MISTY LIVES!

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So delighted with the imminent reprint of Misty by 2000 AD, and the huge interest it’s generated.  I’ve just done an interview with Samira Ahmed for BBC Radio 4’s art and culture show Front Row for broadcast tonight at 7.15pm (6 Sept 2016).  And The Herald has a great in-depth Q&A with me on the subject (Graphic Content: Pat Mills tells the behind-the-scenes story of 1970s girl horror comic Misty).

But of course, that interest in Misty (and girls’ comics in general) has always been there. I first wrote the below post in October 2012 as a digression on a series of posts I wrote on Judge Dredd, back when the idea that Misty would actually get a decent reprint seemed like an impossible dream. In terms of reader comments, the Misty post is probably one of my most popular blog posts.

So here we are in 2016, and 2000 AD have done a fantastic job of reprinting two popular Misty stories: Moonchild (written by me, art by John Armstrong), and Four Faces of Eve (by Malcolm Shaw and Brian Delaney).

Coincidentally, I’m in the middle of writing the first text novel in a series with Kevin O’Neill that could be described as a darkly humorous alternative history of UK comics publishing in the 1970s.  And right this very week I’m writing the fictional account of how Misty was created. You could say, it’s my own vision of how Misty could have been.

The novel series is called Read Em And Weep Volume one is called Serial Killer. Did I mention that it’s also a thriller?

If you’re a fan of murder mysteries, flawed and eccentric characters, 70s nostalgia, insider knowledge on creating comics, childhood revenge, and film noir (it’s got a lot of noir!), you’ll probably like Read Em And Weep.  It’s due out in February 2017 and volume 2 will be published later the same year.

I’ll be releasing more info over the next few months (look out for a cover reveal at the end of October), so click here if you want to stay in touch and get the latest news.

One more thing: I also wrote a series of posts called The Formula around the subject of Misty, prompted by questions from Catherine, a PhD candidate studying scary kids’ stories, who was producing a sample Misty-inspired comic as her final project. She wanted to know how comics are produced and this prompted me to explain some of the inner workings of the creative process. So if you’d like to know more about creating comics, with particular reference to Misty, check out Part 1 – Inspiration.

And here’s my original October 2012 post!

Apologies for this digression from the Judge Dredd story, but there is so much interest in Misty – the female 2000AD – that there is now a Bring Back Misty Facebook group.  Because Misty was connected with the origins of 2000AD, I thought I’d talk about it here.

It was the last few weeks before I left 2000AD and I was looking forward to starting work on my next creation: Misty. I took the title from the film, Play Misty For Me and my plan was to use my 2000AD approach on a girls’ comic: big visuals and longer, more sophisticated stories with the emphasis on the supernatural and horror. My role models were Carrie and Audrey Rose, suitably modified for a younger audience.  John Sanders and I had several meetings to discuss its content and we could both see how it could be a hit; potentially bigger than 2000AD as girls comics sales were always higher than boys. (On launch: Tammy: 250,000 copies per week; 2000AD: 220,000 copies per week; Misty: 170, 000 copies a week. Approximate figures.)

But given the success of 2000AD, I felt if I was going to create another hit for IPC juveniles, I should really have a share of the profits. John Sanders said his board of directors would never agree but I wouldn’t budge either.  So I left and went back to freelancing. Later, I relented and agreed to be the consultant editor for Misty and guide it on its way, but without taking responsibility for it, like 2000AD. I also agreed to write the lead story for Misty – Moonchild – inspired by Carrie; and later Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel, inspired by Audrey Rose, a story about reincarnation.

Without my direct involvement, the stories were not as hard-hitting as I would have liked them to be and some punches were pulled. There were far too many short, self-contained stories, some a bit weak, not enough serials – which are vital to hook the reader – and more than a little “old school” thinking slowly starting to creep back in. Despite this, Misty was still very good, the art was fantastic – often better than 2000AD – and it was very much  part of the Comic Revolution. Here’s how Will Brooker, author of Batman Unmasked and an expert on popular culture recalls Misty: “Pacts with the devil, schoolgirl sacrifice, the ghosts of hanged girls, sinister cults, evil scientists experimenting on the innocent and terrifying parallel worlds where the Nazis won the Second World War.”

The pages below give you a taste of Misty (apologies for the poor scan quality).  They’re from Moonchild, by me and John Armstrong, the top artist in girls comics. And my short story called Roots.  Don’t know the artist, I’m afraid, but it’s beautifully drawn. I’ve blanked the last picture out which was too safe and reassuring and was added by editorial, against my wishes. I wanted it to end on this note of horror with no punches pulled. Some of my other horror stories were similarly toned down by editorial, applying “old school” thinking – not to scare the readers “too much”.

Next are three pages from The Sentinels by my colleague Scottish writer Malcolm Shaw about a tower block which shares an alternative reality with a Nazi-occupied Britain.

Many Misty readers recall The Sentinels with particular affection. Malcolm, who sadly died very young, was same generation as John Wagner, myself and Gerry Finley-Day (creator of Tammy). Why was it mainly guys on girls comics, I hear you ask? Answer: because all the younger female magazine journalists looked down on girls comics and didn’t want to write or edit them, aspiring to teenage and women’s glossy magazines instead.

Malcolm was a brilliant writer of girls comics and also some early Judge Dredds. We started Jinty together, dreaming up a selection of stories, before Mavis Miller (previously editor of June) was appointed editor and turned it into a very successful comic with a strong science fiction edge. Malcolm really deserves a separate article on his important contribution to the Comic Revolution, but I only worked with him for a brief period, so my knowledge of his work is rather limited, I’m afraid. Another of his excellent Misty stories was Four Faces of Eve about a girl who looks absolutely normal but is really a female Frankenstein’s monster-  she’s actually made up of four girls. That was a truly awesome and scary serial with great art by Brian Delaney.

I’ve always regretted not creating Misty the way I created 2000AD. I’ve little doubt if I had, it would still be around today and it could have changed the British comics landscape for the better.

