Tag Archives: bully teachers

The Four Marys in Four Great Stories! [1994]

Published: Bunty Picture Library #372

Artist: Barrie Mitchell

Writer: Unknown

Story 1: The Sad Schoolgirl

It looks like the resident snobs, Mabel and Veronica, are bullying a new first year, Abigail. Fieldy finds it a bit hard to believe Mabel and Veronica would bully first years while Simpy says the snobs have been behaving worse than usual. The snobs themselves deny it, but the evidence mounts against them and they get detention.

Then Abigail’s music box is stolen and found in the snobs’ study, so they going to be expelled. The snobs protest their innocence, and Raddy can’t quite believe the snobs would steal, even if they are not very nice. The Four Marys find it a bit odd that Abigail’s parents are being sent for as well as the snobs’.

Fieldy forms a theory. She tells Abigail there’s been a change of plan: her parents are not coming and the snobs are getting another chance. She then has the Four Marys keep watch that night, and they catch Abigail planting her purse in the snobs’ study. Abigail admits she faked everything because she did not like the school and was trying to get her parents to remove her. The Four Marys have Abigail confess to Mrs Mitchell. Soon after, the Four Marys watch Abigail leave and comment that Abigail got what she wanted in leaving the school, but she is leaving in disgrace. The snobs don’t thank the Four Marys for saving them, but the Four Marys were expecting that.

Thoughts

A similar Four Marys story (a flashback set in Victorian times) ran in one of the Bunty annuals. Unlike this story it ended happily, with the girl deciding to give St Elmo’s a chance and finding she liked it after all. The girl also had the grace not to frame any girl in particular for the ‘bullying’, as Abigail tried to do with the snobs. Getting someone expelled for something they didn’t do is despicable, even if it is someone who isn’t particularly nice. And all just to get what you want is pathetic. Abigail must have walked away with deep regrets as to what she did.

It is stretching things a bit as to how Fieldy managed to figure out Abigail was faking things. Maybe it was due to seeing it before – such as in the aforementioned flashback, perhaps?

Story 2: Boys at St Elmo’s!

St Bartoph boys are temporarily housed at St Elmo’s when their teachers come down with food poisoning (much to Miss Creef’s annoyance). The Four Marys find the boys are becoming a distraction because their presence is turning girls’ heads. Simpy complains nobody is turning up for hockey practice because of it. The other Marys are surprised to find Simpy later talking to James, the junior football captain, and suspect she has a fancy for him. It turns out Simpy was making arrangements with James to have a boy team play the girls in hockey practice to get their minds back on the game. But afterwards the Four Marys find they were not far wrong in assuming Simpy did have a fancy for James…

Thoughts

Aww, you just have to love the sight of boys in a Four Marys story! The Four Marys don’t often get the chance to meet boys, so it’s nice to see Simpy get it.

Story 3: Teacher Trouble

Miss Creef goes away on a course. The substitute teacher, Miss Wilson, is popular because her lessons are more fun than Miss Creef’s, and she even uses drama to help teach the girls the Industrial Revolution. Too bad Miss Wilson also takes an inexplicable dislike to one girl, Jenny Martin, and starts bullying her. Miss Wilson always gives Jenny failed marks on homework although Jenny did not shirk on it, and Jenny scores A’s and B’s with Miss Creef. Miss Wilson does not give proper explanations for the marks; she just says the homework was so awful she felt like ripping it up – and she actually does so at one point. In class she puts questions to Jenny in a harsh manner that makes Jenny too scared to think. Jenny becomes depressed and miserable and wonders if she has the problem.

Miss Wilson scowls when a girl mentions what a brilliant actress Jenny’s mother is. Realising it is a clue, the Four Marys check through entertainment pages in old newspapers and discover that years ago, Miss Wilson was passed over in a starring role for a stage production in favour of Jenny’s mother and was deeply disappointed about it. The Four Marys realise Miss Wilson is taking her old hurt out on Jenny and decide the only thing to do is report the matter to Mrs Mitchell.

