“I couldnt kill a bird by the neck or throte (sic) or anything, its horrible that”
On 17th December 1968 Norma Bell aged 13 and Mary Bell aged 11 (unrelated) stood before Judge and Jury at Newcastle Assizes awaiting their verdicts for the murders of 4-year-old Martin Brown and 3-year-old Brian Howe. Before entering the courtroom, Mary had asked the policewoman escorting her, the meaning of the word “immature”. Upon receiving the policewoman’s definition, Mary then posed a second question to which the policewoman did not answer: “would that mean if I was more intelligent id get all the blame?” From the policewoman’s silence, Mary then posed a third question as she entered the courtroom: “what would be the worst that could happen to me? Would they hang me?” The BBC had placed a ban on disseminating information on the trial for daytime viewers and listeners, so that children would not hear the ‘lurid’ details; instead on the climactic day of the trial, children across Britain were invited to tune into the last episode of a serialised BBC adaptation of E. Nesbits’ idealised construction of childhood, The Railway Children. As Jenny Agutter uttered the immortal words “Daddy, my Daddy” in the live broadcast, Mary Bell remained in the courtroom cells; no thought having been given prior to her guilty verdict as to where a child of her age should be best detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. These seemingly unrelated and unquestionably dissimilar images of childhood form part of the thematic lens with which I will explore the constructions and contradictions of girlhood in the 1960s. Utilizing a broad and varied source base, with an inter-disciplinary approach, I will explore how girlhood was depicted in a number of forms, firstly by comparing childhood ‘fame to infamy’. Varying contemporary filmic and televised representation of girlhood will be explored, not simply for their portrayals, but to analyse the responses that the young actresses’ performances and image evoked in newspaper articles. This language and imagery, disseminated in newspapers, will be compared to the discussions surrounding the aesthetics of the girls who murdered, to question and understand how constructions pertaining to their image shaped their public representation. Contemporary social-control measures, implemented to both facilitate ‘play’ and ‘control’ will be analysed to ascertain the gendered differences of childhood. Lastly, the imperative of ‘creative writing’ in the 1960s will be analysed to measure how gendered boundaries of intelligence helped to establish mens rea in child criminals.
Infamy and Fame
In 1962, the French historian Aries stated that while children are “present in all cultures their presence has been and still is differently regarded.” In a period so inextricably associated with both iconic images of ‘new wave’ femininity, continued struggles for women’s liberation, and widespread student protest, the imagery of childhood is often coloured by the contrasting notions of the 1950s and 1960s. Angela Davis absolute definition between the two decades encapsulates the stark contrasts that they can evoke: “I was twenty in 1960, and, by God I deserved what happened later on. It was tough in the fifties. Girls wore white gloves” Mary Bell’s conviction for the murders of Martin Brown and Brian Howe in 1968 has been rarely cited in historical analysis or in cultural representation, unlike the earlier but equally famous New Zealand based ‘Hulme/Parker’ case of 1954. The latter case has long formed part of cultural and academic discourse, and has been so vividly encapsulated in Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. The horrific events that occurred appear in stark contrast to the idyllic 1950s setting, sound-tracked by the evocative melodies of Mario Lanza. Mary Bell’s case, in contrast, has been subject to only two biographical publications in the 1990s, and a BBC documentary in 1997, which compare the ‘similarities’ of her case to that of the ‘James Bulger’ murder case of 1993. Her conviction caused a journalistic frenzy, questioning how a girl of her age could have been allowed to commit such a crime, and analysing the characteristics that she possessed which were suggested to have led to her actions. She was widely described in the press as “Little Mary”; “quick-witted” and with “cold eyes.” Norma Bell, who was acquitted on the basis of diminished responsibility, was rather less vividly captured by the press, described as “plain” and “muted.” Norma’s image did not appear in print, however pictures of Mary featured regularly in the press; the Daily Mail commenting on Mary’s deceptively “pretty face” for such a “cruel” girl.
