Triumph – 17th February 1940

Well, I looked at a Japanese story paper from World War 2, last time. So now let’s look at a British one!

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This may be from World War 2, but it’s not the World War 2 we recognise today. The Russians were the enemy, we were cheering on the Finns, nothing much was happening in France, Winston Churchill was only First Lord of the Admiralty and many an armchair aviation expert would have predicted glorious things for the Boulton-Paul Defiant (the what? – exactly!).

There was also not yet a severe paper ration (if any), so a half tabloid, 20-page story paper with a two-colour cover could still be a going concern. Triumph was a typical post-WW1 Amalgamated Press story paper. It was in an imitation of the “Thomson style”, with several short stories in each issue. Unlike the Thomson story papers, where every story was 2½ pages long each week, and they were all “serials” (albiet ones where every part could be read on it’s own – no cliffhangers!), Triumph mixed things up a bit. While one story is only three pages, another is nearly six. The editor says that early issues had a ten-page complete story, too. Some of the Triumph stories are “singles”, while others are true serials, with cliffhanger endings.

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The Magazine data file says Triumph had 28 pages, which was probably the length when it launched (in October, 1924). This issue is number 800, we can presume the 20-page length is down to the war. Apparently it ended on issue 814, in May 1940. Another casualty of “Graveyard week”, when the invasion of Norway caused a sudden paper shortage in Britain. During it’s life, Triumph incorporated the tabloid-sized Boys’ Friend (by then a shadow of it’s pre-WW1 greatness) and The Gem (in January 1940). Triumph was itself incorporated into The Champion, one of very few Amalgamated Press story papers to keep running through the war (the other one of note being Girls’ Crystal).

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Back to the issue in hand. The first story is a short, complete detective story about Peter Farrell who, amazingly enough, does NOT have a cockney boy assistant and a clever dog! Instead he has a valet, with whom he has an officer-and-batman type relationship. The story is only 3 pages long, so rushes along at a pretty hectic pace. Peter is investigating a fake coin scam (and has a bunch of ‘dud’ coins on him), when a reporter friend stumbles in and says he rather conveniently witnessed a murder. Peter investigates, hoping to bluff his way into the flat of a master criminal, by pretending to be there to fit a lamp. The criminal recognises him, but he escapes, and chases them across London, as they try to get the body away for disposal.

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The cars crash, and Peter is recaptured. The criminals brazenly hire a cab to transport the body (which is crammed into a large trunk). Peter slips the cab driver the dud coins, and allows himself to be taken in to another flat for torture. The cab driver is soon back, with a couple of bobbies, and the crooks are soon rounded up. From the very beginning of the war, Britain was “blacked out”, and much is made of the difficulty of driving under these conditions. At least the streets were free of craters and rubble!

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Stories about World War 1 remained surprisingly rare in British story papers, after 1918 (the serial stories running over the armistice needed some time to end, of course!). But in the 1930’s they exploded – though most of them were about the air war, an arena where the gallantry and challenges to single combat of medieval times had been briefly revived. Major “Mad” Carew of 333 Squadron is typical of the ace pilot characters in these stories. He knows nothing of danger, frequently takes on tremendous odds single-handed (or with the one observer blazing away in the back seat), brings down a crack German ace, then has the laugh over his Prussian arrogance, every week, etc etc.

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In this story the Major (an Army rank, as it was still the RFC, in those days), who exclaims “purple thunder!” every third time he speaks, shoots down a German plane which is pumping out some sort of gas over the front lines, then halts a massed German attack (with submachine guns) against a trench defended only by corpses. Despite the machine guns having shot his wings to ribbons, he then takes on fully seven crack German aces, led by the feared Von Haumann, who he forces down at his own base, and captures. And that’s only half the story! Though the Baldy’s Angels stories from The Boys’ Friend Library were totally ridiculous, I actually quite like this one.

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Speaking of World War 1, here’s an advertising leaflet which has survived. It’s for a four-volume set of books called “I Was There”, with hundreds of recollections and thousands of photographs. I bet publication of that had to be stopped in short order! From the one sample image, it appears I Was There is written in a similar breezy style to The Wide World Magazine, which I really must cover some day (though it’s allegedly “factual”). I’d like to hunt this set down, but I bet the prices are silly money. Any publishers out there fancy a slipcased reprint? …Actually, a modern slipcased hardback edition would probably be even sillier money.

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Anyway, hidden under the advert, we have… St Jim’s! This was the lead story in nearly every issue of The Gem (except for about 7-8 issues when it first started), and during the roaring twenties was second only to The Magnet in the hearts of British boyhood. The St Jim’s stories here are just “making up the numbers”, after The Gem was amalgamated with Triumph. Had paper rationing not come in, I don’t doubt that they would have quietly slipped away.

Anyway, the St Jim’s stories used to take up most of the length of a Gem issue, and were arranged into series, so the readers effectively got a full-length novel every 6-8 weeks. These stories are a mere shadow of that, probably about three pages in length (though spread over four), and complete in one issue. This particular one is about the Indian boy, Koumi Rao, slipping into a “strange mood”, which his friend Figgins tries to snap him out of. Koumi is wondering if his province (of which he is the “Jam”, presumably a contraction of some Indian royal title, though I can’t find any obvious root word) could be freed from British rule with Russian help. Figgins assures him that the Russians “can’t fight” and are “getting it in the neck a bit too thick” from the Finns to be any danger to British India. Though, come to think of it, it probably was a worry at the time. Back-and-forth proxy wars around central Asia and Afghanistan in the 19th century were all about keeping Russia out of India, so Britain could rule it instead.

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Anyway, after reminding “Jammy” that his state has not suffered any famines, or attacks by other Indian states, since it came under British rule, Figgins forces his friend to join him in the school’s “hare and hounds” chase. This was also known as a “paperchase”, and involved the fast “hares” rushing off over the countryside, throwing out a trail of pieces of torn paper from a big bag. The rest of the boys would follow them after a certain time had elapsed, and would try to catch the “hares” before they got back to the school (with, presumably, “referees” posted in the vicinity, to make sure nobody just hid in a bush and ‘ambushed’ the hares at the last minute). Naturally, such a huge waste of paper had to be stopped when rationing came in, to say nothing of the mess it made!

Koumi Rao manages to lose Figgins during the race, and sneaks back to school. After the race, he creeps out again, but the other boys race off on bikes and lay in wait for him. He turns out to be meeting with a German, who is trying to turn him. He refuses, and the other boys choose this moment to barge in and detain the German (by getting Fatty Wynn to sit on him). Koumi is vindicated, having proven that he’s not a traitor within earshot.

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The last of the text stories is The Football Cracksman, which is about a team called Milton Rovers (I very much doubt the “Milton” in question is the village just outside Cambridge!), and a supervillain called Black Mask. The local detective has got it into his head that Steve Bradshaw, star player of the Rovers, is Black Mask, but he never has any proof, and always ends up looking ridiculous. Which is a shame, because Steve Bradshaw is Black Mask! Naturally, he’s not really a villain, he’s just pretending to be one in order to take on a master criminal known only as The Boss. This story is a true serial, with cliffhanger endings, in the last part, it appears The Boss got one of his men to steal the Rovers gate-money, while pretending to be Black Mask. In this instalment, Steve gets to know where they money is hidden, but it’s an obvious trap. He lets the police inspector get to the money first and, as the criminals all attack him, snatches the bag and disappears.

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The team manager is surprised to find a bag, containing all the stolen money, on his doorstep one morning. The same day, the Rovers are off for an away game – to a town where Black Mask has business with somebody’s safe! The detective is also there (told he looks like he has “lost a fight with a regiment of Russians, or a couple of Finns”) – he has proof that the phone call which told him where the money was hidden was made from Steve Bradshaw’s house!

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Triumph also contains that rare beast for British comics of the time (though they were on the increase, especially in Knock-Out and Pilot), an adventure comic! This one is called Derickson Dene, and is about an inventor who built a rocket and flew to another planet. He has got involved in some war there, and is secretly building another rocket, with the help of some “beggars”, members of one nation who are prisoners of another. Just as he finishes his rocket, the secret police find him, and he has to blast off. He makes it back to the capital city of the nation he is helping, and is thanked by the king.

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After that, he builds a radio capable of receiving transmissions from Earth, and hears that war has been declared! He hastens to his big interplanetary rocket, and blasts off for home. But somebody called The Vampire stows away on it. No doubt his amazing inventions will go on to help fight he Nazis, whom The Vampire will join. But he’d better be quick, there’s only 14 more weeks! Champion had no comic strips, so this story may have either had a rushed ending, or just vanished entirely.

