Doris went off the stage, grinning. The audience looked
at the next item she was to do - another impersonation. Who?
They knew as soon as she appeared again. She had made herself plump with padding. She had scraped back her hair into a bun, put on enormous flat-heeled shoes, secretly borrowed from Mamzelle's room, and wore glasses crookedly on her nose.
"Mamzelle!" shrieked the girls in delight . . .
Mamzelle was lying back in her chair, helpless with laughter, tears pouring down her cheeks. The girls felt a warm wave of liking for her - how nice she was to laugh at someone taking off her little foibles and mannerisms.
(Enid Blyton, Second Form at St Clare's, Methuen,1944, p107)
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:
twenty-five years of consistent sporting and academic
achievement, of targets striven towards and goals attained, of aspiration
and realization, from which one has evolved among pupils and staff, a tradition
of fairness to one's fellow creatures, loyalty to school and country, a
sense of duty and honour, of being straight and playing the game, and above
all, a tradition of happy girls.
(Deegan, Denise, Daisy Pulls It Off, Samuel French, London, p1)
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:
daredevil, tomboy, possessed of a brilliant mind, exuberant,
quick-witted, fond of practical jokes, honourable, courageous, straight
in all things and . . . an elementary school pupil. Father - dead. Mother
- a former opera singer who struggles to keep a home together for herself,
Daisy, and Daisy's brothers - Dick, Douglas, Daniel and Duncan in a small
terraced house in London's East End, by giving music lessons to private
(Deegan, Denise, Daisy Pulls It Off, Samuel French, London, p1)
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:
have a good education, pass all my exams and then, when
I leave, find a job as a teacher in an elementary school and perhaps I'll
earn enough money to buy you [mother] the country cottage you've always
wanted, and to pay for Dick, Douglas, Daniel and Duncan's education if
they haven't won scholarships by then.
(Deegan, Denise, Daisy Pulls It Off, Samuel French, London, p2)
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
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:
a rambling red-brick Elizabethan mansion, its mullioned
windows twinkling in the sun like so many welcoming eyes beneath curious
twisted chimneys. Flowers of every scent and hue bordered the smooth green
lawns, and there behind the house stretched the tennis courts and playing
fields for which Grangewood was justly renowned. As they passed through
the great stone gates, the girls - as one - turned to look at the sapphire
sea beating against the chalky cliffs on which the school so proudly stood.
(Deegan, Denise, Daisy Pulls It Off, Samuel French, London, p4)
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:
Rather a mystery man, he lives alone in a tiny cottage
in the middle of Cramphorn Wood. Where he comes from no-one knows. He suddenly
appeared in the area about ten years ago, apparently. He hasn't a wife
or any relatives that visit him or anything like that.
(Deegan, Denise, Daisy Pulls It Off, Samuel French, London, p11)
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.
Clare: My goodness, someone's playing a first rate game
of hockey over here.
Alice: It's the Upper Fourth . . . a practice game by the looks of things.
Who's that child there? She can certainly pass balls.
Clare: It's the new kiddie, the scholarship girl, Daisy Meredith. With
some proper coaching she could be a decent player. Look at her, never
funking a single ball.
Alice: Learnt all the rules from a book, I was told.
Clare: A sportsman as well as a scholar.
Alice: There's one whose name will grace the First Eleven.
(Deegan, Denise, Daisy Pulls It Off, Samuel French, London, pp13-14)
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).
In days of yore the female sex
Of learning they had none
But now thanks to bold pioneers
Education they have won.
Proud girls and women teach and learn
In many a famous hall
But of them all there's none more dear
Than that of Grangewood School.
Long may ye flourish Grangewood School
Glorious is thy name
Honesta quam magna is our call
As we strive to play the game.
(Deegan, Denise, Daisy Pulls It Off, Samuel French, London, p51)
Compare the content of this to the St Trinian's soccer
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:
Reviews in the radical press which praised the play when it opened in 1983 fell over themselves in their efforts to disclaim nostalgia, to emphasise that this was a spoof, a parody, not a celebration ("A dodgy message had this play been for real. But it's not - it is a send-up, and a very funny one at times" - Spare Rib) and drew on the recognised language of the genre to emphasise their own ironic distance ("a ripping night out" - City Limits).
