*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge’s Modesty Blaise Checklist: Part 8


CHECK-LIST OF MODESTY BLAISE COMIC STRIP STORIES – PART 1 (1963-1986).

69: Story name: Lady in the Dark – 1989/90 ****
Location: MB’s cottage in Wiltshire – Austria, Castle Edlitz, Carinthia – Kingsbrook airfield, somewhere in Wiltshire.
Villain: Kassel (Salamander Four); Maria Feist.
Other characters: Canadian-born Dinah, and statistician/psychic investigator husband Steve Collier; Weng; Countess Edlitz; the Countess’s loyal butler Hans.
Body count: 0.
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB changing, in the shower; Dinah in bra and panties, getting dressed.
Who kills who? : Not applicable.
Summary/theme: Crime caper – treasure hunt. Early in the 1800s the wicked Count Edlitz of Carinthia, Austria, arranged to hid his collection of Thrace and Roman gold, silver and jewels (discovered in a well) in the maze of caves beneath his castle, blowing up the exterior entrance with his men and horses still inside. The only other person who knew the secret was father confessor Karl, but, such is their greed and distrust, they kill each other, and hence the location of the treasure – if not the legend – dies with them. Fast forward to the 20th century, and Dinah Collier, the blind psychic wife of MB’s ex-lover Professor Steve Collier, is helping MB locate underground water and power pipes in preparation for a swimming pool at her Wiltshire cottage. Dinah and Steve are booked to fly to Edlitz Castle at the request of the Countess Edlitz, Canadian-born widow of the last Count, hoping to finally find the lost treasure. However, Steve injures his back and WG volunteers to go instead. Unbeknown to them, Maria Feist, descendent of Father Karl, has employed Salamander Four to help her secure the treasure, still using Dinah, and with Maria impersonating the real Countess, who is locked up in the castle dungeon. Salamander Four’s plans start to fall apart when Dinah notices Maria’s voice isn’t that of the real Countess, with whom she had previously spoken by telephone. Dinah and WG are quickly taken captive and the gang use the threat of flogging the real Countess to get Dinah’s cooperation. When MB phones (she is still in Wiltshire, nursing Steve) WG calls her “Modesty” rather than “Princess”, thereby alerting her to their plight. Salamander Four make two attempts to intercept her, in England and Austria, but as she reaches the castle she meets Hans, the Countess’s faithful butler. Meantime, WG and Dinah have worked out the old Count had a secret passage from the dungeon (the very cell they are in!) to the treasure caves, which Dinah had already located above ground – the psychic impression of the dying men being too much for her to conceal. They are just planning how to escape the now short distance out when MB appears, coming from the opposite direction! Kassel, desperate to recapture his ‘lost’ prisoners, asks his controller for a helicopter, but MB and WG use darkness to overwhelm the entire gang and Maria, tying them up just as the telephone rings. MB answers and announces who she is. The controller merely says the longer Kassel stays in prison, the longer he gets to live. The Countess decided to denote the treasure to the Austrian Ministry of Art.
Critical comments: A workable story, and improvement on “The Big Mole”. However, in comic strip 7394A, MB’s ‘cottage’ has been transformed by Romeo into a two-storey mock-Tudor, 1920s/30s suburban-style house with a turret-like chimney. Nothing like the Holdaway or Burns house, and nothing like Romero’s later depiction of MB’s cottage in “The Young Mistress” (1991/92), or it’s later transformation yet again in “The Hanging Judge” (1998/99), back into an two-storey house built into an slight hillside! While Romero remained consistent to Holdaway’s version of MB’s penthouse and WG’s ‘Treadmill’, he was all over the place with MB’s cottage. Even more baffling, here her cottage quite closely resembles Romero’s later depiction of Lady Janet Gillam’s ‘farm house’ as seen in “The Murder Frame” (1997).
This is the first comic strip story to feature Canadian-born Dinah Collier (née Pilgrim), although husband Steve Collier had briefly featured in “With Love From Rufus” (1972). Steve had first appeared in the novels in I, Lucifer, while Dinah (then unmarried and still under her maiden name), first appeared in A Taste for Death (1969), when arch-villain Gabriel had her sister Judy murdered. Dinah had been blind since eight, and lived in a world of sound, senses and smells. She was also psychic, able to using dowsing techniques to detect objects, or even fluids, hidden beneath the ground. In both this story, and the original novel, this ability attracts the attention of villains seeking treasure. In the comic strips, they subsequently appeared again in “A Present for the Princess” (1992/93) and “Durango” (1996/97). Romero’s depiction of Dinah is workaday – at least she isn’t the usual lookalike, Axa-type blonde. The novels describe her as being “between beautiful and pretty”, and “small” in stature, but with a quality about her that is notable. Alas, we can only speculate how Holdaway or Colvin might have illustrated her. At the beginning of this story MB is employing her dowsing skills to determine the location of any underground pipes or cables in the grounds of the Wiltshire cottage, so that MB might construct a swimming pool. However, in the novels parallel world, MB had already asked Dinah to do this quite early on their friendship, in A Taste for Death, not long after realising the Canadian girl’s abilities. Thus the rather annoying divide between the MB comic strip and novels/short stories. In the novels, Steve Collier was initially MB’s lover in the first two books, and Dinah was intimate with WG, in part because he had saved her from being kidnapped by Gabriel’s thugs, and she needed comforting after they had murdered her sister. However, an emotional bond develops between her and Steve Collier as the novel progressed, as much because of their shared captivity by the Delicta/Gabriel gang. MB especially never insists on exclusivity with her lovers, as we see with Giles Pennyfeather, in both the novels and the comic strips. It is quite normal for lovers to become merely very close good friends. Thereafter – especially in the novel/short stories – Steve and Dinah are a couple, having quickly got married to each other rather than MB or WG. In the closing pages of A Taste for Death our two heroes discuss their reaction at being given the “heave-ho” (as MB put it), but without displaying a great deal of emotional upset. In the final MB short story, “Cobra Trap”, the Colliers eventually have two children, Dan and Sue, already grown-up teenagers, Dan being a student.
Yet again Romero’s rendering of the Edlitz Castle in the Austrian province of Carinthia, perches atop an exaggerated steep hill, resembling more a fantasy fairy-tale castle, rather than one in real life, and with impossible soaring steeple-turrets and central keep. The grim historical introduction to the Edlitz treasure at the very beginning of the story is supposedly set “two hundred years ago”, although the costume of the then Count Edlitz seemed to date earlier – WG himself later says “three hundred years”. In fact, the characters dialogue, and the Lawrence Blackmore Titan Books story introduction mentions the “upstart Napoleon” and “Emperor Francis”, the latter being the Holy Roman Emperor, so Blackmore dates events to prior to the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz. Again Blackmore reports there is a small town of Edlitz, but in Neunkirchen, not Carinthia, with (in 2011) a population just under 1,000. Carinthia (Kárnten in German) borders Italy and Slovenia, and was a Habsburg Duchy from medieval times, incorporated into the Austrian Empire in 1806, then the Kingdom of Illyria until 1849, and crown lands from 1867 until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918.
Again, we have MB and WG up against Salamander Four, who, in the comic strip, we had previously met in “The Wicked Gnomes” (1973, Romero), “Green Cobra” (1979, Burns), and “Pluto’s Republic” (1984/85, Colvin). At one point, when WG and Dinah are first attempting to escape, Kassel threatens to shoot Dinah unless WG surrenders – but, given that they needed Dinah’s psychic/dowsing skills to still find the buried treasure cave, the threat was surely bluff only. And, indeed, Dinah then says their threat to shoot WG instead, as likely to disrupt her psychic ability, so better to keep him alive! When WG and Dinah flew to Salzburg they were met by another, sinister Salamander Four man pretending to be the Countess’s chauffeur, and the car would appear to be a 1950s Citroen, rather like the French police used at that earlier period. When MG flies out to Austria in her Piper Comanche (plane registration G-ATOY, the same as used in “Million Dollar Game”, 1987), from ‘the small airfield at Kingsbrook’, what we glimpse of the airfield as she takes off would appear to be more extensive, with at least three hangers, an impressive control tower, and two of Romero’s strange ‘science fiction’ pinnacle towers! Again the villains use the fake police trick to intercept her – no wonder MB was immediately suspicious after all the times this has happened in the past, either to her or WG!
And we have another villain with a surname beginning with ‘K’ – see my comments in Part 1.

70: Story name: Fiona – 1990 ***
Location: ‘Tanarachi’, in the Chittagoon Hills, Bengal, India – Gogol’s circus, somewhere in India (perhaps near Calcutta) – MG and Tarrant en route through Dacca.
Villain: Mr Wu Smith; chief henchman Maung.
Other characters: ‘Fiona’ (circus chimpanzee); Mr Rance (Wu Smith laboratory underling); Tarrant; Dr Sumitra Latham (Bengali parents, originally from Uganda); Dr David Latham (Sumitra’s husband); Gopal (blind Bengali hermit and holy man); Georgi Gogol (WG co-partner and circus owner); Kropski (circus animal trainer, supposedly in charge of the chimpanzees); Sharon (girl in WG knife-throwing act, who throws a wobbly at Fiona’s infatuation for WG).
Body count
: 1 (2, if you count Fiona the chimp).
Modesty’s lover
: none.
Willie’s lover: WG had his hopes dashed with Sharon, from his knife-throwing act.
Nudity rating: MB in very skimpy shorts and crop top.
Who kills who?
: MB shoots Maung just as he shoots Fiona, who is attacking him.
Summary/theme: Crime caper. The story initially splits into three strands – the first has former Network nurse, now Bengali medical doctor Sumitra Latham, consulting with blind holy man Gopal. Her British husband, Doctor David Latham, has been naïvely acquiring much-needed drugs and medical supplies for their remote hospital in the Chittagoon Hills, from the underlings of Mr Wu Smith, who she realises are ‘evil men’ processing opium into heroin. They are using an abandoned jungle temple to the Hindi snake goddess Manasa as their laboratory/factory. Gopal foresees the intervention of MB (“once your benefactor…dark…strong…a princess…”) but that she will die “unless another dies for her”. Meantime MB is indeed planning a surprise visit, but is accompanied by Sir Gerald Tarrant, who is on a personal family pilgrimage to his brother’s wartime grave. On the third strand, WG is touring in India with Gogol’s Circus, and performing his knife-throwing act (the “Great El Cozador”), only to be interrupted by circus female chimpanzee Fiona, who is infatuated with him. Upon learning MB is visiting Bengal, he decides to join her, but Fiona stows away with him, forcing him to go overland rather than fly. Sumitra tells David she thinks MB is coming and he, in turn, blurts this out to Mr Wu Smith, who thereupon arranges for MB to be waylaid and put out of action long enough for them to finish their drug preparation. MB and Tarrant, driving up by jeep, easily overcome Maung and his henchmen (she using an improvised quarterstaff), as does WG (with help from Fiona) a little later. MB quickly realises something is amiss, and when Fiona retrieves a packet of heroin with the temple, Sumitra confesses to the situation – David, desperate to keep the hospital running after the latest, devastating cyclone – is being ‘bought off’ to keep quiet about Wu Smith’s drug producing enterprise. However, when David goes alone to confront Maung, he is tied to the goddess statue, and threatened with a live cobra. When MB and WG intervene (in the absence of Wu Smith, who prefers subtlety), they are put down a snake pit with another cobra. Again Fiona helps them escape, but in the ensuing taking out of the gang, Maung is about to shoot MB when Fiona (who already associates him as WG’s enemy) attacks him, getting shot instead – thus fulfilling Gopal’s prophecy! By the time Wu Smith arrives by plane, the gang (except for the dead Maung, shot by MB) are down the snake pit, and the drugs and equipment destroyed. MB offers Smith’s freedom for $200 million in Krugerrands (to go to David’s hospital), and a signed confession she could use against him with any British officials, should he try to retaliate. The threat of him and his underlings remaining down the pit with a few cobra snakes, gets a quick compliance. Afterwards WG buries Fiona near the hospital.
Critical comments: On first read I rather took against this story, but then initially I also didn’t appreciate Colvin’s artistic mastery over Romero either. On re-reading it, it is not, by any means, amongst the best of the MB comic strip stories, but not the worst either. That said, Romero’s art is mostly workable, but with a few odd glitches. Here the main criticism is again his apparent inability to effectively depict non-European cultures or characters. Colvin was especially good at this. Instead Romero’s illustration of the Bengali holy man Gopel looks more Oriental (south-east Asiatic perhaps, Indo-Chinese) than authentic Indian/Bengali. Despite MB and Tarrant flying to, and through, India, the fellow passengers on the aeroplane and at the airports, are mostly European, few native Indians as one might expect, and as I think both Holdaway and Colvin would have included. Even WG’s friend Yasin could be of almost any nationality. Only the Indian with the London taxi cab has a turban, rather a token gesture, perhaps! More crucial – given its importance within the story – is Romero’s depiction of the statue of the goddess Manasa, also known as Manasa Devi, goddess of snakes. Worshipped mostly in Bengal, Jharkhand and north-east India, she traditionally was said to be the daughter of the sage Kashyap and the sister of (Naga, half-snake/half-human) King Vasuki. She was reputed to be “kind to her devotees”, but harsh to non-believers. Although not all temples contained her image (instead sometimes a branch of a tree, a pot or snake was the focal point), Wikipedia gives a vivid description of what her statue would look like. She was depicted as being covered with snakes, either sitting on a lotus or standing on a snake, “sheltered by a canopy of the hoods of seven cobra snakes,” and often with a child on her lap, apparently her son, Astika. What has to be stressed here is that she would be depicted very much in the Hindu/Indian artistic mode: facial features; round, almost globe-like breasts; headdress; girdle; elaborate jewellery; and multiple arms. Instead Romero’s statue – quite bizarrely – is entirely in the Western/Classical Greek/European mode, completely nude, apparently fair-haired, with Caucasian facial features, and a few snakes entwined about her arms (only two, not four!) Completely and utterly wrong in every way! We are in an Bengali/Indian temple, not a Greek or Roman one!
Again we meet the villain Mr Wu Smith, banker and crook, “of the New Provident and Commercial Bank” of Macao, who became the most long-lasting of MB opponents, appearing in both comic strip and novels. Here again, he escapes to threaten them another day! Sir Gerald – here apparently given a ‘month’s leave’ – very generous of HMG – plans to visit his brother’s grave in the War Cemetery at Imphal, capital city of the Indian State of Manipur. This refers to the July 1944 ‘Siege of Imphal’, and the 14th British Commonwealth Army, by the Japanese, in which there were over 50,000 Japanese casualties. Despite its subsequent obscurity, Mountbatten once described it as “one of the greatest battles in history” – perhaps a trifle hyperbole. The Cemetery contains over 1,600 British and Indian dead.
Here again, also, we see Georgi Gogol’s Circus, part-owned by WG, which we first met in the story “The Bluebeard Affair” (1972-73, drawn by Romero). Thus originally conceived in the comic strip, ‘Gogol’s Wonder Circus’ (as it is called in the novels), only appears in The Xanadu Talisman (1981) and The Night of Morningstar (1982), where it was explained WG first met Hungarian Georgi Gogol in the south of France just before the Network was wound down. On this occasion, we do not meet Chloe the elephant, but instead Fiona the female chimpanzee, who is infatuated with WG, apparently thinking either she is the human or WG is a chimp! As a relationship, perhaps, it was inevitably doomed right from the start, but again it illustrates WG’s empathy with animals – even a deadly cobra snake! For this latter close encounter, WG explains he once worked a month at the “Pasteur snake farm in Bangkok” and knew how to squeeze out snake venom. Although founded in 1912, this is actually (since 1922, by Thai royal decree) named the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, now located in Rama IV Road. Again, with Gopal’s chilling prophecy, we have an element of the supernatural – used often by Peter O’Donnell as a convenient plot device.
On a more sombre note, chimpanzee males are stronger than most human equivalents and can be quite violent. Genetically, they are our nearest primate relatives. However, when Peter O’Donnell wrote this story there was estimated to be about 1.3 million chimps in the wild. Now the figure is believed to be between 172,000 and 300,000 only. In other words, in less than 30 years, one million chimpanzees have been wiped out – by us, hunting them or destroying their habitat. WG would be angry.

71: Story name: Walkabout – 1990 ***
Location: Palm Beach, New South Wales, Australia – Sydney – Great Victoria Desert – Nullarbor Plain – railroad depot – Kalgoorlie – Forrest Airfield – yacht at sea.
Villain: American Mafia hoods, Renzo and others; ‘Four Fingers’ Fitch; Snowy and Jimbo; Martin Lang (aka Mario, American lawyer and crook who has lived in Australia as a Mafia ‘sleeper’ for 20 years.)
Other characters
: Debbie Grant (partner in Sydney law firm, WG girlfriend); Jacko (Aborigine and ex-Network member); Larry Houston (head of Internal Security); Tankai (young Aborigine maid); Luki (Tankai’s father); Doctor Dan Hailey; Bert Dalby (boss of Dalby Air services).
Body count
: 1
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: Debbie Grant.
Nudity rating: Debbie in a bikini, surfing and on beach with WG. MB in just loincloth or nude, in the Outback. Several bare-breasted, topless Aborigine women. WG, who Burns and Colvin drawn with shadowy chest hair, now has a fluffy blonde patch instead, as illustrated by Romero! Like his frequent depiction of him or MB wet, under a shower or emerging from swimming, seeming covered in streaming water droplets, this looks quite artificial and ridiculous.
Who kills who?
: Fellow thug Snowy kills Fitch with speargun instead of MB.
Summary/theme: Crime caper. WG is at Sydney’s Palm Beach, in Australia, where he renews his relationship from two years previous with lady lawyer Debbie Grant. Meantime MB is 1,500 miles away, on ‘Walk-About’ in the Great Victoria Desert with ex-Network member, Australian native Aborigine Jacko and his tribe, indulging in some ‘Stone Age culture’. Debbie is working closely with Larry Houston, of Australian Internal Security (who WG and MB know), on building up a case against an incursion into Australia by the America Mafia, whose ‘front man’ in Sydney is a crooked, naturalised lawyer named Martin Lang (‘Mario’ to his US partners). WG warns Debbie that she and Larry could be targeted, little suspecting Lang has already set up an elaborate assassination attempt on Larry through his henchman, Aussie ‘Four Fingers’ Fitch. Fitch has convinced Luki, the more incredulous Aborigine father of Larry’s maid Tankai, that Larry plans to dishonour his daughter, and use magic to harm her unless she complies. He thereby tricks Luki into attacking Larry with a spear, despite Tankai’s attempt to stop him. Larry is badly injured and Tankai urges her father to flee. Serving time in prison is the equivalent of a death sentence to an Aborigine. Meantime, after three weeks in the bush, MB is driving back by jeep, planning to stop over at a Trans-Australian railway depot for the night, when the sudden appearance of a camel in the road causes her to crash, trapping her leg. It is the fugitive Luki, working as a ‘fettler’ on the railway, who rescues her from the jeep’s petrol tank exploding, but – by a bizarre twist of fate – the spear given her by Jacko pierces his back, in an echo of Larry’s near-fatal injury. MB helps the local doctor in performing surgery, saving Luki’s life, but not long after the police arrest him for his murder attempt on Larry. MB realises he has been set-up and vows to help him. WG installs bugs in Lang’s office, enabling them to monitor the Mafia plans, and, together, they are able to arrange they are the only available pilots to fly Lang and the Mafia gang under Renzo, their leader, to Ceduna (in South Australia). Instead, they land and abandon them in the desert, where Jacko and his tribe ‘rescue’ them, forcing them to partake in their ‘walk-about’, living on foraged food like lizards and grubs. Jacko, meantime, pretends he cannot speak English other than “Hello”. Once they are suitable broken in spirit, MB and WG appear and force them – Lang especially – to sign confessions, before arranged for them all to be deported back to the USA. However, before being flown out, Lang contacts Fitch to revenge kill MB, although his fellow Mafia hoods refuse to sanction paying any financial reward. Unaware they are not getting payment, Fitch and two henchman, Snowy and Jimbo, kidnap Debbie and hold her on a yacht at sea, knowing MB and WG will attempt to rescue her. While WG approaches underwater (as Fitch anticipates), MB arrives disguised on water-skis, taking out Jimbo. Underwater combat follows, with Snowy killing Fitch by accident. WG enjoys time with Debbie, while MB introduces Jacko to Larry Houston.
Critical comments: A second return to the Australian Outback, and its native Aborigine inhabitants, previously visited in “The Stone-Age Caper” (1971, also drawn by Romero). That too featured the ex-Network member and Australian Aborigine Jacko, who again we also met briefly in “The Highland Witch” (1974). He only appeared in the comic strips. Here we discover something of his back-story – WG getting him “out of trouble in Marseilles” and finding him a job in the Network’s ‘boat section’, “on one our ships”. MB helped pay for him to study engineering, and he now has his own marine repair business, but still ‘goes native’ periodically, to keep in touch with his cultural roots. Australia, and especially the native Aborigine culture, obviously fascinated Peter O’Donnell, who used it again in one of his ‘Madeleine Brent’ novels The Golden Urchin (1986). MB, who we are again reminded spent her childhood and early teens living a similar nomadic existence, spends several weeks with his tribe, “living on lizards, grubs and snakes”, although she finds it hard to enjoy taking an active part in a kangaroo hunt. This primitive lifestyle she then inflicts on the American Mafia mobsters, prior to booting them out of the country. When their naturized Aussie lawyer frontman, Martin (Mario) Lang attempts to insult Jacko as “scum”, MB reminds him Jacko’s ancestors have lived here 20,000 years, and it was their land before the Westerners came. In fact, it is longer – estimated to be 50,000 years. In 2016 Aborigine numbers were given as 759,700, or about 3.1% of the total population.
Debbie Grant (who WG says is “the only lawyer I took a bubble bath with”, looking at times rather like Romero’s version of Maude Tiller) only features in this story, but Internal Security chief Larry Houston had featured in the novel Dragon’s Claw (1978), and is mentioned by name in the later comic strip story “The Killing Game” (2000), this being his first – and only – actual ‘crossover’ appearance. The story repeatedly illustrates the Aborigine psyche, often living in two, quite different worlds. In his introduction to the Titan Books edition, MB expert Lawrence Blackmore remarks, in the real world, the mafia had already been operating in Australia from the 1950s, for over two decades, under Lennie McPherson, George Freeman, and Abe (‘Mr Sin’) Saffron. For the most part Romero’s artwork is competent and workable, except for his illustrations of the Aborigine children, who are – quite frankly – depicted as grotesque, with peculiar shaped heads! Just weird!
Once again, in a country has huge as Australia, we have the rather unbelievable coincidence of fugitive Luki being the one to rescue MB from the crashed, burning jeep, to be followed by him being speared in the back also, as he had speared Larry Houston. The underwater combat previously being perfected by MB and WG in John Dall’s Texas swimming pool in “The Girl from the Future” (1989), here comes in useful!

