Category Archives: Mandy

The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie

  • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy:  #378 (13 April 1974) – #395 (10 Aug. 1974)
  • Reprinted – Mandy: #681(2 February 1980)  – #699 (7 June 1980) [First 2 episodes, title is Hateful Hattie!]
  • Reprinted as Hateful Hattie! – Mandy:  #1060 (09 May 1987) – #1077 (05 Sep. 1987)
  • Other Appearances:
    • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy Annual 1976

Plot

In 1905, the girls of Birch House Orphanage are treated cruelly, except for Hattie Taylor, who gets privileges by toadying up to the staff. This particularly maddens Tilly Tucker, an outspoken girl, who leads the chant of “Hateful Hattie” at the dinner table. When they are  overheard by Matron’s second in command, Miss Winters, Tilly takes the full blame and also hits Hattie as she knows she is to be punished anyway and wants to make it worthwhile. Tilly is beaten and locked in the cellar with no food, but a hooded figure leaves her some food and ointment for her bruises. Telling the other girls about this, she nicknames her helper as the “Angel Ghost”. Nobody would suspect that their secret helper is actually Hattie. The only reason Hattie is the staff’s pet is so she can help the other girls, while the staff think she is on their side. Unfortunately because the girls don’t know this, they give “Hateful Hattie” a hard time both by name calling and physical attacks. Hattie won’t tell on them as she doesn’t want to get them in trouble, but of course they think its because she is scared of them.

Life can be difficult for Hattie, she dislikes having to pretend to be nice to the staff and endure the girls’ hateful looks, so she is glad when she is sent on an errand. She goes to the Willoughbys home, who want to arrange to visit Birch House in the hopes of finding an under-nursery maid. Away from Birch House, Hattie can be her genuine pleasant self and after meeting her, the cook recommends Hattie for the job. Having seen the house, Hattie is excited by the prospect as everyone seems happy and well looked after. But being selfless she feels she is needed at Birch House more and turns the job down. She looks for a good candidate herself, knowing the Willoughbys want a cheery girl, she considers Polly at first. She would fit in at Willoughbys but Hattie also realises she has strong spirit and has the ability to last at Birch House. Meanwhile, Florence is more sensitive so Hattie concludes she needs job more and sets out to make sure she gets it. She manage to get money from the matron, and uses it to buy Florence a brooch, then Florence looks naturally happy when Mrs Willoughby comes and succeeds in getting the job.

Hattie continues to help the girls in her role as “Angel Ghost” and also manipulating things in their favour as “Hateful Hattie”. She gets a sick girl Lizzie sent to cellar by claiming she beat her even though it was Tilly. The cellar isn’t much warmer than their dormitory and by providing her with blankets and food, it gives her time to rest and recover from her cough. She helps a girl Mary to get glasses by appealing to the Matron’s greed, telling her Mary could sew good embroidery that they could sell on. She gets Grace new boots that fit, by selling her own. Things don’t always work out, when she tries to manipulate the Matron to not send Alice to the “nightmare house” for spilling coal, she gets a slap herself. She later discovers Matron  she has toothache and is restless, which explained her particular moodiness but it means Hattie is unable to slip in and get the keys from her room. There is nothing she can do to help Alice the night she is locked in the cramped, dark, dog kennel and Alice comes back nearly catatonic. None of the Angel Ghost’s gift seem to help bring her out of this state, until she gets the idea to get her a mouse as a pet she can hide. More problems arise, when a new young girl, Victoria, arrives, Hattie not being able to stand her tears, comforts her but this means Victoria thinks she is friend, Hattie knows this will make her an enemy of others so she needs to turn Victoria against her. This proves difficult as Victoria is loyal to Hattie. The Angel Ghost pays Victoria a visit, saying it was her that made Hattie kind to her, then later Hattie herself  tells Victoria she is stupid and a liar for making up stories about the Angel Ghost, this has the desired effect of ending Victoria’s friendship.

While Birch House is a miserable place, there is something the girls can look forward to as every summer they go hop picking in Kent. Of course Matron and Miss Winters still try to take the joy out of the trip. Firstly, Matron decides Lucy, a new girl is too small and weak to come, luckily Hattie persuades her that she could earn money by gaining the sympathies of other pickers. When they arrive in Kent, Farmer Frost, is as bad as the Birch staff. He gives them huts away from everyone else, therefore any beating won’t be heard. They are also to be locked in at night, the window is stiff and rusted and Hattie is put in charge to make sure no-one tries to open it. By purposely burning herself on stove, she gets some oil and figures Tilly will be smart enough to sneak it from her and use it on the window, so they are able to sneak out and have fun. She also makes sure they get to the summer fair, which works out better than she expected with the arrival of Lady Gilchrist (who is friends with a patron of the orphanage), who treats them to rides at the fair.

Meanwhile, Lucy has gotten the attention of another picker, Mrs Brown, who wants to give her a home. Matron refuses as she wants to keep making money off her. Hattie’s facade drops as can’t hide her hate for Matron’s greed and denying Lucy a loving home. She luckily manages to pass it off as pins and needles, as she knows, if she is to help Lucy, she must keep her temper. It’s a difficult case and she gets a scolding when she tries to push things too quickly. Slipping a note to  Lady Gilchrist’s granddaughter, Caroline inviting her to the dance on the last day of hop picking, she hopes she would be able to help. Matron is not pleased to hear she is coming to dance as she will have to let girls go too, otherwise it might raise questions. By good fortune, Lady Gilchrist comes with Caroline and after hearing the Browns story, she talks to Matron about letting them adopt Lucy, a request she can hardly refuse if she wants to stay on the right side of the gentry.

Returning to Birch House, Matron continues to show how heartless she is, in a particular cruel punishment, after slipping on some polish, that Amy, had left out while scrubbing the floor, she burns the last mementos Amy has of her family. Nothing the Angel Ghost does can get her back to her cheery herself, she even tries to rouse her spirits, as Hateful Hattie by making her angry, but that fails too. She has one other idea, as Angel Ghost she asks Alice, to give Amy her mouse to cheer her up. This idea works as planned, Amy doesn’t want to take Alice’s mouse but says she will borrow him until she feels better. By pretending to be cheerful for Amy, she will get into the habit and also start to treat Alice as a little sister, bringing comfort to them both.

A problem arises when Hateful Hattie gets some competition with the arrival of Creeping Clara. But while Hattie’s behaviour is just an act, Clara really is sly and enjoys telling tales, getting the others  punished. She also tries to get Hattie in trouble as she wants to usurp her place as staff pet. As luck would have it a visit by a patron, Lady Tarrington, provides a solution. She is a tough employer and is looking for a scullery maid, Hattie tricks Clara into fawning over her, so she is taken on for the job. Hattie gets a small reprise from Birch House, when her and Maggie are taken on as extra help for two weeks at the Fitzpatrick house. While she still has to be Hateful Hattie around Maggie, with the help of a lost kitten, she helps Maggie get a permanent job there. When she returns she helps out two sisters Ruby and Ellen, by getting Ruby to be a good influence on Ellen, so she has to control her temper.

With such poor living conditions, it’s no surprise when a number of girls develop colds. Vicky gets it the worse and she struggles to get out of bed in the morning, Hattie knows she won’t be able to slip out for medicine until that night. As punishment for dropping her bowl at breakfast, Vicky is made clear the drive of snow and sent to the cellar at night. Hattie manages to get her hot drink while she’s outside and later gets her medicine but her sickness is getting worse. When Matron and Miss Winters go to check on her, in her fever Vicky talks of the Angel Ghost. Not knowing that the Matron is ready to catch the Angel Ghost, Hattie arrives that evening to check on Vicky. The Matron and Miss Winters are shocked to find the Angel Ghost is Hattie, and not Tilly like they suspected. This makes them even more mad, for she has made fools of them. They give her a severe beating and plan to return to beat her, until her spirit is broken, then they will farm her out to hard task mistress. When Miss Winters comes back to give Hattie her second beating of the night, Hattie is ready and  she slips out with Vicky. Getting to police station, she tells her story before collapsing. They are taken to hospital and a week later a policeman along with the girls comes to visit.  Matron and Miss Winters have been arrested and Birch House has new staff. Hattie can now return to a happy house with the friendships of the girls, no longer will she need to be “Hateful Hattie”.

Thoughts

Thanks to Derek for clarification on the title, the 1987 reprint was just called Hateful Hattie!. Oddly enough the 1980 reprint was also called Hateful Hattie! but only for the first two episodes, perhaps it was used to make the reveal of Hattie’s true intentions more surprising.

