In wartime Britain, the cartoon heroine "Jane" appeared regularly in The Daily Mirror and boosted morale during the Blitz and thereafter by taking her clothes off during periods of bad news. It was said that the first British armored vehicle ashore on D-Day carried a large representation of a naked Jane. She'd finally lost the last vestiges of her modesty during the Normandy campaign in 1944, inspiring soldiers to say that "Jane had given her all." Prime Minister Winston jokingly dubbed Jane "Britain's secret weapon" in homage to her role in raising and maintaining morale.

   But who was Jane?

   Yes, she was the woman who kept British soldiers smiling through their gloomiest hours, and one story comes to mind that best illustrates her effect on those in the armed services. A British submarine had been attacked, and was crippled and powerless on the bottom of the ocean. Sea currents swirled round the vessel and there was always the chance the enemy would swoop in for the kill. The crew inside fully expected the vessel to become their tomb, but knew how they wanted to spend their last moments. A request was put in to the captain. The submariners wanted to live out what time remained gazing at pictures, currently in his safe, of a stunningly beautiful woman from Eastleigh, Hampshire. Their commanding officer obliged and the images of the supremely sexy Christabel Leighton-Porter, aka "Jane," were distributed.

   Unbelievably, this particular maritime incident had a happy ending. It was eventually possible to refloat the stricken sub and the crew returned to the safety of dry land. And this is just one of dozens of similar tales which reveal how the A-grade assets of this classy Hampshire lady were a direct hit with the armed forces.

   Mention Christabel's name to younger generations today and you're sure to receive blank looks. But the impact of her wide smile and superb physical statistics on WW II troops cannot be underestimated. In the fight against fascism, maintaining the morale of service personnel in a climate of relentless death, rationing, and destruction was practically as vital as having enough ammunition.

   Christabel was, quite simply, Britain's first bona fide sex bomb. She was the model for the Daily Mirror's  Jane  cartoon. Every day the deliciously curvy character and her dachshund Fritz were involved in a short, light-hearted adventure. Frame by frame, layers of her clothing would be mysteriously (perhaps illogically) shed, leaving Jane left completely bare, sometimes in front of an entire battalion. (Which was the precisely the point!)

   The cartoon's prominence was such that submarine captains were given copies of the strips weeks in advance so their crews didn't miss out on any crucial developments — it were these strips that were given out by the commanding officer in the story of the doomed men related above. There's no denying that in the dark days of the war a sex interest for "the boys" was vital. But warfare fuelled by coursing hormones was nothing new. You only have to cast an eye over history to see Paris getting fierce in the name of Helen of Troy and the great Roman soldier, Anthony, wielding his sword around for his love of Cleopatra. Though Jane certainly made male hearts pound faster, she clearly inhabited a smut-free zone. There was a sense of innocence about the cartoons and the heroine's honor always remained unsullied.

   As the inspiration for Jane, photographs of Christabel were everywhere, slapped on the walls of mess halls and bars all over the country. Her image was painted on aeroplanes and daubed on jeeps. Fan mail flooded the Daily Mirror's Fleet Street offices and whenever she put in a personal appearance, she ended up in the center of a churning sea of uniforms.

   In a gesture of ultimate support for the war effort, Christabel did her first nude photo session for the Mirror just after D-Day. A few days later, high above the Allied push in France, a lone plane circled before dropping fat bundles of the newspaper for the troops fighting below. There followed an understandable lull in the fighting, before it resumed with a certain renewed vigor. When the pictures reached troops in Burma, history records that the 36th Division stormed forward six miles in one day.

   Christabel remained slightly startled by the strong reaction her figure and face prompted, but was clearly delighted that her beauty propelled bomber crews through perilous raids across the English Channel and deep into Germany. She recalled transfixing an entire regiment during an appearance and recording 62 marriage proposals in one week. "I didn't even think about it," she said of the sexual aspect to her work. "Wherever I have been, people have asked why it was so popular. It's something I have never been able to answer. It was done in such a way that made Jane a real person. It was more what you didn't see, not what you did. I was always treated with the greatest respect."

   At a gathering of Second World War veterans at the Special Operations Executive 60th Anniversary, SOE men stood gazing at her still beautiful face, then gently mobbed her for autographs. Later she was to be found sitting surrounded by admirers reminiscing with a stack of her semiclad snaps from that era. "They still treat me as if I'm 18 or 19. The nostalgia just goes on and on. They practically ate me alive ... ."

