A Soldier – And A Man, the Christmas Union Jack of 1914


The famous Christmas truce of 1914 has now gone down in legend. But what were the people of 1914 predicting for Christmas day before it had actually happened? Let’s find out, from the Union Jack’s 1914 Christmas issue!

…even though it’s cover, and presumably off-sale date, is the 19th of december! Amalgamated Press were producing so many story papers by that time, many of them due double-priced “double numbers” for Christmas, that they couldn’t bring out all of these double numbers at once without risking a loss in sales, so they seem to have been staggered. The Union Jack’s Christmas double number actually going on sale nearly a full week before the date! The one actually being sold on Christmas day was a normal, one-penny issue. Why no, they didn’t “take a break”, as many weeklies seem to do these days – it really did mean “every week”, a century ago.


As usual, the inside front cover is given over to the adverts, and the first proper page is a ‘second cover’, so people could take off the actual covers and bind them. Sadly, many did – I have the 1907 Christmas issue without it’s cover! As this issue has double the number of pages, they can afford to spend a whole one on a grand, decorated and theatre-like introduction to the story, complete with a “cast of characters”. This was a common device at the time, in serial re-caps as well as complete stories.

There’s also a map, showing where the “U.J.” is regularly read. As well as the British Empire, dominions, Japan and parts of South America (where Britain had large cattle and railway interests, if not actual governmental control), the U.J. also appears to be read in a large part of “enemy territory”!


Any bit of intelligence helps?

After that, we get right into the main story – a very long one, taking up almost all the issue. If there was a serial running at the time, it appears to have been suspended for this Sexton Blake epic. The illustrations accompanying the main story are also given whole pages to themselves, whereas in the normal run of things they’d be in among the text (though, instead, some unrelated ones are – see later!). There’s also holly decorations at the tops and bottoms of the pages.


The story opens with a lengthy prologue – not always possible in the typical UJ, but common in issues of the soon-to-start Sexton Blake Library (I wonder if there will be a 100th anniversary special issue?). Robert Fenmore was a wealthy and respected man-about-town, who is seized by the gambling bug and quickly runs through his money. He then marries a wealthy orphan called Marion, who has a fortune of £100,000. He swiftly reduces this to £30,000, and, as the story opens, takes another £5000 from her. Of course, he expects he will soon have his “big win”, which will solve all his problems.

Fenmore has also been seeing rather too much of a popular music-hall star called Marion Paul. Little does he know, she’s a “plant”, designed to encourage him to carry on gambling. And she was planted by his cousin, Harold Craig, who also loved Marion Fenmore (the story doesn’t mention her maiden name). He goes to his club, where three other men discuss the scandal he is causing. One of them, apparently known only as Graves, is the uncle of Mademoiselle Yvonne, an international adventuress who appears in many Sexton Blake stories. Sometimes as a friend, sometimes a rival! Anyway, Yvonne is a friend of Marion Fenmore, and gets the story of the unhappy marriage from her uncle. She decides to “get to the bottom of” the mystery… and as the female Sexton Blake (or near enough!), might just do it!


Yvonne goes to the gambling-den, called Frileti’s, which is a high-stakes place with some strict rules, including one that all women, and any men who wish to, must come masked. This helps Yvonne watch the games unnoticed, though! She plays a little, winning and losing evenly. Finally Bob Fenmore turns up, passing straight into a mysterious back room, where high-stakes games are played. Yvonne has a lot of money on her, so follows Bob and his chorus-girl companion in, noticing that Bob, and a “dark skinned foreigner” are both losing heavily, whilst thier attractive female companions rarely wager, lose little, and win a bit on occasion. Yvonne starts to make exactly the opposite bets to the men, and begins to win – the game is crooked, and the good-looking women are there to lure in rich men!

Yvonne quickly works this out, and that the music-hall star, Marion Paul, has her claws into Bob Fenmore. She also knows the dealer. Once Bob is cleaned out, the evening breaks up. Yvonne, roping a cab driver into her black ops game, follows the dealer from the high-stakes room home, discovering him to be Harold Craig! The next day, she calls on a solicitor friend who can, by his own methods, find out anything about anyone. She quickly runs Harold Craig to earth and applies a little blackmail – threatening to go to the police if he doesn’t sell her his gambling operation for £10,000 – far less than it’s worth, and a large part of that 10,000 was won from “the house” the previous night! Craig compromises – he’ll take Yvonne into partnership, and let her do the dealing in the high-stakes room. She’ll still rip people off, but will keep half the money. This, of course, includes all the money from Bob Fenmore, and a bit over. Yvonne cleans him out entirely – but holds on to all the money, planning to deliver it back to his unfortunate wife.


Bob Fenmore goes home, his cousin with him. Harold tries to give him a loan – to bring him under complete control – but then the butler comes in with momentous news – war has been declared on Germany! Bob decides to write his wife a letter, admitting that he is bankrupt, and that he is “going away” – to enlist in the army under a false name – and will probably be killed (in “the greatest slaughter in history”, hardly the grand boy scout adventure we’re told papers of this kind described it!). His life insurance, and the diamond-encrusted Fenmore Necklace, will then provide for her. As soon as Bob has gone, leaving Harold with the necklace, the latter decides to, instead, give it to Marion Paul (“thank fortune their names are the same!”). Bob’s apparent “mistress” appearing in polite society wearing the famous necklace is bound to cause a scandal, further blacken the Fenmore name, and make Marion Fenmore totally dependent on Harold Craig!

The war drags on, the battle of Mons is fought to a standstill, and the lines of trenches begin to solidify across Europe. Bob Fenmore has vanished, and Marion Fenmore has moved into a small flat. But she has dismissed Harold Craig from her life entirely, and has a mysterious source of money that is keeping her head above water. Nobody but her and Yvonne know that she received an anonymous letter containing £40,000 – her own money, really, stolen from her husband! Harold Craig is seeing much more of Marion Paul, who scandalised society by wearing the necklace, as planned. Then, one night, Harold is seen entering her flat, while she is performing. She comes back later, with a group of friends, and they find Harold in the flat – poisoned! There has obviously been a huge fight, Harold the loser – but nothing has been stolen. Nothing, except the Fenmore Necklace!

Inspector Thomas, one of the lesser-known police friends of Sexton Blake (After the awkwardly-talking Spearing, and before the well-known Coutts), says that he is investigating the crime, and that Marion Paul thinks Bob Fenmore has been sending nasty letters, and that he stole the necklace. Thomas then visits Marion Fenmore, who is apparently too ill to see him, but, while the maid is out of the room, he spots the necklace on her sitting-room table! It looks like the vanished Bob Fenmore is responsible – but can Sexton Blake find him?

Blake and Thomas travel to the crime scene, where Blake quickly notices that the “signs of a struggle” appear to be faked. Lots of frail ornaments have fallen on the floor, but haven’t been broken. Also some flowers from a vase were not just thrown away, but burned! At this point Maron Paul arrives, and isn’t happy at Sexton Blake’s insistence that he takes the letter, which accompanied the necklace, with him. He then investigates footprints outside, and compares fingerprints with those of Marion and her servants – finding no unusual ones, whoever stole the necklace was an expert safe-cracker. Sexton Blake quickly spots that the necklace was intended for Marion Fenmore, not Paul. He then finds a single petal from the burned flowers, which he’d accidentally put in his pocket with something else. He takes the petal to his laboratory, to analyse some curious blue spots on it – but collapses halfway!

The scene then changes to the Western Front. Now, only a month ago, I showed you what The Boys’ Journal was writing about the war – the trenches becoming huge fist-fights, the Germans running away at the first sign of a counterattack, and so on. Certian “other” places, when writing about the British comics of this era (never mind the fact they have never read any), will tell you that those sorts of attitudes persisted throughout the entire First World War, brainwashing working-class teens into signing up for some easy “sport”. But is it actually true? Well, lets look at how the trench battles were being described in Union Jack by december 1914…


Hardly sounds glamorous, does it? Men with agonising wounds, vomiting into the freezing sewer which, to them, represented a narrow strip of safety in a land stripped of all life. And yet tens of thousands were still willingly volunteering – they went because they saw it as their duty, as a service to something bigger than themselves. Look at Britain today – the majority of people are begging the government for more censorship, for more police surveillance. This nation is awash with cowards, willing to surrender any freedom if “even one child” is saved, “even one bomb” prevented. A sickening insult to the sacrifices of our greatest generations.

To continue, Bob Fenmore, under the false name of Robert Fraser, rescues his sergeant from no-man’s land, receiving several severe wounds in the process. He is taken to hospital, raving to himself, and is not expected to survive. But even as he hovers between life and death, his commanding officer is recommending him for the Victoria Cross. Back in London, Tinker discovers his master collapsed on the floor, and calls a doctor. They eventually revive him (the doctor saying “we are losing enough good men in the trenches”), and he explains that some sort of poison was on the rose petal, even that small amount nearly enough to kill! Clearly, the murder of Harold Craig, instead of being a disturbed burglary, was in fact carefully planned. The wrecked room just a blind.

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Sexton Blake is wondering about the case, when Yvonne visits, she also wants Bob Fenmore to be found. Blake also gets her to confess that she broke into Marion Paul’s flat and stole the necklace, sending it to Marion Fenmore. She mentions that the room was wrecked when she arrived, and the roses were on the floor. She also noticed a strange smell, and felt slightly giddy – the poison had already been placed! They then, quite easily, work out where Fenmore has hidden himself – ruined, wanting to die, and with a war starting, he obviously went into the army.

While they’re working that out, Tinker is out looking for Marion Paul, who clearly knows more about the crime that she’s letting on. He tricks his way into the flat, which is a spacious one, and is able to spy on her and a “servant”, who she speaks to as an equal. Unfortunately Tinker can’t hear what they are saying. Marion leaves, visits a bookshop, and returns, followed by Tinker the whole way. She didn’t buy anything in the shop, though – why go directly there and back for no reason? Tinker gets on the roof, and is able to spy on the maid and her mistress – though, again, they talk to each other as equals – through a skylight. He still can’t hear what they’re saying, though! After a while, the maid cleans up in the kitchen and leaves. Tinker breaks in, and gets into a room opposite to the one where they are all sitting – Marion, her two servants, and a man with “a Teutonic cast of features”(!). The two doors are left open, and Tinker can hear them talking – they are worried about Sexton Blake “discovering the truth about the murder”. The other three are also called Johann, Max and Zela, not very British names! They are talking about the stolen necklace – they haven’t worked out who has taken it, yet, and plan to put a notice in the newspapers, hoping to draw out the thief. They then talk about how to “deal with” Sexton Blake, Tinker can’t quite hear and leans forwards – only to be spotted by a dog, which he hadn’t noticed before. The animal raises the alarm, and he is captured.

