V. Laughing at Ourselves: Women's Parodies

Unsurprisingly, the humour in the parodies produced by women is very different to that found in the parodies produced by men. Whereas the male parodists, with the exception of the Situationists, reveal their fear of what is represented by the genre by ridiculing it; the women parodists reveal their love of the genre despite its perceived undesirability. It is also unsurprising that the women's parodies tend to be much less well-known than those produced by men, and that the majority have been published only in small-circulation or private publications. As well as their message being unwelcome, this reflects the fact that women have generally been unrecognised as comic writers, and that women's humour has remained mostly hidden from the mainstream.

The women's parodies which are available today were created significantly later than the men's parodies, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, although it is possible that earlier parodies, due to their more private nature, have simply not survived. The best-known of the women's parodies is Denise Deegan's play Daisy Pulls It Off, since it is the only one that was devised for a mainstream audience. (It is important to note that this audience was intended to be female.) Deegan's play was first performed at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton on 13 January 1983, before being transferred on 18 April 1983 to the Globe Theatre, London, where it enjoyed a long run.

Deegan's play is set during Founder's Day at the Grangewood School for Girls. (Founder's Day, like the Parent's Day parodied in the St Trinian's films, was an occasion to invite parents to the school, entertain them and bestow prizes on favoured pupils.) Grangewood School has been established for twenty-five years, parodying (in comparison with the much longer-established boys' schools) the fact that girls' schools are largely a twentieth-century phenomenon. At the beginning of the play, the Headmistress, Miss Gibson, welcomes the audience to a celebration of:

This cleverly sums up the public school ethos, originally developed in boys' schools, which was adopted by many girls' schools and is reflected in many girls' school stories.

To mark Founder's Day, the Fourth Form - as in the St Trinian's films, the Fourth Form is parodied as the archetypal form in girls' school stories - is giving a play, Daisy Pulls It Off. Deegan's play, then, is a play within a play, and parodies the common tendency of authors to feature school plays within girls' school stories. The heroine, Daisy Meredith - new girls are frequently the heroines of girls' school stories - is the archetypal scholarship girl, being a:

The above passage is spoken by Daisy. Throughout the play, Deegan uses the device of interchanging the actors' description to the audience of their characters and some of the action with dialogue between the characters. This allows her to parody the language and plot characteristics of the genre more closely than if she had simply relied on dialogue; it also makes the staging of the play simpler.

Deegan uses the plot device, of which there are many examples in the genre, of describing the impact on the school of a "scholarship" pupil (ie one who pays no or reduced fees) from an inferior educational background. At the beginning of the play Daisy is waiting for the results of the scholarship exam; if she fails she must abandon her education "and take up some form of ill-paid menial work to which she is little suited". School-story heroines whose families had fallen on hard times were invariably distinguished from equally poor working-class girls, who would be suited to such work; the heroines were still "ladies". Daisy, of course, wins the scholarship and vows to:


Daisy is the first scholarship pupil to enter Grangewood (the school being the same in the play and in the play within a play). As with the producers of the play within a play, Daisy becomes a member of the Fourth Form, in this case the Upper Fourth. Her arrival attracts hostility from the more snobbish pupils and teachers, led by Sybil Burlington, "Vice-Captain of the Upper Fourth, and conceited, beautiful only daughter of very wealthy parents".However, Belinda Mathieson, "Captain of the Upper Fourth and best all round sportswoman of that form" is on Daisy's side, as is Clare Beaumont, "Head Girl and Sports Captain of Grangewood School, a shining example of true British girlhood".

In Clare, Deegan parodies a recognisable genre character, the girl whose family has fallen on hard times and whose family home has become the school, and whose only hope of recovering the family fortunes is to find the missing family treasure. In this case, unless the treasure is soon found, the Beaumonts will have to sell the building - now leased - to the School Governors. Clare is also the ultimate role model, being both Head Girl and Sports Captain at the same time.

The real action of the play begins with the journey to school, a common opening theme in girls' school stories which is also parodied in The Belles of St Trinian's and The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery. At the station where they alight, Deegan parodies some of the more extreme language used in the genre during the first quarter of the century with the description of the crowd of girls: "who in the blue and white colours of Grangewood School resembled not so much a whirlpool, as so many tumbling, foaming little waves rushing shorewards on the incoming tide and breaking thankfully on the warm, yellow sands of home". It is significant that the girls regard the school as their home and a place to which they welcome returning. Although, with the exception of characters who have no other home, the issue of school as the girls' real home is not discussed overtly in girls' school stories, there is a constant theme of school as the place where the significant events of youth take place.

