Published: Tammy 26 May 1973 to 28 July 1973 (skipped 7 July 1973)
Artist: Miguel Quesada
Translations/reprints: None known
At Oldfield Orphanage School Lucy Townsend is the school klutz. She is constantly late, making a mess of things and putting her foot in it. So Lucy is really surprised when she is chosen for a benefactor-paid school trip to Switzerland. The headmistress says this is because Lucy has been deemed the most in need of a change of scene and it is hoped the trip will help her change her ways. As it turns out, it does. But of course it is very far from the way everyone thinks – or even expects.
An escort is supposed to be waiting for Lucy at Victoria Station. But the man is an imposter who proceeds to kidnap Lucy and render her unconscious. When Lucy regains consciousness, she finds herself in the household of Mrs Sage, who hired the man (and doesn’t pay him) to switch Lucy’s identity with that of her daughter Sandra. Sandra is facing borstal, so Mrs Sage pulled the identity switch in order to send Lucy to the borstal in Sandra’s place. Eventually it is revealed that Mrs Sage’s job at the orphanage enabled her to acquire the information she needed about Lucy and the trip to pull off the switch.
Sandra, disguised as Lucy, goes to Switzerland in her place. But although Sandra looks like Lucy, in Switzerland she makes no attempt whatsoever to act like Lucy or convince anyone that she is a nice girl. In terms of behaviour she is still the same old Sandra. Her difficult behaviour is soon getting on everyone’s nerves. They are really surprised to discover she cannot even read or write properly. So, assuming Sandra is not dyslexic or something, this shows how much the Sages have bothered with schooling. Indeed, Sandra not even trying to be a good imposter implies that she is not very clever. In fact, Sandra even brags to one girl about the switch. Unfortunately the girl does not believe it and thinks it’s just a leg-pull. Sandra is soon up to her delinquent behaviour too, and people are soon finding things are going missing.
Back in England, nobody listens to Lucy’s protests that she is not Sandra and how she has been kidnapped and her identity switched with Sandra’s – except one. In the courtroom, probation officer Mrs Bolfry has doubts because Lucy does not sound like Sandra, but she is not 100% convinced. The Sage parents pull all sorts of tricks and lies to convince the court that ‘Sandra’ is unmanageable and delinquent. Lucy tries to escape from them, but is recaptured with the help of a criminal friend of theirs. The court sentences her to six months in borstal.
Mrs Bolfry had made a tape recording of Lucy’s voice. The more she listens to it, the more her doubts grow. She takes the recording to the orphanage for the headmistress to listen to and get her opinion. But the headmistress is away on a school camp in Wales, and the receptionist does not offer any help.
At the borstal, Lucy meets an old friend of Sandra’s, Babs Brown. Babs is a tearaway and a hard case, and she is not impressed to see ‘Sandra’ looks like she is trying to go straight. Lucy gets two days in the detention room because of Babs’ tricks. Then, when Babs comes into the cell with food, Lucy uses strong-arm tactics to get something out of her – anything – that will help prove she is not Sandra. Babs recalls that Sandra has a birthmark on her right shoulder, and when Lucy shows that she has no such birthmark, Babs becomes the first to believe she is not Sandra. After hearing Lucy’s story, Babs helps to smuggle her out of borstal in a laundry basket. It’s a hoary trick, but it works. The trouble is, the laundry man sees her get out of the basket and calls the borstal.
Lucy plans to get back to the orphanage where everyone knows her and can help her prove her identity. But all the people there who knew her are away on the camp and the man at the door tells her to clear off. Mrs Bolfry is Lucy’s only hope now and she heads off to find a phone box.
Meanwhile, the police inform Mrs Sage about the escape. Guessing that Lucy is heading for the orphanage, she and her accomplice head out there, where they intercept Lucy at the phone box before she can put the call through to Mrs Bolfry. However, Lucy manages to scare them off with a bluff that she got through to the orphanage and they are on their way to collect her.
