Monday, 10 May 2010

Another Blast from the Past - Elen Caldecott

Wednesday afternoons, throughout the eighties, meant only one thing to me: Comic Day. My Gran would buy the current issue of my latest addiction and a Wispa. I would devour the comic; she, the Wispa. It was one of the happiest hours of the week (she used to slice the Wispa like a loaf of bread to make it last longer).

The object of my addiction changed with age, but the love of illustrated stories remained the same. I began with Twinkle (a name which sounds unfortunately euphemistic to my ears now); I moved through Bunty, Mandy and Jackie. Finally, with Just Seventeen, I gave it all up for proper books and Wednesdays were sadder for it.

I recently got hold of the Mandy annual for the year I was born (1976, just in case you all want to do some quick maths). A lot has changed. It was like opening a writing time-capsule. Right from the very first page, I realised my own past really has become a different country.

Take a look at this beach scene in the endpapers. All the kids are white. It looks like the BNP have taken up art direction. Even my little corner of North Wales wasn’t the monoculture depicted here. The only black character in the whole annual is a visiting American Jazz singer, playing her gran’pappy’s lucky piano. In fact, even when you’d expect to see a non-white character - for example, Valda, the Asian demi-god - you don’t. Valda (the one leaping the ravine in the picture below) lives in the Himalayas, but she looks more like she lives in Halifax.

There’s also a slightly disquieting theme which occurs again and again in different stories – girls taking responsibility for others: sick animals, small children, waifs, strays and incompetent boys. This is best illustrated by the Victorian girl with a broken leg who’s first concern is keeping the littlies out of the poorhouse. You’ve got a broken leg, woman, and it’s 1860, worry about sepsis, not siblings!

There were a few more gun-ho characters that tempered this girliness. I particularly enjoyed Fay Fearless ploughing through the bad-guys with her long-jump skills.

And Fay wasn’t the only thing I quite admired. Take another look at that beach. There’s not an adult in sight, no parents, no teachers, no lifeguards. And those kids are building a fire that’s almost as big as they are. Personally, I’m also a fan of the dog roaming around on the sand, which they aren’t allowed to do round these parts in summer.
Now, I’m sure that without sunhats and suncream those children on the beach will spend the night blistered and crying; but there is something quite appealing about the freedom that represents.

So, the class of ’76 was blind to the other cultures that made up Britain at the time; but it’s (white) girls were mostly caring and occasionally powerful. And none, not one, of the pages was a splash of pink and glitter, which I was very glad to see.

I wonder what I’d notice if I bought a magazine for girls now? I see a Wednesday afternoon project coming on.

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10 comments:

Charmaine Clancy said...

I love your retro find!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

I was a Bunty girl and still have an ancient cigar box filled with the cut out dresses from the back page.

Charlie Butler said...

Giant leaps seem to figure large in these stories, Elen! Could it be a feminist twist on Neil Armstrong?

Elen Caldecott said...

Blimey - I didn't even notice that, Charlie! Maybe the illustrator just liked drawing legs?
Lynda - I loved Bunty too; was the Four Marys one of Bunty's? I remember I liked it but can't remember what it was about!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Four Marys was indeed Bunty. Four friends called Mary at St Elmo's School for Girls.Mary Simpson being the plucky working class one!

francesann said...

I'm the generation before Bunty - my comics were Girl and School Friend. They came on Wednesday mornings with the paper delivery - loved them. Girl was very worthy, but a good read. School Friend rather more downmarket. The Adventures of the Silent Three were on the cover - they went round in hoods (early hoodies) righting wrongs. That story contained my favourite line from a comic 'Secret societies are banned at St Kit's!' I bought a modern girls' comic the other day- no stories, just celeb gossip and fashion - all for 10-12 year olds.

Katherine Langrish said...

Good heavens, I remember the Four Marys. And the Silent Three! Don't you just love all that stuff though - the flashing light on the headland, the teacher who's really a spy, the half-sawn-through hockeystick?

Sue Barrow said...

Any more of this and I'll be rooting through my loft for my Mallory Towers and Chalet School stories!

Penny Dolan said...

Interesting posts and observations. I was a child Not Allowed comics - not totally sure why and one didn't ask - although somewhere in there were the ideas that comics were a) "common" and b) not for children who could read. (My dyslexic brother was allowed comics.) Needless to say, I adored the occasional piles of comics that came to me from my older girl cousin, in which I glimpsed those various heroines - such as the Four Mary's - in disjointed fragments of adventures. As these comics came from a relatives home. they could not be "dirty" like the piles of comics I once carried home from the Brownies jumble sale. But the fear of catching some infection was even raised about library books at one time,I believe.

Leila said...

Yes, fascinating to compare it with a comic published today! Though comics seem to be dying out, sadly. I don't really know why.