Tag Archives: Bunty Picture Story Library

The Secret of the Gipsy Doll (Dolwyn’s Dolls) [1984]

Published: as ‘The Secret of the Gipsy Doll and Two Other Stories about “Dolwyn’s Dolls”’. Bunty PSL #259, 1984.

Reprinted: as ‘3 Great Stories about Dolwyn’s Dolls’. Bunty PSL #378, 1994.

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

This Bunty PSL presents three stories from “Dolwyn’s Dolls”. On three occasions a visitor walks into Meg Dolwyn’s doll shop while she is mending a doll. She tells them the story of the respective doll she is mending.

Story 1: The Gipsy Doll

In Victorian times a maidservant named Mary, who works at Lancing Manor, tries to run away. But she is caught by the eldest son of her employers, Vernon Vardon, and he looks a very nasty type. Mary’s sweetheart, a gipsy named Romany Smith, goes to Mary’s defence when Vardon threatens to attack her, and he lays quite a punch into Vardon. Vengeful Vardon makes insinuations that he is going to have Smith arrested on trumped-up charges of stealing silverware from Lancing Manor. Worse, Mary seems to believe the accusations against Smith and he pleads his innocence to her in vain.

That night Mary regrets not sticking up for Smith more. But she is shattered to see Smith burning his gipsy caravan, which is the gipsy way of saying he has gone forever. Mary dies of a broken heart over her sweetheart a year later.

On the day Mary dies, a package arrives for her. It is a gipsy doll with the words “look into my heart” embroidered on it. The doll is placed in Mary’s room in case her family come to collect her belongings. Nobody does, and no servant will sleep in there, so the room is left to gather dust.

In the next century Mary’s room is converted into a bedroom for Jenny Vardon. Jenny has strange dreams of the burning gipsy wagon and the gipsy doll, which is crying. Jenny still hears crying when she wakes up and finds it is coming from the cupboard. Inside, she finds the gipsy doll.

Jenny looks into its heart and finds money and a letter for Mary. It is from Smith, who went to Boston, bettered himself, and sent money for Mary to join him. He had also heard that Vardon himself was taking the silverware, and selling it to pay his debts. So the truth is out at last, but it’s come too late for Mary.

Thoughts

Many of the Dolwyn stories had supernatural elements. Some were kept ambiguous while others, such as this one, were more overt. It is not surprising that this story contains supernatural overtones. The room Jenny sleeps in would have a reason for being haunted as a girl died in it from a broken heart, and there are also the Romany elements, which hint at gypsy spells and curses.

This is the saddest, and spookiest, of the three Dolwyn stories in this PSL. The revelations come too late to reunite Mary and Romany Smith in life. Still, the fact that the gipsy doll seemed to lead Jenny to it and look into its heart suggests that it was to help the two lovers rest in peace, and they are now.

Story 2: For the Love of Lindy

Carole’s mother has remarried and they move to a better house. Stepfather says it’s time for Carole to throw out her old doll, Lindy. Carole won’t hear of it, but stepfather does not respect this. As a result Carole runs away with Lindy and goes back to where she lived before. Her old friends can’t put her up, so they help her camp out in an old building and bring her supplies. They also lock the door at her request, but this proves to be a near-fatal mistake.

While Carole is asleep an old tramp accidentally sets the building on fire. By the time Carole is awake, the room is ablaze and she can’t get out because the door is locked. The firemen have arrived but don’t know she is up there. Carole throws Lindy from the window to alert them to her presence. Her dolly SOS works, and she is rescued. After this, stepfather has a new respect for Lindy and arranges a new dress and repairs at Meg’s shop for her.

Thoughts

This “love me, love my doll” story shows you should never underestimate the love for a doll or tell a child that it’s time for them to say goodbye to their dolls. They should be allowed to decide for themselves.

Story 3: The Young, Old Doll

Another visitor, Millie, comments on how the doll Meg is repairing looks so old and ragged. Meg replies that the doll, Daisy, was in fact bought only recently. It sounds like Daisy really has been through the wars then. Sure enough, that’s what her story is about.

Daisy was a birthday present for June, but then June’s dog Rex snatches Daisy and runs off with her. And that’s just the start of really rough adventures that have Daisy ending up at Meg’s shop for repair.

Rex loses interest in Daisy and leaves her to lie on waste ground. Billy Watson and his gang find her and, being a rough lot, use her as target practice for kicks. Billy’s sister Josie comes along and tells him to desist, but what really draws off the boys is that there has just been a road accident. Josie hides Daisy in a makeshift shelter. But she does not come back for some reason, and rain starts.

Another girl, Moira, comes along and finds Daisy. Moira’s home is dysfunctional, with her parents always arguing, and she is particularly anxious to stay out of Dad’s way. When she gets home he is in a really foul mood because he was involved in the road accident. He insists the accident was not his fault: the accident girl just came out in front of him and he had no time to stop. But he is terrified that he will lose his new van driver’s job because of it. When he sees Daisy he gets into such a rage that he throws her out in the street.

Another gang of yobs find Daisy and set about using her as a goal for footy practice. But the female member of the gang proves more kindly. She stops the boys cold and takes Daisy to the hospital for the children’s ward.

As luck would have it, Daisy ends up in the accident girl’s ward, and she is none other than June. June and Daisy are reunited and the sight of Daisy jogs June’s memory about the accident. She makes a statement that clears Moira’s father: the accident happened because she couldn’t find the brakes on her new birthday bike.

Meg finishes the repairs on Daisy. As she does so, she tells Millie that you can’t always tell by appearances, whether it’s dolls or people.

Thoughts

As Meg states, this story is a lesson in how you can’t always judge by appearances. This is best shown with the yobs who find Daisy in the street. The male punks are as rough as they look when they try to use Daisy for footy practice. But the girl, although she has a punk look, shows she has a kind heart. And as with Lindy, this is a “doll saves the day” story, in this case helping to clear the very driver who threw her out into the street.

We do have to wonder how Meg was able to relate all of Daisy’s misadventures from the moment she is snatched from the dog to ending up in June’s ward. How could anyone have been able to find all the people who encountered Daisy in the interim and piece the whole story together?

Dolwyn’s Dolls [1983]

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #246

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Meg Dolwyn runs a doll shop and many of her dolls have tales to tell.

