Tag Archives: Music

The Songs of Sarah Snow

Plot

Sarah Snow acted as a servant for Amelia and Dora Larkin, singers in Victorian music halls. She was badly treated by the sisters and their mother, but she hoped by working the music halls she would  get information about her parents  who were performers before they died.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Songs of Sarah Snow – Tracy: #268 (17 November 1984) – #277 (19 January 1985)

Paula and the Wasps of Terror / Paula [1966]

  • Paula and the Wasps of Terror –  Diana: #187 (17 September 1966) – #196 (19 November 1966)
  • Reprinted as Paula   Spellbound:  #22 (19 February 1977) – #31 (23 April 1977)

Plot

Paula Spencer is a brilliant young violinist, whose career is derailed after an accident. After her first big concert, while driving home, the car suddenly starts to fill with wasps. Her father, Sir William Spencer, a high court judge, loses control of the car and they crash. Paula’s music instructor is killed in the crash and her father is left badly injured. Paula injures her hand, and her father worries he has ruined her career. In order to help her father, she is determined to play violin again, but the injury to her hand isn’t the biggest obstacle she has to overcome, it’s her new fear of wasps  (spheksophobia). What she doesn’t know is her new teacher Mahsud Krishnan is using this fear against her as he has a vendetta against Sir William.

Krishnan sprays flowers near Paula with a powder that attracts wasps, and places a wasp in her violin case. When Paula can’t go on playing for her father because of the wasp, he relapses due to worry of her ruined career. Paula’s fear gets so great, she does not want to leave her house, she practices her violin in a boarded room, which does seem to help with her progress. This does not make Krishnan happy though, he suggests she makes a recording for her father, only for a wasp to appear in the middle of the recording. He plays an edited version to Sir William making it sound like Paula hates the violin and can’t have it near her. This causes Sir William to have another relapse. Paula does find an ally when she is assigned a young physiotherapist, Hilary Dewar, to help with her recovery. Not only does Hilary help with  Paula’s hand, she also wants to help her overcome her fear of wasps and is the first to suspect someone is working against Paula.

Hilary finds out Paula’s violin has golden acacia scent on it which attracts wasps, and she also listens to the tampered recording, so now they know someone is out to get Sir William. For first time Paula is able to play for her father without problems and Sir William shows signs of improvement. Paula’s confidence grows especially after Hilary gives her a wasp repellent spray, but again it is tampered with and ends up attracting wasps while she plays for her father and she ends up with several stings on her hand. Later at home, Hilary convinces Paula the spray is safe, but when she uses it to kill a wasp, she accidentally gets spray in Krishnan’s eyes. He is angry thinking he is blinded, and his motivation for being against the Spencers is first hinted at, as he says “first my brother and now me – thanks, to the Spencers!” (Really at this stage, Hilary who overhears this remark should be able to figure out who is behind these attacks!). There is no permanent damage to his eyes and so he is able to play his next trick, sneaking a queen wasp into Paula’s violin case. Hilary drives them into a lake to escape the wasps.

The hospital is to have a concert, and not only is Paula going to play violin at it, she also gets Krishnan to teach her to play the sitar after hearing him play. The Indian music is not the pleasant surprise for Sir William that Paula had planned and then wasps attack and Paula does not want to play her violin piece. Krishnan convinces Sir William that Hilary is at fault for letting Paula play tennis, interrupting her studies, so he tells Hilary she must leave. This leaves Paula alone and vulnerable, to Krishnan’s schemes. Luckily Hilary still wants to look out for Paula, so she stays close by, keeping a watch on the house. This is very fortunate when Paula’s is chased from the house by a swarm of wasps, Hilary rescues her and takes her to stay in a yacht. She is going to keep her safe until they find out who is trying to harm her. Hilary asks Paula, why her father would be sad when hearing Indian music, she guesses it may have reminded him of her mother who was killed in Delhi. Meanwhile Krishnan is still working against the Spencers, telling Sir William, that Paula is missing feared drowned! This causes him to collapse and doctor’s fear he won’t recover.

