Our Romeo?

‘No job too small – No fee too big!’

That’s the sales pitch of the private detective Romeo Brown, whose light-hearted comic-strip adventures ran in the London Daily Mirror from 1954 until 1962.

The strip was created and initially drawn by Alfred Mazure, but in 1957 it was taken over by artist Jim Holdaway (1927-70) and scriptwriter Peter O’Donnell (1920-2010), later famous for their partnership on the Modesty Blaise strip that started in 1963.

In some respects, Romeo Brown resembles the same paper’s longer-lived Jane strip, which featured two good spankings for the heroine…

and an uncountable number of occasions when most of her clothes fell off. There was a comparable level of risk to being a female guest character in Romeo Brown, where the stories overtly orchestrated situations in which young women might, without total implausibility, find themselves showing more or wearing less than when they started out.

Underwear scenes abounded.

Skirts, when worn, declined to stay in their proper place,

and occasionally became spectacularly detached:

If a girl was especially unlucky, her outer garments might be tested for durability, and be found wanting…

Other indignities might be in store,

but at least they could always rely on the artist having some basic sense of decorum.

And this sometimes extended not just to nudity but also seat-of-the-panties shots, when the situation was especially undignified, as when semi-regular sidekick Miss Peach falls out of a tree

and lands prone on the ground with her skirt above her waist and in tatters:

This will become relevant, but it’s as well to add that, happily, it’s not universally true:

How does Romeo Brown react to all of this going on around him? Not entirely as you might expect:

The hapless side of Romeo’s character comes out especially starkly in a 1959 story, ‘The Fightin’ Females’, in which, searching for the missing adventurer Captain Gavin Stone, he has to bail out over the jungle. Bailing out alongside him is pilot Sarah Carr, who happens to be the leading light of a league of militant women,

and who accordingly dresses with all due forethought for an emergency parachute jump,

with predictable consequences, at least in the Romeo Brown strip:

But don’t jump to any further conclusions about the way this story is going to pan out. Romeo and Sarah find themselves taken captive by the local two-woman primitive tribe, the fighting females of the title.

And they prove to be remarkably short on sisterhood: Sarah is set to work.

And so she learns her place, without any of the traditional ministrations unto her rear end.

In fact, when Gavin Stone is found, alive and well and in the Amazons’ male harem, Sarah is bowled over by him, and acknowledges the appeal of subservience to a masterful alpha male.

Gavin proceeds to deal assertively with half of the problem of the fighting females, which is bad news for Thela, the half who is immediately to hand.

But it almost looks as if the need to tame the other tribeswoman, Mina, might be bad news for Romeo Brown:

‘Painful business, really,’ says Gavin. ‘I’m rather glad to leave the other one to you, Romeo, old chap.’ And you can tell from what follows that this is not going to be quite as straightforward:

As expected, Romeo’s initial taming attempt does not go according to plan:

Luckily for him, he then gets a tipoff about Mina’s sole weakness:

Outside the hut, Gavin and Sarah imagine they are listening to the soundest spanking in history:

And with that, gender hierarchy is restored to its 1959 norms:

But a point to take away from this is that the Romeo Brown stories tend to be a bit ambivalent about both alpha masculinity in general and spanking in particular. Spanking is certainly one of the perils a girl may risk from time to time, albeit far less frequently than the inadvertent display of her panties. But it is often something that other people tend to do, while Romeo himself more often takes the comical role of the beta male.

For instance, take the strip’s penultimate story, ‘The Richest Girl in the World’ (1962), in which Romeo falls in with a family of Irish-American hillbillies, the O’Gormans. This includes such notable escapades as a grizzly bear hunt,

and an even more dangerous encounter with the man-mad Passion-Flower O’Gorman, who always greets a man with an inquiry about his marital status:

Her father is particularly keen for her not to get hooked up with any scion of a rival clan, and if needs be will apply his discouragement to her rear end:

But it’s up to Romeo’s associate, the retired and reformed jewel thief Fan, to repel Passion-Flower’s attentions,

which is enjoyable to watch but regrettably doesn’t result in any impairment of her sitting ability.