72: Story name: The Girl in the Iron Mask – 1990/91 ****
Location: Mammon Hall, in the Swiss Alps – the “Treadmill” WG’s pub – (briefly) somewhere in Yugoslavia – ‘Kippel Hole’, freak 50-metre-deep pit in the Swiss Alps, located about “20 miles” from Mammon Hall.
Villain: Millionaire twins Reggie and Humphrey Bone; three-man ‘Magpie’ terror group; three-man ‘Iliad’ terror group.
Other characters: Celeste (Bone brothers’ housekeeper); Tarrant; Dave Craythorpe (pilot): Joe Mellar (Bone’s London contact and ‘fixer’); Damion, Tarquin and Jeremy (UK-based hit-squad); Doris (WG barmaid at the “Treadmill”); Valjevo (Yugoslav ex-Network member, now retired).
Body count: 6
Modesty’s lover
: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB flashing plenty of leg as she climbs out of Kippel Hole. Getting changed out of her ragged dress in the helicopter as they fly to confront the Bone brothers.
Who kills who? : MB foot-kicks two of the ‘Magpie’ team down Kippel Hole. The ‘Iliad’ team shoot the third man. WG kills one of the ‘Iliad’ team. Humphrey Bone shoots brother Reggie, then has fatal heart attack himself.
Summary/theme: Revenge caper. Retired and aged millionaire bachelor twins Humphrey and Reggie Bone enjoy ruining rich people by manipulating the stock market from their retirement mansion in the Swiss Alps. Having grown bored with this game, they decide instead to take revenge on MB for thwarting their attempt to ruin Texan tycoon John Dall. They employ two separate terror gangs – code-named ‘Magpie’ and ‘Iliad’ – the former to kidnap MB, who is driving from Yugoslavia to Zurich, having been visiting ex-Network retirees. The ‘Magpie’ team put MB down ‘Kippel Hole’, a deep pit near to the Bone’s Mammon Hall, her head encased in an iron mask with only a slit-like opening for her to breath. The brothers watch on a TV monitor relayed by a camera used by one of the ‘Magpie’ team on a crane hoist. Celeste, the Bone’s housekeeper, is horrified and secretly phones WG at the “Treadmill” with a brief message to “Look for your friend in Kippel Hole”. Tarrant is able to identify what and where this is. WG is only briefly delayed going to the rescue, by an inapt gang of three young and arrogant thugs the Bones had commissioned to watch him. MG, meanwhile, having figured out her predicament, and despite unable to see in the inhibiting mask, manages to climb out, and is able to turn the tables on the ‘Magpie” team, plunging two down the hole, and taking the third prisoner, enabling her to access a spanner to remove the mask. At that point the ‘Iliad’ team – tasked with secretly monitoring ‘Magpie’ – open fire, just as WG parachutes down and intervenes. The two survivors, having revealed their employer, are hoisted down the hole, while WG and MB fly by ‘Magpie’s’ helicopter to Mammon Hall. Celeste scares off the Bone’s security guards by saying who is on the way. Humphrey hoped to bluff his way out by blaming Reggie and shoots him, thinking to make it look like suicide. Minutes later, however, he himself suffers a fatal heart-attack. MB and WG promise to help Celeste and her young daughter – named as Nicole, at school in Neuchatel, whom the Bones threatened, thereby keeping her like a hostage. Celeste, in turn, says she will simply let the Swiss police “make what they can” of four bodies, two surviving terrorists, and a crane at Kippel Hole!
Critical comments: Yet again, as with the Italian journalist Guido Biganzoli or Russian army Colonel Greb, the Bone brothers are introduced with a pre-existing backstory, but here their previous encounter with MB is actually crucial to the entire plot – the reason for their revenge – yet it is remarked upon only in vague outline in just one early strip, number 7652, that MB foiled a plot by the Bone twins to financially ruin John Dall. There is nothing about this in any previous comic strip story, nor do they appear – even just mentioned in passing – in any of the novels/short stories. We gather they used the financial markets to bankrupt or ruin their victims, but how then did MB stop them? We never learn. Indeed, MB and WG only discover that the Bones are the instigators of the iron mask plot quite late in the story, after having eliminated both of the hit teams. WG’s only response is “the mad millionaires”. This is a pity, because it again implies additional stories not in either the comic strip or novel/short story collections, but also because their hatred of MB is the ‘McGuffin’, the key to everything that follows, in what is otherwise, quite a good story, O’Donnell back (for now) on form.
The ”book by that French chappie” referred to by Reggie Bone is, of course, The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandra Dumas (1802-1870), part of the D’Artagnan Romances, a fictionalised interpretation of the real unidentified prisoner held 1669/70 to 1703 at the time of French King Louis XIV.
The ‘magpie’ team technique to take MB captive – a fake car accident, overturned and on fire, somewhere presumably in the Italian or Swiss Alpes – rather depends on having a completely deserted, otherwise traffic-free, road both ways, least some other motorist should intrude upon the set-up, before, during or after the snatch. The use of a tranquilliser dart to subdue MB is reminiscent of the Mahmoud gang hit, in “The Puppet Master” (1971/72). The ’yippie’ hit team employed to take out WG as he tries to leave the “Treadmill” to search for MB – Damion, Tarquin and Jeremy – make a reappearance in “The Young Mistress” (1991/92). Given he is in England, it is rather curious that WG’s (unidentified) car is a left-hand drive.
Dave Craythorpe, the aircraft pilot, featured in both the comic strip and novels/short stories. In the latter he appeared in “I Had a Date with Lady Janet” (1972), A Taste for Death (1969), The Impossible Virgin (1971), “The Soo Girl Charity” (1972), and The Silver Mistress (1973). In the novels he had a Beagle Pup, based at White Waltham, near to “The Treadmill”, and was said to fly smuggled goods in and out of France. This story also has Doris, WG’s barmaid at “The Treadmill” pub, mentioned by name in “Death in Slow Motion” (1983), but seen here for the first time, although, typically, Romero depicts her as a young, Axa-like blonde – again! She, too, featured in the short story “I Had A Date with Lady Janet” (Pieces of Modesty, 1972), and got mentioned in Last Day in Limbo (1976), where she and her husband decide to emigrate to Australia. Strange then, that she is still working at “The Treadmill” in both this, and the other post-1976 stories, unless WG employed someone with the same name!
The helicopter used by the ‘Magpie’ team was a Bell 206, manufactured US/Canada 1967 to 2017. Again one of Bone three-man security detail was “with Bora’s mob” – the rival drug-dealing gang MB had put down in her Network days, mentioned on a number of occasions elsewhere in both the comic strip and novels. Peter O’Donnell had already used the surname ‘Bone’ in the story “Idaho George” (1978), with the rather stupid, female criminal gang leader Anastasia Bone. There is also a passing reference to Bernie Chan (made by the Damion mob), a crooked London jeweller and fence, who, in the novel The Night of Morningstar (1982), MB and WG kidnapped and tricked into revealing information they needed.

73: Story name: The Young Mistress – 1991/92 ***
Location: MB’s penthouse flat, London – Mount Galleries, Blakewell Street, London – MB’s cottage, near Benildon, Wiltshire – Lacey’s yacht, Shadwell Bay.
Villain: Bruce Lacey.
Other characters: Dr Giles Pennyfeather; Weng; Hooker (Lacey’s minder/trainer); Marian Hall; Eddie Parker (Marian’s boyfriend); John Dall; Tarquin, Dalmion and Jeremy (the ‘B’ team hit-squad).
Body count: 2
Modesty’s lover: Giles Pennyfeather; (she declines to spend time with John Dall, promising to see him “in the Fall”).
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB nude, and in bra and panties getting dressed (earlier with Giles, later as they prepare their showdown with Lacey on his yacht); MB, having removed her Velcro skirt, bare legs and panties as she takes on Hooker and Lacey in the gym.
Who kills who? : Lacey shoots Hooker in a crazy rage. Weng accidentally hits Lacey with powerboat, breaking his neck.
Summary/theme
: Art fraud caper. Dr Giles Pennyfeather is “between jobs” in Chad, doing locum work at a surgery in London, while staying with MB at her penthouse. Their Sunday morning in bed is interrupted by a telephone call from Marian Hall, one of his patients, who has been badly flogged with a riding crop by her ‘boyfriend’, a wealthy, art gallery owner named Bruce Lacey, who MB recognises as a vicious thug and possible criminal. She accompanies Giles to the flat above Lacey’s art gallery, but as they are leaving Lacey arrives, with his minder, Hooker. Giles calls him a swine, sadist and scumbag, prompting Lacey to take a swing at him, forcing MB to intervene. She, almost effortlessly, takes out both men, leaving Lacey tied to a climbing rope in the gym, just as WG arrives (having been updated on the situation by Weng). Only then does Lacey realise who they are, and vow revenge, intending (so he says) to strip and whip MB in turn. At Giles’ insistence, Marian goes back to the penthouse with them, and confesses to MB she copied a valuable Impressionist painting for Lacey, who then sold it for $30,000, whilst keeping the original. Lacey has since blackmailed her, saying she could go to prison for art fraud. MB traces the sale to an American, who turns out to be none other than her millionaire boyfriend, John Dall, in New York. Meantime, Giles and Marian go into hiding at MB’s Wiltshire cottage, but Lacey is able to find the address through a newspaper contact. WG, however, easily deals with the ham-fisted attempt to snatch her back. Dall having brought the fake painting to MB’s keeping in the UK, she and WG break into Lacey’s gallery, take the original and replace it with the copy, but now marked FAKE with a hot poker. Dall flies back to New York, and the following day Giles flies to Chad. But Lacey has kidnapped Marian, together with her former boyfriend, fellow commercial artist Eddie Parker (who she really loves), and sets MB up for an exchange – prisoners for the Impressionist painting. MB is prepared, however, wearing a plastron fencing jacket under the bodysuit, and faking being knocked out by a tranquillising dart. Meantime WG parachutes on the yacht, with Weng following in a power boat. They easily take out the unsuspecting four man crew, but in the final confrontation Lacey shoots Hooker dead, before falling overboard, still with his gun. As Weng swings the power boat round the yacht’s stern, he hits Lacey, breaking his neck. WG meantime retrieves the Rembrandt Lacey wanted Marian to copy next. They dump Hooker’s body into the sea also. Later Marian and Eddie thank them, Marian having painted her ‘last’ masterpiece, the “Mono Lisa” (signed with her own name) as a gift for MB.
Critical comments: Marian Hall is the ‘Young Mistress’, not in a sexual connotation, but as a copyist of Old Masters – Lacey’s “little joke”. There is no ‘Blakewell Street’ listed in London. Lacey is described as a “yuppie wheeler-dealer – rich – criminal type – keep fit type” with his own basement gym. The term ‘yuppie’ was first coined about 1980, as a ‘young professional’. The ‘Charlot’ is described as a ‘minor Impressionist’, of whom MB remarks “Yes, he’s become fashionable of late”, but this raises some query. Attempts to clarify more detail of ‘Charlot’ seem to draw a blank. There is a Louis Henri Jean Charlot (1898-1974), a French-American painter in the Mexican style. Otherwise there is apparently a ‘Marie Charlot’, said to be a 19th century Belgian Impressionist painter, but who might be a fictitious name used by a 1970s ‘painting factory’ creating fake Impressionist works! At least one ‘Marie Charlot’, entitled “Victorian Ladies”, was priced and sold (for real) at about $425. Much less than the $30,000 which the dealer paid Lacey, or the unstated price John Dall then paid, for “Tulips in a Blue Vase” (18” x 24”). Lacey’s next proposed swindle was to be a Rembrandt, which a collector wanted him to value as authentic. He planned for Marian to copy it, he would then ‘age’ it, and return the fake, keeping the original.
This sees another appearance of Dr Giles Pennyfeather, a crossover from the novels, who had previously appeared in the comic strip story “The Wild Boar” (1985, illustrated by Neville Colvin). Romero’s depiction of him keeps very much to the Colvin image, if perhaps a little less dishevelled and cartoony. MB’s mental description of him is “artless, guileless, usually penniless, academically hopeless, but has a marvellous gift for making people well”, and a “lovable idiot” at times who she pretends to rage at, although it’s questionable who, of the two of them, normally gets who into crazy and dangerous situations. Her other regular lover, American/Texan multi-millionaire tycoon John Dall, expresses mock jealousy of him, and the two couldn’t be more dissimilar, in character or circumstance.
Again, however, Romero goes completely ‘off-piste’ with his crazy depiction of MB’s Wiltshire cottage. From Jim Holdaway’s original two-storey house including roof space, to John Burns’ version – similar enough, and I think perhaps the best – to Pat Wright’s one-storey chalet-like shack, we, rather bizarrely, actually have several – quite different – versions by Romero, of which this is the most outlandish – a thatched building with dormer windows in the roof, and his usual crisscross pane windows throughout, but with Giles and Marian looking as if totally out of scale in the near foreground. Given that Romero (unlike Colvin) did attempt to remain consistent to Holdaway’s version of MB’s London penthouse and WG’s ‘Treadmill’ pub exterior, his lack of singular vision for MB’s cottage is rather oddball. However, we learn the cottage’s name, “Ashlea”, located “one mile west of Benildon”, Wilts., although this distance, too, varied over time in the comic strips or novels. In an earlier story it was three miles.
The hapless, but cocky, hit-man trio, Tarquin, Dalmion and Jeremy, had already appeared in the story “Lady in the Dark” (1989/90), getting thrashed by WG on the forecourt of the ‘Treadmill’. Here they suffer similar humiliation, but by WG disguised as an old man – “Garvin’s grandfather”, is their conclusion – an idea O’Donnell was to use again with the French agent Henri in “Our Friend Maude”, just two stories later, still in 1992.

74: Story name: Ivory Dancer – 1992 ***
Location: London East End judo club – ‘Dalliance Farm’, ranch and stables, Kentucky, USA – MB’s London penthouse – Disused quarry, Kentucky – Matt Ringwell’s Circus at Ashville – Limestone Hills (old mine).
Villain: Gallo and gang.
Other characters: Sam (Samantha) Brown; John Dall; husband and wife Mike and Sally Duggan; Matt Ringwell; Lolita and husband, ‘The Mighty Hercules’.
Body count: 1
Modesty’s lover: John Dall.
Willie’s lover: Circus contortionist Lolita (WG ex, from Gogol’s Circus).
Nudity rating: MB nude in bed with John Dall; MB in ‘bikini’ spangles as ‘Conchita’, WG’s knife-throwing act partner; Sam in bra.
Who kills who?
: WG hits and kills Gallo with mallet. WG gets face cut with bull-whip. Sam gets bullet skinning her rib.
Summary/theme
: Race horse ransom caper. MB accompanies WG to young Samantha Brown’s East End London ‘judo club’. Sam has already shown herself a natural at horse-riding on holiday visits to MB’s cottage in Wiltshire. They invite her to accompany them to stay with Texan multi-millionaire John Dall at his equine stables and stud-farm in Kentucky. Dall has just paid $10 million for champion race-horse ‘Ivory Dancer’, but crime boss Gallo plans to kidnap the horse for a $5 million ransom. He threatens to disfigure the wife of Dall’s stable manager, Mike Duggan, with acid, unless Mike cooperates to switch off the stable alarm system. Meantime, Sam is staying with the Duggans, and shows great empathy with ‘Ivory Dancer’. Everyone agrees she is like a young MB. Another distraction is a nearby circus, the owner of whom knows WG, and who asks if WG might do his knife-throwing act with MB. Later, on their way back from visiting the circus, Gallo attempts to take MB and WG out of circulation using thugs with steel-tipped bull-whips and a car-wrecking crane. WG uses 50-cent coins as missiles while MB gets the crane driver, then taking the rest of the gang with a butterfly kick and the kongo. Afterwards they speculate inconclusively who might have had a grudge against them. Sam, meantime, has a sort of premonition about Ivory Dancer, and one night accidentally sets off the stable alarms, much to Dall’s displeasure. WG and MB perform the knife-throwing act as ‘El Cazador and Conchita’. That night Gallo contacts a distressed and fearful Mike Duggan, who switches off the alarms and Ivory Dancer is stolen. Dall’s response to the alarms being off is to blame Sam, and Mike Duggan confesses it was him, terrified by what they might do to his wife Sally. Sam, however, has gone. leaving a note saying she thinks she knows were Ivory Dancer is. MB realises the gang will use the circus as cover to transport the horse (its colour disguised) away undetected. MB, WG and Dall go after the circus in his helicopter, and see the trailer, having by then already pulled off into woods. As the gang open the trailer, Ivory Dancer leaps out with Sam riding bareback. One of Gallo’s gang shoots, grazing her rib, before Gallo stops him, least he hit the horse. Flying overhead, WG uses tools as missiles, until the helicopter rotor blade is hit by a shotgun bullet. They land near to where Sam and Ivory Dancer are hiding, and (having bandaged Sam’s wound) MB and WG go back to deal with Gallo and gang. MB uses Sam’s bloody shirt to make it appear she fell, and was injured, from the helicopter. WG, with his hatred of men who threaten women – Sally, Sam or MB – uses a mallet to kill Gallo.
Critical comments: This is the second appearance of Sam Brown (now age 13), who featured in “Samantha and the Cherub” (1987/88). Sam would appear again one last time, in “The Special Orders” (1998). We are told that the Contrax business had been “last year”, although Sam’s age in that story was only 10. In the interim, her brother Tyrone, aka ‘The Cherub’, had quit the Hell’s Angel’s gang, and now had a “steady job” as a motor bike courier, while “Aunt Joan” now lived with them. In the school holidays Sam had stayed at MB’s cottage in Wiltshire, where she had developed an instant affiliation with horses, hence MB’s invitation for her to accompany them to John Dall’s ranch stables in Kentucky. Multi-millionaire John Dall is one of the most frequent crossover characters from the novels, either appearing in person – as in “Yellowstone Booty” (1978/79), “Butch Cassidy Rides Again” (1986/87), “The Girl from the Future” (1989), “The Young Mistress” (1991/92), and “Durango” (1996/97) – or merely mentioned, as in “The Gallows Bird” (1973), or “Garvin’s Travel’s” (1981). Presumably he has more than just the one ranch, as this time the action takes place in Kentucky, the ‘Bluegrass State’, rather than Texas. From “The Young Mistress” we know he has a house at East Hampton, New York State, again presumably to be near his New York City office. Although a Texan, he has native First Nations Indian heritage.
In his introduction to the Titan Books edition, MB expert Lawrence Blackmore remarks on the number of real race horses with ‘Dancer’ in their name – quoting ‘Northern Dancer’, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1964, and ‘Gate Dancer’. ‘Sword Dancer’ and ‘Native Dancer’, all winners of the Triple Crown. An internet search (Keeneland equibase) seems to show there really was a ‘Ivory Dancer’, with jockey John Lively, in the USA, circa 1978-80. Again, we have to question why MB’s open-topped sports car is a UK right-hand-drive. It gets written off anyway! Members of the Gallo gang mention how MB and WG had already “bust” the Preacher’s and Dino Quinn’s gangs. As usual, the warnings are dismissed out of hand. Peter O’Donnell’s love of – or fascination for – circuses is again apparent – this time with an American circus, Matt Ringwell’s, whose lady contortionist, Lolita, was formerly with Gogol’s Circus, part-owned by WG. Needless to say, she is another WG ex-girlfriend, although now married to the strong man, ‘The Mighty Hercules’. Once again Romero has a distracting background of silly circus tricks going on, as we saw in “The Bluebeard Affair” (1972/73) – totally unnecessary and rather unrealistic. Commenting on their knife-throwing act together, MB confesses she finds WG being in disguise as a “Mexican nut-case” always a bit scary. No doubt she is recollecting her near-death experience with the Bubbles gang in “The Vanishing Dollybirds” (1976/77). Mike’s wife Sally is yet another look-alike Romero blonde – ‘Axa’ in clothes!