Lucy decides to jump a train to Mrs Bolfry instead, but the Sages see her trying to do so and realised she tricked them. Lucy sees the flunky chasing her and manages to get aboard the train before he nabs her. But when Lucy arrives at the Law Courts she finds the police informing Mrs Bolfry about her escape, and from the sound of things, this is making Mrs Bolfry doubt Lucy’s claims that she is not Sandra.
However, when Lucy appeals to Mrs Bolfry, she finds Mrs Bolfry still has sufficient suspicions to give her a chance. They contact the orphanage to find out where everyone is gone. They find everyone has gone to the Welsh mountains and head out there. Unfortunately Mrs Sage and her accomplice have guessed Lucy was heading for Mrs Bolfry and managed to trace her to the Law Courts. Worse, Lucy spots the man who had foiled her when she first tried to escape from the Sages. And she realises he has seen her head off with Mrs Bolfry.
Back at the borstal, Babs tells the governor that the escapee is not Sandra Sage and urges her to check out a girl going under the name of ‘Lucy Townsend’ at a school in Switzerland. The governor puts a call through to Mrs Bolfry about it and finds she has disappeared.
The man catches up with Mrs Bolfry and Lucy when the car breaks down. He tries to blackmail Mrs Bolfry for aiding and abetting. She calls his bluff and tells him to clear off, because she is convinced enough to take the risk. They fix the car and are soon on their way again. When they stop at a motorway café, the man tries to blackmail Mrs Bolfry again. This frightens Lucy into running away and head out to the school camp on her own. Meanwhile, the man is frightened off when the local inspector overhears and gets suspicious. Mrs Bolfry informs him of her suspicions.
Lucy makes her way to the school camp and convinces the headmistress of who she is despite her altered appearance. Mrs Bolfry and the inspector arrive in time to overhear this, which finally convinces Mrs Bolfry that Lucy is telling the truth. But when they tackle Mrs Sage, she denies everything. So they head to Switzerland to check things out, dragging the protesting Mrs Sage along.
Meanwhile, the girls have realised that ‘Lucy’ is doing the stealing. Hearing this, Sandra does a runner on skis. The girls give chase, as do the police when Sandra tries to sell the stolen goods and the man gets suspicious. A snowstorm is setting in, so Sandra takes refuge in a ski hut. She still has the stolen goods, which she intends to deal with after the weather clears. The girls cannot pursue because one of them has been hurt. So they head back to inform the headmistress, who has now been met by the police inquiry from England.
Lucy insists on being the one to confront Sandra, despite the snowstorm. The owner of the hut, Marcus, takes her there in his dog sleigh. They see warning signs of a potential avalanche on some chalets and Marcus sets off to warn the chalet owners. But there is no stopping the dogs from going to the hut, and they are dragging Lucy along on the sleigh. And without Marcus, Lucy is all on her own against Sandra.
At the hut, Lucy confronts Sandra and gives chase when Sandra tries to run. Then the avalanche starts and they get caught in it. Lucy manages to get out, but Sandra is unconscious. Seeing this, Mrs Sage finally gives herself away when she cries out for her daughter, and it is clear she is referring to the girl who looks like Lucy Townsend. Mrs Sage and the recovered Sandra (still looking like Lucy!) are sent back to England to face charges. The judge calls the whole plot “deplorable”; the sentences he passes are not revealed. Lucy is finally able to enjoy Switzerland. She still looks like Sandra, but the alterations should fade in time.
Serials about fugitives and escapes from prisons and other corrective institutions have always been popular and are one of my own favourite types of serials. Added to this one you have the identity switch, the protagonist battling to prove her identity and escape the borstal she has been thrown into, and double trouble in the form of an imposter who is blackening her name with the crimes she is committing under the identity she has stolen. There is plenty of action and excitement, with chase scenes on both sides, and the final confrontation that occurs in the face of danger for both Lucy and her evil double. It all occurs at a cracking pace that is very tightly plotted. It does not get drawn out with Lucy encountering constant setbacks and failed attempts to prove her identity, though of course the road to get there is not smooth sailing. This is a story you just have to love.