Sexton Blake is still at home, testing the poison on the petal. He gets a phone call from the secret service, they want him to take some documents to France, and can’t trust a normal courier. War work must always come first, and he is soon off on, it turns out, Yvonne’s yacht, which she has turned over to military work. The crew are the same, and know Blake well. He reaches France and stays the night in a hotel, where he will meet another secret agent. Meanwhile a German spy tries to kill him, but is soon knocked out and tied up. All in a day’s work! Blake meets the British agent, who asks him to use the yacht to take back a tired-out volunteer nurse, who is only named as “The Hon. Edwina”. Sexton Blake has met her previously, at a dance (I expect she was briefly referred to in an earlier story, by a different writer, and this writer didn’t want to step on the other’s toes by coming up with a full name for her!).  She talks about a wounded, raving man she had to treat, who kept calling himself Robert Fenmore!

Back at Baker Street, Yvonne is waiting for Sexton Blake or Tinker to show up. She hears noises in the laboratory, and hides herself in a cupboard. A man comes from the lab, and into Sexton Blake’s bedroom. When he comes out again, she surprises him. He doesn’t think she’s a threat, so she shoots him in the shoulder. Pedro holds him down while she ties him up and dumps him back in the bedroom. She looks out the window, and spots a taxi waiting. She gets into it with Pedro, says the previous fare is not coming back, and asks to be driven to where he was picked up from. She gets taken back to the flats where Tinker is being held. Climbing on the roof, she spots the villains about to kill him with the same poison they put on the flowers. But, at the last moment, they decide they’d better have a taxi ready for an instant getaway. Yvonne quickly gets into the room, pours the poison away, and replaces it with water. The crooks come back – they have a cab driver working for them – and drive out into the countryside, dumping Tinker in a ditch. Yvonne picks him up and carries on after the villains, but they realise they are being followed and try to get away – right into the path of  a train! The maid, butler and driver are all killed. Tinker and Yvonne go back to Baker Street, where they find the prisoner dead, too. He had saturated Sexton Blake’s room with the same poison – which kills by inhalation – and Yvonne had left him laying on the floor!

Only Marion Paul is left out of the gang, and she says that the leader, Max, had forced her to marry him in Vienna, where they bled rich men dry. They did the same in Berlin and Paris before coming to London. Marion was completely helpless, her servants were really the spies of her husband, and he would punish her if she ever went to the police, or warned one of his victims. She has many letters and papers that prove this, and Yvonne quickly arranges matters to hide her involvement in any wrong-doing from the police. Sexton Blake gets back, and she tells him about all this. He later goes back to France and finds Bob Fenm0re – who has now “come to his senses”, and can hardly continue to fight, with his wounds.

Bob Fenmore is bought back to England, and taken to his wife’s new flat. She forgives everything, and he, in turn, forgives Marion Paul. We also discover the reason for Marion Fenmore being confined indoors – not just depression, but the fact Bob Fenmore now has the greatest gift of all – a son!

There’s little else, apart from the story. There’s an article on the Fall of Antwerp, in a similar style to the one about the Belgian forts from the Boys’ Journal issue I looked at in the previous post. Except here, half the article is missing! However, there doesn’t seem to be a page missing from my copy (I have the corresponding one, with the start of the Sexton Blake story on it, and the page seems to ‘bend down’ at the spine). Maybe it was a printing error?


Continuing with the warlike theme, the issue contains two illustrations of The London Scottish in action. The regiment’s name is pretty self-explanatory, and they still exist today, though as a company in a larger London Regiment. Apparently they existed before World War 1, but were re-raised as part of Kitchener’s new army, and distinguished themselves in their first battle. Today, however, the Wikipedia entry for them just has a blank space for World War 1.

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There’s also an extremely grainy picture of “pay day in the navy!”, photographic reproduction in mass-market, cheap publications was a hit-and-miss affair in those days (though Chums, and other “upmarket” publications, did it better, despite their weekly issues also costing a penny).


As well as the incomplete Fall of Antwerp article, there’s an also-grainily-reproduced wash illustration of the German army under bombardment from offshore “Monitor ships”, which were warships with a shallow draught, allowing them to come up close to the muddy, indistinct coast around river estuaries and fire at enemies on shore.


I try to avoid mentioning the adverts in the old comics I look at – the stories are more important! But Amalgamated Press liked to advertise their papers in one another. Here’s adverts for the Christmas special of the Boys’ Journal, as well as the next, regular-sized issue. That Zeppelin cover looks great! Was it an all-over wash illustration, in the style of the Boys’ Friend Library?

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For decades, people have been going on about Christmas being “too commercialised”. Well it was the same back before living memory, too! What’s the best way to have a truly happy Christmas? Buying the Weekly Friend, of course!


And finally, an advert for an electronic gadget that will keep the boys happy. A light! Not sure about that “burns for hours” claim, though some of the bulbs of those days were only a single watt. “A battery that lasts for years” needs some explaining to modern readers, too: They meant you’d need to “re-charge” the battery, by literally refilling it with chemicals when the power ran out! Children who wanted to dabble with electricity in those days had to put quite a bit of effort in just to get electricity!


The Boys’ Journal vol. 3 No. 60 – November 1914

Earlier in the year, I looked at a Boys’ Journal serial which began exactly 100 years (going by the cover date, anyway) prior to the post. I promised another “100 years later” post, and promptly forgot about. Oh well, 100 years and a week and a bit, then!


Of course, the cover date could have been when it went off sale.

Modern historians like to talk about how the “popular magazines” (because the very term “story paper” has been erased from the cultural consciousness. Even though it’s possible that, in 2014, Britain is one of the countries with the most story papers in current publication – all four of them!) of World War 1 talked up trench warfare as “a grand life” of camping, cricket and the occasional battle, in which the “huns” would quickly surrender or run away. For most of the war, that wasn’t true – plenty of the soldiers at the front, especially junior officers, were able to make it back home on  a week’s leave and describe their experiences. It became clear, very quickly, that what was going on was not “glamorous”. Most of the story papers quickly switched to escapism: spy chases, behind-the-lines adventures, or stories about other, much older European wars. An early Sexton Blake library urges to pray that a such a war “will never be seen again”, and the Christmas 1914 Union Jack (to be reviewed when the time comes) hardly paints a pleasant picture of the trenches.

But, before all that, for a few glorious months, AP papers were exactly what those historians talk about! They make fascinating reading now, the hysterical anti-German hatred and ludicrous battle scenes need to be seen to be beleived. Apparently The Boys’ Friend was one of the “best” papers, for this sort of thing. Though I have some some pretty silly Dreadnought covers, too. Unfortunately, I only own one of these hate-crazed papers, this issue of The Boys’ Journal!


The inner pages, note “second” cover, so the real cover can be removed, if somebody wants to bind it in a book.

The lead serial is called “War to the Death! Or, When Britain Fought for Right”. The title ought to give you some idea of what to expect – two territorials are called to war, but not before discovering that a German spy is trying to diddle one of them out of his inheritance (a very common theme in AP story papers, right up into the early twenties!).


I came into this serial at just the right point for a major battle scene. The evil, cowardly Germans are, of course, advancing while disguised as Belgians. Though apparently the illustrator forgot this, showing them in their usual spiked helmets. The advancing teutonic horde is given a good pasting by artillery and, as they get into range, rifle fire. Tragically, this was probably the part that seemed most “unbelievable” to soon-to-be-eligible teenage boys reading it. But was, of course, pretty much the standard attacking procedure until towards the end of 1917.

Once the enemy are close enough to get to grips, the soldiers all jump out of their trenches, and the scene starts to look more like an overgrown pub brawl. Just have a read of this!


The accompanying illustration looks similar to those in stories about Victorian-era wars, where the red-coated Brits swarmed amongst sword-armed Arabs and Africans. Two of the Germans even appear to be bayonetting one of their own comrades XD.


Note they’re still wearing cloth caps here, rather than the steel helmets.

Both of our heroes are wounded in the battle (though continue fighting until they drop from exhaustion, naturally). Sidney ending up in hospital, where he finds his girlfriend has enlisted as an amateur nurse. Just as they’re being reunited, German aeroplanes (all with specific “names”, and talked about as if they are ships) start bombing the town. The villain of the tale is piloting one of these, and has somehow worked out that his enemy will be in the hospital, so he orders his observer to bomb it. The observer, to his credit, doesn’t want to – but “he knew what it meant to disobey an officer”!


The next story is a complete one, called The Ghost Lugger. This one doesn’t mention the war, it’s a straightforward smuggling tale (the smuggler’s aren’t even bringing over German spies, or taking stolen arms to the enemy!). The “ghost lugger” in question being part of a ship with several removable sections, which can be used to hide contraband in.


After that, there’s the inevitable stamp section. This about the stamps of Alsace-Lorraine, a part of France that had been seized by Germany in the earlier Franco-Prussian war. The writer, confident of an allied victory, predicts that “one of the most certain results of the present war will be the return of these provinces to France”. No illustrations of the stamps in question, though!


This is followed by The Great Tunnel Tragedy, another non-war-related story about a policeman who solves a mystery. It has no illustrations at all, though the title has a flag, which is an exact copy of one from the “The End” block on the previous story! There is a photo of a naval gunner, though.


As this issue is from early November, the old customs can’t be cast aside just because of a bit of a ruckus on the continent. There’s an article about how to make a “fire balloon”, what we’d now call a Chinese Lantern. Unlike todays modern dolphin-choking plastic models, this is all biodegradable paper!


After this, on the centre spread, there’s a strange “factual” story about the fall of Liege, an early battle in the war. It’s “framed” by two British boys, who were on holiday when the war broke out, and have only just made it back to England. They “heard something of the battle”, and ask their father about it. He was fortunate enough to have actually been…. in England, and read about it in the papers. He gives an account which contains passages about the Germans being like “flies around a cube of sugar”. The gallant Belgians kill thousands of Germans from their safe trenches and forts, but are still beaten by the ever-increasing field-grey horde. Also the dastardly huns capture a bridge by parking a van full of wounded Belgians in the middle of it. The story ends with the two boys edging towards the door. “Where are you going?” asks the father. “To enlist!” they reply. “Bravo!” he whispers, in awed envy!