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There’s not much else to Triumph, just this little section for sending in jokes, to win “useful prizes”. What are these “useful prizes”? Funny card games! No doubt paper rationing put an end to those, too! Though then again, maybe thick, crude card could be more easily made by fourth-time-round recycled pulp than thin, white paper.

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There’s actually something to be said for using crude stereotypes to quickly and easily teach young children about the world.

Apart from that, there’s a few adverts on the back cover, where “Mad” Carew is concluded. There’s also an advert for a new serial, Sandu of the Himalayas. It’s about a boy doing work for his tribe in the fight against another – not sure if it was going to be cast as a “proxy war” between British and German-backed tribes, or set in the past. Probably the former, though.

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The Feathers Annual – 1946

The weirdness of British comics in the late 40’s is well-known, with hundreds of small publishers popping up and printing a few short-run, one-off comics before vanishing back into oblivion (or just changing their name in order to secure another paper ration). Most of the softback comics they produced are incredibly rare, if not entirely extinct, today. But a few companies also bought out hardback annuals, which have stood the test of time a little better. One of the best known is the Wonder Book of Comics from circa 1949.

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This had a lesser-known cousin, also published by Odhams, called The Ace Book of Comics, which appears to be from the early 50’s. A time by which paper rationing had been relaxed, but had not entirely disappeared.

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These “bit of everything” annuals, with colourful, simple and poetic strips alongside adventure text stories about the likes of Biggles served a useful purpose in their time. The baby boom generation were being born and learning to read, but their parents didn’t have much money and the country had few resources. No doubt such books also encouraged younger children to learn to read, when they saw their older siblings (or even parents!) enjoying the more sophisticated stories.

One of the earliest of these annuals was published just after the war. The Feathers Annual 1946 (possibly for Christmas 1946, rather than 1945 but “dated ahead”).

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The back cover is the same

The book is extremely thin, and quite floppy for a supposed ‘hardback’. Though it has more pages, it is only about as thick as an issue of Spaceship Away or Strip Magazine, and is dwarfed by a typical traditional British annual

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 Against the Victor Annual 1992

As you can see from the side-view picture, the pages are all different colours. This is possibly a design choice, though more likely it is because the publishers had a hard time finding enough paper to produce a 96-page annual, so had to take whatever they could get! Still, the different colours and textures (a few pages in the middle are glossy, whilst most of the others aren’t) do help to give the stories aimed at different audiences a different feel. The book begins with a fairytale-style coloured plate, and the contents page hints at the variety of content within.

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The first story is of the Boys’ Own kind, it features the two sons of a scientist, who is planning to explore a deep, mysterious well that has been found in a Docklands warehouse. Ominously, the room where the cover of the well had been hidden was bricked up, and eighteenth-century coins found on the floor suggest it’s previous occupant left in a great hurry! Anyway, when they explore they find a huge, man-eating monster living down there. Luckily, as it lives in the dark it’s blind, so they can escape it by moving quietly. Still you do wonder how these creatures survive for centuries without anything to eat.

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Well unless there’s some tunnel that fish swim down to keep it going.

The next story is a boarding school caper in the style of The Magnet. A boy called Spadger receives a package of ants from his aunt, who lives in Africa. The ants turn out to eat wood, escape and begin to demolish the stage in the school hall, just as the fiery speech of one of the governors reaches it’s crescendo.

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Abrupt colour change!

The next item is a short comedy play set on a desert island, all in verse. The stage directions suggest that “hornpipes or grotesque savage dances” may be added to make it longer!

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Continuing the theme of party suggestions, several pages are filled with ideas for party games that can be played. Most of them only requring a few ‘props’, for instance some stones. It was an era when children had to make thier own fun, and materials of all kinds were still in short supply.

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The next section of the book is a series of glossy, colourful pages with large writing – aimed at younger readers. It’s almost like another book in itself, complete with a ‘title page’

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The stories in this section all revolve around imps, goblins, fairies and the like. It is followed by one of the longest stories, this time a school story aimed at older girls, and written on pink paper. The new girl at a posh school is acting suspicously, and is spotted visiting a fortune teller in the nearby town – a place normally well out of bounds. It’s up to the head prefect to work out what is going on, without getting the likeable new girl into too much trouble, which is difficult with the head nosing around!

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With the back cover of the “book within a book”

Also on the pink paper is another fairy tale, this one aimed at slightly older reader than the previous set. It concerns various inhabitants of Toadstool Town going on a mission to the sun, which has mysteriously gone out. It turns out the sun is another planet, with a gigantic fire covering about a third of the surface, which always faces the earth. Where the wood comes from is another matter! Anyway the fire is re-lit, but unfortunately the intrepid astronauts left their rocket on it, and can’t get home!

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Which begs the question, who came back to tell the tale?

The final section, on blue paper, is a series of puzzles of various difficulties, something to keep the children quiet until Dick Barton comes on the wireless.

So that was another look at the “something for everyone” books of the 40’s. A time when children of all ages would ravenously devour comics of any kind, and adults still bought regular, story-filled publications such as The Sexton Blake Library, as well as those magazines filled with newspaper-style gag cartoons. How times change, eh?

Complete scans of rare 1940’s British comics

The late forties was an interesting time for British comics. Much of the “old guard” had been swept away by Graveyard week in 1940 and the American “slicks” had become incredibly popular among kids lucky enough to get some from a friendly G.I. Any wheeler-dealing spiv who could get his hands on a load of paper would hastily set up a “publishing company” and produce a comic, it was the one thing guaranteed to sell out (sadly that’s far from the case today). The small print runs, irregular schedules and lack of respect for comics in Britain have all contributed to making these comics incredibly rare today.

But they are also one of the most important parts of British comic history, marking the point where adventure strips really started to take over from text stories. The process had been going on since Rob The Rover in 1920, but really got underway at the end of the war. Even DC Thomson began to put simple strips on the covers of Adventure. Many artists who would go on to become legends of the fifties and sixties got their first ‘break’ in these small comics too.

Because of the huge array of small, obscure companies producing these things, tracing copyrights is virtually impossible. This prevents them from being reprinted in large numbers. They were also all different sizes, making a comprehensive book a difficult thing to create.

BUT then the internet was invented. Working on the assumption that the owners of the copyright on these two comics either:

– No longer care about the comics

– No longer remember the comics

– Are no longer alive

I’m just going to post up full scans anyway. It’s possible that these are the only copies in the world, not even the British Library has a full collection of these short-runs and one-shots. I think it’s far more important to make these stories available for people around the world to read and remember, that to “protect the livelihood” of some anonymous person who is probably long dead.

The Tornado in OH BOY! No. 5  – 1948/9 – Paget Publications

The main story in this comic is about The Tornado, a superhero who in his day-to-day life is journalist Steve Storm. He becomes The Tornado by “exerting his mighty will”. The story manages to pack in three fights against giant creatures in only 4 pages! Oh, it’s also drawn by somebody called Mick Anglo.

The second story is called Post Atom, and is about a man called Jungle Jim, who is a super-strong adventurer. It’s actually the first part of a serial, so if you own the other part and despaired of ever reading the first, this is your lucky day, eh?

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Secret Service Series No. 4 – The Forgers (A Headline Halliday Story) – 1948 – Hotspur Publishing

This comic is slightly smaller, and is also printed in blue and red (maybe there was an abundance of those inks around?). The seller on Ebay said that this was really number 1, though I have since found a website selling Secret Service Series No. 3. In addition the comics.org “grand comics database” lists three issues of this. Also the lead story begins with the heroes talking about a case they had solved before. The whole comic is drawn by Bob Wilkin, who might very well have been the writer and publisher too!

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As you can see, both comics were just 8 very thin pages. The use of red and blue an attempt to look more “colourful” and thus “American” than the black and white fare from DC Thomson and Amalgamated Press. Though full colour comics would not become the norm in Britain until the nineties. As an aside, here’s a size comparison against comics available in Britain today.

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A Wartime Christmas

1940! Four digits written in fire on the pages of our history, Britain entered that year apprehensive about the “phoney war” and left it wondering if she’d ever see 1942. Large parts of our cities were rubble and the families of many a soldier and airman spent Christmas dinner with an empty place at the table.

However, in the middle of 1939 when these annuals were being prepared, it was still just a number. And for the children reading their new books on this day 72 years ago they were a welcome look back into times of peace.

