Tag Archives: Gymnastics

Secret Gymnast [1993]

  • Secret Gymnast – Bunty: #1873 (4 December 1993) – #1884 (19 February 1994)
  • Art: John Armstrong


Ginny Jones, enjoys sports, but she has yet to find the one that fits her best, she gets a bit too enthusiastic for team sports! After a hockey match she gets into a fight with some girls from the competing school. She escapes them by running away through a building site. Unknown to her, while she is maneuvering around the site, she is being watched. The older woman sees potential on her and invites her into her house. Ginny keeps a safe distance as the woman seems strange and her house derelict. She leads her to a gym and tells her she has been looking for a promising student for quite a while and wants to train her to be a gymnast. Ginny agrees to be trained despite some oddness from her new coach, like her habit of calling her Gina and wanting to keep the lessons secret.

Coach is a hard taskmaster and in keeping up with her training she gets in trouble in other parts of her life.  Ginny does feels she’s already learnt a lot and thinks maybe she doesn’t need the coach or the hassle. But after doing badly, in a school competition, she realises she does still need Coach. She tries to follow Coach’s directions, so even when her dad treats the family to McDonalds she sticks to her diet. She is tempted by a doughnut but  then she hears Coach’s voice telling her to remember her training, which causes her to drop the doughnut. Ginny thinks it must have been her guilty conscience, that made her hear the voice. Later when they pass the derelict houses, where Coach lives, her father mentions that they will all be torn down soon and only few squatters live there. So Ginny concludes that’s why Coach is always in a rush, because she isn’t supposed to be there.

After she has to letdown her school P.E. teacher by turning down a rematch competition, Ginny is happy that Coach wants to enter her in a local competition. There is a fee to be submitted with the entry form but when she brings it up with coach, she goes strange and looks tired. Ginny says she’ll get the money somehow, she thinks if Coach is a squatter she musn’t have much money either. Ginny manages to scrape money together but it leaves nothing for her mom’s upcoming birthday. She decides to cook her a birthday tea instead, but then she loses track of time at practice and is home late. Her younger sister, Kylie, is upset that she spoiled mom’s birthday.

Ginny’s secret training causes more problems as she falls out with a friend, after she doesn’t help with a paper round as she promised. She does think that at least Coach will be pleased that she placed third, at the local competition, but Coach informs her she expected more. Ginny doesn’t know if she should continue, saying that perhaps she is wasting Coach’s time. Coach backtracks, but Ginny is still feeling fed up. Coach says if she doesn’t see her the next day then she’ll take it that the training is over. But the next day Ginny has to look after her brother and sister while her mom is at the dentist, she doesn’t want to let them down again, but it causes her to be late to practice. As soon as she can, she rushes to practice, Coach is still there but she looks ill. Concerned, Ginny says she’s ready to dedicate herself to practice. Coach informs her they are running out of time she must practice before and after school.

At school she feels obliged to play a hockey match but is injured. Coach of course is not pleased with this, Ginny says if she could explain to her teachers about her gymnastics training, she wouldn’t be put in this situation. But Coach insists until she wins the regional championship she must keep it secret, after that it doesn’t matter. She has ointment to help with Ginny’s ankle and after a bit of rest she is able to pick up her training. As the competition nears, Ginny improves and Coach praises her more, but she also seems more forgetful. Meanwhile the houses are to be knocked down soon and Ginny gets cleared away by some Workmen. She goes back later and more of the house is boarded and a sign saying “Danger Demolition” is outside. She does find Coach still there, but she shies away when Ginny goes to physically thank her for her help. The big competition the next day, she bumps into her friends who are there to watch and she explains that she is a contestant and that’s what she’s been up to all this time. Ginny is delighted when she wins and rushes to tell Coach. She has to climb in a window as the door is blocked and there is no sign of Coach. She is going to leave Coach a note, but when she picks up a piece of paper to write on, she finds it’s and old newspaper article that says Coach Vera Ramsey along with her student Gina were killed two years ago (how this paper got there in the first place is a mystery in itself!). Ginny yells out her thanks to the Coach and promises to keep up the hard work, a year later she has kept her promise and remembers to thank both Vera and her current coach when she is presented with her medals.


With the release of Tammy’s Bella at the Bar, it seems an ideal time to look at other John Armstrong work featuring a gymnast. A possible prototype to Bella, A Leap for Lindy, was already discussed on the Jinty resource site, and here in Secret Gymnast we get to see a post-Bella work. Bella is probably Armstrong’s most famous work and we can see here that Ginny bears a close resemblance to Bella.  Armstrong has said he enjoyed drawing gymnastic stories (he certainly had a talent for it), so it is bit surprising that other than Bella there are so few of his stories that feature a gymnast. He did a lot of work for IPC and DCT but this is the only gymnastic story that I know of that he did for DCT (if I’m wrong and he did others, please let me know!). Perhaps  gymnastic stories just weren’t as popular as they were in the 70s/early 80s or Bella’s fame was too much and they didn’t want her to overshadow other stories, as one can’t help but draw comparisons.