Grangewood itself is:

Here Deegan parodies many similar descriptions of girls' schools within the genre. On arriving at the school, Daisy makes friends with Trixie Martin, "madcap and poet of the Upper Fourth" (the "madcap" is another stock character in the genre), who asks if Daisy is "a new bug . . . I mean girl". In using this expression, Deegan makes a conscious reference to the Molesworth parodies of boys' schools from whence it originated, and this is the only phrase in the play which does not originate from the genre itself; it is possible that Deegan included it to indicate the parodic nature of the play. Trixie, like Clare and Belinda, is opposed to snobbery; this is also a common theme in girls' school stories, although, as with Daisy, the victims are usually not working-class girls. Having been enlightened by Trixie about the Beaumont family treasure, Daisy is the victim of a practical joke when she is directed by Monica Smithers ("school toady and chief crony of Sybil Burlington") to a broom cupboard instead of the headmistress's study.

Daisy is redirected to the study by Alice Fitzpatrick, "Prefect, Deputy Sports Captain and best chum of Clare Beaumont" (ie the second-best role model) who also shows her the school honours' board. Achieving the distinction of being added to the school honours board at the end of one's first term is another common plot ending within the genre. From familiarity with the genre, the audience already knows that Daisy will soon join those whom the school honours.

Miss Gibson (as with the school, the headmistress's name is the same in the play within a play) then welcomes Daisy to Grangewood, in a parody of another common scene within girls' school stories which is also parodied in The Belles of St Trinian's. Miss Gibson tells Daisy that: "Everyone will be anxious to help you in any way you may require during your first few weeks here - as we do all new girls." In conjunction with the scene with Sybil Burlington, Deegan parodies the official attitudes to new girls in, for example, Brent-Dyer and Blyton's girls' school stories, and suggests that the reality of their experiences was very different.

Daisy is then placed in the same dormitory as Trixie, Sybil and Monica. She makes an unfortunate beginning when she mistakes the girls' beds and so plays a practical joke which she intends for Trixie on Sybil, but Trixie resists pressure from Sybil and Monica to end her friendship with Daisy. At the end of the scene, the schoolgirl French which is common in both the genre and real girls' schools, combining English, French and slang, is reflected in Trixie's "Scooterons-nous, Daisy?"

In the next scene, which takes place the following morning, two male characters are introduced: Mr Thompson the assistant gardener; and Mr Scoblowski, "the enigmatic, Russian, music-teacher". Mr Thompson is:

These characters also have their counterparts in girls' school stories, and are instantly recognisable to the intended audience.

In the remainder of the first act, Daisy and Trixie form a Secret Society "just like they do in schools in books . . . to seek out the treasure of Grangewood School and so rescue the Beaumonts from penury". Daisy also has her first hockey lesson, and proves, like so many heroines of girls' school stories, to be a natural.


When Daisy and Trixie realise that Mr Scoblowski is also looking for the treasure, they search for it at night, but by doing so are wrongly accused of sneaking on the Second Form's midnight feast (this is a recognisable genre plot convention). This means that Daisy is treated as a pariah by many of the other girls. (There was a strong prohibition against sneaking in many girls' schools, reflected in girls' school stories, since it offended the schoolgirl code of honour.)

However, Clare, who punishes them for being out of bed by ordering them to miss the first round of the hockey championships, tells them the story behind the disappearance of the treasure. There was a family quarrel and her grandfather's younger son David disappeared; then, when her grandfather Sir Digby died, it was found that Sir Digby had hidden the treasure and left only a set of mysterious clues. (This echoes a number of plots from girls' school stories.) Daisy explains to Trixie that her own father was a Ship's Doctor in the Royal Navy (ie an officer and a gentleman), and was reported missing, believed dead when his ship went down in the Baltic. At the end of the act, in yet another recognisable plot twist, Daisy is falsely accused of cheating by Sybil when the answers to a geography test are found in her text-book.

In the second act, Daisy continues to be taunted by the Second Form. While the match is on - the school wins, of course - Daisy and Trixie continue to search for the treasure and, like many characters before them, find a clue in an old book. In order to prevent Mr Scoblowski from also finding it, they remove the book from the library and hide it in Daisy's boothole. The loss is quickly discovered, and as no one owns up, the whole school is punished. (This was a common means of dealing with transgressors in school stories, and presumably in real schools too.) Sybil discovers the whereabouts of the book and decides to inform on Daisy; Trixie organises a hot-water-bottle fight to cheer Daisy up.