75: Story name: Our Friend Maude – 1992 ***
Location: Paris – ‘Le Gant Noir’ nightclub, Paris – MB’s penthouse, London – Vaubois office, Paris – Bois de Boulogne, Paris – Chateaux Avalon, Loire district – the deserted village of ‘Bezier’, located in a valley scheduled to be flooded for a new reservoir.
Villain: Kaut (illegal arms dealer); Zebart (so-called ‘High Contractor’).
Other characters: Maude Tiller; Rene Vaubois; Claudine; Tarrant; Henri (Vaubois agent, disguised as old man, and later as police ‘Inspector Leroux’); Sir David and Lady Waters (British residents living in France).
Body count: none.
Modesty’s lover
: none.
Willie’s lover: Claudine; Maude Tiller.
Nudity rating: MB in undies, getting dressed; MB in undies changing from ‘sans-culottes’ outfit to black bodysuit; Maude in undies, nightie; Maude getting dressed to go and see MB; Maude topless (‘the nailer’) viewed from back.
Who kills who? : Not applicable.
Summary/theme: Attempted assassination caper. French Intelligence chief Rene Vaubois, working with Tarrant’s department, is getting close to compiling incriminating evidence on rogue arms dealer Kaut. Kaut, therefore, planned an elaborate scheme to brainwash (by narco-hypnosis) Tarrant’s agent (and MB friend/WG girlfriend) Maude Tiller, and trick her into shooting Vaubois, under false instructions he is a top traitor to be eliminated. This, he thinks, will ‘cold-case’ the investigation, and also undermine Anglo-French trust. Maude (who has just visited Vaubois on a mission from Tarrant) is kidnapped in Paris and taken to Kaut’s chateau at Avalon, near the Loire. The scam is overseen by Zebart, self-styled ‘high contractor’, posing as a Tarrant department psychologist, together with Kaut henchmen and actors who impersonate Jack Fraser, Tarrant, and the intended victim, Vaubois – all of whom (although they don’t know it) are to be disposed of afterwards. Unbeknown to Kaut and Zebart however, WG (in Paris with another old girlfriend, Claudine) sees Maude with Zebart in ‘Le Gant Noir’, a Parisian hangout for the criminal fraternity, and he tells MB and Tarrant, who confirms Maude should be on leave in Switzerland. MB contacts Vaubois, who introduces her to one of his more eccentric agents, Henri – a ‘master of disguise’ – who has been investigating Kaut, and also working undercover at ‘Le Gant Noir’, where he had bugged the pay-phone. Convinced Maude has been snatched and possibly brainwashed, MB and WG are assigned to unofficial duty with Henri, basing themselves at the abandoned village of Bezier, near the chateau. Kaut is using a costume (18th century theme) masked ball to cover for his meetings to sell nuclear weaponry, and (thanks to Henri’s trickery) MB and WG are able to gain access to the chateau as one of the guests. In addition to obtaining incriminating documents from Kaut’s safe, they rescue Maude (who is resisting her instructions by ‘Tarrant’ to assassinate Vaubois) and all flee to the deserted village, where – without resorting to gunplay – they are able to eliminate Kaut and Zebert’s henchmen one by one. WG and Maude look forward to a month of unbridled passion together in the Caribbean.
Critical comments: This story brings together a number of ‘crossover’ characters from both comic strip and novels – another appearance of Maude Tiller, Tarrant’s blonde female agent and WG girlfriend, who we first met in “The Puppet Master” (1972, illustrated by Romero), next, again featuring as a captive, in “The Wicked Gnomes” (1978), then “Garvin’s Travels” (1980), where both she and WG are taken captive and subject (not very successfully) to brainwashing, and next in “The Double Agent” (1986, both illustrated by Colvin – his is the best version of Maude), and later in “The Murder Frame” (1997, by Romero again), and “Fraser’s Story” (also 1997). Her first appearances in the novels was in Last Day in Limbo (1976). In this story we discover she has been with Tarrant’s department six years, and twice in a kill situation. French Intelligence chief Rene Vaubois, who first appeared in the novel Modesty Blaise (1965), although originally called Léon, his name changing to Rene in the next novel Sabre-Tooth (1966). His first appearance in the comic strip (as Rene) is in “The Magnified Man” (1967, illustrated by Holdaway), and again in “The Bluebeard Affair” (1972/73, by Romero), and “The Wild Boar” (1988, by Colvin), where he is the captive. He appeared in most of the novels, unlike ex-Network courier Claudine, another of WG’s girlfriends, who he regularly visited in Paris. She only featured in I, Lucifer (1967), and in “Bellman”, the extended short story version of “The Killing Ground”, published in Cobra Trap (1996). In the comic strip, she had a brief ‘walk-on’ part in “Sweet Caroline” (1983/84, perfectly depicted by Colvin), another – even more brief – part in “The Killing Distance” (1994, by Romero), when she is masquerading as MB to confuse the villains. We are introduced to a new character, Vaubois agent ‘Henri’ (apparently his code name), who appears again – this time only briefly – in “The Killing Distance” (1994). In our more PC age of the 2020s, some might take offence at the radio names MB and Henri use – ‘Rosbif’ for MB and WG, ‘Frogman’ for Henri (Maude is ‘Ladybird’). Racism! Or maybe not, just tongue in cheek humour.
Once again MB employs her ‘speciality’, the ‘nailer’ – a female going topless to distract or momentarily delay the reaction of the male villains. In the novels it is used only in Modesty Blaise and Sabre-Tooth (1965 and 1966). The first time she used it in the comic strip stories was “The Reluctant Chaperon” (1975), while a full nude version features in “The Inca Trail” (1976), “Black Queen’s Pawn” (1993) and “Death Symbol” (1999). But, at MB’s suggestion, the female character, Judy, uses it in “The Stone Age Caper” (1971), and Maude uses it twice – in “Garvin’s Travels” (1980/81), and here in this story, in the desolate empty church, MB having rung the bells to attract the bad guys.
In the first MB comic strip story “La Machine” (1963), the Parisian underworld club was named ‘Le Gant Rouge’, a name which (rather confusingly) Peter O’Donnell used again in the first novel, Modesty Blaise (1965) for gangster Pacco’s club, but which was in Cannes, on the Cote d’Azur. Perhaps the Paris club has since changed its name to ‘Le Gant Noir’? When asked by WG what news, club patron Louis remarks, “Lemont runs Montmartre now, Durand broke the St. Denis mob, Marcel got his throat cut – routine stuff.”
Struggling to reconcile reality with the unfamiliar ‘secret British training establishment’ under Zabert’s tutorage, Maude queries where is Chuck Daneby, in charge of weapons, or Jacoby, her regular martial arts instructor? Jacoby might be the individual featured in “The Puppet Master” (1971/72) when we first see WG teaching Maude unarmed combat. He featured in Last Day in Limbo (1976), where WG thinks him a “nasty bugger”, and sets him up for a knock out. In the novels the department’s training establishment is call ‘Three Meadows’.
The story – if rather far-fetched – is typical O’Donnell fare, but again rather let down by Romero’s artwork. Overall the art is sketchy and often without detail. In several (night views) the chateau is silhouetted as sitting on a hill, and as Romero’s usual spires and turrets-type ‘fairy tale’ castle, whilst in other views the front is a more conventional mansion, with wrought-iron gates. Glimpses of the interior appear rather like a stage-set, simplistic and theatrical. The abandoned French village seen here, is worth comparing to how Neville Colvin depicted a similar (Corsican) village in “The Wild Boar” (1985), and, in particular, the church interior. Colvin’s illustrations are more convincing and realistic.

76: Story name: A Present for the Princess – 1992/3 ***
Location: Republic of Montelero, near the Columbian border – village of Yuti – Covent Garden theatre, London – MB’s cottage in Wiltshire – MB’s penthouse in London – Toccopina (large city and sea port for Montelero) – bandit’s hideaway, in the “mountains east of Toccopina”.
Villain: A succession of bad guys.
Other characters: Ramon (ex-Network stringer); Tarrant; Dinah and Steve Collier; Rima and her father Jose; Julio (the hidago’s son); Joe Ling (Anglo-Chinese drifter and petty crook); Strobel (crook in Toccopina); Azul (local bandit); Weng; Mr Haley (bookseller and psychometrist); Police Captain Juan Corinto; Mary Foster (American from Nebraska, whose husband was murdered by Azul’s bandits).
Body count
: Too numerous to count.
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: (Perhaps after the story) Rima in Toccopina, Mary Foster in Nebraska.
Nudity rating: MB waking up, nude in bed from her premonition about WG.
Who kills who?
: Average of two killings a day on the emerald fields. MB and WG kill at least six of Azul’s bandits. More, including Azul, are killed by the police.
Summary/theme: Lost and found caper. WG is away on one of his ‘field-trips’, searching for emeralds (to make earrings for MB, the ‘Princess’ of the title) in the near-lawless Republic of Montelero, bordering with Colombia. Having already witnessed several murders a day, he quietly strikes camp and slips away, but is persuaded by an ex-Network man, Ramon (who has long since gambled away his ‘golden handshake’), and several other get-rich-quick desperadoes. Finding the rope-bridge across a gorge broken, WG is trapped and forced to dive into the river below, where he is knocked semi-unconscious by a drifting log. Further downstream, he is rescued by a young widow, Rima, and her elderly father, Jose. Much to her father’s disgust, she cares for him, despite that he has no money, and has (thanks to concussion with the log) lost his memory – if not his abilities to fight with knives or play cards. Meantime, back in England, MB grows more concerned about his welfare following a night-time premonition, and eventually asks Dinah Collier to use her dowsing skills over a series of maps, and the bookseller, Mr Haley, his psychometrist skills with the pearl necklace WG made for her, to try and establish where he might be. Mr Haley’s ambiguous impressions especially was of a “big man” with “three green eyes”, “lost and unremembered, with emptiness in his head, saved by the widow”. Back in Rima’s village, the son of the local landowner (the ‘Hidalgo’, noble or gentry) arrives, intending to sleep with her, but WG challenges him to a knife duel, easily beating both him and his bodyguard. Despite not remembering his past, name or MB (he is called only the ‘Inglese’), WG feels he must somehow travel to England to find his ‘talisman’. Rima insists on accompanying him as far as Toccopina, the nearest big sea-port. Once there, WG easily wins money at cards, but is seen by Joe Ling, a Anglo-Chinese petty crook, who knew him before his MB/Network days. He convinces WG his name is really Harry Brett, wanted for murder, and arranges for him to ‘hide’ with the local bandits in the hills. Rima pleads with him not to go, saying she doesn’t believe he is a ‘bad man’, but without success. Meantime MB has arrived in Toccopina, and visits police Captain Corinto, just as Rima also arrives, and it transpires Corinto knew her as a young girl – they both come from the same village. Rima realises MB is the woman ‘talisman’, and that Joe Ling lied about WG being a man wanted by the police for murder. MB deliberately drives into bandit country to be taken captive, and discovers a confused and distressed WG – still with no memory – and the bandits already holding a number of women as sex-slaves, including Mary Foster, from Nebraska, whose husband they had murdered. WG helps release the women, and they disable about two-thirds of the bandits weaponry, before forced to flee on foot, where MB and WG hold the narrow pass while Mary and the other women try to escape. When WG wants to remain, fighting to his death, MB knocks him out with her kongo. No sooner have they re-joined the other women (the bandits, having already lost a number of men, still fearful of making a direct assault), so Captain Corinto arrives, with Rima. While Azul’s bandits are either killed or captured by the police, the knock on the head has restored WG’s memory, and both Rima and Mary line up to thank and kiss him. The ‘three green eyes’ are emeralds, one of which is presented to Rima, to help fulfil her little private business dream in Toccopina (with Captain Corinto’s promise of protection and friendship), the other two she insists go to MB, knowing WG intended to present them to her as earrings.
Critical comments: Another amnesia story, like MB in “The Puppet Master”, or WG (if more briefly) in “Yellowstone Booty”. Indeed, there are several echoes here of previous, or other, MB comic strip stories in the series – MB and WG holding the narrow rocky pass against the hoards of bandits, echoed MB and retired Colonel Rodney Spooner in “A Few Flowers for the Colonel” (1982); the women being held as sex-slaves as in “Milord” (1988) and “Death Symbol” (1999); WB being swept away in a fast-flowing river, and MB waking up in the night convinced something has happened to him, as in “Yellowstone Booty” (1978/79) – presumable the “one other time” she casually mentions here.
As we have often seen now, Romero is good at depicting wilderness, but hopeless at other locations. Early in the story MB and Tarrant are the Covent Garden Theatre, but one distant, night-time, external view shows the Houses of Parliament from the Lambeth bank of the River Thames – nowhere near Covent Garden, which is off the Strand, beyond the Hungerford Bridge! Even more bizarre, is that MB’s Wiltshire cottage has changed its appearance yet again! Tarrant and Steve Collier are seen in conversation with the house in the background. It is now located atop a sloping open hillside, and has a double, angled wing either side of a central entrance, one with a tall, external chimney – vaguely similar to the original Holdaway/Burns versions, but larger, and more isolated in its own ground. Throughout this last third of Romero-illustrated stories, the cottage was rarely the same twice, and often totally different, complete inconsistent. Another, lesser, quirk was in strip 8135, where the character Joe Ling (who didn’t look especially Chinese) suddenly lost his distinctive moustache. The widow Rima – depicted here very much as a dark-haired MB lookalike, is said to have a “heart of gold”, but a “greedy, idle father”, who only hoped that the ‘Americano’ (as they first assumed WG to be) would be rich and reward them – “perhaps with 50 dollars”. Upon discovering WG is English, penniless, and lost his memory, the old man complains how the Inglese “are not rich, and even lose at football.” Early in the story Rima said her ambition was to open her own café in Tocoopina, but later WG says it was a shop. Her dreams were shattered when bandits killed her husband and stole all their money. The final confrontation between the police and Azul’s bandits is not even illustrated. Suddenly, from one strip to the next, it is all over, and Azul himself is declared amongst the dead. Given the built-up, this seemed something of a cop-out. Dinah and Steve Collier had already previously featured in “Lady in the Dark” (1989/90), and would so again in “Durango” (1996/97). This story again illustrates Dinah’s extraordinary dowsing ability, but this time also coupled with Mr Haley’s psychometrist talent, which we first saw as long ago as “The Mind of Mrs Drake” (1964/65). It is obvious that Peter O’Donnell was constantly fascinated by such extrasensory perception (ESP) ideas and possibilities. Steve Collier remarks to Tarrant that “scientifically a bee can’t fly, but it does.”

77: Story name: Black Queen’s Pawn – 1993 ***
Location: Madagascar – the village of ‘Mandofo’ – Salim’s yacht at sea.
Villain: Salim; and chief henchman Koch.
Other characters: Greg Lawton; Catholic missionary Father Brienne; Faro (one of Koch’s henchmen); villagers Chakota, wife Noniko and daughter Andri.
Body count: 0 ?
Modesty’s lover: Greg Lawton.
Willie’s lover: WG, at the end of the story, is “rubbing noses with the village girls” – their equivalent of kissing!
Nudity rating: MB bathing in wooden tub, later fighting Faro, naked under her robe; She and WG swim naked out from the flooded chamber; MB nude except for luminous paste, preforming a ghostly ‘naked nailer’, Koch and his men believing them dead.
Who kills who? : Although Father Brienne says Koch or his men have already killed someone, it is not made clear whom, or in what circumstances. Greg Lawton again gets wounded (MB is a dangerous girlfriend to have), this time in the arm.
Summary/theme: Lost treasure caper. In 1834 Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar had a secret ‘treasure’ hidden, which she hoped would grant her immortality. Subsequently she had all those with knowledge of its location – the astrologers, 520 slaves, and her captains – killed. “160 years later” MB and American veterinary surgeon Greg Lawton are in a remote area of Madagascar, looking to find a preserved, hopefully intact, 2,000 year old egg of the Aepyornis, an extinct, 10ft tall ostrich-like bird, but which was unique to the island. They arrive at the village of Mandofo, site of the ruins of Ranavalona’s summer palace, to find it has been taken over by Koch, who MB recognises as the ‘enforcer’ for a Lebanese crook named Salim. He likes to sneeringly refer to her as ‘Duchess’. The aged Catholic missionary, Father Brienne, intervenes and explains Koch has a copy of Ranavalona’s map, and is seeking the treasure, using forced labour from the village. Salim, meanwhile, is on board his yacht, in the Indian Ocean. MB assures Koch she has no interest in the treasure hunt, but is still forbidden to leave. At one point, Faro, one of Koch’s goons, starts beating a young village girl, and MB (clad only in a robe, having been taking a bath) intervenes and restrains him. Despite Koch instructing him to back off, Faro pulls a gun and Lawton takes a bullet in the arm instead. Whilst MB is still nursing Lawton better, WG arrives by jeep, not suspecting the situation until too late. Fearing that Koch may now have them all “put down”, MB decides on a ‘stopper’, she and WG will find the treasure themselves. Reluctantly – consulting by radio with Salim – Koch agrees. They note the course of the nearby river has changed from the map, having been dammed since. Salim, however, holds Lawton hostage on his yacht. By temporarily re-channelling the river, they uncover a flagstone under the silt, that leads to an underground chamber with ornate carved murals, and a giant gold-leafed Aepyornis egg. Despite Father Brienne pointing out how the more primitive superstitious mind works, Koch refuses to believe this is the treasure. MB says she wants to photograph the murals, knowing this will give Koch the opportunity to breech the temporary dam and flood the chamber, but, unbeknown to him, they take shelter in the part of the chambers above the river level, then swim out at night. At Father Brienne’s house, he has a laboratory in which there is paste from firefly beetles that glow in the dark. MB does a naked, glowing ‘nailer’, appearing and disappearing (thanks to a black cloak), shattering Koch and his men in panic, where she and WG can pick them off, one by one. WG then imitates Koch’s voice to summon Salim, together with Lawton, from the yacht.
Critical comments: In the context of the story, Queen Ranavolona (aka Ramavo-Manjake I, or Rabodoandrianampoinimerina, c.1778-1861, ruler of the Kingdom of Madagascar 1828-1861) is depicted as a mad, sadistic tyrant. She certainly aspired to traditionalist policies, but she was an astute politician who was determined to protect her country against the encroachments of colonial European powers, and it would appear they subsequently encouraged the stories of her apparent cruelty and evil character. That said, it appears that the population certainly declined quite dramatically in the middle years of her reign, from 5 million in 1833 to 2.5 million by 1839. Her empire extended over much of the island, except for an enclave to the west, and the more arid southernmost tip of the island. She was succeeded by her son, Radama II. Romero depicts her ruined ‘summer palace’ as being of stone. In fact, one of her construction projects was a massive wooden palace at Manjakamiadona. The Aepyornis were known as the ‘elephant bird’, and weighed on average 520kg (1,200 lbs). They probably became extinct about AD 1000. They featured in a David Attenborough BBC television programme broadcast in 2011.
The aged Father Brienne is one of Peter O’Donnell’s ‘good’ clergy, having served as a missionary in Madagascar for 50 years, and is able to read Malagasy script. The treasure map – an O’Donnell fantasy, and only partially complete – had reputedly passed to a “French serviceman” during the French colonial period. French is still the lingua franca amongst the villagers. When WG remarks about Father Brienne’s possible reaction to a fertility scene carved into the wall of the underground chamber, MB remarks “You can’t shock a Catholic priest.” Salim is another bald, ugly man with a moustache, but with an attendant young female in the background on the yacht. Kock too had a moustache and dark glasses, and wears a baseball cap throughout, looking at times a bit like the actor Tom Sellick in the TV series Magnum P.I. Brienne warns MB that Koch has already “killed once”, although it is not made clear who, or under what circumstances. Certainly no one is killed in this story. WG, on his first encounter with Koch’s thugs on the outskirts of the village, asks are they “part of Doctor Dougal’s team working on the classification of prehistoric man-eating lepidoptera?” and when the thug, who had pretended to be a “scientific researcher”, says yes, WG points out he just invented Doctor Dougal, and ‘lepidoptera’ are butterflies!