And in stark contrast to that ‘could be spanked but isn’t’ story, we have the ‘can’t be spanked but eventually is’ one from 1957 that we’ve already encountered: ‘The Girl and the Ghoul’, which partly turns on a mother with modern psychological ideas, who must be persuaded of the best way to deal with her extremely bratty teenage daughter. Romeo is one of several characters to think of spanking the abominable girl, but it takes someone else to translate it into action.

Is there a theme developing here? Let’s take the 1958 story ‘The Frolics of Fifi’, in which Romeo is hired as a chaperon-cum-minder for Sherry Teak, an American millionaire’s daughter on a trip to Europe. Part of his brief is to prevent her from flirting or showing herself off in the kind of bikini being worn by the fashionable set on the Riviera.

Later he finds her wiggling around in the forbidden attire:

And when she defies him by denying her identity, he becomes assertive:

Predictably, the upshot is:

What has happened, incidentally, is that she has been accidentally dosed with a personality-changing drug that makes her think she’s someone else, and the objective of the story is to administer the antidote that will make her inclined to put some clothes on – which is, naturally, a literal and pharmaceutical antidote, not the metaphorical one we might have hoped to see.

That’s only to be expected, in view of the ample evidence about Romeo’s personality and, in consequence, his ability (or rather, inability) to make good on a spanking threat. But even so, there is a story from 1957 that turns on a misunderstanding of his character and involves a pleasing incident. The title says it all: ‘Romeo the Ruthless’.

Romeo is engaged as a bodyguard to the bronzed French girl Colette, whose Aunt Mathide has an obsessive fear, induced by seeing too many gangster movies, that her niece will be kidnapped before her upcoming wedding. She also has the unfounded idea that Colette is an innocent, demure, conventional young woman.

Here’s how demure Colette really is:

Colette’s problem is not just Aunt Mathilde’s Victorian ideas about propriety (she isn’t even allowed to sit with her legs crossed), but that she doesn’t want to marry a man she hasn’t seen since childhood and whom she remembers as a tedious milksop. She herself is a far wilder thing than her aunt supposes, whose tastes develop rapidly from rock ’n’ roll to Apache dancing,

and eventually a desire to be kidnapped, just for kicks. She has got the idea that Romeo is one of the hardest of hard-boiled detectives, and tries to get him to dispose of her unwanted fiancé. Romeo disabuses her,

and it’s up to her to visit mayhem upon the kidnappers herself.

All ends well: it turns out that the fiancé was just as unenthusiastic about the marriage, thinking Colette to be the dull ninny her aunt has misrepresented her to be, and that he hired the kidnappers to get rid of her. Now that each realizes the other is a lot more exciting than they thought, the marriage can go ahead as arranged.

But what was it that gave Colette the idea that Romeo might be a ruthless man who’d make a suitable hired killer? Back we go to the beginning of the story, when she and Romeo are first left alone together by Aunt Mathilde. Colette’s immediate impulse is to put on the rock music and dance.

Just as with Sherry Teak, Romeo’s counter-impulse is to attempt to impose the order and decency he has been hired to uphold. Only this time he actually does something about it, and doesn’t get his face slapped.

In other words, Romeo gets his ‘ruthless’ reputation precisely because he spanked her.

Or maybe it’s just a little more than that. Take a closer look, paying attention to the way Jim Holdaway draws her skirt:

The hemline was well below the knee in the previous panel, but here there’s just a glimpse of upper leg before Romeo’s body interposes. And then there’s that bulge of skirt around her waist. The implication is subtle but obvious: Colette isn’t just being spanked – she’s being spanked on the seat of her panties!

Ruthless Romeo indeed!