The following morning, Miss Gibson announces that Daisy has won the school poetry competition, but it turns out that the poem was in fact written by Trixie. Daisy is accused of cheating, both in terms of the poetry competition and of the Geography test, and is also accused of stealing the book. She is therefore confined to the Sanatorium until after the Governors' meeting. (There are numerous instances in the genre of this happening to girls who were both rightly and wrongly accused in the interval until sentence was passed.)

Alice and Clare decide to prove Daisy's innocence, and manage to persuade Miss Gibson to allow Daisy to play in the finals of the hockey championship, since many of their best players have been injured in the preceding matches. Here Deegan parodies the violence of girls' team sports which was also parodied in The Belles of St Trinian's and Blue Murder at St Trinian's, and of which there are less exaggerated examples in the genre. The match is won by Daisy, who scores three goals; this parodies the common plot device in the genre of the new girl winning the match for the school almost single-handedly. However, Daisy is still unpopular and in disgrace: some girls boo her when she scores; and she is not allowed to take part in the match tea (this also recalls incidents from girls' school stories). That night, though, Daisy saves Sybil and Monica from drowning when they are trapped by the oncoming tide after a midnight feast on the beach, injuring herself in the process (again, there are many similar incidents in girls' school stories).

As Daisy returns to the sanatorium she is caught by Miss Gibson, who says that she will be expelled the next morning. She decides to run away home, but as she passes through the hall, she notices the luminous paint on Sir Digby's portrait and discovers the treasure. Mr Thompson, coming in behind her, is recognised by Daisy as being her father; she then faints. The next morning she "lies dangerously ill in the Sanatorium, suffering, it is suspected, from brain-fever". Sybil confesses to everything, and Daisy's name is cleared. Mr Thompson is revealed to be Sir Digby's son David, who lost his memory when his ship was torpedoed and who was brought to the school by Mr Scoblowski. Since his memory returned, Mr Scoblowski has been helping him to hunt for the treasure.

Daisy recovers (the heroine's near-death experience was also common in girls' school stories, particularly in Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series) and successfully pleads with Miss Gibson not to expel Sybil (this was also expected of the heroines of girls' school stories). Daisy, like the heroines she is based on, is now revealed to be rich and well-born, and a new scholarship is founded in her name. The play ends with the school song (the school song of real girls' schools, designed to stir up "school spirit", is often found in the genre and was parodied in the St Trinian's cartoons and films).

Compare the content of this to the St Trinian's soccer song.

Reviews of the play when it first opened reflected the same attitude towards the genre as that of critical works of the time (see 7. The Critics of Girls' School Stories, 1949-1995 for details). Gill Frith records that:

For Frith, though, since: "Every character, every element in the plot, virtually every line in the play has its counterpart in the novels of Brazil and her imitators"; Deegan's play "was precisely not a parody, for it contained nothing incongruous or exaggerated". The humour, according to Frith:

It is interesting to note that Deegan, an "11-plus failure", was educated entirely at state schools, but as a young teenager was "heavily influenced by tales of dormitory fun by Enid Blyton" and as a result unsuccessfully attempted to transfer to a state boarding school at the age of thirteen.

Since Deegan's play was first performed, it has become a popular choice for amateur performers. Claire Isbester co-directed a production of Daisy Pulls If Off for the Whitchurch Amateur Dramatic Society in March 1993, in addition to starring as Daisy. She later compared their production, where the genre itself was lovingly parodied, with another which mocked it, and stated her belief, similar to Frith's, that the comedy in the play is dependent on a love of and familiarity with the genre itself.


Deegan's play is the only one of the women's parodies to achieve popular recognition and a mainstream publisher. However, Mary Cadogan, a well-known writer on children's books, has published two short parodies, "Fiona the Funk (or The Girl Who Wouldn't)" and "Lesbia's Luck (or The Girl Who Would)", in a collection which was available in specialist bookstores. In the first story, Fiona Winthrew, the "white hope of Gaytowers School for Girls", is batting for the school and receiving numerous blows from the ball, bowled by "Deidre Dreadnought, the demon bowler of St Chad's", when Fiona suddenly throws her bat away and dashes to the river bank. Gaytowers loses the match, and:

All is finally revealed on speech day. Fiona, while being presented with "the Fifth Form Latin prize (a sweetly pretty copy of Our Best Bible Heroines)" by Lady Theodosia, is recognised by Lady Theodosia's daughter as the girl who rescued her from drowning the previous month.

