Friday, September 18, 2009

Bunty, Tammy and the Marquis de Sade

Those who lived through them remember the 1970s as dark and dismal days.

Dark because of the power cuts, because it was always raining, and because everything was in black and white. Dismal because if anything managed to escape being monochrome, it was brown. Just look at the pictures in any cookbook from the era: brown rice, brown bread, brown salad. Brown crockery, brown tablecloths, brown serviettes. QED.

It was in the 1970s that Princess Anne married Captain Mark Phillips in what still holds the official record for the dullest royal wedding ever.

And it was in the 1970s that they used to put the TUC conference on the telly all day long.
It even rained on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, when everyone had the day off. Except the Queen.

The only bit of brightness in the 1970s was when Mr Dixon senior – worried about the three-day week, the miners’ strike and the inability of the government to sort it all out – nearly blew up the house and his terrified offspring by short-circuiting a car battery that he’d rigged as part of a temporary lighting system.

So why has the Guardian newspaper decided to drag its readers back to the Decade of Dreariness by reprinting a selection of kids’ comics from the era? Well, if nothing else, it gives us some insight into our formative years.

To a chap who never read them, the girls’ comics answer that eternal question of why girls acted the way they did in that grim and murky past.

Because in the ’70s, it seemed, girls were either unapproachable, or mad, or both. And these free glimpses into the world of Jackie and Bunty at last give us males an insight as to why.

First off, there were the teenyboppers. The centre spread of Jackie is taken up with a soft-focus portrait of David Essex, riding high in 1975 with such memorable ditties as Gonna Make You A Star and Hold Me Close. (“Is that George Best?” asked Dixon Junior.)

The comic strips mainly involve fantasies about copping off with Donny Osmond. And the quiz – perhaps understandably for a Valentine’s Day special – is designed to find out How Romantic You Are.

Interspersed with the fiction are adverts. Not just for make-up and spot cream, but for jobs too. Jobs in the Army (peeling spuds), in the Navy (peeling spuds), or with Barclays Bank (clearing cheques).

Then there’s Bunty. Aimed at a slightly younger readership, and published a couple of years earlier, it concentrates almost entirely on fiction. There’s the story of Thomasina, whose mum sends her off to school to be trained as a boy in the interests of women’s lib, but who ends up crumbling when Tommy the Tomboy comes into an inheritance – if she can prove she’s a “really feminine female”.

There are the Four Marys, who aren’t ashamed of being working class, and enjoy doing housework. And there’s a quiz about the dangers of going on a country walk, one of which is a jellyfish. No kidding.

So if teenage girls in the 1970s were a bit confused by this heady blend of fantasy and reality, it’s hardly surprising if those of us who were boys at the time had a hard job making head or tail about what girls were all about. And it’s taken until now to work out why.

Since writing this for The Bath Chronicle we've been treated to Tammy from 1978. Best comic strip was Slaves of War Orphan Farm. Most of the other tales involve working-class girls being thrashed by their betters. The writers were clearly in thrall to the Marquis de Sade.

(And yes, there was a heatwave in 1976. But that was an anomaly. It still rained most of the time in the 1970s.)

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