The images used to provide this contradictory image of Mary as ‘pretty’ yet ‘cruel’ had been used conversely in the Hulme/Parker case of 1954. Considered the more intelligent of the two, Pauline Parker’s crime was characterised in a classroom photograph, her head hanging defiantly amongst the innocent smiling faces of her fellow school girls. (See below plate 1) Parker’s possession of a diary had provided the relevant information for the conviction of both Juliet and Pauline. Juliet, who had wielded the majority of the 45 blows to Honora Parkers skull with a brick-laden stocking, but who had not chosen to record the details of the ‘well planned’ murder, was pictured rather more innocently in the press, with a photograph taken four-years before her conviction. (See plate 2) This naturally created a distinction between the two accused; the intelligent but more ‘unattractive’ Pauline accused as the manipulative influence over the more attractive, ‘feminine’ and ultimately ‘impressionable’ Juliet. Despite being no difference in their sentences, Pauline was kept on remand for eleven years after her release from gaol, whereas Juliet had no such restriction. These constructed imagery of the criminal child, which pigeon-holed particular descriptions and ideals of girlhood to convey or explain either their innocence or guilt, form part of a broader consideration of how girlhood was conceptualised in other contexts. Not only has the ‘killer child’ given rise to a broad societal debate about the natures and images of childhood, however misconstrued, but its propriety resonates against a broader discourse in which childhood and ‘girlhood’ have been considered in broader social terms. Geraghty sates that by focusing upon the constructions of girlhood in other facets “we can begin to see the emergence of a specific discourse around young women which was highly significant for 60s British cinema” With this consideration, girl actresses will colour the ‘fame’ element of this section, to consider how their similar public exposure spoke to notions of girlhood, and moreover, femininity.
The 1959 British ‘New Wave’ film Tiger Bay provided its audience with an ‘unruly’ portrayal of girlhood and moreover, a depiction of a child’s corroborative deceit in relation to murder. This image portrayed in Hayley Mills’ depiction of Gillie, which met with much critical praise, was in fact constructed not as a girl, but a boy. J. Lee Thompson’s decision to cast John Mills’ daughter in a role penned for a boy provides a unique insight into the definitions that girlhood held though the responses that it received. Described by Williams as being released upon “the cusp of the 1960s” the film received high praise. The Daily Sketch stated that Mills’ portrayal of the troublesome girl had “made everything else I have seen in the cinema this week seem unimportant,” whereas the Evening Standard felt it was “a relief from the goody-two-shoes roles in which little girls are invariably cast.” The Mirror’s response, whilst maintaining the same level of enthusiasm, provides a far more sexualised image of Mills’ character than may be expected for a twelve –year-old. The title of review article “THIS BABE is a HONEY!” has an obviously dualistic purpose; ‘babe’ conveying both connotations to youth and attractiveness. The use of ‘honey’ for Gillie, however, is rather misplaced in its dualistic definition; never appearing as ‘sweet’ in any particular sense in the film, the character appraised by Williams as a “defiantly anarchic young girl wreaking havoc on all those around her.” This sexual image is made more explicit by stating that “both her attractiveness and her performance will captivate audiences.” Mills’ eyes are pictured at the top of the article (see below plate 3), with her face concealed, and are mentioned twice as “frank” and, more sexually, “dazzling.” The character’s role as a troublesome child, who has witnessed a murder and who is hiding a key piece of evidence from the investigating police (a gun), isn’t touched upon in the article, determined only to comment upon Mills’ appearance.