In Cadogan's second story, Lesbia (actually the name of one of Angela Brazil's heroines) is "a wizard at gymnastics", but this is disapproved of by Moorcliff School's headmistress, Candida Crabtree. When Lesbia breaks bounds to watch a high-wire act at the circus, she is caught and locked in the punishment room to await expulsion the next day. However, during the night she smells smoke and realises that the sanatorium is on fire; with great skill and daring she leaps from her window to an old oak tree and back to the ivy-covered wall before climbing in and rescuing the youngest pupil in the school. The next morning Lesbia is "the heroine of the school", and Miss Crabtree agrees to modernise the gym and "to equip it with trampolines, trapezes and a high-wire". "Lesbia's Leap would always be remembered - and Lesbia's Luck had triumphed once again!"

The first of Cadogan's parodies owes more to the girls' stories which were written by men and published in comic papers than to the genre proper. As has been stated elsewhere, Cadogan prefers these stories to the novels, and at the Bettany Press conference in 1995 told of a particular liking for the Eton-cropped, monocle-wearing Jemima Carstairs whom Fiona parodies. (Jemima was created for The School Friend by L.E. Ransome, using the pseudonym of Ida Melbourne.) In Lesbia's Luck, though, Cadogan has produced a closer parody of the novels, both in her choice of name for the heroine, and her use of the falsely accused heroine confined to the sanatorium and the fire in the sanatorium plot devices which are common in the genre. Cadogan's parodies are, unusually for women's parodies, exaggerated - " 'Golly gumdrops, girls!' gasped Agatha Wigglestick" - and self-consciously camp - for example, "Gaytowers". They are not particularly funny, and probably reflect Cadogan's internalisation of the attitudes of the male critics towards the genre; Cadogan herself describes the stories as "pastiches".

At the time of writing (1997), British women had produced no full-length literary parodies, and so none which are comparable to Mabel Maney's American parodies of girls' fiction. For example, Maney's The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse is a combined - and extremely witty - parody of the American Nancy Drew girl detective series, the Cherry Ames nursing series, contemporary lesbian romantic fiction and the values portrayed within all of these books. The underlying joke is that all of the main characters are lesbian or gay, but that the virginal and innocent Cherry Aimless (Maney makes full use of the play on her name) is at first unable to recognise homosexuality, either in herself or in others.

Like Deegan's play, the novel's appeal is based on a willing suspension of disbelief and a familiarity with and love of the books and the genres being parodied. This allows the reader, who is assumed to be queer as well as a woman, to feel satisfaction when the book ends with Cherry establishing a relationship with Nancy Drew, leaving her brother Charley to come out to their mother. Perhaps in the future a similar parody will become available, making explicit the lesbian sexuality which male critics have perceived as the main reason for attacking the genre of girls' school stories.

The other parodies which have been published by British women have appeared privately, in newsletters produced by the fans themselves for the entertainment of other fans. (Since this means that these parodies are virtually unobtainable outside of the clubs, I have included the full texts of some of the shorter parodies here.) Unsurprisingly, much of the humour in these parodies depends on a highly detailed knowledge of the genre, so that only a "fan" can appreciate it fully. Often institutions and literary forms are parodied alongside the genre, with parodies taking the form of news-flashes, poetry, or stock magazine features such as problem pages and advertisements. The majority of the parodies are concerned with Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, reflecting the fact that this is the most popular series with women fans today (see 9. The Fans of Girls' School Stories, 1990s Women Fans for details).

One important point which the parodies reveal is that the fans are acutely aware of the weaknesses in the books. For example, Elizabeth Tinkler's "A Recipe for a Chalet School Story" parodies the plot formula which Brent-Dyer followed ever more closely as the series went on, as well as Brent-Dyer's The Chalet Girls' Cook Book (Chambers, 1953).

A similar poem, published in the first issue of Folly - a newsletter aimed at readers of school stories and other "light" children's fiction - mocks the plot conventions of the genre overall. (Compare this with the plot of Daisy Pulls It Off.)

Likewise, "Four Characters in Search of a School Story" (anon) parodies stock characters in the genre - The New Girl, The Wild Irish Girl, The Snob and The Prefect - as does "Situations Vacant" (anon) and Kay Clifford's "Dear Mrs Haverstrap . . . ".