One day a man calls in and asks about a doll, which he notes has been repaired. Meg says the doll’s name is Tina and she belonged to a girl named Trudy Talbot. Trudy had moved to a South American country with her parents because of her father’s job. They live in a very luxurious house and servants tend to their every need.

There has never been any need for Trudy to be unhappy or cry. So she is a bit surprised when Dad presents her with Tina, who is a crying doll. He tells her to leave all the crying to Tina, because she’s a big girl now. Trudy takes this a bit too literally and from then on does not cry; she has Tina do all the crying. Trudy is reserving this for when there is a real need to cry, but does not think there will ever be one.

But all that changes the day after Dad gives Tina to Trudy. Revolution sweeps across the country and it is taken over by revolutionaries who rule by terror and the gun. Those who stand against them are arrested as “enemies of the revolution” (political prisoners), and among them is Mr Talbot. As a result, Castro-type soldiers tear the Talbot home apart while they search it, and Trudy and her mother become prisoners in their own home, with their servants for jailors. The Talbots’ food worsens too because Cook is taken into the army and the replacement is the gardener’s boy. The Talbots have no idea exactly why all this is happening because they are only being told the vaguest of details. Trudy comments on how her mother is crying while she does not because she promised Dad. Instead, she has Tina do the crying.

The servants agree to help Mum and Trudy escape – in exchange for all of Mum’s jewellery, mind you. The servants drive them as close to the border as they can. Mum and Trudy have to make the rest of the way on foot through dire, dangerous jungle conditions. Fortunately they bump into some kindly tourists, who help them to get to Britain.

Mrs Talbot comes to rent the flat above Meg’s shop. Meg deplores that it’s bit pokey for two, but Mrs Talbot says it is all she can afford. Trudy is a bit surprised to see Tina looking like she is crying of her own accord, but accepts it. Then Mrs Talbot is taken ill and dies. Trudy still has Tina do all the crying for her and says Tina is all she has left.

Then one evening the revolutionaries catch up. They burst into the flat, rip Tina open (hence the mending she had), and find what they have been looking for all this time: a cassette that Dad had hidden inside Tina. As the men leave with the cassette, they tell Trudy to blame her father for everything that has happened to her because he is “an enemy of the revolution”.

Trudy does not accept that. Instead, she blames Tina and turns against her. As she does so, she starts crying for the very first time. And now that Trudy’s tears have started, there is no stopping them. Eventually Trudy follows her mother to the grave, from a broken heart.

It turns out the man Meg is telling the story to is none other than Mr Talbot. He had escaped prison and the despotic regime, made his way to Britain and was trying to find his family. The cassette was evidence against the terror regime. Dad had been hoping to spread the word with it. He leaves, heartbroken that he has come too late and that his cassette destroyed his family instead of helping bring justice to the downtrodden country. As he goes, a strange thing happens: Tina starts crying.

A few days later, Jill the girl from next door, makes one of her frequent visits to Meg’s shop. Meg is mending a doll and Jill remarks that a broken doll must be the saddest thing there is. This has Meg spinning another doll yarn, and we get a hint of a moral that Jill needs to put what she just said into perspective. Meg heard the story from a customer named Sally, who dropped in the other day.

Sally accidentally broke her grandmother’s “lucky doll” when she got startled by a thunderstorm. She panics about this, because her grandmother told her stories about how much the doll meant to her, that it is her lucky doll, and great-grandmother made it, “every stitch” (Sally thought this meant the doll, not the doll clothes).

So Sally runs away, in the violent stormy weather, to find a way to get the doll mended, but has no luck. She sees an ambulance outside her house and assumes the grandmother has been taken to hospital because she was heartbroken about the doll, and bad luck has started because she broke grandmother’s lucky doll. Sally runs away in panic, thinking people are searching for her because they blame her for what happened to grandmother.

Her panic drives her into the countryside, where she has scary encounters with a tramp, a farmer and cows. Then Sally comes across Meg’s shop and sees an identical doll the window, at a price she can afford. Sally sneaks home to get the money, but grandmother catches her. They have noticed she was missing and have been worried sick about her.

When the story comes out, Sally finds she had been worried over nothing and misunderstood a lot of things. Among them was finding out that the doll was a recent one, bought to replace an older one that got worn out. This doll in turn can be replaced. Grandmother hadn’t even noticed the doll was gone and the ambulance had been for Jimmy next door. What does upset grandmother is that Sally would think she would love an old doll even more than she would love her. And so Sally learns that there are much sadder (and more important) things than a broken doll.

Thoughts

Dolwyn’s Dolls appeared as a Bunty serial in 1982. Dolwyn proved popular and she spawned two appearances in Bunty annuals and two picture story libraries. Dolwyn belonged in the tradition of the storyteller who had collected an assortment of items that all had tales to tell and each week she would tell the story of one such items. Other stories in this tradition included The Button Box (Tammy) and Jade Jenkins Stall (M&J).

The Dolwyn stories would entertain, a number of them would teach morals, and there were spooky, creepy ones – not surprising as the strip is dealing with dolls and toys, which have often been associated with hauntings and the supernatural. One story, “Major’s Revenge”, was about a cruel boy named Toby and his rocking horse, Major. Toby has a strange accident that breaks his leg. Toby claims Major came to life and took him on a wild, nightmare ride as a punishment for his cruelty. Perhaps it was just a hallucination brought on by the accident as Toby father says. All the same, nobody is willing to ride Major anymore and Meg does not put him in display in her shop although he is in much better condition than the one in the shop. At least the accident makes Toby more considerate although he limps for the rest of his life.

Unlike the regular strip or the other Dolwyn picture story library, the two doll stories in this picture story library are not individually titled. They are told to customers as Meg goes abut her business in the shop.

Both stories are tear-jerkers with sympathetic heroines who, one way or other, are plunged into turmoil, terror, tears and confusion. The second story ends on a happier note than the first one. We are so relieved when everything is sorted out for Sally after all the horrors her imagination puts her through when she runs away. We are even relieved that grandmother wasn’t even angry over the broken doll. The first story, on the other hand, is nothing but tragedy and tears, and ends on a note that is creepy as well as sad.