Paula is contacted and is able to play the violin over the phone, rousing Sir William from unconsciousness. A week later, Paula is asked to appear on a televised concert with Krishnan conducting. Things start off well until she is attacked by a wasp again and runs off stage. Hilary talks to her and points out someone is using her to harm her father. Paula covers herself in wasp repellent and returns, concentrating only on making her father well again. As the camera’s were able to cover up Paula running off stage, Sir William is indeed happy to see Paula do so well. Meanwhile Hilary has continued with her investigation. She has found out that Mahsud Krishnan’s brother, Akbar, tried to assassinate Sir William but shot Mrs Spencer instead and was sentenced to life in prison. Krishnan’s tries one last attempt to get at Paula, by handing her flowers with 3 queen wasps. Hilary knocks the flowers out of his hands and also knocks the vial containing the wasp attraction liquid that Krishnan had been using. It splashes over him and he is attacked by a swarm of wasps. He makes it to water, but is taken to hospital to be treated for bad stings and shock. With their enemy now revealed, even more good news follows, as Sir William is well enough to return home. Paula also has overcome her fear of wasps with the defeat of Krishnan, and they can all enjoy her playing “The Wasps” by Vaughn Williams.

Thoughts

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, Spellbound gained a lot from the Diana comic, including some reprints and I can see how this would be a choice for a reprint.  Krishnan is quite devious, and while the reader knows he is behind the attacks, his motivations are still a mystery that needs to be solved. What makes this story stick in my mind more, is the wasps, as who wouldn’t be unsettled by the thought of being attacked by a swarm of wasps! I find it little odd that Spellbound shortened the title of this story to the plainer “Paula” considering “the Wasps of Terror” would be fitting with the comic’s themes and would evoke a certain image in readers mind. The art itself does portray the wasps as terrifying, as Paula so desperately tries to escape them.

The art, the wasps as a threat, Paula’s fear, Sir William’s life in jeopardy, Krishnan’s schemes and mystery of why he is doing this, all work well for the story. What doesn’t work so well, is that the characters can be quite frustrating at times! Firstly, Sir William being so devastated by possibly ruining his daughter’s career, while understandable to a degree, it seems like an over reaction that any falter by Paula and he’s convinced her violin days are over. Also though he is in a weak state, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s explained she has developed fear of wasps that is what is stopping her playing, not her hand (or if they have explained, he hasn’t listened). Secondly, is how slow people are to suspect Krishnan! Quite early on (in episode 4) Hilary suspects someone is out to get Sir William through Paula, while she eventually figures out who’s responsible and why, it seems to take a long time to get there. You would think it would have to be someone close to Paula to be able to spray her items with the scent that attracts wasps and with the tampered recording that Krishnan gave to Sir William, he should be a suspect. But even after Krishnan’s mention of his brother and implication of Spencers wronging him, he is continually allowed to teach Paula and play at concerts with her. Possibly as we don’t know all of Hilary’s thoughts, she may have been doing more secret investigations into him but couldn’t do anything against him until she had solid evidence, but if this is the case it doesn’t come across well in the story.

Another observation I had was the Spencers are a wealthy white family and to have an Indian as a villain, at a time when colonization of India hadn’t long ended, stands out to me. As these comics in general had a majority of white protagonists, it’s a shame that when other people were represented it was often in the role of a villain. There is an Indian doctor that appears in one episode, that lends Paula a sitar, but has no role other than that. Aside from that I am curious about Krishnan’s brother, while we know  that he is what motivates Krishnan’s act of vengeance, we don’t know why he tried to shoot Sir William in the first place. While that may be a question that would have been too much to get into for a short story aimed at young girls, it is still interesting to muse about such things when reading it today.

I think the strongest part of the story is Paula’s fear of wasps, which comes from a traumatic experience, and while Krishnan had nothing to do with that, he does use it to his advantage greatly afterwards. He does get a taste of his own medicine as he is attacked by wasps and left in shock. We don’t learn what happens to him after that, but I do wonder if he develops a fear of wasps as a suitable punishment! Paula’s fear is perhaps a bit quickly overcome in the end, but knowing that most of the wasp attacks were because of another person’s actions, it would make sense that when that person is gone, to feel less threatened.

