Reviewing the thirteen year history of Hulton Press’s Girl comic based on a single DVD of 55 issues has it’s limitations. The second part of this survey resumes with Volume 6 no. 20, cover dated 15 May 1957. It is one of only six issues throughout the remainder of 1957, of which only two are consecutive, and it is nineteen weeks since the last issue featured in part 1. I am anticipating that every serial running at that moment will have finished, its climax a mystery.
So, what do we have as we begin again? For a start, schoolgirl serial Wendy and Jinx still occupies pride of place in full colour across the first two pages, but on a new story, but the Pilgrim Sisters on page 3 are still dealing with the Great Fire of London, though it looks like the last chapter, especially as the family sets off to sail to America, albeit not in a ship called the Mayflower, appropriate though that would have been.
The page 4 serial slot now belongs to Showboat Summer (Pamela Brown, illustrated by Charles Paine). It’s already in part 7 so in all probability the next issue would be the last part. It’s set on the Thames in seemingly contemporary times, about a family setting up an old-fashioned showboat. Sue Marsh and Vicky have moved on, to a different part of the hospital in one case, and to Burma in the case of the globe-trotting redhead.
In the centrespread, the nature slot has been replaced by a squashed in colour serial, Claudia of the Circus, another Geoffrey Bond story. It’s difficult to assess it, even on one isolated strip, because it really is crammed in to space too small to give it a proper chance.
Belle of the Ballet had only just started her latest story when we broke off so it’s perhaps not surprising to see that still active. Much plot has flowed under the bridge since the nebulous beginning, with Belle and her best friend breaking a girl out of finishing school so that she can study ballet, against the wishes of her cruel film star Aunt: nicely melodramatic or what?
The second prose contribution is a running series, Penny Starr, the adventures of a TV make-up girl, another product of the Peter Ling/Sheilah Ward team, illustrations by Roy Bailey of the former front-page series Kitty Hawke. But the back page, from Chad Varah and Gerald Haylock, is another real life story, Angel of Mercy, which should tell you that we have come to Florence Nightingale: I’m surprised she hasn’t been featured before this. We’re very early in the tale, second episode probably, and the young to-be-famous nurse is behaving like a right little madam.
Ten weeks later, on the next available issue (24 July 1957). The Pilgrim Sisters have not continued their adventures in the colony of Virgina and their slot now belongs to Kay of the ‘Courier’, a George Beardsmore/Bob Bunkin serial about a girl reporter, but to my surprise, Showboat Summer has reached Part 17, beyond all previous serials (as opposed to series) in the comic to date. Belle starts a new holiday adventure.
The second serial is new, Jacqueline rides for a fall (Pat Smythe, illustrated Eric Dadswell), the title character being an anti-heroine, a stuck-up girl being taught lessons. A bit cruel and out of character for a paper who usually offers such girls as rivals to the heroine, like Linda at the pet hospital. What’s more, it’s written first person by Pat, owner of a pony school, in charge of Jacqueline and other children.
Jump six more weeks, and Wendy and Jinx are in the early days of their next story. A second look at Kay of the ‘Courier’ confirms the unusual aspect that Kay herself wears a completely different hairstyle in her title-box than the one she has in the story, and the title-box look is a lot nicer. Showboat Summer is now in episode 23 and closing in on half a year (it wouldn’t get there, Marcus Morris confirming that the following week was the closing part). It’s finally settled down into some old-fashioned melodrama as the showboat is being used for diamond smuggling by one of its crew. And you could call the illustration a bondage image, though William Moulton Marston would have sniffed at it! Actually, heroine Marley Somerville was drawn with a perceptible bosom, which was not the sort of thing I was used to seeing.
Jacqueline is now Jacky within her story, which was going to be collected in book form as soon as the serial ended, like the Jennings stories in Eagle. And somewhat belatedly, I twigged that the Pat Smythe who was author and narrator was actually the Pat Smythe, the renowned showjumper and Olympic medallist. My ex-wife would have kicked me for not realising sooner! This story was actually the first of a series of seven books about The Three Jays.
Interestingly enough, the book was published with the serial only half way through. Anyone fascinated by it could have nipped out and read the whole thing long before Girl was done with it. If their parents were prepared to fork out 10/6 for it. Instead of the successive 4½d for her being patient.
Incidentally, the Mother Shows You How feature inside the back cover this time was about making a ‘Shortie Nightie’, though shortie was still knee-length (we’re not out of 1957 yet).