Trudy’s story is by far the more powerful of the two stories because it has far greater emotional wallop. It’s even more heart-breaking to see Trudy bottling up her emotions and having Tina as the only outlet for the tears she keeps inside her while she has so much to cry about as the revolution tightens its noose and destroys her happiness, her home, and her family. Trudy has to stop depending on Tina if she is to express her emotions properly. Eventually she does so, but the way in which she does it is even more heartrending because it is so unfair. Tina is no more to blame for Trudy’s unhappiness than Trudy herself is. The blame rests with the political events that overtook the country.

Trudy’s story also has the hints of the supernatural that permeated many Dolwyn stories. Twice it is insinuated that Tina is taking on a life of her own and crying of her own accord. There was some buildup of a supernatural element in the second story too, when Sally’s imagination runs riot at the bad luck she must have brought on her family by breaking the lucky doll. But it turns out it was just a replacement doll and Sally was freaking out over nothing. The supernatural had nothing to do with it.

The Secret Servant: A Four Marys Story [1993]

Published: Bunty Picture Library #365

Artist: Barrie Mitchell

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Simpy’s father opens a supermarket, Simco’s Supermarket, and its business is soon booming to soaring levels. But he only took a lease on the building. The freehold has been taken over by Lentham Holdings, which is run by – yes, Mabel Lentham’s father. Now Lentham is applying for planning permission to turn the building into flats. If this goes ahead Mr Simpson will be forced to close. This would bankrupt him as he has sunk everything into the supermarket.

Foolishly, Simpy hopes that if she sucks up to Mabel, such as buying her the birthday present she wanted and allowing her and Veronica on the gymnastics team although they aren’t much good at gymnastics but not yelling at Mabel when she makes a mess of things, Mabel will save her father. But once Mabel finds out the reason why Simpy is suddenly crawling to her (by prying into Simpy’s mail), she sets out to take full advantage of Simpy. She and Veronica have Simpy wait on them hand and foot and do all their dirty work, including prep. They waste no opportunities in bullying Simpy, such as making her do chores twice, in revenge for all the times the Four Marys have scored over them. Of course Mabel has no intention of saving Mr Simpson and is stringing Simpy along with false promises that she will speak to her father about it, but always seems to forget. Although Simpy does not trust Mabel, she still continues to slave for the snobs and hope Mabel will keep her end of the deal.

Of course the other Marys soon notice what’s going on between Simpy and the snobs. They get suspicious and start to investigate. Fieldy spies on the snobs’ study and sees how Simpy is waiting on the snobs while they bully her. They realise the snobs must have some kind of hold on Simpy. But they hit a dead end as to what it could be, and they decide against tackling Simpy outright.

Then, during a parents’ visiting day, Cotty accidentally overhears Simpy’s parents talking about their supermarket being in trouble. The Marys wonder if there is some connection with Simpy slaving for the snobs. On a free afternoon they head down to Simco’s Supermarket to investigate this angle.

Simco’s Supermarket is located in an arcade, which the Marys discover has been recently taken over by Mabel’s father. They soon learn that Lentham is forcing all the shops in the arcade out of business with exorbitant rents while terminating their leases. He is applying for planning permission to turn the arcade into flats so as to make a profit. It is later revealed that the flats project is intended to pay off loans. Lentham also plans to use the money for a world cruise family holiday, which Mabel is really looking forward to. The Marys draw all the right conclusions, including the one that Mabel will not really help Simpy save her father.

Then, a remark from Cotty about it being “such a lovely old arcade” gives Raddy an idea on how to solve the problem. She contacts her father, who works on a heritage committee that saves old buildings with historical value. The committee manages to get Lentham’s application for planning permission blocked. Now the flats plan is stymied, Lentham cannot afford to hold on to the arcade and is forced to sell at a rock bottom price. Mr Simpson is doing so well from the supermarket, he can afford to buy the freehold, become his own landlord, and save his business.

The Four Marys inform the snobs of this and punish them by tipping rubbish all over their study for them to clean up. Mabel is punished even more when she receives a call from her father that the world cruise holiday is off because the flats plan has failed. The Marys are delighted to hear this and treat Simpy to a celebratory tea.

Thoughts

Using false promises to help a loved one in order to blackmail a mug into doing what you want has been used in many DCT stories, such as “Meg and the Magic Robot” (Tracy) and “April Fool” (Mandy). However, it’s unusual in that it is the victim, Simpy who instigated her very own blackmail by sucking up to the snobs in the first place in the foolish hope they would save her father. Blackmailing Simpy wasn’t the snobs’ idea; they just take advantage once they realise why Simpy is being ‘nice’ to them all of a sudden. If it had been the snobs who had concocted the blackmail we would have been more sympathetic to Simpy. But really, Simpy brought the whole thing on herself. Honestly, she should have known better after the long time she had known those snobs, and how much they despise her for being a scholarship girl. Even when Simpy finds she doesn’t trust Mabel because Mabel is ‘forgetting’ her promises, she still doesn’t suspect the snobs are just taking advantage of her. She carries on regardless, hoping it will be worth it if it saves her father. Perhaps Simpy wasn’t thinking clearly because she was so worried about her parents and desperation overrode her rationality.

Ironically, slaving to the snobs does help save Simpy’s father, but not in the way she expected. It’s because it prompted the other Marys to make their inquiry at the arcade itself and, once they saw it personally, realise the heritage value that could save it. It is less likely this would have occurred if Simpy had just confided in the Marys.

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!

Rosie at Thorndale Hall [1983]

Thorndale Hall cover

Published: Judy Picture Library #240 [1983]

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Library #400 [1993]

Artist: David Matysiak

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Rosie Cooper is not a popular girl at Meadowdale Hall School. She is an extremely gifted girl who excels at everything, but she is spoiled and selfish and never helps anyone or shares her skills. Even the staff find her unbearable, but don’t speak out because her father is the chairman of the board of governors and her family have old ties with the school. For this reason the staff give her favourable treatment and bend a lot of rules for her.

Thorndale Hall 1

Then prefect Kay Easton decides enough is enough. She orders Rosie to clean out a lumber room and won’t have any of Rosie’s threats of what she could do because her father’s position. Rosie realises she has met her match in Kay and grudgingly starts cleaning.

While cleaning the room, Rosie stumbles across a picture of what looks like the school in its early days, but under a different name: Thorndale Hall. Rosie gets a strange feeling the picture means something to her, and it’s creepy.