There are plenty of stories set around Victorian times, where the heroine would don a  disguise to help poor children,  such as The Seeker, Lady Sarah’s Secret, The Hooded Angel and Shadow of the Backstreets, but they were often in a position of privilege unlike Hattie who is in the same position as those she helps. There has also been protagonists that have acted like they are on the side of the antagonists in order to be in a better position to defeat them, which earns them animosity of those they are secretly helping, such as Callous Cassie and Detestable Della. But again Hattie has it worst, because not only does she get verbal abuse, the girls also physically abuse her, something that she has to hide from the staff as she doesn’t want them to get into trouble. Of course the girls aren’t to know that she is actually an ally, and when we meet “Creeping Clara” we see someone who is actually deserving of such treatment.

A good contrast to Hattie’s methods is Tilly. She is the leader and open protector of the girls but her upfront manner doesn’t help as it only riles the staff more. While her heart is in the right place, usually speaking out just earns herself a beating as well as the other girl.  Hattie tries to counteract this at times, like knowing when Tilly offers to do Lizzie’s work, they would get caught, Hattie plays her hateful self saying she will tell on them unless the both do their share. Hattie does also use Tilly to her advantage, knowing she is smart, she sets thing up so that Tilly can help others. For example, when she gets the oil for the window and when she pretends she doesn’t want food, she knows Tilly will share it out. When it is revealed Hattie is Angel Ghost, Tilly is the first to say they’ll be friends now and as two warmhearted girls, I suspect they become close friends.

While none of the staff at Birch House are very pleasant, it is Matron and Miss Winters that are the worst. As antagonists, they are vile with no redeeming qualities. The Matron is greedy, wanting to make sure she can get as much from the orphans as she can, she has no concern for their well being, she doesn’t care if Vicky dies and has shown even with her “favourite” Hattie, she can hit her too, just because she is in a bad mood. Miss Winters follows suit and has no objection to dishing out punishments. The punishments such as beatings, locking girls in cellar without food is bad enough, but they go even further than that. The small cramped dog kennel,  nicknamed the “nightmare house” is even worse than the cellar, and traumatizing for the girls as evidenced by how Alice is, when she returns from a night in it. Anyone who shows any bit of cheerfulness is quickly beaten down and they show how heartless and maliciousness they can be, by burning Amy’s last photos of her family. Above all they do not like to be outsmarted or made fun of and if Hattie had not escaped, she would have suffered a terrible fate. After their discovery of Hatty, the plan is to send her to a hard taskmaster, but I’m unsure if Hattie would have made it that far, as Miss Winters returned to give her a second  beating of the night, who knows if she would have survived that. It is a relief that Hattie does escape and Matron and Miss Winters get what they deserve.

 

Rosetta and the House of Fear

  • Rosetta and the House of Fear – Mandy: #358 (24 November 1973) – #362 (22 December 1973)
  • Artist: Guy Peeters

Plot

Fourteen year old Rosetta was brought up by gypsies and had found work as a maid at the big house, owned by invalid, Mrs Trevelyan. The house was known as ‘The Towers’ and Rosetta felt drawn to it, but also cautious as she also sensed a mystery surrounding the house and it’s occupants. Joe and Emily Briggs and their daughter Molly, were the only other staff that Mrs Trevelyan had and Rosetta suspected they were trying to swindle the woman after hearing them arguing about money.

Rosetta finding a dress laid out for her tries it on, but is distressed when Mrs Trevelyan is taken ill after seeing her in the dress that had belonged to her dead daughter. When she wants to go apologise to her, Mrs Briggs forbids her. Later when she goes to try and talk to her anyway, she sees Emily Briggs coming out of Mrs Trevelyan’s room and locking the door, she assumes this to keep her out. She wonders what she can do about this, as who would believe the word of a gipsy girl. She decides to go to nursery to think, but then wonders how she knew the room was nursery, and inside the nursery more strange occurrences as she seems to know what a doll is named too.

When Rosetta sees Mrs Briggs, slipping something into Mrs Trevelyan’s food, she decides to slip out and ask her gipsy friends for help. She is too late though as the gipsy camp has moved on and Joe Briggs catches her and brings her back to ‘The Towers’. Despite the Briggs keeping a closer eye on Rosetta, she does manage to switch out the sleeping powder that the Briggs are giving Mrs Trevelyan, with a harmless powder. More luck for Rosetta as she meets Mr Price who is buying old paintings from the house. He tells her how the house used to be a happy place but then Miss Selina, her husband and daughter drowned in an accident. The Briggs came to work for the family soon after, but Mr Trevelyan didn’t like them and then he met with a tragic accident too, killed while riding. After hearing this Rosetta wonders are the Briggs capable of murder and if the only thing stopping them killing Mrs Trevelyan too was in case the house was sold by whoever inherited it.

No longer being drugged Mrs Trevelyan is up and about and Joe Briggs is quick to steer  her away from Rosetta. Later Mrs Trevelyan collapses again and Rosetta finds a syringe nearby. The next day, Rosetta is waiting for the injection to wear off so she can talk with Mrs Trevelyan. Molly is hanging around mocking Rosetta’s gipsy heritage, she mentions that she could be a lady if her family could solve a riddle –  “I lie beneath the sun, yet am always in darkness. Time passes over me, yet I never grow old. Where am I?” Rosetta has heard that riddle before and spends the day pondering it. Still her priority is to talk with Mrs Trevelyan so when she sees an opportunity she goes for it, only to be caught by Joe Briggs and thrown in the cellar. In the celler she finds a chest with album in it. She is drawn to a photo of Selina and her family, feeling like she knows them…

The Briggs don’t keep her locked up in the cellar, they plan to work her hard with no food and lock her in her room at night. Rosetta thinks the only way to escape is to solve the riddle. Looking out of her window at night she figures out that the riddle refers to the sundial. She manages to slip away and finds a hidden compartment in the sundial containing Mrs Trevelyan’s will. Unfortunately this was all part of the Briggs plan, to get her to find the will, so they can change it and now having done what they needed from her they plan to get rid of her for good! Luckily her gipsy family arrives in time to stop them. Magda also shows her the pinafore they found her in which has the Trevelyan family symbol on it. Rosetta is Mrs Trevelyan’s granddaughter and now that the Briggs have been exposed, she and her grandmother can start making ‘The Towers’ a happy place to live again.

Thoughts

Here we have some common story elements; scheming characters trying to get inheritance and a girl finding out she is a long lost relative (such as in ‘The Secret of Hardwick Hall’). Considering the potential for playing with and expanding on these elements, the story seems  unusually short at only 5 episodes. For the most part this does help keep the pace quick and still covers all that we need to know. It’s quickly established that the Briggs are shady characters, and becomes apparent that they are keeping Mrs Trevelyan in a state of illness. Meanwhile Rosetta finding she somehow knows things about the house, coupled with the story of the family drowning, it is obvious that she will turn out to be the grandchild. There is a nice touch with the Briggs needing Rosetta to figure out the riddle (although it doesn’t seem they were aware of her connection to the house). It shows their cunning by getting Molly to mention the riddle, then watching Rosetta to see where she goes.

So while the story keeps things interesting and fast moving, the last episode could have been expanded on more, especially as Rosetta escapes the Briggs through a deus ex machina! The gipsies show up to help, not because Rosetta got message to them or some other set up, just Magda’s crystal ball suddenly telling them they needed to return. Then she explains about finding Rosetta half drowned as a child. We don’t get to see Rosetta react to this news or even the reunion with her grandmother as the last 2 panels just cut to a few days later with Rosetta and Mrs Trevelyan waving the gipsies off. While Rosetta showed concern for the old lady throughout the story, because the Briggs tried to keep them apart, we never see a relationship build between them. The ending could have taken the time to establish the connection and end on a more emotional note.

 

Gemma’s Jewels [1983]

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #65

Artist: Rodney Sutton

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Gemma Gable helps out at the Yellowbridge Youth Club. She is dismayed when vicar puts her in charge of four rough-looking girls from a rundown area that has been demolished: Crystal, Ruby, Pearl and Opal. Oh, please don’t judge them by their appearances, says the vicar. Underneath that rough exterior they’ve got hearts of gold and are positive jewels.

In other words, the Jewels are diamonds in the rough.

Well, life sure isn’t dull with the Jewels around. Straight off the bat they demand the club put on disco music so they can have some action. At least everyone seems to be enjoying the dancing.