After Mrs Mitchell speaks to both Miss Wilson and Jenny, Jenny thanks the Four Marys for their help while Miss Wilson, um, leaves St Elmo’s early. Miss Wilson’s bullying gives the girls a whole new appreciation for the strict, stuffy Miss Creef, which surprises her when she returns.

Thoughts

This is not a particularly new idea. One of “The Comp” Picture Story Libraries had a similar storyline, with a substitute teacher picking on Laura Brady in a far more spiteful manner than Miss Wilson because she had a long-standing grudge against Laura’s aunt. But a story about a bully teacher is always guaranteed to attract the readers because it’s so rooted in realism. The story’s got well thought-out dashes of realism, such as Jenny’s doubts about herself and wondering if it’s her fault.

It is a crying shame that Miss Wilson did turn bully teacher towards Jenny, as she is such a splendid teacher otherwise. Now she will have a blot on her record that will make it difficult to get another teaching job. If only she remembered that missing out on the role had nothing to do with Jenny and she should put the past aside.

Story 4: Mystery Girl

A new girl, Tara Brook, does not seem to be taking to St Elmo’s. She keeps quiet, shows little interest in the school, and is not setting out to make friends. The Four Marys invite her to their study to listen to tapes in the hope she will open up. She does for a while, but she closes up again when a Jez tape is suggested.

Then the Four Marys discover Jez’s real name is Gerard Brook, and they make the connection. Tara admits Jez is her brother, and he paid big money to send her to St Elmo’s. The trouble is, she misses her old school and friends and wants to return there. The Four Marys suggest Tara speak to her brother, but she says he’d be too upset. The Four Marys do it for Tara. Jez understands and allows Tara to transfer back to her old school. Jez gives the Four Marys some of his posters, tapes and records in gratitude for how good they were to Tara.

Thoughts

This picture story library begins and ends with new girls who can’t take to St Elmo’s and want to leave. At least Tara had more sense than Abigail and ended up leaving the right way – but telling someone how she felt – than by trying to do it by subterfuge. The Four Marys do well out of it too, meeting a pop star in person and getting presents from him!

School of Shadows (1995)

School of Shadows cover

Bunty Picture Library: #393

Published: 1995

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Plot

The pupils of Ratcliffe Park Boarding School are temporarily relocated to Ratcliffe Manor when their school needs repairs because of structural damage from flooding. There are whispers from a couple of pupils, Emma and Mags, that the manor is haunted. Sarah and Sally, the protagonists of the story, don’t take the rumours seriously. But they are disturbed when they see the portrait of the stern-looking Lavinia Wykes, whose family were the first owners of the manor, and marvel at what a contrast it is to Lavinia as a child in another portrait.

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Then the headmistress, Mrs Jonson, starts acting very strangely. Normally she is a kindly headmistress, but suddenly there are strange fluctuations in her behaviour. She starts turning into a Jekyll and Hyde character. At times she acts quite normally, but at other times she turns into a dragon, treating everyone in a manner that is not only extremely harsh but also Victorian in its thinking. She gives orders for the pupils to be served plain breakfasts consisting of dry bread and porridge. New rules are installed, and the girls are shocked and surprised at how severe they are: uniform to be worn at all times; no talking after lights out; no food in the dorms; no wandering around inside the house; and other rules listed that are not described. The caretaker doesn’t fare much better. When the school first arrives, Mrs Jonson tells him not to worry about cleaning the difficult-to-clean Victorian style windows. But then she does a very angry U turn, demanding they be cleaned “my good man!”

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Sally and Sarah put her behaviour down to the stress of the move, and Mrs Jonson is indeed taken ill. But when the deputy head, Miss Greg, takes over, she starts acting the same way. When Mrs Jonson returns, she seems to be herself again and even gives the girls pop posters for their dormitory. But soon the same thing starts again.

Things get weirder and weirder. When sent to the upstairs room for detention, Sally and Sarah rapidly discover there is something strange about it. It is inexplicably hot, and soon there are strange lights and voices crying “No! No! No!” in the room. In the school grounds they encounter a strange apparition and catch the words “…and I will not tolerate it!” in a voice they don’t recognise.