   There is story upon story showing the extent of Christabel's popularity and allure. One of dozens of letters she received over the years tells how exhausted and traumatized soldiers returning to East Anglia from the horrific Battle of Arnheim were offered baths and beds, but just wanted to read about Jane. "They stumbled off the aircraft ... some of them kissed the turf; all they wanted was the Daily Mirror," she says.

   Born a twin in 1919, she was one of 11 children, of whom only eight survived. Christabel recalls a much smaller Eastleigh, surrounded by fields and hedgerows, where she could grow to love the countryside and while away the days, without a care in the world, playing tennis and swimming. The great transformation in Christabel's life took place just after she left school. She went to stay with her sister in London and decided to earn a few pounds by modelling for art students. "When I first posed nude, it felt rather strange. But I soon realized that, as far as the artists were concerned, I might as well be a flower vase, so I didn't feel as though I had been ogled."

   Meanwhile, cartoonist Norman Pett was producing a weekly single frame in the London Daily Mirror entitled "Jane's Journal — The Diary of A Bright Young Thing." His wife was his original model, but she was a keen golfer and her love of the links swung her decision to plump up for plus-fours rather than posing for pinups. Then, in 1940 Pett came across a naked Christabel resplendent in front of a class of students at his old art school. "That's Jane," he exclaimed. And the partnership and a new racier cartoon strip were born. Pett had created the original Jane way back in 1932, and she made her first appearance in the Mirror on December 5 of that year. In 1938, Don Freeman started writing for the comic, adding to its continuity. Jane was drawn in a simple cartoon pen style very similar to the post–WW I (1919) cartoons of Rene Giffey (1884-1965) and his French society magazine colleagues and their lineal descendents, the 1930s Spicy pulps containing such artists as Max Plaisted (Diana Daw), Joseph Sokoli (Polly of the Plains), and Adolphe Barreaux (Sally Sleuth). The amount of danger surrounding Jane was always mild, and the amount of skin she exposed and her own awareness of her role in her misadventures cycled up and down through the years — the basic rule of thumb being the more unaware she was of her sexuality, the more skin she could show. In 1948, Pett's assistant Michael Hubbard took over the comic, and Pett devoted himself to a new stripping character, "Susie," which he drew for The Sunday Dispatch. Hubbard tried to update Jane with a Rip Kirby– styled realism, but his changes were met with decreasing interest by British audiences who were getting such double-take sex-served comedy elsewhere, including television. Eventually, on October 10, 1959, Jane disappeared after marrying her beau.

   Christabel reflected, "Young people cannot understand what all the fuss was. But during the war, there was a different atmosphere, different feelings. Jane had a cult following. It was so important to the boys. I loved the fuss that was made of me. But I was always amazed by the strip's popularity. And when people said 'Oh, you don?t know how much Jane means to us?,' I was overwhelmed."

   Yet the cartoon strip and personal appearances were just the half of it. Built on the back of her coverage — or rather her lack of covering — in The Daily Mirror, Christabel also had a hugely successful stage show. As Hitler's bombs rained down on London, thespians fled the West End to places where there were safer boards to tread, leaving many theatres starless. When they moved out, Christabel and her leggie chorus girls danced in, and to great effect. They were able to side-step a law banning naked women from moving around on stage by wheeling her out on a sledge, parading her around, then pushing her off again. "It was quite a naughty show for those days," Christabel recalled. "A chorus girl stood in the wings with a fur coat for me."

   If the entertainment was near the knuckle, then Christabel's journey home, with the real-life Fritz, often turned into a white-knuckle ride. She cycled part of the way, dodging bombs, with her dog sitting in a front basket. The show toured much of the country and a busy itinerary was made yet more hectic by invitations to visit service installations wherever she was playing.

   Christabel's favorite moment from the fame of being Jane occurred when the sexy showgirl, for once demurely dressed, met the then Lord Chamberlain. "Tell me my dear," asked the head of the royal household, "what do you do in your act?" "Well," explained Christabel, "at one stage I turn my back to the audience, take off my bra, and then cover my breasts with my hands as I turn 'round." There was a momentary silence, before the King's sidekick replied, "You must have very large hands."

   Christabel died on December 6, 2000.

Reprinted from A Strip for Victory by Ali Kefford [ original article ].

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