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:
depended on the audience's ability to recognise the conventions of the genre, and on their astonishment at seeing this hidden, embarrassing, repressed aspect of women's culture represented publicly, barefacedly, on stage. Hardly any of the women with whom I saw the play had been to private schools, yet all "recognised" it equally . . . The school story has always been a dream, a fantasy, has never had more than a tenuous connection with "real life"; the nostalgia which Daisy elicited was not a nostalgia for a lived event or for an irrecoverable "golden age", but a nostalgia for a half-forgotten reading experience.
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.
Certainly the language is very self-conscious, but it
refers to a range of cultural icons. Don't you think Daisy's first speech:
"Daisy Meredith, daredevil, tomboy, possessed of a brilliant mind
. . ." sounds like "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich
. . . " ?
We played the whole thing absolutely straight, if that isn't an unfortunate choice of expression. We had immaculate school uniforms, tidy hair, polished shoes, and straight backs and bats. The jokes worked because they assumed the audience's familiarity with the genre. Daisy succeeding brilliantly at everything she touches, but being misjudged because of snobbery is only funny if you know that is the form. Clare Beaumont being so admirable - "We all adore her" - can't be the object of ridicule because she is the motivating force behind Daisy and Trixie looking for the treasure. I think it just packs in all those things we love about school stories, and we laugh because we know what to expect.
. . . I have seen it done as a piss-take and I don't think that works. High bunches in the hair aren't period and wouldn't be allowed (even at CCHS [the Girls' High School we both attended in the 1970s]). That production had to put in unscripted business because they didn't use the rhythm of the play. For example, we created the cliff rescue scene by having the girls standing on chairs and Daisy, Sybil and Monica climbing down the stage-front steps. Wind and wave noises were created by the actors, so that Daisy had to shout above them. The actors had to believe they were on a cliff in great peril. Only then can Daisy daring-all be funny - it's funny that she is ridiculously brave which she can't be if the actors are just mucking about. Comedy is serious stuff, after all.
Daisy glanced downwards just in time to see the ledge on which she and Monica had been lately standing disappear into the wild sea. Her heart skipped a beat - "just the sea and the wind, Monica, nothing to worry about".
Got a roar of laughter every night in our show. Brilliant
timing by the actor, of course, but only works because we catch ourselves
believing it is true. The audience cheered at the end of the scene because
they were glad Daisy had triumphed. In the foolish version all the action
took place off stage with Winnie making faces at the audience and rolling
her eyes every time Daisy was marvellous; it didn't get laughs because
we were distracted by the ridicule of Winnie.
Is this all about willing suspension of disbelief? There must be something to be said about whether the play can work about a dominant central character who is unbelievable or unlikeable. If the audience isn't rooting for Daisy, the play doesn't work and if the audience does admire her, how can the play be scornful? (archived correspondence, 1995)
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:
Fiona, the one-time toast of the school, had become Fiona
the Ostracized: in fact, Fiona the Funk!
Dropped from the First Eleven, she glumly saw the school lose the last two matches of the term. Gamely she bore the reproachful looks of her form-mates, and the loneliness of her chum-less situation. Outwardly she remained cool, though inwardly she fought many a battle against despair. Yet still she managed to hold up that sleekly shingled head, to keep her monocle polished, and to square her shoulders as she walked past groups of hostile, and sometimes even rudely hissing, girls.
Still no-one spoke to her, or gave her the chance to explain her strange behaviour on the day of the St Chad's match.
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
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.
Cherry felt drawn to the handsome woman with her warm manner and soft brown eyes. Nurse George was someone she would certainly like to get to know better. "I'll send her a postcard, too," she decided. (p25)
For some reason, Father didn't like his youngest sister
and refused to speak of her. But when Mr Aimless had gone east for the
summer . . . her mother had invited Aunt Gertrude for a visit. [Maney
continually parodied the 1950s American marriage, with Mr Aimless at the
head of the house and Mrs Aimless achieving her own desires through deception
rather than confrontation.]
[Aunt Gertrude] had never married, but with her vivacious personality and striking good looks, she made friends easily. The first week in Pleasantville she became fast friends with the town librarian, Miss Hathaway . . .
Her father had arrived home a week early to find Gert and Miss Hathaway napping in the spare bedroom. He forbade them to set foot in his house again, and that was the last Cherry saw of Aunt Gert. (pp37-8)
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'
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).