78: Story name: The Grim Joker – 1993/94 **
Location: Benildon, Wilts – MB’s cottage – the “Treadmill”, WG’s riverside pub – ‘The Retreat’, a 19th century folly on the Scottish island of Moggairne, 15 miles from the mainland.
Villain: ‘The Grim Joker’ – brothers Mark and Matthew Goodchild, and Prudence (‘Pru’) Hill.
Other characters: Inspector Brook of Scotland Yard; rich uncle Mortimer Goodchild; TV interviewer Ray Sandham; Tarrant; Weng.
Body count: 6
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB in bathrobe and short nightie; MB in undies and just panties getting into camouflage outfit; Pru in bra and panties; MB nude, swimming and moving WG about.
Who kills who? : The Grim Joker kills public school headmaster Simon Colby; gossip columnist Robert Laine; and snobbish wine critic John Clarence. Matthew shoots Pru. WG plunges Matthew and Mark into the whirlpool.
Summary/theme: Inheritance murder crime caper. There had been three bizarre, apparently unconnected, murders by the self-named ‘Grim Joker’ (each appropriately ingenious and with the signature “ho-ho-ho”) – that of a rather unpleasant gossip columnist; a snobbish wine critic; and, most recent, the hanging from a railway bridge near MB’s Wiltshire village retreat of Benilton, the headmaster of a local public school. This last shocking murder is still the talk of the village fête, where Inspector Brook of Scotland Yard, confides in MB and WG. Unbeknown to them, the ‘Grim Joker’ is watching – brothers Mark and Matthew Goodchild (disguised as vicars), and their shared girlfriend Pru Hill. While Pru remarks that MB is a “lush bird”, they fail to recognise them, then or later. Their modus operandi is to establish a series of random, motiveless killings, before they murder the brothers’ rich uncle Mortimer for his money. With little to go on, WG and MB decide to provoke the Grim Joker to attempt to murder WG next, after he is interviewed on television slagging off the Grim Joker as a gutless scumbag who only kills ‘soft’ targets. The bait set, WG and MB then withdraw to a remote Scottish island folly, belonging to a friend of Tarrant’s, which they often use for mediation. WG lives in the gothic house, MB hides in a cave, her presence therefore unsuspected. When Pru makes enquires at the ‘Treadmill’, she is told only where WG is, with the implication he is an alcoholic who needs to ‘dry out’ periodically. Pru pretends to be a weekend sailor adrift in her motorboat, and, at first, WG falls for her story, until she attacks and drugs him. He manages to hit out, badly bruising her face, before becoming unconscious. While Pru is waiting the arrival by boat of Mark and Matthew, MB investigates, dresses WG, leaving boot marks leading to the cliff edge, then takes a still unconscious WG and temporarily places his body to look like he fell to his death on the rocks below. The brothers are none too pleased, and blame Pru, who, in turn, says the knock-out dosage couldn’t have been strong enough. Meantime, MB (swimming nude), sets all three boats adrift, then removes WG’s body. He wakes up in the cave, much peeved to have been taken for a sucker. By then relations between the brothers and Pru have deteriorated, with them blaming her for not tying the boats up properly, while she has become paranoid, convinced something on the island is out to “destroy” them. Their plan is to signal to the passing local ferry, but Pru has used WG’s small hand tape-recorder to dictate a ‘confession’, putting all the blame for the murders on Mark and Matthew. When they discover this, they shoot her and dump her body in the sea. WG takes the opportunity to search the house, finds the recording, and a clown outfit that was intended for him as their latest Grim Joker murder. Instead the brothers find themselves confronted by “Clarence the Clown – Willie Garvin sent me”, and WG quickly stuns them, before dragging them to a sheer clifftop above a freak whirlpool. To MB’s initial shock, he briefly instructs them the only escape from being sucked under, then all three go over the edge, but only WG dives right or emerges again. Later Inspector Brook concocts the story all three died when their boat sunk, with no mention of MB or WG. When Brook tells Uncle Mortimer, he just laughs and says his nephews were pompous idiots; they were never in his will!
Critical comments: None of the three Grim Joker victims are especially likeable, the gossip columnist was said to have a “vitriolic pen” (one wonders if Peter O’Donnell had anyone in mind), and was crushed by a giant roll of newsprint, while the wine critic was a snob, and was drowned in a barrel of Madeira, prompting MB to remark about a similar fate of the Duke of Clarence 500 years before, that the Grim Joker is a “literate monster”. George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (1449-1478) was the brother of King Richard III, and was reputed to have been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine (notably in Shakespeare’s play Richard III). Although said to have been executed at the Tower of London, he was not beheaded, and it is possible the barrel of wine story (or rumour) may have its origins in his body being preserved thus, to be transported to its burial place at Tewkesbury Abbey.
Again, as in the story “The Young Mistress” (1991/92), Romero depicts MB’s cottage in Wiltshire as being thatched, with a glass patio-like door. However, in the story “The Hanging Judge” (1998), Romero shows MB’s cottage has changed yet again, for the fourth time! Romero also continues his peculiar quirk of portraying children rather weirdly, in this case out of scale – in strip 8291, a young girl stands next to a fair-ground stall, looking a bit like a giant in relation to those about her. Peter O’Donnell continues his own tradition of ‘wicked’ clergy, having Mark and Matthew (who, although brothers, look completely different in appearance) pretending to be vicars, despite being accompanied most of the time (but not, obviously, when visiting Uncle Mortimer) by sexy blonde Pru – the third member of the Grim Joker, who takes turns to share her favours with them in the bedroom. We are perhaps reminded of another fake priest, Father Lamont, in the story “Milord” (1988), and the fake abbot and monk (ex-OAS killers from French Algeria) in “La Machine” (1963). Again, too, we have a desolate island off the Scottish coast – but with a convenient cave, like in the story “The Killing Ground” (1968), or “The Aristo” (1994/95). The 100 year old folly, ‘The Retreat’, “built by the fifth Earl of Tiachearne”, is another weird Romero fantasy, this time in the Gothic style, but looking (as always) too small from the outside to its more spacious interior.
The structure of the story is quite unusual, in that for much of the first half we share the viewpoint of the three Grim Jokers, while MB and WG often are there in the background, almost on the fringe. However, while we come to understand their ultimate motive – basically, an updated version of an Agatha Christie story, to murder their wealthy uncle for his inheritance – and something of the addictive nature of their bizarre murder spree (especially on Pru), strangely the two brothers seem to lack any backstory. Perhaps, of course, this illustrates the limitations of a newspaper comic strip over that of a novel, but one cannot help but wonder what twisted events or thinking first drove them into their strange and rather sinister mènage à trois. As if to compensate for this shift of focus, the second half of the story sees the trio very much on the back foot, as MB (in particular) engineers the seed of their ultimate downfall, with them, never once, suspecting her presence. Pru proves to be the weakest link, while the two brothers, in their single-minded arrogance, ignore her doubts and suspicions. WG’s own ruthless act of retribution is both a bit shocking, but perhaps also just.

Danger Man: s02 e18 – A Room in the Basement


I’m repeating myself, and not for the first time, but we just can’t make them like that any more, and the sad thing is that it’s in large part because we don’t want to make them like that any more. Some of that is to do with our collective loss of innocence, our wish to no longer recognise the line between good and bad, and some of it to do with our wish not to be thought simple-minded in believing there is a line between good and bad, and that it is perfectly possible to make a clean, well-lit story out of staying on one side of that line, unsullied.

‘A Room in the Basement’ was a perfectly commonplace title suggestive, in 1965, of bedsits and tiny flats. In Danger Man, and in an episode written by series creator Ralph Smart himself, that wasn’t the case. Instead, this was the marvellously maverick episode, the one that threw out all the commonplaces the series has established for itself. Drake is on personal, not professional business, it’s a beautifully executed caper, not an espionage or counter-espionage job, and instead of working alone, Drake’s part of a team, and a team of comrades each with a common goal.

That goal is to rescue M9 Agent Keith Turnbull, fleeing from Bucharest with his wife, Susan, (the lovely Jane Merrow again) because his cover’s been blown, kidnapped from the airport in Geneva and held in a basement cell in the Romanian Embassy, to the great dismay and horror of Susan. The more so because the British Embassy in the form of First Secretary Forbes, is only coldly sympathetic and determined not to do anything: the Romanians have denied absolutely having Turnbull so, what can anyone do?

Well, they can phone their friend John Drake for one thing.

It’s a rush job. Drake’s got an official mission he’s supposed to be leaving for but which he gets put back, though only for 48 hours: got to be back in London for Monday. Of course Forbes denounces the very idea of even doing anything and of course Drake ignores him. Instead, he calls in mutual friends. There’s wine-grower Bernard (William Lucas) and his wife Annette (a young Kate O’Mara in her first role of any substance), whose cellar can be made to look like a British Embassy basement. And when Bernard phones Luke he said the whole idea was crazy, and he would be on the next flight from Paris.

And with Susan herself pitching in and playing a blinder, the whole caper rolled out, riding its luck and riding its vicissitudes, making one of those episodes that only lasted 51 minutes but honestly felt as if it was feature film length, because it was of feature film quality. I won’t go into details. The whole episode is on YouTube and those of you without DVD boxsets should repair there now and enjoy yourselves. You’ll like the little twist at the end, which is the only moment of cynicism in the whole episode.

Funnily enough, as the episode was gearing itself up, my thoughts were trending in a different direction. With the exception of the two episodes that constitute the severely-truncated fourth series, Danger Man was filmed in black and white. I don’t mind that. In fact I prefer it that way, and not only because it precisely fits my memories of the show when I was young.

But there’s an art to B&W and Danger Man looks right in that curious, limited form. It’s a handy distinction between this and The Prisoner, a thematic and psychological contrast between the black and white ‘simplicities’ of the good guy agent, the Cold War man serving us against all threats, when us was something to be defended, thoughtlessly, and the broader spectrum of The Prisoner‘s shifting uncertainties and constant paranoia. Black and white streamlines things.

I ws thinking this because, since the episode was supposed to be set in Switzerland, there were mountains to be seen, big, craggy, soaring gorgeous mountains. I wanted them to be in colour, I would have loved them to be in colour. I’m sure my Mum and Dad would have been staring at them eagerly, as I do now. But it left me thinking that Swiss backdrops in colour would have required all the episode to be in colour, and I didn’t want that. Colour represents the real world and I did not want Danger Man to be real in that respect. It’s not The Prisoner and I don’t ever want it to be so.

Just think, I’m already so near the end of series 2. It seems like only yesterday that I moved on the this series. And before the year is out, I will be following something else. Long may the rest of Danger Man enthrall me.

Our Esteemed Lieutenant: Yaphet Kotto R.I.P.


homicide-gee

It never ends, does it? There’s always another one, taking away another piece of all those things you welcomed, those highlights that mark the different stages of your life. Between 1991 and 1997, Yaphet Kotto played Gee, Lieutenant Al Giardello, in Homicide: Life on the Street, one of the very best television series ever made. Gee was the Shift Commander for Detectives like Frank Pembleton and Tim Baylis, John Munch and Stan ‘the Big Man’ Bolander, Mike Kellerman, Meldrick Lewis, Kay Howard and Laura Ballard, big, thoughtful, smilimg, effortlesly in chaege of one of the most difficult jobs you can play. And he was superb, just as they all of them were superb.

And now he too has passed, aged 81. The firmament dims yet again. Where are the people coming from to stand beside him? Not replace him, or surpass him. But stand on the level that Yaphet Kotto stood, to make the memories for the future.

Night falls far too fast these days

The Infinite Jukebox: Bob and Earl’s ‘Harlem Shuffle’


No, I’m not a soul boy, but this is magnificent. Just the horn intro, so stark, severe and declarative, making this the best soul intro I’ve ever heard and close to being one of the best ever. Listen to those notes, those stretched, drawn-out notes, their formality, their severity. Then tell me you could resist any song that came after that introduction.
And the song obeys the same imperative. The piano, the same dignity, the same aural sense of removal to a plane far above you. And Bob and Earl, coming in together, instructing you on how to do the Harlem Shuffle. You move it to the left, yeah, you go for yourself, you move it to the right, yeah, if it takes all night…
No dancer, me, nor am I into songs that instruct you on dances, but this is something different. This is Olympian, the sound descending from the Gods, immune to opinions, a thing of itself, precious and complete.
This is a slow dance, full of soul, you make it last. It incorporates other songs, including the limbo, challenging you on how low can you go? And the horns roar again, building the sound, the big sound, as if Phil Spector did soul, as if he could surround the singers without overwhelming them with the Wall of Sound, just making the music big, as immense as it can get with such simple and precise instrumentation.
Now come on baby, Bob and Earl cajole, don’t fall down on me now. Would you fail them? Could you? Just move it right here to the Harlem Shuffle. Moving to this, the most klutzy of us become cool by definition. If man was made to move, he was made to move to this.
Hitch, hitch-hike baby across the floor…
Bob and Earl were a vocal duo, veterans of doo-wop groups who came together in the late Fifties. They made no headway and the original Bob left, leaving Earl Nelson to recruit another Bob, Bobby Relf, with whom ‘Harlem Shuffle’ was written and then recorded in 1962. It was a minor American hit, but it emerged from obscurity in 1969, the period with which I always associate it, as an unexpected British top 10 hit.
But does the year really matter? This is the kind of sound that comes from no era but which is eternal. It’s something special, something outside of time, bound to nothing and no-one but its own imperatives.
I have never had the privilege of dancing to ‘Harlem Shuffle’ at a party, or in a disco. My arthritic right knee makes that kind of dancing particularly painful. But let me have but one chance and I will be out there and I will shake, shake, shake, shake a tailfeather baby. Those horns call…

Sunday Watch: The Lovers – s01 e01-03 – Sardine Sandwiches, The Date, Freckle-Face


Lovers

It was such a long time ago.

Jack Rosenthal, who will be forever missed, had cut his writing teeth on Coronation Street. He’d written a very successful play for Granada TV called There’s a Hole in my Dustbin, Delilah which was picked up on and expanded into a very funny half hour sitcom as The Dustbinmen of which he wrote the first series of three. Rosenthal left the show when it was well established to develop another sitcom for Granada, which would co-star a young actress who’d broken into TV in 1969 include two guest slots on The Dustbinmen. Her name was Paula Wilcox. Her co-star, Richard Beckinsale, had even fewer credits, the first of which as a one-off appearance in Coronation Street, playing a Police Constable, ironically named Wilcox. Two young unknowns, staring in a prime-time ITV sitcom at 8.00pm on Monday nights, immediately after Coronation Street. And they were bloody magnificent.

I say that for three reasons. One of them is inevitably nostalgia. I loved it then, a Manchester based sitcom, a Manchester sense of humour, a premise that did not directly affect me whilst turning 15 during its first series but which was steadily encroaching on my mind. Another was, to put it simply, Jack Rosenthal, an incredibly funny writer who took a contemporary subject and built a frequently surreal and absurd comedy upon it in the most straightforward and naturalistic manner. And the third was Paula Wilcox. I fell in love with her then, and watching the first three episodes this morning I am reminded why. Richard Beckinsale is good, very good, he was born good and his early death was a terrible loss, but Paula Wilcox runs rings round him here, seemingly effortlessly.

The subject of the series was young and extremely awkward love between two very naive and awkward people with two very different objectives in mind, crossed with the question of the Permissive Society and how far it had – or hadn’t – penetrated Manchester.

The opening episode featured a gloriously funny location scene around the old Shudehill bookstalls. Beryl Battersby, a twenty-year old girl, slightly dumpy in a box-pleat mini-skirt is wandering around, seemingly aimlessly. Abiut ten feet away, trying to look inconspicuous, bundled up in a long coat and where the soon-to-be-infamous pairing of crimson shoes with bottle green socks (the line on its own is wonderfully funny for its precise description of the two shades) is Geoffrey P. Scrimgeour, also aged twenty. Geoffrey is following Beryl but is pretending not to. Beryl is well aware he’s there but is pretending not to notice him. Each provides their own voice over commentary about how much they’re not interested in the other, don’t find them in the least attractive, wouldn’t go out with them if they were the last boy/girl on Earth…

Actually I have to interrupt here to bring up the episode’s – indeed rhe whole series’ – only serious mistake. The voiceovers are broken up once each by Beryl and Geoffrey speaking their thoughts out loud, in the presence of an uncredited woman (actually Alison King, who will go on to be a kind of silent Greek Chorus). Beryl bursts out with ‘”God, I’d love to nibble his earlobes!” but the damage is before that, as Geoffrey, after all he’s thought about how ugly, stupid, repulsive Beryl is, bursts out wirh “God, I’d love to rape her!” Now that’s not funny, then or now, though you can see the basis for the ‘joke’ and it’s a stain on things that, thankfully, was never repeated.

Back to the ‘plot’. Of course you know what’s coming. This pair used to go out together but they broke up, exactly 409 days ago but who’s counting. They’re dodging around as if this were some eccentric dance, avoiding seeing the other, neither having the nerve to go up to the other though they both obviously want to. And finally, when they get too close to avoid it, it’s all faux innocence, how are you, didn’t see you there, and it beginsall over again.

The idea behind the series is this young couple with different ideas. Beryl’s ambition is to be married. Geoffrey just wants sex. Naturally, it’s not expressed that crudely, but Rosenthal comes up with a whole language in which to conduct the rather one-sided debate. Beryl’s constant and battering-ram subtle use of the word marriage in all it’s derivations, up to a dozen times a minute, matched by Geoffrey’s instinctive twisting of his right sideburn the moment the m-word is mentioned matched to Beryl’s indignant denunciation of Percy Filth and the near matra of N-O spells No.

The opening episode is obviously all about set-up. We learn that this ‘accidental’ meeting was in no way accidental when Geoffrey sees Beryl home all the way out of his eay to Altrincham, is upset when Beryl won’t ask him in, leading to more verbal fencing until Betyl’s Mum (Joan Scott) opens the front door: she’s got sandwiches ready for him, Beryl told her this morning he’d be coming round. And they’re sardine sandwiches, swimming in oil.

In one sense, the series is a bit one-sided, since Beryl isn’t going to have sex with Geoffrey (which would blow the whole ‘will-they-or-won’t-they? basis of the entire series) nor even let him do the least amount of fumbling, and those odd moments when Beryl actually feels a certain randiness, enough to let Geoffrey put his arms around her and even kiss him, are invariably interrupted by her mother coming back into the room. So Rosenthal keeps the pot boiling with the dialogue between this pair, and some of it crackles, such as the moment when the two bitterly compare each others aims, with Geoffrey’s complaint about Beryl’s obsession with getting a ring on her finger countered with her snap back about his ambition being to send her knickers to Oxfam.

That’s what I mean about Paula Wilcox. For an actress in her first starring part, playing a girl who’s a mass of contradictions, she has the meat of the show and she knocks everything out of the park for six. Betyl’s moods swing all over the show but there are no transitions, each one is brilliantly effective, she switches so smoothly and so convincingly, whether the new mood is real or clearly artificial. I say clearly but that’s only to us: Geoffrey is behind her at every turn, incapable of understanding her and aware of that, taking refuge in silences and ignorances.

And for someone supposedly playing a slightly dump, plain and in manyways ignorant girl, Wilcox stands out to me as both very much smarter than Geoffrey and also beautiful in a very individual way. She has a lovely face, with fine bone-structure, leaving her still gorgeous even though she’s now in her seventies.

The episodes don’t have titles on the DVD, only in imdb. Having established what will be a primarily two-handed but three-cornered world in the opening episode, Rosenthal goes on the expand very cautiously. ‘The Date’ is a wonderfully complex story of how Beryl, seeing two guys ordering their girlfriends about, gets it into her head that the way of things is for Geoffrey to diminate her. Unfortunately, Geoffrey couldn’t dominatre the skin off a rice pudding and Beryl is only prepared to be dominaed into getting her own way. The third episode, ‘Freckle-Face’, expands the cast by introducing Robin Nedwell as Roland, Geoffrey’s self-confidrnt and obviously sexually active mate and fellow Bank Clerk.

Roland can easily see through Geoffrey’s ham-fisted attempts to claim that he and Beryl are setting the bed-clothes on fire. His advice is to play it cool. He also mentions that Geoffrey has someone else who fancies him, a girl he names only as Freckle-Face who’s in their night class. When Geoffrey walks out on Beryl midway through a game of Scrabble that her mother criticises as an inadequate courting tool, it’s to go to the pub with Roland, where Freckle-Face is sitting in a corner with her mate. So Geoffrey wanders over, hell bent on playing it cool. He’s already got his arm round her shoulders, but Geoffrey’s idea of playing it cool is akin to Alexander the Great invading Persia, and he gets a wonderfully cruel and Mancunian dismissal that sends him back to Beryl, whose eyes are all puffy and piggy from crying (well, they should be, she’s peeled an onion and is carrying it in her purse for just such a reason…)

Oh, but this is lovely stuff, and so funny, real bellylaugh funny in approximately 78% of its lines (you’ve got to have straight lines, don’t you?) Do Beryl and Geoffrey actually love each other? Can they get along together? Will Beryl’s knickers ever end up in a used lingerie bin at Oxfam? Or are they desperately clinging to each other because neither would attract anyone better? That’s the dichotomy that lies under The Lovers and gives it that level of depth that allows the dialogue, and Wilcox and Beckinsale’s delivery of it, to bowl along like firecrackers. I can’t wait to get back to this series.

Breaching the Vibrational Barrier: 1985


Infinity Inc. 19/Justice League of America 244, “The Final Crisis”. Written by Gerry Conway, art by Joe Staton (pencils) and Mike Machlan (inks), edited by Alan Gold.

Following the events of Infinity Inc. 19, in which Earth-2’s superhero team consisting of the children of various Justice Society of America members arrive in the current Justice League’s headquarters in a Detroit Bunker at the behest of Commander Steel – Hank Heywood senior, the former All-Star Squadron member – summoned to attack an imposter Justice League, namely the Detroit team of Vibe, Steel, Gypsy and Vixen, the defeated team gather to re-plan their strategy. Now read on.
The beaten League make their way to the semi-destroyed Satellite headquarters of the old League, with Elongated Man gaining entrance for them. Vibe is still wingeing and displaying his basic ignorance, starting with the Multiverse. JLA leader J’Onn J’Onnz intends to seek aid from Earth-2 and the Justice Society.
Meanwhile, the Infinitors are growing disquieted over the growing lack of evidence that the ‘fake’ League were planning the insurrection Commander Steel claimed. Fury finds the Commander and Mekanique in a medical bay, carrying out an operation that functions as torture on Hank Jr., the modern day Steel. Fury tries to intervene but is knocked out.
Thanks to Zatanna’s magic, the repaired Transmatter is powered up and takes the League to Earth-2, from where they will return with Hawkman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Dr Mid-Nite and Dr Fate. Before that, Commander Steel and Mekanique turn on and defeat the rest of Infinity Inc. The Commander rants obsessively about how his generation were forged in War, learning the clear distinction between Right and Wrong, but this generation, not having had that experience, are soft and shallow. The new Justice League let him down by not following his beliefs, but Hank Jr is going to be transformed.
The JSA and the JLA arrive unnoticed in the medical bay to hear this. The JSA attack. Commander Steel runs, shocked at his downfall, leaving the unfathomable Mekanique to defend his back, but runs into the JLA, who have revived Hank Jr and supplied him with his costume. Hank Sr wants to back down, not to fight any more, but Hank Jr wants to fight, to get everything out of his system.
Outside, the Crisis on Infinite Earths is building up to terrible heights. Destruction is approaching. The three teams head outside to help, leaving the two Steels to finish their fight, which Hank Jr wins, brutally, but with tears in his eyes.
* * * * *
That was the last of them. There have been team-ups between League and Society since but as these have all taken place on a unitary Earth where the two teams are heroes of different generations, they do not fall into this category. And even now, after a wait of years to finish this series, it’s still incomplete as the final team-up was a crossover with Infinity Inc., and I do not have that issue nor have I any intention of spending good money on any part of a series that I thought was crap.
So we come in in the middle, and leave without a real ending, everybody rushing off to the overpowering Crisis, which was of greatly more importance than this cliched story about the Generation Gap.
Because that, after all the fuss and bother is stripped away, is all it was. I’ve been critical of Conway who, after his early successes seemed to go to his head, was a very lazy writer, at least in his work on the Justice League. For no apparent reason, Hank Sr develops right-wing tendencies and a grudge against the younger generation, all of which he suddenly forgets when Conway has finished dumping on him: repent, oh repent ye, and don’t bother about plausible characterisation whilst you’re doing it.
Speaking of characterisation, Conway’s Justice League Detroit was a bust from start to finish and showed an astonishing misunderstanding of what DC’s premier team was supposed to be, but it was also rightly criticised in specific for the character of Vibe. Vibe was as obvious as the lights of an oncoming train in a tunnel. He was intended to increase the League’s diversity, be its first Puerto Rican member, which was a laudable ambition, but from the moment it was announced that he would be a break dancer, you knew the point had been lost. Of all the cheap and ignorant cliches that could have been applied to a Puerto Rican, that was the one they’d have all gone for on Family Fortunes.
Just by existing, Vibe was a nightmare – lazy writing personified – but as we’ve seen here, Conway compounded the damage by making him not just ignorant but, in a twisted way, proud of knowing nothing, and suspicious of any attempt to educate him as taking the piss.
On a final note, I bought these team-ups because I loved the Justice Society of America, ever since I first discovered them. Despite many series that have sorely tried my patience I still do, in that ten year old boy’s heart that went out to them. It can’t be denied that a great many of these team-ups, even in the Garner Fox era, demeaned the JSA, more so after 1972, when Len Wein made the team-up into a three-way, squeezing the focus on the world’s oldest superhero team. The originals.
I’m disappointed that there never was a volume 7 of Crisis on Multiple Earths., though if there had been it would have been the weakest volume of the series. At least my take on those tales that, once a year, breached the vibratory barrier for us kids of all ages has finally come to an end.

