Jane’s Journal, the Diary of a Bright Young Thing, was launched in the Daily Mirror in 1932. Drawn by Norman Pett, it was his response to a challenge to create a comic strip that would be as popular with adults as the famous Pip, Squeak & Wilfred (started in the Mirror in 1919) was with children.
William Norman Pett was born in 1891. After being invalided out of the armed forces during the Great War, he took a correspondence course in drawing from Percy Bradshaw’s Press Art School, which also taught many other cartoonists. Later, he taught art at the Mosley Road Junior Art School and at Birmingham Central School of Art. In the 1920s Pett worked as a Punch cartoonist as well as producing cartoons for other publications. Pett initially used his wife Mary as a life model for Jane. When Mary developed other interests, Pett then used another artists’ model that he met at the Central School of Art, Christabel Leighton-Porter, as his new life model.
Originally each daily strip was self-contained, but from the start of the Second World War, there was a continuous storyline. The heroine, Jane Gay, was an attractive young woman whose life revolved around society, romance and her pet dachshund Fritz. In those days, the word “gay” had no homosexual connotations, merely meaning cheerful and happy. At the beginning of World War II, Jane joined the Army and became the driver and PA of “the Colonel” who was involved in intelligence. She had a series of often hair-raising adventures, most of which involved her losing her clothes at various points – though it was always for reasons outside her control. She was portrayed as an innocent, and the loss of clothes was down to misfortune; it was a very popular combination of innocence and naughtiness. Her arch-enemy was the Nazi spy Lola Pagola. Other characters included Basil, her early boyfriend; Georgie Porgie, her later boyfriend; and the Colonel who always remained the perfect gentleman, probably because his wife Thelma often popped in to keep an eye on him. Her pet was a dachshund called Fritz, whose German name remained unchanged throughout the war.
It was said that Jane’s most naked moments coincided with critical stages in the British war effort. This was probably coincidental as the panels would have been drawn well in advance; 6 strips would be needed each week for the Monday-Saturday newspapers. So popular was the strip that submarine captains were issued with an advance supply of them, which they kept in their safes and doled out day by day to the crew.
During the war, Christabel Leighton-Porter toured the UK with a burlesque group in a show called Jane in The Mirror, entertaining servicemen and bolstering home front morale. Leslie Grade persuaded her to perform in the show. As in the cartoon, Jane had to lose, for innocuous reasons, as many clothes as possible. At the time, nudes were not allowed to move on stage and could only pose motionless in tableaux.
In 1948 Pett left the Daily Mirror to produce a similar strip cartoon, entitled Susie, in the Sunday Dispatch. Mike Hubbard, his assistant since 1946, took over the job of drawing Jane.
Born Ernest Albert Hubbard in April 1902, he had come to London after the Great War. Hubbard attended art school, then joined Dean’s Studio as an illustrator. He started out as an illustrator on the British story papers of the Amalgamated Press (AP) in the 1930s, including The Thriller and Detective Weekly. Hubbard moved into comics after the Second World War. He continued to work for AP, adapting a number of classics for Knockout magazine – a rival to the Beano and Dandy – in the second half of the 1940s. He turned Jane into the equivalent of a soap opera. However, Jane’s popularity began to wane soon after the end of the war, as servicemen returned home and were no longer separated from their womenfolk. Hubbard brought more knowing and less innocent air to his version of Jane. In October 1959, the apparently ageless Jane literally sailed off into the sunset with Georgie Porgie. Alfred Mazure drew a revival named Jane, daughter of Jane from 1961-3 and John Burns drew Jane, grand-daughter of Jane in the 1980s.
The Museum has 3 cartoons relating to Jane. Au revoir from Jane, a single panel picture, was Pett’s illustration for her final appearance in the Canadian forces newspaper Maple Leaf in February 1946. There is no Jane by Hubbard, but he also drew Jane Bond – Secret Agent – a strip that ran in the magazines Tina and Princess Tina from 1967-70. That Jane, while still an attractive woman, managed to keep her clothes on! The Jane Bond cartoon in the Museum’s collection shows Jane Bond up the Orinoco River looking for a rare bird, running into stereotypical obstructive local officials. The Museum also has one of the revivals from the Daily Mirror. That strip, drawn by John Burns, ran from 1985-9 and is no. 1353, so probably produced near the end of the strip’s run. It shows part of a story about a lifeboat drill, presumably on a cruise ship or liner.
These original daily strips can be seen at the Cartoon Museum until March 26, 2018.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Clark, Alan. 1998. Dictionary of British comic artists, writers and editors. London: The British Library.
Parker, Cliff. 1976. Jane. Wolfe Publishing Ltd.
Saunders, Andy and Leo Cooper. 2004. Jane, a pin-up at war. Barnsley: Pen & Sword.
Freeman, John and David Leach. Interview. 2009. “Let’s Talk About Jane.” Downthetubes. Accessed 23/01/2018.
“Jane (Comic Strip)”. Wikipedia. Accessed 20/01/2018.
“Mike Hubbard (1902-1976)“. UK Comics Wiki. Accessed 31/01/2018.
“Norman Pett (1891-1960)“. UK Comics Wiki. Accessed 31/01/2018.
Simanaitis, Dennis. “Janes’ Wartime Adventures.” Simanaitis Says.. Accessed 1/02/3018.
BBC shows based on the Daily Mirror’s Jane.