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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.

Thorndale Hall 3

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.

Thorndale Hall 4

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.

Thorndale Hall 5

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.

Thorndale Hall 7

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.

 

Wendy at War [1976]

Wendy at War logo

Published: Debbie #186 (4 September 1976) – #198 (27 November 1976)

Episodes: 13

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

Reprints: none known

Plot

In 1940, the Channel Islands become the only German-occupied British territory of World War II and the Germans put it under martial law. Wendy Lee’s father is away fighting. The Germans turn Wendy and her mother (and their cat Snuggles) out of their home because they want the place for their Army Staff Quarters. They send the Lees to a “more suitable” place – a rundown house that is almost a ruin. Appalled at such treatment, Wendy declares to her mother’s face that she is going to fight the Germans every which way she can until the Channel Islands are liberated from them.

Wendy at War 1

As the occupation takes its grip, life becomes harder for the villagers because of blockades and rationing, food, fuel and medical shortages, and repressive measures against any form of resistance. Among them is a total ban on outside photography except for the German armed forces – because they use the photographs for propagandistic purposes in Germany that they have conquered the whole of Britain instead of small British islands. Another is taking 60% of the fishing catches while having all island shipping vessels registered, numbered instead of named, and being painted in army camouflage.

The Germans suffer too, such as having to resort to horse-drawn power because of the fuel shortages. The Germans also have the islanders help them win the war, such as handing over spare rubber for their war effort. Some of the islanders comply willingly, much to Wendy’s disgust. Worse still are the informers and collaborators she encounters.

But Wendy has not forgotten her vow to fight the Germans. Her first case comes incidentally when she sets lobster pots in defiance of the German oppression with the aid of her father’s boat, Dancing Dolphin, which she has hidden from the measures imposed on fishing vessels described above. But it’s not lobsters she finds but a left-behind British Commando. They almost get caught because of an informer, who is also responsible for the arrest of a farmer who tried to help the Commando as well. Wendy manages to get the Commando away before the German forces arrest them too.

Next Wendy acquires some tissue paper to make sketches of the occupation to help the Allies, and then send them off in bottles in the hope someone on the mainland will find them. She starts with sketches of slave labourers who have been captured from other occupied territories and being forced to build shore defences. She gets discovered by a German soldier, Helmut Silbernagel. However, Helmut is a friendly German who does not agree with Nazism or the treatment the labourers are receiving. Wendy is surprised to learn from Helmut’s example that some Germans are good, and she continues her secret sketches with his connivance. Helmut is able to help Wendy even more when he is billeted at her house.

Wendy at War 3

A friend of Wendy’s, Henry Green, is arrested and deported to a labour camp for composing an anti-German dance tune, The Victory Waltz. Wendy wants to save him and turns to Helmut for help, but there is nothing either can do for Henry. All Wendy can do is watch Henry put up a brave show as he is taken aboard, along with several other people being deported for even the slightest act of resistance.

Later, Wendy steals the opportunity to do some sabotage against the slave labour, but the Germans go after the saboteur. Henry’s brother Ben helps her, but then Wendy goes into hiding because she thinks Ben is going to betray her. She camps out at an old market garden with the help of her mother, Helmut, and a poacher named Bill Parton. Mind you, Parton charges fees for his services in aiding people. It is also revealed Parton is aiding German soldiers who have deserted and gone into hiding because their superiors’ rules are too harsh.

Eventually Ben convinces Wendy that she got things wrong and he did not betray her. In fact, the Germans take advantage of his newspaper reporting to report their amazing progress in building sea defences. Moreover, Ben also received a letter from Henry saying that if he wants help in speeding up the defeat of the Germans, turn to “W.L.” for help. Henry can be referring to only one person.

Wendy at War 5

It’s not until several months later that Ben does turn to Wendy for help. Two Frenchmen trying to escape occupied France got shipwrecked on the islands. They need a boat, but the Germans have them all under close guard. Wendy points Ben in the direction of Dancing Dolphin. As one of the Frenchmen can’t row because of an injury, Ben has to do it. He will take the men back to France because he does not think Dancing Dolphin can make it to Britain, and the men will try again. It will turn out to be a one-way trip for Ben and Dancing Dolphin, because Ben stays on in France.

