Tag Archives: the four marys

Jim Eldridge – Artist

Jim Eldridge is an artist who drew the long running serial “The Four Marys” in it’s final years (along with some other stories). He has kindly answered some questions on his timeworking for DCT and other comics.

Jim got his first work with DCT through LINK studios, under the agent Doris White. Another well known artist, Barrie Mitchell, also started his career in the same studio and both of them drew Roy of the Rovers strips at different times and have a similar style. This has led to some confusion of their work, but Barrie Mitchell did not draw The Four Marys, that was all Jim’s work. While Jim did draw other stories, it being so long ago, he can’t remember all the jobs he worked on then, and certainly none were as long as the time he spent on The Four Marys.

“When I joined LINK studios I had already has my first strip “Tarzan” printed for the TV Comic. I did various artwork jobs for DCT while with LINK studios but none for IPC. I wasn’t with them very long, I then moved to another agent “Roger & Co.” run by Jack  Wall and Kate Woolley, while there I did draw a few “Wee Sue” for Tammy and also got my first strip for the Bunty comic “The Three Imps” and  I also did “football libraries” for DCT.  That agency was taken over by Temple Art Agency run by Patrick Kelleher, it was while there I was offered “The Four Marys” for Bunty, and I also did Roy of the Rovers on a few occasions. I was with Temple for about 20 years. When Bunty ended I moved again to SGA agency for a few years and then to Linda Rogers agency for a while. I have been with my current agent Paul Beebee of Beehive Illustration for the last 16 years and illustrated many hundreds of Educational Books for most of the main publishers.” [You can see some of Jim Edridge’s more recent work here: www.beehiveillustration.co.uk]

       (The Three Imps – Bunty)

Jim got to know some other artists in the business; Barrie Mitchell, Mike White (Roy of the Rovers artist) and Mike Lacy, but there was no collaboration for Jim with the writers of the stories he drew for.  He was just given the script,  so he would just illustrate straight from script to final art. He only met with the Bunty editor Jim Davie, whom he got on very well with and he passed on the readers’ fan mail for The Four Marys to Jim. The Four Marys was a favourite with readers and many praised his artwork, the story was increased from 3 pages to 4 pages, keeping Jim busy as he had to produce this every week. He did have time for some other jobs but mostly The Four Marys kept him occupied enough, he had no idea it would run for 12 years and as a freelancer he was grateful for the steady work.

“With regard to The Four Marys. That was my favourite story to draw. I had no idea I would be drawing this story for 12 years [..]  I also did Four Marys picture library’s and summer specials as well as the Four Marys weekly pages and it was my artwork that modernised them and in colour.  It was an amazing long run to draw this story and I was thankful for the regular work. Being freelance. Looking back it was good to have drawn Bunty’s top story for 12 years.”

   

Of course sadly Bunty came to an end, but Jim has made his mark on the comic and is happily still working these days illustrating children’s books. “When Bunty finished it was a shock at the time, but I then moved on to Children’s book illustration”

List of Work:

  • Beehive Illustration
  • Football Picture Story Monthly
  • Mike’s Mini-Men (Roy of the Rovers)
  • Roy of the Rovers
  • Tarzan (TV Comic)
  • The Four Marys (Bunty)
  • The Three Imps (Bunty)
  • Wee Sue (Tammy)

The Secret Servant: A Four Marys Story [1993]

Published: Bunty Picture Library #365

Artist: Jim Eldridge

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: Jim Eldridge

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!

The Four Marys

 

  • The Four Marys – Bunty: #01 (18 January 1958) –  #2249 (17 February 2001)
  • Writers: Maureen Hartley (2 Stories: “Creefy’s Rival” and “The Mystery Virus”)
  • Artists: Bill Holroyd (#01-#15), James ‘Peem’ Walker, Manuel Cuyàs (#434 – #436), Selby Donnison, Jim Eldridge

Plot

Four girls all named Mary attend a reputable boarding school, St. Elmos. They become firm friends and usually go by their nicknames Raddy, Simpy, Fieldy and Cotty. Throughout their time they have many adventures and solve some mysteries.