Afterwards the Jewels ask Gemma that they are broke and need money. They earn Gemma’s respect when they say they don’t want to bother their parents, who are financially taxed already. At their old home it was easy for them to get market jobs, but there is little call for that in Yellowbridge. Moreover, Yellowbridge shopkeepers don’t employ under-fifteens, not even for Saturday jobs. This means job hunting will be harder for them in their new locality.

Dad suggests fixing Crystal up with a job at Aunt Daphne’s guesthouse. However, Crystal proves too loud and rambunctious and keeps imposing her own ideas on how the guesthouse should be run. Although Crystal’s style is popular with the guests, Aunt Daphne lets Crystal go before she’s even finished the washing up.

Next, Gemma notices Ruby has a flair for design and fixes her up with a job as publicity assistant with Councillor Coombes for his road safety campaign. Ruby’s creativity lends tremendous weight to the campaign and Coombes is impressed. Unfortunately Ruby is also a walking disaster area, so she ends up creating a real mess that Councillor Coombes’ house-proud wife is furious to see. Ruby and Gemma end up quietly slipping out while a row erupts over it, though Coombes is still impressed with Ruby’s creativity.

Gemma’s old headmistress, Miss Cromarty, enquires about somebody to help her with a move. Gemma decides to try out Opal for the job, because she is the quiet one (that’s a bit of a surprise!) in the Jewels gang. Miss Cromarty sets Opal to sorting out her books in alphabetical order, and if she works out, take her on as research assistant for writing her memoirs. However, Opal is such a bookworm that she gets lost in reading the books instead of sorting them – and Miss Cromarty is just the same. Gemma realises that nothing will ever get done between them because they both get sidetracked with reading.

Now it’s Pearl’s turn. Gemma tries her out on a landscaping job, figuring that Pearl will be compatible with the employer, Jamie, as neither is too fussy about their clothes. Unfortunately it turns out Pearl is not compatible with the plants – they give her horrible allergies of all descriptions.

All for Jewels have proved totally unsuitable for the jobs they tried and Gemma does not know of any other jobs. After a discussion the same jobs are given another go, but with different Jewels. Opal will try the guesthouse job, Crystal the publicity assistant job, Pearl the Miss Cromarty memoir job, and Ruby the landscaping job.

The results:

Aunt Daphne is very impressed with Opal and her impressive manners with the guests. This is because Opal is drawing inspiration from a book she is reading about a Victorian maid.

Crystal adopts the costume and persona of “Roadie the Robot” to teach road safety in her own words while being as loud as she likes.

Thanks to Pearl, Miss Cromarty is making strides in writing her memoirs, which will be called “I Learned More than I Taught”.

Ruby is not only marvellous at the landscaping job but is also applying her creativity to developing her own talent for landscaping.

Gemma tells her father that now she has learned about not judging by appearances. When the vicar first brought the Jewels to her, she expected nothing but trouble (which she got, but not in the way she thought!). But Gemma’s so relieved the Jewels have been sorted out successfully and she can concentrate on the youth club barbeque. All four Jewels help out and give Gemma the best sausage to say “thanks”.

The vicar is very impressed with how successful Gemma was with the Jewels. In fact, he is so impressed that he brings her another set of rough-looking kids from the same area for her to help in the same way. Say hello to Mike, Gabriel (Gabe for short) and Luke (Lucifer) – the “Fallen Angels”!

Thoughts

Straight off the bat we are told how this story will go. It’s going to be an exploration of the morals in not being quick to judge. But just how this will pan out with these wild-looking girls remains to be seen during the course of the story.

As we get to know the Jewels, we can see the morals are going in a romp that’s full of hijinks, embarrassment, surprises and laughs. Crystal is loud and boisterous. She sweeps some fresh air into the stuffy guesthouse, but it’s too much for the stuffy aunt. Far from being rough, Ruby is a creative, helpful girl. The trouble is, she’s so clumsy and accident-prone, and everywhere she goes she causes disaster. In the case of Opal, we have to wonder why she looks so rough when she turns out to be a quiet girl who would spend hours with her nose in a book given half the chance. Maybe it’s the rundown locality the Jewels lived in before. Pearl just likes being scruffy and isn’t too bothered with her clothes.

The hijinks of the Jewels are brought off brilliantly with the artwork. It’s a sharp but fluid style that lends itself well to zaniness, humour and drama all at the same time.

The introduction of the Fallen Angels right at the end is a twist that has the reader laughing and ensures the story does not end on a trite “happily ever after” note. There’s just no peace for the wicked, is there, Gemma? One can only hope the vicar knows what he’s doing with the Fallen Angels too. As well as looking rough, they don’t look too friendly when they meet Gemma.

 

The Double Life of Dana / The Secret Life of Dana

  • The Double Life of Dana– Mandy: #306 (25 Nov. 1972) – #317 (10 Feb. 1972)
  • Reprinted as The Secret Life of Dana – Emma: #49 (27 Jan. 1979) – #60 (14 Apr. 1979)
  • Artist: Claude Berridge

Plot

Dana Fenton, an orphan, has always dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Even now that she has left the orphanage she grew up in and has gotten a decent job and comfortable lodgings, it is not enough to satisfy her. So when she sees that there are auditions for a scholarship with a Ballet Company and a maid’s job in a prestigious ballet school, she takes the leap to follow her dream. She quits her job and applies for the in-house maid job, in the hopes that while she could never afford to go to school there, she may be able to learn by watching. Madame Rochelle proves to be a tough employer, meaning Dana will certainly be working hard to earn her place. At the same time she has to try and find time to go to Belmont Company audition. She arrives at the audition, but seeing Madame there with two pupils, she is afraid she will lose her job, so she dons a wig and makeup and gives the fake name ‘Ann Smith’ in order to keep her secret. The judges see potential in her and she gets in to the next round along with the two pupils from the ballet school, Janice and Ella.

secret life dana1Dana’s double life makes things difficult at time, such as Madame telling Dana to wait by the phone so she can tell everyone the results of the next audition. Of course as Dana is also meant to attend the audition she has to figure out how to do both things! She manages to attend the audition then rushes to pay phone outside and calls Madam pretending to have misunderstood the instructions. She then has to rush back to the school, and actually lets air out of Madame’s tyres so she will beat them back.

Also making life difficult for Dana, are her two rivals, Janice and Ella, who are snobbish and like to make more work for Dana. When Madame entrusts Dana to take the girls to next audition (which is a stroke of luck for Dana as she wondered how she was going to get to someplace so far away), the girls don’t listen to Dana and call her skivvy expecting her to be their personal maid. Luckily Miss Norris and old friend of Madame’s has also been sent to check on the girls and she helps Dana keep them in line. They still continue to cause more trouble,  back at the school making muddy prints over the floor Dana just cleans, they turn even more against Dana when Madame sticks up for her and make them re-clean the floor! Then later at an audition, they leave room a mess and carelessly leave clothes near an electric fire. Dana  in her ‘Ann Smith’ disguise finds the dressing room on fire and helps put it out, before having to run off before her identity is discovered. Janice and Ella blame Dana for the fire and their clothes getting destroyed. They decide to return the favour by destroying her clothes. So her ballet costume isn’t discovered, she has to chase them out of her room, which causes more trouble with Madame. While Madame doesn’t blame her for fire, she does think she should have been attending her duties more carefully, she also is suspicious of the girls being in Dana’s room but does tell Dana any more trouble and she’ll be dismissed.

secret life dana2

Due to the fire, the audition has been rescheduled and Madame offers the school as a new venue. Dana has to be extra careful not to be discovered and uses a traditional mask to hide her face completely. More questions are being asked about, who this mysterious Ann Smith is! While Madame doesn’t suspect Dana, Janice and Ella are beginning to wonder if she and Ann are the same person. Ella even opens a trapdoor at an audition in the hopes of not letting Ann slip away, she doesn’t seem concerned that she could have caused her some serious injury, if not for Dana/Ann’s quick reflexes allowing her to leap out of the way in time. Her secret is discovered by an unlikely person Myra Dean, a famous dancer, who is now blind. When she visits the school, Dana helps her twice, one time as ‘Ann’ and Miss Dean recognises her work-rough hands. Although she hints to Madame, that Ann and Dana maybe the same person, Madame dismisses the thought and Myra doesn’t try to persuade her, instead she becomes Dana’s ally.

secret life dana3

A  mistake signing a girl’s autograph book, leads Janice and Ella to also discover Dana’s secret.  At the last audition, using Dana’s friendship with Miss Dean against her, the girls send Dana to the wrong place. She only just makes it to the right place at the end, with no chance to change into Ann Smith. Myra Dean confirms her identity and Dana is allowed to dance, even though she doesn’t have time to even change into ballet clothes. Dana wins the scholarship and Madame Rochelle is shocked to find her own maid is Ann Smith. Seeing her dance she knows Dana deserves to win and she will also being having words with Janice and Ella about their involvement in the audition mix-up. Dana is delighted she can now pursue her dream and no longer lead a double life.