The Newspapers fascination with Mills continued throughout her childhood career, labelling her the ‘Mills Bombshell’ after her role in Pollyanna (1960) at fourteen years-old. An interview with her in 1963 with The Daily Express, at seventeen-years-old, comments how “there is still a lot of child left in her face, but the woman in her is beginning to take over. Her lips have taken on a fullness that wasn’t there last summer.”Her aesthetic praise is in stark contrast to that received for seventeen-year-old Rita Tushingham, whose portrayal of adolescent pregnancy in A Taste of Honey (1961) led to the headline “RITA’S NO HONEY.” With its explicit insight into teen pregnancy, and tackling ‘issues’; such as homosexuality and race, A Taste of Honey constructs many similarities to Tiger Bay, as Williams has discerned. The desires for childhood portrayed by girls upon the ‘cusp’ of adulthood resonate with their disparaging cries to escape their inevitable ‘transitional’ stage: “I don’t want to be a mother; I don’t want to be a woman” The disparity between the images that the actresses evoke, and the journalistic receptions to their own image provide an important point of comparison for the girls who killed in this analysis. As powerful as the characters image may have been on screen, their public persona of child actresses in many ways were constructed around their physical appearance, much like their adult movie-star counterparts. Their credited youth did not preclude implicit and sometimes explicit sexual references to their appearance, no more so when they appeared to be upon the ‘cusp’ of adulthood. Moreover, the characters of children that killed were often easily labelled ‘good’ ‘bad’ or ‘mad,’ owing to their physical appearance. There was little departure from the adult realm of emotional discrimination based upon appearance, and perhaps even more-so when involving ‘little’ girls. Sinyard stated that ‘the form a child’s escapism takes might be revealing about the world in which the child habitually lives’ One such form of escapism, in the form of autobiographical writing, was one of the ways children in the 1960s were directed in expressing their lives, and their concerns. This process can often reveal as much about adulthood as it does childhood or girlhood.
Creativity and Control
Mary Bell’s aforementioned concerns regarding her intelligence owed both to her apparent aptitude during the interviewing process, and also the damming evidence that she had imparted in her school journal. Creative writing in this diarist style had become a staple part of the primary educative syllabus since its implementation in 1950. In an article entitled ‘What Is Good Children’s Writing’ the Journal Use of English stated in 1952 that children should “draw on first hand experiences, which are relevant to the life he lives, or which stimulate and release his imagination to a lively and sincere response.” By 1970, it had become part of the timetabled schedule for all children at primary level education, having been endorsed by “Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools.”  The Plowden Report of 1967 gave the process its “unqualified support,” stating that “its essence is that much of it is personal and that the writers are communicating something that really engaged their minds and imaginations.” Emphasis was placed upon ensuring that children were aware that they were writing not simply autobiographically, but that their work should be prepared for someone to “read and enjoy”; the ‘someone’ being the teacher on a “weekly basis.” Mary Bell had been no acceptation to this creative process, which was encouraged especially within the working classes to improve literacy. She diligently filled out her journal, much of the content explicitly personal, engaging with the events around her. She engaged fully with her audience as instructed, asking “what happens if you choke someone? Do they die?” in February 1968. On 21st May, 1968, two days after strangling Martin Brown to death, Mary wrote an account of the events. She described how a boy had just “lay down and died.” (plate 4) She drew underneath her writing a picture of the dead boy with a bottle labelled ‘Tablet’. (Plate 5) Howe had been found with a bottle of pills next to him. However, the police had not disseminated this information. It was not until after Mary Bell & Norma Bell’s arrests for the murder of Brian Howe that her teacher, Mr. Lyons, thought to check over her diary, four months after she had written. The Daily Mirror dubbed the journal as “LITTLE MARY’S DEATH BOOK.” The article describes how her teacher had described in court how he had “found in little Mary Bell’s school news book.” Neither in the article itself, nor court was Mary’s teacher, Eric Foster, asked why her journal had not been checked before the second murder of Brian Howe on 31st July, two months later. The “weekly basis” teacher checking rules overlooked, Mary’s mens rea was firmly established upon the basis of her dissemination of evidence in written form. Accompanied by her confidence with police questioning, and her defiant attitude in court, she alone was held responsible for the joint killings of the two toddlers. This notion of discerning crime from the information provided in the creative writings of the accused was made fully use of in the first of two plays written around the events of the Hulme/Parker case. Minor Murder transposed notions of innocence and guilt into the journalistic writings of its characters.