Thoughts

This is one of the most well remembered stories, and that has to be partially due to its longevity. A 40 year run is quite impressive. The strip appeared in the majority of the issues but wasn’t a continuous run from first to last issue. There was a couple of breaks particularly in the 80s, though they never went away for too long. There were some reprints over the years particularly towards the end of Bunty.

1950s/1960s

The first 15  issues were drawn by Bill Holroyd, and each girl had their own distinctive look.  The early years had an Enid Blyton tone to the stories, they had the usual boarding school routines,  as well as chase up some mysterious going-ons.

fourmarys_02

While all the girls had their own personality and talents, Mary Simpson was probably one of the most inspirational to young girls. A smart working class girl, that had earned her place in a good school, yet had to contend with being looked down on by some snobs. Bunty in the late 50s was aimed at a more working class background and at the time it was quite a novelty to put a scholarship girl as a main character.  Overall it seems the big appeal of the story was the relationships and friendship of the girls. (Mel Gibson discusses such things in her essay: What Bunty did next….)

While it’s true that the friendships were very important, probably most people had their favourite Mary. Personally I always had a soft spot for Mary Cotter, the talented but often shy and clumsy Mary. Mary Radleigh was the daughter of an Earl but also hated anyone putting on airs and graces, she was loyal and down to earth. Mary Field was the active sports mad girl, that could be a little too pushy at times. Of course 2 other regular characters were the snobs; Mabel and Veronica, who disliked Simpy for her lower class upbringing and the Marys in general for being popular and goody two shoes!

The boarding school itself was full of traditions. Dr. Gull was the head mistress, sometimes known as the Squawker (and the first years were called the Newts). While the girls were allowed to go to the local town, Elmbury, they were expected to behave appropriately, wear their full uniform and there were certain shops they weren’t allowed visit. Miss Creef was the third form mistress, who held up the various traditions but was also described as firm but fair.

Story arcs from this decade included; a mystery surrounding  a hermit teacher Miss Johnson who turns out to be a former student; Lady Josephine Bramily. She has amnesia after a boating accident. Luckily, Mary Simpson and head girl, Ann Fairlie, help her  recover her memories so she can go reclaim her inheritance. Another mysterious teacher Miss Mandy seems to have hidden past with a young cockney that involves thieving. The girls help a young girl Hilda secure a job as maid in the school, only to discover someone’s out to get her fired.  Mary Cotter damages her eye in a lab accident and  nearly does worse damage when she mixes up eye ointment with a bottle of bleach, luckily Simpy catches her in time, and eventually Cotty’s eyes recover (although by the end of the series, her eyesight declines and she ends up having to get glasses!).  A group of girls dub themselves ‘the avengers’ and punish any girl that has done any wrong doing. Simpy discover that it is Raddy and Fieldy doing such things after they let her join them in dunking a cheating prefect Avril in a bath.

fourmarys_01

Early on the stories usually consisted of 2 pages, though later this got expanded to 3 pages. The girls interestingly didn’t refer to each other by nicknames, for the first few years they continued to just call each other Mary. I’m not sure when exactly the change happened but it made sense to start giving them each a distinctive name to be referred as.

1970s

There was a lot of reprinted stories in the 70s.  It was quite common to reprint shorter serials in these comics and with a long running strip like the Four Marys it may have been hard to keep the weekly turnover of new stories. Presumably it was also thought that readers of the first printing would have outgrown the comic by then.

Some of the new stories included; the school being threatened by a flood. A cycle trip with the cycle club led by Miss Creef, Mabel and Veronica mess with Simpy’s old bike in the hopes of getting back to the school earlier. Simpy manages to borrow an old 3 wheeler bike and enter in a race. She doesn’t win but the winner gives her the prize of a new bike for being so entertaining. Cotty believes she is under a gypsy curse and those close to her are getting harmed, it turns out to be a combination of  Mabel and Veronica playing some tricks and a scheme to take over the school. Raddy has trouble looking out for her cousin Sonia.  A feud between Mr Crowe, a local farmer, and the school starts over the school using the right of way to walk through his land.