Thoughts

Dana while she certainly hasn’t the easiest time, it’s not as hard as other characters in similar positions, leading double life (such as “Ballerina on a String”). She is actually a very upbeat person and she is in charge of her own choices, as she is not forced to do the things she does. She left comfortable lodgings and a shop job, to work at the school, because she wants to follow her dream.

Madame Rochelle has a reputation as a slave-driver and none of  her other maids stayed very long. She certainly works Dana hard but she is not cruel and does treat her fairly. She even puts her trust in Dana to chaperone the other girls. When she knows of the tricks the girls play, she assesses situation and doesn’t automatically favour her students over her employee, as seen when she makes Janice and Ella clean the muddy prints and not taking their side when she finds Dana yelling at them as they were in Dana’s room.

secret life dana4

While she does treat her with some respect, at the same time she does not see Dana’s potential, viewing her only as maid. This bias blinds her to the clues in front of her, such as finding Ann Smith looks familiar, nearly catching a girl practicing late at night to audition music (and it not being Janice or Ella), she doesn’t even question that the mysterious Ann Smith gets a letter to the school and ignores the hint her old friend Myra Dean gives.

secret life of dana

So while the work is hard the main difficulties Dana has, is keeping her identity hidden while getting to auditions and the bigger problem of the spiteful girls. Of the two girls, Ella is more dangerous than Janice, she is the leader of the two and the most suspicious. She also opens the trapdoor on Dana and while she passes it off as an accident, she should really have more repercussions. She is not happy to be shown up by Ann Smith, and even less happy when she finds out that Ann is actually the ‘skivvy’ Dana. Even without Dana in the competition, Ella’s thoughts are shown to be quite big-headed, she expects to win over her supposed friend Janice too.

While Dana has joined the school to learn of ballet, we don’t really see much time focused on seeing how she benefits from this and how she improves. Instead most episodes are dedicated to her trying to attend an audition and keep her secret. Although as she keeps getting through to the next stage her “unpolished potential” must be getting better. The competition for the scholarship isn’t very clear, there’s seems to be a lot of auditions happening but it’s not clear how many stages there are and how many people auditioning. In the first stage the 3 girls get through, but as we never really get to see other competitors this leads to the impression that there are only three in the running all the time! In the last audition there appears to be five competing but again wonder how many auditioned initially in the first stage and how wide an area did the competitors come from? Still other than the questions of how the competition is ran, the story keeps a nice pace and the main characters are each distinctive both in personality and design. The art throughout is very nice and expressive. Berridge seems to be quite a varied artist, doing many different type of stories, I’m not aware of any other ballet story that he’s done, but he does a good job here.

secret life dana5

 

Where Have All the Children Gone? [1985] / Where are the Children? [1996]

Where are the Children cover

Published: as Where Have All the Children Gone? Judy Picture Library #272

Reprinted: as Where are the Children? Mandy Picture Library #243

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

In Victorian times, Flossie Ford is a poor slum girl that has made good and now runs her own florist shop in Cheapwell. The gentry are among her clients, including prim Miss Courtney and her bookworm brother Algernon Courtney. Flossie is particularly known for her buttonhole flowers. Still, Flossie has not forgotten her origins or her family, and can revert to Cockney, which she had to take special lessons to overcome.

Street children start disappearing from Cheapwell. Homeless, uncared-for waifs are the targets, but one exception is Flossie’s cousin Frankie Ludd, so it is personal for her and her Aunt Ada. Superintendent Spenser of the police recruits Flossie’s help because she can operate as both a Cockney in the slums and a respectable florist among the smart society; the police suspect someone in the smart society is behind the disappearances.

As the latter Flossie notices something odd when she arranges the flowers for Miss Courtney’s dinner party: one of their guests, Mr Warby-Bellowes is “one of their kings of industry”. Flossie is a bit surprised at this because Warby-Bellowes does not seem to be the sort who would appeal to the Courtneys, but she thinks nothing of it.

As the former, Flossie picks up a clue from the mudlarks that Frankie was buying a pie at Beck’s Wharf before he disappeared. At Beck’s Wharf, Flossie learns an old woman named Ma Jiggs bought the pie for Frankie, and she is now buying another pie for another waif. When Flossie asks Jiggs about Frankie, Jiggs denies all knowledge of him and says she just buys pies for waifs out of charity. However, Flossie senses Jiggs is mealy-mouthed and false, and therefore the sort who could lure children away with seeming kindness. But there is as yet no proof of this, and all Flossie can do is tell Spenser about Jiggs.

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Next day Flossie is arranging flowers for a wedding at the home of another client, Mrs Leighton, where she sees Warby-Bellowes again. A maid named Carrie tries to tell Flossie she just found out something about Cheapwell while she was home in Blackscar, a town a long way from Cheapwell. But before Carrie can say more, Mrs Leighton expresses disapproval at her maid wasting time talking to tradespeople. Later, Warby-Bellowes visits the florist shop and also asks Flossie what Carrie was trying to tell her. Flossie finds this suspicious and says they were just talking about the wedding.

At the police station Flossie finds the police are questioning Jiggs, who denies any connection with the missing children and stands up to interrogation. They are forced to release her, but both they and Flossie are suspicious of her. Then Carrie stumbles into the station, all beaten up. Carrie falls into a coma and can’t be questioned, but Flossie reports what passed between them.

A week later, Flossie goes back to Beck’s Wharf in Cockney disguise, where she finds Jiggs is no longer buying pies for the waifs. Jiggs tells Flossie she lost a good job because of her. Flossie retorts what good job that could be. Yes, what could it be – luring children off, maybe? Flossie reports this to Spenser.

At the hospital Carrie regains consciousness but is too scared to tell Flossie and the police anything. The police think the kidnappers may lie low after the scare they had, but they are wrong. The disappearances merely shift to a new section of Cheapwell, Nine Arches, and friends of the disappeared children insist they must have been kidnapped. By now the disappearances are sending waves of fear and paranoia through the street waifs and the slum dwellers of Cheapwell.

Flossie hits on a plan to flush out the kidnappers. She sets herself up as a target at Nine Arches, along with her cousin Alfie and friend Bert, and the police will be shadowing them. The kidnappers take the bait. A man named Wilkes (evidently Ma Jiggs’ replacement) approaches them. Wilkes is dressed more respectably than Ma Jiggs but looks sinister and evil, and is soon tempting them away with promises of food and warm clothing at a shelter full of “sad little souls” like themselves. They allow Wilkes to lure them away and to a closed wagon, where he locks them in and says they are going to be put to work. Flossie peeks out through the cracks in the wagon and is stunned to learn that Wilkes is in the pay of none other than the prim Miss Courtney! Presumably Algernon is involved too.

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The wagon takes them to (surprise, surprise!) Blackscar. They are put to work as (presumably unpaid) slave labour in a factory under a cruel overseer. They find Frankie, who has been badly beaten for trying to escape. They can’t escape without Spenser’s help, but he has lost the wagon and the trail. Fortunately the police pick up the wagon again and track it and Wilkes down to Warby-Bellowes. They overhear Wilkes telling Warby-Bellowes that the consignment was delivered safely (Spenser realises what this must mean) and more is promised. Spenser tackles Warby-Bellowes, who denies all knowledge about missing children. Spenser tells Warby-Bellowes he wants to pay a visit to his factories in the morning.

When the overseer is informed of this he hides the children. But Flossie leaves her calling card for the police – a buttonhole flower she put on the overseer. Spenser spots the clue immediately, orders an immediate search of the factory, and finds the kidnapped children.

The racket is exposed and stopped. The horror makes shock waves in the press, with photographs of the three racketeers on the front page. To reduce the chances of a repeat, Aunt Ada offers a home for homeless waifs. Flossie finds her shop is now even more popular and people keep asking her to tell the story over and over.

Thoughts

The racket is not unlike the one in Girl 2’s “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”, in which a racket targets and kidnaps runaways and uses them as slave labour in a dress factory. The ways in which the children are kidnapped in both stories is very similar (lured away by false charity before being thrown into a vehicle and carted off to the slave factory) although one is set in Victorian times and the other in modern times.

Where are the Children 3

Unlike Nightmare Factory, this story is not told from the point of view of the abducted children and their struggle to survive, escape and expose the racket. It is told from the point of view of the people who are trying to find them. This gives the slave story the perspective of a detective story and a mystery that needs to be unravelled and a different take on the group slave story formula, which makes a nice change.