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 Though they’re both in remarkably good nick I actually got them months apart from different places!

One annual for boys and one for girls. Both from the same publisher and with a remarkably similar style of contents. They’re also very good value with over 200 pages each (paper rationing had not yet begun). Of course they’re full of text stories, reading two of those probably takes as long as reading the whole 2012 Beano Annual! And from the sound of things the Beano and Dandy annuals this year are actually thicker than the average size, which is 64 pages. 64 pages! That’s a jumped-up monthly magazine! Something ought not to have the right to call itself an annual with anything under 100.

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Tell your friends… NOW!

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The girls get a double-page contents with pretty illustrations.

Both annuals also have an introduction from the editor of their respective weekly comic (a thing unheard of today, though ask me again if Commando decide to do annuals again. Today “The Editor” would at least use their real name mind you) and extra illustrations around everything. Then we’re on to the stories, with block illustrations in line or grey washes. These washes look magnificent.

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Not always of the most dramatic incidents in a story, mind you.

The Champion was primarily a sport-themed comic that ran from 1922 to 1959. It might be considered a forerunner of the sport-themed comic (with strips, not completely text!) Tiger , into which it was eventually incorporated. As well as sport it also included a few stories of war or adventure (most famously Rockfist Rogan, a fighter pilot who was also a boxer!). This particular story starts off the annual with a mystery about a “monster” seen in an estuary near a navy base. Why yes you have guessed that it’s a submarine! The opening illustration to the story even features some very German-looking men being punched. The story does not mention the nationality of the spies operating the sub, mind you.

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The Schoolgirls’ Own Annual, in the tradition of British Annuals, was named after a publication that was already defunct. The Schoolgirls’ Own ran from 1921 to 1936, featuring stories of Morcove School. This was a girl’s school close to St Jim’s from The Gem, as Cliff House (home of Bessie Bunter) was close to Greyfriars (home of Billy Bunter). Comic cross-pollination is older than you think!

This opening story is also set in a public school (though not Morcove… in fact I don’t think any of the stories in this annual are!) and features a tangled mystery involving a young new girl, a bully, a wrongfully-expelled heroine and mysterious thefts. It’s a real page-turner though the solution to the mystery (and exposure of the real thief) is very cliche’d.

Other styles of story include tales of dancers and amateur theatricals…

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Clickety-click

Both annuals cram in plenty of school sports…

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You could just say “The Summer Game” and “The Winter Game” back then!

In the Schoolgirls’ Own we get an amusing comedy-of-errors story with plenty of characters all misunderstanding one another (an actress disguised as a schoolgirl fails to realise she’s insulting the headmistress of the school, for instance!).

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The Champion, in it’s run, produced two detectives in the mould of Sexton Blake. In the beginning there was Panther Grayle (an article in the 1925 Champion Annual states he has very nearly acheived the same level of fame as Blake… among the staff of The Champion maybe!) and later on there was Colwyn Dane, assisted by cockney lad Slick Chester. This story for 1940 appears to be yer usual Scooby Doo-style tale of a fake ghost intended to scare people away from a treasure (I haven’t completely read either book yet!). Colwyn Dane continued in Champion Annuals into the 1950’s, the paper became even more sport-oriented after the war, and the stories reflected that – he would go undercover in a county cricket team and so on.

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This reminds me of the style of one of the earlier Commando artists…

Finally mention should be made of a war story featuring air raids from the end of the Champion Annual. Something for the boy hiding in the family shelter to think over as the Blitz began, perhaps…

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Now here’s the sort of scene that’s supposed to be in the illustrations!

Both annuals also feature articles. Most of the articles are also loosely written in the form of stories (what would have been called “chatty” in the 20’s and early 30’s)  that contain advice. In The Champion we have the rules and terminology of Baseball, supposedly introduced to an English public school by an American named Cornelius T Pepperjohn. While Americans probably usually assume Cricket is “the British version” of Baseball, in fact Rounders is a lot closer. However from what I remember of Rounders at primary school it’s not as “organised”, has more “bases” and different rules. Though that might have just been my primary school!

I do seem to remember playing a lot of Baseball at secondary school, mind you. Of course we didn’t have a proper field for it, they never even bothered to paint a diamond (there was easily enough room for one though, that school’s field was vast). I think it was just an excuse for our PE teacher to shout “Strike 2… he could be in trouble!” in a ridiculous American accent.

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Also our school’s “catcher’s fence” was “my face” usually.

Of course in those days every boy knew all about Football, so a ‘story article’ about that concentrates more on tactics, organising training and the importance of selecting team members based on ability, not friendship!

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How many schools really appointed an ex-international as their coach? Even in those days of capped salaries?

Meanwhile on the girl’s side there’s an article about what to do when invited to a dance. The girl in question gets a fashionable dress… by altering one she already has with new bits of material. She can’t afford a fashionable handbag either, so creates a matching one for her dress from scratch, using a handkerchief and ribbon! The only new thing she buys is tights… could you imagine a girl’s annual suggesting altering and making things yourself these days? And remember this article was written before rationing!

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“I might go and work in Singapore dontcha know. I’ll be well away from this Hitler business out there…”

There’s also more conventional articles with short sections containing useful information. For the girls there’s suggestions for hobbies and crafts… including plenty more making of your own clothes.

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Everybody collected stamps back then. Everybody. It’s amazing there was enough left for posting letters.

And for the boys, advice for doing odd jobs around the house. The very idea of a book aimed at children these days talking about replacing fuses and fighting minor house fires! They’d never print that sort of thing today… and that means that we’ve lost something, quite frankly.

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 “Most people fly into a panic and forget the number for the fire brigade” in my admittedly limited experience.

Interestingly there’s also an article about Speedway, from 1939! I was under the impression it didn’t arrive in Britain until the late 40’s, having originated in Australia. In fact the editorial in issue 4 of my Red, White & Blue said as much… oh well, lucky it’s going to be re-launched!

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2 wheels, no brakes, aeroplane fuel. What could go wrong?

And finally, the back covers, both containing adverts for the weekly publications that the annuals are associated with… in the customary style!

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Who cares about actual speed, bikes like that look faster than modern ones!

Warne’s Pleasure Book for Girls 1940

This is one of my favourite annuals. I got it ages ago, can’t even remember where from, and read a couple of the stories in it. Then a while back I thought that I had far too many annuals from the 20’s to 50’s that I’d only half read, so decided to carry on with this one. And then I could barely put it down!

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Had to be careful though, it’s in very tatty condition!

The copyright is dated 1940, but it was probably released in late 1939, intended to be bought as a Christmas present. So despite being “dated” to the year associated with the Battle of Britain and the Blitz the stories were likely all finished and arriving in the editor’s office before war was declared. It has about 200 un-numbered pages on thick cardboard-like paper, which would have been difficult to justify as the shortage of paper became more acute.

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The “one coloured plate” is missing from this copy!

Usually in these sorts of books the stories would all be of about the same length, but here they are varied. Some are only 3-4 pages long but others go on for 10 or more. There’s quite a lot of illustrations too, though some of the shortest stories don’t have any.

My Lady Mercury – Elizabeth Rogers

Jane-Anne Morrison wants to get a job at Hanton Morning Post as a journalist. Her qualification for the job being that she owns and flies her own aeroplane! Her rich father has died and left much less money than she expected. She’d be sensible to sell the house and plane and settle down in an office, but that doesn’t suit her!

She doesn’t make much of a good impression on her ogre of a manager to begin with. For a start she doesn’t have a camera! However she procures one from another reporter who is escaping to the colonies, and is soon sent off to cover her first assignment – a stricken ship that’s stuck on a rocky shore and being pounded to pieces. As she circles over it she can see that the rescuers on shore are unable to get a line to the ship and rescue the stranded sailors. She quickly lands and offers to fly over and drop the line for them.

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Planes could do that sort of thing then

The line-drop is successful and the sailors are saved. She duly writes up an account of the wreck and submits it, however her manager is angry. She didn’t put anything in about the brave pilot who dropped a rope and rescued the crew! She grudgingly admits exactly who that pilot was… and the job is secure!

The Servant of Kali – May Wynne

Myrtle has travelled out to India to join her cousin Auriel Manton. Superstitous villagers nearby believe that an old woman who lives on her own is a were tiger who carries away children to devour. If they do murder the woman then the British governor of the district will probably exact a harsh punishment, which will result in a violent uprising.