The dots are pencil, added by a previous owner.

After that, we have a photo of one of Britain’s warships – HMS Monarch. Probably built only a few years after the still-surviving Mikasa, in Japan, but with a much more squat, narrow, “all big gun” profile. Oh if only one of these dreadnought-era ships had been saved!


The next story is another serial (which also reaches chapter 15 in this issue!). The Mystery at Craghurst is a school story, with a mystery of missing persons, criminals prowling the district, and distractions in the form of “Football” (Rugby!) matches. The match in this issue being between a team of “peat cutters” and the schoolboys. Except the dastardly local landowner has swapped out the peat cutters for big, tough miners. The crowd of locals is looking like trouble, too – a teacher advises members of the schools cadet corps to be ready to rush for their (blank-loaded!) rifles if there’s any trouble. I suspect the unscrupulous landowner goes face-first into a peat bog at least once in this story!


After that, a Sexton Blake serial! This one is an adaption of a Sexton Blake film, which was then being shown. With rather more dialogue, I suppose – considering the film would have been silent! Up into the twenties and thirties, written adaptions of films were pretty common. There was even some story papers dedicated to them – Boys’ and Girl’s Cinema, for instance. A cinema ticket was probably roughly equivalent in price to one of these papers, so you could see one popular film and read about the others. Later on, paperback adaptions of films had to “make do” until video players came along in the 1980’s, and bought “on demand” replays into the average home.


This is followed by the script for a “crosstalk”, a type of stand-up comedy with a straight man and a comedian interrupting him. That lasted well into the twentieth century, too – no doubt you’ll be able to catch some Morecambe and Wise over Christmas! Being from late 1914, this one tells of a heroic wartime exploit (shooting down a Zeppelin, capturing it, and flying over the heads of a besieging enemy to fetch reinforcements). Naturally, the characters decide to join the army at the end.


There’s some more factual content on the back covers, too. Remember that some binding readers would have thrown them away. On the inside cover is a “poster”, showing British army and navy officer ranks. Some readers no doubt put it up on their walls.


The back cover is a short article about Krupp’s, the famous German armaments manufacturer. “Krupp Steel” was a byword for strength in those days, and the power of their naval guns was well-respected. At the time, the firm was run by a woman – Bertha Krupp, eldest daughter of the previous manager. German surface raiders certainly did plenty of damage, but it was the submarines that really caused Britain trouble!


Midwife Maudie

Launched in January 2012, the show Call The Midwife has gone on to be a huge success in Britain, and is building up a good reputation abroad too. But, have any of you watched it and thought that it would be better if it also contained murder mysteries, and was set in a small village on the border of Wales, a decade further back in time? Well DC Thomson have you covered!


I never actually noticed the cover photo changes until I get them all out to photograph XD.

This series of stories is published in the My Weekly Pocket Novel library, a small story-paper which comes out twice a month. For most of it’s life, it was “Commando” digest-sized, but, more recently (probably around April 2012-time, when Commando changed) became “paperback sized” (though still as thick as a Commando). More recently still, the series went ‘large print’, and became roughly the same size as “golden age” paperbacks from the 60’s to 80’s. The large print upgrade was probably necessary, as their intended audience is “mature”,  to put it politely.

The libraries are always about genteel, “innocent” romance, and are often set in the past. It seems like most of the stories are complete, too, though Maudie is probably not the only recurring character. When things like murder mysteries and quests for hidden treasure (well, flowers, as in the only non-Maudie one I have read) feature, it’s always as a secondary plot. I’m sometimes tempted to write one myself… though I doubt they will be interested in a romantic story between a white guy and a half-Chinese guy, who are being pestered by insane otaku girls in a university anime society. Oh well, I’ll do it as a “manga” instead!

But back to the Maudie stories, I actually bought the first one just as something to read while I waited for a job interview that I’d arrived an hour and a half early for (then sat in the car, wearing a suit, in blazing June heat. I still didn’t get it!). I’d also been listening to a lot of Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh (a late 4o’s radio series hosted by Kenneth Horne, who would later star in the legendary Round The Horne), so the late 40’s setting resonated with me. The four stories in the “first batch” take the reader up to the end of the 40’s, and Maudie’s marriage to the local policeman, Dick Bryant. The “second batch” is now underway, and these books take the stories into the “never had it so good” decade of the 1950’s. Though, in the early part of that decade, quite a lot of things were still on the ration. Book number 7 is going to be a Christmas Special. Snow on the logo is not expected!


The Midwife and the Murder


Issue 1823 – June 2013

This opening story is set in 1947, a time when rationing was still in full force, new clothes, shoes and other items were virtually unobtainable (and if you did see them in the shops, they were labelled “For Export Only”, in the hope rich tourists would take them home!). Maudie is the Llandyfan midwife, but through the war has also been working as the local nurse, too. In an early part of the story she checks up on a boy with chicken pox, as well as looking in on a new mother, whose father wants the baby to be kept quiet at night, and accuses her of “sitting at home all day with nothing to do”!

The story opens with Maudie finding a murder victim on an isolated hill path, after having seen to a patient on a farm. She calls in Constable Dick Bryant, but has been reading a lot of Miss Marple, and wonders if she could have a hand in solving the case herself. At the same time, a little girl called Polly Willis goes missing, but turns up again – but, for some reason, she is too frightened to speak to anybody. There’s also a travelling salesman in the area – during the war, a young man who travelled around the country a lot, and was not in the army, was looked on with suspicion… but surely that’s all over, now?


Blood Lines


Issue 1828 – Aug 2013

This one starts off with a woman who thinks she can remember a load of past lives, dating back centuries. There’s also a teen couple who have “got in trouble” and try to elope to Gretna Green in an old Austin Seven. Only to crash the car and cause the baby to be born prematurely. There’s also a spate of shoplifting, which is eventually traced to some young “Asylum Seekers”(or DP’s, as they were called at the time) living in a disused railway carriage. Also, a family who have been taking care of a war orphan for years have suddenly found out the girl has family in Australia, and will probably be sent away.

Meanwhile, there’s a village fete in the offing… and then the fortune-teller gets stabbed! The fortune-teller is also the sister of Mrs Blythe, the “reincarnated” woman. She immediately starts to think the murderer will come for her next, having been “nearly pushed into the river” recently (though it was more likely she slipped). It doesn’t help that the fortune-teller looks very much like her sister, and has been in America with a man involved in some sort of shady deals. Before long, the killer shows his hand again. But Maudie’s policeman friend, Dick Bryant, catches him in the act!

Maudie has problems of her own. The elderly doctor, who had come out of retirement in the war, is going back into retirement. A new man is coming into the district, and will take over Maudie’s “nursing” duties, though he also expects to be able to move into her cottage (which is actually council property), and acts as if everything’s already decided. Luckily another new doctor comes along, and decides he can turn his rich aunt’s old mansion gatehouse into a proper surgery. Oh, and, incedentally, Dick Bryant proposes…


Blood Money


Issue 1834 – November 2013

The story begins with a conversation about the new doctor’s surgery. Apparently it has a “butler”, called Brian “Bingo” Munroe, who hasn’t been able to find a job since he left the army at the end of the war. As well as the snooty Dr Dean, there’s a Dr Lennox, and his “jilted fiancee”. Except they’d never been engaged in the first place, she’s stalking him and lying! Maudie is busy with wedding planning, when Dick suddenly reveals that he’s been selected to go on a special exchange course in Canada. If they get married quickly, she can go with him – but does she want to rush the wedding, and does she really want to go and live in a strange land (they have decimal currency!)?

Maudie and Dick postpone the wedding, and he sails off to Canada alone. When she gets back, she finds Dr Lennox’s non-fiancee has been lured to an isolated shack and bludgeoned to death! Obviously, everybody suspects the doctor, especially once the village gossips hear about the stalking. To make matters more confusing, a “suicide note” from the victim is posted to the local paper, though how she managed to hit herself on the back of the head is anyone’s guess. Later, Dr Lennox’s rich aunt makes an obviously-false confession, trying to protect her nephew. Of course, this just makes the police more certain he did it!

Eventually, Maudie stumbles on the real murderer, almost by accident. He traps her and an old lady in a house, but fortunately a man whose wife has gone into labour shows up and scares the killer off. He tries to get away in a car, but crashes it and dies.


A Face From the Past


Issue 1838 – Jan 2014

This one’s a bit different, there’s not actually a murder in it! Dick is back from Canada, but has now been invited away to train to be a detective, though he could also be promoted to uniformed sergeant. Looks like the wedding is being put off again!

A new doctor comes to the area (after Dr Lennox left, due to the scandal around the murder in the previous book). This time his name is Julian Ransome – and he used to be Maudie’s boyfriend! He blew her off after she suggested marriage, then went off to North Africa during the war. Now he’s back, and practicing in Llandyfan. She is very nervous about meeting him – but he doesn’t seem to want to talk about the past at all, in fact, he looks right through her. She soon gets suspicious – is he even the same man?


Unholy Ground


Issue 1849 – June 2014

This one opens with the wedding of Maudie Stevens to Dick Bryant, so she is now called Maudie Bryant. There was none of this intentional double-barreling in 1950,  though I doubt one of these books set in 2014 would feature characters doing it either. They’re escapism all right!

Anyway, the mystery in this book is more of a “cold case”. A young mother called Sheila Ramsay, driven to distraction by her crying baby and unhelpful husband, abandons her baby in somebody else’s pram, then walks home with her own empty pram. Was she so tired she wasn’t thinking properly? Or did she really mean to abandon the child? Maudie and Dick arrange for her mother to come and help with the baby, to the husband’s horror. He’s the bank manager, and claims to “be a personal friend of the chief constable!”. Though it’s more likely the chief constable is a customer at the bank, and the manager knows who to toady to.

Later on, a farmer ploughs up the skeleton of a dead baby in a field, surely Shiela Ramsay has not gone too far? Fortunately, it turns out the dead baby is 100 years old. Maudie decides to do some investigating, meeting the great grandmother of a baby she delivers, who talks about “the war we just had”. Except this turns out to be the Boer War, fought from 1899 to 1902! However, she then goes on to hint at the “poor baby” whose “bones were found after all”. Maudie does some more research and uncovers an account of babies born out of wedlock and being swapped, back in the early Victorian era.

