Given that I am not going to start hunting through Robin comics, not even for the sake of nostalgia for the likes of Toby Jugg, Gulliver Guinea-Pig or Christopher Cricket, who were my avid delight sixty years ago, it’s almost mandatory to complete my understanding of Marcus Morris’ little editorial stable by looking at Eagle‘s literal sister-paper, Girl.
Girl was started just over eighteen months after Eagle and with the same intentions in mind: to produce a fine, upstanding, morally clear and at least semi-educational comic that would be exciting and entertaining in setting a clear direction for its readership, but this time to do it for girls.
The comic would last just short of thirteen years, ending in October 1964 by merger into Princess, just as Eagle, half a decade later, would be absorbed into Lion. This is not going to be a comprehensive review of the title, not even as comprehensive as that relating to Swift: the DVD I am operating from has a generous and consistent selection of Annuals, the first eight complete, but when it comes to the actual comic, I only have fifty five issues to look at. And after two issues from the first year, the run leaps to volume 5, offering a smattering of issues for each volume up to and including volume 9, and then a single issue each from volumes 10 and 11: nothing later.
Still, better than nothing, eh? It seems that girls in the Fifties may have been far less concerned with preserving their comics than boys.
At least I have the third issue with which to get a feel for the comic at its beginning. Apart from the title box, red lettering on yellow, being stripped across the top of the page instead of white on a red corner box, Girl was clearly modelled on Eagle: 16 pages, the outermost and innermost sheets in colour on both sides, the rest in black and white. There’s a prose series and a prose serial, the editorial page where expected and the rest is adventure strips and the odd little comic feature.
The cover went to Kitty Hawke and her All-Girl Aircrew, charter pilots. It’s not Dan Dare but it’s the nearest equivalent to that kind of adventure, everything else being much more low-key and ‘feminine’, a classification that would soon be brought inside in black and white: Girl is not going to be quite that much of an equivalent to the established boy’s paper.
Inside, on page 3 there’s Julie & Pat, a school story in which the title characters, with the aid of a boy, are trying to clear the sports mistress who’s been framed for theft, followed by the series over two pages, The Exploits of Candy Maitland, a girl with a flair for solving mysteries. Sticking with the theme, page 6 has The Adventures of Penny Wise, Girl Detective, who looks like the assistant to a trenchcoated, big tough Private Eye, who actually does the solving for him, whilst page 7 sees the colour serial Anne Mullion and the Silver Sabot, set in Cornwall and pitted against a female smuggler, the Vixen.
The centrespread was another mixture. An adaptation of Black Beauty got a vertical quarter-sheet with the remaining space divided horizontally between Jacky – Centre Page Girl – taking you somewhere exciting every week, like the zoo, and John Ryan’s Lettice Leefe, the greenest girl in school, greenest as in newest. In contrast to his other series for Marcus Morris, this time the focus was on the child character up front, instead of the silly and pompous adults: Captain Pugwash, Harris Tweed, Sir Boldasbrass.
Completing the central colour series was Captain Starling, a young girl sailing in search of her missing father, lost in South America, with a crew consisting of a same age boy cousin and her much younger and naughty sister Cherub: one of these things was a serious mistake. Starling faced the editor’s page and was followed by the serial, The Caravan Secret, again spread over two pages, starring Betty, travelling by caravan to Devonshire with her cousin Bill and his Dad Tom, with someone trying to sabotage them.
Page 14, the last in black and white, was split by the real-life Heroes and Heroines, short autobiographies and a hobbies corner feature. Girls Around The World, in this instance Eskimos, was another educational feature, coupled with World of Wonders, whilst the back page also modelled on Eagle, telling the life story of Miriam from the Bible, under the title Daughter of the Nile.
There’s only one other issue so early and that’s no. 25, 16 April 1952, As advertised, Kitty Hawke is off the cover and out of the comic completely, replaced by the much longer running Wendy and Jinx, another schoolgirl pair, who, like Julie and Pat, are trying to saving a popular mistress from leaving. Page 3 has been inherited by Robbie of Red Hall, an untamed orphan girl from Scotland who’s inherited a mansion that unscrupulous adults are trying to trick her into selling, whilst this issue sees a new prose series start. The Lesters Move In is going to be a slice of life series about a family adjusting to a new home in a new town.
Penny Wise is still going on but page 7 is now another Charles Chilton western, about young Indian maid Flying Cloud and her white trader’s son friend, Kit Bell. I’ve caught it at a moment when the white folk, from the Cavalry captain to Kit’s Dad are behaving with racist suspicions to Indians in general and Flying Cloud in particular. Bad white men!