Alas, Misty eventually died, for the reasons I’ve given, but it’s still well-thought of to this day.  Many of us hope it could be reprinted with collected stories, just as 2000AD stories have been successfully collected. There’s a huge archive of supernatural girls comic stories from Misty that would make a great Best of Misty which would appeal to new readers as well as nostalgia readers and their daughters. Although they would need to be the right stories. A Misty Souvenir Special (2009) bombed because – as Misty  readers confirmed to me – it was The Worst of Misty. Whoever put it together hadn’t got a clue what the comic was about and just slung together a collection of boring features, text stories, and “nice” safe, mildly creepy, self-contained comic strip stories.

But it seems to me there is a chasm in the market for female comic readers.  Significantly, Twilight,Vampire Diaries and House of Night are in the same genre and are trying to fill that gap by adapting their text to graphic novels. And Misty works for us guys, too, of course. Great stories and great artwork cross generations, age-groups and gender.

To assess if this was still the case, my wife and I did a straw poll of local kids aged 8-11. The feedback on our poll was very encouraging. The kids read episodes from three stories:  Moonchild, The Four Faces of Eve and my Glenda’s Glossy Pages (a supernatural story I wrote for Tammy) and enjoyed them all.  Here are just two of their many positive quotes:

Moonchild

I loved how it was building up and how they discovered her powers after a while. I would like to read more of those sorts of comics.

The Four Faces of Eve

It’s really exciting, and it always leaves a mystery at the end of each page.

Clearly they are timeless classics, rather than ephemeral.  None of these young readers thought they were old fashioned.

A contact of ours (Jo Bevan) is passionate on this subject and recently carried out a larger, more detailed survey on kids’ reading habits, with encouraging results.  Over two thirds wanted to see more comics available.  Jo is active on the influential Mumsnet and started an interesting thread where many mums were complaining that there were no decent story-based comics for their daughters – or  their sons, for that matter.

I know several women in the media who grew up with and were influenced by Misty, just as 2000AD inspired many artists, directors and writers. A few months ago it was mentioned in the Daily Mail You magazine where renowned artist and designer Julie Verhoeven found Misty’s dark and mysterious content an inspiration.

As John Freeman (Down the Tubes) said to me, “With writers Jacqueline Rayner out there (as well as yourself) pushing girls comics, why the hell is no-one reprinting them?”  Jacqueline’s Guardian article is here, and she also has a very entertaining blog on the subject.

Good question. And with films like Hunger Games – a typical girls comic story – and Black Swan and Twilight, doing so well, how risky is it to do a Best of Misty?  My good friends at Titan Books had the option to reprint Misty, but unfortunately they couldn’t find anyone to edit it at the time. That’s totally understandable. It is a specialist subject and you do have to know which were the cool and popular stories. (Damn! I should have suggested I’d edit it, just to get it out there.) So Titan handed the project back to copyright holders, Egmont, who have since turned down at least one publisher from reprinting it because they weren’t big enough. They may be hoping for a larger publisher, but I fear only Titan is the likely contender. I’ve suggested it to other publishers I know but it’s simply not their genre.  So it doesn’t look good at the moment, but we can still hope. If Egmont gave Titan a new license, I’m sure it would do well for them.

If you’d like to see Misty reprinted, do give Bring Back Misty a look. Or ask Titan to reconsider (readerfeedback@titanemail.com).  Or I’ll pass on your thoughts to them. If there’s no-one else available, I’d edit a collection, just to see it return.

I hope to come back to the subject of girls comics soon because that’s where the Comic Revolution actually began with Gerry Finley-Day, creator and first editor of Tammy. Bunty was great, but Tammy was revolutionary!  For example, these astonishing stories from the early 1970s, all created by Gerry:

Slaves of War Orphan Farm. The wartime evacuee farm is run by the cruel Ma Thatcher (based on Mrs T, then infamous as Thatcher the Milk Snatcher) and was truly terrifying with the evacuees having to fight, escape and defeat genuinely evil monsters.

Ella on Easy Street – a profound and cool attack on middle-class values with beautiful artwork by Casanovas. Ella sabotages her parents plans to better themselves. She wants to stop them becoming high-achieving yuppies because she fears it could break up their happy family.

And Aunt Aggie: a working class, eccentric, ‘salt of the earth’ TV personality and national treasure with a heart of gold who makes children’s dreams come true on her mega-popular TV show, visiting orphans and helping the sick and the vulnerable. Behind the scenes, she cheats and mocks kids, hates them and lives a secret life of luxury, driving around in a customised Rolls-Royce. The heroine is Aunt Aggie’s orphan side-kick who sets out to sabotage her cruel plans.

Okay, sorry for that interruption, my normal Dredd chapter will be continued in my next post with:  “Don’t mention the Silver Surfer”.

2016 edit: If you want find out more about my new novel, Read Em And Weep: Serial Killer, due out in February 2017, click here to stay in touch!

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BROTHER JAMES – A Survivor’s Story

Pleasure is to mingle with study, that the boy may think learning rather an amusement than a toil. Tender youth is to suffer neither severe thrashings nor sour and threatening looks, nor any kind of tyranny, for by such usage the fire of genius is either extinguished or in great measure damped.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey 1473-1530

 

This is an account by an old boy of St Joseph’s College, Birkfield, Ipswich, Suffolk, UK, of an assault by Brother James Ryan, De La Salle Brother, and “Prefect of Discipline”.

It is not an isolated attack on a child. There are numerous accounts of Brother James’s crimes recorded earlier on this blog. Primarily physical assaults and one further sexual assault.

 

This one has me tonight in all its horrible glory. I spent years of therapy with a psychologist with CASA here (Centre for sexual assault). Many breakthroughs were made, but not this one. This has got me by the balls at the moment.

What I am going to do is sit here and write it down and get it right in my head. I know from experience that to get it out of your head onto paper is half the battle. Then there has to be some form of forgiveness and I am not religious.

The other way these things manifest themselves is in a physical way. I have a rotten back and remembering this sort of trauma just sends it into spasm causing horrendous pain.