To help Ben and the Frenchmen get away without interference from German troops, Wendy starts a huge bonfire as a diversion. It backfires when she gets trapped in it, and then the Germans discover her while they are fighting the blaze. Wendy tries a cover story that she was trying to rescue a cat, but the Germans are not convinced. They lock her in the cells. Eventually they let Wendy go after receiving her character references, but warn her that they will be keeping a close eye on her.

This means Wendy’s secret resistance is under threat, and more so when Helmut is sent to the Russian Front. The German they billet now, one Sergeant Sturm, is your typical bully Nazi hulk, and Wendy suspects he has been planted to keep an eye on her. Then Helmut suddenly returns, and when he sees Sturm’s bullying he sends him packing – at gunpoint. However, this and another act of rebellion against the German military (disillusionment from the horrors Helmut had seen at the Russian Front) get Helmut arrested. Sturm goes back to billeting with the Lees.

Wendy at War 4

Helmut had dropped hints that the Germans are losing. The hints turn into open news bulletins. Street celebrations erupt at the news that Hitler is dead, and Sturm is floored at this because the source for this news is reliable. Reports of more Allied victories come, and Mum and her Red Cross workers use it to persuade the German authorities not to execute Helmut, lest the Allies hear of it when they come. When liberation comes in May 1945, the German forces surrender to the returning Allied troops. And Dad is among the returning soldiers.

Over thirty years later, an adult Wendy wraps things up for us. The Channel Islands recovered from the occupation, though it took a while. Helmut was not executed, but he did have a spell in a British POW camp. He now runs a successful vineyard in the Rhineland and still keeps in touch with Wendy. Ben Green became a reporter for a French newspaper and married a “glamorous Parissienne”. Henry Green returned, married Wendy in 1952 (awww) and still plays The Victory Waltz.

Thoughts

This story is an overlooked gem from Debbie that is now receiving attention through forums on girls’ comics and becoming highly regarded. It certainly deserves to be. It is an impressively strong story, very well written, thought provoking, and shows so much realism in its portrayal of the Channel Islands occupation. Either the writer did a lot of research to make this story as realistic as possible or they had some personal connection to the Channel Islands, perhaps even growing up there during the occupation years.

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It is one serial that features one aspect of World War II that does not get much attention in girls’ comics: the occupation of the Channel Islands and reminding us that the Nazis did occupy some British territory, even if they never succeeded in conquering Britain itself. Seeing British people being oppressed by Nazis is even more disturbing than stories that use settings of occupied continental countries. It is a microcosm of what Britain could have become had Hitler succeeded in invading it. There may be more serials that feature the occupation of the Channel Islands, but currently this is the only one mentioned on the Internet.

There have been plenty of serials about girls conducting one-girl wars against the Nazis. But unlike Catch the Cat or The White Mouse, Wendy does not adopt a costumed identity to become a symbol of resistance and a constant bane to the town Commandant. Nor is she part of any resistance organisation. She is just an ordinary girl who uses determination, quick wits, and whatever resources she has to hand to fight the Germans any way she can. Unlike The Cat or the White Mouse, who invariably win with whatever they do, Wendy does not always succeed. For example, she wants to help free Henry Green, but finds that there are some things that are beyond her power, or even that of the friendly German soldier. And so Wendy’s resistance is more realistic and believable than that of The Cat, because it is more like how it would have been with real-life resisters against Nazi occupation.

The story takes time out to explore the impacts of the occupation on people and how it is bringing out the best in some people and the worst in others. We see people who comply with the Germans for one reason or other. For example, Wendy encounters boys who give the soldiers rubber for the war effort because their father says the sooner the war is over the better, no matter which side wins. Next panel Wendy looks on in horror at the slave labour on the beach and marvels at how anyone can think “no matter which side wins”. There are downright traitors and collaborators, who are epitomised in the informer who betrays Wendy and the Commando to the Germans and gets a farmer arrested. Some people are turning the war to their own advantage, such as Mr Begley who takes advantage of the shoe shortage to charge exorbitant prices for resoling. And while there are people who resist the Germans, not all of them are doing it gratis as Wendy does. Bill Parton charges fees for his services in helping people. But as he is also a poacher, his principles may not be the highest to begin with.