Some parodies draw on self-parody alongside parody of the genre's weaknesses. This does not indicate that the parodist is ashamed of their fandom; the humour is not self-critical. For example, Polly Goerres, one of the two organisers of the Elinor M. Brent-Dyer centenary celebrations, is well-known to both school-story collectors and UK soccer fans as an avidly keen football fan. In "Over the Moon for the Chalet School", she parodies the possible influences of the South Shields Adelaide football team on Brent-Dyer's work, revealing that a certain amount of research had been done in the process. She concludes that:

Other parodies which involve self-parody have been directed at fandom and book-collecting in general. For example, in the first issue of Folly, the opening article lists "some of the more common forms of Book Dependency". These include:


In Folly 3, co-editor Sue Sims parodies the amount of money which collectors are prepared to spend on books with a revised version of some verses from George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind:

Similar parodies include "Matilda - Who Told a Lie and Lost a Fortune", by Sims and her co-editor Belinda Copson, which parodies the spread of the collecting bug and the high prices charged by book dealers alongside Hillaire Belloc's poem; "Threnody . . . " (below), which parodies collecting and Wordsworth's I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud; Sims's "The Rime of the Mistress Mariner", which parodies the high prices charged by book dealers as well as Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; and four sonnets to school stories (anon).

Other literary forms which have been parodied include detective fiction, in "Class 1c Detection" (anon); and the classics, in Cynthia Roques' "Classical School Stories" (this covers The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, Agamemnon and Medea).

The tendency of many fans to collect either books by Elinor M. Brent or books by Elsie Oxenham, but seldom both, is parodied in Tiggy Thomas's "To Abbey or not to Abbey". "Of course there are those rabbit owning/Lib. Dem./transsexual sort of people who like a bit of everything and will throw in Bruce and Mallory as equally valued as well, but I think they're just sad inadequates." The parody includes: "Ten good reasons to go to the Chalet School"; for example, "If you have only a tiny cold or a slight shock you'll get to spend days and days in bed"; and "Ten awful reasons why not to be an Abbey Girl"; for example, "You have to get engaged after knowing someone for about a month". Folly editors Sue Sims and Belinda Copson counter with: "Ten superb reasons to belong to the Abbey"; for example, "You may have to get married to a chap you hardly know, but you won't actually have to see him more than once a year or so"; and "Ten appalling reasons why not to go to the Chalet School"; for example, "You will never be quite sure how old you are, how your name is spelt, or (in the worst cases) what your name actually is".

The partners of fans have also been unable to avoid parody, and here the humour is sharper. For example, Sims parodies book collectors' husbands in "Spouses - A Typological Guide", defining men firmly as the "Other".

Sims divides spouses into three types. For "The collector in his own right" she predicts:

"The Book-Widower":

"The Book-Husband":

Sims goes on to suggest four means of "Adjusting the Book-Widower", concluding: "If even that doesn't work - well, you'll either have to resign yourself to living with a book-widower, if he hasn't already left home, or - get another husband."

Husbands later hit back with Barry Macilroy's "The National Debt". This opens:

And concludes:

This includes such questions as "Were you ever (a) a wealthy princess incognito . . . "; "Did you ever . . . . (c) support and clear the name of your Games Mistress . . . "; and "Would it be safe to assume that: (a) you were never expelled from school . . . ". It should be noted that Macilroy found it necessary to add at the end of the article that:


The fourth issue of Folly, published in September 1991, contains an article which parodies collecting alongside the advice columns in women's magazines with "The Editors Advise - Consult us for all your problems!" The following extract, which ends the piece, also parodies Agatha Christie's detective fiction, a popular reading choice for British women for much of the century. Again, this is not humour where the reading choice itself is the butt of the joke.


However, parodies of the media itself are not quite so gentle. In Folly 5, Sims asks readers: "Have you ever wondered how that part of our society generally referred to as "The Meeja" might tackle events in some of the books we all enjoy reading?" The section ends with the following parody of the BBC consumer programme, Watchdog, and of the fictional schools' tendency to be highly flammable.

A similar parody by Sims, "One day it will be told!", contains extracts purportedly taken from The Grauniad, Any Queries, Parliamentary Proceedings, The Archers and the Journal of Literary Bioengineering Volume IV no. 11.

