The Mandy annual was always very story focused, this is another annual with no features or articles just text and picture stories. This is also one of the books I had when I was younger and read many times, so these stories have a special place for me, although I think they all hold up well in their own right without the nostalgia attached.
Mandy took advantage of telling longer stories in parts over the annual and the Red Box of Destiny is certainly a memorable one. Most of the stories are one-offs for the annual but there are a few regular characters Valda, Picture-Book Polly, Attractive Angie and of course Mandy & Patch all show up. (For just a list of contents go to the next page)
The Red Box of Destiny (Pages: 4-12, 49-55, 73-80, 113-125)
A story in 4 parts, the first 3 parts each tell a different story of a girl in trouble who each end up using an old telephone box and in the final part the girls are all enlisted to help in a campaign to save the box and it saves them in the process.
First we have Carrie, an orphan, she lives with her abusive Uncle, Aunt and cousins. When her Aunt Edna allows her to keep a stray puppy, she should have known there was a catch. They only let her have Jasper the puppy as another means of controlling her. Aunt Edna wasn’t happy when Carrie stood up to her cousin about taking her locket but by using Jasper now Carrie is completely powerless. When a new girl joins at school, Carrie knows she can’t give her home number but then she remembers the Red Box’s number and gives her that. Carrie asks Jilly to call when she knows she will be out running errands, she is desperate to hear a friendly voice. The next girl, Kelly, is a promising dancer, her parents take on extra work so she has a chance at a prestigious dance school, but the car crashes on the way to the audition leaving Kelly’s legs permanently damaged. She becomes very bitter about it and blames her parents for it. She stops at the phone box to ring for a lift home and makes her mother feel guilty when she implies Kelly could manage to make it the rest of the small journey home. Finally we have Rama a talented musician but her father wants her to help with the family business, a restaurant, when she leaves school. He believes she shouldn’t spend so much time on music. Rama uses the phone box to ring her teacher and say she will play in a festival behind her father’s back, but then has a dilemma when her father wants Rama to work the same day to help impress a food critic.
In the last part the community start a campaign when red box is to be torn down. When she is approached, Aunt Edna volunteers Carrie to help. An overworked Carrie collapses on the way home with shopping one day. Once she is inside they start to abuse her, but luckily Jilly and her mother arrive just in time to stop them. They had noticed the number Carrie gave Jilly was the red box number, that along with some other instances made them suspicious to check up on her. They bring Carrie and Jasper to stay in their home. Kelly meanwhile only goes to the campaign talk so she can inconvenience her parents. There she meets David, a boy in wheelchair, he has a bone disease, but he doesn’t feel sorry for himself, he is very enthusiastic and volunteers him and Kelly’s services. He suddenly takes a turn for the worse and dies but Kelly changes her ways and decides to follow his example and not be bitter about how life changed for her. Rama’s father finds out about festival and forbids her from going. They go to meeting and he is fine for Rama to sing to draw attention to the red box. He says he doesn’t mind her singing as hobby he just doesn’t want her taking it seriously. She does well singing for the campaign and people make him realise her talent. He agrees she can go to music school but has to still learn about business if music career doesn’t work out. The last panel of the story has the girls each thanking the box for changing their lives for the better.
It is a heart-wrenching story, Carrie and her dog are cruelly mistreated by her family. Kelly has her dreams shattered and then her new friend dies. Rama doesn’t have it as bad, but still family problems are not easy to cope with and like Kelly, she feels her dreams being taken away. Rama is a bit more sympathetic than Kelly too. Even before the accident she doesn’t seem to appreciate her parents working extra shifts to pay for her school and complains when her dad is running late for the audition. Because she is so worked up, she distracts her father while driving and while I don’t think she is deserving of her fate, her parents definitely don’t deserve her bitterness directed at her. It is nice that David showed her the error of her ways but again sad that he died so young.
Rama and her dad have different viewpoints and story could easily have painted him as the villain but we see that he cares about her. He wants her to work in restaurant but worries when she seems overworked, and he doesn’t ban music completely, he just is cautious of the fickleness of the music business. He comes to a good compromise in the end so Rama can follow her dream but still have something to fall back on.
Mum’s Secret (Pages: 13-16)
Writer: Alison (Christie) Fitt
When a new neighbour moves in that is known to be a ladies man, and Jane sees her mum going into his house, when she said she was going to the shop, she starts thinking they are having an affair. She thinks her mum will leave the family, but it turns out the man is a painter and mum has being going over to his to get her portrait painted in secret as a surprise for father’s birthday.