It’s creepy all right: next moment the picture vanishes, and everything starts spinning and dissolving. When it stops, Rosie finds the school has changed and so have her clothes: “what coarse old rubbish”. A fearsome-looking Victorian woman named Mrs Grimm (the Thorndale headmistress) appears and demands to know why Rosie hasn’t scrubbed the floor. Rosie’s arrogance resurfaces, making her usual threats about her father being the chairman of the governors. Thinking Rosie has lost her mind or something, Grimm and her assistant, Trimlett, inform her that she is an orphan who is boarding at Thorndale Hall, all paid by her “scapegrace [wayward] guardian”. Grimm and Trimlett make it very clear that they are capable of handling Rosie with extreme cruelty; Trimlett has already broken one girl’s arm. Later we learn Trimlett’s punishments killed another girl. Cowed and bewildered, Rosie is forced to scrub the floor, realising she has somehow gone back in time to Thorndale Hall, which is clearly run on the lines of Wackford Squeers.

Thorndale Hall 6

In the dining hall Rosie is introduced to another cruel assistant, Mr Bludge, who wants her to help with very substandard and meagre portions for the pupils. It is here that Rosie begins to find that she is no longer quite so good at everything. She clumsily breaks the jar of dripping and in punishment is given just dry bread. One girl, Lucy Dawlish, takes pity on her, and Rosie makes a friend for the first time in this story.

That night Rosie tries to run away, but finds there is a guard dog, which raises the alarm. Bludge almost catches her, but Lucy creates a diversion by screaming and feigning night horrors. This enables Rosie to slip back without being caught, but the cruel staff say Lucy’s nightmares are due to too much food and don’t let her have any breakfast. (Any excuse to make them go short, obviously.) Rosie tries to slip Lucy her own food, but Trimlett catches her.

Pupils are forced to do all the work around the school. There are lessons, but Rosie is in for a shocking surprise in class – she is no longer able to read! Grimm calls her a “useless slut”, but instead of teaching Rosie to read she puts Rosie back to more menial work, saying that’s all she’s good for. (Another excuse for more slave labour, obviously.)

Rosie still wants to escape, and realises the first step is to make friends with the guard dog. So she takes scraps from the larder to feed to the dog. Lucy envies the dog for getting more food than they do, but it does the trick: in a matter of days the dog no longer barks at Rosie.

Thorndale Hall 2

However, when Rosie gets too close to a room with blacked-out windows while window cleaning, Bludge acts like this has spooked him and he rants at her. This arouses Rosie’s suspicions. She gets even more suspicious when she finds the door to the grimy window room is always locked. Grimm and Trimlett also go into a rant when they catch Rosie at the door, which makes her even more suspicious. The cruel staff are getting suspicious of Rosie and are watching her closely.

Rosie and Lucy now try their escape. As they do so, they are surprised to see a horse trap arrive with two men, who carry a box into the school. The dog does not bark at them, so it must know them. The girls take advantage of the men leaving the gate unlocked to make their escape.

Thorndale Hall 4

They find a Peeler, but he does not believe their story and brings them back to Thorndale Hall. He tells the staff that he will call back to check in a week or so, which makes the staff too scared to punish the girls. Instead they tread a cautious line of better treatment for the girls (such as more food for the pupils) until they are sure things are safe again. But Rosie senses they are in danger because the staff suspect they saw the men and there are signs the staff are wary, such as the dog being moved closer to the grimy windowed room. Rosie keeps watch for the men and sees them creeping around the room with the box, and then somehow reappear without it. She realises there must be a secret entrance that is concealed by greenery.

Rosie does not realise the men saw her spying. When the staff hear about it, they decide to advance their plans to do away with Rosie and Lucy. Rosie is listening at the door (and narrowly escapes being caught doing so) and realises they must escape. But in view of what happened before, they must go with some form of evidence so the Peelers will listen this time.

So Rosie heads to the secret room for some. When she pulls back the greenery she finds a small hidden door and a silver medallion. Hearing footsteps, Rosie hides with the medallion in time – but not in time to put the greenery back. Bludge sees it has been moved and is now alerted, which means Rosie and Lucy have to make an instant escape. They do so, but Grimm sends Bludge and Trimlett out to find and silence them, or it will be Newgate Prison for all of them.

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Trimlett and Bludge do catch up with the girls, but the Peelers catch them red-handed and arrest them. The Peelers explain they half-believed the girls because it tied in with other things they had observed, such as the two men, but they had to wait until they had checked things out.

At the school, the Peelers force Grimm to open the door to the secret room, which reveals a counterfeiting operation that forges coins with stolen silver. Grimm feigns innocence, but she goes wild when Rosie furiously counters with the truth. Grimm locks the Peelers in the room and then goes after Rosie with a poker. She is almost upon Rosie, but then everything starts spinning and dissolving again…

Rosie now finds herself back in her own time, and in her own clothes. Kay gives Rosie full marks for her excellent cleanup of the lumber room (how did it get cleaned up?). Rosie wonders if it was a dream, but when she checks the school records it corroborates everything she experienced at Thorndale Hall. The school was exposed, Grimm was imprisoned for theft and forgery, and her school closed down. Thorndale was exposed by…Rosie Cooper.

Rosie is at a loss to explain it. Was it a dream or what? But everyone is surprised and delighted at how Rosie has suddenly become a kind, friendly and helpful girl at the school. Rosie is now making friends and becoming popular.

Thoughts

This story could still stand on its own if it was just a straight out period piece of Rosie being a 19th century girl being put through the experiences of Thorndale Hall, bringing it down, and going on to become one of the founders of its more savoury successor, Meadowdale. After all, there must be some connection between Rosie Cooper exposing Thorndale Hall and the Coopers having long-standing connections with Meadowdale. However, that aspect is never explained. Instead we’ve got the added dimensions of a spoiled 20th century girl who needs a lesson and gets it at 19th century Thorndale, and a time travel element that nobody can understand or explain. This makes the story even more exciting, intriguing and mysterious than if it was just a group slave story set in a cruel and secretly criminal 19th century school.

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We have to wonder if the time travel creates some sort of paradox. Is 20th century Rosie the same Rosie who exposed Thorndale Hall in the past and (presumably) established her own ancestral connections to Meadowdale? Or is it some weird combination between 20th century Rosie and 19th century Rosie (as implied by retaining her 20th century memories yet becoming unable to read)? Or was 20th century Rosie somehow reliving the experiences of 19th century Rosie while still retaining a portion of her own consciousness? Or was it some supernatural power reaching out to punish Rosie for her arrogance? It is stretching credibility to say the whole thing was in Rosie’s imagination.

