BRITISH COMICS

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THE LIGHT BLUE STREAK

 

First episode taken from The Rover No. 1807 - February 13th 1960.

You’ve heard of Alf Tupper, the tough of the track—here’s the Hon. Piers Mornington, the Toff of the Track.

This story of the most amazing sprinter of all STARTS TODAY!

 

The Honourable Piers Mornington had only been up at Cambridge a week but, in that short time, he had gone a long way towards making himself the most unpopular undergraduate in St Michael’s College. He stood at the top of the buttery steps with a group of other freshmen after the first serving of dinner in hall. His companions were clad in the usual garb of sports coat and grey flannels, but Mornington was six feet of slender elegance in a dog-tooth checked suit, embroidered plum-coloured waistcoat with mother-of-pearl buttons, bow tie and light suede ankle boots. His undergraduate’s gown hung carelessly down his back whereas the other freshmen, still feeling very new and strange to Cambridge life, had theirs neatly hitched up over their shoulders. One of the men was glancing round the Main Court, admiring the outlines of the buildings in the twilight. Although not one of the architectural showpieces of Cambridge, St Michael’s had a quiet, dignified charm. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” the man murmured. “Eh, what?” the Hon. Piers drawled. “Oh, you know, all this,” the other fellow said, making a rather vague gesture with one hand. “I mean, the lay-out of the place, and the traditions going back hundreds of years, and so forth. Mornington picked up the monocle which hung from his neck on a black cord, breathed on it, polished it with a silk handkerchief, and screwed it into his right eye. He didn’t need the monocle—which was made of plain glass—since his eyesight was excellent. He used it solely for effect. With the aid of the monocle he surveyed the prospect. “Hm,” he said condescendingly. “Yes. It’s not a bad place, St Michael’s, suitable for lower orders. But of course I should have been at Trinity.” Two senior men passing heard the remark, and frowned. “What a type,” one of them said. “Running the college down when he hasn’t been here half a dog’s watch. The other nodded significantly in the direction of the fountain which played in the centre of the court. “Sounds to me as if he’s going to be a candidate for a ducking. Do you think the time is ripe?” “Not yet,” the first man grunted. “Wait till the weather’s cooler. I’d like to see the icicles hanging from that snooty nose of his.” Even the group of freshmen stirred uneasily at Mornington’s patronising attitude. “Why aren’t you at Trinity, then?” someone asked at the back. Mornington gave a faint shrug. “My brother’s there. We don’t want two members of this family in the same college. Might be a bit overpowering for the other chaps, what?” Eyebrows were raised at this.

