Published: Bunty PSL #348
Artist: Peter Wilkes
Writer: Anthea Skiffington
Special thanks to Goof for scans
Grim Gertie is hospitalised, bringing in a substitute teacher, Mrs Whitely. Laura Brady isn’t off to a good start with Whitely when she rushes to registration, which causes her to collide with Whitely and tread on her toes. “Trust me – I just crashed into Gertie’s stand-in!” But the real bad start comes when Whitely discovers Laura’s name during registration. All of a sudden she is looking daggers at Laura, seems to have a sudden thing about Laura being a problem pupil or something, and says, “I shall remember you, Laura Brady.”
From then on, it’s bully teacher time for Laura. Whitely constantly singles Laura out for unwarranted and unfair punishment, even for things that are totally untrue, and detentions are a particular punishment. It starts with her giving Laura detention for homework with four wrong answers, sloppiness and scribbles. Now that’s bizarre to say the least. Okay, so Laura did the homework while being engrossed with a Tom Cruise movie on television, but it looks like everyone else did too. Her mother, who checked her homework, can vouch it was tidy and scribble-free, so what’s Whitely talking about? Later, Laura finds out others did even worse than her on the homework assignment and didn’t get detention – so why did she get it?
At any rate, as Laura is soon to discover, it makes no difference to Whitely as to whether her schoolwork is the best or not.
At first Laura’s classmates think she is just imagining things about Whitely, but they change their minds as it grows more obvious. On one occasion Whitely pounces on Laura for trying to ping a paper pellet at Hodge; Hodge says it was his fault for pinging it first, but Mrs Whitely refuses to listen and punishes Laura with a stinging 500 lines. On another, she punishes Laura for talking in class; her friends admit they talking too, but Whitely doesn’t listen to them.
Whitely also refuses to hear Laura’s pleas that these constant detentions are causing her to miss out on vital hockey practice and matches, which incurs the displeasure of Miss Bliss (“The Blizzard”) against her. As a result, Laura eventually loses her place in the hockey team.
The class reckon it must be Whitely’s trodden toes. Their only advice to Laura is to ignore it, but that’s easier said than done. As Gertie will not be fit to return for a while yet, Laura fears her bully teacher ordeal looks set for the long haul. She has not spoken to her parents about it, not even when Mum asks at one point why she’s crying.
Meanwhile, the class visit Gertie in hospital and discover the maternity wing badly needs funds or face closure. They decide to pitch in, and settle on a Fun Day to raise funds. They need approval from their form teacher before approaching the Head. But when Laura suggests it to Whitely, she won’t listen: “Don’t bother me with your ridiculous notions, Laura Brady!” Then Laura discovers that a few minutes earlier, Whitely thought it was a great idea when Hayley and Roz suggested it, and told them to go straight to the Head for permission. This makes her even more convinced Whitely hates her.
The Head agrees to the Fun Day, sets the date for the last day of half term, and he must approve of the events being held. This could be problematic, as Hodge has scripted a parody of Redvale, “Riotvale Comp”, with parodies of the school staff. Laura is in the role of the Grim Gertie parody, “Miss Gruesome”.
Although Hodge tries to keep this school parody hidden from the Head, he inevitably finds out. Surprisingly, Hodge comes back with the news that the Head gave his approval to stage Riotvale, with “one or two tiny conditions”, such as a couple of small changes to the script. Hmm, is there a hint of something else here? Anyway, rehearsals for Riotvale continue. For Laura they are a welcome relief from her growing miseries with Whitely, and despite them, she is coming along well in the role.
But then Whitely goes too far. She forces Laura to do a homework assignment twice, saying the first was sloppy while Laura had taken care she would have no cause for complaint, plus having to do those 500 lines as well. Then she springs a surprise test on the class over the material. Laura is determined to score well, and ought to after running through the material twice. But when she does, Whitely hauls her before the Head with claims she saw Laura cheating in the test, but as there is no way these accusations can be true, Whitely can only be lying. The Head sends a letter to Laura’s parents, and there’s more detention for her. It’s getting too much for Laura, and she decides to drop out of Riotvale.
When the letter arrives, Laura reaches breaking point and finally tells her parents her teacher hates her. But they don’t believe it: “Now, that’s silly, dear. Why should she?” At this, Laura runs out of the house, still yelling that Whitely hates her and shouting at her parents for not listening to her. She then decides to run away, unable to take any more of Whitely. By now she has realised there has to be far more to this than trodden toes but can’t think what.
