Lights Out for Lucinda (1975-76)

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Published: Tammy 6 December 1975 to 7 February 1976

Episodes: 10 single episodes, 1 double episode

Artist: Ken Houghton

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Rich girl Lucinda Prior is a spoiled brat, and she guzzles a lot too (not to the proportions of Bessie Bunter but still telling). She has her chauffeur drive out to where her father is having a meeting, which is oddly in the middle of nowhere on the moor. She is surprised to find soldiers on the moor, who tell her they guard a site of a ghost town called Blackmarket, which has been sealed off because WW2 top secret gas manufacturing made it toxic.

Lucinda then finds her chauffeur has stranded her on the moor. He did so because he got fed up with her bratty behaviour. He didn’t give a thought that this could put her in danger, which it does when a mist rises and she gets lost, and then she falls into a river. She washes up in Blackmarket.

Lucinda is astonished to find Blackmarket inhabited by people who are still living in World War II, right down to thinking they’re living in the Blitz. Blackmarket is surrounded by guards who ensure nobody ever leaves, even to the point of opening fire on them. The Blackmarket people say nobody is allowed to leave because the work they do is top secret. They don’t listen when Lucinda tries to tell them the war has long since ended. Soon Lucinda finds she’s in a virtual madhouse with nothing but 12-hour shifts in a WW2 factory, with constant blackouts, no street lighting, stuffy rooms from the blackouts, lack of decent food, and sections of the place that do look bombed-out. It’s all women and girls around her; all the men apparently off to war. Any men present are the army guards, seen only at a distance, and the sneaky spivs (black marketeers).

Certainly a shock to the system for anyone, but Lucinda’s spoiled behaviour is making it even harder for her to handle it. She is expected to pitch in and help the war effort with factory work, and is mortified to work alongside the unwashed and dirtying her hands. But the factory forewoman, Mrs Drew, isn’t the sort to take no for an answer. Moreover, Miss Guzzler is now faced with wartime rations, which lack nutrition and taste. Her spoiled conduct has them calling her “Her Ladyship”. 

Lucinda quickly switches to playing along as best she can, saying she’s confused and suffering memory loss after London bombing, which serves well as a cover for her not having the ID card they keep demanding or ration books. But she still hasn’t broken the pattern of her old behaviour, and is also taking advantage of good-natured people who try to help her, such as her new friend Annie. When Lucinda is told to clean a factory machine and slapped for not doing it, she foists it onto another worker, Gert, but is reported for shirking. To make Mrs Drew even angrier, Gert collapsed because of it. Lucinda’s punishment is to clean the canteen grease trap. 

At this, Lucinda makes a run for it, only to find the way she came has now been sealed, which not only cuts off this means of escape but also cuts Blackmarket even further off from the outside world. Lucinda is now convinced the gas is no longer a danger, so why is the army keeping Blackmarket sealed off? 

Lucinda then encounters a spiv who offers her chocolate flogged from the army, but the chocolate’s even worse than the war rations. She takes other foodstuffs the spiv offers in exchange for her watch. She offers it to Annie and her mother for making up for eating their cheese ration. But the WPC, who have called in about Lucinda’s shirking, confiscate it, and now Lucinda’s in trouble for black marketing as well as being work shy. 

Next day, Lucinda has to clean the canteen grease trap for shirking, which is a vile job. But this time she feels guilty when Annie and her friends pitch in to help her, as she knows this cuts into their 12-hour shifts and they will have to work even longer at the factory. She also begins to sympathise with the women and girls for the life they have to lead in Blackmarket. So much so that she begins to develop the wartime spirit and starts sharing food instead of scoffing it. Lucinda’s also impressed these people can find ways to cheer themselves up despite their hardships. It makes her realise how materialistic and hedonistic her old life was, and she’s making friends for the first time in her life. As time goes on, she begins to like her new way of life because of the friends she’s making, and is surprises herself at how selfless she is becoming. For example, she takes a box of chocolates she obtained earlier from the spivs to Gert to atone for the way she treated her. Along the way she gives a lot of the chocolates to kids who are so thin from wartime rations. Only two are left for Gert, who doesn’t mind when she hears why, and Lucinda did not scoff any of them.