In the centre, Black Beauty’s done, replaced by a Picture Gallery showing fine art, but Jacky and Lettice are still going strong. Captain Starling’s found her father but they’re all captives of the Incas, but the serial is now Curtain Up!, a theatre drama, in its second week. It also seemed to be its last part…
There was another prose story on page 14, a one-off about a skilled girl skiier saving the neck of a headstrong boy who thinks he’s better than he is. World on Wonder was still on page 15 but in the top half now, sitting on Candy & Mr Cube, another cartoon advertisement, plugging sugar cubes, and Marco Polo, whilst Miriam still had the back page, her artist now credited as John Worsley, of PC49 fame.
These two are just fascinating snippets, on which I can’t really comment, not on single week’s continuity. I’d love to know more, especially Wendy and Jinx and Flying Cloud, which seem to have the most potential. As for the stories and serials, these are well written, straightforward but given some thought, and without condescension to the audience. But that’s it for almost four years, the next available issue being volume 5 no. 5, 1 February 1956. It’s like a second beginning.
The first thing to notice is that the title box is now red-backed, top left corner (though not as deep), and the paper is described as Companion to Eagle, Swift and Robin. What’s more, Wendy and Jinx are still up front, the story The Million Pound Mystery featuring a shy new girl the pair have befriended who’s been accused of thieving: the girls don’t believe it and are out to find the true culprit (one obvious candidate presents herself immediately). To my delight, the comic now displays full credits, written by Stephen James, drawn by Roy Bailey and Philip Townsend.
George Beardmore and Roy Newby take credit for the ongoing Robbie of Red Hall, currently hunting sunken silver in the Caribbean. The Admiral’s Locket, a serial in its fifth part, set in the ever-attractive Napoleonic Era, stars Fiona Gray, getting involved in a tangled situation whilst visiting her Uncle Joseph in Naples (story by Frank Styles, illustrations by Eric Winter). Well-written and authentic, it was definitely up to the standard of the Hulton prose stories.
A more recent feature on page 5 was Susan of St Brides, a girl who wanted to become a nurse, written by Ruth Adam, the first female creator acknowledged in this girl’s comic, and drawn by Peter Kay, but not that one. Colour resumes on page 7 with Vicky, in Vengeance of the Incas. Vicky, a redhead, is in Peru with her father, Professor Carter, searching for a friend gone missing seeking an Inca city. This is written by Betty Dowling and drawn by Dudley Pout: it looked good.
Lettice Leefe retained her slot in the centrespread, shared with Real Life Stories, this one Queen Anne, and the Picture Gallery, showing a Winter Olympics figure skater, whilst on page 10 George Beardmore’s second series, this drawn by Chris Garvey, was Belle of the Ballet, subject not requiring description.
There’s a second serial on page 12, The Circus Quest, in it’s sixth part. Written by Ida Melbourne with illustrations by T S La Fontaine, it stars Circus owner’s daughter Gloria Sandford Gloria has persuaded her father to take on French boy trapeze artist Pierre, whose searching for his lost parents, also trapeze artists. But there’s something sinister in the background… Again, it’s written well enough, apart from a multiplicity of ‘Ze’s and ‘Zere’s from the French characters. Nothing immediately exceptional, but again it’s confident, clear, uncondescending writing of the kind in which the two older Hulton titles specialised.
Adventurers Corner, a photographic half-page, separated this from the third prose item (demonstrating the belief that I mentioned in respect of Swift, that girls grew out of pictures faster than boys). It’s a one-off short story, Adventure at Little Moose Lake, about a Canadian girl and her friend getting snowbound whilst rescuing a half-tame bear, who rescues them.
The final two colour pages offered a competition to win a year’s supply of Cadbury chocolate (oh yes, ten lucky girls were in for a lifetime of fatness and spots…) and the back page true life story of Adelaide, widow of the poisoned King of Lombardy, trying to escape imprisonment by his usurper. At first sight it was immediately questionable about why her: who was she, what had she done? Wikipedia established that she was a Saint, who had gone on to become Holy Roman Empress, so there.
I have the advantage of the following issue, though it doesn’t add much except detail to the ongoing stories, of which only Robbie’s appears to be close to the end, though Fiona Gray’s cliffhanger was finding her father again, suggesting her story might not have long to go either. The next available issue is no. 12. Wendy and Jinx’s story is still ongoing, but Robbie had disappeared, the new story starting this issue being The Pilgrim Sisters. Nothing to do with Puritans and America, the three mistresses Pilgrim live in London 1665, the year of the Great Plague, though at the moment they’re going to be sheltering a runaway 13 year old Apprentice with the name of Tom Lonely. This is another Beardmore series, drawn by Jack Hardee.