It may help you and others and me, of course.

I have been through so much of this shit over the last two or three years with this Australian Royal Commission and the press throwing it out on a daily basis. I have not been involved in it, but it is really in your face all the time and I do have friends that are in it. Fortunately I have great friends and support and that works both ways. My partner hates me going through this but she has agreed to do the editing etc., meanwhile stating that she won’t like it but she will do it for me to make sense for everyone.

Sexual abuse comes in many forms and with sadism it makes it a lot worst. As we put it out here, “he was a fair bloody bastard”. (I love this country with swearing as part of the culture) Just after I left St Joes there were two teachers from Ipswich School Prep charged and convicted. They did not have the protection of Holy Orders. Head Master Mermigan did have some good points it seems. Both my older brothers went through similar violence at Ipswich School and put it down to post traumatic stress syndrome.

I am not so sure, I think that the worst of these predators joined priesthood or orders so that they could live out their sickness. They may have had their networks as well.

I was 16 when I went to sea and there I met equally violent ones, even worse because, as junior ratings, we ranged in age from 13 1/2 to 18. The nastiest bastard was an ex brother of some sort, he was Irish and hard, very dangerous. Petty bullies at best, dangerous at worst. It was bad but we were allowed to fight back.

Enough said of the side tracking because I have a bit of work to do and it doesn’t come easily to me.

I was very disruptive in class, which is a sure sign of someone crying out for help and safety, how the hell I survived, I have no idea. Many will remember me like that and that is fair enough. I hope I didn’t mess their education up too much. If I did I am sorry.

I do not resemble the person I was before. I am positive and happy (most of the time) but I always remember that to not deal with this stuff as it comes up can open the floodgates to all the negativity and swamp me to drowning point. Thanks for being there and co-ordinating peoples chances at recovery.

I was to be beaten, for what I do not remember. I think it was to be four with the cane. He did not go about this with his usual out of control. This was calculated for maximum effect. This was a new one. He told me he would beat me in three or four days’ time. Good terror tactic in his sadistic mind.

The day came and I think it was lunch time and he called me into the hall. He locked the door and led me to one corner well out of any possible chance sighting of anyone who could possibly see in. He told me to take my trousers down and bend over to touch my toes. I didn’t take my underpants off and he started to get a bit nasty and made me take those down as well. He was very controlled after that. He was breathing heavily. I was told that on no account was I to turn round at any time or he would increase the punishment. This guy was lethal with a cane when you had clothes on.

The first stroke was full swing but the next stroke did not come for an eon, one or two minutes. I made the mistake of looking round. He lost it a bit and the next one was harder and with the threat of additional strokes. He was breathing very heavily and I realized he was masturbating between strokes through the pocket in his cassock. He really took his time. I don’t remember whether it was nine or more. I was in agony.

When it was over I was threatened that if I ever told anyone he would make my life more of a misery than it already was.

He was also smiling in a way that I had not seen before.

There may have been more like this but I hope there were not.

I remembered the beating but not the rest until reading some of the blog. It’s funny what things jog your memory. Like most survivors of sexual assault, you know that something is there but I could never get at what it was.

This happened to me in another assault. When I was finally told about it I instantly remembered the incident vividly. I remembered what was said and by whom and I was very young at the time. It was as if I was marked as fair game after that. People like James can pick it in a child. That closed the book on another phase of my life. It was as if all the cogs finally slotted into position—-for a while. I didn’t know about others at school and they not about me. There were rumours.

My lovely partner asks me why I have to keep digging and not let the past be past and move on. She sees what it can do to me and she has to watch as I consume myself, hoping that I can pull out of it, which sometimes I only do by the skin of my teeth. She supports me and puts up with it maybe understanding or not. She has that gift of character that enables her to move on and I love her for it.

I hope to God that there is not more. I enjoy life and I really don’t need this shit but if me putting this down can help me it might also help others. We have lived with this long enough. It is time to deal with it and move on. I am not religious in the sense of organized dogma and cultism but I firmly believe that there is some greater purpose to human existence. What it is, I have no bloody idea. Each to his own. South Africa and Rwanda have given us a lesson saying that forgiveness of some kind will enable us to be alive again. I find that hard but it is something to work on.

I am alive unlike many who were unable to live with it.

BROTHER JAMES: CONFIRMATION DAY

Here’s another astonishing account of the past barbarism at St Joseph’s, the crimes and the cover-ups which the school – because it says it’s in the same Lasallian tradition – the DLS Brothers still have to acknowledge to survivors.

It’s from an old boy at St Joseph’s, now living in Australia. Thank you, Dave, for sharing this with us. I suspect many more survivors’ accounts will now follow.

It’s particularly relevant for me, because I’ve known for a very long time that Brother James was also a sexual abuser, and a serious and violent one, and your letter below confirms it. I hesitated to say so before because my recollection is distant and somewhat blocked. A friend who is a social worker wrote that “In her considerable experience in various social work spheres […] where there is physical abuse one should always look for sexual abuse because the correlation between the two is very strong.”  So James’s unusual and actually hysterical violence may well be relevant.

I don’t have any problem talking about this because these criminals need to be exposed, even if they’re dead, because their organisation is still around and in denial and there may well be other victims of James’s sexual abuse who have been reluctant to talk, or used blocking techniques as I did. I do believe it empowers us all and gives us closure. And it may be useful for anyone who wants to pursue the order legally. If so, I think you may need to hurry because there’s so many charges against them now, the Brothers must be running out of cash. Personally, I’d settle for an apology, but I’m not holding my breath. Hence my alternative: The Roll of Dishonour, where “Their Shame Liveth Forevermore”.

For now, my recollection is as follows. Myself and my best friend GB, when we were around 12, went up to St Joe’s during the summer holidays to do some work, and were rewarded with the keys to the soft drinks cupboard (in the main seniors building) and told to help ourselves. Old boys will know there was the entry door and, I believe, an external hatch to dispense drinks to kids outside. (This was a separate set-up to the regular tuck shop). So we were in there swigging endless bottles of Tizer when an “agitated” – or should that be “excited” ?-  James burst in, and there was no way out.