As time goes on, Lucinda finds herself growing confused about whether it is the seventies or WW2. She’s hearing radio newsbroadcasts about how the war’s going, and now she’s even finding herself even thinking like she’s in WW2. Is the place getting to her and having a brainwashing effect, or is something else at work? She has to keep a grip on herself. 

Lucinda is finally introduced to the person in charge of Blackmarket: Commander Hobbs. The Commander issues Lucinda with an ID card and ration cards, but also strips her of her modern clothes and puts her in factory clothes to work in the factory. The Commandant later burns Lucinda’s clothes, destroying the one proof Lucinda belatedly realised she had to show WW2 has long since ended – made in Germany clothes. Lucinda also discovers the Commander deliberately removed the label saying so, who destroys it right in front of Lucinda. 

An air raid strikes, and even the spivs help to cheer people up in the air raid shelter. But Lucinda’s the only one to notice there is no evidence of bombing afterwards and says this out loud. The Commander’s reaction to this makes Lucinda suspect the Commander faked it, but Lucinda realises she’s made the mistake of alerting the Commander to her suspicions. 

Another thing that’s odd is that Lucinda has been at the factory for some time now, but it’s not been established just what they are manufacturing. And since it can’t be for the war effort as they believe, than what or who is it for? They also have to take pills with their rations – ostensibly, vitamin pills. When Lucinda resists taking hers because she hates tablets, Mrs Drew forces her to take it. 

Hearing the spivs are smuggling their goods in from over the wire, Lucinda tries to enlist a spiv to get a message out for help, but he accuses her of being a spy. Lucinda’s resistance against this strange setup has earned her a reputation as a troublemaker and possible Hitler sympathiser. 

Suspicious, Annie takes Lucinda to the Commander, where they overhear an odd remark between the Commander and the spiv about the vitamin pills making Lucinda “safe”. Following this and a strange spell of confusion where she finds herself thinking it is WW2, Lucinda suspects the vitamin tablets are really some sort of mind-bending drug. She decides to test her theory by not taking her pill, but the Commander and Mrs Drew force her to. Lucinda soon feels the effect of the drug, and is forced to stab her hand to break its power. She finds the pain sorely needed to keep a grip on her identity, as the effects of the pill are still lingering. 

There’s another air raid alarm. Now convinced it’s all a fake, Lucinda just walks out of the air raid shelter. Sure enough, there’s no air raid out there, and she suspects the sounds are coming from a door marked “Top Secret No Admittance”. But on the other side of the door the Commander has Lucinda on CCTV and, seeing the threat she poses, presses the red button. This causes an explosion to simulate a house being bombed, and Lucinda is caught in the debris. She is rescued from the rubble and now wondering if there really was a bomb raid. But Mrs Drew makes a slip of the tongue that has her realise the truth. 

Lucinda decides to play along, pretending she has succumbed, until she figures out what to do. Despite what happened before, she again tries to get the spivs to help her. Their reaction to refusing even bribery to help her makes her realise they must be in league with the Commander. The spivs chase Lucinda to the factory, where the workers rally around Lucinda and duff up the spivs for cheating them all the time. 

The fight distracts the Commander long enough for Lucinda to slip into into her top secret room. There she discovers the elaborate and definitely not 1940s technology that’s behind the whole charade. She’s also interested in what’s in an open filing cabinet, but then the Commander and Mrs Drew return. Lucinda manages to slip out, knocking out Mrs Drew in the process, and head back to the factory. At the factory it’s payday, at WW2 rates of £2/14/6, and what the spivs have reported to the Commander about Lucinda has aroused her suspicions. 