Sally and Sarah now think it is time to look up the history of the manor. They search newspapers in town, which yields information that the Wykes family built the manor as a private house. Thirty-five years later it was converted into a girls’ boarding school, with Miss Wykes as headmistress. Two years after that, a fire broke out in a dormitory, killing Miss Wykes and several pupils.

Now Sally and Sarah believe the manor really is haunted after all, and the ghost of Miss Wykes has possessed Mrs Jonson (and Miss Gregg during her brief stint as headmistress). When they tackle Mags for information on what she said about the manor, she says she was just embroidering rumours she had heard from her gran.

The abnormal change in Mrs Jonson gets worse and worse. She even starts looking like Miss Wykes, calls herself Miss Wykes, and redecorates her office in a Victorian style and switches to kerosene lamps because electric light hurts her eyes. She also gets flummoxed when she encounters computer technology, but then seems to recover herself and tackle it comfortably. She had given the girls posters to decorate the dorm with, but then tears them down when she turns into the dragon that seems to model itself on Miss Wykes.

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By now the headmistress’s behaviour has spread confusion and fear through the pupils. Because of it, they hate being at the manor and are desperate to go back to their own school. Sarah and Sally don’t want to start a panic by telling them what they think is happening, but they do take a third girl, Jane, into their confidence.

During another Wykes possession, Mrs Johnson scolds the girls for reading by candlelight in the dorm again – when there are no candles at all. At this, Jane, Sally and Sarah suspect that candles in the dorm started the fire.

They discover that records from the Wykes school are stored in the upstairs room – where the inexplicable heat, noises and lights are centred. That evening, they investigate the records, while the heat and noises start up again. They suspect this is because the original dormitory was located in the upstairs room, and where the fire started. A blueprint of the original school confirms their suspicions.

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They then come across a teacher’s journal, which lists the same set of rules that Mrs Jonson set up. The journal reveals that the fire was indeed started by pupils reading by candlelight in the dorm, which they often did because Miss Wykes frequently punished them by sending them to bed much too early. It goes on to say that the manor had been a sinister place since the fire and would have been better off burning right to the ground.

Then the girls discover that the day is an anniversary of the fire, which can only mean that something terrible is going to happen. Right on cue, the voices start up again and a notebook starts floating. They realise that another school on the premises must have been what sparked it all off. They head off to the headmistress’s office, hoping to convince her that they are in danger. As they do so, they feel they are being followed.

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They find no headmistress – but her office is on fire! They sound the fire alarm and the school evacuates. They hear another “No! No! No!” coming from the upstairs room, this time in Mrs Jonson’s voice. They find her in a very strange state, and she drops her lamp, which starts more fire that is not affected by fire extinguishers. The girls feel that these are not ordinary flames, and the fire brigade does not fare any better against them. This time the manor does burn to the ground, and the girls realise that the journal was right to say that it should – it is the only way to purge the ghosts. Mrs Jonson returns to normal and everyone is safe. The protagonists don’t dwell on wondering exactly what happened at the School of Shadows – they are just glad to see the end of it and return to their own school.

Thoughts

The harshness of old-style school discipline, particularly among principals who take it too far, or even let it turn into downright child abuse, has been a frequent one in girls’ comics. It often makes grim reading and a salutary lesson in not what to do in education. But when it is combined with the supernatural, as it is here, it makes for the most disturbing but compelling reading.

The haunting at the School of Shadows is all the more frightening and effective because the ghosts are kept obscure and it is never made clear just what the haunting is about. There are no supernatural beings actually appearing to frighten everyone, apart from the one in the grounds. No apparitions appear to speak to anyone, whether it is to make demands, threats, requests, or offer explanations and help. The ghost of Miss Wykes does not appear in person; you just get the impressions of both the ghost and the tyrannical headmistress it was in life, through its possession of Mrs Jonson. But this makes the haunting even scarier.