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The villains are predictably cruel Victorian people who run their school in a Squeersian style manner. But it’s not just to take advantage of girls for profit. The villains also using the school as a front for a secret counterfeiting ring. It would be interesting to know if they set up the school that way in the first place and they were criminals to begin with. We get a hint that this may be so when Grimm’s lessons suggest she does not care all that much about educating the girls. One-eyed Bludge does not give the impression he is the teaching sort either.

Matysiak’s artwork makes the villains really terrifying and the stuff of nightmares. For example, the close-up of the two mystery men (above) still keeps their faces indistinct. Their faces are rendered in an impressionist manner that makes them even more frightening than if their faces were shown clearly. In another panel (below), Grimm is made even more alarming by a stripe of dark highlighting that goes right down from her forehead to her collarbone.

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The artwork is a perfect fit for rendering this intriguing and powerful story. Matysiak’s artwork is brilliantly atmospheric in conveying the grimness of the school and its Victorian setting, the evil of the school staff, the covert operations at the school that provide the mystery that must be unravelled, and the supernatural time travel elements of the story. It’s done through ingenious applications of inking rather than linework or hatching. It produces real beauties, such as in the two panels mentioned above.

 

Katie Bright Keeping Mum Right! (1987)

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Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #286

Artists: David Matysiak (cover); Jaume (Jaime) Rumeu (story)

Plot
In the Bright household Dad is working overtime to save up for a washing machine. Mum decides to set about raising money to buy the family extras. The trouble is, she goes about it the wrong way. Instead of finding something she’s good at and developing it, she embarks on whatever scheme takes her fancy without proper research, thinking it through or considering if it is right for her. As a result Mum lands herself in a lot of scrapes and it’s up to her more sensible daughter Katie to sort them out.

First Mum sets up the garden shed for a mushroom farm. Katie is dubious because Mum has no experience in raising plants, but Mum expects such an abundance of mushrooms that she takes orders from greengrocers in advance. Talk about counting your chickens before they’re hatched: Mum’s mushroom crop is a complete failure, so Katie has to cover the orders with farm-bought mushrooms.

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Soon after, the washing machine finally arrives. Mum seems to be doing more washing than usual. Oh dear, is she taking in laundry for another money-making scheme? That’s what people come to think. Katie and Dad are a bit surprised when people offer them loans because they think the Brights are hard up. No, it turns out Mum was doing the extra laundry as a favour for some neighbours when their laundrette was unavailable.

However, Mum still hasn’t learned her lesson from the mushroom failure. She is now inspired to make and sell machine-knitted woollies, despite Katie’s warnings that such things are made by full-time professionals. She does not heed Katie’s advice to develop dressmaking (which she is brilliant at) as a money-making venture either. Katie can only hope Mum knew what she was doing with the machine-knitting. But of course she didn’t. She ends up giving refunds and gives up the machine knitting promptly.

A luxury lampshade company advertises for at-home people to make up lampshades they are outsourcing. Katie and Dad flash it under Mum’s nose, figuring it is foolproof. However, it is too simple and Mum grows bored with it. When she asks for more interesting work, the company’s response is teddy bear patterned lampshades – and the teddies have been printed upside-down! The Brights are not sorry when the company decides to give up its outsourcing and keep things onsite.

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Next, Mum turns to weeding gardens although she is so clueless about gardening Dad won’t let her work in the garden unsupervised. She figures anyone can weed. She does not understand you have to know the difference between a weed and a plant. So when Katie goes to check on the gardens she finds Mum has pulled out some plants by mistake. She replants them, but it turns out she planted them in the wrong garden because Mum threw them on the wrong compost pile. Fortunately the clients see the funny side, but they will be getting others to do their gardens. Still, one of the clients agrees to let Mum walk her dog instead.

So now it’s dog walking to make money. It seems straightforward this time, but Mum’s big ideas overcomplicate it. She bites off more than she can chew when she takes on other dogs as well and has to walk six at once! Not surprisingly, it’s wearing her out. Then she gets locked in the park because of all those dogs. Katie manages to find her and rouse the Parkie to let her out.

On the way back from this latest scrap they find the school drama club store on fire. Thanks to them the fire is put out in good time, but the costumes for the upcoming school play are ruined. Mums are called upon to make up replacements. Katie thinks this should suit Mum well as she is so good at dressmaking. After some persuasion Mum agrees, if Katie will take over walking the dogs. Then Katie is asked to replace one of the actresses in the play, and soon finds walking six dogs while learning her lines is too much.

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Fortunately Katie finds help in Ted Dawson, the brother of one of her classmates. Ted has no job, so he agrees to take over the dogs and receive the money while Katie learns her lines. Mum has no objections to the arrangement while she works on the costumes, but she will be taking the dogs over again eventually.

Then, just as the play is about to go on, the costumes get stolen. Mum put so much hard work into making them that the theft has her realise how much dressmaking means to her. Fortunately one of the new dogs Ted is walking is an ex-police dog. Ted uses him to sniff out the costumes, which got dumped in the old cottage at the back of the school. The costumes and play are saved.

Ted creates his own business walking dogs and Mum lets him keep walking her dogs. Word gets around about Mum’s work on the costumes and she soon finds herself with orders for more dresses. Now that Mum has finally settled upon a money-making scheme she can do right, Katie no longer needs to keep her right.

Thoughts

We now live in an age where work-from-home businesses have proliferated and work-from-home schemes are all over the Internet. So the concept of work from home in this story feels even more relevant now than it did when it was first published. Its message of exercising caution, proper research and good judgement in whatever you pursue to raise extra money is more acute now too, especially as there are so many scams out there and schemes where you earn very little money for a lot of hard work.

Fortunately Mum does not come up against any scams or underpaid work in this story. It’s just as well, because she is not exercising any serious research or thought into the various money-making schemes she tries out. Indeed, she does not give the impression she is showing much brains at all. It’s Katie who is showing the brains here. She can see the pitfalls Mum is creating for herself with her various schemes (for example, choosing ventures that she has no talent or experience for), which cause embarrassment and make her lose money instead of raising it. Katie can also see where Mum can really make money: dressmaking. It’s not just because Mum has the talent for it but also because there will be a niche for it as there are not many dressmakers in town. Yet Mum just won’t pursue dressmaking as a money-making business as she does not seem to have the interest.

