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WINSTON CHURCHILL called her “Britain’s secret weapon” and, indeed, her marriage became one of World War II’s better kept secrets.
I’m talking about Jane, the leggy, curvaceous blonde scatterbrain seen in a Daily Mirror comic strip between 1932 and 1959. The Jane comic strip resulted from a wager by cartoonist Norman Pett that he could devise one as popular with adults as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred was with British kids.
Pett won the bet handily with his Jane comic strip. In time, Chrystabel Leighton-Porter became his real-life model for Jane, even to performing wartime shows throughout England.
My first exposure to Jane came in Little Friends: The Fighter Pilot Experience in World War II England.
Topics in this wonderful book range from Flying the Mission to The Villagers to Those Girls. The importance of Jane is stressed as a daily morale booster for a country enduring the Battle of Britain, Dunkirk Evacuation and Blitz and, eventually, supporting the D-Day Invasion and Victory in Europe.
My second encounter with Jane comics was in an episode of BBC TV’s Foyle’s War. The patrolmen in Foyle’s Hastings Police office are eager to see what Jane reveals on VE Day.
This clearly called for some research on my part.
In Pett’s daily comics, Jane Gay and her dachshund Fritz have adventures with boyfriend Georgie Porgie, commanding officer The Colonel, and arch-enemy Nazi spy Lola Pagola. Along the way, Jane manages to discard items of clothing—inadvertently, often illogically, but always in blissfully innocent spirit.
Noted Leslie Thomas in Jane Introduced, Mirror Group, 1983, “Pilots going up into the unfriendly skies would superstitiously calculate on the chances of getting back alive by how many layers of clothing our innocent had taken off, lost, had blown away, stolen or otherwise disposed of that morning.”
It was part of the fun that Jane’s cheerful sexual naivety seemed directly proportional to the skin revealed.
Pett’s first model for Jane was his wife Mary. When Mary decided to concentrate on her golf career, he hired Chrystabel Leighton-Porter, a young woman already into a modeling career.
Leighton-Porter took Jane into theaters throughout Britain during WWII. Her act, essentially a strip-tease, appeased local censors by having a set of boxed scenes, à la comic strip format, some static to dodge restrictions of moving nudes, others performed in silhouette, shadow-fashion behind a scrim.
It was not surprising that Leighton-Porter received numerous offers of marriage (62 in one week). Many were from Yanks, and Chrystabel recalls (in true Jane fashion), “Of course, every one of them had a ranch back home, or a newspaper or an oil empire. At least they said they did.”
In fact, early in the war Chrystabel had married RAF fighter pilot Flying Officer Arthur Leighton-Porter (she was born Chrystabel Jane Drewry). However, in the interest of maintaining morale, the marriage was kept a secret.
There’s a wartime British Pathe film short of Pett and Leighton-Porter, a bit racy by American Hays-Code standards. See http://www.britishpathe.com.
In 1945, an attempt was made to publish Jane in the United States. The audience proved to be more prudish than the British one, however, and the comics failed within two years. By 1959, Jane and her boyfriend Georgie Porgie got married and the Daily Mirror series came to an end. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014