Although based heavily upon the much publicised ‘Hulme/ Parker’ murder case of 1954, the West-end production of Minor Murder (1967) removed the majority of the intellectually damming elements that had convinced Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker for the brutal murder of Parker’s Mother in Christchurch, New Zealand. Parker had, in a similar fashion to Bell, kept a lucid diary of her actions, inscribing “The day of the happy event” at the top of the page on the morning before killing her mother. Newspapers across the world had characterised Parker’s ‘misplaced’ intelligence as a tacit indication of guilt. Prematurely adult in her writings and temperament, her incongruously mature demeanour was used as a tacit indication of her criminal intent. This image of intelligently crafted crime was not replicated faithfully within the 60s West-end production of Minor Murder, but instead spatial considerations and class-bound divisions were utilized to reason their criminal intent. Taken out of its specific socio-historic context and placed in the present day Australia (with a footnote explaining that concerns of widespread ignorance of the specific location of New Zealand had compelled them to do so), the play bases its entire narrative on the partially disseminated extracts of Pauline’s diary. Explicitly working upon the assumption that homosexual relations were being described by the Pauline and Juliet, Margaret (‘Juliet’s’ character, described as ‘fair’) lives predominantly in a dream world, which is scribed by Patricia (Pauline’s character, described as ‘dumpy’). One line reveals her internal monologue, explicitly stating that “Isolation often creates inverts.” It is Pauline’s working class environment that facilitates her crime, realised in an aboriginal style hammer mounted in her “basic” family home, that she eventually kills her mother. The suggestion of deep-rooted crime within from within the class that she derived fed directly into the courts psychiatrists’ assertions regarding Pauline’s ‘heritage’: her “mongoloid” [down-syndrome] sister and another stillborn sibling “raises a query as to the stock from which she came.” Both in representational form, and in the assertions disseminated in newspapers, Parkers intelligence framed her guilt, and in many ways excused that of Juliet’s. Lying predominantly in her personal writing, and married with the ‘problematic’ nature of working-class upbringing and locale, her character was marred with far greater veracity than that of Juliet. Locale, and more importantly the priorities placed in raising children in the correct locale, was a key concern threading throughout the postwar years and into the 1960s. The locale of Mary Bell had been a point of much analysis for journalists, citing the destruction of the slum areas of Newcastle as “revealing its horrors.” Questioning why Mary had been allowed to “wander in the slums,” they tapped into a key concern of the post-war re-construction programme. In clearing the ‘slums’, a better future was sought for children of more deprived areas. Its construction, however, can reveal many of the same gendered divisions as have been addressed hitherto.
The 1965 Pathé newsreel entitled ‘Adventure Playground’ encapsulates this contrast between creativity and control, which spoke to the mode of social governance through which social consensus had been sought after World War II. Filmed at the ‘Cumberland Community Play Centre’ in the London borough of Camden, the commentator announces that this new form of childhood play area would bring a sense of adventure amongst the “high flats” of the city. “The idea” he continues, “is to encourage children to be constructive, so that city life means more than bustle and dangerous games in the street.” It is a “toy-town-world with a purpose”: to “learn to enjoy themselves, and to enjoy learning.” The activities available to the children, who pay ‘thruppence’ for upkeep, include the hiring of bikes; peddle cars and the use of an adventure playground. Presented as an idealised and safe construction, mirroring the metropolitan structures of its surroundings, the gender differences in “constructive” play are clear. Whilst the boys build large structures with planks of wood, and park their peddle cars at the ‘petrol station’ for some light mechanical maintenance, the girls in the adventure playground are isolated to a wooden shop, selling paintings to each other. (see plates ) Its construction reveals much of the ‘appropriate’ characteristics considered within boyhood and girlhood. The domesticated vision of girlhood is fully displayed in the activities pertaining to female consumerism, whereas the more active and imaginative play arenas are demonstrated by the boys.