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The story is not all about Mum’s money-making schemes. For example, the extra laundry Mum takes on is a favour, not a money-making scheme. And the focus of the story shifts more to Katie as she tries to walk the dogs while learning her lines. It makes the pace of the story more even, which is good. It also gives more leeway to developing other characters more, such as Ted Dawson.

Some good things do come out of Mum’s disasters. For example, if Mum and the dogs had not got locked in the park, she and Katie would not have seen the fire at school and raised the alarm in time. The damage would have been so much worse. Mum’s dog-walking also leads to the unemployed Ted Dawson to develop his own employment in walking dogs.

All the same, the consequences of Mum’s ill-conceived money-making schemes could have been worse if not for Katie helping to make everything right. It’s a relief all around when Katie no longer needs to keep her Mum right all the time.

 

 

The Chosen One (1985)

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Published: Bunty Picture Library #263

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #394

Note: Not to be confused with “The Chosen One”, Bunty Picture Library #97, 1971

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); José Ariza (story)

Plot

At school, Claudia Green is a talented singer who enters the school’s Martha Blair Music Scholarship. There is a bust of Martha Blair at school. Claudia feels its eyes are watching everyone and it sends chills along her spine. When alive, Martha Blair chose the winner herself, and the winner would be known as “The Chosen One”. The school music teacher thinks it sounds romantic. But when you think about it, it could also sound creepy…

Claudia wins the scholarship, and the prize includes free music lessons and a mini-bust of Martha Blair. But something odd happens when Claudia is near the main bust afterwards. She can’t seem to move and the bust seems to say, “Remember, Claudia, that you are the Chosen One! You must prove yourself to be worthy of this award! You must not abuse your talents!”

Claudia is not sure if it is her imagination or what. Whatever it is, though, it has reckoned without Claudia’s mother.

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Mrs Green has changed for the worse since her husband died. Money worries have made her selfish and she always seems to be in a surly mood and not thinking about Claudia. She does not appreciate the small kindnesses Claudia tries to do for her in attempts to make her feel better. And as for when Mum hears Claudia won the scholarship, all she says is: “Free music lessons? Is that all they gave you for a prize? Free music lessons aren’t going to put food on our table, are they?” Sounds like a prime candidate for reckless greed if the opportunity arises.

Sure enough, Mrs Green starts abusing Claudia’s singing as a means to make money. At first this is by entering a talent contest, and then it is contract with a Mike Slade to turn Claudia into a pop star. Claudia does not want to be a pop star, but Mum has no regard for her wishes or feelings whatsoever and puts emotional blackmail on her: “How can you be so selfish, Claudia? All these years I’ve struggled to give you a decent chance in life and this is how you repay me!”

Claudia dislikes Mr Slade from the first. She thinks he is a horrible man, and soon realises he is a greedy man who is only interested in her for as long as she will make him money. Claudia does not like the vulgar way he addresses her and her mother either. Mrs Green does not seem to mind, though. Mr Slade is fanning the flames of her greed as he moulds Claudia into a famous pop star. The more Claudia learns about being a pop star the less she likes it, but all her mother cares about is the money it will make.

It seems Claudia is not the only one who is unhappy about it. From the moment the unwanted pop star career began that mini-bust of Martha Blair starts to warn Claudia, “You are the Chosen One! You must not abuse your talent!”

Not surprising, other weird things start happening. The mini-bust is put on the piano while a teacher is coaching Claudia in being a pop star. Then Claudia feels an odd shiver and the piano lid goes crashing down on the teacher’s fingers for no apparent reason. Unfortunately for Claudia the teacher has told Mr Slade that she has what it takes to be a pop star. Now there is no stopping Mr Slade or Mum in pushing her into being one.

They both show Claudia how ruthless they are when they force her to miss a solo she was set to do for her school concert in order to go for an audition for “Rising Stars”. Mr Slade threatens to wash his hands of Claudia while Mum says a school concert is nothing compared to the chance Claudia will get at the audition. Claudia obeys, but the school finds out about the let-down and Claudia is disgraced there. She is upset, but Mum would not even care.

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Meanwhile, another weird thing happens at the audition. Mum would insist on taking that mini-bust of Martha Blair everywhere and has brought it along. Claudia gets an odd shiver and an entrant who looks a cert to win finds his guitar strings snapping for no apparent reason. So Claudia wins the audition by default, but feels she was somehow responsible for what happened to that entrant.

Back home, when Claudia puts on a record the voice of Martha Blair blares out of the speakers: “You have been warned, Claudia! Stop this foolishness before it is too late!”

At Claudia’s first recording at “Rising Stars” she knows that if she is successful she will be stuck in an unwanted career. But her recording comes to an abrupt end when the lights all explode at once and start a fire. Claudia felt oddly cold again just before it happened. “Rising Stars” will be out of business for weeks, but Mr Slade says he will find another way to bring them money. Claudia realises that he really means get his cut of the money.

The same pattern recurs at an open-air pop concert, and this time a canopy falls down. Worse, the stories of those other accidents catch up and Claudia is turned into the press sensation “Claudia the Jinx”! Mum and Mr Slade are not pleased at Claudia’s new reputation as a jinx but are too greedy to give up on her. Realising Claudia will not get another job because of her jinx reputation, Mr Slade forces her adopt a disguise and a new persona, “Sunny Beamish”, and has her sing for TV commercials. But at a shooting on a boat, Claudia hears Martha Blair’s voice out of nowhere, and of course disaster strikes the boat. Claudia the Jinx is then uncovered and the press make even more sensation out of it.

That night the mini-bust gets worse. It seems to get bigger and bigger, it gives off a strange glow, and it tells Claudia that she has had enough warning. She must now develop her talent in the way expected of the Chosen One – “or perish!” After this, Claudia definitely does not want to go to a pop show Mr Slade has booked for her in Germany (to escape her jinx reputation), but despite her efforts to avoid the flight she ends up on the plane. The plane gets damaged by a storm and has to return to the airport. Compared to Claudia’s premonitions of what was going to happen, it seems she got off lightly there. She is relieved they did not make it to Germany too.

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Nonetheless, Mr Slade isn’t giving up. Now he has Claudia work in a backing group (under another name and disguise). This time the weird pattern strikes the star of the show, who is taken mysteriously ill. Claudia does marvellously as a stand-in. Mr Slade now thinks Claudia has lived down her jinx reputation and it is safe for her to work openly again.