In class, Whitely notices Laura’s absence, but only says “perhaps we’ll have some peace and quiet for a change”, which further convinces the class that Whitely is gunning for her. She isn’t even asking questions about Laura’s absence.
Laura left the house in such a state that she forgot her schoolbag, which brings Mum up to the school. From there, she discovers discovers Laura is missing and reports it to the Head, who calls the police.
Mum asks to speak with Whitely. When she sees her, she now believes Laura, for she has recognised Whitely as Susan Stigmore, a nasty piece of work who used to be an old enemy of Laura’s aunt at school. When Mum confronts Whitely about this, her malice spills over and she expresses venomous comments about Laura and her aunt. She then realises her mistake in doing this right in front of the Head, but it’s too late – she’s been caught out. He sacks her and writes a report that will make sure she never finds another teaching job.
Laura is soon picked up, and everything is sorted out. When the other teachers hear about Whitely’s conduct, the Blizzard reinstates Laura on the hockey team. And Laura is back in Riotvale.
Two weeks later, it’s Fun Day, and Gertie is back. Riotvale is a thundering success. But then Hodge tells the gang what he had not told them before (aha!). The Head had granted permission to stage Riotvale on the condition that the school staff have their own sling-a-sponge event afterwards – with the Riotvale cast as targets. And boy, are the staff loving it! Revenge at last for all those things they put up with in class.
However, the Riotvale cast get revenge on Hodge with another fundraising idea: 10p to help throw him into the school fountain. And so he is, much to his chagrin. Ah well, it’s all in good fun and fundraising for Fun Day.
This is a PSL to be read over and over. There’s so much in it for readers to enjoy, and it is a well-constructed story that interweaves two contrasting elements with each other: the bully teacher and the Fun Day. Fun Day delivers the ever-popular charity cause theme, a brazen school parody that’s a welcome change from tired old fund-raising events, and heaps of fun on the big day that will finish half term with a bang. Providing contrast is the ever-popular bully teacher theme, with the drama, emotion, misery, and bullying that grows worse and worse until it becomes too unbearable. Added to it is the mystery element – what is Whitely’s problem with Laura?
There isn’t a DCT regular strip (The Four Marys, Penny’s Place, etc) that hasn’t had a bully teacher at some point, but it’s never a regular member of staff – it’s a new/substitute teacher. Whitely belongs to this long-standing tradition, as she does to the long-standing tradition of new/substitute teachers frequently spelling trouble of some sort in girls’ comics.
Bullying a pupil because of a long-standing grudge against a family member is a common theme. “Teacher’s Pet” (Judy) is another example of this. It also has the added tension of mystery to the story – why does the teacher hate the girl? And girls just love mystery in comics. And because the pupil doesn’t understand the teacher’s motives in bullying her, she may start wondering if she’s the one at fault.
The story was ingenious in throwing in the little mishap Laura had with Whitely right at the start, as misdirection for why Whitely hated Laura. If Laura (or reader) had looked more carefully at Whitely’s initial reactions to her, she might have realised it was something about her name that set Whitely off. Whitely changing her name through marriage was also a clever means in keeping her motives concealed and making them harder to figure out. If she’d come to the school as Miss Stigmore, it might have set off a few alarm bells with Laura’s family or laid some clues for Laura to pursue.
It’s no surprise to hear Whitely was a bully in her youth. It’s not clear if she was a bully teacher before Redvale or if Laura just brought out the worst in her because she was related to her old enemy. But, as it is obvious Whitely never learned her lesson about bullying, she was set to be a bully in adulthood. A teaching career would put her on course as a bully teacher who could bully other pupils, and ones who reminded her of Laura’s aunt would be particularly vulnerable. So we can all say thank goodness she was out of the teaching profession in the end. Her bully streak made her totally unfit for it.
But it’s not all depressing bully teacher time. The Fun Day thread is a total delight and a welcome light relief and contrast to the bully teacher situation. It’s all in a good cause, and Riotvale puts it above a whole new level. Without it, the Fun Day plot line would not have been nearly so much rollickin’ good fun for the reader. When the Head added the condition to performing it, we can just imagine his reasoning for it: “If you’re having your piece of fun with us, it’s only fair we have ours with you, eh?” Well, yes, he’s right – it’s fair exchange, and we have to laugh at the added twist it gives. Setting Fun Day at the end of the half term finishes off the half term in grand style, and the added punishment of Hodge gives Fun Day an even higher and more satisfactory note to end the story on.