 

Edge of Darkness: e06 – Fusion


And so it’s over, and for all the fuss and bother and effort, in the tradition of Blake’s 7, the good guys lost. Craven and Jedburgh died, Grogan got the plutonium, and if anyone were to save the planet, we were left with the impression that it would have to be the planet, and likely in a manner that would be more destructive than anything Man could muster and which would preserve everything – except Man.

That was what Emma Craven believed, in her last and extended appearance to her father, dying of radiation exposure with at most two weeks remaining, warning him away from revenge, a warning that Craven ultimately took to heart. He was last seen on a Scottish mountainside, screaming her name. His death took place offscreen. It had the makings of a legend, the Sleeping Hero syndrome. He is not seen to die, therefore he has not died, but sleeps in a cave somewhere, to return when he is most needed. Troy Kennedy Martin wanted him to turn into a tree, in accordance with his original vision, but everybody revolted against that, so we had to imagine it afterwards.

If the Sleeping Hero bit sounds fanciful then there was more than a hint of fanciful in Edge of Darkness‘s final episode. Kennedy Martin has played with structure to great effect in the back half of the series. The invasion of Northmoor, the descent into literal darkness, was the obvious climax, the big ending the show was inevitably building up to, but that was dealt with in the penultimate episode, leaving us with a rare opportunity to see aftermaths, and to end upon a dying fade that echoed the extremely limited futures for both Ronnie Craven and Darius Jedburgh.

We began with Ronnie, waking from the gas attack in an American Air-base Hospital where he lay alone, until woken by Pendleton with the one thing on anybody’s minds now: where is the plutonium? With Jedburgh. Where’s Jedburgh? Don’t know.

Jedburgh has plans, and they are dramatic in the extreme. He’s in Scotland, looking and feeling worse than Craven, so much so that it nearly spoils his game of golf – and at Gleneagles too! But Darius is there in his capacity of Colonel, a panellist at a NATO Conference on ‘The High Frontier’, or the future of nuclear energy. It’s the opportunity for a face to face confrontation with Jerry Grogan, who’s the first speaker. Grogan spins his vision of the future with the light of fanaticism shining like a beacon from his eyes: it’s an SF dream of rocket flight and colonisation of the Solar System that totally ignores such practical realities as the inability to travel FTL (faster than light) or to actually live on any of the other eight planets in our system (this is before Pluto’s demotion).

Jedburgh will naturally speak against this but he wastes no time on philosophical differences. Instead, in the true dramatic climax of the series, no more than halfway through the final episode, he denounces Grogan’s ‘vision’ as a direct route towards subjugation, dictatorship and the creation of an unshakable hierarchy built upon plutonium. And to general consternation, he opens his case and turns to face the assembled gathering withj a bar of plutonium in each hand.

It’s one of the most extraordinary scenes filmed in the whole of the decade, and it beats out most things filmed since. There’s panic, terror, all these staunchly clapping puppets suddenly possessed of the urge to scramble all over each other to get out, as Jedburgh roars at them, unheeded. You’d think the stuff was dangerous or something, the way they carry on. Only Grogan sits there unmoving, perhaps because Jedburgh is between him and the door. The irony is that he is the one, after our Colonel, who knows best the effects of plutonium, and especially the criticality if you bring two bars close enough together. The way Jedburgh does. In Jerry Grogan’s face.

Yet from here all we have is failure, defeat and death: the dying fall. Craven has run from the hospital, with the aid of Clemmy. There is one last, astonishing scene, as they part. Clemmy has become very fond of Ronnie. She wants to help him further. But Ronnie knows there is literally no future in things. She has done so much for him, but she mustn’t follow. And Zoe Wannamaker sits there with the camera tight to her face, and without moving a muscle simply radiates fear, concern, and regret.

Because Craven’s out to find Jedburgh, who’s disappeared again – who’s going to stand in the way of a man with a bar of plutonium in each hand? Everybody’s happy to let him do the detecting, and of course the dogged, undemonstrative Detective Inspector does the business and finds Jedburgh holed up in a remote cottage somewhere out in glorious Scottish hill-country. The final conversation: Craven’s worked it out. Grogan expected the vote over buying out IIF to go against him so pulled strings in Washington to have Jedburgh to get the plutonium by less acknowledged methods. He’s played Jedburgh for a fool. The Colonel grins that ol’ shit-kicking grin and asks if Craven thinks he hasn’t worked that out for himself, but we can tell.

So where is the plutonium? It’s sunk, well-packed, in Loch Leddoch, near the dam, with a detonator. All that is required to set it off is a plutonium bullet, fired from a high velocity rifle. Boris Johnson would approve since detonation would blow a dirty great hole through the middle of Scotland: what price the SNP then?

Craven can’t allow it. He phones the Smugness Boys. An attack force approaches. Jedburgh rises from his chair, gun in hand, determined to take as many of them with him as he can, but Craven just sits there with his whisky: what’s the point? The point is that Jedburgh gets at least half a dozen before he is shot and killed. That is his self-valediction, his dogs to be laid at his feet in the burning ship that will take him out to sea, his Viking funeral. Craven sits at the kitchen table, guns pointed at him from point-nlank range. At last he screams, “Doooo it!” but they won’t: Ronnie is on their side. His last words, this dour, self-contained, down-to-earth Yorkshireman, are in a scream of anger. I am not on your side. In the end, both Jedburgh and Craven ally themselves with GAIA.

There’s very little left and it’s told in a voiceover by Harcourt to Clemmy. The plutonium is safely recovered. Jery Grogan gets it after all, not that he’ll have much time to enjoy it, not after Jedburgh at Gleneagles. We can only hope that Jerry is the the ‘visionary’ fundamental to his projected wonder future. And Craven on the mountainside, looking on.

If I were to be at all critical, I would say that the show left loose ends all over the places, figures who simply dropped away, unseen and unheard of in this episode, but that was the nature of the series. The prospect of Death concentrates the mind and the peripherals ceased to matter in these last few days. Ross, Godbolt, even Clemmy once she and Ronnie parted. They are part of a future that now belongs to Jerry Grogan, much good may it do him. Neither Ronnie nor Darius had a place there, even if they hadn’t removed themselves from the playing field by their own actions. So I am not critical at all.

Of course you couldn’t make something like this any more. The BBC wouldn’t dare, no matter how much ‘balance’ you introduced, and besides that day is done. Some things can only produced out of the background that preoccupies. Nuclear energy was a subject of great debate and action in the Eighties. Making something about it now would be just as much old hat as making a drama about Flying Saucers. But I am very glad they made it when they did and that we still have it to refer to.

And a word for Bob Peck, who didn’t last as long as he deserved, thanks to that bastard killer, cancer. This is not a bad legacy, however.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge’s Modesty Blaise Checklist: Part 7


CHECK-LIST OF MODESTY BLAISE COMIC STRIP STORIES – PART 1 (1963-1986).

59: Story name: Kali’s Disciples – 1985/86 ****
Location: India, the “princely state of Kadhabad” – the village of Nagura, Thar Desert, north of Jodhpur (Rajasthan) – mountainous region where the tomb is located.
Villain: Major George Sangner; his associate Simon Blake and others.
Other characters: Mr Chatterji (Indian police inspector); Prince Videghia; Ranjit (his son); Sivaji (fakir or holy man of unknown age, Chatterji thinks 120, MB thinks 150).
Body count: Uncertain, at least 6.
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB bathing nude in an onyx marble bath.
Who kills who? : Sangner kills at least two of the Thugee gang to silence them, as well as a ‘true believer’ Thugee who objects to him shooting MB and WG rather than ritual strangling. Sangner is then himself killed by the enraged Thugees.
Summary/theme: Routine crime caper mixed with occult fantasy. MB and WG are staying at the palace of the former Indian Prince Videgha, whose son MB once rescued from a beating in Oxford Street, London. The story opens with her playing polo, and we are introduced to expat Englishmen Simon Blake and ex-British army Major George Sangster, now the estate manager. There is talk of a revival of the Thugee cult, native disciples of the Hindu goddess Kali, who kill by ritual strangulation. That night there is a raid on the palace by a cloaked and hooded gang armed with knives and the rumal, the ritual strangling cloth. MG and WG thwart the raid, although one servant has his neck broken, and two Thugees finish up dead, one while apparently in police custody. However, the main purpose of MB’s stay is to visit Sivaji, the ancient holy man who she first met as a 14 year old child, during her wandering alone from the Far East into Rajasthan. She had later returned, aged 20, to spent time with him, and again with WG. Now he charges them to deliver a huge emerald (the size of a duck’s egg) to the shrine/tomb of Tagore, his master who had died 90 years before. For him the value of the jewel is only that it contains the combination of their two long lives of spiritual merit, and that Tagore might find release from earthly rebirth and ascend to Nirvana. They are to carry nothing metal and no weapons other than WG’s favourite quarterstaff. They realised that Sivaji himself will die soon, but at a time of his own choosing. The shrine is four days distant, with a final narrow path to the summit. They soon discover the Thugee gang knows of their mission, and that the leader is none other than Major Sangner, who is using loyal revivalist believers as cover for robbery. On the way MB and WG outwit and incapacitate their pursuers (observing non-lethal means), until they finally reach the cave shrine, where they find, to their surprise, that Tagore’s body is apparently undecayed. They place the emerald into a crystal bowl as requested, only to emerge and be confronted by Sangner. However, when he enters the shrine there is no body, just a worthless stone in a clay pot! Sangner is incredulous and angry and the Thugees prepare to kill MG and WG. Having discharged their moral obligation to Sivaji, MB and WG use the quarterstaff with less restraint. Major Sangner is himself strangled, neck broken, by a ‘true believer’ Thugee as, having threatened to shoot MB and WG, and – in anger – then shooting one of the Kali’s disciples. Armed now with a revolver and knives, MB and WG face off the survivors. Just then Inspector Chatterji arrives in a helicopter with armed police. The remaining Thugees are arrested. In addition, Chatterji has Sivaji’s body to be placed (by his final request) in the shine. MB and WG decide to go their own way, still puzzled by the mystery of what they did and saw.
Critical comments: Sivaji is one of two Indian holy men who feature in MB’s backstory, both in the novels and comic strips. O’Donnell was obviously fascinated by aspects of yoga, Hindu mysticism and elements bordering on the supernatural. Although coincidences and convenience feature in a lot of the MB stories, here we have perhaps the most blatant example of the supernatural, an event unexplained. “The Black Pearl” (1966/67, with the holy man Lal) could be another example, if not quite as extreme. One possible interpretation (as with the beetle in the amber in the earlier story) is that we are seeing our perceptions of the material world, rather than what they might actually be. Sivaji himself hints at such an explanation when he remarks about MB and WG still being attached to the “world which is an illusion”. O’Donnell, however. teases us with the unresolved mystery.
Despite that Sivaji is a key element in both MB and WG’s ability to achieve mental control over their physical bodies, he only actually appears in three comic strip stories – the other two times being very briefly, in flashbacks: “Idaho George” (panels 4404 and 4424, by Romero, 1978) and “Death Symbol” (1999, again drawn by Romero.) On both occasions he looked totally different. In the “Idaho George” flashbacks he is depicted as beardless, skinny but pale-skinned, with his head in a sort of turban, sitting under a palm tree – so distinctly un-Indian. Much later – long after Colvin’s version – in “Death Symbol”, Romero again illustrated him, but now he has a long straggly beard and hair, though bald on top, but again apparently with pale skin and facial features that are more Western European, or like some Ancient Greek philosopher, than Colvin’s much more authentic Indian guru. Of the three – completely different – versions, Colvin’s remains the most credible and aesthetically correct, even down to the tree itself. In the novels he is mentioned only in The Impossible Virgin (1971). MB’s story of how she meet Sivaji is recounted here in some detail. Apparently aged about 14, she was wondering through Rajasthan, stopping at the village of Nagura, near the Thar Desert, when a severe sandstorm occurred. The villagers declined to venture out to take food and water to Sivaji, so MB – used as she was from living with the Bedouin (and with their “laws of hospitality”) – did so instead, staying with him – words unspoken – for two days until the storm abated. Only upon her departure did he speak – in English (he was rumoured to have attended a mission school when young) – instructing her to return “in the year of the fire bird”. By the Buddhist Tibetan calendar this was 1957, so when she was about 20. Later she visited for two months with WG. She was then requested to return “in the year of the wood dragon”, which is February 1964 to February 1965 – so we must presume, therefore, the date of this story’s events. The calendar is a system of animals or mythical creatures like the dragon, matched with elements – earth, fire, iron, water, wood. The next latest “fire bird” year was 2017.
This is interesting in that it put MB back into the original time-frame of when Tarrant first contacting and ‘recruiting’ her services in 1964, something which, unfortunately, Peter O’Donnell had increasingly ignored and stretched out in the subsequent – especially post-Holdaway illustrated – stories. However, again there is a slight problem to MB’s version of events, namely – give her supposed age – where was Lob? We were told she meet him in the displaced persons camp in Greece when she was about twelve, and he died in the North African desert, on their way to Morocco, when she was about sixteen. Given that he was dependant on her for his own survival, there was no way she would have deserted him to go wandering off in northern India.
The George Lucas/Stephen Spielberg movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom had been released in 1984, with its own exaggerated and highly inaccurate version of a Thugee revision. One aspect of the original Thugee cult was that, as worshippers of the goddess Kali, they did not kill women. They certainly did not undertake human sacrifice, as Spielberg implied! O’Donnell’s version is, therefore, a lot more believable, especially being used as a cover for the more mundane, if rather murderous crime-spree of robbery. The quarterstaff had featured as a defensive weapon in other MB stories and the novels. MB again uses the Bedouin ‘sand trick’, as previously seen in “Death in Slow Motion” (1983).

60: Story name: The Double Agent – 1986 *****
Location: Unnamed ‘Iron Curtain’ country – MB’s Wiltshire cottage – Chamonix, France – ‘Farleigh Grange’ country house near ‘Calsinghurst’ – ‘Wickfield’ golf course, somewhere in the ‘Home Counties’.
Villain: Hakil (old MB adversary, director Bureau of Covert Operations Overseas); ‘Gemini’ (MB lookalike); ‘Alpha’ group (Stefan; Grigor; Ferenc, getaway motorcyclist Zygmunt); ‘Beta; group (Valda, Sandor, unnamed leader).
Other characters: Maude Tiller; Tarrant; Fraser; Weng; Daneby (aka ‘Nimrod’, Foreign Office double agent); unnamed ‘Iron Curtain’ country Ambassador; Voynikov (Gemini’s trainer).
Body count
: 2
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: Maude Tiller.
Nudity rating: Maude in negligee (with hint of nipples); Both MB and Gemini displaying plenty of leg whilst fighting.
Who kills who? : MB kills Gemini. Hakil (attempting to defect) ‘liquidated’ by Iron Curtain agents. MB shoots, and badly wounds, two of the Alpha team. The getaway driver has his leg broken.
Summary/theme: Espionage/revenge caper. In an unnamed country “behind the Iron Curtain”, Comrade Controller Hakil of the Bureau of Covert Operations Overseas, has planned a revenge sting to assassinate Sir Gerald Tarrant and set up MB to be arrested as his killer. Two years of planning, plastic surgery, voice training, prolonged study of video recordings, perfecting combat skills, has produced an authentic lookalike of MB, a replica known only as Gemini, ‘The Twins’. Important to the success of Operation Replica is the elimination of WG, and to put the real MB through a series of bizarre, totally unbelievable, experiences prior to her being found in the vicinity of the golf course where Gemini – wearing her identical clothes – will shoot Tarrant. Blissfully unaware, MB is at her Wiltshire cottage with Maude Tiller, Tarrant’s agent, who is back from a “sticky job in Oman” and hoping for the company of WG. MB straightway contacts him in Chamonix, France, where he is “climbing mountains”, suggesting he “climb Maude instead”. MB offers to vacate her cottage for her penthouse, and leave them together. However, that night, and over in France, Halik’s ‘Beta Team’ set up a fake newly-married couple whose ‘diabetic’ husband has collapsed. WG is suspicious and is able to swap the hypodermic of potentially lethal insulin for water. The team leader intervenes and knocks WG out, injecting him with the insulin (so he thinks), which would induce a fatal heart attack. They leave, thinking WG will be dead by morning. Meantime, the ‘Alpha Team’ are in England, Halik at the embassy in London. On her way from Wiltshire to London, MB encounters what is apparently a circus clown and escaped bear named Tibor, before coming face to face with her replica, who takes full advantage of her shock to overpower her. Upon waking, MB finds herself first in a hall of mirrors, then experiences, including confronting a tiger (which she realises is a holograph), and one of gang dressed as an axe-man. All this takes place in a flimsy, wooden-wall maze in a country mansion. WG, with a headache and short-term amnesia, arrives at MB’s cottage to find Maude in bed, in just a negligee, looking extremely seductive, waiting him. WG: “Sorry, Maude, I’ve got a headache.” Maude: “Only married women have headaches at a time like this!” Later, between them, they soon restore his recollection of the previous night at the hotel in France. They call Weng in London, who confirms MB has not arrived, and WG recollects his attackers mentioning Tarrant. Tarrant’s assistant, Jack Fraser, tells them Tarrant is playing golf with a “Foreign Office bigwig” named Daneby at Wickfield golf course. We already know Daneby is ‘Nimrod’, a sleeper agent to the foreign power. Over at the mansion MB, however, has turned the tables of the three-man Alpha team, Stefan, Grigor and Ferenc, and, having found her clothes and car, radios Weng for a situation update. She, too, then heads for Wickfield. WG and Maude get there first, just as (at the twelfth green) Gemini appears. WG immediately recognises her as not being the real MB, and his intervention prevents Tarrant being shot. Gemini flees on the getaway motorcycle, only to crash into MB’s car in the woods, her driver’s leg is broken. By the time WG and Maude catch up, she and MB are fighting to the death, Maude unable to tell who is who. A “mule kick” kills Gemini, and Maude uses the injured driver’s radio to tell Halik the team “wasn’t betrayed, just not good enough.” The next day Halik attempts to defect, but is himself killed, although not before revealing that Daneby as a traitor. Tarrant tells MB they will simply feed him misinformation, then set him up so his foreign controllers think he is a double agent and arrange an ‘accident’. MB pretends to be shocked. Meantime WG and Maude are looking forward to two weeks of unbridled passion together!
Critical comments: This was Colvin’s swansong, having decided to take voluntary retirement. It also perhaps marked the high point of the entire MB comic strip series. After this, few stories managed to reach to quite such brilliance in ingenious plots, complexity, or humour. It has to be said that, even now, Colvin still had his limitations compared to Holdaway. MB’s car, for instance, is rather bland and the make unrecognizable. Romero, especially, in his first period, was good at drawing cars; MB’s vehicles nearly always being swanky affairs – Jensen or a Rolls, or flash sports convertibles. The British Foreign Office sleeper agent, Daneby, aka Nimrod, is portrayed as a rather upper class, chinless twerp (I always think of Chillcott Oakes, in the early Len Deighton spy stories.) At one point MB is driving whilst talking on the radio – but perhaps still not a motoring offense at that time! Glimpses of MB’s Wiltshire cottage are rather scrappy – only the Holdaway and Burns versions were really good. Again, arch-villain Hakil comes with a backstory – six years previous he was trying to flood the UK with drugs, and Tarrant and MB retaliated, causing his downfall and time spent in a communist labour camp. Again this then puts a time-line as being at least 6 years after 1964, in theory then with MB being about 32. For Hakil, only “the change of leadership” saw his political rehabilitation. However, neither the comic strips or the novels make any previous mention of him. So yet again, rather like MB and WG’s previous interaction with Soviet Army Colonel Greb, or Italian journalist Guido, or the vengeful millionaire Bone brothers (where MB had saved John Dall from one of their ruinous financial scams), this story is unrecorded, which seems rather strange. What a pity Peter O’Donnell didn’t go back and write them. At least with Hakil and the Bone brothers there was the potential for a great story.
Colvin’s character studies continued to be outstanding, from the arrogant and ruthless Halik, to the seediness of Gemini’s handlers and her fellow team members. The story itself is busy and complicated, moving back and forth between the various cast and locations – MB, WG/Maude, Halik/Gemini. In retrospect, it is a fitting finale to Colvin’s period as MB artist. One story concerning his departure is that Colvin had tired of drawing “women’s anatomy”, another he asked for a pay-rise and was refused, and third strand implying that Romero wanted his old job back. Whatever reason, Colvin retired, aged 68, first to the Dordogne in France, then apparently back to his native New Zealand, although he also had a property at Hampstead. He died in 1991, age 72. During that time since retirement it was said he never draw again, except once for his grandson. In retrospect, this was a great pity. From here on there were another thirty-five stories, which will be looked at in Part 2, but the magical element of the Modesty world gradually dimmed, together with the quality of Romero’s art. Out of that number, there were perhaps only half a dozen stories which rose above the mundane.
Colvin was a modest man, but – together with Holdaway – he draw some of the best Modesty Blaise stories. A letter from Peter O’Donnell, dated August 1980, perhaps sums up best what it was he contributed. “It’s a joy to be working with an artist who’s got a sense of humour and picks up the little nuances of the story. You’re doing a smashing job, mate. Hope you’re enjoying it. That’s certainly what comes over when I look at the strip.”