But afterward the mini-bust gets angry again and tells Claudia that disaster will keep striking her for as long as she abuses her talent. This is too much for Claudia, who runs blindly out into the street and is hit by a car.

When Claudia regains consciousness two days later she finds her mother is a changed person and she apologises for her selfish conduct. Mr Slade disappeared after realising Claudia was no longer in a condition to be a money-spinner for him, and Mum is not sorry to see the back of him. So Claudia is now free of her unwanted pop career, but faces a long, difficult road to recovery.

Eventually, Claudia wins a scholarship at the Marston Grange School of Music. Mum gets a housekeeping job there, with a flat to go with the job, so everything is fine for them both now. Claudia goes back to her old school to make peace with the big bust of Martha Blair, though she is no longer sure if the haunting was real or in her imagination. The statue is not telling.

Thoughts

In honour of the upcoming Halloween season, we continue discussion of spooky serials with this entry. And the haunted bust certainly is frightening. It leads off with the face of Martha Blair herself. Even before the haunting starts, the face of that formidable-looking lady would make anyone feel intimidated and even frightened. One can imagine the sort of person Martha Blair was in life. It is understandable that someone’s imagination might run riot if that face made too strong an impression on them, but are we really convinced it was imagination…? It is stretching imagination a bit far to imagine a bust growing larger and giving off a glow, or making threats in an angry voice. To say nothing of a supernatural voice coming out of speakers or out of nowhere on the wind. That is hallucination, not imagination, and there is no evidence of Claudia hallucinating. It is a bit hard to dismiss those weird things as some sort of subconscious reaction to the forced pop music career either. Claudia had her first odd encounter with the bust before Mum had even got started on it.

If it were indeed a real haunting, Martha Blair’s anger would be far more justifiable if Claudia really was abusing her talent for selfish or unsuitable ends. But Claudia is not abusing her talent – her talent is being abused, in the name of profit, and one of those abusers is her own mother. So it is quite unfair for Martha Blair to be haunting, jinxing and threatening Claudia in this way on top of poor Claudia being emotionally blackmailed into a career she does not want, just to satisfy her mother’s greed. If anything, Martha Blair should be haunting that selfish mother.

We get our first glimpse of how selfish the mother has become when Claudia comes home late from school. Mum grouses at Claudia for being kept waiting for her supper, which she expects Claudia to do. Why can’t the mother do the supper herself? She is quite capable. Is she going through some sort of depression over her husband’s death and stress over money? Or is she lumbering Claudia with all the housework or something? When Claudia wins the scholarship, Mum snaps at how it won’t bring in any money instead of being delighted and congratulating Claudia. She moans about money all the time, but we don’t see her raising any by working until the end of the story.

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Mum’s selfishness and fixation with money worries makes her easy prey for a money-grubber like Mike Slade. There is no evidence that Mr Slade is downright crooked as some music managers are in girls’ serials, but greed is written all over him. He does not care about the person he makes a star out of, only the money he will make out of that person. Claudia can see it and what sort of man Mr Slade is, However, Mum is too blinded by her own greed to see it as well and does not realise that Mr Slade is playing on her greed in order to feed his own.

As Mum’s greed grows, she becomes increasingly callous to Claudia. She does not care about what Claudia wants or her feelings, and does not listen to Claudia’s pleadings about them. Whenever Claudia tries to reason with Mum, she uses emotional blackmail, gives Claudia a look she can’t say no to, or just slaps Claudia down to get what she wants out of her. She does not think about Claudia feels over being called “The Jinx Girl” in the press. She just keeps pushing Claudia on into making more money as a pop star and damn her jinx reputation.

The press who brand Claudia a jinx have no regard for her feelings either – or what they will do to her reputation and career. All they care about is making a sensational story out of her. They bulldoze all over her protests that they can’t take her photograph: “Too late, love!”. More greedy people abusing a hapless girl for profit.

Only shock treatment can bring Mum to her senses, and she gets it when Claudia has the accident. Then Mr Slade walks out after he realises Claudia could make no more money for him, which must have opened Mum’s eyes about him.

The artwork from José Ariza makes a superb job of expressing how growing greed is changing Mum for the worse. Her face is getting harder when she speaks to Claudia and there are truly callous expressions on her face in several panels, which are really disturbing.

The protagonist in this story has a hard time on more than one front. First are the greedy mother and manager who exploit Claudia’s talent and ride roughshod over her wishes and feelings. Second is being terrorised by an angry spirit who is persecuting her for a rather unfair reason. The spirit’s wrath causes disaster to strike at every turn, which turns our unfortunate heroine into a tabloid sensation as a jinx on top of everything else! Third is having a terrible road accident that leaves her unable to walk for a long time. By the time Claudia is going for her own audition, she is still using walking aids. One can only hope that by this time the “Claudia the Jinx” moniker has been forgotten, particularly as the cause of it all should be at peace now.

Slaves of the Teasets (1987)

Slaves of the Teasets cover

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #292 (1987)

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #438 (1997)

Artists: cover – unknown; story – Terry Aspin

Plot
In Victorian times, Peg Ashton’s father has died owing rent, so the landlady throws Peg out. It looks like Peg has nowhere to go but the workhouse. But then she is picked up by Mrs Grimble, a sweet-talking lady who offers her “the daintiest job” in the world, which is making dolls’ teasets from pewter.

However, when they arrive at Mrs Grimble’s teaset factory, Peg begins to get warning signs that the job is not as dainty as Mrs Grimble depicts when she sees the place is infested by rats and hears someone say “old mouldy Grimble has found another fool to slave for her”. (“Old Mouldy” is the girls’ nickname for Mrs Grimble.) Reality becomes even more apparent when Peg sees how pale her fellow workers look, and the meals consist of very substandard and badly prepared food. To add insult to injury, the girls have to pay for the food out of their own wages. If they don’t have the money, they go without.