Again unlike Nightmare Factory, the abductees are lucky that the disappearances are noticed as soon as they start and alert people. The racketeers clearly played on the notion that nobody cared about homeless waifs, so nobody would even notice they were gone. If Wilkes has anything to go by, they may even have justified their actions in their own minds with the excuse they were doing the waifs and society a favour by clearing them off the streets and giving them employment. Of course the real reason is greed and making handsome profits by using slave labour instead of paid (if cheap) help. But they made the mistake of taking children who were not homeless waifs, such as Frankie Ludd, which did get noticed and raised the alarm. (This mistake is similar to the one the racketeers in Nightmare Factory eventually make.) The racketeers also made the mistake of assuming nobody would care about the waifs. There were people who did, including Flossie and the police.

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Flossie would make the old tried-and-true serial of a poor girl who rises above her poverty to become a great success through her talent for floristry if DCT had gone down that avenue with her. Instead, they give her the perfect vantage point to turn detective on behalf of the police in tracking down the disappeared children. Flossie has the best of both worlds for the job, with her slum origins that enable her to investigate the slums and her floristry reputation and connections to high society that enable her to investigate the gentry. She picks up clues at both ends, without which the police would never have cracked the case. And Flossie did it so well that none of the racketeers realised the florist and the slum girl were one and the same. The flowers do their part as well. Arranging them gives Flossie access to the homes of the gentry to do investigating, and Flossie’s trademark buttonhole flowers enable her to leave a call for help on the cruel overseer without making him suspicious.

Unfortunately the Courtney racketeers put on such convincing shows of respectability that Flossie did not suspect them. Flossie was completely fooled by Miss Courtney’s conduct of being a prim old maid who was so absorbed with her house, while her brother Algernon never seemed to do anything other than read books. Flossie thought Miss Courtney had probably never even heard of homeless waifs, much less know anything about the missing ones. When Flossie finds Miss Courtney out, she learns the hard way that appearances can be so deceiving. Fortunately Warby-Bellowes was not as clever as the Courtneys and made mistakes that made Flossie suspicious.

If Flossie had been a serial, there was scope to use her in more detective stories on behalf of the police, using her slum background to move among the slum areas, her floristry to probe the gentry, and leave flower trails for the police to follow. But she was a picture story library, which have few sequels.

The Girl in the Mask / The Mask

Plot

After Dorinda Lacey’s parents die, she is taken in by her wealthy Aunt Clara. Aunt Clara tells Dorinda she is frightfully ugly. So Dorinda has to wear a mask at all times and every mirror in the house save the one in Aunt Clara’s room is removed.

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Notes

  • Artist: Claude Berridge

Appeared

  • The Girl in the Mask:  Mandy: #875 (10 October 1983) – #890 (4 February 1984)
  • Reprinted as The Mask – M&J: #58 (20 June 1992) – #73 (3 October 1992)

 

The Flight of the Bird Girl

Plot

In 1645, during the English Civil War, thirteen year old Beth Verney was separated from ‘her parents, Sir Francis and Lady Verney, during a Roundhead attack on their home. “Roundheads” was the nickname given to the followers of Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the enemies of the King. Beth was befriended by old  Mother Shapton who possessed a strange power over birds, which she passed on to Beth before she was accidentally killed. Beth learned that her parents were at Skipton Castle, and with Sparky, Mother Shapton’s tame raven, she set out to find them.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Flight of the Bird Girl – Mandy: #361 (15 December 1973) – #370 (16 February 1974)

Tara’s Terrible Twin / RoseMary

  • Tara’s Terrible Twin – Mandy: #824 (30 October 1982)  – #843 (12 March 1983)
  • Artist: Dudley Wynne
  • RoseMary – Nikki: #52 (15 February 1986) – #72 (5 July 1986)

Plot

Both of these stories involve a troublesome girl moving to a new town and pretending to be good and nice, while inventing a twin to do all the bad things she wants. Tara (in Tara’s Terrible Twin) pretends to be Terry to get back at people she thinks has done her wrong, while Rose (in RoseMary)invents Mary when she wants to cause trouble. They tell people their other twin goes to other school, because their parents want to keep them separated. They also take advantage of being the “nice twin”  and gain sympathy from classmates about having to deal with such a terrible sister. Even the way they change their looks are similar – both wear school uniforms usually, but change to casual clothes and spike up their hair as the bad twin. Although the main plot is the same, the weekly events and different endings make them distinct.

terry       mary

Tara’s Terrible Twin

Tara Young enjoys a lot of aspects of pretending to be nice, with her parents also believing she has changed, they are more lenient with her, such as allowing her to stay out late. It’s not always to her advantage though, as sometimes she ends up in situations where she has to help out, as she is supposed to be sweet and nice. Of course she gets back at the person she helped by venting as Terry, but she still gets annoyed at having to pretend to be nice at times.

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In one instance, Tara has found out a classmate, Sally,  is secretly working at a fish shop. The school does not approve of pupils taking part time jobs, so when a teacher asks Sally to help with the library after school she asks Tara to cover for her. Tara not able to say no, in case she blows her cover, spends her evening working and planning her revenge on Sally.  She later visits the shop as Terry before it closes and orders loads of fish then says she doesn’t want them and thrashes the place

Tara continues to terrorize people she believes have done her wrong even when that person isn’t directly involved, such as the time a prefect scolds Tara and she gets back at her younger sister. But not everyone buys into Tara’s act and one girl, Rosemary, begins to get suspicious; if Terry doesn’t get along with Tara then why is she going after people that may have upset Tara? Rosemary gets solid evidence when she catches Terry changing back to Tara, but before she can act on it her family move suddenly when her father has to start a new job. Even after this Tara’s not in the clear as Rosemary sends a letter to her classmates to tell them what she found out but Tara manages to gets to it first and destroy it.

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This is not the only time Tara nearly gets caught.  She is again annoyed that she has to help with teas/coffees because her classmate, Fiona, has to help with her visiting cousin. She catches up with Fiona as Terry, but when she changes back into Tara she finds the cousin staring at her. She expects a big blowup at school but is surprised when everyone is still acting friendly. Then Fiona introduces Tara to her cousin, who is blind, so Tara has yet another lucky escape! Another classmate Barbara gets suspicious and tries to set up Tara, by telling her about a party and waiting to see if Terry shows up to spoil it. Tara having heard the plan knows she can’t have Terry ruin things but she does get back at Barbara later.

When it comes to class elections, Tara thinks she’s actually in with a chance as she has friends and people like her. She is jealous when Sylvia wins instead, she is so distracted by this jealousy that she ends up burning her self in cooking class. Of course she doesn’t take any responsibility for this and blames Sylvia for her accident. She thinks it is time for Sylvia to meet Terry! She is surprised that Sylvia isn’t scared of Terry and actually tries to befriend and help her. Then Sylvia sees the burn mark on Terry’s arm and knows she is Tara. She tells her to clear off, and goes home trying to think of a story to make up to explain it, it turns out her parents have news for her though – her dad has been offered a new job. Again Tara thinks she has escaped and pleased that her family have to move quickly due to the job transfer(her parents actually think she’ll be sad to leave all her friends – little do they know!).

Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t recognize the name of the town they move to – Tinsford. She immediately sets up her scheme again when meeting her new classmates telling them about her awful twin Terry. When one girl annoys her, she decides she needs to be visited by Terry, she gets a shock when the girl is surrounded by friends and they all laugh at her. Then Rosemary appears, she has told everyone about what Tara did at their last school and she is not going to get away with it here. So Tara ends up friendless and alone – a deserving punishment!

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RoseMary

Rose Bolder also  takes enjoyment of using her “twin” Mary to wreck havoc, while she puts on the innocent act. She also plays up a lot on people’s sympathies with how hard it is dealing with her twin, this way she can get them to do things for her. In one episode she tears up her workbook and tells the others that Mary did it, so a sympathetic classmate allows her to copy her homework. While Rose does like scaring people, she isn’t out to intentionally hurt anyone. When one girl hurts herself running away from Mary, she thinks she didn’t mean for that to happen, but that is the only glimmer of decency we see in Rose, she is soon delighted that it means she gets a place on the hockey team instead.  Sometimes her scheme backfires on her, like her classmates deciding not to tell Rose about party or a picnic in case Mary shows up. Rose is of course very angry when she overhears the plans and makes sure Mary gets revenge, while continuing to pretend to know nothing about it herself!