Take one new girl with a peculiarity. To soften, add a natural disaster. Combine with a large pinch of Joey popping in and out and a few wise words from Miss Annersley (temper discipline with mercy). While new girl is simmering, take a handful of rebellious middles. When middles start to cheek, mix with some icy dignity from a prefect. Sift in a prefects' meeting and a candid staffroom discussion. Subdue middles. Mix all ingredients well. Continue writing until the new girl is to school's taste. Can be iced with a long-winded nativity play.
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.)
A School Story Alphabet
A's for an Abbey - the school's always old
B's for the morning bath, usually cold.
C's for the classroom - of which we hear least;
D's for the Dorm. and the Dark Midnight Feast.
E's for the Exams, where some cheating takes place
And the cheat gets the heroine into disgrace.
F's for the Friend who sticks by her throughout
And also For-giveness when Cheat is found out.
G is for Games - and the Goal which is scored
By our Heroine playing back, centre and forward;
Though her ankle's been hit by the Hard Hockey ball -
Making the scorer the Idol of all.
J's for the japes which the Irish colleen
Invents - and on which all the rest are so Keen.
When they're in the Laboratory, all L breaks loose
Mamselle cries "Vous méchantes filles!" turning quite puce.
N is the New Girl who nobody knows:
The poor girl's an Orphan, or so we suppose
Till her father's found safe and sound - what a surprise!
Or perhaps she's a Princess or Queen in disguise.
Now we've got to the climax - the Rescue's at hand
For the San. is on fire or the Tide's on the sand.
And the Cheat is in danger - the story's so gripping!
But Up goes our heroine - isn't she ripping!
Our Heroine's Vict'ry's an absolute rule,
And the cheat's Wicked Wiles are exposed to the school
X-posed as a villain! X-pelled straight away?
No! Y not? Well, our Heroine begs "Let her stay"!
Our alphabet's comes to an end, as it must,
And I hope that you think the descriptions are just.
But where has the Z gone? I see your blank looks -
It's the Zeal with which all of us read the damn books! (anon)
Likewise, "Four Characters in Search of a School
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:
"Ah well," you cry, "she never mentioned football in the whole of the Chalet School series. She never published titles like The Chalet School and the Offside Trap, Kevin Richardson - Chaletian, or Joey Goes to the Wanderers. She can't possibly have been a football fan!" But remember, all you who mock. None of her Chalet girls were from broken homes, none of them were from the North East of England, and none of them adopted different names at different stages of their lives - but all three applied to Elinor. So, why shouldn't she have been a football fan, too? Why else would Armada have reprinted the second half of The New Chalet School as The United Chalet School?
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:
Elinorexia nervosa - going without food and, indeed, everything
else, to support one's habit of buying Brent-Dyers;
Elseimer's Disease - a formal of mental degeneration brought on by over-indulgence in reading about Abbeys and folk-dancing;
Heroine addiction - a passion for following the fortunes of the incredibly daring, loyal and honourable stars of school stories. (anon)
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:
Where did you come from . . . ?
Where did you come from, Chalet dear?
Out of the Book Fair into here.
What makes the light on you sparkle and spin?
The polythene cover that I'm wrapped in.
Where did you get that price sky-high?
The dealer knew that some mug would buy.
Where did you get that little tear?
The cat decided it likes food rare.
What made this miniature crimson spot?
When you carved up the cat, it bled a lot.
What is that slip like a dainty star?
A bus-ticket - remember, you sold the car.
What made this sweet little dampish stain?
Since the bank repossessed, we're out in the rain.
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).
Threnody to the memory of books which one only realises too late that one should have bought, even though they seemed so ridiculously expensive at the time.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er hill and dale;
When all at once I cried aloud,
I'd seen a sign: "Old books for sale".
A hundred saw I at a glance
I broke into a little dance.
May Baldwin, Oxenham, Brazil,
Brent-Dyer, Needham, D.F.B.,
A reader there could browse at will
Through such a jocund company.
I looked inside - I almost spat:
"The books aren't worth a fifth of that!"
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
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".
the article could as easily have been written with the emphasis on collectors' wives; but since about 95% of our subscribers and 100% of your editors are female, we felt it would be easier to deal with the unfair sex. So to speak. Perhaps our male readers would be kind enough to feminise all the male nouns and pronouns, to save us having to write two articles.
Sims divides spouses into three types. For "The collector in his own right" she predicts:
some acrimony as to whose collection gets relegated to boxes in the loft or that old wardrobe in the garage; there is not much that can be done about this one, and there must be many of these couples who end up in the divorce court pleading Lack of Access or Irretrievable Breakdown of Floor Joists.
is unfortunately quite common in Britain.