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Peg soon finds out how unhealthy, gruelling and dangerous the working conditions really are in the “daintiest job in the world”: lack of ventilation; blistering heat for whoever operates the furnace; risk of injury from molten pewter; each girl having to make 2000 pieces in a day; no regulation on the long hours they work (no clocks to tell them when it’s time to stop); improper feeding and endless hunger; substandard bedding; picking pewter scrap out of rubbish tips; and, of course, the constant threat of lead poisoning. When a girl does get lead poisoning, which is called “the sickness”, Mrs Grimble does not bother to get any medical attention for her. Peg’s friend Tansy dies because of such neglect, but Mrs Grimble just blames Tansy for being such a weakling. She shows the same callousness when another girl, Sarah, gets her arm badly injured from the molten pewter, and fines Peg a penny when she steps in to help Sarah. Regardless, both infirm girls have to carry on working. Added to that is May Blossom, a worker who is Mrs Grimble’s toady and likes to bully the other girls. May takes a dislike to Peg, particularly after Peg tries to please Mrs Grimble so as not to lose too many wages for meals. May likes to cause trouble for Peg where possible.

At first Peg plans to seek work elsewhere when she saves some money. Then she decides to expose the working conditions instead. So when the King of Belagora visits Britain, his aide commissions Mrs Grimble to produce a dolls’ teaset for the king’s daughter, Princess Vesna. Peg seizes this opportunity to get a message out. She secretly stamps letters on the teaset cutlery to spell out “Princess help us poor pewter girls!”. Unfortunately, when Mrs Grimble catches Peg smuggling in medicine for Tansy’s lead poisoning, she does not allow Peg to finish the order. This means Peg can’t arrange the cutlery in the correct order for the letters, so the message gets jumbled.

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After Tansy dies, Mrs Grimble advertises for a replacement. An applicant arrives, and Mrs Grimble gives her the same sales pitch about the job that she gave Peg. Peg offers what help she can to the new girl against Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. The girl also asks the others if teaset making is what they really want in life. This prompts several girls to express what they would really like to be, which includes being dairymaids and embroiderers.

Then, when May causes the girl to drop and damage a tool, Mrs Grimble threatens to beat the girl. Peg intervenes and a struggle ensues. Suddenly, the aide from Belagora appears, and tells Mrs Grimble that Peg just stopped her from striking Princess Vesna. Yes, the girl is none other than Princess Vesna! Princess Vesna found the odd letters and unscrambled the message. She came to the factory in order to go undercover and collect evidence on the working conditions. The aide orders the constables to arrest Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. Princess Vesna takes the girls to more wholesome jobs in Belagora where they can fulfil the career choices they expressed earlier. Peg herself becomes Princess Vesna’s lady-in-waiting.

Thoughts

This story brings attention to an aspect of Victorian times that was so pervasive – household products out of dangerous and poisonous substances. Goods containing lead, arsenic and other harmful elements (found in wallpaper, house paint, clothes and children’s toys to name but a few) permeated the Victorian home. Even where the dangers were known, manufacturers seemed to give little thought for the wellbeing of the higher-class people buying the products. So what thought could there have been for the lower-class people who made them?

Perhaps the danger of the poison itself is the reason the teaset slavery is less sadistic and over the top than in other “slave stories” (stories where a girl or girls are slaves of a racket, prison or unpleasant business/institution). Sure, the working conditions are dangerous, gruelling, unhealthy and cruel. Yet we don’t see outright torture being inflicted on the girls or tortures being piled on one after the other on the protagonist, as has often been the case in so many other “slave stories”. Nor do they appear to be actual prisoners who are constantly finding a way to escape the factory, as they often are in similar stories. Mrs Grimble seems to beat her slaves far less often than a lot of her counterparts in other stories, though she is capable of it when she gets angry enough. We never find out what the penalty is for not meeting the quota of 2000 pieces a day either, so it is a bit hard to gauge just how far the cruelty goes there.

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The relationship between Peg and Mrs Grimble never has the acrimony that most protagonists have towards the main slaver in “slave stories”. Usually the main villain develops a particular hatred towards the protagonist because she is a rebel who refuses to break and is determined to bring the slaver down. This is what drives the story until the protagonist finds a way to escape the slavery and raise help. However, although Peg does rebel (mainly in getting medicine for the sick and injured girls while Mrs Grimble does not even bother) and plots to get a message of help out, the story does not go in the usual direction of the protagonist being a constant thorn in the slaver’s side. Nor does Peg ever really incur any vicious, sadistic vengeance from Mrs Grimble for constant rebellion as a lot of protagonists in “slave stories” do. This makes a nice change from the usual slave story formula. The focus of the story is more on making a statement about appalling and often dangerous working conditions of Victorian times.

The animosity Peg encounters in the story comes more from May Blossom the toady than Mrs Grimble the slaver, which is unusual for this type of story. Just what May gets out of being the favourite is unclear as we never see her get any special privileges from Mrs Grimble. The only thing May ever really seems to get out of it is bullying the other girls – which is what puts her in prison alongside Mrs Grimble when the tables turn.

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Mrs Grimble is one of the more intriguing and curious slaver in girls’ comics. There can be no doubt she has a heart of stone and cares little for the wellbeing of her workers. Yet she can be quite the charmer and sweet talker, and really knows how to sell the job to an unwary new girl before the girl discovers the reality. Even while the girls are working, Mrs Grimble speaks to them in an almost caring, motherly way instead of being cold and harsh. For example, when Peg goes out her way to be a model worker, Mrs Grimble praises her. Mrs Grimble’s appearance also lends itself to her mother figure; when we first see her she looks every inch a sweet, kind, motherly lady. When she gets riled, it looks almost out of character for her. However, we know that Mrs Grimble is just showing what she is really like underneath a mealy-mouthed façade of motherliness and kindness that makes your skin crawl.

The resolution is an impressive one. The prospective helper not only steps in for the rescue, but actually goes undercover to do it, and subjects herself to the same conditions and unpleasant people who run the teaset factory in order to gather enough evidence. Moreover, she is a princess who not only poses as a working class girl but also subjects herself to squalid and dangerous conditions of working and living in the pewter factory and virtually starving on substandard food. That must have been a particularly dreadful shock for a princess who had only known the lap of royal luxury, but she didn’t flinch from it.

The plotting is tight and well paced. It avoids several of the clichés that the slave story formula often follows, which is refreshing. It seems to prefer to let the working conditions and callousness of Mrs Grimble speak for themselves, and have the added threat of constantly working with a dangerous and poisonous substance take the place of over-the-top tortures that so many “slave stories” go in for. It’s also more realistic for the Victorian setting, as back then working with poisonous substances was all too common.