The old woman’s son then shows up, saying that the villagers want to sacrifice the old woman in the name of Kali (the goddess of death and rebirth) to stave off the attentions of Devi (apparently the god of Cholera… not sure if that’s really believed in India!) . However he then says that Myrtle looks just like Kali, and with a little make up and the aid of a secret passage which he has discovered in a nearby ruined temple (beleived to be haunted) his mother could be saved.

As the sacrificial ceremony rises to fever pitch the villagers are surprised to see Kali herself emerge from the forest! The goddess claims that the old woman is her faithful servant, and that the village witch-doctor is a liar. The old lady and her son end their days in peace and comfort, showered with gifts from the villagers who are glad they didn’t make a tragic mistake.

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What would happen when they noticed “Kali” hanging around the governor’s house isn’t recorded.

Understudy – R.C. Barnard

Vivienne and Pamela Marsh are twins but very different. Vivienne is popular, beautiful and effortless, whereas Pam is shy, quiet and a hard worker. The story is narrated by “Micky”, who tells of Vivienne writing a nasty poem about a teacher. The teacher gets hold of it but Pam, as usual, takes responsibility (and the detention) so that her sister can play in an important tennis match.

Coming up is a play about Bonnie Prince Charlie. Vivienne is booked to play the prince (it’s an all girl’s school, after all!). Pam is understudying (or “the backup”) for a minor character. Micky goes to visit Pam to borrow a dictionary and is invited to tea with one of their mother’s old school friends. Viv isn’t able to go because she promised to visit and friend, and her understudy for the play, called Ione.

They duly visit the woman, Miss Charlotte Miggs, at her house called Pixie Hollow. They expect her to be “school marmish” but actually she is very friendly.

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This artist is about as good at distinctive faces as, well, me.

Mrs Miggs insists that Pam is a good actor, as the conversation has turned to the play. But Pam says she’d be scared to act in front of a large audience. The girls also notice a lot of pictures of a myserious “Charles”, who appears to be something in theatre.

As the play approaches Vivienne and Ione go off together again, and stay late at Ione’s house. Her brother offers to rush them back to school before curfew, but “rushes too much” and crashes the car. Neither girl is badly hurt but neither can act either. Vivienne insists her sister takes over her role in the play! She does so and is a huge success. Mrs Miggs and two men are watching it, and at the end the girls discover one of them men is Charles Court, a famous playwright, and the other is a celebrated literary critic who gives Pam a special mention in his write up of the play for the local paper.

Things Do Happen – M.A. James

This story revolves around a group of boy scouts and girl guides called The Kitterlings, after their masters Tom and Tabby Kitterling. They are on a tour of “the desert” and actually finding it quite boring. However that all changes when they stop at an oasis and are taken hostage by a tribe of Arabs! They are made to drive their bus to a fortified town where they are kept hostage, the Arabs apparently thinking treasure is hidden somewhere in the bus.

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You can see why Commando artists like desert stories!

After a few days in which nothing happens all the young men of the city ride out to fight another tribe. At their meal that day an ancient man counts them all. The man touches them to count them and they realise he must be almost blind, and decide to try and escape.

Later a woman called Fatima reveals she can speak English and wants to help them get away. At their meal that night Tony hides while Stephen is counted once, darts under the table and then is counted again, the scheme works – meaning somebody can escape unnoticed!  Fatima’s granddaughter has a house with a window that looks out on the desert, so Tony is lowered from it by rope. He waits the night in a nearby Oued (or Wadi) and in the morning Fatima brings him a “stray” donkey. He rides into the desert and finally meets a search party. They return to the city and find the fighting men have not come back, so they easily free the other and continue their holiday… all the better for that bit of excitement!

The Midnight Mystery – B.L. Cormack

This is the best story in the book, and the first one I read when I picked it up again! Eve Warren and Mary Marsden are on holiday in a small village in Cornwall. They stay with Mary’s father Dr Marsden in a small inn run by a Mr Treloar. At night Mary, with her head full of romantic ideas about smugglers, can’t sleep and hears a strange tapping coming from the church across the road. In the morning Jake Treloar explains that it was caused by a rope knocking against the church flagpole, which happens when there’s an east wind. Later they are exploring the church and find an ancient door. Up pops Jake to explain that it leads to an old staircase in the tower, but is now locked for safety.

That night it’s Eve who stays awake and hears the tapping. Later she hears horses. She wakes Mary and they watch several horses amble their way through the village with nobody to attend them.

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I love this moody, moonlit picture.

The next morning Jake explains that the horses belong to gypsies who are camped near the village. Eve and Mary wander off to visit them. On the way, though, Eve says there’s something mysterious going on. First of all Jake didn’t explain why the horses came back later on with their saddle bags loaded, he also failed to explain why the “unused” door handle was oiled and not dusty. Plus the rope that taps in an easterly wind had actually been tapping in a westerly wind… and tapping in morse code!

They reach the gypsy camp and there learn that it’s on the land of a Farmer Mead, who is very rich in a time when other farmers are struggling, he even owns an aeroplane! That night they stay awake and listen to the morse code tapping, which says “OK” over and over*. They sneak out of the house, being surprised by the cat, and see the horses wandering along again. Eve also sees somebody creep into the church, and follows. The mysterious door is now open, she enters but then hides in a narrow niche as somebody comes down the stairs and passes her. Then he slams and locks the door! Eve leans back in the niche in despair, but then finds the back of it is another door, leading to a narrow tunnel crammed with barrels of smuggled brandy!

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Guess who?

Meanwhile Mary follows the wandering horses. They travel down the road to a closed door in a walled garden. Mary sneaks through and finds herself in Farmer Mead’s private aerodrome, and his plane is just coming in to land! As expected the pilot and navigator are smugglers! They run the plane into it’s hangar, then load up the horses. Mary then acts and slams the door on them, locking it with the key they left outside. She then races back to the village, uphill most of the way, and wakes Dr Marsden. They catch Jake Treloar in the act of unloading the horses as they pass back the other way, then race to tell the excise officer all about the plot. In the meantime Eve shows up, having muffled one of the bells in the church and slid down the rope!

*-Despite a snooty (aren’t they all?) letter in Spaceship Away stating that the phrase “OK” wasn’t used in Britain until at least the 1960’s

Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted  – Hilda Harris

This is an odd one, it starts out as another spooky mystery story and then, er…

Anyway, Noreen, Margaret and Cecile are staying at a bungalow built by Margaret’s father, and are trying to dig a lily pond. Meanwhile some boys camping up the road, one called Sandy among them, constantly offer to help. Cecile sends them packing, angrily saying the pond will be finished the next day. They also discuss a fourth boy at the camp who they have only ever seen at a distance.

Later the boys paddle up the nearby river and begin fishing on the opposite bank, so they can watch the girls and make the odd cutting remark. Cecile fails to persuade them that it’s private property, so decides instead to “see about dinner”, instead doubling off to un-peg and flatten the boys’ tents! However as she creeps around their camp an arm pokes out from under one of them and grabs her hand. The boy inside tries to accuse her of stealing, and then says it’s a shame she and the other girls can’t be more sociable to his friends. She promises to do that if he will let her go, and he does. The only clue to his identity, however, is a strange ring on one finger.

She returns to the bungalow and recounts what has happened. The girls wonder if the boys are shielding an escaped convict or some such person. However they have almost finished their pond, and dug a channel almost up to the river with which to fill it. The next day Cecile hears about a mad bull that escaped the nearby farm recently, and a brave stranger who rescued a young child from it. That night they hear strange noises in the garden, which their imaginations take to be the sound of a dead body being dropped and somebody digging a hole to bury it in. However then a fierce storm breaks and they forget all about the other sounds.

When Noreen wakes in the morning she stretches out her hand and touches… water! They only then realise the river that they dug a channel up to was higher than the level of the house. That’s what the boys were trying to warn them about! One of them turns up on a boat, and Cecile realises he is the mysterious fourth one. Back at their camp the boys explain that Margaret’s father had taken them camping the year before, and had irritated them by playing his cornet. One night they had buried it, only inches from where the girls had been digging their pond! All seven of them agree to patch up the riverbank, then retrieve the dreaded instrument and re-bury it miles away!

An Exciting Night – Marjorie Cleves

Agnes, Cassie, Peggy, Nita and Stella are young girls at a boarding school. They are planning a midnight feast but don’t know where to hold it. The dorm is too risky as they were nearly caught before, and the gym is usually locked and close to the teacher’s rooms. Then Peggy decides to hold the feast in the “sanny” – the sanatorium, the schools sick-rooms which in those days before widespread vaccinations were separated from the school proper for safety.