. . . A husband who has got into this depressing state is a pretty hopeless specimen, and our readers must be warned that cures are rare. Some helpful suggestions will be found at the end of the article.
comes in two varieties - passive and active. The passive
variety tolerates his wife's little foibles, puts up book-shelves without
much grumbling and agrees to go to Hay-on-Wye [which has the largest
concentration of second-hand bookshops in England] for the summer holidays
on the understanding that he can spend the day fishing or in the pub. The
active type - rarer, but very desirable - goes round jumble sales and charity
shops with his wife, darts into second-hand bookshops even when alone,
and has even been known to secrete catalogues before his wife gets up in
the morning in order to place an order with the dealer and give her a copy
of Nancy in the Sixth for her birthday . . .
There is, in fact, only one problem with the active book-husband. Having acquired the collecting habit, even if only vicariously, he is quite likely to turn into a collector himself . . .
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:
I wonder if you've ever stopped to consider the enormous debt we owe to all those fictional schoolgirls whose exploits have been chronicled by Angela Brazil, Elsie J. Oxenham, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Dorita Fairlie Bruce, Mabel Esther Allan et al . . .
With all these splendid, heart-stirring qualities, where the dickens did all these lovely girls disappear to? What is more, why on earth didn't I manage to marry just one of them? All my problems would surely have been solved. In order that others may not "fall by the wayside" as they "pledge their troth", or whatever, I have devised the following questionnaire.
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:
To avoid letter-bombs, poison-pen letters and hate mail, I should assure all Folly readers that I seriously consider girls' school stories far superior to boys' school yarns. Furthermore, "schoolgirls" of all ages are welcome to adapt the above questionnaire to discover their schoolboys' honour.
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.
During my absence yesterday, my wife invited a couple of her acquaintances to see a collection of books which she has made by a writer called, I believe, E.J. Oxenham. On my return, I discovered the dead body of my wife lying in a corner of the library with a paper-knife through her heart. Furthermore, upon investigation, the detective whom I have employed (a most peculiar little foreigner called Porridge or Parrot or some such name) informs me that all the books by Miss Oxenham have disappeared. Do you think there may be a connection between these two distressing events?
The Editors' Secretary regrets that, owing to the unavoidable absence of her employers, who are on a prolonged visit to South America, she cannot answer this inquiry.
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.
Camera 1: Zoom in to PRESENTER with an intent, concerned,
compassionate expression on her face.
Pr: This evening we focus first on an area in which there is currently a worrying lack of legislation - fire prevention in girls' and boys' boarding schools. Statistics show that, last year, in England alone, 87% of all boarding schools had a fire on their premises. Of these fires, 96% began in the sanatorium - an astounding figure! Watchpunters investigates.
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
a cheery farewell to the assembled flock of children,
cousins, brevet-nieces, wards and adopted sisters. The group, all trained
from their earliest years to be promptly obedient, and to keep early hours,
immediately took themselves off to bed.
. . . Meanwhile, back at the Chalet School, Miss Annersley was not enjoying a similarly peaceful night. Her dreams were constantly disturbed by an inability to remember who was the real "Matey". Was it the small, wiry Matron Lloyd? Was it the imposing five-foot-eleven Matron Gould? Or perhaps that other lady, Rider, was it?
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).
I remember when I had to be the fairy queen at very short notice for the Millie's pantomime and everyone said I was quite good so I thought if I can do that I can do a lot better than that so I went to a film audition and I got the part of an extra and my career just got better.
She also gives birth to a dozen children.
twin sons, David and James (brown hair, brown eyes) [followed by a] third son, Christopher (red hair, green eyes) . . . twins, Elinor and Richard (black hair, brown eyes, both of them) . . . quin daughters! . . . Hazel (chestnut hair, brown eyes) Gillian (black hair, blue eyes) Joycelyn (blonde hair, blue eyes) Hilary (light brown hair, brown eyes) and Louise (chestnut hair, grey eyes). Three years after that I had another daughter, Nicola, called Nikki (brown hair, brown eyes) and four years after that I had my final child, Beth (chestnut hair, green eyes. She is now 17 and Head Girl.
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
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.
My eyes drank in the screenèd page
All covered with Brent-Dyerage.
Perusing such a wondrous list
Enthralls the true Brent-Dyerist.
I read the screen - I was inspired
To make my poetry Brent-Dyered.
(I know it's not Shakespyrean
But possibly - Brent-Dyeran?)
