Come Back Lucy
Where would children’s supernatural drama be without posh girls with dead parents sent away to live with relatives they’ve never met, eh? I’m fairly sure there must have been at some point a small village entirely populated with retired teachers churning these stories out, ably assisted by a couple of local historians to fact check the Victorian accuracy. Not that we should blame Pamela Sykes, author of Come Back Lucy the 1977 children’s novel on which the TV series was based (published in the US as Mirror of Danger) for this. The book itself has somewhat of a cult following and Amazon and Goodreads are littered with testimonials of adults scarred for life by reading it as children, or in some cases so terrified they were unable to finish it. This is always a promising start.
A promising start is also what you get with the 1978 ATV television production. The opening credits are phenomenally creepy, particularly if you’re easily spooked by the prospect of a mirror stealing your face. If I had chanced upon this on telly after school before my age hit double figures I’d have been terrified and presuming I got past the opening credits then the wild eyed Victorian child who has “waited so long for you to come and play with me” would probably have seen me running screaming from the sitting room. It’s a pretty scary one, this.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Going back to the time honoured kids drama trope of bereaved child sent away to live with relatives they’ve never met, we all know that one right? Well Come Back Lucy turns this on its head. Rather than being sent away to live with some fusty old aunt in the back of beyond, Lucy is plucked unwillingly from this peaceful life. Brought up by a benevolent old lady whose idea of a fun time is a game of cribbage and an extra sugar in her tea, Lucy is a stuffy, well behaved child with very old fashioned ways. When her aunt passes away her house is on the market before she’s cold in her grave and Lucy learns for the first time that she has cousins, and that she’s going to be living with them.
Lucy’s cousins wear jeans, they’re into pop music, and they call their parents by their first names. One of them is a Young Socialist. Aunt Gwen is a whirling dervish of charity volunteering, slapdash cooking and evening wine glugging. Uncle Peter is a slightly eccentric corduroy wearing man with an unhealthy interest in African art and ripping out the period features in perfectly nice Victorian houses. Welcome to the 1970s Lucy.
What Lucy really needs to get her through this difficult time (the death of her favourite aunt, having to live in a house full of hippies) is a friend. Unfortunately the only friend on offer has not only been dead for the last century, but turns out to be a bit of a bitch. You know the type of girl, really loud annoying laugh, always has to be the centre of attention, lures you into the past to play with her then attempts to trap you there forever. Forever. Forever and ever and ever. Did I mention this is quite scary?
Come Back Lucy is a little gem of supernatural/time slip kid’s drama. Not repeated since the early seventies and not yet available in full commercially (the first episode is featured on Network DVD’s Look-Back on ’70s Telly – Issue 4 and if they’ve any sense they’ll issue the full series in due course) it’s recently surfaced on YouTube and is available for public consumption for the first time in 35 years. It’s not looking to bad for it’s age either, a rarity for vintage kids drama; a great story, well paced and acting that’s (just about) stood the test of time. Well worth checking out before it disappears again (for ever and ever and ever).