Four of them – Agnes out of action with tootache, creep over to the supposedly empty building and hold their feast. However suddenly they hear small feet running upstairs – somebody is there after all! The next second the fire alarm goes off. Peggy and Nita rush upstairs rather than out of the window to safety, and discover the nurse with several frightened young children. They also discover that it’s the sanny that is on fire! The nurse can’t handle the young children on her own, but the older girls turning up allows them to all be escorted to safety. They have to come clean to the headmistress, but their heroism saves them from punishment!

The Shadow of a Dream – Mary Gervaise

Margery-Anne rants at her brothers Tim and Tony, and her cousin Jerry, after they kill a vixen she had rescued some years before and named Amber. She decides to go out rather than stay in her room, as her father ordered, and wanders down to a nearby wood with a stream running through it. As she walks into the wood she also walks back in time to the Sixteenth Century and meets Mary, Queen of Scots. Like ya do.

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Oh and also transforms into her ancestor who lived in those times

The sixteenth century Margery-Anne is in a similar position to the twentieth century one, her dove has been killed by the falcon owned by one of her father’s guests. She realises these women are those guests and argues with them, not realising to begin with who the queen is. When she realises she is shocked, but the queen sets her mind at ease. They then talk for a while. The queen laments that there is not enough tolerance in the world, while Margery-Anne sometimes lets slip odd strange words such as “rheumatism”.

The queen gives her a ring, and the world seems to spin. Margery-Anne then wakes up in the twentieth century again, finding she had tripped and knocked herself out. She apologises to her family for getting so angry at them and they forgive her.

The Twins’ Adventure – Dorothy Burdett

This one is set in thirties South Africa, you can well imagine what it’s like so I’ll spare you the details that other blogs would obsess over. Anyway Wilhelmina and Berta Van Dyne live at their father’s farm. One of their old servants, Methuselah comes running up to say that Maggie, the prize cow, has gone missing. They tell the manager of the farm (their parents are away) who says she’s probably just strayed. Then Methuselah also goes missing and the manager assumes he has stolen the cow, along with various other items that have gone missing.

The girls find Methuselah in the stables, though, and he says he went off and discovered the missing items in a valley at a “farm” run by Piet, who used to work on the Van Dyne’s farm but was always stealing things, so got sacked. Piet says he has started his own farm with the “excess” stuff from the Van Dyne’s farm. The girls lament that he has not had “white man’s teaching” which would make him realise that taking stuff without paying for it is always stealing. Piet also says he has control over the other farm workers with his “magic”, which “is the colour of fire and falls like blood”.

They ask to see the “magic” and Wilhelmina realises it’s just a bottle of iodine. She goes back to the farm and returns with some other chemicals that remove the colour from iodine. She then offers to test Piet’s magic with “ordeal by water”. He accepts, having all his followers around him by now. She pours on the chemicals and turns the iodine transparent, or to the eyes of the uneducated “into water”. Piet’s followers realise that “white man’s magic” is stronger than his, and desert him. Later he gets a job at another farm where the workers have all been taught at a mission school, and so might have a sobering effect on him.

The Capture of the Note Forgers – James Taylor

Rod and Flossie Thaxter are the children of the local policeman, Inspector Thaxter, in a small sleepy village by the sea. A detective called Murchison has come down to investigate the source of forged notes that appear to originate in the district. The enthusiastic children, especially Rod, want to help, but he refuses them. Rod is bored with building a wireless set and decides they should try and run the crooks down themselves, starting by sailing to a small island in the bay.

They take their little boat out, but are annoyed to find the police launch there already. Rod goes ashore but runs into Murchison, who sends him away. As they sail back they discover a heavy fog has come in. They decide to stop and drift with the tide, as there’s less chance of hitting anything that way. They eventually run up against an anchored boat, and Rod can hear printing presses at work inside!

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Always print in a well ventilated space!

Rod sneaks aboard the ship and quietly closes and bolts the hatches, trapping the forgers inside. Then he tells Flossie to row back to land and fetch the police. The forgers realise they are caught and begin to throw incriminating evidence overboard, but it drifts towards land and is picked up by the police. For their neat bottling-up Rod and Flossie later receive a new wireless.

The Coming of Kitty – Emmeline Carr

Kitty Denville is a new girl at St Sybils. She is sharing a room with Bertha Weston and Flora Mould. Flora is a bit of a snob, and especially upset about Kitty coming to the school, because her dad was a bricklayer and made his money by working his way up through the trade. Kitty arrives and gets a very frosty reception from Flora, but the other girls like her. She’s also very good at Netball, and after a practice match gets a place in the school team.

Flora doesn’t see the practice match and assumes the team will do badly, especially as the player Kitty replaced knew Flora’s methods better. An important match arrives and St Sybil’s win the toss, Kitty starting the play. She passes to Flora, who fails to catch the ball and soon the opposing team are walking all over them.

At half time Flora decides that obviously “something” is wrong with the team, with a pointed glare at Kitty. Kitty however suggests they just need to be faster and attack constantly. The rest of the team agrees and so they put this into practice. Flora even makes an effort and at the end they manage to even the scores and finally win 7-5. The narrator (who isn’t named) is then surprised to see Kitty and Flora chatting away like old friends!

Pluck! – Courtenay Hayes

An elderly colonel is talking to his friends around the fireside about an elderly couple he met in his young days in Canada. He relates a story they told him about when they were young and Britain was only just starting to conquer that vast, frozen land.

The couple, the Frasers, had married and then gone off to Mr Fraser’s farmstead. They had a tough journey but finally arrived. Mr Fraser showed his new wife how to load and fire a rifle, then went off to collect firewood. He came back later with his leg badly crushed from a tree that fell on it. He is able to gasp “I’ve seen a trapper” before collapsing.

Mrs Fraser decides she can’t leave the farm because she’d only get lost, but there’s plenty of food and water. That night the house is besieged by huge grey timber wolves. They snuffle around the barn door and drive the cow within mad. In the morning she can’t feed the cow, so has to shoot it along with the calf it has wounded. She skins the calf and hauls it’s body up into the rafters, then goes to tend to her husband. In the night terrifying noises come from the barn, the door of which she’d accidentally left open, as the wolves have a feast.

The next day her husband is better and no longer raving. He explains that the trapper has gone for help from a large settlement, and teaches her to aim properly. The next night passes much like the one before, but the night after the wolves have run out of beef and decide to try human! Mrs Fraser is ready and waiting and shoots down the leader of the pack as soon as he shows himself. The other wolves take off and don’t return, not even to eat their former leader. The next morning help arrives.

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Ahh the idyllic log cabin existence

The colonel ends his story by saying that tigers can’t compare with women in times of trouble!

The Joker – Irene L. Plunket

A girl called Naomi Dewhurst arrives at school and longs to make friends with the popular girl, Marcia Gavan. However according to her dorm-mate Queenie Stevens Marcia thinks she is plain and stupid. Then twists Naomi’s words to make her sound arrogant and so turns most of the other girls against her.

However Marcia herself doesn’t seem to mind the shy Naomi. Also one of the prefects, Theresa Marney, complements Naomi on her fielding, she has several brothers and always plays cricket with them. However Naomi is still dreading an upcoming fancy dress ball as she has nobody to go with. She decides to go as a joker, so nobody will recognise her and she can ignore them all. The dance comes and she gets to ridicule Queenie. She then talks to Marcia who tells her that she doesn’t want Queenie to move into her room after all, and never said the things Queenie had accused her of. This is a wierd one!

Sent Off The Field – Emmeline Carr

Ann trevors and the narrator of the story change schools from Cliff House (Presumably not the one from the Bessie Bunter stories!). Ann is brilliant at hockey and the captain of the school’s team, Dora Brierly, offers to try her out. However Ann has promised her parents that she’ll study hard at the new school, so turns it down. Because of this the fourth loses an inter-house match with the fifth.

Later on a player called Rita Fay gets angry at the teacher/referee during a game against Greyton school and is sent off. This also means she is banned for a month. With several other players ill an upcoming match looks like it will be a disaster until Ann is told by her form mistress that it’s good to play the odd game now and then. Rita isn’t happy about a new, un-tried girl having a place in the team, and isn’t shy about telling everybody.