Another set of parodies have been on the theme of what happens to school-story characters after the death of their authors and thus the end of the series. There is also an element of self- - but again non-critical - parody in these, since many fans have written serious articles on this topic. For example, Helen McClelland, Brent-Dyer's biographer, created "Mrs Maynard Regrets . . . (A gentle and affectionate send-up)" to celebrate Brent-Dyer's birth centenary in 1994, having previously created a serious, full-length Chalet novel which was published as Visitors for the Chalet School by Bettany Press in 1995. Here McClelland parodies the weaknesses in the books, in particular the central heroine and role model Joey's large, extended and well-brought-up family, and the fact that Brent-Dyer frequently made mistakes with minor characters' names and autobiographical details. The story opens with Joey leaving for the San, waving

Having been enlightened by Ailie Russell, the daughter of the founder of the school ("it's Matron Lloyd"), Miss Annersley is visited by Joey's husband Jack, who announces that Joey has given birth to quads, Elinor, Mary, Brent and Dyer. When Joey later brings them to visit the school, she tells the staff that the decision has been taken for the school to become co-educational.

In "Con Maynard: Life After the Chalet School", Gillian Humphreys imagines what happens to Con, one of Joey's triplet daughters, in adult life. In the parody Con marries a doctor (the vast majority of Brent-Dyer's heroines marry doctors) immediately after graduating from Oxford (many of Brent-Dyer's heroines aim for careers but get married instead). Con - the parody is written in the first person in very long sentences - explains that: "of course I accepted [his proposal] even though I was rather surprised because we hadn't met very much but Mamma said Auntie Madge hadn't met Uncle Jem much before they married and look how happy they were!" Here Humphreys parodies Brent-Dyer's tendency to marry her heroines off without depicting any period of courtship. Con becomes an actress and authoress (Brent-Dyer had predicted a writing career).

She also gives birth to a dozen children.

Here Humphreys parodies Joey's destiny as successful authoress and mother of many, including three multiple births (one of triplets, two of twins). As in the parody, Joey's children's hair and eye colour varied widely - leading, during a 1994 fan trip to Austria, to hilarious speculation that in fact all had different fathers (needless to say, Joey's reputation as a faithful wife was unsullied in the series). Those responsible, the women on the trip suggested, might be fellow doctors at the neighbouring TB Sanatorium where Joey's husband worked.

Barbara Anne Hunter and the Surrey Friends Of the Chalet School group produced another futuristic parody with "Trips - A Light Hearted Prediction". In this, the oldest triplet, Len, "needless to say did not marry Reg" but rather "a bright young American" (the series ends with Joey's daughter Len engaged to the extraordinarily named Dr Reg Entwhistle). Len goes to America, where, a short time after her husband is elected as President, "it became apparent to everyone that the wrong person had been elected and after a revolutionary election Len was elected as the first female President of the United States". Len, like Margaret Thatcher, gives birth to twins and ends her family there: "she admitted that it had been such a bother being the head of a large family and she didn't want to emulate her mother." (In the series, Len is always seen as happy to be the oldest child.)

Con becomes a writer, as predicted by Brent-Dyer, but "most people buy her books only to be disappointed. They usually give up after a few pages when they fall asleep." Margot, meanwhile, "is regarded by many as a modern day saint" (Brent-Dyer intends her to become a medical missionary). "She has been pursued by many men attracted by her vitality and zest for life but she has rejected them in favour of her patients, so a fairly uneventful end to a character who showed such promise in the Chalet School!" This parody reveals a wider and real dissatisfaction amongst fans with the destinies which Brent-Dyer mapped out for her later characters; they clearly saw them as going further than their author intended.

The impact of new technology on fan organisations has also been an element in fans' parodies. It is interesting to note here that this humour does not portray women as being unable to cope with technology; rather, the subject of the humour is the male-produced technology itself. For example, Sims produced the following poem after acquiring a new computer with a spell-checker. The programme offered sixteen possible suffixes to any word being added to its dictionary, and Sims parodies this along with the fans' love of the books.


New technology is, in fact, what has made possible the publication of the fans' parodies, since it has enabled them to publish their own magazines and newsletters, and more recently to publish on the Internet. The Chalet fans' World Wide Web site was created by Polly Goerres and her husband Trevor Oldham, and first appeared on 10 April 1996. Self-parody plays a key part in the writing, but it should be noted that this is not only non-critical, but defiant in promoting a love of the genre.