A lot of the stories Armstrong drew, featured a working class protagonist, Ginny is no exception, but perhaps being set in the 90s, the world has improved somewhat since the Thatcher era. Money is still tight, Ginny struggles to get money together for entry form, there are people without work, the school can’t afford proper gymnastic equipment, there are derelict houses…. but Ginny’s father has a job, they can send her younger sister to ballet lessons (even if they couldn’t afford to also send Ginny), and have treats like a trip to McDonalds. Also it’s noted the houses being knocked down and new development built up, which will offer more jobs, so Britain doesn’t seem to be as desolate a place as it is portrayed in some of the 70s stories (although it’s still far from perfect!). It is interesting looking at the social commentary in these stories as an adult, as I probably didn’t read much into it as a child.

Unlike Bella, at least Ginny does not have to deal with cruel guardians, her family are generous with what they have and seem supportive, I’m sure they would have supported her gymnastics if they knew about it (although they probably wouldn’t approve of her being trained in a rundown house with a strange woman!). The main conflict of the story comes from Ginny keeping her training secret, it leads her to let down her family and friends with no explanation. Ginny does feel guilty about this and there are times she sacrifices her gymnastics in order to make up for previous events, such as competing in the hockey match and babysitting for her mom. As we see her struggle to balance these things, we also root for her to succeed and are pleased to see her training pays off.

The other driving plot of the story is the mystery surrounding Coach. Why she lives in a run down house, what her name and background is, and why she seems confused and abrupt at times. There are hints of something ghostly about her from early on, but not enough to make it too obvious. One of the more blatant instances of supernatural Ginny hearing her voice stopping her from breaking her diet, but even that can be explained away. There is real sense of urgency in Coach, Ginny must win as she hasn’t the time to start again, she knows time is running out. We see her strength fading, presumably her spirit is tied to her house and gym and the closer it gets to it’s destruction the weaker she becomes. We can hope she finds some sense of peace, when she achieves what she set out to do – train a champion and that is why she lets go and is not there when Ginny comes to tell her the news. It is nice that the last panel shows that Ginny acknowledges her first Coach and honours her.

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”


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.


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.

Unfair to Favourites (1985)

Judy Picture Library 271

Published: Judy Picture Library #271.  Reprinted: Bunty Picture Library #428

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); Ana Rodriguez (story)


Jayne and Jean Gentry seem to have everything going for them in the activities they pursue: ballet (Jean), and athletics (Jayne). They are set to go to the top in their various activities and the school even makes allowances for it. But there is one problem – it has bred favouritism among their parents. Dad favours Jayne because she pursues sport, Mum favours Jean because she does the same with ballet, and neither parent pays much attention to the other girl. The root of the favouritism is that each parent only cares about one activity, which they once pursued themselves and are pursuing again through their respective daughter. Neither is willing to be more generous to the other activity; Mum does not care for athletics (“athletics don’t do anything for me”) and Dad is the same about ballet (“ballet nonsense”). Both say they don’t understand the other activity but neither makes an effort to understand it more.


Each parent thinks that the other is too single-minded about the activity they do care about while deriding the other activity unfairly. Neither parent comes to the other activity to lend support to their other daughter. For example, Mum is annoyed that Dad doesn’t come to see Jayne perform on stage because he cares more about an athletics convention. Dad is likewise annoyed at Mum for not coming to watch and support Jean perform at an athletics event because she took Jayne to watch the Royal Ballet Company. This is not the case with the sisters themselves, who make the time to watch the other and give moral support.

Favourites 2

Jayne and Jean decide enough is enough and they need to find a way to change their parents. They start with trying to win something in the other activity, with the other’s help. But they forget that there is a reason that one pursues ballet/athletics and the other not – one has the aptitude for it, and the other not. And they soon find that out the hard way. When Jean tries cross-country running with Jayne’s help, she ends up in such a state that she is not fit for ballet class. When Jayne tries ballet with Jean’s help, she ends up with a foot injury that leaves her unfit for a sports event. In both cases the parents blow up, each blaming the other girl and the other parent unfairly. Each parent ends up quarrelling with the other about how they go over the top with the activity they favour, play favourites with their pet daughter, and don’t pay any attention to the other daughter. When Jayne, Jean and their dog Timmy return home wet after unwittingly using a leaky boat, Mum unfairly blames Jayne, thinking she encouraged Jean again, and this leads to a similar row between the parents. Mum and Dad can see it in each other all right – but they can’t see it in themselves, which is what they must do if things are to change.

Jean and Jayne then try to talk to their parents about how they carry on in playing favourites. But both take offence, saying they can’t help not liking ballet/athletics. The girls realise how set the parents are in their ways and it is going to be very difficult to change them.