Then just before the big match it snows heavily, postponing the game and allowing Rita back into the team. She is surprised to find that both her and Ann are in the team, and she has to do a bit of a U-turn. However in the match they make a great combination and score the winning goal. After that they are the best of friends

The Strike at The Green Pits – Maud Morin

Kitty Barton, a guide in a small mining village, is taking food to the poorest families in the village, who can’t feed their children because they men are on strike and so aren’t being paid. She is the daughter of the mine manager, but her nanny used to be the wife of a miner and so is organising handouts to at least keep the children fed. Kitty looks in on an old lady in the village, then carries on to the town of Haford, despite being warned that the strikers there are looking for trouble.

She arrives at the town and one miner won’t even let her in his house. Then when she is helping another family she hears of a deputation of the younger and more determined strikers are off to her father’s house to “make him see reason”. Kitty’s four brothers and younger sister are playing cricket when they see the strikers approaching. They run inside and close all the shutters in the windows.

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Signed illustration! Didn’t notice that until just now

The strikers arrive while the nanny is still trying to persuade Mr Barton to stay indoors. A few of them throw some stones at the house, and he steps out onto the top of the porch to address the crowd. Kitty meanwhile has climbed up some vines and stands beside him, when a stone thrown from the back of the crowd hits her. The crowd are stunned that they have been responsible for breaking a girl’s arm, and shuffle away. They “catch it hot” from thier wives and, later, the owner of the mine comes and makes a settlement. The men’s wives have the last say, though. They say it was Kitty who settled the strike!

The Queer One of The Family – Francis Cowen

Lesser blogs would be laughing up their sleeves already, but I’m better than that.  Anwyay, Nora Harwell is the youngest sister of a large family and is usually just fetching and carrying for them. She is usually left out of their games so makes her own fun by running off to the lonely moors to hide in trees or look at the countryside. She also discovers “her own secret” in the gallery in their mansion, The Moss.

Later on the family hits hard times and rents the mansion to a rich steelworks owner, while they move out to a farmhouse on the estate. The other children enjoy it at first, but gradually come to see the steelworks owner, Mr Stillson, as a kind of enemy. They are offended when later they spot Nora daring to actually talk to him!

A few months later and it’s nearly Christmas. Nora goes missing! The family scour the snow-covered countryside for her but can’t find her. Her older sisters Joan and Betty look in at their old home. Mr Stillson is having a party, but hasn’t seen her. However he does say that he once found her in the gallery, and she had been there to have tea with them on occasion.

About three in the morning Nora turns up, perfectly fine. She is sent to bed straight away, but as she shares the room with her sisters they get the story. When she was young she found a moving panel in the gallery, and a “blue lady” inside. She was there when the party started and so couldn’t get away until it finished. In the morning she finally has to reveal this “great secret” to her parents, who go and look at the secret room for themselves.

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Nora looks kawaii

The “blue lady” is actually a famous painting, thought to have been destroyed in a fire a hundred years before. It was possible that a butler, who was injured during the fire and died shortly afterwards, had stuffed the paintings in the room to save them from the fire and from looters. There they had lain forgotten even when the gallery was rebuilt around them. The family are able to sell the pictures and so reclaim their old home.

Both Sides of a Question – Ethel Talbot

Molly Hobbs is the daughter of a farmer, and a bit of a romantic. But then she lives in a house that was built in 1550, so can’t really help it. She imagines the great fire of london and the plague being discussed under the rafters of the dining room. He father tells her that the farm has always been in the Hobbs family, only one Hobbs ever left it – he sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. He then idly mentions that some rich Americans had offered to buy the farm, but of course he had turned them down.

Molly is full of contempt for Americans, they are all rich and have flash cars she thinks. The next day she cycles to Plymouth, when she meets an American girl who is looking for the place that the Mayflower sailed from.

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Presumably that’s an imported huge American car!

They find the stone and look at it together. Then the American says “I wish dad’s dollars could buy this!”. Molly gets angry, accusing Americans, they who ran away to become rich, of always wanting to buy British things belonging to those who stayed behind and stayed poor. The girl says that it was hard work for those people who went, that “dollars came later” for some of them, the ones who survived! She also points out that one of the first colonies that later became the USA was called New England.

The girl then says that her ancestors came from the area and were called Hobbs, and Molly mentions she had an ancestor of that name who went. They then find out that they both have exactly the same name! American Molly says it was her father who wanted to buy the farm, but would of course not press it now he had been turned down. The British Molly returns home, realising the world is a small place after all!

A Chapter of Accidents – W. H. Morris

Joan and Peter are exploring the countryside while on holiday with their family. However later on a heavy mist rolls in and obscures everything. Then Joan stumbles and hurts her leg. Peter helps her along and they finally find an empty cottage, so both go inside. By now it’s night time and they don’t know where they are. They clamber up to the attic (by ladder) so that they might see any distant lights better. Then some men come along. Peter is about to call out when he realises they are smugglers! The house is built over an old tunnel that communicates with a river some distance away, allowing smugglers to land their goods unseen.

The mean leave and Peter realises where they are. A bell-buoy is out in the river and a coastguard boat is moored near it, they can just see it’s lights. Peter runs off and finds an abandoned, elderly boat. He helps Joan into it and they begin to row out to the coastguard’s ship. However the current in the river and the age of the boat makes them instead crash into the bell-buoy. The boat sinks like a stone and the two are left clinging to the small platform, being deafened by the bell. It’s not possible to shout to the coastguard as they are still too far away. Then Peter has the idea to muffle the bell, the silence is noticed and some of the coastguard come to investigate. The two are rescued and tell their story, and the smugglers are foiled.

Esmeralda & The Egg  – Mary Gervaise

Sybil Anderson and Jane Meadows are trying to persuade the new French girl, Esmeralda Lafayette to run in the egg and spoon race at their school sports day. However she doesn’t want to. Nancy Irene Bartlett, or “NIB” has the idea that Esmeralda doesn’t want to run in the race in case she comes last and looks foolish. They spot her in the town and try and persuade her to race again, this time buying her some sixpenny ice creams to clinch the deal!

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*Inevitable mention about how 6d is 2½p as if inflation doesn’t exist*

They manage to convince Esmeralda to run in the heat at least, though she is afraid her hands would shake too much and she’d drop the egg. However later, for some reason, she announces she won’t run in the final race. She is in Coventry even more after that.

When the day of the finals arrives the three girls go off to a room to fetch some chairs, and overhear the games mistress talking to another teacher. She is ranting about how the cheating French girl had glued her egg to the spoon! The three girls then rush forwards and confess that actually it was them that put glue on the egg. They wanted her to win to cheer her up. The teacher, however, had discovered the glue and confronted Esmeralda with it, who was speechless, having not known anything about it. The teacher took this to be a sign of guilt and then… the last page is missing! >.<

The Girl With Long Hair – Marjory Royce

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The age of short-haired “flappers” lasted for years didn’t it?

The senior girls of St. Mauds are starting their own magazine. Jackie Edwards, Dorothy Gold and Phyllis Bond all push Joyce Warrender, the captain, into editing it. Joyce reminds them that she’ll have to be “a sort of Mussolini” and that she’ll “order contributions and you’ll have to supply them”!

At that point the long-haired Sylvia Aubrey comes in. She’s quiet and shy and always aware that she stands out among all the short-haired “flapper” girls in the school. She overheard some of the conversation and would be a far better editor for the magazine than Joyce would. But she’s in the fourth, which is the middle school and so is an outsider! She vows to edit the magazine before she leaves the school… which will be in two terms, when she is sent to another school in Paris (never mind, I’m sure ‘for some reason’ that won’t come off!).

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Paris, two terms later

She hears other girls grumbling that they have no good ideas for serial stories or articles, and wishing they’d never started the thing. She tells her friend Linda that she’d like to write one of her own stories and leave it on a table for the others to find, but that’d be too stuck-up.

A pageant is coming up in the town, but the girls of the school are forbidden to go because diseased poor people will be there(!). The seniors wish they could write about it, but daren’t go. Sylvia decides to sneak out on her own at night to see it, write a report and leave it on Joyce’s desk. She puts this plan into action that night, but on the way out of the school she remembers the motto about maintaining the honour of the school, and turns back. If the seniors and teachers found out she broke the rules to get her report it wouldn’t be worth it. However just as she returns she is caught by a teacher and sent to the headmistress. But instead of being punished as she expects, she is actually requested to act in the pageant as a last-minute replacement, being the only girl at the school with long enough hair. And so the report is written after all!

Life imitates art… again!