A lot of fellows were going to hang around Mornington just because he was one of the nobility and appeared to have plenty of cash. A lot of other fellows, if his present behaviour was anything to go by, were going to give him a very wide berth. “Your brother’s Viscount Rushton, isn’t he,” a greasy-looking character called Snoad asked. “Captain of the University cricket team?” Mornington nodded languidly. “If I remember rightly, he got his blue as a freshman.” Snoad pursued. Snoad didn’t just “remember” the doing’s of members of the peerage at Cambridge. He spent a lot of time studying them up. He was the only second year man in the group clustered round the Honourable Piers. “And didn’t your father also show up pretty well in the sporting line?” he added. Mornington affected a yawn. “Yes, he was a wet-bob. Finished up as President of the Varsity Boat Club.” “Didn’t he get his blue as a freshman as well?” “You seem to be tolerably informed about my family’s murky past, Snoad,” the Hon. Piers drawled. “We must make you the official historian at Mornington House. “Official boot-licker, more like,” a voice murmured. “So what’s your object in all this, Piers?” someone cut in. “Are you going to follow in your father’s and brother’s footsteps and make a name for your self in the sporting world?” “I don’t need to make a name for myself,” the elegant freshman said. “But thoughts of getting a blue have vaguely crossed my mind.” “As a freshman?” asked Snoad. “Of course,” drawled Mornington. “Can’t allow myself to be outdone by my brother or the dear old earl, can I?” The others laughed uncertainly. They weren’t sure whether to take this seriously or not. “What are you going to specialise in, Piers? Tiddley-winks? Or shove ha’penny?” asked one of them. Just the faintest glint of something shone in Mornington’s eyes. But then the glint faded and he flicked an imaginary crumb from the lapel of his jacket. “As a matter of fact, I had athletics in mind. Do a bit of sprinting, y’know.” “Athletics? Sprinting? Good Grief!” There were dazed expressions all round. Nothing less like a sprinter than this elegant figure could ever be imagined. “But—but why athletics?” asked Snoad. “Oh, just as a change, y’know,” said Mornington. “I mean we’ve got an oarsman in the family and a cricketer already. I’d just like to strike out on my own.” “But have you done any running before?” asked a freshman. “Done any running? I should say not. Very vulgar pursuit. Fatiguing, and all that. If it weren’t for all this Blue nonsense I wouldn’t dream of it. Hang it, a gentleman never hurries. And the Hon. Piers Mornington suited action to the words by drifting slowly down the buttery steps and moving with languid grace across the court. The freshmen looked after him, still scratching their heads. “Beats me,” one of them said. “He can’t be serious, surely?” said another. “If you asked me to pick the sort of bloke who wouldn’t get an athletics Blue, the Hon. Piers would have been my first choice every time,” said the second man. “He still is my first choice,” Snoad said contemptuously. Now that the noble gentleman had left the group, the oil went out of his manner and was replaced by vinegar. “Mornington stands about as much chance of getting a Blue as—as—as—” Snoad paused, at a loss for a really telling comparison. “As you do, Snoad,” came a polite suggestion. The toady scowled. “Look, there’s a meeting of the College athletics club this evening after second Hall,” the polite voice went on. “Let’s drift in. If Mornington really is thinking of doing a track burning act, he’ll probably attend.” Unlike other sports such as football and cricket, athletics is organised at Cambridge primarily on a University basis. Each college has its own club of athletes, but it does not have a track. The track and field men must therefore join the University Athletics Club, which operates the track at Fenner’s, sharing the ground with the University Cricket Club. This season, the athletes have, for the first time in the history of the club, got their own track at Milton Road, so that although an athlete retains his college attachment, and competes for it in some races he performs for the most part on the wider stage of University sport.