The Silent Wife

Poor Pantalone has never heard a word of love from the lips of his beautiful wife, for the simple reason that she completely lacks the power of speech. It’s a traditional Italian commedia dell’arte scenario that was originally devised in 1645, and is still popular in modern Brazil under the title A Comedia da Esposa Muta (Comedy of the Dumb Wife). After trying everything to get his wife to talk, he has recourse to a comical doctor. The operation is a success – the wife speaks! And with that, Pantalone realizes what a blessing it was to have a silent wife…

Commedia scenarios are not scripts so much as templates within which the masked and often grotesquely costumed actors tell the story through improvisation. That means particular business will vary from production to production, and sometimes even from show to show, so it won’t be every Pantalone whose efforts to get some sound out of his wife’s mouth include this:

But since those examples come from different productions across the best part of a whole decade, it’s obviously not a rarity, either.

Photographer of the Week: Javier Mocholi

Valencia-based potrait photographer Javier Mocholi photographs women… exuberant women, teasing women,

and women in various states of dress and undress.

He shoots them out of doors

and in the studio,

in various levels of illumination,

right down to a masterly handling of shadow.

You’ll have noticed that he often favors a prone position. It’s a pose that can be even more satisfying when there’s a second model involved, as was very much the case in a fetishy shoot with Adela Fas and Lore Sweetcrazy:

If you are interested in javier Mocholi’s work, please visit his website.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Czech Year

It’s Easter Monday 2022. And that means for pretty girls in the Czech Republic it’s…

the most dangerous time of the year!

But pretty Czech girls laugh in the face of danger:

Some may even abet it:

Is she snapped in the act of raising her skirt or holding it down? It’s a genuine point of ambiguity. Many ladies proffer their bots for the Easter Monday pomlazka.

Some encase themselves in suitable armor plating.

But others opt to dress on the skimpy side:

More than a few seem eager to divest themselves of whatever protection they may have,

because, as we have long known, in central Europe spankings are much more likely to be administered directly on the seat of a girl’s panties:

Some make imprudent underwear choices,

and pay the penalty,

and some just leave their panties off altogether!

Maybe for some it’s a little startling,

maybe even just a little painful,

but they enjoy it really.

OK, we know that 3 out of 20 don’t, but it’s still such a popular pastime that you can find girls lining up to get their Easter whackings.

Some girls supply their own pomlazka,

but ideally it needs to be used by a loved one:

No loved one available? With any luck there will at least be a faithful friend.

If all else fails… then you can always do it yourself!

Of course, you do see girls running away, but they’re not really trying to escape. Look at how half-hearted this girl’s efforts are:

Because part of the thrill of the chase is the thrill of getting caught!

Sadly, there are always critics who will insist on misunderstanding the custom as a barbarous form of medieval torture, as alluded to in this piece by the Moravian cartoonist Rendo:

Maybe they have just the tiniest of points…

It seems they did know the pleasures of the chase in the Middle Ages,

along with the pleasures of the inevitable outcome:

But needless to say, that wasn’t then: it was now, and the knights and maiden are historical cosplayers!

As usual, people in the public eye made a point of participating. Television presenter Lucie Borhyova got her annual chase around the garden:

Sportsman Roman Sebrle interrupted a lady’s morning routine:

Actor David Gransky had to run for his decorated eggs:

The theater was a perilous place for female company members, both backstage

and onstage:

That one was at the Broadway Theater in Prague, where two actresses, both by the name of Karolina, also got individual treatment, Slecna Tothova in pink and Slecna Gudasova in white:

Beyond the confines of the theater, actor Petr Vágner put in some good work on his friend Sylvie:

But who was responsible for the very best Easter spanking photo of the year? In both 2020 and 2021, it was the award-winning actress Tereza Tezka,

and in 2022 she managed it for the third year in a row:

Hurrah for her! What she deserves is… another award! The Pomlazka d’Or, maybe?

