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