Valda and the Burning of Barthol (Pages: 17-24)
[Art: Dudley Wynne]
This classic Mandy character appeared in many annuals, here Valda comes across a town of Barthol and burning of effigy of Richard Bartholomew. It seems a professor of history has reinstated an old village costum of “The Burning of Barthol”. This upsets Richard’s ancestor greatly especially as other villagers have been mean to her saying Richard burnt out villagers because they couldn’t pay rent. Valda sets the history straight about the man, when she leads the villagers to a hidden document. In Richards’ time a plague broke out and with the help of a mysterious girl they crossed ravine to build new settlement. Richard then burnt the village and his castle to stop the plague spreading. With the truth now known Valda leave, though the professor and villagers have many questions about how she knew such things.
Down with Boys (Pages: 25-32)
Writer: Alison (Christie) Fitt, Art: Carmen Barbara
Best friends, Jane and Polly make a pact to not get distracted by boys for Valentines Day, but when Neil starts paying attention to both of them, they end up playing dirty tricks on each other to win his favour. Such as Polly throwing away Jane’s valentine’s card for Neil, and Jane sending lots of cards out in Polly’s name. They eventually find out Neil was using them, so they would help set up a disco for him and he already has a girlfriend. After that they revert back to their original sentiment of down with boys!
Who is Sylvie? (Pages: 35-45)
Art: Andrew Wilson
Rachel thinks there is something mysterious about the new girl, Sylvie. Although Rachel becomes friends with her she notices somethings she says doesn’t add up, like where she said she went to school previously. Also the teachers seem to let her get away with things other pupils wouldn’t be able to. Despite being a good singer and dancer, Sylvie claims to be stage shy and says she can’t help out in concert to raise money for school pool. Then it turns out her secret is she is a tv star trying to live normal life. Everyone is surprised and even more pleased when a change in her contract means she can now perform in public and help raise money for school.
Picture-Story Polly (Pages: 46-48)
Art: Tom Hurst
Polly tries to copy the picture-stories she reads in her magazine “Candy”. In this story she tries to be like “Olympic Olga” a girl who never gave up and won a gold medal. Polly tries out some sports but finds out she is better as just a spectator.
The Lucky Locket (Pages: 56-64)
Art: Guy Peeters
In Victorian times, Charlotte receives a locket on her last day in orphanage, from one of the workers, Harriet. She tells Charlotte it was wrapped in her baby shawl, when she found her on the doorstep.Charlotte then goes to work in a grand house as a scullery maid but the rest of the staff are not kind to her. When one of the other maids spies her pretending to be a lady, they are even more cruel and mocking. She does make one friend, Hugh, the stable-boy, so when his sister falls ill, she decides to sell her precious locket to help. But one of the other maids follow her and accuses her of theft. Harriet has died so noone can collaborate her story, that the locket belongs to her and she goes to jail. After a few weeks an old French lady arrives and seeing a birthmark confirms that Charlotte is her grandaughter. It seems her mother had run off and got married to man whom they didn’t approve of. They fell on hard times when he died and soon after giving Charlotte up, her mother died too. Her Grandmother helps Hugh’s sister and is to bring her back to France, she no longer has to pretend to be a lady.
Under Her Spell? (Pages: 65-72)
Art: Wilf Street
Jenny’s mother is researching the family tree and believe they descendants of a witch, Lizzie Blount. Then some things happen that makes Lizzie’s friends think she has witchy qualities. Lizzie embraces it and tries to make a spell to win a writing contest. She does win the contest, then her mum says she has made a mistake they are not related to witch but a writer,, Eliza Blunt. Lizzie isn’t disappointed though, she is happy it is her own talent and not a spell that let her win.
Come to My Party! (Pages: 83-93)
Writer: Alison (Christie) Fitt, Art: Terry Aspin
Best friends Kim and Laura share the same birthday. They both want to have a special 13th birthday party on the actual day. Neither will back down and they play tricks on each other so friends will come to one of the partys. On the day of her birthday Kim is upset it seems everyone has chosen Laura’s party. Her parents take her out and she finds out that instead their friends come together with their parents to throw joint surprise party.
Attractive Angie (Pages: 94-96)
Art: Giorgio Letteri
A strange lotion had made Angie Agams magnetic which caused her lots of problems. It is particularly bad when she is feeling bothered, which is the case at the fair, where she attracts coins from the wishing well and accidentally launches a pie at someone. Her powers come in useful when she stops some thieves and she is able to relax and enjoy rest of her day.
Storm Horse (Pages: 99-110)
Art: Veronica Weir
Kylie is out riding with her horse, Heather, when they get caught in a storm and slip down an embankment. A mysterious grey horse appears and leads them to safety, then disappears. Kylie tries and track him down, she finds him and after freeing him from some wire he does grow to trust her but always disappears when someone else is nearby. Then he warns her of the nearby dam breaking and she raises the alarm for the village. She doesn’t see him again but Heather gives birth to foal which Kylie names Storm, proof that the magical horse was real.