CHECK-LIST OF MODESTY BLAISE COMIC STRIP STORIES – PART 2 (1986-2001).

The year is 1986. Although no one could have predicted at the time, we are almost two-thirds through the comic strip stories, which were still to go from story 61 through to 95. Following Neville Colvin’s retirement, there really was a perfect opportunity for a new, untried Modesty Blaise artist. Alas Frank Bellamy was already no longer with us, having died in 1974, and Martin Asbury was busy drawing the “Garth” comic strip in the Daily Mirror. The brief should have specified someone with intimate knowledge of Britain, and London in particular, but being equally good at depicting faces and places (in particular foreign locations), and especially action scenes, but who would be faithful to the appearance of the principal characters – Modesty and Willie, but also Sir Gerald, Jack Fraser, Maude Tiller, and others. Instead the editor of the London Evening Standard opted for the return of tried and tested Enric Badia Romero. His science fiction “Axa” comic strip (which was published in The Sun newspaper in the UK) was coming to its conclusion that year, and the Spanish artist picked up his pen again to draw Modesty. This tenure lasted until Peter O’Donnell’s last story “The Zombie” in 2000/01, as well as illustrated MB comic book covers or illustrating his own imaginative stand-alone features. Thereafter, on longevity alone, he became the artist most associated with Modesty Blaise. Romero’s forte was the female figure, notably nude. Unlike “Axa” in The Sun, he was more restrained with Modesty in the Standard, and there were few opportunities for the kind of full nudity O’Donnell could indulge in the novels. Strangely, one of Romero’s illustrations for The Silver Mistress, with its infamous episode of a nude, greased-up MB fighting Mr Sexton, was surprisingly chaste and long distance. However, while Romero continued to entertain us with his vision of Modesty, in general his artistic style continued to became more mechanical and rather lifeless, varying from the bland to the downright bad. In this last phase, too, the quality of the stories seem to lose their originality and humour. They became darker in tone, while at the same time the time-line, in both novels and comic strip, became increasingly disconnected from MB’s origins and past.

For character check listing in the novels/short stories, I have consulted The Complete Modesty Blaise Dossier ‘Concordance Guide’, compiled by Jim Pattison, who resides in Canada. Website: www3.sympathico.ca/jim.pattison/modesty

Modesty and Willie, by Romero, “The Girl from the Future” (1988)

61 : Story name: Butch Cassidy Rides Again – 1986/87 *** Artist: Romero
Location: Wyoming, USA – the ‘Outlaw Trail’ – Cordite (Wild West ‘ghost town’) – Lazy H ranch – Shoshone Peak – Sheraton Hotel, Denver.
Villain: ‘The Preacher’ (English sharp-shooter and killer), Mort Bailey.
Other characters: Sheriff Cy Hart (from Red Rock); Matt Parker; Annie Freeman; grandparents Jake and Martha Freeman (of the Lazy H ranch); John Dall; Joe Walk-Alone (Shoshone Indian); Marty (one of the Preacher gang).
Body count: 0
Modesty’s lover: John Dall.
Willie’s lover: None.
Nudity rating: MB nude (rear view) bathing in river.
Who kills who? : Matt Parker is shot and wounded by the fake ‘Cassidy’ gang to put him out of action.
Summary/theme: Routine crime caper, attempted extortion. MB and WG are riding the 1,000 mile ‘Outlaw trail’ from Montana to the Mexican border, enjoying the isolation of no radio, motor traffic or tourists – until they reach the ‘ghost town’ of Cordite to find a coachload of tourists (with ‘Western Tours Inc.’), and a re-enactment of a Butch Cassidy gang shootout. One of members of the local Colt .45 Society, Matt Parker, is shot for real, through the thigh, and only MB’s intervention saves him from bleeding to death. While a doctor from the coach tour attends to him, WG investigates and encounters two men, one who uses a mace spray on him. The local sheriff, already rather hostile to “two limeys”, is further alienated when WG says one of the men look like one of the old-time Butch Cassidy gang, whose ‘Wanted’ poster is on display. Rather disheartened, they ride on, camp by a river, and in the early morning see the entire ‘Cassidy’ gang ride by, followed by gunshots. Soon after they are approached by 17 year old Annie Freeman, whose grandparents own the nearby Lazy H ranch, being terrorised by the gang. Invited to stay over, MB single-handedly takes out three of the gang (included one named Marty) during a deliberate confrontation. Not long after Sheriff Hart appears, accusing her of being the aggressor. Annie points out the incident was witnessed by recluse Shoshone Indian Joe Walk-Alone, who is “incapable of lying”, and challenges going to a court of law. When local worthy Mort Bailey appears, offering to buy the ranch, MB becomes suspicious, especially as Joe has already said some men had been “drilling holes” on Lazy H land near Shoshone Peak. MB breaks into Bailey’s office and finds incriminating documents, before contacting her billionaire American lover John Dall, confirming there are high grade manganese deposits. She and Dall return just in time to intervene in a confrontation between the hired Preacher’s gang, and WG and Annie. The gang had used Butch Cassidy gang masks. Dall contacts the police in Lansdown. MB and WG ride on, but WG is rather upset Annie had likened him to a “father” – her own father was serving in the US military in Europe.
Critical comments: It starts off so mundane, especially compared to previous excursions in the USA, many of which number amongst some of the best of the Modesty Blaise stories. The Trail really exists, but the aptly-named ghost town of ‘Cordite’ is an O’Donnell fiction. WG remarks that riding the Trail is “Better than when we sailed down the Mississippi, more peaceful,” thereby referring to “The Gallows Bird” story, 1973. The actual Butch Cassidy gang, also known as ‘The Wild Bunch’ or the ‘Fort Worth Five’, were not especially romantic, and all were outlaws both preceding and after their association together. They were Robert Leroy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy, 1866-1908), Harry A. Longabough (aka the Sundance Kid, 1867-1908), William ‘News’ Carver (1868-1901), Harvey Logan (aka Kid Curry, 1867-1904), and Ben Kilpatrick (aka the ‘Tall Texan’, 1871-1912). All ultimately died violently, three (including Cassidy and Sundance) by their own hand.
Compared to later illustrations, Romero’s illustrations of the Wild West landscape, the township and the gang’s mountain shack hideout are quite good. We witness MB’s ability with a handgun, but when challenged to a gun-fight with the Preacher, WG – notorious for his personal dislike of guns – throws his gun instead, knocking the Preacher out cold. One of the Preacher’s underlings, Marty (who, rather foolishly, says he dislikes Brits, given the Preacher was British), was to appear again in the story “The Girl from the Future” (1989). Again we have a Shoshone Indian (like Lucy in “Yellowstone Booty”, 1978/79), but also reminiscent of another Shoshone, Charlie Long Arrow, in the novel Last Day In Limbo (1976). The Preacher, too, rather recollects handgun killer, the Reverent Uriah Crisp, in Dragon’s Claw (1978). Despite bathing nude in the river, MB sleeps in their tent in a nightdress – most unusual for her! On strip 6569 there is a spelling error, “Me two” should have read “Me too.”

62: Story name: Million Dollar Game – 1987 ***
Location: MB’s house ‘Pendragon’, in Tangier, Morocco – Tarrant’s “Whitehall Club” in London (see below) – the Shalmar Hotel, near Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania – WG’s “Treadmill” pub – Unnamed East African game reserve.
Villain: Harry Scoutar, Jacko, and other gang members; their leader John Carslake, (president of the local conservation society).
Other characters
: American vet Greg Lawton (from Missouri); Tarrant; game warden Sam Catto; Ranjit (WG friend and fellow radio ham).
Body count: 1
Modesty’s lover
: Greg Lawton.
Willie’s lover
: Lady Janet Gillam (mentioned only in passing); WG mentions former girlfriend who was a hymenopterist (wasp expert).
Nudity rating: MB nude in both bed and bath; MB in briefs, having removed her Velcro skirt, fighting the three ‘heavies’ who attack Lawton; in bra and jeans fleeing from the rhino; MB topless in just jeans (mostly back view), performing the ‘nailer’.
Who kills who? : Greg is wounded in the thigh. The rhino ‘Milly’ kills Carslake.
Summary/theme: Poaching crime caper. In Tangier, back at the time she had just wound up the Network, MB’s initial relationship with American vet Greg Lawton starts badly when he assumes she is mistreating the donkey she has just rescued. Not long after, when the donkey contracts African Horse Sickness, they bond whilst caring for her, and finish up as lovers, before she takes up more permanent residence in England. The action then moves to “some years later”, and WG is in London with Tarrant, while MB is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa, having flown there by single-engine Comanche. At her hotel she had been receiving strange love notes. Soon after she prevents a bearded American from being beaten up by three thugs, only to find it is Greg, now working for the World Wildlife Fund, on the lookout for poachers. At first she doesn’t recognise him (his hair is cropped and he has a beard), but it was he who kept sending the notes. Two nights later (MB is already sharing his bed) Greg’s plane is wrecked, and MB offers to fly him instead for a two week air patrol. Carslake tips off the poachers, led by Harry Scoutar, who have several trucks with $30,000 worth of elephant and rhino tusks. When MB and Greg fly over, automatic rifle fire damages the aileron and Greg is wounded in the thigh. MB lands and they flee down river in a dingy, eventually finding shelter in a cave, where MB operates on Greg, removing the bullet. Meantime WG is in Africa, and soon at the game reserve. MB is able to use the amateur radio in the plane to contact him via another radio ham. On the way back MB encounters ‘Milly’ the rhino, and is forced to abandon her shirt. Once WG joins them, the fight-back begins, with the aid of a wasp-nest, and MB’s distraction technique, the ‘Nailer’ – going topless – they pick off the men one by one. When Carslake tried to shoot MB and Greg, Milly the rhino charges and kills him. Apparently she had a hostile reaction to guns, and Carslake was carrying a rifle. MB offers to stay a month with Greg, helping ‘nurse him back to health’.
Critical comments: The story begins with another flashback of MB, in Tangiers, Morocco, at just about the time she wound up the Network, prior to moving to England. On the basis of the original time-line, therefore, this is about circa 1963. This early introductory sub-plot also features MB’s affiliation for donkeys (which we have seen already in “The Inca Trail” (1976), and will again in “The Vampire of Malvescu” (1987). The donkey sanctuary gets mentioned in several other stories. On this occasion she rescues a beaten, malnourished donkey she names ‘Sally’, from a local Arab peasant, and we learn she had another nine donkeys in a paddock. Casual cruelty to animals is “normal here”, she remarks philosophically. The ‘million dollar game’ is poaching, and Lawton quotes the kind of (then contemporary) prices the poachers could get – $1,000 for ivory tusk, $500 an ounce for rhino horn; $10,000 for a bluebonnet parakeet. The game reserve in question is “half the size of Wales” (so, about 4,000 sq. miles), with just 50 rangers, two of whom were killed by poachers the “previous year”. As an American, it is rather unlikely Lawton would make the comparison to Wales, more likely one of the smaller US East Coast States – Rhode Island, perhaps, which is only 3,100 sq. miles. Greg Lawton appears again in the story “Black Queen’s Pawn” (1993), set in Madagascar.
WG and Tarrant are dining at “Tarrant’s Whitehall Club”, but as originally portrayed by Holdaway, this was probably in the St. James’ area, near St. James’s Palace. WG’s regular lover from the novels, Lady Janet Gillam, only made two appearances in the comic strip – briefly in “Idaho George” (1978) and as a key character in “The Murder Frame (1997). Here she is casually mentioned in passing, WG being “at Lady Janet’s”. One of the leaders of the poachers, Scoular, later gets a mention in “The Killing Game” (2000), as being a friend of the South African big game hunter, Pienaar. However, Pienaar says Scoular tangled with MB and is now dead, when actually he was taken captive – it was poacher boss-man Carslake who was killed. Had Peter O’Donnell forgotten that when he wrote the much later story?

63: Story name: The Vampire of Malvescu – 1987 ***
Location: Transylvania (so, north-west Romania) – village and castle of Malvescu – Tarrant’s club in London – MB’s London penthouse in the Bayswater Road.
Villain: ‘Europe’s Fist’ – Greff, Pienaar, Selby, Larouche, Bellanca, Sebastian Clegg.
Other characters
: Hans Braun (ex-Network technician and inventor); Hilda, his wife; Vasili (village elder); Tarrant; Weng.
Body count: 7
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB nude in bath, in towel, and getting dressed; Hilde completely nude and bathing from a bucket; lying unconscious, side view and full frontal (although her towel somehow jumped to cover her midriff).
Who kills who?: Unknown girl, “drained of blood”, as a warning to Hans. MB kills Sebastian Clegg after he attacks her. WG kills Pienaar and Laroche when they attempt to ‘vamp’ Hilde. MB shoots Selby with his own gun when he parachutes onto the castle battlements, and Hans uses the ‘bat-bomb’ to kill the already wounded Bellanca. The leader, Greff, plans to use a hang-glider to retaliate, but is shot with a silver bullet by the villagers, who think he is the vampire! WG suffered torn flesh and a broken rib when the soft-point dum-dum bullet went through his metal coffee mug first.
Summary/theme
: Terrorist crime caper. MB and WG are indulging their usual ‘champagne challenge’ as to who can reach the isolated castle of Malvescu first, the home of retired ex-Network tech-man Han Braun. To WG’s surprise – he being first – loner Hans is now married to Hilde, who is already expecting their baby. Her German father was a doctor, mother a nurse, but both died in a plane crash. She moved from Brazil to Europe and met Hans in Hamburg two years previous. She practises animal rescue. MB, meanwhile is travelling by donkey, who she has named ‘Mr Bones’. She gets delayed in the nearby village by a wedding feast, where she also meets Englishman Sebastian Clegg, who warns her against travelling through the forest at night. Recently a young woman was found dead, naked and drained of blood. MB ignores his warning and is subsequently attacked by Clegg, dressed as a vampire. In the fight that follows he died when the needle he intended to use to suck his victim’s blood, pierces him instead. Hans confesses he is being blackmailed by a terror gang named Europe’s Fist into constructing flying bombs (one in the form of a giant bat), otherwise they will kill Hilde, vampire-style. WG and MB use Clegg’s death to lure the gang to attempt to carry out their threat, but MB will be wearing a blonde wig to look like Hilde, and Hilde and WG camp in the forest, supposedly safe. However, two of the gang stumble across Hilde bathing and use a tranquilliser dart to subdue her, the other shooting WG, but, despite being wounded, he kills both. The other two parachute onto the castle battlements where MB kills one, Hans the other. Hilde tends to WG’s wound and they return to the castle, but WG still senses danger – actually from the leader, Greff, who is camped nearby and has a hang-glider. He, however, is mistaken for the vampire, and shot by the local superstitious villagers.
Critical comments: Hans Braun featured in the novel The Night of Morningstar (1982). Although we are told Hilde is pregnant, Romeo depicts her throughout as slim-waisted, with no visible sign of a tummy bulge! We see this again with another pregnant lady, in “Durango” (1996/97), who we are told is three months’ pregnant, but still slim-waisted! Silly! We are, of course, in ‘Dracula’ territory, and the general timelessness of the village is like something out of a Hammer horror movie – all fake village façades, desolate forest, brooding castle on its hilltop. Viewed from afar, Hans’ “small” or “miniature” castle has four corner turrets and a central keep, again nothing like Central or East European domestic castle architecture, and, indeed, it looks quite theatrical. The interior rooms, however (complete with suits of armour), are huge, and – not for the first time – the two do not match up. When MB contacts Tarrant, he is at his “London club”, however, again Romeo’s depiction of the club exterior is that of a modern 1970s period glass building, with similar modern architecture in the background and with a pointed tower (strip 6781) – nothing like Holdaway’s club exterior, which we knew then to have been in the Pall Mall/St. James’ Square area, between Piccadilly and St. James’ Palace. Instead, at first, I thought we have another non-descript, Romeo fantasy city! But then a chance look back at “The Gabriel Set-Up”, by Jim Holdaway (1964), and there was his depiction of a hotel in Tremont, Ontario, Canada (strip 289), and, although angled slightly, and in Romero’s more black and white comic drawing style, it is the same building, the same background and tower, the same motor vehicle in the foreground! Romero had ‘lifted’ from a 23 year older MB comic strip by another artist and given it a new, completely inappropriate, location! Clegg’s cottage, on the outskirts of the village, again looks like the ‘witch’s house’ from a Victorian book of fairy tales, and the exterior is also much too small for the interior rooms! We learn that the next village is Salini, and the nearest police ten miles away. At the time of this story (even if we take the late 1980s date, rather than earlier), Transylvania/Romania was still under communist/Ceau?escu rule. Would the authorities have allowed two ‘westerners’ to wander around the countryside?
Also again, we have Weng speaking by radio to MB in Cantonese, the speech bubble script looking vaguely oriental, which is a clever touch, while the conversation between Clegg and the village elder – one presumes in Romanian – is also scripted more stylishly. When shot, WG uses a “Sivaji mantra” to “stay alive” long enough to retaliate. MB also uses yoga to stay awake whilst guarding Hilde’s room. Hilde is depicted as yet another blonde ‘Axa’ lookalike.

64: Story name: Samantha and the Cherub – 1987/88 ***
Location: St. Swithin’s Youth Club, London’s East End – Festival Hall, London’s Southbank – derelict areas in the East End/Wapping area – MB’s London penthouse, Bayswater Road – Sam’s house, somewhere in the East End – Lamarette’s West End Fashion House – derelict house near Parnwell (in the country, outside of London).
Villain: ‘Contrax’ group; Charlie Gravett, aka Lamarette.
Other characters: Tarrant; Stefan Kolin (Tarrant’s ‘godson’, concert pianist and fled dissenter from Eastern Bloc); Lucy (Stefan’s Hong Kong Chinese wife, also known as Mrs Wu); Samantha (Sam) Brown; Tyrone (her biker, Hell’s Angel, brother known as the ‘Cherub’); Weng is mentioned, though not seen.
Body count: 1
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB in undies, getting dressed; MB in a long night-robe with a fluffy hem, showing her legs and cleavage; MB minus skirt, in just top and black panties (WG calls it her “chorus girl costume”), breaking out through the ceiling and fighting the bad guys.
Who kills who? : One of Lamarett’s henchmen, already wounded by WG, get shot dead by his own side. WG gets a gunshot nick in the arm.
Summary/theme: Espionage caper. MB and WG have different appointments. She to the Festival Hall with Sir Gerald Tarrant, to attend the performance of concert pianist Stefan Koln, an East European who had defected to the West, and who is now Tarrant’s ‘godson’. WG, meanwhile, goes to an East End Youth Club to teach martial arts, all being boys except 10 year old Samantha Brown, his favourite pupil, and self-appointed leader. The tea lady, Hong Kong Chinese ‘Mrs Wu’, disapproves, arguing it promotes violence. WG argues otherwise, that it encourages well-being, and should only be use for defence, as a last resort. As he leaves, Samantha gives him a letter, to read later, she says. Mrs Wu’s car is waylaid by a gang of Hell’s Angels bikers, and WG intervenes to rescue her. However, soon after they are flagged down by two fake policemen, and he is knocked out. Mrs Wu – who is really Stefan’s wife, Lucy – has been kidnapped. Stefan’s Iron Curtain country want him back, and are prepared to use Lucy to blackmail him into appearing to go back voluntarily. Tarrant believes the kidnappers to be a new group called Contrax, non-political mercenaries. WG thinks Samantha could help identify the Hell’s Angels – the letter (inviting him to Sunday tea) giving her address. When he and MB visit, they discover the chief biker of the gang is Samantha’s own brother, Tyrone, aka ‘The Cherub’. Samantha promptly punishes him with martial arts kicks. A chastised Cherub can’t help other than a label “Lamarette”, which MB and WG recognise as Stepney-born fashion pirate and vicious crook, Charlie Gravett, who has a posh fashion house in the West End. During a fashion show, a disguised WG creates a diversion, and MB slips upstairs, encountering (and only just overcoming) the ‘Bone Breaker Brothers’, before she and Lucy are taken captive again. But they have set up Samantha’s gang of BMX bike riders to trail the van leaving the address, together with motorcyclists and WG in a car. Eventually the van arrives at a desolate house in the countryside, where Samantha (having hitched a ride with the Cherub) joins WG. Pretending to having lost her pet rabbit, she gets the front door opened, and WG storms in. Meantime, MB has broken out of the room into the loft, and together they start to take down Lamarette’s henchman. There is a brief stalemate when one thug grabs Samantha, but MB distracts them, WG knifes Samantha’s captor in the hand, and Samantha promptly bites Lamarette’s gun hand. Initially frantic with worry, WG can’t be mad at her for long, however, while MB admires her gutsiness and intelligence.
Critical comments: In his introduction to the Titan Books edition, MB expert Lawrence Blackmore, examples the case of musician/composer Maxim Dmitrievich Shostakovich (born 1938), son of the famous pianist/composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), who defected to the West in 1981, and only returned to post-Soviet Union St. Petersburg in about 1992. In this story MB seems to be driving a DMC DeLorean, with the gull-wing doors. They were manufactured 1981-82, original price $25,000 (another $650 for automatic transmission), rising to $34,000 by 1983. Lucy is driving a mini car. MB drops WG off near Tower Bridge, and he ‘jogs’ to Sam’s Youth Club within 10 minutes. Stefan and Lucy have a house in Wapping, and MB remarks it is now a mixed neighbourhood of both “rich and poor”. The location where Lucy encounters the Cherub Hells’ Angels gang is next to a derelict building being demolished. However, could WB have been able to operate the demolition crane so easily, without an ignition key or access to the cabin? Later he and Lucy are stopped by fake police officers (one seems to be wearing dark glasses – at night!), reminiscent of when another East European defector’s daughter, Julie, was kidnapped, in the story “The Moon Man” (1981/82). Indeed, this gets a bit frequent – MB and WG separately being conned by fake Japanese police in “The War-Lords of Phoenix” (1970), WG and Maude by fake police in “Galvin’s Travels” (1981), MB by fake cops in “The Lady in the Dark” (1989/90)…
Sam’s gang use BMX bikes and throat-mikes, supposedly to ‘trail’ the van MB and Lucy are prisoners in, as it progresses out of London, into the rural countryside. One has to wonder: could they anticipate all the possible routes? Also, we are told the van is black, but Romero repeatedly depicted it as light, not black! We knew WG had a gym at the ‘Treadmill’, but here we see our heroes in a gym “in the basement” of the block where MB has her penthouse. In “Idaho George” we learnt the rest of the block beneath the penthouse is a hotel, with an underground car-park – is the gym exclusive to MB? In later stories this apparently morphed into a full size swimming pool also. We begin to see less attention to background details in Romero’s art, for instance when WG is getting out of the car near Tower Bridge. The ‘countryside’ roads look a bit unrealistic, although the boarded-up house is quite authentic – typical, stand-alone, 1920s/30s mock-Tudor. Some touches of humour, with Tarrant confessing that he does not use the Contrax criminal group (“non-political, sabotage, kidnapping, assassinations”) for intelligence information, but only because they are too expensive for his departmental budget! And WG (wearing spectacles) disrupting the Lamarette beachwear fashion show by pretending to be the ‘President of the Cleaner Britain Society’ (a sort of Mary Whitehouse type of organization), protesting against ‘indecency’ in fashion. The interior of Sam’s house – given she is working class and living in the East End of London – seems rather large and a bit too posh – her mum is dead, “dad away a lot”, presumably the breadwinner, but he never gets mentioned again in any of the stories. Again, one can only reflect that Holdaway or Colvin would have been more authentic – a terraced house, front door onto the street, perhaps? In discussing their file on Lamarette, MB quite casually mentions the former Network intelligence officer, Lensk, although we never see him. He did, however, feature in the novel The Night of Morningstar (1982), as an ex-KGB man with his previous identity disguised by plastic surgery and a false name. Romero’s depiction of Mrs Wu, aka Lucy Koln, makes her very glamorous, but perhaps not distinctively Chinese enough. The other frequent criticism is his depiction of Sam – the face, for the most part, is quite good and distinctive (although she comes across almost as a younger version of MB), but – given that her age is stated as 10 – she often varies in height, and in at least one of Romero’s coloured comic magazine covers, she looks more like a 5 or 6 year old! Sam featured in two more comic strip stories – “Ivory Dancer” (1992), where she is age 13, and “The Special Orders” (1998), where she is now 15.