THE LATECOMER

The meeting of St Michael’s College Athletics Club was attended mainly by rather earnest and nervous freshmen. It was held in the rooms of Parker, the president, and started at 9 p.m. Piers Mornington turned up at half-past. Parker had just finished explaining the athletics set-up to the first year men and had got on to the business of taking names when the door opened and the long, thin, monocled face showed round it. “Oh, ah,” Mornington said vaguely. “Is this where the running types are foregathering?” “Yes,” Parker said. “Come in.” Then he added, a little severely. “You’re rather late.” “Really?” The Hon. Piers raised an eyebrow. “Does it matter?” The condescending tone put Parker off his stroke. “It does if you’re interested in athletics,” he muttered. “And I suppose you are?” Mornington gestured gracefully. “Interested is too strong a word. Makes a chap sound terribly keen and hearty. I just thought I’d come along and offer to help the college out a bit.” Parker swallowed. “You did? That’s very good of you.” “Not a bit of it. St Michael’s has been in the doldrums lately, I understand. No doubt the senior fellows like yourself haven’t been doing very much. So it’s up to us freshmen to stage a revival, what?” Parker breathed heavily. He was a pole vaulter, quite a handy performer, and had just missed getting his Blue the previous year. “We senior fellows will watch the revival with interest,” he said sardonically. “By the way, what’s your event?” “My event?” Mornington stuck his monocle in his left eye. “I haven’t got one yet.” “You haven’t got an event?” Parker stuttered. “Do you mean to say you’ve come in shooting all this guff about reviving college athletics and you haven’t even done any running before?” The Hon. Piers shrugged. “I can’t see that previous experience is necessary. Dash it, running is only a matter of putting one foot in front of the other fairly quickly. I expect I shall be able to attain quite a fast speed.” “You expect to be able—” Parker fought for breath. This was the sort of recruit to the St Michael’s athletics fraternity that he’d never encountered before. “Oh, really. So you aim to be a sprinting star?” “I can’t say I care for your choice of words, old boy,” replied Mornington. “Stardom is the sort of thing a Hollywood actor aims at, not a member of the Mornington family. But you have the gist of the thing.” “The short distances are what I shall go in for, hundred yards, two-twenty yards, that sort of thing. Anything longer than that would be such a beastly grind, don’t you think?” “Indeed,” Parker’s eyes had a glazed look. “We shall watch your performances with interest. Is there any particular standard you’re aiming at?” “Only a standard high enough to qualify for a Blue.” “Only a standard—” Not for the first time in this interview Parker found words failing him. “You’d like to get your Blue for the sprints?” “Your analysis of the situation is masterly.” “There’s only one small obstacle in your way,” rapped Parker. “We already happen to have two sprint Blues in residence, Craven and Markham. They happen to be pretty good. The regulations don’t make provision for a third man in the sprint team.” The Hon. Piers put a hand to his mouth to conceal a yawn. “Then it looks as if one or other of Messrs. Craven and Markham will have to give way, doesn’t it?” Parker turned away, defeated. Mornington glanced towards the rest of the company, prepared to bid them a genial good-night. His brows contracted ever so faintly as he observed them. Except for Parker, every man in the room had taken out a half-crown piece and screwed it into one of his eyes in imitation of Mornington’s monocle. The effect was ludicrous. The mickey was being taken out of the Honourable Piers. Unless he had an answer to this mockery, he was going to find himself hounded by fellows wearing half-crowns in their eyes. The slight tension in his manner relaxed. He took the monocle from his eye, polished it and poised it in his fingers. Then, with the little piece of circular glass still attached to its cord, he threw it a little way above his head, reached forward and caught it in his eye socket as it fell. “Now do that, you horrible little men,” he said, and made a leisurely exit. Parker shook his head after him. “What a character. I can’t see him even starting an athletics career, let alone persisting with it.