There’s also a side plot about the council putting Maudie’s house up for sale. It comes with her job, and in those days a woman was expected to give up her job, once she was married. Maudie is still part time, but she and dick can’t scrape enough together to buy their own house – until a local woman discovers that her family have a power to veto the sale of certain cottages, given to them in celebration of Victoria’s diamond jubilee, in 1897. The removal of the stress related to moving house is pretty handy, as Maudie has been feeling tired and sick in the mornings. Considering her profession, it takes an embarrassingly long time to realise what that means!



Fire in the Valley


Issue 1858 – Oct 2014

Though this one is called “Fire in the Valley”, and the blurb says that a “mystery fire-raiser is causing havoc!”, the arson plot is actually kind of in the background, until right at the end of the story. The story begins with Maudie staying at home, because she’s pregnant, when an RSPCA flag seller comes to the door, he was taking a short cut across a bit of common land in the village, when he found a body! A dog alerted him to it, then followed him. The dog ends up living in Maudie’s house!

The victim turns out to be the milkman, who has been “courting” a similarly-aged woman in the village, who is actually his sister! Apparently there were three children, all separated at birth. The third one is still missing, maybe in Canada. The milkman had also apparently recognised somebody in a pub in the nearby town recently. A tale of a young man stringing a girl along, and vanishing with her money, during the war eventually comes out. All this happened over in Wales, so Dick is sent over there to make inquiries, and might as well take Maudie with him. They discover the identity of the swindler, but nobody knows where he is now.

After they get back, Maudie is doing something else and once again stumbles across the murderer, coming within an ace of getting killed. Luckily somebody sneaks up behind him with a frying pan! With that all straightened out, Maudie goes into a special maternity hospital to have her baby. She’s looking out of the window one night, and spots somebody sneaking around near the church outside – it’s the arsonist! He accidentally sets himself on fire when the police arrive, but they quickly put him out. The shock sends Maudie into labour, and by the time Dick gets back the next day, he has a son!

The next story is due out in early December, and is going to be a Christmas one, probably Christmas 1951 – still a time of rationing and austerity. I doubt the paper will have snow on the logo, though!

The Sexton Blake Library is back!

Normally, when you hear about a British comic being “back”, it’s either a point-missing American revival in which the main character is a psychopathic cannibal, a book of reprints, a one-off “funny” newspaper strip, or (in a depressingly-increasing number of cases) digital-only. Maybe even digital-only reprints, which are basically free to make and still sold for the thick end of a fiver. And people who are oh-so “aware” of “what’s going on in the world” lap it up. While, no doubt, sharing pictures on Facebook about how they don’t fall for “corporate propaganda”.

But when I say The Sexton Blake Library is back, I mean it’s BACK! New stories, printed on paper! Now, when the revival was first announced, I was hoping it would be this sort of size:


And this sort of price:


Was the announcement really that long ago?

And not this sort of size:


And this sort of price:


Well in size, it’s actually a hardback, of about these dimensions…


And as for price…



I was also hoping it was going to be sold in newsagents, perhaps near the My Weekly and People’s Friend story libraries, rather than in bookshops. But I haven’t seen it in either, it looks like it’s online ordering only, though it might turn up in bigger Waterstoneses. I’ll check when I go to London next… I just hope it’s in the Crime section, and not the Steampunk section.


But anyway, on to the content! As I said, often, when we hear about a comic or character being “back”, it often turns out to be reprints. But the new SBL is really NEW, and begins with a story by Mark Hodder, who is already well-known in steampunk circles (as well as, erm, running the biggest Sexton Blake website!). Resisting the temptation to “update” the character, with, say, an alsatian and a black Tinker (Though I had a plan to do that myself, many years ago!), the new story reads exactly like an issue of the SBL would have eighty-something years ago. It even has an “introducing” blurb before the story – common in both the Sexton Blake Library and the weekly Union Jack.


The story packs in all the usual Sexton Blake tropes – fiendish, untrustworthy master villains, disguises, escapes, sleight-of-hand trickery, betrayals and James Bond (or Captain Justice!)-esque “gadgets”, far in advance of the technology of the day. If that isn’t enough, the discovery of a priceless, bible-referenced treasure is slotted in as a mere scene-setter. There’s even an upper-class imperialist offering an actually-quite-convincing explanation of why the Middle East is always such a trouble spot! Remember, once upon a time, you could buy at least eight stories of this quality every month!


The first story ends with a quick explanation of the origin of the main villains (also returning from old stories, though one of thier associates, “The Gentleman”, is a new character). We are then treated to a reprint of their very first story, originally published in The Union Jack, in 1922. It’s by G.H. Teed, regarded by many as the best Sexton Blake writer (he was quite the “character” himself. A biography would be very difficult to piece together, but would make interesting reading). To Mark Hodder’s, and the new Library’s, credit, the style and pacing of the story are almost indistinguishable from the brand-new one that preceded it!


It retains the introductory blurb, and the sometimes-spoiler-tastic chapter titles. Unfortunately the illustrations are not reproduced. Shame, as they were almost certainly by Eric Parker, regarded by many as the best Sexton Blake artist! He’s certainly the one who gave him a defined image, anyway. It’s interesting to see the “origin story” of the three villains who we have just seen foiled in the main story, and it’s a great thriller in itself, though the ending is a little rushed. The Union Jack didn’t have a great deal of space, though!

The new SBL may be £20, but it is quarterly (for now…?), so you have time to save up. If every issue is of the same quality, it ought to do well! I do hope there’s stories set in several different time periods, though. In fact, I seem to remember hints that a story about “Silent Thunder” was going to explain how Sexton Blake, Tinker and Mrs Bardell lived right through from the 1890’s to 1960’s (and, unofficially, far beyond!) without ageing.  That story was going to alternate between the early 20th and 21st centuries. The one in this volume, though, is set sometime around 1928, and is more “straightforward”. As straightforward as you get with Sexton Blake, anyway!

* – Also, I’d ignore that “one left in stock” message. The much older Zenith Lives! book, from the same publisher, says the same, even though I bought “the last one” ages ago. Hasn’t stopped somebody trying to re-sell their “rare” copy for £3000, though!

British comics herald the start of World War 1


And, as usual with my ‘projects’, I’m starting to write this post the day after the anniversary. But then again, the British Expeditionary Force did have to get to France, then march across half the country, before they even saw a German.

Anyway, while I say “British comicS”, I really only have one thing from the true start of the war (I did have some Dreadnoughts and Boys’ Journals from that time, which I sold ((making all of 7p profit, after postage -_-)), but they didn’t mention it), which is the 1914-15 volume of Young England.


The volume seems to have started around September or October, so was probably well along the line of preparation when war broke out. It opens with this introduction, stating that “very different fare” had been prepared:


The serial stories in this volume – probably fully written in advance, rather than in separate parts, as they were in “downmarket” papers – don’t mention the war at all. Though the main one is also set in 1911, and is about a quest across China to retrieve the “true emperor” from a mountain hideaway. Only to find that the Chinese have risen against the monarchy and established a republic in the meantime!


The other main serial story is a school story, presumably set when it is published. Though it too doesn’t mention the war at all.


Though the title could suggest mysterious spy capers

The third one, rather shorter, and appearing at the end of the volume, is quite warlike… but set several hundred years previously! Perhaps this one was at least partly written after war was declared, and is an attempt to conjure up the “spirit of old England”?


Stay, thy Norman churls!

The short stories in the early part of the volume don’t mention the war either. Later ones do – but not all of them! Several seem to have a Canadian Backwoods theme. Perhaps, before the war broke out, there was a push to expand the colonies in Canada.

ye_14-15-08 – ye_14-15-09

Before long, the war-related fiction appears, such as this story called The Yellow Streak, which starts off in a school before moving to the Western Front.


There’s also a number of factual accounts of heroic deeds, often with a big illustration. Some of these are “independent”, whilst others are part of a regular series. I suppose they were written-up and crammed in as quickly as they came into the office. Several are about the war in the air – this new arena of battle fascinated the public of the day, especially boys! One article is about the first Zeppelin to be destroyed in an air-to-air fight. Though we now see them as rickety flying bombs (the planes of the era were proabably more dangerous!), early in the war Zeppelins seemed invincible – they could fly much higher than any plane could, and ordinary bullets would pass straight through them. “Archie” was still in nappies, too. It wasn’t until incendiary “tracer” bullets were invented that they could be reliably bought down by gunfire.



Right from the word go, the articles are almost all about the war. Except for some of the early Scout and Boys’ Life Brigade (seemingly an even more militaristic “scouts” – are they an ancestor of today’s cadets) ones, which were ‘regulars’ and so written as they went along. Later ones explain why the war hadn’t yet been mentioned.


It’s interesting to see how the BLB and Scouts helped out with the war effort – taking messages, acting as lookouts, training in first-aid, and so on. If the “balloon went up” and a major war started today, would the Cadet and Scout leaders dare to use thier boys for war work (at least until the nukes started falling, anyway)? Or would they be facing the wrath of furious parents, who put thier “fammleh” above the greater calling of service to one’s country?


Several of the early war-related articles were rushed in to replace other material. Treating thier readers as intelligent beings, rather than money-laying chickens, the editors of Young England admit that these are reprints:


While a few other articles were nothing to do with the war, but became important – for instance, this one about the Suez Canal. In peacetime, it was just an interesting feat of engineering, but in wartime it became a place of vital strategic importance – especially with Britain’s colonies in the east (and her alliance with Japan). A new introduction has been added, mentioning that the Turks are making a move on the canal.


Apart from that, there’s plenty more up-to-date articles written about the war, they really dominate the volume – featuring all sorts of stuff about uniforms, aircraft, songs and slang of the time.



Inevitably people die in wars, and this means obituaries. Though one of the biggest is actually dedicated to a military commander who died of old age, having led British (and Indian!) troops in former times. Even before the war broke out, military commanders were regarded as celebrities – they, and thier campaigns, being household names in the same way actors and pop stars are today. How much do we hear about the leaders of our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?


Another feature of the more upmarket story papers was poetry (though editors of the likes of The Marvel and The Boys’ Friend threatened to throw poets down the the stairs!). The poems follow the themes of the complete stories, starting off “normal”, but getting more and more warlike:


Some nice illustrations, too.