The case of Mary Bell in the 1960s reveals many changes and continuities with the “white-gloved” era of the Hulme/Parker case of the 1950s. Incongruous intelligence, both in age and in gender were key components which framed their guilt. Their physical image made these assertions more vivid; with the photographic evidence to label one ‘good’ or ‘bad’. These images were made more acute by the contemporary portrayals of girlhood on the television and on the cinema screen. Moreover, the child actresses who solidified these iconic images were also utilized and sexualised for the readers of newspapers, regardless of their age. The encouragement by government bodies to utilize autobiographical writing to improve literacy and to improve the social mobility of children fundamentally relied upon the designated ‘carer’ fulfilling their required duty of monitoring their observations and concerns. These writings could be utilized to explicitly condemn their authors, as had been done both within Mary Bell and Hulme/ Parker case. Their use, however, was reliant not only upon the information provided within the creative arena, but the incongruous nature of this dissemination when considering age and gender. When looking at the 1960s through constructed images of childhood, it is harder to find the much ‘deserved’ changes that the decade is so readily associated with. Moreover, its continuities with the criminal construction of girlhood in the 1950s are far more readily observed.
The Mary Bell Case. Dir. Denys Blakeway. (BBC, 1997)
A Taste of Honey. Dir. Tony Richardson. Perf. Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens. (Continental Distributing, 1961)
Heavenly Creatures. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse. (Miramax, 1994)
Tiger Bay. Dir. J. Lee Thompson. Perf. Hayley Mills, Horst Buchholz, John Mills. (Image Entertainment, 1959)
The Railway Children. Dir. Julia Smith. Perf. Jenny Agutter, Anne Castle. (BBC, 1968)
Daily Express, 1963 – 1968.
Daily Mirror, 1960 -1968
Daily Mail, 1968
Daily Sketch, 1959
Evening Standard, 1959
British Pathé, Adventure Playground, ID 345.07, Issue date 25/11/1965
Printed primary sources
Central Advisory Committee for Education, Children and their Primary Schools: A Report of the Central Advisory Committee for Education [The Plowden Report], two vols, London HMSO, 1967
Jones, H. Crime in a Changing Society, 2nd ed. (Penguin, 1965)
Newson, J & E, Patterns of Infant Care, 3rd ed. (Pelican, 1963)
Nixon, A. A Child’s Guide to Crime: New Perspectives on Criminology. 1st ed. (Angus and Robertson, 1974)
Parfit, J. The Community’s Children, 2nd ed. (Longman, 1967)
Schofield, M. The Sexual Behaviour of Young People, 2nd ed. (Pelican, 1968)
Myers, A & Wight, S (eds.) No Angels: Women who Commit Violence. 1st ed. (Pandora, 1996)
Sereny, G. Cries Unheard. 2nd ed. (Macmillan, 1998)
Sereny, G. The Case of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child who Murdered. 2nd ed. (Pimlico, 1995)
Sinyard, N, Children in the Movies (Batsford,1992)
Essays in edited collections
Carter, A. ‘Truly, it felt like Year One’, in Sara Maitland (ed.), Very Heaven: Looking Back at the Sixties (London: Virago, 1988)
De Vaney, A. ‘Pretty in pink? John Hughes re-inscribes daddy’s girl in homes and schools’, in Gateward, F and Pomerance, M (eds), Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Cinemas of Girlhood (Wayne State University Press, 2002)
Steedman, C, ‘State-Sponsored Autobiography’ in Conekin, B, Mort, F and Waters, C (eds) Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain, 1945–64, 2nd ed. (Rivers Oram, 1999)
Williams, M. ‘I’m not a lady!’: Tiger Bay (1959) and transitional girlhood in British cinema on the cusp of the 1960s’ in Screen 46:3 Autumn (2005)
James, A & Jenkins, C. ‘Public Perceptions of Childhood Criminality’ in The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 47, No. 2 (June, 1996)
McCurdy, M, Women Murder Women: Case Studies in Theatre and Film, PhD Thesis, (University of Canterbury, 2007)
 Mary Bell: Diary entry in Sereny, G. The Case of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child who Murdered. 2nd ed. (Pimlico, 1995) p.66
 Ibid p.67
 The Mary Bell Case. Dir. Denys Blakeway. BBC, 1997. VHS. 22:12secs
 The Railway Children. Dir. Julia Smith. Perf. Jenny Agutter, Anne Castle. BBC, 1968.