Away from the Chalet School and the Internet, Kate Tyler's parody "The Abbey Girls Revisited: Chapter One - All the News and a Thrilling Party", which she claimed to have written in a trance after making contact with the spirit of Elsie J. Oxenham, brings the girls into the 1990s. Joy and her twin daughters are unsuccessfully trying to quit smoking, while Joy's husband has run off with Maidlin's husband. Rosamund's daughter Rosabel is a habitual criminal and is about to be released from prison - hers is the coming-out party of the title - Maidlin's son Jackie-Paul is gay, Jen has 102 grandchildren, and the younger generation are working in McSquirrelburger's. Tyler's parody is unusual among the women's parodies in that her humour owes more than a little to the St Trinian's films; the apparent innocence of Oxenham's world of women leads to drug addiction, crime, uncontrolled breeding, and, most telling of all, homosexuality. Perhaps unsuprisingly, some readers found this offensive.


Some parodies, of course, remain unpublished, even in restricted-circulation publications such as fan newsletters, but circulate privately among friends. One reason that the circulation for these has been small is the recognition by their creators that many readers would be offended or upset by them. For example, in 1996 fans manipulated the titles of some of Elsie Oxenham's Abbey girls series, parodying the fact that the reprints published as part of the "Seagull Library" have blue covers and are often referred to by collectors as the "blue books". The parodies include Joy's Blue Adventure (from Joy's New Adventure), Rosamund's Fuckshop (from Rosamund's Tuckshop), Maidlin Bares Her Breasts (from Maidlin Bears the Torch) and The Abbey Girls Go On The Game (from The Abbey Girls Go Back To School). Like Tyler, the innocence of Oxenham's world is misleading, but these parodies all reflect an active women's sexuality.

As with Marshall, fans have also noticed unintentional double-entendres in the genre, including the following from The Chalet School and the Lintons.

In 1996 a group of fans even circulated privately a short quiz about the double-entendres, which also parodied the regular quizzes held at fan meetings.

X-Rated Questions

(Only attempt these if you are over eighteen years of age)

Warning: they're difficult.

2 points for each correct identification.

Unlike Marshall, the fans are not laughing at the books themselves, but at the changing meaning of words and phrases.

(However, as Montefiore has noted, some of the later examples of the genre do parody earlier works. This is particularly common in Antonia Forest's Kingscote stories.


As well as the genre proper, women have also produced visual parodies of the girls' school stories published in comic book form and generally written by men. The best-known of these parodists is Posy Simmonds, who began her cartooning career with the Guardian newspaper with a strip called "The Silent Three of St Botolphs". This ran between May and July 1977, and was based on the long-running series in School Friend, "The Silent Three". In a telephone interview in summer 1996, Simmonds explained that she had "read comics avidly" when she was younger, and particularly liked the English girls' comics such as Crystal and School Friend, where the only male characters were "baddies". It is interesting to note here that, despite their male authors, Simmonds perceived the comic books as portraying a "world of girls".

When she was asked by her editor to produce a strip to fill a space left on the Women's Page by the withdrawal of the long-running cartoon "Varoomshka", Simmonds "had a half-baked idea about what had happened to the Silent Three as adults - would they still have jolly japes?" She therefore introduced "Mrs Stanhope Wright, neé Patricia Farthing, Mrs George Weber, neé Wendy Johnson", and "Mrs Edmund Heep, neé Joanna Simon".

However, Simmonds found it difficult to develop the idea, since the cartoons were "spoofs", and "had a dreadful few weeks" producing the cartoons. It is interesting to note that Simmonds, who loved the original stories, did not feel able to ridicule them successfully. By late July she had therefore abandoned the parody in favour of a parody of the middle-class Guardian readers themselves, and the title was gradually allowed to atrophy. The characterisation in the strip then became paramount, with the overgrown schoolgirls of the original strip allowed to become adult women. Simmonds' recognition that the "Women's Page" was for "women" readers, and the fact that many oppressive aspects of readers' lives were satirised along with middle-class mores, meant that the strip was enormously successful; Simmonds was to become the best-known British woman cartoonist of the 1980s.

Another, more recent parodist is Carolyn Ridsdale, an Australian cartoonist who is currently living in Amsterdam. In 1994 - when fans were celebrating the birth centenary of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer - Ridsdale produced two parodies for the young women's independent magazine Girl Frenzy. Girl Frenzy was often described in the media during the early 1990s as a "Riot Grrl" publication, meaning that it was a feminist magazine for young women. "The Four Fannys" is a loose parody of the series "The Four Marys", published in the comic Bunty and familiar to generations of British girls and women. Fanny Norton, Fanny Finegan, Fanny Farkew and Fanny Gupta (unlike the original publication, the last two are Black and Asian respectively) are best friends and third-form pupils at Slagheap Comprehensive.

