present at Christmas, which is why I like to take look at an annual around this time of year. Usually the books would have some Christmas reference, but not always, as I assume it would appeal better for re-reading if it wasn’t just set all about the holiday. This annual has 2 stories that are set at Christmas time, Mandy the Thirteenth and Life with Miss Peake – Ugh!
Diana is one of the comics that I only have a few issues of, but it’s influence carried on in other comics, particularly Spellbound and Debbie. This annual is full of stories and features that would appeal to many. I like that the Diana covers for the annuals consistently (bar one) used a black background, which makes it distinctive from other annuals. After 1975, the covers depicted a photo girl but before that it was always a hand-drawn blonde girl which contrasted well with the dark background. (For just a list of contents go to the next page)
The Girls from N.O.O.D.L.E.S (Pages: 6-11)
Gail Price and Nicola Main are agents for N.O.O.D.L.E.S. (National Orgainisation for Order Discipline and Law Enforcement in Schools). At their secret headquarters, Miss Z, informs them about top athletes who have disappeared from their schools and tells of a lead about where they might be. One of the missing girls was found wandering around near Ben Vornich, Scotland, talking of gold. Gail and Nicola, parachute in to investigate Firtree College. On their way they see some of the missing girls being led into a cave by armed men, but when they go to get a closer look, the cave entrance seems to have vanished.
They continue their investigation at Firtree College, but the schoolgirls there, appear happy and healthy. Then a bedraggled girl runs towards them trying to escape guards, they help her escape and she shows them where the other missing girls are hidden. Gail and Nicole are carrying super vitamins, that will help the girls recover their strength and together they overpower the guards and confront the person behind the scheme. It seems the respected headmistress, is actually Karl Minden, top criminal and an expert at disguise. He was using Firtree as a cover and recruited strong girls to mine gold for him in a hidden cave. After showing the girls the secret panel to the cave he tries to escape, but Nicola shoots down an icicle onto his head. The real headmistress is recovered (off-panel) and the girls can be returned to their proper schools.
Mary Brown’s Schooldays (Pages: 12-17)
Mary Brown a scholarship girl at St Winifred’s, is surprised when Miss Cragg , an old teacher returns to the school. She had earned the nickname, Craggy Monster by treating the class like they were army recruits, but now is acting very friendly. Unfortunately she has gone to other extreme, now treating them like young primary kids. This annoys the girls so much that they make plans to make the “monster” come back, including bringing toys to classroom, flying Cragg’s flag on the chimney and ambushing her while she’s out on a walk. Only the last plan works, but not in the way they expected! Unfortunately for them the army is doing exercises in the moor at same time, and there are tanks heading straight for the girls, until Cragg yells out orders to divert the tanks. Afterwards, Miss Cragg leaves the school again, and Mary and the others feel guilty. A few weeks later Mary’s happy to see Miss Cragg, lecturing about the Army at a careers lecture, and she hopes she has now found the ideal job.
How Kathy Tricked a Ghost (Pages: 33-36)
This is a story from Diana’s resident spooky storyteller, The Man in Black. Kathy Martin arrives at Hogarth Hall for a holiday with her foster parents. Hogarth Hall is maintained by her great aunt Agatha and there is one room Agatha tells Kathy not to go near. But her curiosity piqued she does visit it and sees a picture of a sad girl beside a creepy woman. That night Kathy is visited by the ghost of the girl. She asks her to play with her the next day, but when she goes to where she says, the door leads nowhere and she nearly falls to her death. Agatha explains the spirit of the girl will roam until she finds someone to take her place. Once again the ghost tries to get Kathy to meet her at a dangerous place. Kathy gives her another chance not believing she could be evil, but after another attempt on her life, she comes up with a plan to defeat the ghost. She agrees to meet the ghost by the cliff the next day. After she seemingly falls off the cliff, it is revealed that the ghost is actually the cruel governess seeking revenge on the Martins after her dismissal. Now her spirit is free and she will no longer haunt the hall. She will never know that it was actually just a dummy that fell off the cliff, not Kathy, and the portrait now holds only a smiling girl.
Mandy the Thirteenth (Pages: 39-43, 46)
Mandy Martin is the 13th child of a large family and always seems to have bad luck. Her horoscope for the day tells her “Her lucky number is 3, lucky colour is orange, a good day for money matters and watch out for an unexpected trip”. Her lucky number 3 doesn’t seem to work out as she gets injured helping a mother with triplets, and takes a dip in the pond trying to rescue a 3rd duckling. Things seem to brighten up as she asked to model an orange dress and gets 10 shilling note as payment. But then it gets blown away. Someone does pick it up at Santa’s grotto and in her rush to claim it she trips over some oranges and pulls down Santa’s beard. She recognises him as a pickpocket and gets rewarded from the store for unmasking him.