I’m not in the same league as the impressive American old boy (LM) described below, but it’s not in my nature to let things go until I get justice, as readers of this blog will know, and I’m pretty sure that’s what I was like back then. So I complained about the assault and it was hushed up in some way. Annoyingly, that’s almost certainly why I can’t remember much today. That’s how these criminals got away with so much.

That must sounds odd to outsiders, so I think it’s relevant to say more. Not least because I now know of two old boys of St Joe’s who are in the process of recovering their memories. It can be tough, but it’s something I’ve had to become something of an expert on, so any leads or help I can give you, do say.

When my wife, Lisa, read the incredible account below where “a few dozen boys” watched cheering as James was beaten up by a school boy, she said, “Why has everyone forgotten this? It must have gone round the whole school at the time? How could that possibly have been kept a secret? They couldn’t shut everyone up, could they?”

Oh, yes, they could.

Catholic schools are not like normal schools.

It’s how cults work. Whether it’s Scientology or the Catholic Church or the DLS brothers, cults operate on secrecy and we all seem to suffer from collective amnesia or at least dimmed memories as a result. It can turn us into sleepwalkers, heading through life in disassociated dreams. It’s achieved through fear, loyalty, lack of parental support, no Childline, no adults who would believe them and more. The DLS brothers know that anyone who talks or complains will be dealt with severely. We were all used to keep our mouths shut, just as the victims of Savile kept their mouths shut.

I’ve no doubt that events unfolded in the way Dave describes them. I’ve been a participant and an organizer of events that have taken on some embodiment of the status quo or some aspect of oppressive authority. I know just what that feeling is like when there’s a “slave uprising” and bullies are finally confronted, or perpetrators of injustice or abuse dealt with. Whatever age we are, there’s a loss of control, a release of pent-up energy that’s intoxicating and a sense of “to hell with the consequences”. It’s like the scene in Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” I’m sure that’s what happened that day.

In view of what the DLS brothers subsequently did to LM – his leaving/expulsion while James was allowed to stay, his crimes known but concealed, they are lower than vermin.

If anyone wants to elaborate on James, privately with me, or on this blog, please do so. I look forward to hearing from you. I’m happy to go into more detail, if it’s useful to anyone. It may also be useful to me because, in order to make sense of what happened, I have to understand the psychotic nature of James and his modus operandi. I’m sure the assault wasn’t a one-off and he was a serial abuser.

I wish I’d been there to cheer LM on. He’s a shining example to us all.

Thanks again, Dave. You’re a star.

Hi Pat,

My name is Dave B. I have been reading your St Joe’s blog for several years but I didn’t have the courage to get involved. I first picked it up On the Crystal Palace blog site. I am the same age as you and was at Oakhill and then Birkfield. Before I went to Oakhill I was at Ipswich School Prep and that was bad as well. There again I was no model student. I left on April 8 1965,(I was kept back a couple of years) only to be thrown into another lions den in the merchant navy.

We must have been there at the same time. I was so badly treated there by all of the brothers mentioned. In my second last year I was beaten every day, even after being sick for 2 weeks. I also boarded for a short time. Brother James was not only brutal but I can confirm also a pervert into sexual abuse. I have one wonderful memory, that of an American kid from the bronx. James wanted to beat him and L.M. the student (who is now a prominent US human law rights Lawyer). At the end of the class we were all thrown out of class. B. James did his usual attack of kicking and punching. LM beat the sh….out of James with a few dozen boys watching and cheering.

The result was that we never saw LM again and the Brother director was changed and there was no corporal punishment allowed in the school. Lt.Commander Mclaughlin (sp?) was made school prefect and the only one who could dish out punishment. I felt stunned with no fear at school. However, I left in the second term and the new Brother director died, the school returned to its normal reign of terror, but I was long gone by then fighting for my existence in the merch.

McLaughlin was very kind to me, he offered to tute me in maths with his son at home. For me then it was too late and I declined sadly. I am still lousy at maths. He and Bill Moss were the only two people I respected. I can go on forever on this subject. Bill Moss’s brothers suffered the same as us. I agree wholeheartedly with Martin.

Currently this subject is in the news in Australia every day with the Royal Commission into Child Abuse and it is very difficult to keep an even keel but I have had a few years of counselling and support.

It would be “nice” if the De La Salle order would admit the goings on and apologise but I don’t think it will ever happen. Here In Aus it is happening them being exposed by the Royal Commission. It doesn’t stop the suicides though. I hope you get your own Royal commission.

We must move on regardless. This can go on the blog, but I can’t seem to do it from here. Maybe its the current Ransom virus. Let me know how to get onto the blog if you can.

Regards

Dave

EDIT: Dave subsequently sent me this:

I lived in a constant state of terror both at home and school. School was the worst though. My way of coping became John Barleycorn which got me thrown out of the under 16’s. If it all got too much at school I would find a quiet corner somewhere and take the edge off life. It ended up causing problems for me and other around me but I have been free of it for many years now. How the hell did we all cope and some of us survive.

I’m so sorry, Dave.

In response to this email, another old boy confirmed events in private correspondence with me, and named the American hero with an impressive Italian surname. I’ll just use his first name “Louis” here. This old boy had mentioned Louis to me before. Here we go:

LM is Louis M – . We’ve already written about this guy. He’s the ‘You think you’re hot shit on a silver dish but you’re just cold piss in a paper cup’ kid. I don’t know about his Bronx origins but, when he was trying to get his younger brother to give him some cash because he was spent up, the youngster exclaimed, ‘Good God, Louis, what do you do with it all!’ in what I would now describe as a New York accent…Louis was in a year lower than you and me but he didn’t start off as a first year pupil; he came to the school later. I do remember that he and I were quite good friends and often hung around in the same little group.