As the war dragged on, and got more and more bitter, propaganda pieces started to appear, often illustrated. In this volume, they concentrate on the use of submarines by the Germans. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that the use of gas by the Germans is mentioned – you’d have thought that would be an atrocity worth commenting on (though, before very much longer, everybody was at it).


There’s quite a few sea illustrations, actually. Though the much-vaunted Dreadnoughts of the early part of the 20th century didn’t really score the smashing victories either side was hoping for (though the blockade of Germany was a ‘victory’, it lasted years and involved very little gunfire!).


I’ll be lookig more at WW1 publications (what I have, anyway!) as the 100th anniversaries come up. Not all of them will be in English, though! I’ve already reviewed a Japanese story paper called Hiko Shonen here:


I also have the Christmas 1914 issue of Union Jack, which is worth another look. Unfortunately, I don’t have any German story papers from that era… time for a holiday? I bet they make very interesting reading!

The only British thing in the Kyoto International Manga Museum


Which is very difficult to take a decent picture of

What do you suppose is the one, single mention of British comics in the Kyoto International Manga Museum? (well, to be fair, American-published British works like V for Vendetta and Watchmen are almost directly in front of you once you go through the ticket barrier). It must be one of the more famous ones, like The Dandy or The Beano, right? Nope! Well then, what about famous “modern” adventure comics like Action, or Battle Picture Weekly? No, it’s not them either… How about the well-known Eagle? Not even hinted at! And neither is Roy of the Rovers, the longest-running title devoted to our national game.

What else could there be? How about Newspaper strips? Now we’re on the right track… Modesty Blaise, perhaps? Nope! Garth? Nope! Not even Andy Capp… and even Homer Simpson reads Andy Capp! In fact, the only British comic to be mentioned in the Kyoto International Manga Museum is… THIS!


Well okay, that’s actually the annual based on the newspaper strip.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, as the main strip was known (in the 20’s, there was a separate Wilfred annual for younger readers) first appeared in the Daily Mirror in 1919, initially drawn by an artist called Austin Bowen Payne. The writer was Bertrand Lamb, or “Uncle Dick”, as he called himself in editorial segments. A.B. Payne left the strip sometime in 1939, and from then on it was drawn by uncredited artists. The strip finally ended in 1956, having run in the Mirror (presumably) daily, and also having produced two series of annuals – one pre-war, and one post-war. The first Pip & Squeak and Wilfred annuals appeared in 1922, cover-dated 1923, and it’s the first of these that I’ll be looking at to start with.

gugnunc02 – gugnunc08

As the annuals are aimed at younger readers (apparently the Wilfred annual was aimed at younger readers still, it was probably designed for parents to read to their children, whereas this one is for the children to read themselves), they have a lot of colour. Though this is 1922, so the full colour pages are limited to a few plates, but many of the others have red spot colour, or blue ink.


The book begins with a rather long introduction, in which Uncle Dick reminds readers that blackcurrant jam is not good for annuals, and that puppies are likely to think there’s a mouse hiding inside it. He also introduces the characters, and their origins, Pip was apparently a stray dog, Squeak was born on an arctic island near South Africa, and later came to London. Wilfred was found in a field, having wandered away from his burrow. Other characters included Angeline, who is Uncle Dick’s maid, and who looks after the animals, and Bendy, who is a half-fairy girl.

After the introduction, we go on to the first comic strip, which is in the “big caption” style of the time. As well as speech balloons, a written story underneath explains what is happening, though usually just repeats what you can already see!


They also meet Santa, who apparently has loads of toys stuck to the outside of his house

There’s also several text stories, though they’re still quite simple compared to those in “typical” annuals of the period (and the later ‘mixed age’ annuals like Feathers). There’s no battles against “savages” in this tale of shipwreck, the only real danger the characters (some boys and girls, not Pip, Squeak and Wilfred) face is their dog getting stuck in a hole. They also stumble upon an incredibly convenient Frigate Bird (apparently the South Sea Islands’ version of a Carrier Pigeon) which they use to send for help.


No “savages”, but the unfortunate racial attitudes of the time are still in evidence.

Then there’s this “story without words”, featuring Wilfred. Though you will quickly notice that it does have words! What’s going on there? Well the sounds like “Boo Hoo!”, “Nunc!” and “Gug!” that Wilfred made formed his entire vocabulary until the postwar period. “Nunc” was apparently his pronunciation of “Uncle”, which is what he considered Pip to be. “Gug” and “Nunc” later took on another meaning, but I’ll come to that further down!


There’s also a few puzzle and hobby pages. Apparently some later “Uncle Dick Annuals” had lots of puzzle pages you could solve, cut out and send in for prizes, though the ones in this annual (and almost every other in British comics history!) are just for fun.

gugnunc07 – gugnunc09

Finally, there’s some poems, with wonderful illustrations, and nice calligraphy on the writing, too. It may even have been drawn onto the original artwork, rather than printed later.


Of course, the main Pip, Squeak and Wilfred strip was appearing in the Daily Mirror. From 1921 to 1924 it was given it’s own Saturday supplement, initially of four pages (though I should think the other three pages contained the Mirror’s other strips!), but this was later reduced to three pages, then two. In the 50’s, the Mirror had spread it’s comic strips across almost every page of the paper, though more recently they have all been crammed together, next to the horoscopes.

The strip had a tremendous cultural impact during the interwar period, more than any British made comic strip could hope for today. It even became the nickname for the three medals the “old contemptibles” and Kitchener’s volunteers received for surviving the whole First World War. In addition, three RAF training aircraft of the interwar period were named Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, as were some armoured cars in service in Iraq. Handley-Page also named their HP39 aircraft “Gugnunc” in Wilfred’s honour, and a small operation to mine the Norwegian coast in 1940 was codenamed “Operation Wilfred”.


Also showing how Pip, Squeak and Wilfred occupied a whole page of the paper in 1928!

More importantly, and recorded on a double-page spread in the Gravett & Stanbury Great British Comics book, was the establishment of a huge fanclub called the Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs, or W.L.O.G. This was organised into “Burrows” and “Warrens”, and at one pointed counted thousands of members throughout the Empire and wider world. The W.L.O.G. had special badges, and a number of rules encouraging “Gugnuncliness”. These included being kind to animals, protecting younger children, and never eating rabbit! There was even a blue-and-gold enamel badge for club members to wear.


Swiped from an Ebay auction (I later bought it XD)

The W.L.O.G. reached it’s height on the 14th of April 1928, when eight thousand members of the club flocked to the Albert Hall for a mass celebration, an “appearance” by the characters and even a live performance of the club’s song, The Gugnunc Chortle, on BBC Radio. This can also be found in the book, and goes:

Gug! Gug! Nunc! Nunc!
Gugnuncs Merry are we!
We sing this song, for we all belong
To the W.L.O.G.

Stand By – Friends all-
Members merry and free!
For hand-in-hand goes the gugly band
Of the W.L.O.G.

Nunc! Nunc! Wilf! Wilf!
To Wilf we bend the knee,
To Wilf we sing, to the gugly king
Of the W.L.O.G.

Gug! Gug! Nunc! Nunc!
To Friends of all degree!
Give gugly hugs to the nuncly gugs
of the W.L.O.G.

Apparently this was recorded and sold on a gramophone record, as were other Gugnunc songs, though they are extremely rare today… so somebody decided to re-record one from sheet music!



In addition to those records, and the annuals, a few other books appeared (including a compilation of the first newspaper strips, published in 1921) as well as jigsaw puzzles, games, toys etc. At the height of the strip’s fame, a huge model of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’s house, Mirror Grange, went on tour around the country, and featured walls that could be opened, to reveal the rooms inside. I found an old Independent article which seems to indicate the model was still in existence in 1995, though there doesn’t appear to be any more recent information on it, nor Google Images pictures (though apparently it had a book to itself in the twenties!).


Though Pip, Squeak and Wilfred once had a huge cultural influence (apparently dwindling in the post-war period, with Wilfred now speaking properly, and a young penguin called Stanley, previously only occasionally seen, becoming a full-time member of the cast), they’re largely forgotten today. Except among British humour comic fans, and antique toy / militaria collectors, anyway.

So why are they featured in the Kyoto International Manga Museum? Well they only appear as part of a display in what might be called the “centre” of the museum, which focuses on the evolution of manga. The middle of the room has examples of how it developed, along with examples of the influences of western-style humour magazines (a reproduced cover of Japan Punch, inspired by Britain’s Punch, is shown), while the outer shelves have year-by-year shelves going from 1947 onwards, with books you can take down and read (all in Japanese, of course… and the older ones are more modern reprints, not actual 1947 volumes!). It is in this room that Pip, Squeak and Wilfred appear, alongside a similar Japanese “funny animal” newspaper strip, showing how the comics of all nations have influenced one another down the years (though die-hard manga fans in the west will insist it’s “unique” and “different” and somehow sprang into fully-formed existence at some point in 1947).

The other area that contains foreign comics is the lobby, which has a quite disjointed collection of “manga from around the world”. The USA being a load of Marvel / DC (and the odd “indie”) graphic novels, France being Tintin, Asterix etc albums (if I remember rightly, in a rather random assortment of languages, though mostly Japanese). Oddly the sections for other Asian countries just feature their own versions of Japanese comics, translated into Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese etc. Further along there’s a separate “English Manga” section, with the American-translated volumes we get in the UK. There’s no section for British comics at all.

Or at least there wasn’t in late summer 2012! I suggested a long list of titles they could collect and feature on one of the feedback forms (though should probably have added ‘or if you can’t be bothered to collect and bind all them, at least fill a shelf with Titan and DFC Library books). I’m going back to Kyoto next month, so I’ll see if the situation has improved…

Peeps at foreign comics 4: Frisette

Hands up who thought these were all going to be Japanese, then? *puts hand up*


Frisette was a French story paper published in 1925 by J. Ferenczi et Fils. This was a company run by Joseph Ferenczi, who came to France from Hungary and published a lot of adventure, sci-fi and detective stories between the wars and into the 1950’s… at least according to an auto-translation from the French Wikipedia, anyway!


A typical issue – not sympathetically trimmed!

Frisette, and perhaps his other publications, is in a series of ‘penny part’ style publications, which dominated British comics for much of the 19th century – primarily as horror-and-crime focused Penny Dreadfuls. These “penny” (or 30 centime) parts have an illustrated cover, and text inside. But unlike Story Papers, they only serialise one story, with no other articles, stories or adverts. This style of publication had probably long since vanished from British shops by the mid-twenties. I own Frisette as a book, containing all of the penny parts – presumably some readers bound their own, but this appears to be an official binding, with an artistic cover, name on the spine, and other volumes advertised on the back (all of which look more interesting than this one).