Fiona Gray’s serial is done with and we’re now on part 4 of The Wraith of the Moors (James Stagg/Eric Winter), set in 1815 and starring Helen Wyndyatt, living with her grandfather on Dartmoor, facing up to evil doings aimed at her grandfather, and aided by a mysterious black-masked rider calling himself The Wraith of Wistman’s Wood. It really is irritating to be only seeing snatches of these stories. Circus Quest was also over, to be replaced by Joy’s Ski School (Don James/Charles Payne).
Otherwise, every series is still telling the stories present in no. 5, and once again that’s all there is of this phase, as the DVD leaps to no. 42 and 17 October, but at least there’s a decent run, with nine of the next twelve issues.
It’s like having a third beginning, but here we go again. Wendy and Jinx are only a couple of episodes into a new story, having had an adventure in France in between, facing the disaster of the pretty blonde Jinx having to leave the school at the end of the term because her father’s lost all his money and can no longer afford the fees. The Pilgrim Sisters have fled London because of the Plague, Susan of St Brides has been renamed Susan Marsh but is otherwise unchanged, Vicky is now on an adventure in Africa, and Lettice Leefe is now Lettice Tells You How, with the customary disastrous results. But she’s now paired with Your Pets, gorgeously drawn by George Bowe, as in all his features in Eagle. Amusingly, the writer on this is none other than Barbara Woodhouse, of television fame twenty five years later.
Belle, now drawn by Stanley Houghton, is onto the sequel to her earlier story but has just gone down with tonsillitis, four days before a vital dancing competition. Page 15 is no longer credited to advertisers but now features two domestic halfpagers, readying the readers for their futures as housewives, Mother tells You How (to make…) and Cookery Corner and the back page is now Persia’s Lady Mary, about 19th century missionary Mary Bird (Chad Varah and Gerald Haylock).
I’ve left out the prose stories so far. Whether serials or series, these are completed on a much faster timetable than the strips, but then they involve much more story in each episode. Currently, and in order of appearance, these are Leave it to Linda (Bob King), about a girl working at a pet hospital, complete in every week, the full serial The Secret of Ravenscoft Hall (J.A. Storrie/Eric Winter) in part 3, set in 1852 and starring Wilma Raymond as a girl hired to be a governess but who is facing disturbing scenes, and the all-female one-off Mystery at Four Corners, by Frances Cowan and Eve Grandfield. It’s nice to think that I can kick back and enjoy the continuity for a bit.
That said, I do have to raise a point of criticism about Wendy and Jinks and that relates to another girl at the Manor School, an Indian girl named Nasrullah. She seems to be intelligent, well-liked, on the end of no prejudice but, and this is once again the Fifties for you, she is known by her nickname, which is ‘Dusky’.
And the next Leave it to Linda story was about an incident that looked to get Linda into trouble but which was the responsibility of a more senior staff member, but it left out her motive for doing something strange, which left the episode feeling incomplete. Perhaps I need to read more of the series to get a clearer picture?
No. 44 was officially Girl‘s fifth birthday and a proudly confident comic it was by then. Very different from the flagship title, produced with different aims and attitudes and very much of its era, but I have no difficulty even on such limited exposure in seeing it as superior to all its rivals.
After a jump of two missing issues, The Pilgrim Sisters return to London where the Plague has faded, only to be in time for the Great Fire… Sadly, I missed the end of the Ravenscroft Hall serial, coming back to part two of Two pairs of Skates, about two champion ice skating sisters, this co-written by Peter Ling of The Three J’s fame, with Sheilah Ward.
Belle of the Ballet, whose art seems to be alternating week by week between Dudley Pout and Gerald Haylock, with no apparent change in style, moved on to a new story. There’s something very familiar about the character, as if I’d seen her before, a skinny, flat girl with blonde hair pulled severely back into a pony-tail. How I could have seen the series I don’t know: I suspect one or other of the artists must have drawn something, illustrations possibly, for an Eagle annual I’ve had for many years.
The back page story, about Mary Bird, was giving me concern. The lady is both Christian missionary and doctor in Muslim Persia, and is running up against hostile attitudes. There’s a definite air of what we’d now call muslimophobia, yet at the same time, though I’m no expert, the clash of religions does not feel exaggerated. It’s disturbing reading and would do nothing to encourage tolerance of a non-Christian religion, yet it chimes with aspects of Muslim belief, especially in their own holy superiority, of which I am aware. Difficult stuff.
Sadly, this concentrated bunch of issues ends with Volume 6 no. 1, after which we jump rapidly through the rest of the Volume: an ideal if unwelcome point at which to end part 1. It’s frustrating to have to leave so many serials unfinished just as I’m getting a flavour of Girl as a weekly comic. Particularly Susan Marsh’s, with a very important cliffhanger…