Wendy at War 2

Having Wendy being aided and abetted by a friendly German soldier is quite a surprise and twist. It reminds us that not all Germans were bad. There were Germans who did not approve of Hitler or Nazism, and some even formed resistance groups such as The White Rose. Good German soldiers (always in the Army, never in the SS or Gestapo) appeared quite regularly in the Commando war libraries, but they did not feature so much in girls’ serials. Helmut’s disapproval stems from him not forgetting his humanity and is horrified by the sight of slave labourers being treated so cruelty by bullying German soldiers. Later it is compounded by the horrors of war. We also see glimpses of other German soldiers who have become disillusioned by the oppression of Nazism and harsh superiors and have deserted and now live in hiding, depending on covert resisters like Wendy for survival. Perhaps the soldiers became resisters themselves. A stark contrast to the more stereotyped bully German soldiers like Sergeant Sturm who conduct the typical Nazi oppression, not only on their prisoners but also the locals of the islands they have invaded.

When Harry Dumped Sally [1995]

When Harry Dumped Sally 1

Published: Bunty #1950 (27 May 1995) to #1966 (16 September 1995)

Episodes: 17

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Sally Cartwright is going out with Harry Dennis. She’s really enjoying it, but then Harry starts acting as if he’s losing enthusiasm. Eventually he tells Sally he does not want to go out with her anymore. When Sally presses him over it, he snaps at her and tells her to leave him alone, he never wants to see her again. Sally is heartbroken. Her friends, who saw what happened, are sympathetic and tell her to “forget all about the creep!” To all appearances Sally is doing so and her friends admire her for taking it so well. Secretly though, it’s the opposite. Sally has turned extremely nasty over it all. She is thirsting for revenge and out to make Harry rue the day he dumped her.

When Harry Dumped Sally 2

So Sally starts taking every single opportunity to play dirty tricks on Harry at every turn. The trouble is, Sally just doesn’t know where to stop and has no limits at all. Soon Harry’s life is not just an utter misery because things are suddenly going wrong for him and he can’t understand why. He is also getting into trouble with the school authorities and developing an unjustified bad reputation as a troublemaker with the teachers, all because of Sally’s tricks. Many of the classmates also begin to think Harry is turning into a troublemaker and can’t put a foot right, and they become unfriendly towards him. But Sally never pauses to think about this, much less have any pang of conscience. On the contrary, Sally loves every minute of Harry’s nightmare. And whenever she sees signs that Harry is getting in good with his friends again, she makes moves to crush it and make him unpopular again, and does the same with another new girlfriend Harry tries to acquire.

Sally doesn’t even stop when the rumour goes around that Harry has an enemy. Some of the classmates believe it while most don’t and just think Harry’s trying to blame someone else for his own trouble. At any rate, Sally never thinks to quit while she’s ahead. She just tells herself to go more carefully whenever she has the inevitable narrow escape now and then.

Harry realises he must have an enemy but seems to be at a loss as to who it is. In fact, he thinks Sally is still friendly with him despite the breakup and even asks to date her again at one point. Of course Sally is just pretending to be friendly in order to make more trouble for him.

When Harry Dumped Sally 3

Eventually, when it is brought to Sally’s attention that she is the only girl in the class without a boyfriend, she finally decides it’s time to forget Harry and revenge and look for a new boyfriend. But at the Saturday market she can’t resist playing one more trick on Harry because she still gets full of anger every time she sees him. When she accidentally knocks over a handbag display, she foists the blame onto Harry. Poor, innocent, hapless Harry gets a telling off from the stall owner right in front of everyone while Sally watches with glee.

Later, Sally spots another boy in the market and takes a fancy to him, but he does not respond to her attempts to attract him. She assumes the boy is just shy – but at school on Monday she discovers it is because she has played one trick too many on Harry! The boy is Darren Walker, who is a new pupil and also Harry’s new friend and neighbour. Darren saw what Sally did in the market and reported it to Harry, so now Harry has figured everything out. Harry tells Sally she won’t have a friend left in the school when he and Darren spread the word, and he is right. Sally finds Harry’s revenge is sweeter than hers.

Thoughts

There is no doubt the title is a take on the movie title “When Harry Met Sally”, but the story has no bearing whatsoever on the movie. It’s a morality lesson on what can happen when revenge is taken too far. The story is also structured to present us with a question: are we still sympathetic with Sally by the end of the story?