Mandy and Patch (Pages: 126-127)
Art: Claude Berridge
Mandy looks through a book to figure out Patch’s breed. He doesn’t seem to match with any but she doesn’t care as he’s still the best friend a girl can have.
Each of the text stories have a subtitle with the name of person who is telling the story.
Losing Lucy – Carol’s story (Pages: 33-34)
Writer: Alison (Christie) Fitt, Spot Art: Leslie Branton
Carol meets a fortune teller who tells her she will lose her best friend to the water. Carol is horrified by the thought, so she tries to teach her friend Lucy to swim. At first she takes persuading but then she succeeds so well that Lucy becomes a competitive champion and she doesn’t have as much time for friends. Watching her at one of her competitions she realises she did lose Lucy to the water, just not in the terrible way she thought. It’s a nice play on words, the twist of the fortune teller fortune coming true and Carol leads it to come true y trying to prevent it.
In The Bag – Chester’s story (Pages: 81-82)
Writer: Alison (Christie) Fitt
Chester is a monkey who is curious what women carry around in bags. He sees an opportunity to steal one, and is confused by contents and why they are so important. The daughter of the woman he stole the bag from is pleased her mom still carries a picture of her dad as he had left after a falling out. She writes Chester a thank you letter, explaining after seeing that she called her dad, he came around and her family is back together. She also sends Chester a cake as thanks. Chester doesn’t nderstand what that is all about but is very happy with his cake.
Jardine’s in a Tin – Sally’s story (Pages: 97-98)
Writer: Alison (Christie) Fitt, Spot Art: Leslie Branton
Sally and her family live in crowded council house. She is jealous of her friend Tina, an only child, who has a bedroom to herself with all the latest things. Then Tina gets a holiday home and that seems even more unfair. For the holidays the Jardines rent a caravan near where TIna will be. Sally thinks they really are Jardines in a tin, in the caravan, she is eager to visit Tina, but doesn’t know why she is so reluctant. Then Sally discovers it is not a holiday home and that Tina’s parents have separated. Tina didn’t want to admit that she is just spending weekends and holidays at her Dads. Sally realises Tina’s not so lucky after all and appreciates having her family together. Soon after holidays things improve even more for Sally as they get to top of the housing waiting list and get a 4 bed house.
Joining St. John’s – Katy’s story (Pages: 111-112)
While attending a Gilbert and Sullivan show with her mom, Katy gets the idea to join St Johns Ambulance so she can go to theatre for free. She actually finds herself really enjoying the experience and she helps an old woman feel better bu sneaking her cat in for a visit in the hospital. A friend of the woman, appreciates what Katy has done and gives her a free theatre entry card, but Katy is so busy with St John’s that by the end of the story she still hasn’t had the chance to use it!
Last year I covered the Judy 1982 annual and noted there was a lot of spooky stories in that book. This book meanwhile concentrates on the more realistic dramas of life and majority of stories are set in contemporary times. Under her Spell? hints at possible supernatural elements, although in the end those are only coincidence and seems to be no magic at work, which leaves only two stories with characters that are not the average girl, Attractive Angie a character with magnetic powers and Valda the long-living character with powers and knowledge. Valda and the Burning of Barthol is a good story, as I’ve mentioned before I like Valda stories that aren’t about her competing in a sport the best. Here we get to see her in past helping a village and in the present restoring the good name of Lord Barthol. There is only one other story that is set in the past, The Lucky Locket, nicely drawn by Guy Peeters and is a classic story of poor girl not realising her rich heritage.
All the other stories are set in contemporary times and majority have themes of friendship or family. A favourite story has to be The Red Box of Destiny, as the big 4 part story it is a strong component of the annual, it brings a lot of drama and heartbreak for the characters and as a reader I certainly hoped that they would each get their happy endings. In the last part where everything comes together, one may expect the characters to interact but instead the stories are resolved separately, although you can see the other protagonists in the backgrounds of some scenes. This actually is more effective as it highlights people that we just pass by, each have their own problems that we may never know about, and also not know that one thing could touch a life in different ways.
Other favourites was Losing Lucy, I like a good twist on a fortune tellers words, and of course it was well written by Alison (Christie) Fitt who wrote many great stories including a number for Mandy Annuals in the early 1990s. Two of her other stories here Come to My Party! and Down With Boys, have similar ideas of friends playing tricks on each other to win the favour of someone but are executed quite differently, so they each have their merits. Carmen Barbara and Terry Aspin respectively each complement the story well, I don’t think if the artists were switched they would have been as effective stories, which shows how important pairings can be. Honourable mentions goes to Picture-Story Polly, just because I enjoy a meta-commentry story and a girl trying to imitate the characters from her “Candy” comic is a lot of fun, and Who is Sylvie? a small sized mystery with lovely art as always by Andrew Wilson.