4marys_04

 

1980s

Like I mentioned before the 80s saw the Four Marys on some breaks. On one of these breaks the regular ongoing story had some similar themes, involved 3 friends in a ballet boarding school called The Three Imps. Perhaps they were testing out permanent replacements or maybe they just needed a break, but the Marys did return again and with a new artist. At the end of the 80s a new format seemed to settle with the Marys. With them being the first story in the issue, and the more modern School’s Out (which was replaced with The Comp by 1989) as the last story of the issue. Dr Gull had been replaced by the more forward thinking Miss Mitchell, and the girls even got to interact with boys from St. Bartophs boarding school.  The end of 1989 was also when Bunty got a new colour update. While some stories were still in black and white, The Four Marys were now fully coloured.

4marys_05

Some stories in the 1980s include the girls rallying a strike to stop Miss Creef being dismissed after a fall out with Dr Gull. A group of unruly circus girls joining the school temporarily. A new American pupil Lana  gets elected captain of the Bee’s House and wants to hold up all St. Elmos traditions including challenging the village boys to a football match, running barefoot down to the town and raising the house flag on the clock tower. A mystery involving the school’s founder Margaret Carews actual death. A temporary Home Economics teacher who has been secretly keeping her toddler daughter at the school. A competition sees the Marys all split up into different teams, this causes problems but in the end they all come together. St Elmo’s comes under threat of closure when they start to lose students, of course the school is saved with the help of the Marys.

1990s/ 2000s

So the 90s started with the Four Marys in colour and now expanded to 4 pages. The Four Marys was trying to change with the times, with the more up to date Miss Mitchell, continuing to modernise the school, and even Cotty stopped wearing her hair in 2 plaits. The girls were now frequently seen out of uniform as they were able to wear their regular clothes down town and like I mentioned before they were even mixing with boys. Still even with this more modern tone, the girls still has familiar adventures; dealing with new teachers with hidden agendas, threats to the school and tests of their friendships. By the end of the 90s earlier stories were reprinted a lot.

4marys_06

Stories in the 90s included; Mary Field having trouble when her cousin becomes her teacher, causing the other girls to think she’s a teacher’s pet. The girls go on a trip to America with Miss Creef and help foil a jewel thief. The girls try to help a girl they believe is being held captive. It turns out the wheelchair bound, Ailsa, who just has an overprotective aunt, but agrees to let her join St. Elmos. When a famous fashion designer comes to St. Elmos to unveil her new collection, it seems someone is out to sabotage her.  A story set in the past shows the Marys first term in St. Elmos. Raddy gets held captive by robbers who coerce Miss Mitchell into letting them hide out the school. The other Marys soon get suspicious of the new “gardener” and Miss Mitchell’s story that Raddy was sent home sick.

4marys_10

In the final story for The Four Marys, it looks like they will be split up when Cotty fails her exams and will have to leave St. Elmos. Luckily she passes her resit test, Raddy gets elected as form captain and Simpy ends the strip on line “The Four Marys forever”

bunty_2249_4maryslastissue

 

Final Thoughts

The Four Marys certainly had lasting power, although by the 80s/90s I think they were considered somewhat old fashioned, and so there was changes made to modernise them. At the same time the Marys were permanently stuck in the 3rd form, similar story-lines were repeated and in some ways they felt quite worn out. Still they appealed to a lot of readers. Personally growing up I did enjoy the Four Marys but I  was definitely more interested with The Comp. Funnily reading back the older issues even though it was before my time I actually find the 60s stuff appealing to me more, the art was more simplistic and it had a nice charm with the setting and stories. I think sometimes the Marys could come off a little too good and helpful at times, but still they weren’t without their flaws and their solid friendship it seems is one of the things that interested people.

The art changed a lot over the years and while the artists all did well, my personal favourites are  James Walker (60s) and Selby Donnison (80s).  There was a lot of adventure, mystery, fun and characters that you could get invested in.

 

Quick Links:

The Four Marys – Characters                                List of Appearances