When Harry Dumped Sally 4

The breakup at the beginning is set up to make us sympathetic towards Sally, along with the classmates who witnessed it. But does Sally retain our sympathies by the end of the story? Or do we feel she has gone too far and she’s gotten way too spiteful? Or do we feel she’s just carried it along for far too long, it’s getting out of hand, and it’s time for it to end? Do our sympathies switch to Harry and we wish he would catch her out? These are the questions we face as the story develops.

We must say that Harry was asking for some sort of revenge when he dumped Sally. It’s not just that he dumped her; it’s also because he handled it badly, even aggressively. The girls who witness it say he’s a creep and a pig. All right, so maybe he did not really know how to handle it and found it a very difficult thing to do, so he bungled it. As it is, our sympathies lie with Sally and we all cheer when she starts her revenge.

The question is, do we continue cheering for Sally? As Sally’s revenge continues, she does things that go way too far. Making Harry unpopular with the other classmates and even destroying his friendships are too much. But what really goes beyond the pale is getting Harry into trouble with the teachers and blackening his school record, which would in turn get him into big trouble with his parents for things that are totally unjustified. What’s even more disturbing is that Sally has absolutely no conscience about that whatsoever. There are no twinges of remorse that bite some girls in “revenge” stories. On the contrary, Sally loves it every time she hurts Harry, and has no regrets about anything she has done to him. She is glad she has made his life so miserable ever since he dumped her. Her revenge just goes on and on, and becomes protracted and spinning out the story’s length.

When Sally finally decides to stop, it’s not out of remorse or just getting tired of it – it’s the realisation that she needs to move on if she wants to find a new boyfriend. But even after she decides to stop, she can’t resist passing up another chance to strike at Harry because she can’t let go of her anger. And there is little doubt Sally would have seized more opportunities to hurt Harry if Darren had not caught her out.

When Harry Dumped Sally 5

So do our sympathies remain with Sally after this? Or have our sympathies switched to Harry? Does Harry become the sympathetic character in the story and we wish Sally would get caught out? How do we feel when Harry tells Sally he has found her out and calls her a nasty piece of work? It’s all up to the reader. That’s the whole purpose of the story and the way it was structured, including its long length of 17 episodes. The length must have been designed to protract Sally’s revenge and further test our sympathies and feelings towards Sally and Harry.

Whatever our feelings, we know there will be no problems with Sally being dumped in future – because no boy in the class will go out with her. After this, Sally is going to have a reputation among the boys as a spiteful bitch and they should steer well clear of her.

The Darke Diamonds [1985-1986]

Plot

The Darke Diamonds are the heirloom necklace of the Darke family. Once there were ten diamonds, but over the generations the diamonds have progressively disappeared one way or another (lost, sold, gifted, traded, and even thrown away) and just one is left now. The latest Darke to inherit the last diamond relives the diamonds’ history in a strange dream.

Notes

  • Artist: Paddy Brennan

Appeared

  • The Darke Diamonds – Suzy: #159 (21 September 1985) – #175 (11 January 1986)

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

Where are the Children cover

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

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

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

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

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

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

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

Where are the Children 2

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

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

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

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

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

Where are the Children 4

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

Where are the Children 1

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

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

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

The Girl in the Mask / The Mask

Plot

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

Mask.jpg

Notes

  • Artist: Claude Berridge

Appeared

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

 

The Black Nightingale [1973]

Plot

In Nazi-occupied Rotterdam in 1941, former ice-skating champion Linda Konig works in a German-occupied hospital during the day. But by night she is a resistance fighter against the Nazis known as “The Black Nightingale”, and she uses her ice-skating skills for fast navigation of the frozen Rotterdam canals to help the Dutch.

Black Nightingale

Notes

Appeared

  • The Black Nightingale Diana #526 (17 March 1973) – #540 (23 June 1973)

 

The Strange Story of the Demon’s Cradle [1985]

Plot

A demon is chasing Jenny Jenkins because it wants the cradle artefact she possesses, which would enable it to conquer the world. She is trying to get to consecrated ground to bury the cradle, which would put it out of reach of the demon.

Notes

  • Photo story

Appeared

  • The Strange Story of the Demon’s Cradle – Suzy: circa #160 (28 Sep 1985) to #166 (9 Nov 1985)

 

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.