65: Story name: Milord – 1988 **
Location: Pan-American Highway – the (fictional) South American Republic of ‘Guarengo’ (within the ancient territory of the Inca Empire) – village of Yacu – capital city of San Felipe – Chimu Peak (old Inca palace or temple).
Villain: ‘Milord’; ‘Father’ Lamont; Kane.
Other characters: Villagers Manco and blacksmith Roca, and his daughter Mikay; Guido Biganzoli (Italian journalist); Aniela (Guido’s girlfriend); Bandit leader Miguel; Ula, the longest of the twenty surviving girl prisoners kept for porno SMBD sniff movies.
Body count
: 17 at least.
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: Aniela (after story has finished).
Nudity rating: Aniela and the captive native South American Indian girls are depicted in bra and panties, or skimpy loin-cloths.
Who kills who? : Kane shoots dead two of Miguel’s bandits, wounding a third (who plays dead). WG kills Kane, fighting in the arena, Roman gladiator-style. WG kills at least one other Milord henchmen. Aniela, Ula and another girl strangle Lamont with their chains. Ula and the other girls throw Milord and his henchmen off the clifftop to their deaths. The village girl Luca (kidnapped from the village of Yacu the previous year) was later killed as “an Inca sacrifice” in one of the snuff movies. There is a colour Romero illustration which seems to depict MB as the sacrificial victim instead. Such bloody sacrifices were more associated with the Central American cultures, Aztecs and Maya.
Summary/theme: Porno/snuff movie crime caper. MB is flying through the South American Republic of Guarengo when she is forced to land at the small village of Yacu to make repairs. Whilst there, a helicopter lands with a man dressed as a Catholic priest, ‘Father Lamont’, who is going to take one of the young village girls to work for a “rich Yanqui lady” in California. MB is immediately suspicious and makes up the names of two non-existent ‘local’ bishops, one recently retired, to unmask him as a fake. Briefly the fake priest and henchman Kane still attempt to take the young girl by force, but MB threatens Lamont with his own gun (which only she knew had jammed) and the villains escape empty-handed. MB warns the villagers to spread the word, but one girl, Luca, had been taken the year before and not heard of since. Later, at her hotel in San Felipe, Italian journalist Guido Biganzoli appears, having been banished here from Rome after he had seduced the editor’s daughter. Guido plans to set-up a fake terrorist kidnap scam, from which he can emerge the hero, and wants MB as the female interest, as his regular girlfriend, Aniela, has refused. MB also refuses, but meantime WG arrives in town and encounters Aniela, who tells him all about Guido’s scheme, and suggests she and WG go back to their house and make love to “punish” Guido. WG is quite happy with that idea, but the bandits hired to carry out the kidnapping have already spiked the champagne and take them captive, thinking WG is Guido. Unfortunately, on their way to the bandit hideout, they are seen by Lamont in the helicopter, who lands, shoots the bandits, and takes WG and Aniela prisoner instead. WG plays the craven coward, and soon realises their captors are using young women for sex, torture and ‘snuff’ (live murder) porn movies. Meantime, MB and Guido make contact with the bandits’ leader, Miguel, and MB too realises WG and Aniela are in the hands of the fake priest’s gang. The helicopter is the give-away – they are based at a ‘mesa’ in the jungle, a raised plateau rented from the government as an American film studio. She and Guido get there by canoe and climb to the top. During this time WG has continued his pretence of a cowardly misogynist named ‘Henry Bligh’, who the chief villain, known only as ‘Milord’, plans with his henchmen to have killed on camera in the mock-up Roman arena. That night WG is easily able to pick the lock of his room and makes contact with Aniela, imprisoned with twenty other local Indian girls. While WG is next checking the two helicopters, MB appears and they make plans together. The following day WG plays his role in the arena, with Aniela and two other girls due to be orgy fodder after Kane has killed him. Except WG kills Kane first, and MB intervenes, taking out the guards, while Guido shouts out to surrender, they are surrounded. In the subsequent skirmish, Aniela and the two girls throttle Lamont to death. While MB is looking through the evidence of videos and papers, the enraged, vengeful girls take the tied-up gang survivors and start throwing them off the cliff-top. When MB tries to intervene, WG knocks her out. MB forgives him, of course, especially having seen the rape and torture movie WG had been forced to witness being filmed. Leaving in the two helicopters, they plan to fly the girls to the convent in San Felipe, but Aniela tells WG she has still not forgiven Guido, and offers to help WG “to forget”.
Critical comments: Up until now, while many MB enemies were ruthless, unpleasant killers (some decisively more sinister, others perhaps simply rather stupid), few of these in the comic strip villains were totally nasty, and even the drug dealers, like Gertie in “Bad Suki” (1968), or “The Junk Men” (1977), or the poachers in “Million Dollar Game” (1987), much as MB hated their criminal trade, were merely unpleasant. Here, however, the otherwise unnamed “Milord” and his henchmen prey on innocent, vulnerable women, for pornography and gore, what are called ‘snuff movies’. From here on, the stories grow darker, the crimes increasing more brutal and nasty – the vice trade again in “The Astro” (1994/95), and “The Special Orders” (1998); a young child in peril in “Live Bait” (1988/89); murderous terrorists with a houseful of potentially doomed women hostages in “The Big Mole” (1989); historic mass slaughter in “The Girl in the Dark” (1989/90), and “Black Queen’s Pawn” (1993); potential nuclear or bio-chemical weapons of mass destruction in “Guido the Jinx” (1994) and “The Last Aristocrat” (1999/2000); and MB herself being brutally raped in “Death Symbol” (1999).
Romero’s artwork is again workable, although the very first story panel, of WG pulling over on the Pan-American Highway, the road in the background forms a Z, in which vehicles apparently have to turn two impossible 90º angles! Ridiculous! MB is flying a Piper Tomahawk, two-seat, single-engine monoplane, of which (according to Wikipedia) 2484 were built between 1979 and 1982. Later the bad guys use two AS350 ‘Squirrel’ helicopters, aka ‘Écureuil’, manufactured in France from 1974 on. MB says they have a range of 200 miles, but perhaps she means one way, as the range given is just over 400 miles, although WG saying they can take 12 people, the manufacturing spec says only 5 to 6, although it has a 2,240kg max weight at take-off. In the final strip they are lifting 10 girls in each, plus MB and Guido in one and WG and Aniela in the other. Again Romero’s native South American girls don’t really have very authentic facial features or darker skin. The interior of the ‘Inca’ palace (or temple) on the jungle plateau seemed to be a strange mix – a huge elaborate palace ‘throne room’ almost; another part Moorish; another again like the dungeons of a medieval castle. Given that the Roman arena was obviously film-set fake (made of wood), perhaps much else was also, including an exterior view of a stepped temple pyramid that looked more Aztec or Maya than Inca. The hotel in ‘San Felipe’, where MB was staying, also has a strange exterior, 7 or 8-storeys high, but with not enough depth, and again – as is Romero’s style now – rather like a cheap stage-set, unreal. This is the second of four appearances of Guido, who is here introduced as “rogue, lecher, conman, scoundrel, journalist.”

66: Story name: Live Bait – 1988/89 ***
Location: Venice – the Palazzo Chiavari – the Villa Fasoli on the small island of Lucca in the lagoon – Grand Canal area – Piazzale Roma – Campo San Maria – Tangier (Network flash-back).
Villain: Malik.
Other characters: Alan Gurney (successful and wealthy musician/song-writer); Rosina (Alan’s wife, former courier for the Network); Francesca (their 8 year old daughter); Inspector Hassan Birot of Tangier police; Krolli; Sammy Wan; Hans Braun (all ex-Network operatives); Lacroix (ex-Farzi gang member, now with Malik).
Body count: At least 3.
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB in a bra.
Who kills who? : MB mule-kicks one Malik underling (breaking his neck). MB shoots another. Malik dies of heart attack from raging at captive MB. MB has head wound from flying stone fragment.
Summary/theme: Revenge/kidnap caper. MB and WG are in Venice, two days before the carnival, to visit ex-Network courier Rosina and her husband, millionaire song-writer Alan Gurney. Rosina, who had a photographic memory, was only 18 when recruited by MB, before WG’s time, and MB tells him of how she was kidnapped by brutal, rival gang boss Malik. MB retaliated by taking out Malik and his gang, together with enough incriminating evidence to have him sent to prison. However, Malik is free again, and out for revenge. He has kidnapped Rosina and Alan’s 8 year old daughter, Francesca, and wants half a million dollars in exchange for her freedom, but which must be delivered only by MB. Alan wants to pay the money, but MB (supported by Rosina) refuses to sanction extortion, and knows Malik’s objective is to kill her, and probably the child also. Knowing they will be watched, MB sets WG up for a traffic ‘accident’ in the Piazzale Roma car park, and his apparent hospitalisation and flight out back to England with broken legs. Together they discover the location of Malik’s hideout, the Villa Fasoli, on its own island in the lagoon, which the gang has taken over while the owners are away. When MB makes her rendezvous with Malik’s ocean-going motor-cruiser, at the last minute a frogman emerges from the sea and ‘shoots’ her with a sub-machine gun. Both she and the bag containing the money disappear underwater. When Malik learns what has happened, he goes ballistic, and needs medication for his heart condition. Of course, the frogman is WG, and has spare air-tanks and other equipment on the shallow sea-bed. Together they swim to the island and WG is able to locate Francesca, but he is overheard, and MB is forced to cover his subsequent escape. He takes the cruiser, while MB engages in a shootout, but is wounded in the head by a fragment of stone. By then Malik is frantic with rage and suffers a fatal heart attack. The gang decide to kill MB, but – despite having her wrists bound behind her back – she fights back, killing two, knocking out two more. One of the more intelligent and reluctant of the gang, Lacroix, who has had a previous encounter with MB in her Network days, intervenes, frees her, and they take the smaller motorboat. Meantime, WG has dropped Francesca off at the Palazzo Chiavari, and is on the way back, when they intercept him. On her previous encounter with Lacroix (he was in the ‘Farzi gang’), MB had let him go free, and this was him repaying his debt. Again, in gratitude, she allows him to depart unhindered. Afterwards MB and WG too depart, as Alan is still angry, thinking MB put his daughter’s life needlessly in peril.
Critical comments: A second adventure in Venice, and interesting to compare Holdaway’s illustrations from “The Red Gryphon” (1968/69) with Romero’s artwork. The first looks more authentic, capturing the ordinary back streets and underbelly of the ancient city – Romero’s version, on the other hand, is more ‘picture postcard views’ and rather theatrical, like the backdrop of an stage opera. The Gurney’s Palazzo Chiavari faces onto the Grand Canal (WG is able to pilot a large motor-cruiser up to it; no way would that have gone down one of the side canals), but in one exterior view there is a tree in the foreground, which seems rather strange. On the plus side, the carnival costumes and scenes are good. When the story opens, we are told that the carnival is in two days’ time. The carnival originally was said to honour a crucial battle fought by the then Venetian Republic in 1162, but it became to greater prominence in the 18th century, before being outlawed in 1797 following the Republic’s demise, first by the Holy Roman Empire, then the Austrians. Finally it was revived in 1979, taking place after Lent, forty days before Easter, Shrove Tuesday and before Ash Wednesday. The mask WG is wearing is the traditional volto, or Larva mask, covering the upper face only. In addition, he wore a tricorn hat. In the Network flashback, we see again Krolli, Garcia, Sammy Wan, and Hans Braun, who featured in the Story “The Vampire of Malvescu” (1987). There is also, in the current story, a passing reference to Vinezzi, of Italian Intelligence, who we previous got to meet in person in “The Puppet Master” (1971/72, by Romero), and again in “The Balloonatic” (1982/83, but drawn by Colvin). Inspector Birot of the Tangier police, also seen in the Network period flashback, appeared again in “The Killing Distance” (1994). He was also in several of the novels. Lacroix mentions the “Farzi gang”, but neither they, nor he, feature in the novels/short stories, nor in the comic strip. Another piece of back-story without detail. Again Romero is inconsistent in his depiction of the child Francesca, who is supposed to be age 8, but much of the time looks younger, more like 5 or 6. Again – as with the Venice setting itself – compare to Holdaway’s illustration of the street-wise girl beggar of the same name in the earlier story. Although the ending is rather downbeat, with MB convinced Alan is still angry at her for endangering his daughter’s life, in the later story “Guido the Jinx” (1994), it would seem all is forgiven, with Alan praising MB to his Italian movie-making friend, who was also in Venice at that time.

67: Story name: The Girl from the Future – 1989 ****
Location
: Multi-millionaire tycoon John Dall’s Texas ranch, in the USA – Alex Grant’s place “in a remote pine forest” in New Mexico – Texas/New Mexico diner and dirt-road – gang’s hideout in an “old Mexican fort”, again still in New Mexico.
Villain: Dino Quinn; Marty; Herbie; Fats; Earl.
Other characters: John Dall; Dall’s manservant, Sam; Alex Grant (science fiction publisher and authority on UFOs); Maisie Brent (Grant’s “secretary, house keeper, trouble shooter, bedfellow”); Doc Miller (Grant’s psychologist and Maisie’s secret lover); Emma (Miller’s niece).
Body count: 0
Modesty’s lover: John Dall.
Willie’s lover
: Emma (when she plans to visit relatives in Devon later that year, so after the story ends).
Nudity rating: MB in very skimpy, backless, halter-neck swimming costume; MB with top ripped, exposing one breast; Emma completely nude, as ‘the girl from the future’.
Who kills who? : Not applicable.
Summary/theme
: Con trick and crime caper. MB and WG have been staying three weeks at the Texas ranch of MB’s lover, John Dall, when, almost on the last day, he reveals he has been commissioned to secretly create and sell two solid gold 12” diameter spheres to wealthy science fiction publisher Alex Grant for $9 million. Dall is to personally fly the crated consignment by helicopter to Grant’s remote and heavily fortified homestead in New Mexico. MB is alternatively annoyed Dall never told her sooner, intrigued, but also pretends to be indifferent. However, on their way to visit Steve and Dinah Collier in Mexico, they are spotted and recognised at a roadside diner by Marty, formerly of the Preacher’s mob, now part of a gang, led by Dino Quinn, who know about the gold spheres. The gang subsequent arrange a fake rendezvous, supposedly with Dall, to take MB and WG out, but get beaten up instead. MB contacts Dall and reports the secret of the gold spheres is blown. Dall insists they join him at Grant’s place, where they meet Maisie, Grant’s much put-upon factotum and mistress, and Grant’s psychologist, Doc Miller. After initial reluctance, Grant introduces them to Emma, a “wacky haired” girl who claims to be aged 102 and who was born in the year 2386 – from the future. Emma has been sent back into the past to tell Grant about the ideal future world of her time, following the intervention on Earth of the “Teachers”, benevolent alien humanoids tasked with helping intelligent races achieve maturity. Under critical questioning, she describes something of the future world, but Grant is to write more in a book, which will, one day, 200 years later, pave the way for humankind’s acceptance of the ‘Teachers’. It is, therefore, a kind of time loop – a future intervention into the past which will make that future world come into existence. But time-travel involves huge amounts of energy, and the gold spheres are necessary as part of the transmission possess. However, Dall, MB and WG must leave before her departure. MB is convinced the story is a brilliant, elaborate con, but who are the tricksters? Unbeknown to Grant or the others, they observe events from a mile away, seeing Emma standing naked between the spheres – then nothing. Grant stands unmoved while Emma and Maisie go to the house. MB realises Miller is using hypnotherapy – actually with the trigger words “Rip Van Winkle” – to make Grant think he has seen Emma appear and disappear. The spheres are then collected by Dino’s gang, whom Maisie, Miller and Emma have naively hired. The con is part revenge by Maisie for the years of Grant’s indifference to her, part to donate the $8 million for famine relief, and Maisie to then marry Miller, and only after Grant has written and published his book, reveal the truth. Emma is Miller’s niece. But now Dino and the gang take Maisie and Emma prisoner and tell Doc Miller to join them – obviously planning to kill all three. With WG ‘disguised’ as Miller, saying MB had crashed her car and WG was dead, our heroes soon overpower the gang, but not before Marty does a runner, knowing not to tangle with MB a second time! While WG dumps the rest of Dino’s gang over the border in Mexico, MB gives Maisie the go-ahead with her original plan, dump Grant, marry Miller, then refuse to confirm the girl from the future story. WG is left smug that Emma plans to visit England – and him at the ‘Treadmill’ – in the near future.
Critical comments: One of the few really good stories from this late period, and again emphasising Peter O’Donnell’s love of science fiction. We witness WG’s wide-ranging knowledge of gold prices and complex mathematics, as he calculates the cubic capacity and then current value of the two 12” gold spheres. Gold prices vary over the years, from as little as $35 per oz. in 1970, to between $100 and £142 in 1976, to highs of $1,180 to $1,360 in 2018, and $1,520-plus in 2020. WG’s calculation of the total value of the two solid gold spheres ($4million each) was on the gold rate of $450 per oz. This would seem to put the story as taking place between March and July of 1988. MB and WG had stayed “20 days” with John Dall (she “sharing his bed”), and were then planning to visit “the Colliers in Guadalajara”, the capital of the west Mexican state of Jalisco. We see the reappearance of Marty, one of the Preacher’s mob in the story “Butch Cassidy Rides Again” (1986), although it is unclear how he alone, apparently, had evaded justice and was still free. Interestingly, he remarks that he has “ran up against them [MB and WG] two years back”, so in actual real time! Early in the story MB and WG are “practising underwater combat” in Dall’s swimming pool. We learn that WG reads a lot of science fiction, MB less so. They are driving a left-hand-drive open-top unidentifiable sports car – perhaps hired. While Romero’s clouds of dust can be applicable when driving on dirt-roads, the last panel would appear to be a proper highway, although perhaps they are already across the border into Mexico.