I saw this story in the paper a week ago:

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Which is refusing to post in clickable thumbnail mode

For anybody who can’t be bothered to scroll around the image, it is an article about a runner called John Tarrant who throughout the 50’s became infamous as “The Ghost Runner”. He had been banned from competing in athletics tournaments in Britain due to having once been paid for sport – as a boxer when he was young and desperate. Despite this he would pop up at major events anyway, leaping the barriers to join a race just as it was starting. It sounds just like a story from a comic… In fact it sounds just like two stories from a comic! Possibly the most famous athletics stories ever written. Just look at this:

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Does that remind you of anybody?

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From The Hornet via the Great British Comics book… phew

The one and only Wilson! This great character first appeared in The Wizard in July 1943. It chronicled the story of this mysterious athlete who became known when he leapt into a race, until then a foregone conclusion, and trounced the opposition. From then onwards he would crop up at different events up and down the country, not so much breaking records as tearing the book to pieces!

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As you may notice the story is called “The Truth About Wilson”, and what was this truth? It was the fact he was born in 1795 and had lived all those years thanks to a simple life living on the moors, sleeping in a cave and eating various herbal recipes that were actually the elixir of life! At many points throughout the story, chronicled by the journalist W.S.K. Webb, supposedly during the year before World War 2, Wilson would refer to old records from the early 19th century thought to only be legends. He would then set out to break these “impossible” records, which were far in advance of the accepted modern ones – and usually manage it! Of course later it is revealed that he was actually alive when all these supposedly legendary records were set up, without the aid of stopwatches!

The Wilson stories were initially “explained away” by the fact that they all took place before World War 2, and so Wilson’s amazing records were “forgotten” because of the war. But DC Thomson had created a juggernaut and couldn’t just stop at one series. So Wilson, supposedly “last seen” in a burning spitfire over the Channel, returned to “seek champions” in the late 1940’s for Britian’s olympic efforts. After this he discovered a lost Ancient Greek civilisation in Africa and competed in their olympics, before going elsewhere in Africa to compete in a Zulu warlord’s “black olympics”. Still later he made the transition from text stories to comic strips in The Hornet, moving eventually to The Victor. Also in DC Thomson’s more “hard hitting” 80’s comic Spike, he was bought back as the mysterious “man in black”. Readers were going to be let in to his identity and background story only at the end of the serial – however their dads, remembering Wilson from the old days, spoiled it for them after episode 1!

However, Wilson is not the only comic strip hero to defy the authorities and take to the track on his own terms. Over in The Rover a story called The Tough of the Track began in 1949. This featured Alf Tupper, a much more down to earth character who worked as a welder and ate cod n’ chips!

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This could be Alf Tupper! (Except he did reach the Olympics eventually)

Alf, too, was thrown out of professional athletics. But his fault was to catch out an upper-class cheat, and then to be too quick with his fists.

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 Again from the later comic strip. Alf Tupper also first appeared in text stories.

And he also decided to join in a race uninvited, and “ran ’em” all!

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Alf also had a long life. He started in 1949, but I have issues of The Victor from the late 80’s where he’s still going strong – and there’s also stories of his apparent childhood which is clearly set in the 70’s! The ageing patterns only comic characters (and James Bond) can manage! The final Alf Tupper story didn’t appear in a comic, but in a newspaper. It was 1992 and the Victor’s days were already numbered, the paper featured a short serialised strip showing how Alf made it to the Barcelona Olympics and “ran” the best athletes in the world to win gold!

Sadly Victor Tarrant didn’t have such a long life, dying at only 42 of stomach cancer. Like the comic strip stars he perhaps unknowingly emulated (mind you he was a working class lad in the 40’s, could he perhaps have had Wilson tucked away in his subconscious when he decided on his “pitch invasions”? We’ll never know) he was forgotten until a researcher stumbled upon his memoirs. They have finally been published as “The Ghost Runner” by Bill Jones. It is right and proper that such an unstoppable and eccentric character should be remembered. But what of the comic and story-paper versions? These tales entertained generations of readers for decades yet ask the average convention goer at Bristol and they won’t have a clue who you are on about. We have, in the words of Show of Hands, “lost more than we’ll ever know”.

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Oi DCT, reprint this!

Return of The Deatless Men?

I should think every reader of this blog is already familiar with one of the greatest stories ever published in a British comic.

It is a tale of a ruthless fascist regime under which the downtrodden people long for freedom. It is the tale of a rebellion against this regime by faceless killers, clad in anonymous masks and with a seemingly supernatural ability to cheat death and be in many places at once. Above all it is the tale of the police of this regime desperately trying to catch the man responsible for the endless string of outrages that threatens their rule. It is the tale of their chilling discovery that those responsible for the attacks on their leading officers ought to be dead – having been incarcerated in their sinister death camps. And it is the tale of betrayal at the highest levels as we learn that all the time the rebellion has deep inside knowledge of the regime’s hunt for them, and can always remain one step ahead.

This tale is of course V for Venegance, first published in The Wizard in 1951!

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The first series of which was reprinted in 1959, of which I own in a bound volume.

Anyway, today I was looking at the titles of the next Commando comics to come out and noticed this:

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Number 4322 is going to be called “V is for Vengeance!”

Could this possibly be DCT digging into their past to bring us an abridged/complete story of The Deathless Men? Sadly probably not, I don’t believe any of the recurring  characters from their other adventure comics (not even during a time when those comics were still running alongside Commando) have ever made the leap into the title. Though somebody did once on one website mention that “The Wolf of Kabul” a character from text stories who later appeared in a picture-story in The New Hotspur or Victor had re-appeared in Commando, it was actually a different character entirely (though with a similar setting in the middle east).

Actually the main character of those “wolf” stories was not a man but a book, passed down through many generations of a family from before WW1 up to the Gulf war of 1991. And not a comedy sidekick with a cricket bat in sight!

A grand post to-day, chums!

Yet another long Hiatus ends with some special content (a complete story, no less!) and some important news!

Scramble

I recently bought several issues of “Boys Magazine” from 1933 on Ebay  (not an entirely consecutive run, but they’d make a nicely sized book if i could perhaps find any of the intervening issues for sale anywhere…). The seller kindly chucked in two issues of a late 40’s story-paper called Scramble. Well actually he sent three but two were copies of issue 15. Still the cover of this particular issue immediatley caught my eye – a very Sexon Blake lookalike detective coupled with the name Rex Hardinge!

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Rex Hardinge was born in 1904, in India, and later made expeditions in Africa. He came to England in 1929 to become a full-time writer for story-papers. And as the editor of “Sexton Blake Wins” puts it, he could “Hammer out fiction by the yard“. His contribution to that particular book (originally published in Detective Weekly issue 20) “The Man I Killed” is very memorable.

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Over the years, many ‘imitators’ of Sexton Blake appeared, from virtually direct copies (Colwyn Dane, Victor Drago) to ones more significantly altered (Nelson Lee*), none of them reached the stellar status of Blake, though. Martin Speed, as seen here, is clearly another – joined by Sam Spry, the boyish cockney assistant, and removed from Blake by Susie Spry, sam’s sister. It would be another 9 years before Sexton Blake was joined by a female assistant “full time”.

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Scramble itself appeared in 1947 and vanished in 1951, running for 57 issues, according to the Magazine Data File. This site also lists it as “weekly / monthly / irregular”. Paper shortages would still have been acute after the war, so it’s not hard to beleive. This particular issue, for instance, is listed as monthly but is a mere 16 pages long – the length of a weekly halfpenny paper in the 1890’s. For that, though, all the stories appear to be complete (or at least if they are serials there’s no recap sections i could see), and all the illustrations are in “colour”. If the format stayed the same up until this paper’s end, though, it is easy to see how it would have been blown to the winds by publications such as Eagle (launched 1950).

*-admittedly not the best example as Nelson Lee also began in the 1890’s, before Blake became hugely sucessful. However Lee eventually moved into a school and became a teacher, before then his adventures had been similar to Blake ones. It was perhaps felt a way of differentiating them was needed in case readers thought one was a copy of the other?

Important News!

Two new books about comics have been published: Football’s Comic Book Heroes and When the Comics Went to War. The football title recieved an enthusisatic response on the Comics UK forums, so i went searching for it, instead i found the war book, despite reading that it wasn’t supposed to be out until October! (psst – the image of the cover may give a clue about where i bought it, and maybe even a special offer!)