Secret Gymnast (1987)

Secret Gymnast cover 1

Published: Bunty Picture Library #290

Artist: Norman Lee

Note: Not to be confused with the Bunty serial “The Secret Gymnast”

Plot

Fran Farley’s father had died just as he was making a name for himself as a violinist. Fran’s mother wants Fran to follow in her father’s footsteps. She drives Fran very hard while constantly going on about the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father, which include putting her own concert career on hold. Mum even has Fran home-tutored (with an outdated tutor) because it fits in with violin practice better than school, although Fran misses school. Fran is unhappy about it all; she does not live for the violin the way her father did, and she does not feel she has enough talent to be a top violinist. But Mum won’t accept Fran does not have what it takes to follow her father.

Secret Gymnast 1

One day at the music shop Fran overhears a woman, Marion Cole, who desperately needs Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 for a gymnastics floor exercise, but the shop does not have it. Fran steps in to help it is one of her practice pieces. So Fran brings her violin to the gym to play the piece while Marion records it. Then Fran has a go at gymnastics and discovers she has a real flair and enthusiasm for it. Marion immediately suggests she join the beginners’ class.

Fran joins the class and makes her mark there immediately. But she is finding it very difficult to get a chance to speak to her mother about it, especially as Mum is now driving her extra hard to get her into a music scholarship. So it goes the way of going to the class behind her mother’s back and trying to fit gymnastics around her violin practice. Added to that, Fran finds a girl in her gymnastics class, Sylvia, dislikes her.

Nonetheless, Fran is soon good enough for a gymnastics competition. Her class all win badges and certificates, but they are put out when Fran has them miss the celebrations because she has to dash back home before her mother suspects anything. Back home, Fran hopes to show her mother what she has won. But before she can say anything, Mum says she is going to an audition with Stefan Mayer, a great German violin teacher and an old friend of her father’s. And so it all continues, juggling secret gymnastics around violin practice, which is more demanding than ever.

Secret Gymnast 2

At the audition, Fran decides to do her best. Afterwards, Mr Mayer confirms Fran’s suspicions when he tells her, in effect, that he is not seeing her father’s genius in her, only competence. He will take her on, but only for the sake of her father. Mum is overjoyed, although she will be taking on extra work to pay for the new classes. Fran is less than enthusiastic about them.

Meanwhile, secret gymnastics continue. They get more difficult to fit in with violin practice, which are even more intense because of the upcoming Mayer classes. Worse, Sylvia dislikes Fran even more after it becomes evident that Fran is better than her. When Fran gets worried her secret will be discovered at an upcoming gymnastics display, Sylvia gets suspicious and wonders if it is a way to get rid of Fran. Meanwhile, Marion hopes Fran will take part in the display because it could open up an important coaching post for her.

Then Sylvia finds Mrs Farley playing piano at her dance class. In a “casual” conversation, Sylvia’s suspicions are confirmed and Mum finds out Fran is doing gymnastics behind her back. She is horrified because she considers gymnastics as “mindless contortions” that have the potential to damage Fran’s violin arms. She moans about this to Fran when she confronts her, and all the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father. Fran says gymnastics are far more important to her than the violin, which she will never be able to play the way her father could.

Secret Gymnast 3

They retire to bed, where Mum finally begins to wonder if Fran does not really have her father’s talent. Meanwhile Fran starts sleepwalking while dreaming about competing for the Olympics, and is using the balustrade on the balcony as a beam. Mum finds her, and is terrified that Fran could fall to her death if she wakes. Fran comes off safely and wakes up. Mum was so impressed with the beautiful movements Fran made that she relents and lets Fran pursue gymnastics.

Within a month, everything has turned out splendidly (except for, presumably, Sylvia). Fran’s gymnastics are in full swing, which Mum now appreciates as an art as well as a sport. Mum has resumed her concert career, Marion gets her post, and Fran qualifies for the junior championships.

Thoughts

This story is one of my personal favourites. The story is solid and shows the writer has done their homework on both music and gymnastics. Of course there has to be a jealous rival in the gymnastics class, but she does not do much beyond telling on Fran to her mother. She pulls no sneaky tricks to sabotage Fran. This is probably because it would not fit into the 64-page booklet; if it was a serial, there would certainly be scope for dirty tricks from the rival. But it makes a nice change not to have it.