Emergency Nurse Gwen (Pages: 49-54)
In this bizarre story, Gwen gets a mysterious call, and when she goes to answer it, she is taken on a helicopter, (voluntarily) drugged and dropped in a strange place. She is then attacked by a metal monster but is relieved to find some airman, though their aircraft looks more like a spaceship. When one of the men starts freaking out, Gwen sedates him, averting a crisis. She finally gets an explanation, with the advancement of space travel and hopes to colonise planets, it was all a test to see how a medical professional would act on a space colony, it seems Gwen would be an ideal candidate whenever such a thing happens.
Mascot of the Ballet (Pages: 62-67)
This story is narrated by Pelly the cat. His owner is Anice who is part of a ballet company and they have made him their mascot. Lucky for them, as Pelly raises the alarm when the hotel they are staying at goes on fire. The Laird of Strathbey offers to put the company up in his ancestral home for the meantime, but Pelly gets a bad feeling about the Laird. Strange things do happen as valuable items go missing, one of which is found in Anice’s bag! The police are informed and Anice is under suspicion. Then Pelly follows the Laird and finds out he is an imposter when he sees the real Laird tied up in a cave. With the help of wildcat and gamekeeper, Pelly manages to get the real Laird free. It seems the Laird’s twin brother was setting things up to pay off his debts by stealing from the house and have ballet company take the fall. He also set the fire in the hotel so he could have the ballet company stay. Quite the elaborate plot!
The Mermaids (Pages: 76-80)
The Mermaids, a team of synchronized swimmers, taught by Dot Cameron, are chosen to be the carnival queen’s attendants. Then the carnival queen Joyce goes missing. Their search for her is of no avail until Joyce’s dog shows up. Leading the team to an old wreck, they find Joyce unconscious after she had tripped while exploring. The Mermaids rouse her and are able to swim her to safety on a makeshift raft. The publicity ensures the festival is a great success.
Wedding Belle (Pages: 81-86)
Belle Richards enjoys going to weddings, which is lucky for a disorganized couple. She sorts out their problems – acting as an usher, finding a last minute organist and even fetching the groom who was sitting at the wrong church! The Mother of the Bride is surprised she is not family or friend, she just came to watch. She invites Belle to the reception as a thank you for her help (and just in case other problems arise!).
Ingrid at Push-Button Academy (Pages: 89-94)
Ingrid Bergan attends the progressive school Push Button Academy built by her father, a professor. The Professor enters the school into a competition for the most attractive school. Ironically when showing off a replica of the magnetic pole, it seems it is too attractive as the magnetism pulls the belongings of the inspectors to the pole. The inspectors leave not happy with these events. While trying to readjust it so the magnetism isn’t so strong, Ingrid becomes temporarily magnetized in the process. So now all metal things fly to her. This works to her advantage, when it helps her stop a thief in the hotel the inspectors are staying at. So the inspectors give the school another chance.
Jane Model Miss (Pages: 98-103)
Business is slow for Jane Morgan, so she accepts a sudden offer by an American, Mr Glanville, to design and model swimsuits from his fabrics and as part of the deal she must teach is daughter April to be a model. But it seems April is awkward and clumsy. Mr Glanville still wants her to model but even he;s not keen for her to model his swimsuits and asks Jane to keep her away. Jane does this by locking her in a cupboard but April breaks out and slips into the pool. Luckily she is elegant in the water, impressing the potential clients and so she becomes their action model.
Starr of Wonderland (Pages: 105-110)
While auditioning for a new King Arthur for Wonderland, Diana Starr has her work cut out or her when two feuding fathers try out. Their daughters, Wendy and Sue, are good friends and are tired of their dad’s fighting. They are both are up to tricks to undermine each other’s audition such as Mr Marshall loosening Excalibur so Mr Booth falls over when he gives it a big tug. Then Mr Marshall accidentally sets a fire in a tower putting their daughters at risk. They have to work together to save them, after which they put their feud behind them. As for the part of King Arthur, Diana says they can each take the part every other day while the other plays Sir Lancelot.