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Like Tara, Rose also has some close calls with people nearly catching her lies. One girl is not going to tolerate being bullied without doing anything and tells Mary she will be informing her parents. Rose has to convince her parents to go out that evening so she can be there to answer the phone. She disguises her voice and reassures the girls parents that Mary will be punished. Another time all the girls decide to confront Mary, Rose tells them Mary found out about their plan and pushed her into a rockery and her parents have sent Mary away for few days. This also deters the girls from confronting Mary again as they don’t want Rose to get hurt. One girl Helen gets suspicious when Rose and Mary coincidentally get injured in same place, but Rose is too crafty and manages to turns the others against her and Helen ends up transferring schools to get away. Rose does so well at deceiving people that even on a school trip, when they run into her old classmates the others don’t believe the bad things they say about Rose and stick up for her. Another person gets suspicious, Amanda, she does not doesn’t take kindly to bullies and stands up to Mary. She also thinks Rose is very crafty so she wants to make sure she has proof to her theory before she challenges her.

Amanda finds an ally and together they trick Rose into confessing. Rose believe’s Amanda is trying to take a photo of her changing into Mary and tells her she is too smart for that, but in fact it’s a bluff by Amanda as she knew Rose would be looking for camera, she actually records their conversation. Amanda and others, go to confront Rose at  her house, she is dressed up pretending to be Mary when her mother comes home and hears everything. Mrs Bolder is upset that Rose’s attitude change has all been faked. Her parents decide the must send her to special school, where she won’t be able to pull her tricks. A few days later, the girls look on as the family move away, Rose shows no remorse, the girls feel sorry for the Bolders and Amanda also feels sorry for Rose because people like her can never really be happy.

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Thoughts

Certainly there were many stories with two faced girls, pretending to be nice, while really being nasty, but I don’t think there is many that actually went so far to invent a whole other person to do their dirty work! It’s not that uncommon to have similar stories but for this very specific plot to be used twice in 3 years seems a little unusual, although as they were in two different publications this could be justified! From memory, I did at first confuse the two and thought that RoseMary was a reprint of Tara’s Terrible Twin with a different artist, but it was on rereading I saw the different situations.

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The title’s are interesting, “Tara’s Terrible Twin” keeps up the traditional use of alliteration, and I like the “RoseMary” title particularly for it’s clever title card, that distinguishes the two names. Both stories are quite episodic throughout the run, (probably due t their long length 20 and 21 episodes respectively) but have good strong endings. Overall I think Tara’s Terrible Twin has the slight edge,  the use of Rosemary suspecting Tara over several issues is quite effective, especially as she ends up being her downfall in the end, after making the reader think that she was no longer a problem for Tara. Meanwhile Rose has some close calls but the ongoing suspicion from Amanda is only at the end, you get the feeling that Rose’s downfall is close, though there was a nice build up so it wasn’t just wrapped up in the last episode.

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I also like how Tara ends up having to give up her time to help people  because of her nice act. She is a very selfish person and any problems she blames on others, such as being “forced” to help. She shows ambition too and seems to think she is deserving more than she gets, such as when she wants to win student council. She is jealous of Sylvia and doesn’t see why she should win over her. It’s clear to the reader why Sylvia would win as she is a genuine and considerate person, which is proven when she actually tries to reach out to Terry and support her. It could have been interesting if  Tara had accepted her help, even after her secret was revealed. Instead she is happy to escape to a new town, where she ends up alone and the one chance that someone could have taken the time and help redeem her is gone.

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In RoseMary, throughout the story – Rose, while she does get back at people she believes wronged her, she doesn’t seem to be as vindictive as Tara and let her anger fester, she really just seems to get most enjoyment from causing trouble. Like Tara she does show some ambition as she enjoys sport and does want to get onto the hockey team. Not only does she not show any regard for her classmates, she has no sympathy for her parents either. Again she only thinks about what she can get from them and doesn’t care that they are upset and disappointed in her when her lies are revealed.

Both girls get the ending deserving to them, they’ve caused so much trouble the reader must be happy to see the girls get what’s coming to them. Still there can’t be a complete feeling of satisfaction by the endings, as the last panels show reasons the readers should sympathize. In Tara’s Terrible Twin the last panel (along with the closing caption) shows Tara looking dejected and alone, leading us to think she may not be as tough and uncaring as she likes to portray. In contrast, Rose still has an uncaring attitude at the end she believes even in a new school she’s clever enough to outsmart the teachers, the readers must feel bad for her parents at least, but even Amanda expresses that girls like Rose are also deserving of our pity.

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Damian Darke

  • Damian Darke– Spellbound: #01 (25 Sep. 1976) – #68 (07 Jan. 1978) [not in every issue]
  • Damian Darke– Debbie: #258 (21 Jan. 1978) –  (?)
  • Damian Darke– Mandy: #841 (26 Feb. 1983) – (?)
  • Edited reprints as Midnight Mystery – Nikki: #165 (16 April 1988) – #220 (6 May 1989)
  • Artists: Various

Plot

damian darkeDamian Darke is a storyteller of  strange and spooky stories. We don’t get  background on where he came from or how he knows such stories, but they seem to be documented in a large book that he keeps with him. He has a very distinctive look, dressed in old fashioned clothes and always accompanied by a raven. While Damian Darke introduces each story and usually had a closing statement about it, each story had it’s own individual title. The  stories were varied from cursed objects, ghost stories, timeslips and other strange occurrences. A List of stories  can be found  here.

I’m going to discuss ten of my own favourite Damian Darke stories here (listed alphabetically rather than a particular ranking).

1.  A Spoonful of Evil…. [Spellbound: #43] 

Carol loves going to auctions, one of her latest purchases is some old cutlery and her flatmate Sue chides for buying such junk. The next day, Carol and Sue are enjoying soup together when suddenly Sue takes ill. It seems to be some sort of food poisoning but Carol has not been effected. Once Sue has recovered she brushes it off as a bug and even is happy to try some soup again, but then Carol falls ill. The doctor is called again, and surprises the girls by asking if he can bring back a friend of his, an expert on local history. The girls can’t see how that could help but agree. The historian asks to exam their cutlery, his suspicions are confirmed when he finds a spoon with the devil’s head stamped on it.

spoonful-of-evil He then tells Sue the story of a Silversmith who claimed to have seen the devil and made a bargain with him, 12 innocent souls in exchange for his. He made a dozen spoons with the devil head mark and into the silver he mixed a deadly poison so that if the spoons were used twice, it was fatal. After 12 people had died from the poisoning he tried to recover the spoons but only found three. Now that the fourth has been found, Damian Darke ends with a warning that eight of the deadly spoons are still out there and asks the reader have they examined the spoons in their kitchen recently…

I like this story, the girls are lucky to have shared the spoon, although one could say they were unlucky to find it in the first place! It is one of those stories where it is not a person that needs a learn a lesson, but an unfortunate happenstance, which is scarier in a way! I like also in the story of the silversmith, it is left vague to whether he did actually see the Devil – the doctor in telling the story says he “imagined” seeing him. We don’t know whether there was some supernatural instance, and what the Silversmith may have done originally to get the attention of the devil, although it seems he was certainly capable of murder. It could have easily have been just a delusion by the man, with deadly consequences.  That we are still left wondering where the other eight spoons are, is also a troubling and compelling ending. (Although in a Nikki reprint they make it the twelfth spoon, taking away some of the fear)

2. Another Pair of Hands…  [Spellbound: #54]

Abigail Barton and her Aunt Ruth move to a remote cottage which was a long walk to the nearby village. Still they are happy with the cottage, but for some reason they are unable to find a housemaid willing to work at the cottage. When Ruth falls sick, it is up to Abigail to keep things running as she doesn’t want to worry her aunt. The work is taking it’s toll on Abigail though and exhausted she falls asleep in the kitchen. She is woken surprised by a young woman, who introduces herself as Biddy Breen and is there to offer her services. Abigail is delighted by the work Biddy does although she is puzzled by why she is always gone in the morning before she gets up.

When the doctor comes to visit Ruth he is happy to see her recovered and rested. Abigail tells him they have got help from a girl Biddy Breen, which shocks him. He tells them Biddy Breen used to work in the cottage but one dark night wandered off the road and was drowned. Finding out the place is haunted, Ruth immediatly wants to pack up and leave, but Abigail persuades her to stay , she tells her Biddy has been a good friend to them and she believes she can get her to leave. That night she stays up until Biddy appears, she thanks her for her help but tells her she can rest now.  Damian tells us Biddy’s  ghost was never seen again and in time the village people stopped fearing the cottage and the Barton’s lived there happily.

