“CHRISTABEL LEIGHTON-PORTER was the model for the Daily Mirror’s wartime strip cartoon “Jane”; the character’s lightly-clad adventures with the Security Service were credited with maintaining the morale of the Forces and even, on the morning in 1944 when she first appeared nude, with inspiring the 36th Division to advance six miles through Normandy in a single day.
“Jane” had first begun in 1932 as “Jane’s Journal – The Diary of a Society Girl”, a pocket cartoon drawn by Norman Pett, who used his wife Mary as the model. But by the late 1930s the Mirror wanted to use it in panel form and with more risque content, and when Mary Pett’s attention suddenly turned to golf, her husband began to look for a new model. In late 1939, on a visit to his old art school in Birmingham, he found her when he saw the blonde Christabel Leighton-Porter posing for a life class.
Throughout the Second World War Jane’s scrapes and escapades raised spirits on the Home Front and proved a tonic for the troops, with whom she rapidly became a pin-up, appearing on the side of tanks and aircraft. Submarines left port with several months’ advance supply of strip, which was doled out to them in a daily ration.
Christabel Leighton-Porter liked to believe that the character’s popularity was due to her healthy, girl-next-door appeal, but in truth Jane’s admirers (as ever with the British male) were won over by the amount of flesh on view.
Jane was forever shutting her skirt in doors, reaching for her towel in the bath, or romping unclad in tropical ponds. Even the slightest breeze could reduce her to a bra and frilly cami-knickers. Her honour was guarded only by her faithful dachshund, Fritz. (It also remained a well kept secret that the model for Jane had in fact been Mrs Arthur Leighton-Porter, wife of a civil engineer, since 1934.)
The success of the cartoon led to other opportunities for Christabel Leighton-Porter. She won the title of “Britain’s Perfect Girl” at the London Palladium, and was soon on the books of Lew and Leslie Grade. Then in the early 1940s, she began to tour in a burlesque stage show based on the cartoon.
This proved very popular with wartime audiences, although the Lord Chamberlain, as the official censor, was concerned about the amount of clothing removed. Christabel Leighton-Porter tried to persuade him that in a bikini scene she could remove her top with her back to the audience and then cover herself with her hands before turning round.
“I see,” said the Lord Chamberlain, looking sceptically at her embonpoint. “You must have very large hands.”
In 1949, Christabel Leighton-Porter appeared in the screen version of The Adventures of Jane, but once Pett moved to the Sunday Despatch in 1948 and “Jane” was taken over by Michael Hubbard, the strip itself began to decline in popularity.
There was a great outcry by Mirror readers when attempts were first made to withdraw it but finally, in October 1959, Jane rowed off into the sunset to start married life with her beau, Georgie-Porgie. Christabel Leighton-Porter, however, remained identified with the character for the rest of her life, and to those who had adored her during the war she never stopped being “Jane”.
She was born Christabel Jane Drewry, one of twin sisters and the youngest of 11 children, on April 11 1913 at Eastleigh, Hampshire. Her father was employed in the town’s carriage works.
She attended local schools and then in her late teens became an artist’s model, not being tall enough to go into the fashion side of the business. She was soon posing for life classes at London art colleges, and in her spare time entered beauty contests, once winning the title of “Venus of Kent”.
She made her last variety appearances in the early 1960s and after several years in Bermuda settled down to family life in Horsham, West Sussex, where she was active in local life, a familiar face at jumble-sales and the local Conservative Association.
In the early 1980s, “Jane” was revived in a BBC television series starring Glynis Barber, and with the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Britain soon afterwards, Christabel Leighton-Porter was once more in demand for interviews. Reporters found a lively, glamorous blonde who had kept her looks, and subsequently she appeared at many wartime reunions and functions at the Imperial War Museum.
She is survived by her husband and their son.” (Obituary courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)
Alan Pollock’s Notes:
“Jane’ was the model for the Daily Mirror’s legendary ‘Jane’ cartoon by Birmingham Central School of Art’s artist Norman Pett. A brilliantly drawn, tasteful pin-up and darling of a nation at war, mascot to the RAF and many fighting units (at times with ‘Fritzi’, her dachshund). ‘Jane’ was copied onto posters, fighting vehicles, aircraft and some ships and her strip in the Daily Mirror was described as ‘worth at least two divisions’ for morale in the front line. A petite blonde, Mrs Chrystabel Leighton-Porter took over from the original, Mary (Norman’s wife), and the cartoon strip symbolised, like Dame Vera Lynn’s voice over the airwaves, those strong intangible bonds between the young soldiers, sailors and airmen of the overseas fighting fronts, and the often equally involved Home Front of sweethearts, families, civilians ‘doing their bit’ to defend the realm, secure some sort of normality and then hasten the war’s end, in factories, workplaces, schools and millions of homes across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. [ARP]