THE WRONG ROOM

When the Honourable Piers turned up at Fenners’ two days later he found that his fame, or perhaps notoriety, had preceded him. Track-suited athletes looked round as the elegant figure ascended the wooden pavilion steps, pitted by so many generations of spike-shod runners and booted cricketers. When he paid his subcription at the desk and announced his name and college, there were cynical smiles. Parker had been busy talking to some of the senior men in the Cambridge University Athletics Club, known as the C.U.A.C. They were waiting to see how this hothouse flower would make out. Parker himself happened to be standing near the desk while Mornington went through the formalities. “So at least you’ve turned up at Fenner’s?” he said. “Was there any doubt in your mind?” asked Mornington. “Frankly, yes. I thought you might jib at the hard work,” replied Parker. The Hon. Piers fixed him with a cold stare. “The only thing I’m likely to jib at is the company.” Parker swallowed the insult. He began to realise that he wasn’t likely to get very far in any verbal duel with this freshman. “The dressing-room where we change is upstairs,” he said brusquely. “That’s the dressing-room for the colleges in Division II. The Division I boys strip downstairs. Their accommodation is a bit better.” “Short-sighted of you not to try harder to get St Michael’s into Division I, then,” Mornington drawled, screwing his monocle firmly into his eye as he headed for the changing accommodation. “Phew!” one of Parker’s friends said. “I see what you mean about that fellow now. Quite the one-eyed monster, isn’t he?” Mornington didn’t think much of the upstairs changing accommodation. Descending to the basement, he found that Division I were certainly better off, but not to the extent where he was particularly enamoured by their living space. On the way back upstairs, however, he looked through a doorway into what seemed a very pleasant changing room. It was big and spacious, a cheering coal fire glowed in a big grate, and the most attractive thing about it was that nobody seemed to be using it. “This is more like it,” the Hon. Piers murmured, selecting a peg and dumping his bag on a bench. Humming a tune he took off his jacket and began to unloose his bow tie. A heavy tread sounded on the wooden floor. Mornington turned to find that a giant of a man had entered the room. Cragg, the Cambridge’s first string in the shot putt, weighed fifteen stone and didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. “Who do you think you are?” Cragg asked. The Hon. Piers gave a haughty stare. “I’m not used to being addressed in a tone like that, but my name’s Mornington.” “And what do you think you’re doing here?” Mornington’s eyes narrowed. “I should have thought that was apparent even to the meanest intelligence. I’m changing.” “Then go and change somewhere else.” The Hon. Piers removed the bow tie and hung it neatly over the peg. “Your attitude is offensive, my man. Kindly remove yourself.” Cragg began to go a dangerous shade of purple. A smaller giant appeared alongside him. This was Baxter, the University’s second string shot putter. He weighed a mere fourteen stone. “What’s up, Craggers?” he asked. “This prize prune here, fellow called Mornington or something. He’s just barged in here and made himself at home. I’m going to take him apart.” “No, wait.” Baxter came forward. “Probably you don’t know the ropes,” he addressed the Hon. Piers. “But this is the Blues’ changing room. It’s reserved for men who’ve represented the University. The humbler ranks of athletes use one of the other changing rooms, according to their division. “It’s a hard thing to have to say in this democratic world, discrimination and all that, but I’m afraid we’re old-fashioned jokers in this club. We keep the best facilities for the best men. Now that your error has been explained, perhaps you will kindly beetle off?” Piers Mornington hesitated. He was in the wrong, but he hated admitting that he’d made a mistake. Cragg flexed his muscles. “Of course,” he said, “if you’d rather be thrown out.” Mornington gathered his things together again with an air of disdain. “I find this room very attractive,” he said, “but the habitués of it leave something to be desired.” “Why, you—!” Cragg burst out, stepping forward. Mornington gave him a level stare, and the giant shot-putter paused in mid-stride. It suddenly occurred to Cragg that, under this newcomer’s languid and insolent exterior, there was a shaft of steel. He wasn’t such a fool as he looked. “I thought you were going to bounce him, George,” Baxter said, looking after the tall, lean departing figure. “Changed my mind,” Cragg said shortly. As a rule, unless a freshman distinguished himself in the world of athletics before coming up to Cambridge, he doesn’t attract much attention during his first few weeks at Fenner’s. The president and secretary and members of the committee look over the new arrivals from a distance, as it were, waiting to see how they shape in competition. Generally, the freshman is given to understand that he is a low order of creation, and that he ought to conduct himself with suitable humility. The Hon. Piers Mornington departed from custom in two ways. He didn’t conduct himself with humility, and he attracted the attention of the big brass. Attracted it unfavourably, it need hardly be added.