The stress of the failure takes its toll on the girls, and they lose form at ballet/athletics. Their teachers recommend a break, so the parents stop making their daughters spend so much time at their various activities.

During the break, Jean and Jayne try something else. Jayne has a go at Jean’s other activity, which is skating. But the coach says that although Jayne is good, she is not good enough to make competition standard like her sister. When Jean tries Jayne’s other activity by making a bid for the school swimming trials, she fails because of the same thing – good but not good enough.

Then, after the swimming trials, Jayne grumbles at how fed up they are, and still wondering how to change their parents. A schoolteacher, Miss Maybrick, overhears and asks what is wrong. The girls explain the problem, and Miss Maybrick comes up with an idea – an activity that combines athletic and artistic ability.

Favourites 3

So for the next few weeks, the parents are disappointed to hear that the girls are on strike over ballet/athletics because of a school project that they are very secretive about. When the time comes, the school invites the parents to a gymnastics competition, which Jayne and Jean have been giving up everything else to train for. And it is here that both parents watch their daughters together; Dad sees Jean in action for the first time and Mum watches Jayne for the first time. When Mum watches Jayne’s floor exercises, she sees and appreciates the artistic side while Dad grasps the athletic part. When Jean goes on the bars, Dad is impressed at what she can do there, and Mum says it’s due to ballet, which has given her grace and strong muscles. Before long, both parents are cheering their daughters on. They are thrilled to see them win medals, and finally wake up to their earlier mistakes. Afterwards, they take Jayne and Jean out to a celebratory dinner. The girls know that they are both favourites with their parents now.

Favourites 4


 The premise is a refreshing one – two sisters who are the best of friends but suffer because each parent takes favourites over one child while ignoring the other, just because they are not a fan of the activity the other child pursues. It makes a change having two protagonists suffer in this way. Usually it is just one, who is overshadowed and put down because her sibling(s) excel at their various activities and make Mum and Dad proud while she doesn’t seem to shine at anything.

The portrayal of the parents is rooted in realism and real life, which makes their characterisation so effective. They are not intentionally neglectful or mean; it is just that they are both so single-minded about the activity they are interested in and the girl who pursues it to the exclusion of everything else in life. They are also narrow-minded about the other activity. Both parents make disparaging comments about the other activity, neither will give it more of a chance, or at least try to tolerate it enough to come and watch their daughter. They are too wrapped up in the activity they are interested in.

Favourites 5

The resolution is realistic and also refreshing. The girls confide in someone (which does not often happen in girls’ comics) who comes up with an idea that could be the answer. The girls can’t believe they didn’t think of it themselves.

The teacher and the headmistress are so wonderful in the way they bend over backwards to help the girls with their problem: excusing the girls lessons to train for it, and helping to keep it a carefully guarded secret until the parents are actually watching the event as they don’t know how the parents will take it if they had prior knowledge of it. The girls come away with a whole new appreciation for teachers, as do we. Sometimes teachers are not the idiots or meanies that they are in other stories. Sometimes they are the ones with the brains and wisdom to put everything right.



Susie’s Secret [1982]


Susie Dobbs lived with her cruel Aunt Ida, who made Susie work very hard, so that she could have an easy life. She found Susie a job at Deacon Leisure Centre as a Cleaner. Where Susie a keen gymnast became involved with the Deacon gymnastics club but had to keep it a secret from her aunt


  • Artist: Guy Peeters


  •   Susie’s Secret – Suzy: #12 (27 November 1982) – #25 (26 February 1983)

And Granny Came Too…


Morag McDonald lives on an island in the Hebrides with her grandmother. She wants to be a gymnast and has had to teach herself from a library book as there are no gymnastics facilities available. When Morag returns a valuable wallet to its owner, he rewards her with a place at his gymnastics school where he is principal. But granny insists on coming too, and this is causing problems at Morag’s new school.

granny came too


  • Art: Selby Donnison


  • And Granny Came Too… –  Bunty:  #1624 (25 February 1989) – #1637 (27 May 1989)

Diana’s Dark Secret


Diana Sefton is an excellent gymnast at Linwood School despite being completely blind. When she regains her sight after an accident, she keeps it a secret because she cannot bear to part with Goldie, her guide dog. But her conscience keeps niggling.


  • Writer: Marion Turner (under pen-name: Fiona Turner)


  • Diana’s Dark Secret – Mandy: #786 (6 February 1982) – #798 (1 May 1982)

Gymnast from the Wilds


Angelica, a young orphan. had been living deep in the African bush, where growing up among the animals had given her an amazing agility. But now she had been sent to a Children’s Home in England — only to run away on her first night.




  • Gymnast from the Wilds –  Judy and Tracy: #1424 (25 April 1987) – #1433 (27 June 1987)