Merry Madness

The farce Merry Madness is driven by its central character, the 50-year-old millionaire hypochondriac Octavius Semple, and his quirky opposition to other people’s happiness. His 20-year-old daughter Annabel loves Langdon Fitch, whose jobless status makes Octavius suspect that he only loves her for his money. Annabel’s cunning plan is to bamboozle him into a volte-face by having him catch her in the act of eloping one night, meaning her honor will be compromised and Daddy dear will have no option but to insist that the young man must marry her. The initial problem is to keep Octavius awake late enough at night to discover the pretended elopement… The second problem is that Langdon doesn’t know which bedroom is Annabel’s, meaning he mistakenly climbs through the wrong window and starts sweet-talking the occupant of the bed: Octavius himself, who becomes more convinced than ever that this young man will never be a suitable son-in-law.

Then things take an unexpected turn: Octavius’ angry behavior suddenly and inexplicably disappears and he becomes largely benign, though still dead set against Annabel’s marriage. His dog-loving, Shakespeare-quoting wife Olivia, described in a stage direction as ‘a very beautiful, somewhat queenly, white-haired but young-looking woman, with a flair for aphorisms and noble utterances’, finds this so completely out of character that she thinks he must have gone mad, and calls in a psychiatrist to examine him.

As the plot unwinds, it emerges that Langdon is only unemployed because, before he met Annabel, he worked for his uncle, who happens to be Octavius’ business rival. Clearly that was an impediment to the marriage, so he resigned in the expectation that he would be able to work for Octavius instead in a similar capacity. Octavius is duly talked round, gives the match his blessing and showers the young couple with gifts. Olivia worries even more about his sanity.

It all turns out to arise from a misunderstanding over a sick dog. The vet told Olivia that the animal must not become agitated, or it will die in a convulsion. Octavius overheard the prognosis and misunderstood it as referring to himself, which is why he has made a real effort to dispense with his customary irascibility and treat people nicely. He realizes his mistake when the dog dies, and his true character reasserts itself – and that’s both good and bad news for Olivia. He angrily confronts her over what has happened, and seizes her by the waist:

OLIVIA: Octavius!
OCTAVIUS: First I’ll spank you; and then I’ll – I’ll–
OLIVIA (transported as she is literally swept off her feet): Oh my beloved! ‘And then Nature will stand up before all the world and say, This was a man! This was a man!’

And so the final curtain falls on the spectacle of Olivia laid across her husband’s knee, being spanked and quoting Shakespeare as it happens – not quite appropriately, perhaps, since the original passage from Julius Caesar begins, ‘His life was gentle’, which is a long way from how Octavius is behaving right now!

The play was written in 1929 by Sheridan Gibney (1903-88),

whose professional life extended into the 1960s and ’70s. (His later screenwriting credits include episodes of The Man fom UNCLE and The Six Million Dollar Man.) It got its first production in Chicago in March 1931, under the title When Father Smiles; Octavius was played by DeWolf Hopper, a popular comic actor now best remembered (if at all) as the ex-husband of the actress and future right-wing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Mary Buckley was Olivia, and reviews reveal that the curtain didn’t descend quickly enough to save her from at least the start of a sound spanking. This was a man, indeed!

Even so, the play flopped.

Gibney changed the title to the more Shakespearean Merry Madness (from Twelfth Night) and copyrighted it on November 25. It became moderately successful with high schools in the 1930s, and still had life in it in the 1950s: Phyllis Merrill adapted it for television, and her version was broadcast on June 27, 1951, with Cameron Prud’Homme as Octavius – though it is not known whether it still featured the spanking payoff. In fact, it is still offered for high school performance today, though I’ve seen no evidence that it has ever been picked up in recent times. An opportunity going begging, perhaps?

The Doctor Who Girl 23: Clara

Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, first appeared as two separate but linked one-off characters in 2012 and became a series regular from 2013 to 2015, straddling the Doctors of Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. She arrives accompanied by an elephant in the room which we had better look at directly and early.