Lucinda turns to telling the workers there is no more WW2, they’re being brainwashed by those tablets, and they should take a look behind the locked door. She persuades them to stop taking the tablets, and they are also suspicious by the Commander and Mrs Drew’s reactions. The Commander threatens to blow up the factory at this sudden insurgence and takes Lucinda away to her office. 

In her office the Commander admits to the charade. She recruited WW2 Blitz widows as it was easier to bend their minds, and threw some kids into the mix for more authenticity. The spivs (and presumably the phoney army guards) are escaped convicts. She was using the women as cheap labour, using the WW2 simulation to pay them at 1940s rates instead of modern ones (and with predecimal currency in an era that has dispensed with £sd?!). The goods the workers make are sold at modern prices, making the huge difference between the cost of production and cost of retail a huge profit. The Commander then reveals Blackmarket’s biggest customer is…Lucinda’s father, and all the wealth Lucinda used to enjoy came from the Blackmarket operation. 

Dad comes along, and it looks like he is indeed the man behind Blackmarket and the Commander is his accomplice. He offers to take Lucinda home, nobody the wiser, but Lucinda repulses him. She’s going to help her Blackmarket friends, and runs back to them, despite Dad yelling she could get him thrown in prison. 

Back at the factory, Lucinda finds the workers have recovered their true memories after a break from the pills. Now everyone rises up against the Commander. The Commander and the spivs threaten to quell the revolt with guns, but Dad soon has them rounded up with a real army. 

Dad says he was forced to act the way he did. He genuinely did not know how the Commander was providing the goods so cheaply but was growing suspicous. When the Commander found out Lucinda’s true identity, she tried to blackmail him into keeping quiet, and also get more money out of him, in exchange for Lucinda’s freedom. Dad promises he will build a proper factory on the Blackmarket site and pay the workers modern rates. But first he’s going to throw a VE-Day celebration for them all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, it was rare for Tammy to have a World War II serial. The theme was seen more frequently in Tammy’s complete stories, such as her Strange Stories. 

It’s one of Tammy’s many slave stories, but with a difference: we’re not sure what to make of it or what’s behind it, so there’s a mystery just begging to be solved. The setup being what it is, could it be people who got left behind in World War II when the town got cut off? Could Lucinda have even gone back in time to the real World War II? Is someone pulling some weird experiment? Is it someone’s crazy idea of boosting television ratings (a la Mr Grand from “Village of Fame” or “The Revenge of Edna Hack” from Tammy)? It’s certainly a very elaborate way to conduct a racket, but that’s precisely what it turns out to be. 

The racket is far more imaginative than many slave rackets we’ve seen in girls’ comics: slaves trapped in a simulation of a historical period where they can’t realise what’s going on because they’ve been drugged and everything looks like the era, and they think they’re working in a good cause. They’re totally isolated from anyone or anything able to tell them otherwise until Lucinda arrives. It certainly makes a change from seeing girls kidnapped, pulled off the streets, recruited from workhouses or pressganged in other ways to work as slave labour in factories, business operations, or rackets of various kinds. It also makes a change from punishment after punishment being piled upon the protagonist for constant resistance and failed escape attempts. Instead, the Commander tries to subdue Lucinda as she has the others – through the mind-bending drug. When that faces failure, she tries to dispose of Lucinda, and then, once she discovers Lucinda’s true identity, uses her to make herself even more of a Mrs Big of the operation. 

Having Lucinda start as an unlikeable person rather than a nice person gives her a more rounded personality and have her undergo far more character development. It must be said the panels with the bratty Lucinda are more attention-grabbing than ones of a good-natured protagonist, and this arouses our interest in the story even more. We all know Lucinda will change for the better at Blackmarket, but we are all eager to see just how the change unfolds, so we happily follow the story for this as well as unravelling the mystery of Blackmarket.