Sadie Macbeth (Pages: 114-119)
Sadie Macbeth’s class are visiting the McPorridge castle on a school trip, but are disappointed when the grouchy Hamish McPorridge says the castle is closed for the afternoon. Sadie summons her three witch friends, Prue, Vinny and Cassie to help. Unfortunately while casting a spell, Vinny thoughts wander to the famous Macbeth, who stayed in the castle, which brings forth him and Lady Macbeth. The two Macbeths chase Hamish from the castle and the witches have a hard time getting rid of them as their spells don’t work out as they want them too. Finally after turning some bagpipes into a giant octopus then into a balloon, they are whisked away and the grateful Hamish gives the class a tour.
Lorna at Court (Pages: 122-125)
Lorna Butterwick has won a trip to Paris by entering a historical essay contest. After eating some cheese sandwiches her mother gave her, she falls asleep. She finds herself in the Palace of Tuileries in 1791, witnessing Marie Antoinette’s attempts to escape with her family, Lorna admires her brave actions, though she ends up back in her own time before she sees the royals final fate. Still she is able to write an article about Marie Antoinette’s heroic attempts to save her family, for her school magazine
Life With Miss Peake – Ugh! (Pages: 37-38)
A girl dreads her new assignment from her horrible sewing mistress, Miss Peake. The class are to make their own fancy dress costume for a Christmas party. She puts it off until the last minute and then finds out that her mom has given away her material! With little options left, she rents a costume, but is found out when she wears the top inside out ad the shop’s tag is clear for everyone to see. As she is sorry and it is Christmas she gets off with a light punishment.
Nothing But the Best- for Cousin Gertrude (Pages: 47-48)
Elizabeth and her friend Felicity prepare for the arrival of Cousin Gertrude, how they assume as well travelleved person will be used to the best. Everything’s a disaster, but when Gertude arrives she soon puts things right and proves not to be as uptight as they were expecting.
The Loneliness of Being Sandra (Pages: 87-88)
Sandra joins her aunt at a skiing holiday but finds it lonely as the others people her age don’t seem too friendly. When her aunt suggest she might have been showing off too much with her skiing skills, Sandra begins to pretends to not be as great a skier as she actually is. This works but then has to reveal her secret when the weather turns on a trip and she has to go get help, luckily her new friends have already accepted her at this stage, and are impressed by her heroics.
The Girl With the Magic Touch (Pages: 95-96)
Rosemary isn’t too happy when her family move into an old Victorian house so they have space for her Gran to live with them. This is made worse when her friend Betty gets her room turned into a modern den, while Rosemary is still stuck sharing a room with her sister. She also finds Gran critical but does take her suggestion of checking out the attic as potential room of her her own. After finding old chest, with diary she decides to decorate in Victorian style and does most of the work herself. She ends up bonding with Gran when she helps with the curtains and understands the importance of having a place of your own doesn’t change when older.
Diana was a book that was known for it’s informative features, the early issues of the weekly comic had a “Getting-to-Know” section, that told facts in an interesting and often story-like manner. There are many interesting features, some more simply straightforward facts, others told in a a more story-like manner, as well as popular creative and quiz features.
There are two story – type features in this annual, The Village That Died (Page: 55), which tells the story of Eyam village where in the 17th century most people died of the plague after receiving parcel from London. The other story feature I go into more detail below –
On Holiday With – Claudia/ Eleanor/ Anne/ Lucy (Pages: 18-23)
Four different girls, from different time periods share what their holidays were like. This was good way to relate to the readers of the same age. Firstly there is Claudia a Roman girl of the 2nd century tells of a holiday to her uncle’s in Roman Briton, where she had family feasts (though the children were expected to stay quiet), played ball games with her cousins, watched chariot races, shopped in the Forum and relaxed in the public baths.
Eleanor, from the 14th century, along with her hooded hawk, Visits the shrine of St Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. She travels with a group of pilgrims, along the way seeing entertainment of jugglers and dancing bears. At Canterbury, she is blessed by bishop and buys a puppet from a toymaker.
Anne, from the 16th century, visits her uncle in London, which is quite a change from her country life. She gets to see one of Shakespeare’s new plays, ride on a boat in the river Thames and see Queen Elizabeth as she leaves London for the Summer.
Lucy, from the days of Queen Anne of the 18th century, visits friends in the country, accompanied by her maid. Outside they played battledore and shuttlecock, if it rained they played the spinet and at night looked at the stars. A travelling artist does her portrait which will be a keepsake for the holiday.