I believe there was, as Dave recalls, some kind of incident between Louis and Jammy. I never saw it and have not thought about since I left school. I have a vague recollection of ‘something’ being whispered about but I expect all witnesses were somehow forced to remain silent. I can’t verify that. Certainly, Louis was there one minute and gone the next without warning. I think my memory centres on the aftermath of the event and the rumours about why Louis left Birkfield. I think his little brother must have left at the same time but I’m not certain of this.

Dave says a result of this incident was the changing of a Brother Director. I think that must have been the arrival of Bro. Elwin Gerard. I can’t say that he replaced the previous Bro. Director because of the fracas and I wonder how Dave knows this. When Dave left in April 1965, I was in my second term of the 5th form. Were you still at Birkfield at that point?

I had left a year before, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, another puzzle in itself, as another old boy reminded me recently, maybe something I’ll return to another time.

I like to think that just before Louis gave James what he so richly deserved he said to him in his best Bronx Accent, ‘You think you’re hot shit on a silver dish but you’re just cold piss in a paper cup’.

It raises the question, what was wrong with James and other abusive teachers at St Joes?

Old boy “Anon” believes:

My theory is that half the teachers came back from WW2 with PTSD, took it out on boys who went off to Uni to become teachers and returned to take it out on us. That combined with a good dose of Catholic cover up.

I think it applies to his generation at St J’s. Certainly at my Catholic primary school St Mary’s Ipswich, where the deputy Headmaster, Crowley, chain-smoked in class and caned a boy across the face and once sexually assaulted a school girl in front of us. (The school was run by nuns who, of course, allowed him to get away with it and committed worse crimes themselves.) But actually the lay teachers of my era at St Joes seemed pretty normal, some of them – the Polish art teacher for example who clearly had military training – was one of the most well balanced, nicest people I’ve met. I have positive memories of nearly all of the lay teachers. In my era, they were just regular, normal guys.

The sickness seems to apply to the Brothers who had mostly escaped the war and I believe it’s specifically Catholic in nature. My recollection of reading James’s obituary (before the DLSB took it down from their site) is he was a product of the DLS school system himself. I doubt he suffered PTSD in the war. He may well have suffered PTSD as a result of whatever happened in his youth. I know from a source who went to a Catholic seminary that the attitude was: “They did it to us, so now it’s our turn to do it to others.” It was why he left the seminary in disgust. That confirms Anon’s theory.

But I don’t think James has any excuse. He should have ended his days in prison or a hospital for the criminally insane.

ROLL OF DISHONOUR

Thanks to NW1 for your comment about Brother Kevin, which I talk about in my post In The Lasallian Tradition 3. I admire your diligence in trying to hold Kevin and the order accountable for their crimes.

Here’s my thoughts on the subject. Firstly, I wonder if any other old boys viewing this site had a similar experience with Kevin. If so, and they are prepared to disclose, that could be useful to NW1. I know one old boy told me recently about Kevin’s violence, but not sexual abuse. That is not so unusual in my experience; the old boys who leave their recollections here only recall Brother James’s violence, but I have a memory of another, far darker side to his character.

My own memories of Kevin are actually positive. He taught me Latin one to one and was a good teacher. But I was aware that he would stare at me intently and I felt he had some unfulfilled agenda with me. I talked about this with my wife several times over the years, long before I read NW1’s post. It could be summed up as ‘Kevin knows something about me I don’t know’ or ‘He’s thinking a lot about me, but I don’t know why.’ It wasn’t threatening, but it was a very strong and unsettling feeling. I may have had a lucky escape.

The challenge we all face, which NW1’s post demonstrates so clearly, is that many (but not all) of the Brothers and teachers we are concerned with are now probably old, sick, demented or dead, even though the order is very much alive and well and seems oblivious to its criminal past. It’s like it never happened, which I believe is what they want us to feel about our own experiences. This is born out not just by what happened at Birkfield, but also in many other De La Salle schools. It makes for grim and sad reading, as I’m sure most readers of this blog are aware. But they only seem to claim in court – when one of their number is being sentenced – that their hearts go out to the survivors. When they’ve been fetched. Otherwise, I think they would just like us to go away.

Here’s such a case. It concerns a different Brother James, a Brother James Carragher who ran a Catholic home for disturbed boys in Humberside and admitted 12 charges of sexual and indecent assault. He was jailed for seven years. One of the boys tried to kill himself because of the Brother’s attentions:

Brother Sean Sellors, a spokesman for the De La Salle Brothers, said Carragher had betrayed the order.

“We totally condemn, without reservation, any action or behaviour which harms young people,” he said.

“During his trial James Carragher said that he was ashamed of what he had done and that he had failed to live up to what he professed.

“His behaviour has been a deep betrayal of the Order’s mission to the young and to the trust that was placed in him as a De La Salle Brother.

“Our hearts go out to those who were victims of abuse and to their families in this case,” he said.

Read full news report here.

Fine words. The order will doubtless claim they cannot speak out equally strongly about Birkfield, where young people were also harmed and betrayed because it hasn’t come to court and it’s on the advice of their insurers or lawyers. That would be convenient. That would mean that, like other parts of the Catholic Church, they are controlled by lawyers and insurance companies. By Suits, who seem to have no sense of shame, and put the requirements of Mammon far ahead of their clients’ Christian ‘mission to the young’. So there’s only acknowledgement and empathy when clerical collars are being felt. When the security of their own order is at stake. The selfishness and hypocrisy of this needs no further comment from me.

I think one way to break through their shameful wall of silence is to have a Roll of Dishonour, a blacklist of those who were provably criminal abusers. So their names are no longer held high in lying eulogies (like Brother James) but are down in the gutter where they belong. So their names are sullied forever more. It’s a lot easier than spraying graffiti on their headstones, which I seriously considered at one point. (I was so angry at the time, I hired a private detective who found out all about a clerical abuser and where he was buried and gave me the plot details.) But a Roll of Dishonour will reach a lot more people.

If the idea appeals and has merit, readers may want to put up their own Rolls of Dishonour, or there may be a place elsewhere on the web better suited to the task. But below is my Roll of Dishonour. All these individuals I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, are provably abusers of children; although only one – Father Jolly – is provably relevant to me. There are other names mentioned by other old boys in past posts – a lay teacher for example – but I wouldn’t want to add names without their approval.

