Friday, September 08, 2006

Betty Roland

Yes, another bit of research into comic strip writers. Betty Roland was another name I was reminded of by the Best of Girl book as it reprints two of her comic strips. Betty was credited with only a handful of strips in Girl, namely:

Pat of Paradise Isle (28 Oct 1953-7 Apr 1954, art by Dudley Pout)
Laura and the Legend of Hadley House (14 Apr 1954-27 Oct 1954, art by Dudley Pout)
Vicky [various stories] (3 Nov 1954-16 Aug 1958, art by Dudley Pout)
Angela Air Hostess (23 Aug 1958-14 Nov 1961, art by Dudley Pout)

Not much of a CV, although both 'Vicky' and 'Angela Air Hostess' were popular strips in their day. Both Vicky and Angela Wells were globe-trotting adventuresses, the former through the work of her father, Professor Curtis, the latter through her job.

According to birth records, Betty Roland was born Mary Isabel MacLean in Kaniva, Victoria, Australia, on 22 July 1903, the daughter of Roland (a physician) and Matilda MacLean.

She grew up in the Mallee district of the Australian bush and began writing while she was at school at the Church of England girls' grammar school in Melbourne. She married Ellis H. Davies at the age of 19 and had a son, Peter Ellis Davies. She became a journalist for Table Talk and the Sun News-Pictorial before writing her first and most popular play, 'The Touch of Silk', in 1928 which was a favourite of amateur theatre and radio broadcasts but did not have its first professional production until 1976. As Betty M. Davies, she scripted Spur of the Moment (1931), the first 'talkie' made in Australia.

In the late 1920s she met a wealthy Marxist intellectual, Guido Baracchi, and seperated from her husband in 1932 (they divorced in 1934). With Baracchi, she went to London in 1933 and then travelled to Leningrad and Moscow, originally for 21 days but the pair stayed for over a year, Betty working on the Moscow Daily News, sharing a room with Katherine Susannah Pritchard, and smuggling literature into Nazi Germany; her diaries from this period became the basis for her first volume of autobiography, Caviar For Breakfast (1979).

She returned to Australia in 1935 and immersed herself in left-wing politics, writing numerous agit-prop plays depicting the workers' struggle for Communist Review. She lived in Melbourne for two years before moving to Sydney, buying land and building a house in Castlecrag in living with Baracchi until their relationship broke down in 1942.

She established the New Theatre League and began writing regularly for Australian radio, her plays including The First Gentleman, Daddy Was Asleep, The White Cockade, A Woman Scorned, The Drums of Manalao and In His Steps, broadcast in 1942-49.

In 1951, she legally changed her name to Betty Roland and, in 1952, moved to London with her daughter (by Baracchi), Gilda. She wrote for various magazines including Harper's Bazaar, Girl, Swift, Woman's Own and Women's Weekly as well as writing the screenplay for Heights of Danger (1953) and the TV play 'Granite Peak' (1957).

Roland journeyed to the Greek island of Lesbos before returning to Australia in 1961, where she up an artists' community at Montsalvat, outside Melbourne. She continued to write for Australian radio and a number of well-received children's novels. She was a founder member of the Australian Society of Authors and was a member of the ASA management committee and treasurer. In 1993 she was made an honorary life member.

Betty Roland wrote a number of novels in the early 1970s and the first volume of her autobiography at the end of the decade; this was followed by The Eye of the Beholder (1984), An Improbable Life (1989) and The Devious Being (1990). She died in Sydney, Australia, on 12 February 1996.

A 1992 photograph of Roland can be found at the National Library of Australia web site.

I was particularly interested to learn (from her entry in Contemporary Authors) that Betty Roland wrote for Swift. I have found nothing credited to her (the whole paper was strictly anonymous, unlike its elder siblings Eagle and Girl). Betty is, however, an almost dead cert to be the writer of 'Sue Carter', another global traveller whose adventures ran between 1954 and 1957. Apparently, there is some discussion of her life in London in one of her autobiographical books which I'm trying to track down. Hopefully some of her comic work is discussed.

Biographical information derived from Contemporary Authors, Working Lives, AusLit. With thanks to John Herrington and Rowan Gibbs.

'Angela Air Hostess' and 'Vicky and the Vengeance of the Incas' (c) IPC Media Ltd.
'Sue Carter in Candle Dance' (c) Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.

(* By coincidence, Betty Roland was also the name of one of the Silent Three, the infamous masked schoolgirls from St. Kit's boarding school. Now there's a subject for an article if anyone wants to tackle it.)


  1. Hello
    I think you'll find the book that mentions her life in London is "The Devious Being". There is brief mention of her work on comic strip there, i don't know if that will help you much. Also you may find some brief mention in "The Eye of the Beholder" Hope that helps, Lindy.

  2. Looks like I'll be putting the inter-library lending service to use this weekend!

    Thanks for pointing me in the right direction, Lindy. Much appreciated.



  3. Hi Steve, I have just finished reading "The Devious Being" myself, i have found some more information from it that may or may not be of use to you. Betty Roland applied for a position at GIRL in 1952, (page 147), the chief editor was Marcus Morris who was also an ordained Minister of the Church of England. His other publications were "Eagle", "Swift" and "Robin". Betty says that she wrote for Marcus Morris for 5 years. The Editress of "Girl" was a woman called Jean Crouch, whose husband was a psychiatrist. He was interested in a new drug at the time called lysergic acid(LSD)and regularly used his wife as a subject for his experiments! Interesting stuff, but perhaps you already know this information. Anyway, there is not really anymore information about her comic strip writing days in the book, so i hope this bit helps. Kind Regards, Lindy

  4. Lindy,

    I'm glad you mentioned this as I had no luck getting hold of a copy of "The Devious Being"... there seems to be only one copy in the country and that's at the National Library of Scotland!

    I have got "The Eye of the Beholder" on order so we shall just have to wait and see if that has any more details beyond what you've dug up.



  5. Hi Steve, I don't know what country you are from but I'm from Australia and there are frequently copies of "The Devious Being" on Ebay and often from international sellers. Also sells to International buyers and they have a lot of copies. It is certainly not expensive to buy a copy, I guess it just depends how keen you are! Good Luck! Lindy

  6. Hi Lindy,

    If the coverage is as little as you mention, I don't think I need to worry too much -- I was really hoping that she would mention the titles of some of the strips and stories she worked on. I'm based in the UK, so whilst copies may be plentiful, the postage would double the price.

    No sign of 'The Eye of the Beholder' yet. Typical of inter-library lending... it could be months!



  7. I've now had a chance to look through a copy of "The Eye of the Beholder", by Betty Roland. It's main concern is the artists' colony at Montsalvat and mentions only a little about her time away from Australia. In the final chapter she mentions that she was living in a flat in Chelsea in 1971 when she heard from an old friend about sorting out her father's diaries and manuscripts: "I went to see Marcus Morris who was then the managing editor of Harper's Bazaar. He was pleased to see me and commissioned some travel articles."

    Unfortunately, that's the nearest item I could find about her writing.

  8. I found a (mint) copy of the Best of Girl in an Oxfam shop and gave it to my 11 year-old daughter - she loves it but wailed when she found that they have omitted to print the ending of Angela Air Hostess!



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