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The ghost in the grounds is the only apparition to actually appear in the story, but just what it is – it does not even look like Miss Wykes or the pupils who died in the fire – what it wants, or what it means by “And I will not tolerate it!” are not clear. It does not even bother to actually scare the girls; it just drifts by them as if they don’t exist. Its purpose in the story is difficult to understand and it does not square with who is supposed to be haunting the manor. One gets the impression that Bunty was gilding the lily a bit there.

However, there are few nice touches about the haunting of Miss Wykes. The first is the glimpse of her as a cute-looking child in one portrait that is such a contrast to the formidable, unsmiling headmistress she has become in the portrait that unnerves the girls. So often do these stern, hard teachers that we see in so many serials forget that they were once children themselves, just like the kids they rule with a fist of iron. And the reader also gets a reminder that a horrible headmistress was a child once – something you don’t see every day in girls’ comics.

There are also dashes of faint humour that the tyrannical ghost of Lavinia Wykes is getting a bit of 20th century culture shock while she possesses the body of Miss Jonson. One occurs in the computer room where she is completely thrown by all the computer technology, and we get the impression she had to retreat there and let Miss Jonson return. Another occurs in her office where she can’t bear modern electric lighting and insists on the old-fashioned lamps.

The girls don’t dwell on pondering exactly what went on at the manor, but we will take a moment to do so. First, there cannot be much doubt that the combination of the upcoming anniversary of the fire and the presence of another school on the premises was enough to stir up the ghosts. Plus, it must have been a miserable school with the harsh, intolerant Lavinia Wykes as headmistress (mind you, we have seen worse in girls’ comics).

It certainly looks like Lavinia Wykes was reliving her time as headmistress through her possession of Miss Jonson – but for what purpose? Was the past just replaying itself through the guest school because of the upcoming anniversary of the fire? Or did the ghost(s) have an ulterior motive? For example, did Lavinia Wykes want to relive her time as headmistress all over again? Or did she react badly to the sight of the modern, progressive school and its easy-going headmistress and set out to impose her ideas of discipline on the school? Clashes between strict old-fashioned schools and progressive modern schools have occurred before in girls’ comics, such as “The Girls of Liberty Lodge” in Tammy and “Dracula’s Daughter” in Jinty. If Lavinia Wykes had been alive, there would certainly have been feuds between her and Miss Jonson over the way a school should be run.

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Or were the ghosts out to exorcise themselves by recreating the past and then the fire? It is strange, the way the fire that destroys the manor does not seem to be an ordinary fire, and resists all attempts to extinguish it. But the ghosts don’t seem to be out to kill anyone with the fire, as there is no there is no attempt to stop them escaping with their lives.

There is no way to know for certain because there is not enough information given about the ghosts and their motives. Like the girls, we only know for certain that the ghost of Lavinia Wykes is no more by the end of the story, and are so glad.

 

 

 

Hard Times for Helen (1984-85)

Logo Hard Times for Helen

Artist: Bert Hill

Published: Judy: #1302 (22 December 1984) to #1312 (2 March 1985)

Plot

Helen Shaw’s widowed mother is awarded the Superworker Award for her charity work and becomes a local celebrity. But from the moment Mum wins the award, nothing seems to go right for Helen. Her life changes for the worse, both at home and at school.

First, being Superworker means increased workloads on Mrs Shaw, which leave her constantly overworked, exhausted, and having no time for other things, such as household chores or devoting time to Helen. Also, Helen finds herself constantly lumbered with the things her mother hasn’t time for (chores, housework, errands, meal preparation, shopping, favours etc), or can’t do because she has been called away to some other task. This begins to interfere with schoolwork, social life, friends, and even makes Helen frequently late for school. Mum takes it for granted that Helen will help out all the time, and never stops think that Helen has other commitments or may not be able to help. For example, she tries to force Helen to miss a rehearsal to help her out, although Helen is playing the lead. As a result, the teacher kicks Helen out of the production (and Helen arrives home too late to help her mother in any case).