So I’ll wait to hear from NW1 to get his go-ahead to add Brother Kevin, although he does seem like a prime candidate.

If you have first hand knowledge or proof of other past abusers at Birkfield and would like them added, do say. Bear in mind, this blog does appear near the top on related web searches, so it will rightly impact on an organisation that has harmed so many children.

The current regime at Saint Josephs is unconnected with these terrible events; a famous old boy pointed out to me recently how very different and better they are today; I’m sure they are, but that’s not the point. They are still proudly proclaiming in their advertising and on the school entrance that they are ‘in the Lasallian Tradition’. They presumably want prospective pupils and parents to think it is a good thing to be associated with a past where criminal abuse was endemic, as the pages of this blog show – and I clearly recall. To me, that’s like saying ‘in the tradition of the Krays’, because they did some good, as well as far more harm.

The – I’m sure unintended – subtext of ‘in the Lasallian Tradition’ to old boys like myself is that the abuse doesn’t matter that much. Or it only happened to a few of us and the good outweighs the bad. Or it wasn’t really that bad. Or it was all a long, long time ago. Or it’s not really a crime unless we can actually prove it in court, and anyway the allegedly guilty monk is now dead. Or ‘that’s life, get over it’. And many of us did, although we still bear the scars. I met a once distinguished national journalist who was a St Joseph’s and Oak Hill old boy and a broken alcoholic and client of Mind (the mental health charity). He described his traumatic experiences at the school to me, and he didn’t ‘get over it’.

The strong connection to the Brothers is still there, not to mention the scholastic records, the uniforms, the mottos, the traditions and so on. And there are numerous other current links to a dark past – e.g. the Kearney chemistry prize, which honours the memory of a sadistic, vicious chemistry teacher from my day, who I will write about another time. It is not a brand new school, it has an infamous heritage, with which it is still associated, and wants to be associated with. Why not disassociate themselves from the negative aspects, with an expression of regret for what happened to so many past pupils? It’s not a matter of it being ‘unproven’ anymore. Particularly in the case of Brothers Solomon and James. And Brother Kevin. The order’s own records I’m sure will confirm what so many of us have described, if they won’t do us the courtesy of believing our numerous written statements which cross-reference each other and bear out we are telling the truth.

If the De La Salle Order or the local Catholic diocese (because the diocese surely has an over-arching responsibility for its Catholic members) are similarly wondering what to do about it, an expression of regret might also be a first step. Assuming the Suits that control them, or they hide behind, will permit it. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

 

ROLL OF DISHONOUR

St Joseph’s College, Birkfield, Ipswich, Suffolk.

Time Span : 1960s to 1980s

 

 

  • Brother Solomon aka Mike Mercado, ‘the Swinging Monk’. Sexual abuser.
  • Brother James. Physical abuser.
  • Father Jolly. School Chaplain. Sexual abuser

 

 

IN THE LA SALLIAN TRADITION 3

I wanted to write a new post in response to further comments on my About page from St Joseph’s old boys Nick and NW1 – thanks guys, and great to hear from you both.  I have appended NW1’s comment at the bottom of this post, because I think his story is incredibly important and I think it’s proving valuable for all of us who survived a dark period in the school’s history. Hitherto, it was unacknowledged, and I’m sure is still denied. Actually, just ignored.  But the sheer number of witnesses coming forward and confirming what happened makes a provable case.

For some of us it will be a catharsis; the knowledge that we were not alone in what we experienced or witnessed. For others it will be a resource for confronting whoever should take responsibility for these crimes and, at the very least, acknowledge them. Whether that is the De La Salle Order, its inheritors who claim they are still “in the Lasallian Tradition”, or the Catholic Diocese, remains to be seen.

I’d imagine there would be a certain amount of buck-passing and “no comment”, based on what I’ve read so far. The idea that a supposedly moral organisation that claims to care for its followers cannot speak out, on the advice of lawyers or insurers, is shocking and shameful. This would mean the Church or its relevant branches is controlled by lawyers, insurers and bankers. A fine Christian example.  I have the impression that they think if they say nothing and keep their heads down, we will all just quietly go away.

I certainly won’t. My particular viewpoint is that I believe abuse was organised and endemic in my parish in the Catholic Church in the 1950s and 1960s and presumably it went much further afield. I believe it was a way of life and, worse, it had a sick belief system to justify it. I have some evidence already to back this up and the comment by NW1 about Brother Kevin also points in that direction.

For me, the one rotten apple in the barrel idea (or in the case of St J’s, it’s about 5 rotten apples so far and counting) simply does not stand up to scrutiny.  They want us to believe this was the case – it was just one or two bad guys, whereas the rest were exemplary. Not so. Even though, of course, there were decent teachers there who we may remember with respect and admiration.  But they weren’t that decent, because they looked the other way when everyone knew what was going on. Everyone. They knew, and it’s to their shame they said nothing.  I was a day boy, so my knowledge and experience was restricted, but we still knew much of what was going on.  In a sense, the crimes of Solomon/Mike Mercado are so outrageous they obscure some of the others. The account about Brother Kevin, for example.

So, do please add your voice if you feel it will be useful to you. It will certainly be useful to me.  I’d  love to hear more from you and I’m sure that applies to other old boys who read this site.

 

Comment from NW1 on 17 September.  Read all comments on my About page (most of which are St Joseph’s related) here.

Hi there. Have just stumbled across this blog, drawn to it by a Guardian story I read this morning about child abuse in a Suffolk school, which I initially thought referred to St Jo’s but I then realised was about another Catholic order.

Just a quick comment of my own regarding St Joseph’s, Birkfield, and also Oak Hill, the prep school just down the road. I was a pupil at both between 1967 and 1974, when I was expelled mid-way through the year. As I was mid-way through my lower sixth, they allowed me to complete my studies at St Peter’s, in Bournemouth.

Many of the Brothers’ names mentioned in other posts are familiar to me and other boys used to talk about them as “homos” at the time, but I have no proof of this.