68: Story name: The Big Mole – 1989 *
Location: Morocco, Tangier Kasbah (in flashback) – Sussex, around the village of ‘Beckleton’ – ‘Tanmere Manor House’, dating from at least the 1640s or early 17th century.
Villain: Kestrel, leader of terrorist group the ‘Paladins’; Sir Clive Meyrick (senior civil servant and traitor, the ‘Big Mole’).
Other characters: British Army Lieutenant, later Captain Michael Kerr; Krolli; Sammy; Ahmed (all Network operatives); Doctor Howie (Network doctor); Tarrant: Mrs Fothergill (busybody Sir Gerald neighbour); Doctor Moore (kidnapped local Sussex, lady doctor); Sophie (one of the nurses).
Body count: At least 6 or more.
Modesty’s lover: Michael Kerr (after story is over).
Willie’s lover: Sophie (after story is over).
Nudity rating: MB stripped for action down to bra and panties as she takes out the Big Mole’s guards.
Who kills who? : The Paladins kill police escorts and security guards. WG kills terrorist threatening Sophie. WG and the SAS take out a number of terrorists. MB shoots Kestrel dead.
Summary/theme
: Espionage/spy/terrorist rescue caper. During the Network time, in Morocco, MB had just put Lobel’s vice mob out of business – Lobel himself to be dumped penniless in Calcutta – when she gets a radio message that a British soldier is wounded and being hunted by Polisario followers on the rooftops of the Kasbah. WG, Krolli and Sammy knock-out the men in the alleyways, while MB goes for the wounded soldier, Lieutenant Michael Kerr, knocking out two more enemies with the ‘butterfly kick’, before carrying him to safety, and into the care of a doctor at the Network’s hospital. The story then moves to the ‘present’ and MB and WG are visiting Tarrant at his Sussex country cottage/farmhouse near the village of Beckleton. Neighbour Mrs Fothergill is trying to recruit participants for the re-enactment of a Civil War skirmish at Beckleton Hill. Meantime, the news is all about the escape from custody of the ‘Big Mole’, Sir Clive Meyrick, a top civil servant and convicted traitor, following a murderous ambush in which police and security guards were killed. Later a stolen car was found crashed, and a woman doctor, Dr Moore, has disappeared. The Big Mole’s Eastern Bloc controllers are using an eight-man terrorist group known as ‘The Paladins’, but now the trail has seemingly gone cold. However, at first unbeknown to MB and co., they are holed up in nearby Tanmere Manor House, now a holiday home for nurses’, just a mile away. Meyrick was injured in the crash and needed medical attention before the group can rendezvous with the submarine intended to spirit him out of the country. Responsibility for hunting the terrorists is with Tarrant’s Foreign Office rival, Boulton. In the house one of the nurses, Sophie, manages to throw a message in a plastic bottle into the nearby small stream. Not long after Tarrant and WG are fishing and find the message. When Tarrant reports to London, he is immediate put in charge of operations (as “the man on the spot”), and a SAS squad sent down, based out of his barn. They are mindful of both the lives of the 14 women hostages, plus knowing the Paladins will immediately kill Meyrick rather than let him be recaptured – something he is resigned to. However, the officer in charge is Captain Kerr, remembers MB and is open to her suggestion of the SAS team using the Civil War re-enactment skirmish as cover to get close access to the Manor House. Meantime MB manages to get into the house pretending to be a nurse, ‘Jenny Lane’, claiming that her vacation was pre-booked. Confiding at first only with Sophie and Dr Moore, she is able to plant the notion that the nurses always crowd the house balcony to watch the annual skirmish as it passes immediately by the house. The Paladin leader, Kestrel, falls for it, and – not wishing to arouse suspicions – instructs the hostage nurses to all be assembled on the balcony, except Sophie, who is held at knife-point. It is then down to WG to vault onto the balcony and take out the terrorist guards, to be quickly followed by Kerr’s men storming the house, and MB take out the Big Mole guards. Only Kestrel escapes the initial attack, but he is shot dead by MB. ‘Bossy old bat’ Mrs Fothergill is also in on the plan, recruiting spectators to add to the authenticity, confiding that she was Wren in Naval Intelligence during the War, and could recognise a military operation. Afterwards MB is on a promise with Michael Kerr, and WG with Sophie.
Critical comments: In the text of the story, no explanation is given of who the ‘Polisario’ are. In fact, the Frente Polisario (Polisario Front) are a Salnrawi rebel liberation movement dedicated to ending what they see as Moroccan occupation of West Sahara. They were founded in 1973, and mostly supported by Algeria and Libya. So, yet again, the original time-line is totally out of sync as, in the early stories, we are told MB disbanded the Network in 1961 – so 12 years before the Polisario rebels were formed. The “Polisario rebels” are mentioned in several other MB comic strip stories – again never with explanations or motives, and in “Death Symbol” (1999) they are responsible for a deadly ambush on WG’s French Foreign Legion colleagues, apparently on ‘training exercises’ in post-colonial Algeria! So given WG was supposedly serving in the Foreign Legion 1950-54, and Algeria got its independence in 1962, yet again the inclusion of the ‘Polisario’ makes no sense. Why not just have Tuareg instead – more the traditional enemies of French colonial rule, and better known? Increasingly MB’s origins get completely out of step, making nonsense of the crucial, character-forming aspects of her past. If only Peter O’Donnell had kept the MB stories within the 1960s/70/early 80s time-frame, allowed her to age by, say, fifteen years, whilst still keeping her as a fighting-fit thirty to early-forty year old.
That said, this is definitely not one of Peter O’Donnell’s better stories. Coincidences are a frequent occurrence in the MB world, and this story is no exception, but here we witness several such coincidences too many, to the point of being just absurd. We can just about believe that young British Army Lieutenant Kerr, rescued by MB in Morocco some years earlier, reappears as the SAS Captain charged with ‘mission impossible’ under Sir Gerald’s command. But the terrorists with the top traitor being located just a mile from Tarrant’s cottage, stretches creditability just a bit too far perhaps, and especially for a story in which the plot is already full of holes. The McGuffin – the ‘big mole’ – a top civil service traitor (really? Another one?) lacks any character or background. If MI5 had already exposed him, then they would likely know which Eastern Bloc country he was working for. One would have thought in this long-time pre-Putin era, that the last thing they (the bad guys) would then do would be to a stage a clumsy terrorist-instigated massacre, and anything so blatant and foolish as a submarine pick-up on the English South Coast! Come on! Not only would this constitute a major diplomatic incident (for one miserable little spy), but it’s 1950s Moonraker James Bond stuff. Better just to arranged to bump the top traitor off anyway, one would have thought. Is he expendable or not? That said, we have a murderous terror gang let loose in the Home Counties – would Tarrant really have been allowed to go off for a spot of weekend leave? Highly unlikely – another plot flaw. Likewise, surely the countryside would be crawling with armed police and military, helicopters in the sky, road-blocks, curfews, restrictions…Yet we see nothing of the sort – how credible is that? Even a D-notice to shut down media reports couldn’t (and hasn’t) silenced stories of crashed cars, dead policemen, a missing doctor. Would life really be going on as normal, with Mrs Fothergill having her Roundheads and Cavaliers mock battle? We’re told Tarrant’s departmental rival, Boulter, is “in command”, but see no sign of any activity, and, next thing, he is apparently demoted, cut out of the action, in favour of Tarrant. Boulter, in the novels, is a “colleague” of Tarrant’s in Foreign Office Intelligence (in Modesty Blaise, 1965), but rather uncooperative (in I, Lucifer, 1967), to the extent that Jack Fraser indulges in some interdepartmental espionage. Finally MB deliberately sets him up for embarrassment in The Xanadu Talisman (1981). It would seem he remains only a name in the background. We never get to actually see him in the comic strips.
Another apparently gaping hole – the terrorist gang numbers eight, plus top traitor, plus a kidnapped doctor – ten. That requires at least two cars to be hijacked, but how did the gang get from the crash site to Dr Moore’s house and then to the manor house? Did they walk? Really? If not, then where are the vehicles now? We will come back to Romero’s ridiculous illustration of the manor house itself below. Finally – yet another coincidence too many – Tarrant and WG have gone fishing – come on, there’s a terrorist crisis going on! Sir G. goes fishing? But they just happen to be the ones who find the ‘message in the bottle’ thrown out the bathroom window by nurse Sophie. Sorry, but even allowing for the usual MB story extremes, all this smacks of poor plotting – something comparatively rare up to now with Peter O’Donnell. Generally he holds things together just enough for the reader to suspend disbelief, but here there are just too many ‘WTF?’ moments, all adding up.
Nor is the story helped by the abysmal failure of Romero’s artwork. Key to the credibility of MB’s world of exotic crime and espionage is for it to appear to operate in the ‘real’ world, rather than a theatrical or ‘cartoon’ world. With Jim Holdaway this was never a problem, and indeed, was probably – next to good stories and the characters themselves – the great strength that made MB stand head and shoulders above other crime or spy comic strips at the time. Locations and places were painstakingly authentic. People looked, for the most part, recognisably like real people, if occasionally a bit exaggerated. More important, street scenes, vehicles, interiors, landscapes were detailed and vivid. Although not as meticulous as Holdaway, Neville Colvin continued this tradition. He did, at least, strive to be as authentic as possible, when depicting both Britain or foreign countries. Based entirely in Barcelona, not having any experience of Britain, or even speaking English, Romero was a strange selection for an artist drawing a comic strip of which a third of whose stories were based either partly or wholly within the UK, another twenty within Europe, but none in Spain! We have already criticised some of Romero’s more bizarre images in the preceding stories, but, as we plunge deeper into this final period, we see increasingly the backgrounds became more vague, non-existent or lacking realism. Such detail is sacrificed for faces, while angles are often wrong, out of sync, and what street scenes or interiors there are seem theatrical, two-dimensional almost, if not just completely wrong.
Romero’s depiction of the Sussex countryside around Tarrant’s cottage/farmhouse and the ‘old’ manor house, is simply awful – not only scrappily drawn, but a bleak landscape, without even proper hedgerow. Even more ridiculous is the manor house, a key component to the entire story. We are told it is at least 17th century (it was supposedly a “headquarters for Royalists during the Civil War”), yet the exterior of the house as depicted by Romero, is not only much too small to house 10 nurses and three staff, but in no way resembles a 1600s, or even 18th century, period English country house. Instead it is a rectangular, two-storey house with additional wings, more like a small French or Italian farmhouse perhaps, with Romero’s much-loved tiny-panel glass windows (apparently his concession to anything ‘oldie worldie’ English) – and shutters! – plus a wooden veranda-like balcony on at least three sides. Everything – roofline, lack of chimneys, actual façade, materials, windows – the continental-style shutters and louvre balcony doors, for goodness sake! – the external balcony itself (which it important to the story), size, style, immediately surroundings, even its isolated location (with a meandering river, again apparently running immediately beneath one side (the toilet facility on the second floor from where Sophie throws the plastic bottle)….Everything is WRONG. It no more resembles a 17th century English ‘Home Counties’ manor house than if Romero had drawn a Hindu temple. Along with his bizarre Hollywood-style English castles, and his German Gothic ‘English’ villages, this is utterly dismal, really not worthy of any artist. Even the different views of the house seem to vary in the number and style of the wings or perhaps extensions. In addition, of course, again the manor’s interior is bland and basically 20th century, even the staircase. Again, there is nothing authentic to what an ancient manor house from the time of the 1640s would look like. My point still stands: the MB stories stand and fall by at least appearing to be rooted into the real world. If London doesn’t look like London, or English architecture looks more like Italy, or Modesty’s or Sir Gerald’s country cottages keep changing their appearance, then it becomes harder, to near impossible, to maintain the credibility necessary to make that step from fiction to semi-belief.
Vice gang boss Lobel doesn’t seem to feature elsewhere – certainly not in the novels – so again apparently we have a story end without any beginnings. Also in the Morocco interlude, Krolli looks a bit like John Dall (not much like the Krolli as depicted by Colvin, who did at least look Greek), while the other Network member, Sammy, seems to look rather like Weng! Sophie is another Romero blonde, while the (unnamed) house warden, in a couple of panels, actually looked like Holdaway’s Gertie from “Bad Suki”, back in 1968! At least one of the Paladins, Conder, is apparently female, referred to by the hostage nurses as ‘Butch Betsy’, yet this has absolutely no significance in the story, nor does her apparent gender even get emphasised again, either by Romero or O’Donnell. One has to ask why then? All of the nurses are young and glamorous – typical Romero-style eye-candy – surely a few might have been more mature or perhaps bigger than dress size 8?
A real disappointment of a story, the only real highlight being several action panels of MB prancing about in her skimpy undies – which is Romero’s forte!

Danger Man: s02 e17 – Whatever happened to George Foster?


Well, what a strange episode that was.

I had great problems watching this latest Danger Man story because I found it difficult to fathom what it was all about. Once it was complete, the story made sense and the point of it, not to mention the thread, was a lot more cohesive, but as things were progressing, I found several elements of it to be thin, the development jumpy and a number of aspects of the main thrust were left without explanations that helped to contribute to a curiously non-determinative ending.

We began in media res, a South America country, Santo Marco, undergoing riot in the streets, cars burning, people milling around, one of them John Drake, looking hot and bothered, his hair disarranged. The crowd permits a woman to pass through it into a cafe/bar, which is then sealed. From a balcony across the street, Drake sees this tall, dark-haired, elegant woman dispensing bulging white envelopes. Of course, these contain money, lots of it.

To spare you any of the beating about the bushes the episode provides, what is happening is that political agitation in Santa Marco is being paid for, as a preliminary for revolution to overthrow a Government that has done much to help this poor, backward country drag itself up by its bootstraps, not for any political principle but for simple greed: the Government is proposing to nationalise the oil fields and mines that make so much money for a rich, overseas, yes, British businessman and millionaire. Drake sets out to stop this.

The first part of the episode is incredibly bitty. Drake follows the dark-haired woman back to her office in London, at the Society for Cultural Relations with South America. She is Certhia Cooper (Jill Melford), though I heard it being pronounced as Sophia throughout and she and Drake have a waspish conversation in which he tries to get out of her who is behind the Society, whose money is being diverted from cultural things. When Certhia proves to be obstructive, Drake ropes in an old friend and former workmate (but not in his real job), who is not an editor in Fleet Stret. This is Pauline (Adrienne Corri, making a second and regrettably last appearance, looking rather nice in a kind of attractive rumpled style). Pauline is an old friend of Certhia, who despises the woman, is mock-jealous of Drake’s interest in her but who will provide vital evidence throughout the episode.

Drake proves to be a nuisance so he’s summoned to a meeting with the man behind it all, Lord Ammanford (the excellent Bernard Lee, whose presence stabilised the episode and raised it to a higher plane by his quiet solidity). For some reason, throughout this whole sequence, the cast seemed to swallow the name of Ammanford so that I couldn’t hear what they were saying until at least halfway through. Every other word was clear, so what story lies behind that oddity I’d love to know.

Anyway, Ammanford, who never speaks harshly, who professes admiration for Drake and his principles, more or less admits the accusations, but makes it plain that he will do nothing to change what he is doing. More pertinently, he makes it even more plain that he is very rich, and that that status gives him power in a great many spheres. He knows people, even including Drake’s real boss (Ammanford knows better than to fall for Drake’s cover at World Travel), Sir Joseph Manton, who more or less immediately closes Drake’s original assignment and sends him on a month’s leave.

And Ammanford makes it plain that he is untouchable. He can frustrate and block Drake, he can ruin him in any way he chooses, and Drake cannot touch him. We see that immediately as Drake is refused a seat on a half-empty plane to Santo Marco because it is full: on an airline of which Lord Ammanford is Chairman.

There will be many such obstacles, including physical ones. Drake will be beaten up, will be framed for drunk driving and possessing stolen property, taken into custody, his existence denied on the special Government telephone number that’s supposed to clear his way.

What Drake is doing is trying to find out about Lord Ammanford (name now spoken clearly), who he is, where he comes from, what has he done, and if there is anything that can be used as a lever against him. Even this is still bits and pieces, but it’s bits and pieces with a purpose. Facts are set up and slowly broken down. Ammanford is supposedly Peter Jones, from a small village in Wales (cue overhead shot of the Menai Bridge, the Straits and a far too brief glimpse of Snowdonia behind them). Posing as a writer doing a book about the Valley’s proud son, Drake uncovers loads of people who knew Peter Jones all his life, looked on him as a son, and describe him in completely contrasting and impossible terms. So Ammanford is not Peter Jones then, especially as Drake arrives at the remote farm in time for Peter Jones’ funeral. Who is he then? (and you were wondering what the episode title had to do with the price of fish).

This was where the episode lost it, and badly. Ammanford is married, very happily, a grandfather. His personal life has been built very securely and warmly, and he is Peter to the gently concerned Lady Ammanford, who comes from monied stock. And Ammanford ultimately turns out to be George Foster, a driver at a car hire firm in Birmingham. What’s more, he was a married man, with two children, when he met the future Lady Ammanford (who had a sister). And he still has a legally wedded wife and children, enjoying a lap of luxury so long as they keep their mouths shut, making the marriage to Lady Ammanford, who the Lord clearly loves and is dearly contented with, clearly bigamous.

But once that sole fact is established, the story wants nothing more to do with George Foster. Who he is, where he came from, how he became Peter Jones, how he met Lady A, how he kept the secret from her, what the significance of the sister is, none of these are addressed. The backstory has not so much got holes in it as it’s a dirty great lump of Swiss cheese.

Because all that matters is that Drake has got the goods. Even though Ammanford points out there’s not an editor would print, or even read that story, nor a businessman who profits off Ammanford that would listen to it. The Lord is insulated, the fact of his power rather than his wielding of it protects him absolutely. But he has not taken into account the one small, but in its way gaping hole in those defences: Lady Ammanford. She doesn’t know, and he cannot hurt her by allowing her to learn that the whole of her life with the husband who still means so much to her has been based on a horrific lie, but a lie that, Liberty Vallance style, has solidified into a warm truth. And Drake has prepared 200 photostats to be sent to as many prominent people as he can think of, if Ammanford doesn’t withdraw on the spot from Santo Marco: he cannot guarantee that Lady Ammanford will not get to hear of it.

Ammonford gives way. He admits to losing, a clearly galling prospect, saying Drake has won, but our man corrects him: he hasn’t won, the people of Santo Marco have won, and he departs, leaving the envelope of evidence with the erstwhile George Foster. It was a bluff, it’s the only copy. Equanimity will not be disturbed.

But what of the ladies? What of Certhia and Pauline (who was also a gem in this loosely constructed tale)? In keeping with its lack of concern for ‘peripherals’, we left them in the middle of things. Drake, on the run from the Police, has taken refuge with Pauline. Enter Certhia, looking for Drake over the matter of a bribe that has been suggested. Of course, if he can be exposed to the Police… He may be hiding in the bathroom but his jacket’s over the back of the couch. Certhia wants to leave, Pauline tries to keep her there, wants a girl-to-girl conversation but, when all else fails, resorts to grabbing Certhia, and starting a roll on the couch/floor catfight that we see far too little of for any sexual implications to be evoked, but which provides cover for Drake to retrieve his jacket and blow the gaff. And that’s it as far as they’re concerned. We dont even get to know who won. Cehia had the advantage of height and reach, but Pauline was in slacks so had greater manouevrabilty…

No, this was just typical of an episode whose key characeristic was loose plotting and dangling ideas. As long as the main story, the distant plight of Santo Marco, was solved, everything else could be discarded, unwanted. Overall, despite its good points, of which Bernard Lee was the most consistent, this was probably the worst episode I’ve seen thus far, though given the generally high level, it would be more accurate to say the least best.

The Infinite Jukebox: Friend and Lover’s ‘Reach Out in the Darkness’


As contemporary music recedes ever further from my interest, I find myself going back all the more often to the Sixties, and to the music with which I am not familiar. There’s all sorts of stuff in that late Sixties period, 1967 – 69, obscure records that never bothered the top 50, that was never expected to hit, bright poppy tunes, stuff that brushed the fringes of psychedelia, singles that are full of a life that didn’t go down with a Great British Record Buying Public that was looking to the big, orchestrated, semi-cabaret pop of The Love Affair, the early Marmalade and The Casuals.
But the obscure British music scene of the time is not the only source of brilliant pop touched by the spirit of the late Sixties. Then, as for a long time after, there was an American music scene that only occasionally crossed over with British tastes. The ‘bubblegum’ pop sound was one trend that did connect here, but for every Kasenatz and Katz act there were a dozen or more great records that made no impression here.
The Association. The Rascals (except for ‘Groovin”). Two examples of bands who did not invade our airwaves and our charts in a way that their songs deserved.
Friend and Lover were a different prospect. They were a husband and wife folk group, though there’s nothing folky about this single, Jim and Cathy Post. ‘Reach out of the Darkness’ was the pair’s only hit, a US no. 10 in mid-1968, but a song that was adopted by various movements. The protest movement viewed it as anti-Government and Christian groups as being religious in intent.
I don’t know how and where I first heard it, but it caught my ear for the moment, and was one of the few songs to conjure up a mental image instantly. To me it’s a psychedelic sound, yet it was recorded in Nashville, and the musicians include Ray Stevens and Joe South.
The song introduces itself with a buoyant beat, a springy base-line and a fussy, cymbal-heavy drum, a repeating pattern, at the end of the second iteration of which Cathy Post comes in, ringing with great strength and great joy that she thinks it’s so groovy now that people are finally getting together, I think it’s wonderful to know that people are finally getting together.
I mean, how more Sixties can you get? And behind her, I imagine a psychedelic wheel of brightly coloured paints, sliding around and into her whilst before them the silhouette of a dancer gyrates, a go-go dancer, twisting and turning, hips and body swaying, a completely black figure.
And on the second repetition, Jim Post joins his wife, singing the same words, projecting them with every fibre of his soul, this is no cynical attempt to manufacture a song that speaks to the times, this is the genuine thing, the flower power, hippy-dippy naivete shining through, and by god but you feel it with them as the second repetition completes, and there’s a pregnant moment until the music surges and the duo hit full harmonies as they sing out into the void to reach out in the darkness, and you may find a friend.
I listen to it and I wish we could all sound like that again. I wish we had something like that to be openly optimistic about, to say to each other that we are all connected even as we stumble about in the darkness, and that we should reach to each other.
To demonstrate, Jim Post sings a verse, the intensity pitched down. He knew a man that he did not care for, but then one day that man came to his door. They sat and talked about what was on their mind and now that man, he is a friend of mine. And those voices rise again in that plea to reach out in the darkness, and once again Cathy Post carols that it’s so groovy now that people are finally getting together.
Oh my word, this is naive, almost as much as Oliver‘s ‘Good Morning Starshine’, but isn’t it gloriously so, and why did we let the world and ourselves lose that sense of coming together? And that image of the go-go dancer, go-going with relish, alert and aware of the things her body can do, expressing herself without restraint. That might not be a part of any other person’s response to this song, but it is at the heart of mine, wedding it to a time I didn’t experience for myself but still miss immensely. Imagine being there, being there then.