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Not all the stories had to have some evil presence, here Biddy is not a ghost to be feared as she is kind spirit who wants to help. Although people still fear the unknown, the village people don’t want to come near the cottage because of the rumors of it being haunted and even Aunt Ruth knowing the help Biddy has given her first instinct is still to run away. It is only Abigail that acknowledges that Biddy has been a friend to them and she also returns the favor by releasing Biddy so she can rest in peace.

3. Behind the Green Door  [Spellbound:  #15]

In 1850, siblings Grace and John were sent out to sell matchboxes every day by their brutish stepfather, who kept all the money they made for himself. In extra money they do make Grace makes sure to hide it away so they can save up to run away from their stepfather. One day when they are out, John can’t resist taking a look behind  a green door that’s ajar. It opens up to a beautiful garden, even more surprising several well dressed people welcome them to join them for tea. They also seem to know their names and give the children money as they leave and invite them back the next day.

Their stepfather, Sykes, is suspicious of what they have been up to as they seem happy, so he follows them the next day. He catches them at the green door and shoves them aside to enter. He is in for a shock though, as unlike the children he doesn’t come across a garden instead he finds himself in the path of a carriage. Grace and John have no means to follow him as the Green door disappeared as Sykes went through. When they go home, they find out that Sykes was killed after he stepped out in front of a runaway dray horse. They are puzzled and they never find the green door again but they live a happier life with Sykes gone.

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There’s some lovely artwork here (it’s the same artist as recent post Little Dolly Demon). When Grace and John find the garden it is quite exquisite with fountains and peacocks. There is a nice contrast of what the people see as they go through the door, and certainly Sykes, terrified look as the carriage come from the fog is very effective. The mysterious door is not explained but it does seem to judge those that go through it – Grace and John are rewarded, while Sykes meets only death.

4. Day of Vengeance  [Spellbound:  #17]

Many years ago, Old Hannah a clothes cleaner, was an irritable and sharp-tongued woman, only one girl; Margot, befriended her. One day while washing clothes, Old Hannah staring into the water suddenly told Margot to run to the men working in the filed near the mountains and to warn them to run as they were in danger. At first the men don’t listen to Margot but when Old Hannah appears something in her voice makes them listen. They are saved before the a giant rockfall comes crashing down. One man Herr Bauer takes special interest in Old Hannah’s premonition an visits her trying to persuade her that working together they could make a profit with her talents. Hannah tells home she rarely gets visions and only talks of them if there is danger and she has no interest in his greed.

Herr Bauer doesn’t take this well, he soon turns the village against Hannah, saying that having a witch in their midst is the cause of disasters such as crops failing. The villagers riled up and went to attack Hannah and burn her cottage down. Despite Margot’s efforts to save her Hannah is stoned and left on the mountain to die. Even then the villagers aren’t sated, seeing how upset Margot is, they begin to question if she was too close to the witch and should be banished. The elders decide to meet to discuss the matter. That night Margot is surprised to hear Hannah out beating clothes, she rushes to see her but then realises she is a ghost, beating 12 bloody clothes and singing a terrifying song. At the elder’s meeting a few days later, the building collapses killing the 12 men, so Old Hannah has her revenge and protects Margot.

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The greed of one man who was quite willing to use Hannah’s supernatural powers for his own means, quickly turns to a righteousness when he is rejected. That he is able to turn the villagers against a woman who saved their lives, shows who quickly fear and superstition can be aroused particularly in the time period the story it is set. Bad enough the fate of Old Hannah but that they then turn their attentions to Margot for trying to help Hannah is unforgivable. Which Old Hannah obviously thinks too and the very creepy image of her beating the clothes, lets us know that she should never have been crossed.

5. Horror in Haunted Woods  [Debbie: #324]

Sue, Karen and Christy are doing a school project about  local legends and get help from knowledgeable Mrs Rivett. She tells them the legend of how the local wood got the name Dog Wood. In the 17th century, the ashes of a witch who’d been burned at the stake were buried under the tallest tree in the wood along with ashes of her two pet dogs. People believed if anyone was to touch the Witch’s Firtree, the Dog-People, half men and half beasts,would rise from their graves to destroy them. On the way home Karen and Christy make Sue touch the tree. She is not worried, she believes what Mrs Rivett told her superstitious people got hurt because they frightened themselves so much.
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A few nights later Sue sees dogs at the window, she tries to  to shoo them but then sees they only have the head of a dog, she is terrified that the dog-people have come to destroy her. Her parents don’t believe her telling it was a dream. But the next day cycling home she sees them again she falls from her bike and is chased, she ends up at the Witch Fir where she sees a figure beneath the tree. Sue thinks her days are numbered and that it is the witch returned, but then it is revealed to be Mrs Rivett. She calls out to the dog people telling them they should be ashamed of scaring the girl, it is then revealed that it is Karen and Christy in masks. They only meant it as a joke, but Mrs Rivett harshly reprimands them. She helps Sue back to her bike and she reassures her, that she needn’t worry about old wive’s tales and if there were such things as ghosts, she believes they would just be ordinary people who would come back to help anyone in trouble. Sue is comforted by this, she tells her parents when she gets home, but they inform her it couldn’t have been Mrs Rivett that helped her as she died from a heart-attack that morning!

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There is some very frightening imagery with the dog people, even though it turns out to be a prank, it’s easy to see how Sue could be so terrified. Mrs Rivett helping her and telling her that maybe ghost just come back to help people is a bittersweet ending as clearly Sue had great admiration for the woman is upset by her death, very well captured with her expression and the tear in the last panel.

6. Mystery at Howlen Hall  [Spellbound:  #21]

Prudence Vane goes to visit her cousin Marella who had wrote to invite her to spooky house she had bought. Marella a flighty young lady was quite excited at the prospect of a ghost hunt. When Prudence arrives at Howlen Hall, she is told Marella has gone travelling and the housekeeper Dorcas does not seem keen for her to stay. When Prudence mentions the ghost, Dorcas seems surprised, then denies that there is a ghost and says Marella was just having a joke. That night Prudence is woken from her sleep by a moaning noise. She goes to investigate, she finds what appears to be Marella’s room and sees all her jewels are there, she begins to worry something is terribly wrong  as Marella wouldn’t travel without her jewels.

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Prudence investigates the house further and is startled by the sudden appearance of an old white haired woman. Dorcas arrives and tells her the woman is just  an old family dependent and Prudence should go back to bed. Prudence is not happy with whatever is going on, Dorcas swears Marcella is safe and gives her word that the truth will be revealed the next day. The following morning, Prudence confronts Dorcas and asks her if the old woman was a ghost. She was no instead she is revealed to be Marcella. It seems that one night Marcella decided she wanted to raise the ghost of Howlen Hall, when the servants returned they found her looking like an old woman and her mind gone. Being so wealthy Dorcas wanted to make sure Prudence was a real friend before revealing the truth. Damian Darke ends telling us Marella never recovered and serves as a warning to those who would delve into unknown forces.

I like the mystery of this story, the twist at the end was unexpected and although we never see how Marcella came to be the way she is, the warning is clear!

7.  Mystery on the Moors  [Debbie #258]

Sally and Pat were spending time hiking in the Yorkshire moors. On their way back to town, they decide to wait for the last bus so they get back before dark. While their waiting, Pat runs down to the nearby stream to freshen up, meanwhile a hearse pulls up to the bus stop and the driver offers her a lift. Sally goes to fetch Pat, but he is gone by the time they get back, Pat thinks he must have got tired of waiting. Soon the bus comes along and Pat is shocked the driver is the same as the man she saw before. She shoves Sally off the bus and tells him they were mistaken they don’t want that bus. Sally is mad at her telling her she has taken the joke  too far. They set off walking towards town, Sally grumbling along the way when they are passed by police cars and ambulances. They come across the scene of the accident, it seems the bus’s brakes failed coming down the hill. The girls had a lucky escape due to the unusual warning!

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8. Swamp of Evil  [Spellbound:  #7]

Wicked  money-lender Jethro Stern, is delighted to get an invitation to Lady Gladwell’s house. Having heard rumors of her falling on hard times since her her husbands death, he plots to get her house. While dining with Lady Gladwell he also mentally makes inventory of the fine things around him, one painting draws his eye – in it three men drown in a swamp, it makes Jethro’s blood run cold. He tries to concentrate on Lady Gladwell’s conversation as she asks about a possibility of a loan. Noticing his interest in the painting, she invites him to look at the rest of her collection of paintings. He brings him to a room of many strange paintings of Jethro’s victims such as Sammy who was crippled and couldn’t work and Mrs Watson who died in a workhouse.