Hard Times for Helen 5

Helen is also feeling neglected because her mother is scarcely home, and even when she is, she has no time for Helen. Mum is frequently overtired, still encumbered with heavy workloads that she expects Helen to help out with, and dashing out yet again to help someone else. Worse, a lot of the work comes from people who take advantage of Mum’s kindness and never refusing anyone’s request (in other words, unable to say “no”).

Finances also suffer because Mum is becoming over-generous. But she does nothing to curb her over-generosity, although she is keeps saying that she is terribly short of money and she must know the reason for it. Sometimes Helen even goes hungry because Mum is too busy to remember to replenish the larder and doesn’t leave money for it.

And there is a jinx that seems to dog Helen at every turn. It lands her in constant trouble with Mum and giving other people false impressions that she is jealous, lazy, badly behaved, and “not at all like her mother”. Sometimes it’s not able to help because other things get in the way, like people popping in with more favours to dump on Helen when she has other work to do already. Or it’s not able to get other things done, such as homework, because Mum lumbers her with other things to do. Other times, things just seem to go wrong whenever Helen tries to help out her mother. Helen frequently thinks that everything has gone wrong since her mother won the award and wishes she had never won it. Meanwhile, the constant trouble has Mum thinking her daughter is being “awkward” and unhelpful, and their relationship deteriorates.

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To make things even worse for Helen, everyone, from strangers in the street to the next-door neighbour, always compares her unfavourably and unfairly with her mother with the relentless criticism, “You’re not at all like your mother!” or variations thereof. By far the worst culprits are the staff at Helen’s school, with headmistress Miss Pringle being the leader of the pack. Some of the criticisms arise from misunderstandings and affected schoolwork caused by Superworker (for example, Helen being frequently late for school because of the jobs she gets lumbered with in the mornings). But in other cases Miss Pringle and the teachers seem to pounce on even the slightest thing to attack Helen with the criticism. Often these are things that have little to do with Helen’s mother or Superworker. Their conduct becomes more and more like bullying. Examples include:

  • (Helen is eating in the street) “I don’t care much for finding one of my pupils in the street like this! Really, Helen, you’re a disgrace to your mother!”
  • (Helen fails to deliver a message in time) “You stupid girl. You’re not at all like your mother!”
  • (Helen is distracted with worry while teacher is setting homework) “You’re not making a note of the homework I’m setting! Perhaps you have no intention of doing it? Really, Helen! You’re not at all like your mother!”
  • (Helen says she was trying to help her mother) “Your mother couldn’t possibly need help from you! You’ll never be like her!”
  • (Helen asks to be excused from a swimming match to look after her mother) “Helen objecting to something again, is she? It’s all she does. She’s not hardworking like her mother.”
  • (Finally) “Your mother’s giving up this evening to help my dramatic society, Helen. I suppose it would be too much to expect you’d be helping?”

And on top of the constant criticism there is the notion that Helen is jealous of her mother. This starts as a nasty rumour among Helen’s classmates, but soon spreads and is taken on board by the harsh school staff. And when Miss Pringle misinforms Mum about it and Helen’s so-called bad behaviour, Mum thinks it is the reason for Helen being so “awkward” and their strained relationship is poisoned further.

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Finally, when Mum wrongly blames Helen for a disturbance that wrecks a public demonstration, Helen reaches her limit. She snaps at Mum that she is fed up of everyone saying “You’re not at all like your mother!”. It doesn’t do Helen any good though – Mum still thinks Helen is behaving badly and just says it’s her own fault. But Helen’s outburst indicates that this is the penultimate episode and the final episode will be next.

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Sure enough, in the next episode everything comes to a head. Mum has gone to help Miss Pringle at her drama society. But while Mum is out, the electricity is cut off because she had neglected the bill too. This leaves Helen in a quandary over how to complete her homework, and is so distracted that she stumbles into the road and gets hit by a car. While in a semi-conscious state, she starts rambling about all the problems Superworker has caused for her. The medical personnel are listening and then have a word with Mum. Mum apologises to Helen and promises that things will now be different. She also informs Helen that at the drama society meeting she wised up to Miss Pringle’s conduct.