In my case, I was sexually abused by Brother Kevin, a diminutive shit who was at OakHill when I started there before transferring to Birkfield later in that year. My abuse began while I was at the prep school. Kevin was in charge of the boarders and used to summon me, as well as other boys, to his bedroom after lights out.

After he moved to Birkfield, Kevin used to come down to Oak Hill on Sundays, seek me out and try to abuse me in the biology rooms. The abuse continued when I moved to Birkfield myself and during my first year there, during which time I was a boarder in one of the dormitories in the so-called 55 Wing. Kevin, whose room looked out on one of the dormitories, continued in a similar vein as before, summoning me and others to his room after lights out.

He was transferred to France at the end of that school year (1968) but returned to St Peter’s, where I re-encountered him after my expulsion from St Jo’s. Inexplicably, he was once again in charge of the junior boarders. By then, I was too old for him, so was left in peace. I have no doubt whatsoever that he continued to abuse kids there. Sickeningly, the young boarders’ section included kids who wee six or seven years old.

About 20 years ago, I reported my abuser to the police in London and he was briefly detained, made a partial admission and was released on bail pending further inquiries. The next time he was interviewed he showed up with a solicitor and denied everything. He was never charged.

Simultaneously, I sued the Order in 1996 and after six years they settled out of court in return for me signing a confidentiality agreement which I suppose I’m breaking today. The settlement just about paid for seven years of therapy. However, the Order refused to offer an apology because to do so would imply that they were culpable. Even today, 15 years later, that refusal to admit what happened and apologise for it – despite paying me compensation – makes me feel incredibly angry.

I remember I went up to Oxford in the mid-90s to confront the order at its “Mother House”: they didn’t seem remotely surprised that Kevin was in the frame as a sex abuser. I mentioned another brother, (AKA Squealer) who I was fairly certain had abused children, although I did not have 100% definitive proof. They effectively admitted he too had been an abuser and it was suggested to me that I should consider whether giving his name to the police would be worthwhile as he now had dementia. I did name him to police but nothing happened to him either.

While I was at St Peter’s, there was another Brother – Cyril – who was in charge of the middle year boarders (3rd and 4th year). He too was talked of as an abuser by some pupils, although I did not have any personal knowledge of this. Cyril became head teacher at another school in Southsea, was subsequently charged and cleared of sex abuse.

Three years ago I was contacted by police in Dorset who had received another complaint of abuse at the hands of Brother Kevin by a pupil at St Peter’s. Dorset police managed to track down my name and other details from the 90s and I went through the another set of interviews, filmed this time, and waited several months before the CPS decided not to go ahead with a prosecution, again. My evidence and that of the other person were not considered credible enough.

I’m aware of several other kids who were abused during my time there, also by Brother Kevin. I once met up with one of them many years later. He and another lad were abused a year or so before me and I still remember him telling me that when Kevin started on me he felt jealous a being supplanted by someone else. There was also talk about several other Brothers being abusers while I was at Birkfield, including Squealer, but I have no personal evidence of that. It does make me wonder whether they had their own little circles and agreed not to poach kids from each other.

Almost 50 years later, the abuse still affects me. My entire personality has been affected by the experience and I know I will never be free of what happened. But I’m glad others are talking about it publicly here and in one or two other corners of the Web. It’s about time the Order was forced to face up to what so many of its members were doing. It should make a public apology. I would also like to all the abusers brought to trial. I’d be happy to work with anyone here to make sure that happens.

 

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION 2

“Brother Solomon, however, was a completely different incarnation of evil. He was a person of unmitigated perversion.”

 

I feel it’s time to write a new post, based on a recent comment on my January 2016 post IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION.

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION was created from a comment on my ‘About’ page from Martin Hunt about the institutional violence and sexual abuse that was experienced by many boys at my school, St Joseph’s College in Ipswich, Suffolk.

I was very touched to read this account from my classmate at St. Joseph’s, Damian Moss, sent via his friend Rob Buckley about the abuse by the Christian Brothers. Damian sums it up so well.  My reply to him follows after.

“In the time it took me to read this email and the accompanying links I was immediately transported back to that dark place masquerading as an educational institution.
I have an uncomfortable feeling that I was that thirteen year boy described so graphically by Pat Mills.His description of Brother James was so chillingly accurate that it revived memories long forgotten. He and I fought a running battle over a two year period mostly involving my determination to flout school rules and his equally determined passion to uphold the rule of law. It culminated with the pair of us grappling on the ground for some article of clothing- if my memory serves me correctly, I think it was my beloved beatle boots with the two inch cuban heels! Soon after this incident I was deemed unmanageable and shipped off to Beulah Hill to continue my ordeal at the thankfully metaphorical hands of the De La Salle Order.
Brother James in all honesty was a figure of tragic pity. He was inadequate, unloved, deeply frustrated and a raging sado-masochist. Apart from that, he was you’re standard issue christian brother.

Brother Solomon, however, was a completely different incarnation of evil. He was a person of unmitigated perversion. After arriving at Beulah from De La Salle rehab camp he was appointed Head of Boarders in 1964. He was immediately placed in a position where he could continue his abuse of young, vulnerable, sensitive boys in his care/charge. His profile was that of a classic paedophile. He was able to carefully select his victims and groom them over a period of time to gain their trust and confidence before subjecting them to his unspeakable depravity. He was known among other things as the ‘ bugger meister’. He had a malevolent, brooding presence, and was the essence of pure evil. His track record was littered with scores of damaged individuals who just happened to be young , impressionable, and manipulable at the wrong time in their lives.
Thankfully, by the time I arrived at Beulah Hill I was too old and rebellious to be groomed for anything other than immediate expulsion!! He left a frightening legacy of destroyed youthful minds and bodies. Sometimes we need to remember lest we forget such depravity.”