Four issues later, with two consecutive issues to play with, Kay Roper lets her hair down, whilst the new serial is a series, Model Girls: bet you can’t work out what that’s about? Her name is Jill Lewis and she’s blonde, her flatmate Marie Dupont is French and dark, and in a sign of the hipper times, the photographer’s studio is above a Coffee Bar. Add in a one-off short story about a schoolgirl swapping her maths homework for looking after her married sister’s twins, which was nicely written.
This is the one for which I have the next issue. This added nothing but a burst of uncontrollable nostalgia, generated by an advert for a free ‘Atomic’ sub in packets of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, six different colours: mine was blue. Then the next issue, the last of the year and the volume, meant another eleven week jump. Kay Roper has started a new story, involving a friendly rivalry with a cub reporter on a rival paper, this one a boy: what a waste. Susan Marsh is also in the early throes of a new story that doesn’t yet seem to have established its point.
There’s another new serial, up to part 3, Peggy’s Ugly Duckling (J. Latimer, illustrated by Charles Paine). This was actually a fascinating set-up: Peggy, a hostess in a record store, is asked to makeover plain girl Christine. But Christine is really Debbie Clark, a former child star who’s run away from her exploitive aunt and uncle. Christine wants to stay clear of them but does want to establish her own, rather more mature singing career, if she’s good enough. I really want to know how this one works out, but my next issue isn’t until May 1958.
Volume 7 is a bit better represented, with eleven issues, and a little bit more concentrated between issues 17 and 44.
So, here we go again for, what, the fifth time? Wendy and Jinx have gone into another new adventure, Kay of the Courier hasn’t, though she’s won her rivalry, sparked a romance and wound up both wedding reporter and bridesmaid. But it’s her swansong as Marcus Morris confirms that her slot will next week begin an adaptation of Jane Eyre. First serial is a series, Cruise of the ‘Lotus’, about Laura Carroll, junior children’s nurse on a luxury liner. Susan Marsh is competing to be Nurse of the Year whilst Vicky’s globe-trotting has taken her to Australia now. Claudia’s still in the same story but Belle has a new one. Second serial is another pony job, literally I won a Pony, written by Judith M Berrisford. Like the Pat Smythe story, this too was published as a book as Jackie Won A Pony, in fact the first of sixteen in the Jackie series that continued until 1984. However, the short story series had been replaced by a non-fiction feature, Try Anything Once, athlete and TV personality June Paul (better known under her maiden name, June Foulds). It was a far less wide-ranging equivalent of McDonald Hastings. Mother Shows You How has been replaced by a recipe slot, What’s Cooking, another Gas Board advertisement, for once drawn by Chris Garvey instead of Dennis Mallet, and on the back page, rather than Florence Nightingale we had another woman Christian missionary out among the heathen, this being Gladys Aylward. Phew!
Two issues later, June Paul was gone, page 14 now offering People in Music with a feature on Frankie Vaughn, who also now the centrespread colour portrait. Hmm. And hmm again. There was even a miniature record review corner featuring a Dickie Valentine EP, singles from Elvis Presley and the Hallelujah Skiffle Group featuring Clinton Ford, and a live LP by, of all people, Dizzy Gillespie. What a snapshot of the times! I wonder who selected them. Eagle didn’t go ‘pop’ until 1964.
Two issues here, three issues there, dipping into and out of series and having to guess at what’s missing. By no. 24, Pat Smythe was back in the pony serial slot, starting Three Jay’s on Holiday. It turned out that I was wrong about June Paul, and that hers was an irregular feature, popping back up in no. 25. Also, we got another short story next issue.
But that’s the most concentrated run of issues for 1958, and now I’m back to snapshots at intervals. The big surprise was not that, yet again, I had missed the end of a Wendy and Jinx adventure but that they had been supplanted on the cover by Susan Marsh. Not only that but her series has reverted to its original title of Susan of St Brides, and the suddenly shameless hussy was in very abbreviated shorts and flashing her legs! The two inseparable schoolgirls had swapped places, turning up on page 6, in black and white, reduced to one page and, horror of horrors, separated by the new Headmistress.
Laura Carroll’s series ended with the termination of her temporary appointment on the Lotus and, two days later, her permanent appointment, so hurrah! The same end was in store for Vicky, yearning for a permanent home and getting it when her professor father is given a University post in Sydney. Her replacement would be Angela – Air Hostess. People In Music reoccurred, this time featuring Cleo Laine but also reviewing Perry Como, Julie London and Kay Starr: not exactly hip, eh?