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Jethro is disturbed by the paintings and Lady Gladwell tells him she is not having money problems but brought him here to ask him to release his hold on the poor town folk and leave forever. But Jethro will not tear up his arrangements, she tells him it’s a pity he has made that choice and leads him to the door. Jethro is eager to get away from Gladwell, but he soon finds himself lost in a fog and slowly realizes he seems to be in the Swamp of Evil painting. The next day a servant Mary is cleaning when she notices that the painting now has four figures one of which looks suspiciously like Jethro Stern.

Again the art is very well done here capturing the creepy atmosphere. Jethro Stern certainly seems to be deserving of his punishment. He also gets more of a chance at mercy than others, but he rejects his chance of redemption.

9. The Cavalier’s Cloak  [Spellbound: #37]

Judy and her family were spending Christmas at an old Quaker Cottage. While exploring Judy finds a portrait, with a man wearing a cavalier cloak which is surprising since they are in a Roundhead area. That night Judy is woken by knocking at the door and someone asking to be let in. She goes out to investigate but can’t see anyone, the door slams behind her and she is left out in the cold. An old man approaches her and offers his cloak to shield her from the cold.  She asks if it was him calling out, he says no but tells her a story of the family that lived in the house.

One evening Prudence and her father hear knocking at the door, they find what they think is a royalist, Prudence wants to help but her father does not. Then it turns out to be his son John who had gone fighting for Cromwell, his father is even more repelled at the thought of his son being a turncoat and shuts the door on him without listening to explanation. Prudence can’t sleep listening to John’s continued feeble knocking. She goes out to John, he explains that  a young Royalist soldier fatally wounded gave him the cloak to protect him from the cold. Prudence says she knew he wasn’t a traitor but when they go to return to the house the door has locked behind them. They knock at the door but their father remains stubborn, ignoring the knocking thinking John must learn the error of his ways. He is horrified the next morning to find both his children dead from the cold.

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The man tells Judy that since that night the cottage has been haunted, he reveals himself to be Issac Bunyan the father (and man from the painting) and he has worn the cavalier’s cloak everyday since as penance for his cruelty. He then disappears as Judy’s father comes to the door wondering what Judy is doing outside wearing a tattered rug.

10. Whisper, Whisper… [Spellbound:  #11]

In 1931, Marcia Walton finds a charming cottage for sale cheaply  due to it’s dreadful history. Marcia is not superstitious and is happy to buy it. She starts redecorating and when she finds a mirror in the attic she cleans it up and hangs it above the fireplace. A few weeks a young squire, Mr Martin, is worried when no-one has seen Marcia in some time. He investigates and finds her on the floor thin and drawn and muttering about voices. It turns out the mirror was made by a poor craftsman for a wicked duke who killed him rather than pay him a fair price. Since then the owners of the mirror had been tormented by endless hateful whispering. Not only that but whoever destroy the mirror will never be free of the curse. Marcia also notes it would be evil to give the mirror to anyone else but Mr Martin thinks he has a solution.

Marcia is upset when she sees Mr Martin give the mirror to an old woman, she tries to take it back as she’d rather live with the curse than let a sweet old woman suffer. But then the woman stops her and asks her to write an explanation as she is completely deaf. Then Marcia understands the squire wasn’t being cruel it is in fact the perfect solution as the old woman would never hear the whispers. Damian Darke does muse that it happened many years ago and the mirror must be out there somewhere maybe in an attic waiting to be found.

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It’s interesting that the cursed object can’t be gotten rid of. Most stories with cursed objects involved some way to break the curse or at least destroying the object would end it. How they solve this problem is a very clever and unexpected.

Final Thoughts

Continuing with the eerie stories for the Halloween season, Damian Darke certainly delivers on the spooky, dark and twisting stories. As discussed before the spooky storyteller was certainly common used to tell short stories. Damian Darke is particularly similar to Diana‘s The Man in Black, which isn’t surprising as Spellbound seemed to be influenced a lot by that comic. Damian Darke proved to be popular enough to survive two mergers, first with Debbie then with Mandy (although the Mandy stories seem to be mostly repeats). Some stories were also reprinted in Nikki, but Damian Darke was edited out and they came under the name Midnight Mystery. Damian Darke also appeared in several Debbie Picture Story Library books. It’s easy to see why it lasted Storytellers were quite a favored story device and the series produced many engaging stories as well as having some terrific artwork.

 

I Wish…

  • I Wish…. – Mandy PSL:  #194  (1994)

Plot

I wish 1Helen West is an optimistic kind girl who likes to help people. She is well known around her village as she helps out at youth club and does a paper round. At the end of her paper round she reads to an old lady Mrs Stone, as well as doing small jobs for her. When Mrs Stone asks her if she could have anything in the world what would she want, Helen again shows how appreciative she is of her life, she wants for nothing – she has loving parents, a good home and friends.  The one thing she does say is that she would like to make people’s wishes come true but she knows that’s a silly dream. Not long after this conversation Mrs Stone dies and surprises Helen by leaving her nearly half million pounds that will be distributed to those of Helen’s choosing anonymously through a solicitor, Mr Benson. She wanted to make Helen’s dream of being a fairy godmother come true.

The first wish to grant is clear to Helen, when the struggling youth club’s roof collapses. Helen not only pays for repairs but also buys new equipment for the club. But she is a bit worried that the “mystery benefactor”  catches the attention of local reporter Danny Lions. She continues doing her good work getting young Kevin Jones a mountain bike for his birthday, pensioners food parcels and paying for a girl Jenny  to go for life saving operation in America.  Then one of her wishes backfires as Kevin is knocked down by a car. Mrs Jones is upset, she knew he was too young for bike, and Helen feels terrible as she never thought that Mrs Jones had safety reasons for not getting Kevin a bike, it wasn’t just about money.

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Meanwhile Danny is  still persistent with his investigation. Due to his meddling the newspaper, hints that Major Vincent may be benefactor, as his granddaughter is a youth club member. This causes more drama as undeserving people try to wheedle money off the Major.  At this point Helen hears of genuine case when she gets talking to Tom Grayson’s mother. Tom had an accident and lost his job but when she sends a cheque his pride won’t allow him to take the money, and he is ashamed to think that his mother went begging even though she denies it. His refusal to accept help also upsets his wife and Helen is upset that another one of her “wishes” has caused more problems.

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Even when things go right like when Helen replaces a wedding dress that was burnt in a fire,  there are still others that aren’t happy as they  think it’s a frivolous expense.   Danny begins to get suspicious of Helen, after reporting on a 100 year old woman wanting to fly, and seeing Helen waving the woman off after the mystery benefactor has paid for flights. Yet another donation doesn’t go as planned when helping church repairs fund reach its target, the vicar is disappointed because the point was to bring community together. By now she is having doubts about whether to continue her work Mr Benson convinces her to give it another shot. Helen brings a family home from Australia for parents anniversary, only the other siblings are not so happy to see people they perceive to have abandoned their family turn up out of the blue. This is final straw for Helen and she decides to donate the rest of the money to set up a talking books library. Danny Lions is there to hear this reveal and unmasks her but other than some surprised people this doesn’t have a negative impact on Helen and she is relieved to no longer be “fairy godmother”.

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Thoughts

With the best of intentions, Helen sets out to help people, but unfortunately she doesn’t always put thought into the consequences. It is understandable as a 15 year old girl would not have the experience of an adult, so she wouldn’t think of safety concerns for a child on a bike or that a proud man may find charity insulting. Although somethings do go wrong, it’s not to diminish the things that go right, and all in all i think she does more good than bad.

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The biggest difficult for Helen is having such responsibility put upon her with little support.  She only has Mr Benson to confide in and at the same time she has added pressure of trying to keep her donations secret from a nosy reporter. Surprising that there isn’t much consequences for being revealed as the benefactor, perhaps because at that stage, Helen doesn’t have more money to give away, so won’t be pestered by people. Other than the youth club, we don’t see the reaction of people she helped, once the secret’s out. It would be safe to assume most would be grateful, or understanding if things didn’t turn out great.

There’s a nice build up to the story, it’s established what kind of person Helen is, it shows donations working out for the better before some turn out bad. We also have Danny snooping around and Helen trying to keep her secret to add more tension to the plot. It’s interesting that at the start of the story Mrs Stone tells Helen “Your kindness is worth all the money in the world”. This does prove to be the case, Helen is a good person, she doesn’t need money herself to make her happy and she discovers money may help  others but doesn’t solve all problems either.