- Festivals and Fun (Pages: 25-31)
- Information about different festivals/ carnivals, including; St Lucia’s Day – Sweden, Battle of Flowers – Jersey, Carnival of Nice – France and many others
- Tales of the Trees (Pages: 56-61)
- The Elder – The Fairy Tale Tree
- The Hawthorn – The Omen Tree
- The Apple – The Tree of Good Health
- The Peach – The Tree of Eastern Legend
- The Oak – Samson of the Forest
- The Birch – The Witching Tree
- Dances of the World (Pages: 72-75)
- Different dances from Golden Greece, Merrie England and France
- The Wonderland of Dolls (Pages: 111-113)
- Split into the subheadings of; The Toys that Saved a Village, Dance Little Doll, and Dolls at War
- Fairies in Ballet (Pages: 120-121)
- Photos and captions of fairy characters in the Ballet such as Titania, Lilac Fairy and Carabosse
There also two poems with accompanying photos
- Join the Crew (Page: 24)
- Hooray for Holidays (Page: 32)
Finally there are the more participatory/ creative activities
- Secrets of the Palm (Pages: 44-45) [A guide to reading palms]
- Ballet Quiz (Pages: 68-71)
- Knit this Super Smarty Top/ Hairstyles for the Modern Miss (Page: 97)
- A Sweater and Hat to Knit for Snow Time (Page: 104)
As this isn’t a book I grow up with, but got later, it doesn’t evoke the same nostalgia as other books, so it’s somewhat of a mixed bag for me. Majority of the artwork is impressive as is the colouring (Jane Model Miss is a stand out for me), there are some good stories, but others I found had convoluted plots or were just unappealing to me. Although I would say at least none of the stories are boring!
Stories that had some of the more ridiculous plots, in the case of complicated villain plans we have The Girls from NOODLES and Mascot of the Ballet. I’m more forgiving of NOODLES as it’s more in keeping with the spy antics and I have a soft spot for stories that take inspiration from The Man from U.NC.L.E. / James Bond, so I do actually like that story. Mascot on the other hand the villains plan to to burn down hotel so he can get a ballet troop to stay in the house, frame them for stealing and presumably kill his brother, so he can pay off debts in London, seems extreme! Of course having such elaborate schemes is nothing new for these books, but sometimes it works better than others.
The story I had the most problems with was Emergency Nurse Gwen. While it may have had a more “grounded” explanation, for the “alien monster” the whole set up seems surreal. I feel this may work with a different type of story but is not suited for this character. For example there have been stories where nurse is put in a bizarre situation like “Pam on the Purple Planet” which is fine because that is the set up of the story, but Emergency Nurse Gwen I’d expect a story more in keeping with the problem solving character who may have have found herself in some unusual situations but more down to earth. The biggest issue I have is her reaction to the situation first the people won’t tell her where they are taking her and then she is persuaded to be drugged! That would trigger so many warnings these days and the entire experiment is unethical, the dumped her in this situation video taped her reactions without any explanation. Then she is perfectly fine with that when they finally do explain, I really think this story wouldn’t pass today!
It’s not all negative though, there are many stories I liked. I thought Life with Miss Peake -Ugh! was amusingly written and I liked Wedding Belle, it is simple premise yet moved along quickly as Belle diverts one disaster or another at the wedding. Mandy the Thirteenth is also a fun read, and while it’s not the focus of the plot it’s nice to have the festive setting. One odd thing about that story is the last page of the story is preceded by a feature about palm reading. While longer stories are sometimes split up in annuals, it’s quite unusual to just separate one page.
Throughout the book the art, and colours when used are top quality. The feature On Holiday with… has lovely art making every time period distinctive. Jane Model Miss has my favourite art in the book, I enjoyed the story, though the characters can come off a bit mean-spirited for not giving April a chance because she is clumsy, as she seems perfectly nice otherwise. I’m glad that things work out for her! I also enjoyed Starr of Wonderland but because it only shows Mr Marshall’s tricks (coupled with him starting the fire)and just tells us of Booth’s tricks, it makes things uneven and Marshall comes off less sympathetic. How Kathy Tricked a Ghost is a fine addition to the spooky stories, which usually work well in annuals as they add variety and often work best in the short form. Again there are some questionable plot points, but it is fine.
So despite some criticism still enjoyable read, I would think if I had read this when I was younger I’d be less critical, with the nostalgia goggles on! Still I always find to read any comic annual at this time of year does get me in festive mood!