Inscription I can’t read, from the inside front cover.

The subtitle for the series is “Aventures d’un petit filles”, which is “Adventures for little girls”. The story is about a girl called Frisette (and possibly her friends / sisters) who are apparently at either a boarding school (Lychee, as they were called in France), or possibly at some kindly old auntie’s house. They then go on a journey around the world, visiting various places and travelling by ship and car.




Don’t know where that is


On a ship

fris_07 – fris_08

New York




“La Place Du Ferrari”, somewhere else in Italy?

There’s also a section involving  adventures in mountains, and German-speaking people. A journey to Switzerland or Austria? Interestingly, each issue has it’s illustrations crammed together in this comic-like spread on the middle two pages. The rest of the pages are just text. The back cover is apparently an advert for the next issue, and information on what the story is about.


From early in the story

There’s also plenty of poems, or songs. I don’t know if they are ones that were well-known in France at the time (like our own Vitae Lampada), or if they were written for the story. I’ve just finished a 30’s school story for girls with one character who makes up poems about every event. Some of them are quite short, whilst others occupy almost as much page space as the story itself!

fris_12 – fris_13 – fris_14

fris_15 – fris_16

Bound British story papers and penny parts, whether officially or privately bound, usually didn’t include the covers. I’m glad they were included in this volume though, they have great artwork and quality printing – by the standards of a mass-produced, working-class publication of the day, anyway. They also allow you to see the price, which was interestingly written as “0F30Cent”. It’d be like Union Jack saying it’s price is “£0,0s,2d” XD. The first issue of Frisette enticed new readers in with an “Exceptionnellement” price of 5 centimes:


This was increased to 15 centimes for the second issue, and to 30 from the third onwards.


Also with a look at the back cover information.

Marvel(ous) Miracle!


One of the most famous of Britain’s home-grown superheroes is Marvelman, who has a long and pretty complicated history. He came about when National Publications (later DC Comics) threatened to sue Fawcett Publications, the owner of Captain Marvel, because he was considered to be too similar to Superman (later, DC simply bought out Fawcett instead).

Captain Marvel was an ordinary boy, who was chosen by an ancient wizard to become a mighty hero (with the powers of various Greek gods) when he said the word “Shazam!”. Much later, the Captain Marvel comic was actually named Shazam!, due to legal threats from Marvel comics.


In the UK, Captain Marvel had been a big seller, so Len Miller and Mick Anglo created their own version, called Marvelman. Marvelman was the alter-ego of Micky Moran, who transformed when he said “Kimota”, which is Atomic backwards. Marvelman also had a slightly more “scientific” basis, as opposed to Captain Marvel’s mythical basis. The character first appeared in “issue 25” of Marvelman, so numbered because there had been 24 issues of Captain Marvel before it. Mind you, it wasn’t unusual for the one-shot and short-run comics of the late 40’s and early 50’s to begin with high numbers, to make them look more “stable” and “regular” than they were.

The series came to an end in the 50’s, but was revived in the early 80’s in Warrior, written by Alan Moore. This carried on, but a battle over pay saw the series end abruptly 5 issues before Warrior itself ended. Then an American publisher called Eclipse Comics got hold of the character, and Neil Gaiman started to write an epic story, continuining on from the Warrior stories. But then Eclipse comics went bust before it could be finished.

After some back-and-forth legal battles, it was discovered Dez Skinn, who started Warrior, had never actually bought the rights to the character anyway, so Mick Anglo still owned them. Marvel Comics jumped in and bought the rights for themselves – so we can finally enjoy complete reprints of the stories, sold in large numbers from shops – without any worries of legal wrangles / bankruptcy causing the character to vanish again!

The first issue of the new Marvel title. which is still called Miracleman, as that’s the name American readers are more familiar with, came out in January, containing the first two parts from Warrior, three old stories, a (new?) introduction story, and some short articles and unadulterated art board scans.


We start with the introduction story, a tale which leads into the first part of the Alan Moore version. With depressing inevitability, it’s been done in a “retro” style. The colouring is done in that ‘deliberately bad’ way, which can also be seen making Batman ’66 unreadable. What makes it even worse is the fact that, as we learn from the pages at the back of the very same issue, the original stories were not even in colour! The story is about the original Marvelman of the 50’s, who encounters time-travelling villains from the utopian future world of 1981. They invade “Cornwall” (which is full of American soldiers), and are able to fight our heroes using “magnetic gas” which is fired from “video rings”.


After they are defeated, we jump into the Warrior story, which is set in 1982. But this time it’s the 1982 we remember (well, people who are old enough to XD), with lots of eco-warriors protesting against nuclear power stations. Now Micky Moran is a middle aged journalist, who is covering one of these protests when terrorists appear and herd everybody inside the power station’s canteen. Micky feels ill, and collapses, so they drag him out. On the way, he spots “Atomic” written on a glass door, but as he’s on the other side it reminds him of “Kimota”, the magic word from his recurring dreams about superpowers. He transforms into Marvelman, easily defeats the terrorists (they only bought AK47’s with them) and goes home. He starts to tell his wife all about his super-adventures, but she just thinks they sound stupid. Then “the big bad” turns up.


After that, we get some short interviews and articles about the original Marvelman, and some reproductions of the very gaudy covers (with far superior colouring to the “retro”, “deliberately bad” colouring of the introduction story).


Then we’re onto the good stuff – the 50’s stories! These short, wacky tales treat superheroes as the ridiculous concept they are, every one featuring some pantomime villains planning to steal this, or blow that up. One of the first things you’ll notice about these 50’s stories, though, is how they’re all talking about “malt shops”, “bucks” and “autos”. That’s right – THEY’RE SET IN AMERICA! The fact the “modern” version is set in Britain really highlights the spitting contempt in which our modern wannabe-yank creators and fans hold old British comics. They’d probably just guessed the old Marvelman stories were set in Britain, because those tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking chaps from the 50’s couldn’t possibly have written anything set in johnny foreigner land, eh? What good was the 50’s anyway? There was all racism, and it was illegal to be gay. There was even near-full employment, chances for promotion and ‘social mobilty’ for talented members of the working class, living wages for most workers and railway lines that went everywhere. They even built flood defences after a major storm surge, rather than just telling people they were going to be sacrificed. Thank god we live in more civilised times now, eh?

I Lived in the Desperate Days

Like The Last Men Alive, this is another story set in a world after a nuclear war. However, whilst that one was set only a few weeks after the “balloon went up”. This one is set around 500 years afterwards! It was published in The Wizard in 1959. When people talk about the DC Thomson “Big Four”, they generally talk about the pre-and-during war years. But The Wizard, Adventure et al were fine, high-quality publications in the 1950’s too! After more than a decade of so-offensive-it-goes-all-the-way-around-and-becomes-funny-again racism on the covers:


The Wizard started to use the covers to promote the exciting stories within:



Or else provide interesting facts. These were usually related (sometimes pretty vaguely – facts about 18th century sailor’s superstitions tied in with a story about modern trainee submariners, for instance!) to one of the stories inside.



(Will the Americans of 2059 remember to publish issue 3 of the Illuminated Quadruple Constellation?).

There was a great variety in the stories too, from the wartime adventures of V for Vengeance – surely a large influence on a certain other story – “Hard” Science Fiction (shortly to become science fact!) of The Ace of Space, and a series of “historicals” set in famous disasters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Curiously, most of those are set in the USA.


But on to the story itself. I Lived in the Desperate Days is set in 2492, on the small community of Land End, at the far southwestern corner of an island that, according to legend, was once called Eng, or Brit. Land End is the only fertile part of the island, the rest is made of fused, black rock and ash-like cinder sand, where nothing has grown for centuries. A nearby island called Ire is also made of nothing but this lifeless black rock. The Folk, as the population of Land End are called, number just 400. They have legends which talk of a time when Eng was home to millions of people, as were other lands around the world – though some of them don’t believe that any other land exists, and that Eng and Ire are all alone in The Great Sea.

The main character is called Jordon The Writer, who chronicles the events of the folk, and copies out their few books. He lives in the same house as Silas the Scholar, who teaches children to read and write. He also owns the few books that remain in the world, and Jordon is slowly copying them so there will be a second set, if anything happens. One of the books tells of people called Americans, who had ships that sailed under ice, Jordon thinks it’s an interesting story, but can’t possibly be true.

The first part of the story just gives an introduction to the Folk’s way of life. Their previous harvest was bad, and a harsh winter killed many sheep. Though they number only 400, the “Folk Father”, John Winter, decides that 100 people have to sacrifice themselves by going out into the “barrens”, as they call the melted and destroyed rest of the country. This is really a death sentence, as there’s no way of getting food out there. They draw sticks from a bag – white for life, and black for death! Jordon draws a black stick – though the people due to die are given a week to say goodbye to their families.


Jordon’s friend, Bob Gray, has a small fishing boat, and all of his crew, including the villainous Zeke, are doomed to die. They decide to sail out and catch fish while they still can. Zeke is not happy about being merely one of the crew, but boats are worth their weight in gold, due to a severe shortage of wood, and the Folk Father and his council think Zeke is too irresponsible to have a boat of his own.

They sail out to look for fish, but are caught in a gale and blown close to Ire. Whilst sailing around the coast, looking for a place to land and repair the damaged boat (not to mention bury a dead crewman), they come across a huge “sea monster”, stranded on the rocks. Jordon, from his reading, realises it is a whale, and that it contains many tons of edible meat, which can save the doomed hundred! They also explore Ire a little, and in the meantime Zeke is left with the boat, which he almost loses. The damage takes several days to repair, and when they get back to Land End, they discover the rest of the doomed people have already gone out into the barrens. Bob Gray sails around to a bay further out into the barrens, and follows some tracks. Eventually they bring back around seventy of the hundred sent out to die.

A large operation (by the standards of a community of 370-odd with hardly any boats!) is mounted to go and collect the meat of the whale. While this is going on, Zeke decoys Jordon away from the harbour, and he ends up being left behind!