 Agutter also played the role of Roberta in the 1970 EMI film version of the same name, and also played the role of ‘mother’ in the 2000 ITV adaptation.
 James, A & Jenkins, C. ‘Public Perceptions of Childhood Criminality’ in The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 47, No. 2 (June, 1996) p.317
 James, A & Jenkins, C. ‘Public Perceptions of Childhood Criminality’ p.317
 Carter, A. ‘Truly, it felt like Year One’, in Sara Maitland (ed.), Very Heaven: Looking Back at the Sixties (London: Virago, 1988), p. 209-10.
 Heavenly Creatures. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse. Miramax, 1994.
 Daily Express. 11th December, 1968. p.8, Daily Mirror, 10th December, 1968, p.11
 Daily Mirror, 10th December, 1968, p.11
 Daily Mail, 10th December, 1968, p.3
 Daily Mirror, 27th August, 1954. p.6
 Daily Mail, 26th August, 1954, p.9
 Geraghty, ‘Women and sixties British cinema’, p. 157.
 Williams, M. ‘‘I’m not a lady!’: Tiger Bay (1959) and transitional girlhood in British Cinema on the cusp of the 1960s’ in Screen 46:3 Autumn 2005, p361
 Daily Sketch, 26th March 1959.p.4
 Evening Standard, 26 March 1959. p.7
 Daily Mirror, 28th March, 1959. p.14
 Williams, M. ‘‘I’m not a lady!’, p.366
 Daily Mirror, 29th July, 1960. p.17
 Daily Express. 13th January 1963.p.4
 Daily Mirror, 15th September, 1961, p.19
 Williams, M. ‘‘I’m not a lady!’: Tiger Bay (1959) and transitional girlhood in British Cinema on the cusp of the 1960s’ in Screen 46:3 Autumn 2005, p361
 A Taste of Honey. Dir. Tony Richardson. Perf. Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens. (Continental Distributing, 1961)
 Sinyard, N, Children in the Movies (Batsford,1992), p. 19.
 Stevens, S, ‘What Is Good Children’s Writing? (A Report on Some Representative Work Sent from Nine Primary Schools in Different Parts of England and Scotland), Part II, Use of English, vol.4,no.3, Spring 1953, pp.126-32
 Steedman, C, ‘State-Sponsored Autobiography’ in Conekin, B, Mort, F and Waters, C (eds) Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain, 1945–64, 2nd ed. (Rivers Oram, 1999) p.43
 Central Advisory Committee for Education, Children and their Primary Schools: A Report of the Central Advisory Committee for Education [The Plowden Report], Vol 1, London HMSO, 1967, pp. 218-19
 Sereny, G. The Case of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child who Murdered. 2nd ed. (Pimlico, 1995) p.74
 Ibid, p.71
 Daily Mirror, 10th December, 1968. p.11
 McCurdy, M, Women Murder Women: Case Studies in Theatre and Film, PhD Thesis, (University of Canterbury, 2007) p.20
 McCurdy, M, Women Murder Women: Case Studies in Theatre and Film, PhD Thesis, (University of Canterbury, 2007) p.157
 Denham, R & Orr, M Minor Murder. (Samuel French, 1967), p.11
 Ibid, p.43
 McCurdy, M, Women Murder Women: Case Studies in Theatre and Film, PhD Thesis, (University of Canterbury, 2007)
 Daily Mail, 10th December, 1968, p.3
 British Pathé, Adventure Playground, ID 345.07, Issue date 25/11/1965