‘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!