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All i can say about the book is it’s incredible – profusely illustrated, lots of descriptions of the STORIES, and not just statistics, dates, real-life stuff unrelated to comics and other boring non-comic guff. It even contains “the perfect war comic” at the back of the book with some reprinted stories to read.

Another thing it does – and something the “Comics Britannia” TV show shamefully didn’t – is acknowledge and celebrate the text-only story-papers alongside the later picture-strip comics. Indeed half the book is about story papers! All the names are there – Boys’ Own, Union Jack (the first one from the 1880’s), Halfpenny Marvel, Pluck and The Boys’ Friend. Later the DC Thomson “Big Five” get thier dues.

It also avoids the predictable PC “what were they filling kids head’s with?” rants entirely – an admirable attitude that must be encouraged.

I urge everybody to go and buy this book and it’s football companion, we have to let the publishers know we want this stuff! One of the authors popped into Comics UK and said that in the initial stages 7 books were planned, and that discussions about number 3 are “ongoing”. What will we see? A sci-fi one is a given. Perhaps one dedicated to Cricket and “field” sports, An Athletics one, A motor-racing one, A police/detective/private eye one, A historical one… if they live up to the high standard of When the Comics Went to War they will be most welcome.

References:

Blakiana – Rex Hardinge

Magazine Data File

Comics UK forums – Football’s Comic Heroes

Christmas Comic Covers

As everybody else is doing it, here are some assorted covers of christmas issues from my collection. Most of the suff i had to hand is in bound volumes, so these are photos. Though i suppose i could properly scan the Victor’s at a later date (when/if i have that strange thing called “free time”).

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The Union Jack Christmas Double Number 1906. This is actually the first page, as when this volume was bound the covers were removed, seemingly a common practice with these old papers. The story is, as ever, a Sexton Blake tale, seemingly revolving around a VC-winning soldier now being literally “left out in the cold” and appealing to an old officer for help. I intend to read this one on Christmas Day this year, and a review will eventually appear in the UJ Index blog.

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1925 now, and Sexton Blake is still going strong in his golden era. The UJ by this time had colour covers, and was entirely crime-and-punishment related (the 1906 issue also contained a serial story set in the Zulu wars), containing a “detective supplement” with real-world crime information. The serial stories and “Tinker’s Notebook” feature were also firmly rooted in the world of detection. Nirvana was, if i remember the sextonblake.co.uk site correctly, a friend of Tinker’s whom he had known before he became Sexton Blake’s assistant.

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Back to 1906 now, this is an issue of Chums, a storypaper published by Cassel & Co. A company which also published the New Penny Magazine (a 1901 “volume” of which i recently bought, and which contains many fascinating articles). This paper is a curious size, being slightly under the tabloid size used in the Boy’s Friend, but still bigger than the “average” (if the huge variety of sizes in use at that time allows for such a word to be used!) comic. Aside from christmas wishes along the top, and a message in the editorial section within, there’s not a great deal to distinguish this issue. Unlike some publications which featured the traditional snow on the logo…

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…like this! This is the Christmas issue of Adventure for 1948. Adventure was the first of DC Thomson’s “Big Five” adventure story papers. In the early years it looked like any other story paper, but with the coming of comics it began to adapt, with these “full colour” strips on the covers. The interiors were still entirely taken up by text stories however. Wartime paper shortages continued into the late 40’s, so the paper was only published on alternating weeks (i beleive by this time it was moving back towards a weekly, though). The paper is very thin too, it’s no wonder so few wartime and 40’s issues of these papers have survived. A shame as many of the stories are excellent… the DCT papers had a way of always having serial stories, but each instalment was a good enough story on it’s own. Re-caps were often expertly fitted into the text where they would provide enough information for a new reader, but not irritate regulars. Getting the stories for these papers ‘just right’ must have been a supremely difficult task, which makes the complete lack of credits all the worse.

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10 years later, and Adventure now features much more detailed comic strips on the cover, with better art and bigger captions to describe the action (speech bubbles and sound effects did not exist in this paper!). The issues were a lot thicker too, and frequently boasted of “four extra pages this issue!”. Additionally a further comic strip, in the same style but using red spot-colours rather than full colour, could be found on the centre pages. The stories kept thier brisk and exciting style, but the days of the story-paper where coming to an end as the comics took over. The Adventure name, merged with Rover, would continue into 1963, when the merged paper reverted to being called The Rover once again.

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The Victor was another DCT publication, a comic this time (though i beleive early issues in the 1960’s featured a single text story). DCT liked to re-use characters who originally appeared in text form as comics, and Alf Tupper was one such character who made the transition. In typical British Comic style he never appeared to age but at the same time his “past caught up with him”. Some of these issues feature a story called “The Boyhood of Alf Tupper”, which appears to be set in the 1970’s. However in The Rover, where he first appeared, he was 18 in 1949! I originally found this selection of issues (in amazing condition) in a charity shop in Lincoln. However as most of them are Christmas issues i decided to wait until i was making a post such as this before posting them. They have colour covers and black and white interior work, the artwork of a lot of which appears to be (whisper it) a bit rushed. Then again the artists probably wanted to get finished in time for christmas! Some of the art styles are actually recognisable from my 1958 issues of Adventure, though in that they only had to provide one or two illustrations per story, so could take a lot longer over it. Victor was the last remaining of the “boy’s own”-type of weekly adventure comic, an attempted revamp with a lot more colour stories in the early 90’s failed to lift the slumping sales and it vanished from the shelves. The next generation along (of which i was a part) had to resort to creating thier own adventure/war comics (i even remember trying to start my own text-only storypaper! before i even knew what such a thing was), or else become superhero addicts. Thanks a lot, late 70’s/early 80’s-born people.

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Just another picture i had kicking around for size comparison

Tiger Tim’s Weekly – No 958

I have been in other Oxfam Book shops up and down the land, but i can confidently say Lincoln’s is amongst the best. Where others will provide you with endless novels for middle-aged women, most likely with beige an overpowering theme to the covers/spines, old poetry books or Beano and Dandy annuals that are scarcely 4 years old, Lincoln’s never fails to supply interesting paperbacks from the 60’s and 70’s, old “Nelson Reward” books (an entry on which is forthcoming) and adventure comic annuals from the golden age. (That’s Britain’s golden age, which isn’t set in stone but 1955 to 1985 tends to be the boundaries people will agree on). Even more amazingly, they sometimes have actual issues of comics! and that is what i bought yesterday.

It’s Tiger Tim’s Weekly, a “nursery comic” intended for very young readers, and (cover*) dates to March 30th 1940. Of course, them being better times it’s highbrow literature compared to comparable titles today. Paper shortages where obviously beginning to bite, for it is a mere 12 tabloid sized pages on thin newsprint. Still the cover is very colourful and other pages are two colour “black, white and red”. The content is a mixture of short instalments of serial stories, and some other serial adventure comic strips. The centre pages are filled with short ‘humour’ strips in the old-fashioned style of blocks of text under the picture to describe the story, as well as speech bubbles. Pretty borders and little ornate pictures in the margins abound throughout the pages.

The issue isn’t in the best condition, and a large chunk has been torn from the cover. It has also been folded for many years and the ‘spine’ of the cover page is more air than paper… but considering the drive for paper recycling during the war, and the “worthlessness” of comics and storypapers, it’s amazing it has survived at all.

*-British comics often had ‘odd’ attitudes to cover dating, some dated the first day the issue would be sold, others the last. And seemingly some companies dated an issue to the day after it would first go on sale, for reasons best known to themselves.

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The colourful front cover, with a serial strip instalment and also a small “funny picture” with different jokes in it. Note all the fancy borders and little details, this is something they had in the olden days called “pride in your work”.

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A mixture of text story and comic strip. With other little strips thrown in wherever they will fit! Adding in little comic strips all over the place is, incedentally, how they used to be presented in the “proper papers” too. Nowadays they are all on the “funny page”, often with the stars. Wonder why the astrologers haven’t picked up on that little detail and complained…

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The centre pages, a large spread of short comic strips. The “black, white and red” helps to give them a little more life and detail but save the all-important ink for the war effort. This type of colouring on the centre pages would last much longer, though. I have some 70’s Victors with exactly the same thing being done! Again, notice the little borders and details.

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In these days of the tie-in “advertainment”, corporate execs would reel back in shock and seeing 12 large pages of paper being read by children containing only two adverts! and one of those is for a another publication by the same company. Playbox was a companion to the venerable Chatterbox, a publication which ran for many years. An entry about that will also be added in the future.