I was aware of and personally inspired by his rebellious nature. Anyone who wore two inch cuban heels at St. Joseph’s, with its ultra-strict dress code, was definitely a rebel! Most of us were too scared and intimidated by these violent, cruel, black-clad fanatics to stand up to them. This was certainly the case for me – my defiance had already been partly knocked out of me at my Catholic primary school, St. Mary’s. Another old boy from St. Mary’s recently reminded me how I regularly challenged the status quo there. Then the nun headmistress – a Mother Theresa lookalike – got me by the throat and squeezed it as she warned me not to repeat my ‘wicked lies’ about the predatory paedophile priests who were endemic in our Catholic community. I really though she was going to kill me. So I had learnt – like so many other Catholic boys – to be silent about injustice by the time I got to St J’s.
But I recall, as if it were yesterday, Damian’s passive resistance to Brother James (the teacher who was my role model for Judge Dredd). As James entered the classroom, Damian very slowly looked up from rummaging in the depths of his desk and gave James a subtle, but unmistakeable knowing look of disdain. In fact, he may not even have bothered to look up, it could have just been his sullen but eloquent body language that incited James’s subsequent psychotic episode. Even from my desk, some distance away, the message Damian’s back was sending out was clear and James got it. ‘Psychotic episode’ is the only phrase to describe the demented and unwarranted beating that ensued and which still angers and upsets me today, perhaps because I feel we should all of us, as a class, intervened en masse, protected our class mate and stopped that maniac.
I’ve discussed it with another old boy and he’s described James having similar outbursts of uncontrollable rage. The fact that the De La Salle order have not acknowledged and expressed regret for the crimes of James and Solomon is a black mark against them which will not go away until they do. I shall certainly be writing about James and Solomon again and drawing their well-documented crimes to people’s attention. So much for St Joseph’s current regime’s proud claim that they are “in the Lasallian Tradition”. Damian’s courage needs applauding. It’s St. Joseph’s old boys like him we need to remember with pride today – “a rebel who fought Judge Dredd”. He is a fine example to us all.

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION

Here’s a recent comment from Martin, from my ‘About’ page, in response to a thread about St Joseph’s College, Ipswich.  I think he makes some interesting points.  I decided our exchange deserved its own blog status, so here it is.

Thanks, Martin.

Hi Pat,
I was at St Joe’s for many years. I remember them , Bros Cecil, James, Hugh, Damien, Owen, Gerard, Soloman, Denis Robert, Gregory, Benet, Cuthman, Peter, Terrence and others. They seemed all to have some sort of attitude or psychological problem or were perverts. Having spoken to others over the years about this it does seem that all the Del a Salle Schools and Catholic Schools were all the same. I am quite sure all the stories are pretty much true. The film Catholic Boys captures it pretty well. I’m in contact with a number of people from the 60s and early 70s from St Joe’s, I think some have tried to give details to the police. Interestingly and rather oddly one of the number listed above is still around and his partner (female) works for the police in relation to child abuse. Talk about poacher turned game-keeper! He waxes lyrical now about abuse saying ‘it only takes good men to do nothing etc etc’. He knew what was going on when he was at St Joe’s and did nothing. The pious hypocrite.

 

Hi, Martin,

Great to hear from you and thank you for making some truly excellent observations. As you say, the film Catholic Boys captures the tone of St J’s very well. Although I think it was actually worse in my time there in the 1960s.

As you say, hypocrisy is the thing that bothers us. Thus, I once looked up Brother James on the web. At first I thought it was a truly monstrous De La Salle headmaster named Brother James currently doing a long prison stretch for his crimes. But he turned out to be a different De La Salle Brother. The Brother James from St J’s has died and was described in his obituary as a shy and timid character. This is far from the truth and whoever wrote that obituary must have known it. I witnessed him explode with demented rage and violence when he attacked a classmate and his psychotic behavior still preys on my mind to this day. But despite his reputation for violence and rage, he was also a great maths teacher who knew how to reach kids like me who were hopeless at the subject.

Similarly, Brother Solomon who – confirmed by the tragic poetry of one his victims at Beulah Hill – abused many children. Yet I know I owe my deep love of classical music to him. He, too, is dead.

And I think their excellence as teachers combined with their perversions sets up confusion and cognitive dissonance in many pupils who thus try and block it from their minds, and that’s how so many Brothers have largely got away their crimes.

I do believe St J’s and the Order itself both owe Survivors a collective apology. It’s no good putting the blame on individual Brothers – there are just too many of them to use the ‘one rotten apple’ defence. It’s the College and the Order itself that is clearly responsible. Thus Brother Solomon was suddenly transferred from Birkfield because of abuse (and given a glowing tribute by Brother James in the school magazine), then sacked from Beulah Hill and returned – in the 1980s – to Birkfield as a lay teacher. Once again he was dismissed following allegations of abuse – but he should never have been reinstated.

One thing I find offensive is the caption on the school gates of St J’s today: “In the Lasallian tradition”. Although the College today seems to have distanced itself from the Brothers per se, nevertheless the uniforms, the motto, the history, the traditions, and the legacy are still proudly confirmed in those words. According to the College’s website, the caption pertains – with some dexterous semantics – to St Jean Baptise de La Salle, but significantly not to the Order of Brothers he founded. Whatever the intention, in practice, “In the Lasallian tradition” means the promise of an excellent Christian education but also that it has not disassociated itself from the De La Salle Brothers. So for many old boys up to relatively recent times those words stand for something terrible and dark. Only an acknowledgement of this really makes that caption acceptable in today’s world.

Thus I don’t agree with one famous St J’s old boy, who told me recently how different the school is today: it’s unisex, the Brothers have gone, and it’s properly run etc. I’m sure he is right but I took the subtext of his comments to be that the past is the past and everyone really needs to forget about it and move on. But in my opinion, closure is not possible until the successors to the Brothers have acknowledged what happened or until justice is done.

So I wish our fellow old boys well in pursuing the Brothers responsible for harming them before they are too old and infirm to be charged. I have a St. J’s old boy police detective contact who specializes in investigating crimes of this nature and it’s possible he might be able to help or point your contacts in the right direction. If that’s any help, do ask them to write to me and I’ll put them in touch with him.