Jump six issues and the serial, presumably Laura Carroll’s replacement, is Beginners Luck, two girls starting a career working in television. I shalln’t mention People in Music again, the selection is too depressing for 1958.
By issue 43, only three weeks later, Beginners Luck was gone, replaced by Continuity Girl so sticking to the television background. However, that was only a complete short story. And the following issue was the last for that year. Belle of the Ballet’s page had been absent from the previous issue so once again I was seeing a random page from yet another new serial.
Volume 8, 1959, is quite reasonably represented, but only for the first half of the year, with nine out of twenty-four issues, but when I start again, I will have missed three months: enough to drive you potty. Still, what’s there to see?
No. 5 (31 January) starts with Sue Marsh still grasping at The Last Chance and Jane Eyre is just being reunited with the blinded and crippled Mr Rochester. That had one more episode left. The serial, Strangers Quay, was in its last episode so I didn’t try too hard to get to grips with it, enough to be shocked that it involved the villain shooting himself and the heroine agreeing to get married. And I thought this was a nice girl’s comic…
Wendy & Jinx are still engaged in their current tale. Angela’s into a new, unnamed story, Claudia a new named one, involving ponies, whilst Belle’s new story is a bit Ruritanian, though not to the extent of involving doubles, yet.
The second serial was brand new, Alpine Adventure, about Carol, whose London Travel Agency has sent her to be an assistant at their branch in Switzerland, only for the two brothers managing the branch not to want her: I sense sinisterness! Apparently, there’s smuggling going on. Finally, Gladys Aylward is still taking up the back page. Series lengths would appear to be getting much much longer.
Incidentally, I finally checked Miss Aylward in Wikipedia to discover that her life story was dramatised, with multiple inaccuracies, in the 1958 film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, with Ingrid Bergman, a complete physical contrast, in the leading role. I wonder if it was that which spurred this series in Girl. I’ve never seen the film but was aware of it as the last film for Robert Donat, the first Richard Hannay in Hitchcock’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, who died before it was released.
In no. 6 the new serial was The Bookshop Mystery by Sylvia Mead. It was another one with an interesting set-up and a nine week gap to the next issue. Marcus Morris was announcing that as the adaptation of Jane Eyre had been such a success, they were forging ahead with Vanity Fair: that one I have read and it’s a very curious choice.
By no. 15, it’s all change. Susan Marsh, Vanity Fare, The Mystery of the Lake (episode 2) replacing the Bookshop Mystery, Wendy & Jinx. Angela’s still on her current story, Lettice Leefe has turned into a serial like the later Harris Tweeds, but once again I’ve missed an ending as Alpine Adventure has concluded. I’m fairly sure that even on only two chapters I guessed the villains and the hero but it would be very nice to know how accurate I was. Finally, the back page now goes to Madame Curie.
Though the next issue is missing, after that I have a run of four consecutive issues, the longest on the DVD: it’s almost luxury.
Well, The Mystery of the Lake proved disappointing, not in terms of its writing but its length, episode 4 being the end. And it turned out that no. 18 was actually no 28., from August, so that put the kybosh on the run of four. So once again there’s a new serial, Kit Hunter, another girl-is-invited-into-country-home-with-strange-goings-on story. Which is retitled Kit Hunter – Young Horsewoman next episode. No. 20 also saw the end of the long-running Claudia of the Circus.
Three weeks later, I caught up to its replacement, Real-Life Mysteries, this one being about a ship that vanished, though not quite Marie Celeste-style. The comic seems to have abandoned a second serial, relying only on short stories and features.
And so it’s back to no. 28, the last issue for this volume. This was, I infer, the first dated issue following the printing strike that deprived all of Marcus Morris’s stable of seven issues. He was apologising for features being out of date when they had finally been printed. Kit Hunter was still going and was now tagged with the promise that this and other stories featuring her would be published in book form. In fact, retitled ‘The Wild One’, this turned out to the the first of a twelve-book series, all appearing between 1959 and 1961. Peter Grey was clearly a quick writer. Belle of the Ballet was in the early throes of a new story.
Once again, I’m cut off. There’s nothing now until volume 9, 1960, and whilst that boasts twelve issues, including a run of six in seven weeks, these are all in the first half of the year, and they represent the last ‘substantial’ selection I have available.
In fact, as this is running long, we shall consider these and the remaining issues in Part 3.