Although Jenna Coleman was a reasonably attractive young woman, Clara aroused intense hostility from some sections of the viewing audience. This was partly the result of the circumstances in which the character was created: Elisabeth Sladen had just died, the actress who played the longest-running and best beloved of all the Doctor Who girls, and a lot of the series’ enthusiasts were in mourning. Her middle name was Clara, and, yes, there was an intentional allusion in the name of the new Doctor Who girl. I’m not sure whether I’m irritated or relieved that they bungled the pronunciation (it was closer to the English ‘Claire’ than the Spanish ‘Clara’), and while I believe Lis would have taken the tribute graciously, I don’t honestly think she’d have liked it. But to attempt to create a following for Jenna Coleman’s character by exploiting the legacy of her illustrious and adored predecessor can only really be described as crass.

This wasn’t just publicity: it was baked into the character. In her second introductory story, the 2012 Christmas special, she was used as a way of getting the Doctor out of his deep mourning over the loss of her immediate predecessor, Amy, and back into his proper function of saving the world. Likewise, the implication seemed to be that viewers who were sad about Lis were supposed to get over her and find a new enthusiasm for Clara. Unsurprisingly, not a few people rather resented this.

But maybe it’s a mistake to talk of anything at all deeply imbedded in a character who must be one of the most inconsistently and superficially conceived series regulars ever. At this time it was felt that the Doctor’s traveling companions needed to have a strong grounding in the real world; so Clara dips in and out of the TARDIS, forever going back to her ongoing ordinary life with a job and a boyfriend that ate up screen time. Partly this was because Doctor Who was being increasingly driven by the commercial imperative to create an expanded universe of spin-offs, so that the television series intentionally built in wide gaps in its own continuity, thus enabling the spin-offs to fit in comfortably as part of the same overall narrative. One of several problems arising from this was that the ongoing relationship between the two central characters became fragmented and casual. But the ordinary life to which Clara always returned was itself fragmented, or at best jerkily developing: in her first series she’s a family friend looking after a widower’s children; in the next, she has become a schoolteacher, with no attempt to make a connection with her previous life or ‘sell’ the change to the viewer, whose acceptance of the missing through line is simply taken for granted.

And of course Clara was embroiled in the ongoing effort not only to make the Doctor Who girl a role worth playing (an admirable objective), but to make her the series’ principal character, supplanting the Doctor. In effect, they wanted the female lead to be the male lead, to the extent that one 2014 episode not only began with Clara introducing herself as the Doctor, but substituted her image for his in the title sequence: the fundamental series conception of a primary and secondary regular was turned on its head, apparently for reasons of contemporary gender politics. The same thing might explain the growing use of the trope of Clara slapping the Doctor in anger, something it seems women are now allowed to do (or be shown doing) to men, but not vice versa.

Double standards are to the point, because there was something a little schizophrenic about the way she was presented as attractive. In ‘The Snowmen’ (2012), she insists on the Doctor going up a ladder first to stop him looking up her skirt (which is a long 1890s one with a bustle at the top, so there’s unlikely to be anything to see anyway). In ‘Into the Dalek’ (2014), she discourages him from passing comment on her hips as they crawl through a tunnel; he tells her they are fine because she is ‘built like a man’, which doesn’t go down altogether well, and is obviously not at all true.

But a few episodes later, in ‘Listen’, she finds herself, through a time travel paradox, looking at her departing self, and remarks admiringly on her own rear aspect. And in ‘Nightmare in Silver’ (2013), the Doctor himself describes her as ‘a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight’.

Well, not always tight…

So are straight male viewers expected to enjoy watching her physical charms, as has been the case with decades’ worth of previous Doctor Who girls, or on the other hand are we supposed to feel uncomfortable and ashamed for doing so? And if we are meant to avert our ‘male gaze’, why are we given anything to gaze upon in the first place?

And she does, however incidentally, get her bottom smacked on screen – twice!

In ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ (2013), she has spent much of the episode running around the TARDIS in mortal peril in a flirty little skirt.

In the final scene, she has just had a wash and changed into a different flirty skirt, while the Doctor has been busy cleaning up. Part of their closing banter involves him giving her a passing flick on the rear with his duster.