TRACK TROUBLE

People had wondered whether the St Michael’s freshman would turn out in some fanciful athletic kit, but when he stepped down to the track, the Hon. Piers was rigged out quite normally in a white track suit with a college scarf wound round his neck. His progress round the track, however, wasn’t quite so normal. Other athletes trundled round in a loose, relaxed way as they warmed up. Mornington moved with a stiff, mincing, high-stepping motion. Parker stared. “What’s the matter with him? He’s like a cat on hot bricks.” George Cragg grunted disgustedly. “Ah, he’ll never make a runner. He’s just one of those lah-di-dah, show-off types.” Parker looked doubtful. “Yes, maybe. All I’m wondering is why such a type should bother to come to Fenner’s at all.” “I bet he won’t be coming long,” Cragg replied. While Mornington was doing his tour of the track, there was activity at the far end of the two hundred yards straight. Several of the seniors were going to do a timed trail. They got Parker over to start them. While the runners were stripping, the president blew his whistle and waved his hand as a signal to clear that particular stretch of track. Men who were jog-trotting along it hopped off the cinders on to the grass middle. Everyone, that is, except the Hon. Piers Mornington. He came round the bend on to the straight and minced his way along the cinders, ignoring all Parker’s frantic shouting and whistle-blowing. Everyone on the ground could see what was happening. A trial had to be held up while one runner deliberately hogged the straight over which it was to take place. Parker bottled up his wrath until the track was clear for the trial to take place, got his runners away, and then darted across the grass to catch Mornington up. “You fool!” he exploded, grabbing him by the arm and forcing him to halt. “Didn’t you hear me whistling and see me waving for you to clear off the track?” “I did,” the Hon. Piers replied coolly. “Then why the thunder didn’t you?” “Because I chose to do otherwise. It wasn’t in any way an official trial, was it?” “No, but—” “Then I don’t see that those fellows had any more right to monopolise the track than I have. Now, if you don’t mind, Parker, I’ll continue with my training.” Parker was too flabbergasted to think of any really biting retort. But the anger in him didn’t subside. This freshman was too big for his boots. Something had to be done to cut him down to size. The opportunity came a little while later. Some of the freshmen of St Michael’s who had put themselves down as potential sprinters, decided to have a go over the hundred yards. They invited Mornington to join them. To Parker’s surprise, he accepted the invitation. The blocks were brought down to the line. “Will you start us, Parker?” one of them asked. He nodded and told them to get their blocks into position. “I suppose you know what these are for?” he said sarcastically to Mornington, indicating the supports on which sprinters rest their feet so as to make a fast getaway. “To cure fallen arches,” Mornington replied, expressionless, hammering in the big nails which would keep the blocks firm on the cinders. One of the men sniggered, and parker flushed. He watched while the freshman got down to the blocks in a much more experienced and did a rather languid practice run. While he was trotting down the track, Parker leaned over, took the hammer, and levered the nails out. The blocks were exactly as Mornington had left them, except that they were no longer firmly anchored to the cinders. By the time the runner came back to the starting line, Parker was back on the grass, preparing to give the starting orders. “Get to your marks.” The half dozen men shuffled down into their crouching positions, heads bent, fingers on the white lines, bodies horizontal. “Set.” The runners leaned forward balancing themselves on finger tips. “Go!” Five men shot forward from the blocks. In the case of the sixth, as soon as pressure was put on the blocks, those supports shot backwards! For the half-second or so that a sprinter takes to get from his crouching position into the full running attitude, he relies on the drive from the blocks or starting holes to keep him from falling flat on his face. But in Piers Mornington’s case there was no such drive. As soon as he made the effort to kick away, he knew what had happened but was helpless to prevent the consequences. While five runners strode away down the track, the Hon. Piers Mornington sprawled humiliatingly and painfully on the cinders! A shout of laughter went up from the whole of Fenner’s. Curious to see how this strange bird would perform, a lot of men had been watching the start of the trial. George Cragg roared with laughter. “I said the fellow would never make a runner. Parker certainly got his own back on Mornington. “What do you think he’ll do now?” a man standing next to Cragg asked. “Burst into tears?” Mornington had picked himself up from the track, wiping the dust from his hands and knees. His expression hadn’t changed, except that his face whitened a little when he heard the laughter. “I congratulate you on your sense of humour,” he said to Parker. “Now would you mind giving me a proper start? Without blocks, this time.” A joke is never such a joke if the victim refuses to see the point of it. Looking a little shame-faced, Parker repeated his starting orders. The other members of Fenner’s were still watching. At the word “Go!” they saw the tall lean figure suddenly hurtle away from the line into violent action. It was action quite unlike the previous mincing, jog-trot round the track. This action had power in it and a good deal of authority. Mornington ate up the hundred yards track with great devouring strides. He looked in a different class from the five men who had just preceded him. There was some roughness in his style, but there was no hesitancy in his purpose. He did the run in silence. When it was over, fellows turned and looked at each other with raised eyebrows. “I thought you said he would never make a runner,” George Cragg’s neighbour said. “Looks to me as if he is one already!”

The Light Blue Streak 14 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1807 – 1820 (1960)

 

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2005