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Thoughts

This story certainly belongs in the long-established formula of the “jinxed girl” – where events always seem to conspire against the protagonist and everything goes wrong in every episode for her. So at the end of each episode she always ends up in deep trouble and people think she’s jealous, spiteful or whatever, and she becomes more and more unpopular. The formula makes for a story that is more episodic in structure than having a single story arc and the advantage is that it can be spun out as long as necessary. The disadvantage is a risk of stretching credibility too far and readers may begin to think, “Oh come on, nobody can be that unlucky!”

However, Helen suffers a lot more than many protagonists who just have things that keep going wrong for them. She is suffering from bullying too, mostly from people who keep comparing her to her mother and putting her down with unfair and unwarranted criticisms. The conduct of Miss Pringle fits exactly into the bully who uses unreasonable criticism to bully someone: constant put-downs and sarcasms, often using a supposed kernel of truth to justify their comments; making big mountains out of molehills in criticizing even trivial things; blowing things all out of proportion; and there is no pleasing or reasoning with Miss Pringle, regardless of what Helen does. And it’s not just Miss Pringle but all the teachers. Helen can’t seem to be in class for five minutes without some teacher humiliating her in front of the classmates with the criticism, “You’re not at all like your mother!” Helen hears it so much that she feels like screaming.

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No doubt this conduct from the teachers would have fuelled the bullying from Helen’s own classmates, who started the rumour that she was jealous of her mother. It began with their misreading Helen’s unhappy expressions, but there must have been some schoolgirl cattiness as well. Perhaps they were the jealous ones and projecting their jealousy onto Helen.

Protagonists who suffer because their parents are too busy/famous to pay them serious attention is a well-established formula in girls’ comics too. But in this case it’s even more heart-breaking in that the misery comes from charity, of all things. This is because of Mrs. Shaw’s personality as much as the demands of Superworker itself. She is always ready to help and never refuses anyone – but the flip side of that is that she cannot say “no”. So in addition to all the increasing demands of Superworker, Mum gets more and more people who take advantage of her: food, money, free favours, or using her as a dumping ground. All too often we have seen this type of thing in real life: good-natured people who are too nice for their own good, get lumbered and taken advantage of, and don’t stand up for themselves and say “no”.

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Mum in turn starts taking Helen for granted. She uses Helen as a dumping ground for things she hasn’t time for, or expects her to help all the time and doesn’t stop to think that sometimes Helen may not be able to help. Never once does she say, “All right, I’ll get someone else to help.” To others, she never says things like “Sorry, I’ve got too much to do right now, please ask someone else” or “Sorry, I can’t loan you any money, I need my money for other things.” And so she leaves herself open for people to walk all over her. And there certainly never is “I’m giving up Superworker – it’s too much for me and I’m turning into a nervous wreck,” although it is so hectic that it constantly wears Mum out with exhaustion. More than once we see her collapsed in a chair or laid up in bed because of it.

This story certainly is a cut above an average “jinxed girl” story because it draws so much on real life: Bully teachers who constantly put pupils down with nasty, uncalled-for remarks. People who use criticism to bully others. People who can’t say “no” and get turned into doormats because they are not assertive enough. People who overwork themselves, causing their family to suffer as well as themselves. Nasty schoolkids who bully others, very likely because they are jealous. Parents who get so busy with new commitments that they lose sight of other things in life that matter too, including their family. People who take others for granted and make selfish demands on them – even ones who do not see themselves as selfish.

It’s all brought to life with the artwork of Bert Hill. Hill has a very clean style that can produce a lot of panels on one page without it looking cluttered. His style has become linked with several Judy classics, including “The Fish Twins” and “The Girl with the Golden Smile”. Just one thing about the artwork – why does Mrs Shaw’s hair suddenly switch from blond to dark in the final episode, with no explanation possible?

And there is one thing about the story that is really puzzling: throughout the course of this entire story, we never see the Superworker Award itself. What the heck does it look like? Is it a trophy? Is it a medal? Or is it something else? We never know because it never appears. Not once are we shown Mrs Shaw with it, nor does she ever show it to Helen.