Many years ago, British newsagents were awash with all sorts of comics: boys’ adventure, children’s titles, educational comics and more. But while humour comics reigned supreme in Britain, and still do, girls comics regularly outsold most of the more famous boys titles most fans remember today. Sadly their history and success often remains neglected today, much to the chagrin of those who wrote and drew them.
One of the success stories was IPC’s Tammy, published between 1971 and 1984. Always a title keen on a good weepy, Tammy rivalled DC Thomson’s Bunty in sales terms. It incorporated six other titles during its lifetime, including June, Misty and Jinty, and introduced readers to strips such as “Girls of Liberty Lodge”, “Slaves of War Orphan Farm” and even re-launched the these days decidedly un-PC Bessie Bunter, created decades earlier by Frank Richards.
Here, downthetubes is proud to reveal how Jenny McDade, who now writes animation and children’s TV drama (her credits include SuperGran, Mr Majeika and C.A.T.S. Eyes), really became a Tammy writer, one of very few women to regularly write girls’ comics at the time.
“Although ,” she notes, “it probably reads more like a Tammy story – plucky little ditsy blonde with no hope succeeds in the end in cut-throat male-dominated magazine world!…”
Just because a female readership isn’t as fan orientated as male readers they tend not to be as vocal and organised, but female comic sales sold more than double the number of male comics and those readers have equally valid nostalgia interest’.
In its heyday during the seventies our now iconic Tammy sold 250,000 copies per week, which was more than 2000AD!”
I first met John Purdie (then Managing Editor at IPC Magazines) at a dinner party in London in 1971.
We shared a taxi home and during this journey I pestered him into giving me some sort of ‘writing opportunity’ at IPC. Probably simply just to shut me up, John offered me a ‘trial’ on a new teenage magazine he was launching called Tammy. He was looking in particular for young writers because it was a young team he’d assembled.
I knew nothing about comics. I didn’t even know how many frames there were to a story. But I was very young too, so I just stupidly thought:
“Okay, it’s speech bubbles with a tiny bit of prose at the top of some drawings. How hard can that be?”
I fully expected, of course, to be working with a bunch of female writers as it was a new Girls magazine.
But John Purdie then introduced me to Tammy‘s editor: an equally young Gerry Finley-Day [the man who would later create series such as VCs and Rogue Trooper for 2000AD – and accidentally coined the word ‘scrotnig’], and its subeditor, Iain McDonald, who gave Gerry a smirk which clearly signalled ‘we’ve got a right ditsy blonde no-hoper here’.
And on that day Gerry could just have left me to flounder and given me no help or encouragement at all. (I don’t think John Purdie was bothered, to be honest, if I succeeded or not).
Instead what I got was a two and a half hour masterclass from GFD, who quickly made me aware that ‘writing for comics’ wouldn’t be a doddle, or remotely easy, and that I had to knuckle down instantly to a steep learning curve.
Week by week Gerry then passed on his creative know-how to me with such kindness and patience that the learning process itself was no problem at all.
Gerry just fizzed with talent and creativity so I always looked forward to those sessions with him.
For my ‘trial’, Gerry handed me a story, “Star Struck Sister”, which another writer had ‘choked on’. That is, this writer had written a good pilot episode but the story had then fallen apart in episode two.
After writing episodes two and three, it was accepted that my ‘trial’ was over and I was told I could run with the story to its finale.
About a year later I walked into the Tammy office to discover that “Star Struck Sister” had won some sort of teen story competition that, I think, The Scotsman ran annually in the early 1970s. It didn’t win outright, it came joint first with a story from Bunty. I don’t think the reason why “Star Struck Sister” was important was really nothing to do with me, because I wrote the whole thing on autopilot, totally full of terror and panic, just desperately wishing not to let Gerry Finley-Day down.
But when this award was won, what it actually demonstrated was that right from the start, Tammy was matching the top-selling Bunty in story popularity.
Gerry knew that day that Tammy was on a roll and it was all down to his new vision as to where girls stories should be going in future.
“Tammy wasn’t a clone of Bunty,” Pat Mills told me recently. “It had something unique and clearly Star Struck Sister was in the vanguard.
“I’ve always felt Tammy was in some ways ahead of my Battle and Action, and only 2000AD had the same high quality.
“I hope one day the male readers will see just how relevant Tammy is in beginning the process.
“Just because a female readership isn’t as fan orientated as male readers they tend not to be as vocal and organised, but female comic sales sold more than double the number of male comics and those readers have equally valid nostalgia interest’. In its heyday during the seventies our now iconic Tammy sold 250,000 copies per week, which was more than 2000AD!”
After my first work on the comic I quickly went from being totally novice writer to regular weekly contributor, but for a long time, I was in awe of proper IPC writers like Pat Mills, and others like Iain and Gerry, who’d both done their stint at DC Thomson, whereas all I’d done was just come in and basically ‘winged it’.
I did three years on Tammy till 1973 and I can honestly say that working with a genius like Gerry was a total privilege.
I was last in contact with Tammy and Gerry in 1980. I then became a TV scriptwriter and just five years later a TV series I’d created and written then won an International Emmy award over in New York.
Obviously my time on Tammy, and being taught how to write scripts by Gerry, was in a big way responsible for this later success.
First published: 12 October 2008. Article © Jenni McDade and used with full permission.