So now - if you will acquiesce -
I'll celebrate Brent-Dyerness.
The only drawback I can see
In being all Brent-Dyerly
Is that it's quite intolerable
When someone's more Brent-Dyerable
(Oh, if you pedants have to quibble,
I'll write it as "Brent-Dyerible".)
But after all one must admire 'er,
The dyèd-in-the-wool Brent-Dyerer;
For every one of us aspires
To pristine jacketed Brent-Dyers,
And wishes to be travelling
Prospecting and Brent-Dyering.
I cannot stand, I must confess,
A journey that's Brent-Dyerless.
I'm looking forward to my retirement
And rev'lling in complete Brent-Dyerment.
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.
In the immortal words of the Abbess [a nickname for the
Chalet School's headmistress, Miss Annersley], "I won't keep you long
on this occasion, girls." A very warm welcome to Chaletopia, the web
site for fans of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and the Chalet School series.
If you're thinking "I'm 16/33/51/75 (delete where applicable) years of age, I'm far too old to admit to anyone that I still read school stories", then come out from behind your cubicle curtains and show a leg. Chaletopia is for you - and we hope that we will put you in touch with hundreds of others just like you, old enough not to know better.
Yes, Chalet School fandom is alive and well, thanks to cold baths, Matey's cod liver oil and as much Kaffee and Kuchen as possible, thank you. For us, the first eleven is not merely the school hockey team - it's the size of Joey's family . . . to date. Matey (to us) is not just something to put in the children's baths.
So how do I get involved in this mass ramble through the pine woods? How do I enter this wonderful world of theé mit rhum and apfeltorte? In what way can I join a thrilling extended triumvirate of rollicking girlhood, joyous womanhood and the odd Dr Jem thrown in? Read on, gentle netsurfer, and all shall be revealed.
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.
I accept that Kate obviously intended to write a "send-up" of the series, and have no quarrel with her claiming it as a "psychic" experience, even though I don't really believe in them! However, I do think that she has overdone her "send-up" to a point which transcends humour and becomes merely silly, and I, personally, am rather sorry to see it in print! . . . Still, let me stress again that my reaction to this article is purely personal, and I'm sure plenty of people found it, as intended, to be very funny! (anon)
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.
"Oh, it looks simply gorgeous!" cried Joyce as she knelt beneath the erection, tying down some long sprays with which they had adorned the lower part . . ."This will be very effective," observed Miss Annersley, joining the other two mistresses at the foot of the erection. (pp277-8)
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.
(Only attempt these if you are over eighteen years of age)
Warning: they're difficult.
When Elinor was writing, certain words and phrases had different meanings to those used today. This sometimes leads to some very smutty double-entendres! Please identify the sources of the following X-rated quotations.
2 points for each correct identification.
1. "That doesn't seem to have occurred to Aunt Margaret. I suppose she thinks that all that matters is a decent screw and holidays. Well, I can have a go at the screw in another way; but I won't teach! That's definite!"
2. "The Principal allowed the girls much liberty, but intercourse with the men from the Academia was strictly forbidden, and any girl who transgressed the rule, and was found out more than once, was sent away."
3. "Dr Jem scowled at her portentously. 'Mutiny in
the ranks, eh? Why can't you be obedient, you scaramouche? How do you
know you're not sickening for something awful?'
'Like - like thrush?' said Jo unexpectedly.
'Well - er - no; not quite that. Still that's not the point.' "
4. " 'Allow me,' said Dr Maynard, seeing that Jo
was getting her breath back, and carefully moving over . . . He thrust
hard against the bottom
. . . two or three more good shoves did it."
1. The Chalet School and the Island
2. The School by the River
3. Jo of the Chalet School
4. Joey Shoves Her Oar In [short story]
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.
"Will you treat what I'm going to say as absolutely
"Now look," said Lois, mildly alarmed. "You haven't come to consult me over an Epidemic of Cribbing in your form and shall you go to Miss Keith and Sneak, have you?" Because that's not my cup of tea at all. Try a prefect or - .")
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".
20 years ago, 3 pupils at St Botolph's School for girls formed a SECRET SOCIETY . . . And now, 20 years on, Jo, Trish and Wendy (wives and mothers all) maintain their SECRET PACT.
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.
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.
|Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90's ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure is available now for just £3.09 for the Kindle or in a limited-edition hardback with full-colour art plates for £20 inc UK postage and packing.|