Jordon spends a night on the coast of Ire, then wanders inland a little way to try and find fresh water. Instead, he falls through a crust of dust into a small cave, apparently once open to the air. At one end, he finds a heavy steel door, though after 500 years it’s so rusty he can push through it with his hands. Inside he finds a room lined with more books than he has seen in his life! There’s also a diary, with the last entry written in 1990. It says that nuclear proliferation had run out of control, and many nations had huge stockpiles of atomic warheads. When World War 3 started, the pulses of radiation from atomic explosions caused these stockpiles to detonate on their own (apparently this is theoretically possible – so real-life bombs are shielded against it). The huge fireballs quite literally melted at least Western Europe, apart from Land’s End. The writer of the diary didn’t know that, of course, his air purifier failed shortly afterwards, and he has long since died and crumbled to dust. The people huddled on Land’s End somehow survived the radioactivity (presumably many of the original ones died, and the few survivors have repopulated the area since), and the events of “the change”, along with details of the pre-war world, all faded into legends. Jordon lights a fire with the dead man’s ragged clothes, fortunately the crew of the fishing boat have come back for him, and spot the smoke. He is taken back to Land End, where Zeke is worried that his trickery will be exposed.


Jordon sails out in Bob Gray’s fishing boat again. His leg was injured when he was a child (this is why he is a “writer”, not a farmer or something), but he can still haul on ropes and nets. Instead of catching fish, they spot something even more valuable – a huge tree! Quickly taking it in tow, they bring it back to Land End. It creates a sensation – if there’s huge trees growing somewhere, then there must be fertile land!

Jordon has been reading more about the old world in his newly-found books. He reads about a man named Christopher Columbus, who, 1000 years earlier, sailed west until he found a huge continent. Jordon comes up with a plan to use the wood in the tree to build a replica of Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, and try to find this continent again. Jordon even builds a model of the ship – but is betrayed by Zeke. Wasting wood is a terrible crime in Land End, and he is sentenced to be banished into the barrens. However, he overhears a conversation between the Folk Father and one of the farmers – a disease which killed many of the sheep the previous winter has come back! Of course, they have no medicines, and probably no medical knowledge beyond the absolute basics.

Jordon goes to sleep, but when he wakes up he finds he has been pardoned, and that the Folk Father has decided they must attempt to build a “Santa Maria II” and find new lands, or the whole human race might perish! The construction of the ship begins, though there is quite a bit of resistance – some of the “Fathers Minor” (who rule under the Folk Father) think there’s no other land in the world, and that stories of a ship a whole seventy feet long must be fictional. When the Folk Father commands every household to give up one blanket (and there’s precious few of those) to make the sails of the ship, there is a minor riot, stirred up by Zeke.


The rioters accidentally knock out the Folk Father with a thrown rock – then sidle away, feeling guilty. They blamed Jordon, rather than him. After they have got over the shock, they riot again, this time trying to tear apart the half-built ship and take the timber away for other uses. Jordon sails out in another fishing boat and finds Bob Gray, who returns in time to stop the riot. He has also found another tree, which will serve for the ship’s masts, and there will be plenty of wood left over for other uses too.

Finally the ship is finished and launched. The crew, with Bob Gray as Captain and Jordon as log-keeper (plus Zeke, because he is “at least good at his work”) have to learn sailing from scratch, and panic when they make a mistake! A sudden squall from the wrong direction brings down part of the rigging, and knocks Bob unconscious. Fortunately Jordon remembers that a ship can be steered using sails alone, if you work them correctly. The second-in-command, a man called Clark, takes command just in time, and the ship avoids being wrecked on the coast of Ire.


Now it’s time for the voyage to really start! Just before they set out, a weird light called “St. Elmo’s Fire” is seen on the mast. Many of the crew think this is a sign of bad luck, and Zeke stirs up a minor mutiny, telling the men that Jordon will bring disaster to the ship. Just as they are about to charge the poop deck, a stowaway – a condemned criminal – is found. Bob grants the man a reprieve, and later he sacrifices himself by swimming under the ship and jamming himself in a hole. He plugs it, but drowns in the process.

The journey goes on, an encounter with waterspouts almost wrecks the ship in mid-ocean, but the spout which sucks them up collapses just in time, though several of the crew are killed. Then they sight land! But it turns out to be a huge floating mass of seaweed and rotten trees. Worse, it’s infested with huge, carnivorous jellyfish! The story doesn’t make it clear if these are creatures mutated by radiation (or, rather, their descendants), or else freaks of evolution produced by the abrupt change in climate caused by the war (tests with fruit flies have shown that ‘random shots’ of evolution happen if their environment is changed drastically – meaning a new species may be created in tens of generations instead of millions, though many more of these ‘random shots’ are useless and fatal). Of course, the story is written by Jordon himself, and for all he knows, Columbus met creatures like this too!


After fighting off the Jellyfish, the crew encounter some more sea monsters, including some kind of sentient seaweed, and a thing which looks like a flying Manta Ray with a spiked, razor-sharp tail. Several more crew members die during these attacks, and the ship suffers a lot of damage, but is still able to limp onwards.


Finally, they sight land, real land! But, to their horror, it’s the same fused, black rock as Eng and Ire are made of. They anchor at this island to repair the ship anyway, though their supplies of fresh water and food are running very low. They also discover the island is infested with giant killer crabs! Jordon, trying to escape from these, accidentally falls into a pool of hot water, which he discovers is also fresh water! The crew also try to eat the crabs, but it makes them drunk, and the ship is almost set on fire. Fortunately some men stay sober, and are able to put it out. Instead, they try fishing, and find the sea around this island (it’s probably Iceland… which is made of fused, black, lifeless rock now, let alone after a nuclear war XD) is full of fish. With their supplies refilled, they sail onwards.

After many more days, they sight a huge column of smoke in the air – is it a fire lit by human beings? The ship sails at high speed, but the smoke only seems to come towards them very slowly. The wind drops at night, and in the morning it seems that the smoke has got further away. Again, they sail at high speed, but again the smoke appears to move away. The lookout then notices that the water around the ship is brown. Bob tastes a bit, and discovers it’s fresh! They are sailing in the current of a huge river, pouring out to sea. Altering course, they close in on the distant land – and run dangerously close to a mountain, which appears to be on fire!


The Land Enders are terrified by the sight, though Jordon realises it must be a volcano, something the ancient books tell of. The coast of the country around it is the same black, lifeless rock as they have seen in other places – but then they spot several more huge trees floating out of the river mouth. Somewhere up there is the fertile land they dream of!

Anchoring the Santa Maria II, the crew take to the boats and row up the river – straight into the jaws of a sea monster! After an epic battle, in which Bob Gray is almost killed, the monster is killed. Later on Bob and several others row up the river in the two boats, whilst Jordon is left behind. Zeke comes back alone, frantically ranting about “giant birds” and how the others “disappeared in the trees”. Jordon and a few others row up the river themselves – spotting gigantic black birds perched on a jumble of giant logs. Bob Gray’s voice seems to come from below them – the crew of the other boat have fallen into quicksand, and have almost gone under! Most of them are saved in time, as is the boat itself. Bob had been trying to grab something when he went under, and he shows it to Jordon now – it’s heather, of the kind that grows in Land End. Somewhere beyond this swampy pile of logs is a vast land, more fertile than Land End and with enough room for everybody!


Then… 1959, and my collection of Wizards, comes to an end! >.< Looks like I’ll never find out what happened to them – did they find an uninhabited land? Was it full of monsters? Was it full of hostile tribes? Perhaps the United States still exists, and has maintained a higher level of technology, but never realised anybody was still alive in Europe? I doubt I’ll ever read the end XD.


The Last Men Alive

Just after the end of the war, “nuclear weapons” were seen as amazing wonder-weapons which could make battleships ‘melt and sink’ using ‘rays’ (as described in the last episode of The Yellow Sword, a Wizard serial from 1955-6). However, as time went on, people began to understand the real horrors of atomic warfare. In 1946, the New Yorker magazine ran a full-length article on the experiences of people in Hiroshima, which found it’s way to Britain as a Penguin not long afterwards.


In 1954, a Japanese fishing boat called Lucky Dragon no. 5 sailed too close to an atomic bomb test, causing the crew to develop severe radiation sickness. At the time, the American occupational government were trying to play down the effects of radioactive fallout from the bombs. Even back at home, US Marines were performing manuovres in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear blast, as part of the “Desert Rock” project.

Going into the late 50’s, the consequences of an actual nuclear war were filtering down into the boys’ story papers, and in 1958 Adventure began a serial called The Last Men Alive, about the crew of a nuclear-powered (though it did not carry ballistic missiles. “Atomic torpedoes” are mentioned, but these were probably supposed to be smaller-scale kiloton-sized weapons for use on fleets of enemy ships) submarine in 1996. The sub, called the Argos (interestingly never called HMS Argos… a subtle assumption that the monarchy would have been abolished by the nineties?), is on patrol in the South Atlantic, during World War 3. Her mission is to prevent “the enemy” from sailing around the Horn of Africa. We never find out exactly who “the enemy” are, but can assume it’s the Soviet Union, perhaps allied with China.

The war is already about six months old when the story begins, though so far nobody has used nuclear weapons. The sub has not received any messages for almost three weeks, so they decide to surface and have a look around, as soon as they reach the surface, alarms start to go off – the air is dangerously radioactive! It looks like a nuclear war has been fought, after all.

The captain, Lt. Cmdr Vince Bryant, decides to sail back to Britain and investigate. On the way, they stop at St Helena, finding everybody on the island dead – apparently they dropped dead whilst going about their everyday lives. The air is still alive with radiation, and the crew can only go outside in special suits. They visit the “telegraph office” (now the story shows it’s age!), and find that three weeks previously, enemy bombers managed to avoid Britain’s radar and fighter screens, and drop “Hydrogen-Cobalt bombs” on London and other cities. Britain retaliated, and these new, powerful bombs somehow caused a ‘chain reaction’, which ‘set the upper atmosphere on fire’ and spread a huge amount of powerful fallout around the entire globe in only a few hours (the one realistic part, the jet stream races around the world at hundreds of miles per hour).

The sub sails further north, past “French Senegal” and the “busy port of Dakar”, now also ‘bleached’ of all human and animal life. Of course, Senegal was long-since independent in the real 1996! The journey also takes them past a number of lifeless, drifting surface ships. It appears that only submarine crews, safe under the sea, have survived. Eventually the Argos reaches Britain. There too, the coast is lifeless, deserted and radioactive. They sail into the Thames (“cl0gged with ships”, as are many other major rivers into the traditional port cities – by the real 1996 the advent of containers had rapidly decreased the number of working docks in Britain), to find that London has taken a direct hit, the few buildings left standing are roofless, blackened ruins.