There have been plenty of stories where a girl’s identity is switched with another’s. Sometimes it occurs accidentally (Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud), and sometimes it’s deliberate, as is the case here. Most often the girl faces constant frustration and failure in her attempts to prove her identity, which are sometimes compounded by the handicap of losing her voice (Curtain of Silence), and she makes no headway until the end of the story. It’s a very common way of spinning this type of story out. But this story is an exception, and it makes a refreshing change. Lucy is more fortunate in that she makes progress early on in the story, despite the Sages, what with planting the seeds of doubt in Mrs Bolfry’s mind. At the borstal, Lucy is quick to make a breakthrough – not to mention a breakout – by meeting Babs, who happened to know Sandra and could provide Lucy with information to help her distinguish herself from Sandra. Lucy herself knows people who can help her prove her identity. Unfortunately they all just happen to be away at the moment, and she has to chase them up before the police or Sages chase her down.
By helping Lucy, Mrs Bolfry becomes in effect a fugitive herself. As the blackmailer said, what she is doing is technically aiding and abetting, and she is putting her career and freedom on the line by helping Lucy. But Mrs Bolfry persists because she has enough faith to take the risk, and we all applaud her for her courage and balls in doing what she felt was right, and really putting her neck out in order to do it.
Commendations must also be given to Babs Brown. She is initially set up as a rough, delinquent, and unsympathetic character. To make her even more unsympathetic, she gets poor Lucy sent to the detention room for something she did. But Babs redeems herself once she believes Lucy is not Sandra by helping her make the escape she so badly needed to do. Babs also tries to make headway with the authorities in helping Lucy prove her identity. It does not sound like Babs got very far there, but at least she tried and she redeemed herself even further.
The story does not dwell on the borstal much; the plotting is kept very tight and brief there, and it moves quickly to Lucy’s escape. This is very sensible story writing. From what we see of the borstal, it is not a sadistic reformatory that tortures its inmates with cruel severity as in Merry at Misery House, nor do we see any cruel guards who like to torment the inmates for their own amusement. But then, Lucy does not stay there long before her escape. There is no constant frustration with failed escapes. No, Lucy is out and running from the borstal on the first attempt.
The reason Lucy is in the borstal is unconventional. Usually the protagonist is in the borstal or other penal institution because she has been wrongly convicted, such as Merry Summers in “Misery House”. But in this case the protagonist is there because her identity has been switched with the true delinquent’s. The battle is to prove her identity, not prove her innocence or expose dreadful prison conditions, as Merry is constantly trying to do.
Once Sandra gets to work in Switzerland, we have to wonder why her mother even bothered to pull the switch in the first place. Sandra just hasn’t got the brains to be a good imposter. Although Sandra looks like Lucy she does not even bother to act like her or even try to fool the girls into thinking she is nice. She remains her horrible self, so it’s very easy for suspicion to fall on her once the thefts start. She’s soon on the run as a wanted thief and can’t carry on at the school, which she would be expelled from and sent home. She’s in trouble with the Swiss authorities and could face their version of borstal. She is causing the whole plot to unravel at her end, all because she did not have the brains or inclination to pull off a convincing impersonation. In effect, Sandra just transferred her criminal traits to a new setting under a new identity instead of using her new identity to start a new life in hiding from the borstal as her parents intended. Evidently, although Sandra is a criminal, her mother did not teach her much in how to be a clever one. But it was all just as well for the real Lucy Townsend; it helped her to convince people about the identity switch.
It is pretty predictable that the ordeal turns Lucy around. She is not a problematic or selfish girl as many other protagonists start out as before their nightmare begins. She’s just a klutz and a bit thoughtless, which makes things a bit different. These faults are aggravating, but they are very minor and they don’t make Lucy unsympathetic at the beginning of the story. Naturally, these problems disappear instantly once Lucy’s ordeal begins and she becomes courageous, resourceful, quick-thinking girl. On the whole, Lucy is a good sort right from the start. This would have helped her even more in distinguishing herself from the delinquent Sandra and proving her identity.