The conflict comes from the difficult mother who drives Fran way too hard, is almost absurdly comical in the way she goes on about the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father, and being way too overprotective in keeping Fran fit for violin practice. But Mum’s carrying-on about her sacrifices is selfish and disgusting in the way she uses it for emotional blackmail on Fran. She made them just to get what she wants – see Fran follow her father. It was not for what Fran wanted, and Mum is clearly deluding herself when she thinks Fran is dedicated to the violin. If she took off her rose-tinted glasses she might see that Fran is not showing the same enthusiasm or talent for the violin that her father did – so much so that he would play for six hours without stopping.

Mr Mayer can see it, but it is a pity he does not speak up more about it and perhaps talk some sense into the mother. Instead, he takes Fran just for the sake of her father, though he must know in his heart it will be a waste of time because there is no real genius.

Secret Gymnast 4

It is ironic that in gymnastics Fran shows not where her talent lies but also more appreciation for her music as well. Mum moans to Fran that she has lost rhythm in practice while rhythm is no problem for Fran in gymnastics. Mr Mayer tells Fran that she does not make Mozart speak in her violin music; in a floor exercise Fran can really feel Mozart speak in the music.

The sleepwalking resolution feels a bit contrived. On the other hand, the mother did need some shock treatment to snap her out of her selfishness towards Fran, and she gets it when she sees her daughter in danger of falling to her death. It also forces the mother to watch Fran’s gymnastics for the first time and properly judge what she dismissed as “mindless contortions”. And in the end, once Mum has stopped pushing Fran into following her father, everything is so much happier for Mum as well as Fran.

Cherry’s Chipper

Plot

Cherry King, a talented pianist, had earned a place at the  local Music Academy. In order to pay her fees, her father put all his savings in a mobile fish-and-chip van, called “Cherry’s Chipper”, but late one night it was involved in an accident.

cherry's chipper

Note

Appeared

  • Cherry’s Chipper – Judy: circa  #507 (27 September 1969) – (?)

The Double Life of Trudy Tomkins

Plot

The Radcliffe Mill Brass Band had a secret benefactor—Trudy Tomkins. their cornet player and grand-daughter of the conductor, Will Bailey. Trudy earned the money by singing, under the name of Antonia Doe,with the Spud Bashers, a local pop group. She had had to miss a band practice in order to record the group’s first disc…

double life trudy tomkins

Notes

Appeared

  • The Double Life of Trudy Tomkins – Debbie: #175 (19 June 1976) – (?)

The Haunting of Hazel Darke

Plot

When Hazel Darke was given an old piano by her grandmother she found it had a frightening effect on her. Normally tone deaf, Hazel had no talent for music at all, but whenever she went near the piano she felt an irresistible force compelling her to play a beautiful melody – and found herself speaking strange words in someone else’s voice!

Notes

  • Photo Story

Appeared

  • The Haunting of Hazel Darke – Suzy: #01 (11 September 1982) – #04 (02 October 1982)

Little Miss Busyfingers

Plot

It is the end of World War II. All the other evacuees have left the Larches, home to Misses Daphne and Edith Burntree. Vi (Violet) Lambeth has stayed on because the housekeeper, Mrs Porter, is kind to her. But then the Misses Burntree sack Mrs Porter and start using Vi as an unpaid servant. They also get rid of the piano Mrs Porter left Vi as a gift, so Vi has to find other ways of playing the piano. And Vi has to contend with bullies at school as well.

busyfingers

Notes

  • Text Story
  • Spot Art: Tom Hurst

Appeared

  • Little Miss Busyfingers –  Mandy: #1232 (25 August 1990) – #1243 (10 November 1990)

 

Secret Star!

Plot

When rising pop star Jeff Collins loses his voice, he owes his agent Mr Winter a lot of money. Mr Winter wants his money back and insists Jeff perform despite his illness. Jeff’s twin sister Jodie takes his place in secret. When Jodie finds out what an unpleasant man Mr Winter is, she decides to investigate his dealings with Jeff.

Star

Notes

  • Artist: Ron Lumsden

Appeared

  • Secret Star! –  Mandy: circa #947 (9 March 1985) – (?)