The Argos sails south again, down the channel and eventually finds a Cornish village called Trelorna, where some freak of the wind has keeping the fallout away. The people here are isolated and starving, but fortunately the Argos carries a large supply of food, and is able to give them at least one meal. The crew begin handing out tins to the women of the village, though a big man called Black Jack pushes his way to the front and snatches a can from an old lady. Fortunately Vince Bryant is a champion boxer, and soon has Jack on his back!

Other villagers are more friendly, namely Henry Penkevil, the headmaster of the village school, and Tom Couch, coxwain of the local lifeboat, and expert fisherman. The crew of the Argos come up with a plan to use electric shocks, generated from the hull, to “herd” fish into the safe bay, where they can be caught by the villagers. It will keep them going until they can start to grow crops on the small area of radiation-free farmland they can access.

Tom Couch comes out in the submarine (“A unique and terrifying experience, even in the year 1996”! – though Eagle and other publications were predicting huge passenger-and-cargo carrying submarines, unaffected by storms), which dives beneath the surface as soon as it gets beyond the headland – where the radioactive zone starts. They find a huge shoal of mackerel with the sonar, and begin to herd the fish towards Trelorna bay, using electric shocks generated on the surface of the sub (supposed to be a futuristic ‘silent sonar’). However, the fish attract something else – a sea monster bigger than the sub!


After a cat-and-mouse chase, Argos is able to fire off two “rocket torpedoes”, which curiously only have a thousand-yard range (surely traditional propellor-powered torpedoes can go for miles?). These hit the monster and it’s huge body goes floating to the surface. Is it a radioactive mutation? Nope! The story is more scientifically ‘accurate’ than that. It’s described as a creature from very deep in the sea, which has been attracted to the surface by the ‘turmoil’ of the nuclear war. As the crew watch it float, they notice bubbles coming from it. Suddenly it bursts open and sinks, as it lives in the deep sea, it’s body is under tremendous pressure. This pressure was held in by an exoskeleton, which the torpedoes broke open.

The crew can now get back to herding fish, and successfully drive them into the town, for now, the population have something to keep them alive! The schoolteacher has been surveying the boundaries of the radioactivity in more detail, now that he has protective gear from the submarine.  He tells Bryant there is a store of seed potatoes in a deep vault at St. Austell, and if people in protective clothing could drive there, they could bring them back and start to grow them. The crew set off, finding many crashed, or just stalled, cars, with dead drivers – people fleeing the cities who were caught out by the intense fallout. They reach St. Austell, described as “centre of the china-clay industry”. People in the 50’s couldn’t possibly have foreseen how quickly and completely British industry would be destroyed.

The crew soon find the seed potato vault, and open it. There they are attacked by a madman! He has been shut in there for 5 weeks, living on potatoes and condensation, and not knowing what had happened to the outside world. Rather conveniently, another protective suit and airtight cases for transporting the potatoes come to hand, and they all make their way back to Trelorna, where something else crops up – confused, meaningless messages in Morse are being transmitted from some elderly wireless set!


On the way to find the source of these signals, they spot another sea monster through the periscope. This one has six huge legs, black scales and snail-like antennae. It was originally intended to walk around at the bottom of deep-sea canyons, but was drawn to the surface by the nuclear explosions. When it tried to walk on land, the radiation killed it.

The Argos carries on into St. Ives, where they find some minesweepers, an oil tanker and a couple of “tramp steamers”. Of course, by the real 1996 I doubt St. Ives had any industrial port facilities at all. But then again in the real 1996 the country hadn’t been at war for 6 months! They soon discover the morse code is coming from the oil tanker, and after breaking in, find a kid called Tommy Clarke alive below decks. He was shut in the deepest part of the habitable area of the ship, having been planning on stowing away for a ‘life at sea’ (hah, imagine a real British kid of 1996 doing that!). The rest of the crew had tried to make it home when the air raid warnings sounded, and had been killed. Tommy had food, water and power from the ship’s small generator (which had a whole tanker’s worth of fuel to run on!), so was able to survive.

With Tommy rescued, the Argos turns back, only now one of the artificers, called Dorsey, leads a minor mutiny. He and some other want ‘shore leave’ in St. Ives, even though they’d have to have it in cumbersome radiation suits. The Captain guesses they really want to loot beer from the pubs, and challenges Dorsey to a fight. Bryant wins, and the Argos continues with her mission, on the way back to Trelorna some whales are driven into the harbour and captured. Also they witness the detonation of a nuclear mine(!) which broke it’s moorings in a storm, drifted against the coast and detonated, incinerating many square miles and releasing even more fallout – good thing that didn’t drift into the harbour!

With a supply of food, and also whale-oil for fuel, secured, the survivors start to wonder if anybody else has survived the war. They reason that atomic research facilities and nuclear power stations (accurate prediction of the future! We only had one nuclear power station in the 50’s, and that was a small one, with production of material for nuclear weapons it’s main priority.) will have ‘safe rooms’ with radiation shielding, where there might be survivors.

Argos sets off once more, spotting a still-working lighthouse – which means it must still be manned (the story shows it’s age once again). Two of the men in the lighthouse have been killed by fallout, but the third is “naturally immune”, though he still has some radiation burns, and has gone mad. Bryant has to call on his boxing skills once more, and the mission proceeds. They also come across a drifting American aircraft carrier – sent to help Britain repel enemy bombers, but it didn’t get there in time. No doubt in a real nuclear World War 3 Britain would just be classed as an American aircraft carrier, but one crewed by foreigners, so it’s okay for the Americans to leave if it’s in danger of being ‘sunk’.


The Argos carries on to the Mersey, finding Liverpool has taken a direct hit and has been entirely flattened. They sail to the other side of the river, get a lorry and start to drive towards a nuclear power station at a place called Werton. Before they get there, they find a car coming the other way! A few scientists from the power station have survived, but had run out of food and were going to search for more, using their own anti-radiation suits. One of them, Professor Woodley, has been working on a compound which neutralises radioactive fallout, but it’s still early days. The scientists are taken back to Trelorna and begin to work with the farmers on growing potatoes successfully in the irradiated soil.

The scientists need more information, so the Argos sets off to Plymouth to find some books. The town has not been hit by a nuclear bomb, though is as lifeless as everywhere else. They go to the library and start to fetch a load of scientific books, suddenly they hear the recall signal from the Argos – three shots of the deck gun! The story showing it’s age again – why would a nuclear submarine, able to submerge for months at a time, and with the ‘chivalry’ of the First World War long dead – need a deck gun? Even HMS Dreadnought, out first nuclear sub which entered service in 1959, didn’t have one. Anyway, the shore party race back to the dock, and find Argos has disappeared! The dingy which had been tied to the outside of the hull is floating freely – obviously she has crash dived in a great hurry.

One of the crew suddenly spots a submarine entering the harbour – but she is of a strange design, and has X7 painted on her conning tower – an enemy! The shore party get under cover, and watch as an enemy shore party enter the town and look around. Bryant knows something of “the enemy’s language”, and overhears them saying that the situation in Britain is “the same as at home”. They then console themselves with the fact that “the scientists who created these infernal bombs are dead” and go back to hunting for fish. The party from the Argos keep out of sight, they only have one revolver between them, and the war is not officially over. The enemy captain – Commander Stok – orders his men back on board, and they sail off. The Argos reappears, and they set off back to Trelorna, this time with the crew at action stations!


Later, Argos is trying to navigate a horde of eels into Trelorna bay, but it is proving difficult – they have to chase them around the Scilly Isles several times. Just as they get into the channel, a huge blast of sound scatters the eels. It’s the X7! She hasn’t detected the Argos – she was instead trying to direct the eels with sound, rather than electric shocks. The Argos goes into stealth mode, and watches as the X7 battles another sea monster. The X7 fires two torpedoes at the monster, and Argos has to dash out of the way, in case either of them misses. The Argos is mentioned as travelling at 50-60 knots underwater, by contrast the Royal Navy’s Daring-class destroyers of the 1950’s could only do 30 knots on the surface (and our nuclear “fleet submarines” which were in service in the 1990’s, could do about the same underwater). One of the X7’s shots kills the monster, and she goes back to directing shoals of fish using sound waves, followed by the Argos.

Eventually X7 gets close to the Somme river, which is at low tide. Bryant orders the Argos to overtake the shoal of fish, and steer them into the estuary using electric shocks. With this done, the X7 races to follow, and jams herself in a mud bank. Bryant then calls X7 on the “undersea telephone” (at least there’s no “imagiser”, I suppose), and reveals the existence of the British crew. The X7’s immediate response is a pair of torpedoes!


Bryant moves Argos into a position immediately above X7 and waits. Eventually Captain Stok agrees to a truce – the politicians who started the war are all dead, and it’s up to the two crews to work together for the future of the human race. X7 has been herding fish for two similarly-stranded colonies of people “a thousand miles away” on the other side of the North Sea. Assuming the enemy is the Soviet Union, these colonies could be in Poland or along the Soviet shore in the Baltic. Or, if this was happening in the actual 1996, there could be Russian survivors in Kaliningrad.

Argos prepars to take the X7 in tow, when another sea monster appears on the radar. It is heading towards the shoal of fish, which still swarm around the X7 in confusion. Argos disengages and fights the monster, Bryant has to be careful about when he fires the torpedoes, as the explosions might damage the X7. After a short battle, the monster is blown up, and X7 is successfully bought to the surface and towed to Trelorna.

The people of Trelorna are wary at first – they are the last British people alive, and any trickery by the enemy might result in the entire country being wiped out. But when they hear that there’s other desperate colonies of people just clinging to life, they accept the truce as real. Soon the X7’s crew are meeting the locals, and playing a football game, despite the language barrier.

Bryant, Captain Stok and some others are invited to Professor Woodley’s house, where he shows them some formerly-radioactive soil he has treated with his powder. It’s now completely inert, and safe to grow crops in. Henry Penkevil, who has his own gieger counter (with the threat of nuclear war, maybe headmasters would be issued with them – the balloon could go up at any time!), reports that the area of radiation-free land around the village appears to be slowly growing, too. Bryant looks forward to a future where these three small colonies of people will be able to rebuild human society, together and in peace.