Later the same year, in ‘The Time of the Doctor’, Matt Smith’s final episode, she calls him in to have Christmas dinner with her family, because she has told them about her imaginary boyfriend and needs someone to take on the role. (If that sounds like a sitcom scenario, well, by now that was part of the series dynamic, and indeed part of its problem.) When she introduces him as the boyfriend, he does what he imagines boyfriends are supposed to do, and gives her a playful smack on the bottom.

This didn’t continue with Capaldi’s Doctor (when the other-way-round slapping business got started, and the non-imaginary boyfriend was introduced), but that wasn’t necessarily because the erosion of the series’ traditional dynamic had gone further by then. It was more to do with the different relationship Clara had with Matt Smith’s Doctor.

No, not like that. There was a mildly flirtatious dimension to it, which is the only context in which it is now considered acceptable for a woman to be given a jolly good smacked bottom.

But a few fan artists went further, in more ways than one.

So finally the Capaldi Doctor gets his hand in! Meanwhile, schoolteacher Clara was imagined in a classroom confrontation with her pupils.

With any other Doctor Who girl, you might well say that’s straying from the core of the character, the things that make her a regular in this specific series rather than a random human being who could be in any series; but then, isn’t that exactly the problem I’ve been describing?

But let’s end by looking on the bright side. And one bright side of Clara Oswald, and of Jenna Coleman, is:

Spice-Psych

Psychiatry was an early arrival in Spicy World. The first few spanking toons in the genre, in 1954 and 1955, were ‘boss spanks secretary’ scenarios, but the situations diversified as the cartoon digests established themselves, and March 1956 saw the first known spicy psychiatrist in this offering by George Morrice:

‘I never realized that this was all I needed!’

Despite all that specialized medical expertise, it seems the efficacious remedy is actually quite ordinary and everyday. It’s such a beautifully simple piece of wryness that often no caption is deemed necessary: the doctor’s professional qualification on the wall says all that needs saying.

Unusually, you can find the very same joke in non-spicy humor, like this toon by Frank Modell (1917-2016) in The New Yorker:

And in Spicy World, spot the difference:

The girl is younger, more buxom and more exposed, because her physical charms are part of the appeal of the toon, but the set-up is otherwise identical: couch on the left, armchair on the right, and the doctor’s notebook and pen lying abandoned on the floor after he realizes what treatment is required. Did the spicy cartoonist, George Troop, take Modell as his model? Having no publication date for the New Yorker toon, I can’t say; Troop’s is from January 1960.

To reinforce the point about the redundancy of a caption, look at the utterly witless over-elaboration of this late entry from 1973:

But that’s not to say that the words can never have any useful function, even if they don’t serve to add an extra layer of wit or otherwise complicate the joke. Here’s a case in point:

The spanking will only do her almost as much good as a conventional consultation, he says. So it’s an occasional psychiatric procedure rather than a routine one:

Not every patient needs it, and not every analyst will do it, either:

We’ve seen before how spicy toons took care with doctor-patient situations not to imply anything that might be construed as medical misinformation. Likewise with psychiatry: it might not matter all that much if a young woman were discouraged from getting a job as a secretary for fear of being spanked by her boss, but it would be terribly irresponsible for a humorist to put off someone in genuine need of treatment!

And that’s why, when the psychiatric spanking joke is elaborated beyond its most straightforward form, it often moves the procedure into the province of amateurs, who may be reading up on the subject, but find an alternative way of using the textbook,

or who may, like so many of the male denizens of Spicy World, simply have an ulterior motive:

For some recipients, it’s explicitly a misapplication of modern methods,

and for some givers, it’s explicitly an old-fashioned alternative to be used when those modern methods fail:

But here’s a curious phenomenon from 1966, illustrated not so much by the model Loris Bradley as by the digest editor putting words into her mouth:

It seems that sometimes, just sometimes, the desire for a good spanking is the very reason the patient is consulting the analyst to begin with.

An opportunity for the doctor, perhaps?

Or, perhaps, in slightly different circumstances, a risk!