Lucinda’s initial bratty reactions to these unwashed people, being expected to dirty her hands alongside them and wartime rations are not surprising. Some problem girls are tough nuts to crack and take a while to reform. But Lucinda’s smart move to switch to playing along enables her to change fairly quickly, with little in the way of relapse, and her change for the better is realistically handled. Although Mrs Drew is clearly a villain and a hard case forewoman, we have to cheer her for ordering Lucinda the brat to clean the machinery and then the grease trap. 

Lucinda’s initial snobbishness changes to sympathy and admiration for how these people can bear up under the severe demands of wartime privations. Guilt also kicks in when she sees how others are suffering because she’s not doing her share of the work at the factory. Shock at seeing how thin the kids are from wartime diet has her change from guzzling food to sharing it. But the biggest lesson is learning the value of friendship and having friends for the first time in her life. So much so that she is willing to sacrifice the chance to go home with her father because she refuses to abandon her friends to their fate. Also adding to the change in Lucinda is the growing disorientation over where she is and keeping a grip on her identity. She knows it’s the seventies, but even before she starts the mind-bending tablets the place is getting to her and she’s beginning to think it really is World War II. It’s hard to keep up bratty behaviour against such stress. 

Lucinda is surprising even herself in the way she is changing. And the old Lucinda would be astonished at how she is now. Sharing food, willing to get her hands dirty, learning to appreciate what she took for granted, discovering the value of friendship, even stabbing herself to break the power of a mind-bending drug. The bratty Lucinda would never have dreamed of such things and only cared about luxury and the city lights. 

Subtle changes in the art reflect the changes in Lucinda’s body as well. She’s losing the weight gain from guzzling and going from being too chubby to fit into the clothes she’s ordered to slimming down to wartime proportions. Facing true hunger and restrictions on food has her learning to appreciate food, even the stodgy wartime rations. 

It’s an enormous shock to Lucinda when her own father is revealed to be the man profiting from Blackmarket. It’s the ultimate test for Lucinda’s new character: do what is right, although she’ll send her own father to prison, or take the easy way out with Dad? When Lucinda gallantly chooses the former because she won’t abandon her friends, for a moment it looks like she will go the way of Amanda Harvey, who discovers the man behind the sewing slavery racket of “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl 2) is her own father and now has to turn him in. It is a relief when Dad says he was forced into behaving the way he did and had no idea what was going on. 

Mind you, that’s assuming he was telling the truth and not covering up for himself. There was that meeting he was having way back in the first episode – right in the middle of nowhere on the moor, right where the Blackmarket racket is operating. That sure is suspicious. And it is never explained. There might be a reasonable explanation, but are we willing to give him benefit of the doubt? 

The wartime hardships these women endure arouse not only Lucinda’s sympathies but ours as well. The creative team are giving us a serious lesson on how hard life was for British people in World War II from blackouts, bombings, slaving for the war effort, food rations that are in uncertain supply, the mental stress and breakdowns from it all (“bomb happy” as they call it), and hoping against hope that VE-Day will come. The effect is telling not only on their minds but also their bodies. They’re going unwashed because washing’s difficult. It’s not even Auschwitz, yet children are thin and stunted from short food supplies and the rotten wartime diet. Yet their spirits remain unbroken, they appreciate cheeriness and sparks of luxury wherever they find it, and they find courage and strength in the wartime spirit. The story shows us that even decades after World War II ended, the wartime spirit can still resonate and its message ring for modern generations.

5 thoughts on “Lights Out for Lucinda (1975-76)

    1. Yes, we’ve had some bizarre concepts used in slave stories as well as more conventional ones (e.g. workhouses, Squeers-like schools).

  1. I think this sort of story is salutary now too, because there’s an awful lot of pro-Brexit people who seem to believe their parents fought in WWII and it wasn’t so bad as being under the yoke of Europe (or some such). Lucinda could have put them right, couldn’t she!

    1. The story kind of reminded me of those TV shows about experiments where people are put into a period setting to see how modern people cope with them and what they learn from them.

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