Whereas the original cartoon series portrays an idealised world of the school, Ridsdale's parody is mercilessly realistic and contemporary. Her girls owe more to Searle's cartoons than to the original characters, being violent, aggressive and moving in a gang. However, whereas the St Trinian's girls are savages in a civilised world, the attitude of Ridsdale's girls is shown to be entirely necessary in the world of the school, since it is affected by bulimia, drugs, racism, illiteracy and cuts in school meal budgets. Ridsdale also parodies police action against drugs - achieving arrests as a result of tip-offs rather than concerning themselves with issues of guilt - and the media's keenness to expose drug problems in schools.

In the opening scene of episode one, Fanny Norton and Fanny Gupta are fighting over Fanny Norton's cigarettes, while Fanny Finegan is putting on make-up. Fanny Farkew suggests rounding up "all the bulimics and get them to park their school dinners on [the headmistress, Dr Killjoy's] brand new merc!" Fanny Finegan "can have the first heave!". Fanny Finegan claims that her friends are simply jealous of her "naturally petite figure"; Fanny Gupta rejects this, calling her "puke breath". Fanny Farkew then leaves for "a heavy bollicking in fart face's study".

The remaining girls are offered drugs by a much smaller child, Mariah, but Fanny Finegan tells her to "piss off . . . you know we're not allowed to buy drugs in a national publication" (here Ridsdale parodies publishing controls on the comic industry). The girls therefore "nick behind the bike shed for a couple of frames". In the study, Fanny Farkew is given two years detention after "five pounds of high-grade Morrocan" (ie cannabis) is found in the school; she is blamed because "You're Black, aren't you?". Meanwhile Mariah has sold the drugs to the remaining Fannys, having stolen it from the stockroom ("Out of Mummy's bedroom more like" says Fanny Finegan). The girls go to hide the cannabis in the library, now long disused, where Fanny Farkew takes it off them. They then plant the drugs in Dr Killjoy's office before phoning the police and the tabloid press.

In episode two, the Fannys are in the chemistry lab (a scene also parodied in St Trinian's), creating a special formula. Meanwhile, "in the bowels of Slagheap Comprehensive", Fanny Finegan's mother - overweight and wearing a top with the slogan "Never trust a skinny cook" - is sacked as school cook by Dr Killjoy, who replaces her with a new, very thin cook, Miss Prigg. The headmistress then unveils a plan to feed the school gruel mixed with out-of-date vitamin tablets. The girls are horrified when they find out about the sacking - Mrs Finegan has hit the bottle - and the girls add their secret formula to the school dinner. This causes "terminal acne in fifteen seconds", which Dr Killjoy blames on the gruel and accordingly sacks Miss Prigg. Mrs Finegan receives a payrise, and the girls make money by selling acne cures. In a sub-plot, Fanny Farkew continues to attack her boyfriend Gary for being unfaithful. As with Searle's cartoons, Ridsdale's girls continue to come out on top.

There are five key differences between the men's parodies of girls' school stories and the women's. First, while the majority of the male parodists' humour disguises a deep dislike and fear of the female gender, the majority of the women's parodies result from a love of the genre rather than a wish to ridicule it. Second, while the male parodists "find schoolgirls funny", the self-parody within the women's parodies is non-critical. Third, while the men's parodies rely only on the cultural recognition of the genre for their humour, the women's parodies require a deep knowledge and love of the genre in order to appreciate them. Fourth, the women's parodies are more sophisticated than men's - commonly parodying literary styles such as poetry alongside girls' school stories - and less prone to exaggeration. Finally, while for the male parodists the intended audience is always primarily male; for the women, the intended audience is always female.

Sue Sims

The women's parodies, then, offer a challenge to the men's parodies. Rather than fearing the gender values within the books, the women parodists embrace them. Rather than accepting that their reading is infantile and the books are anachronistic and undesirable, the women parodists merely laugh at the lengths to which they will go and the prices which they will pay to obtain these highly desirable books. And they do this while fully appreciating - and laughing at - the weaknesses in the stories. But their challenge has largely gone unseen, and the notable parodist Sue Sims (author of many of the "anonymous" parodies above) is unknown outside of a small circle of fans. This is unsurprising. The message is unwelcome, and, since men dominate the public arena and women the private, there is no place for the women's parodies in the mainstream publishing world. Consequently, the women's parodies have remained a private joke.

Next: 9. The Fans of Girls' School Stories
Return to: 8. The Parodies of Girls' School Stories Index
Return to: Virtual Worlds of Girls Index

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