Published: Debbie PSL #100
Reprint: Bunty PSL #418 as “Trapped!”
Artists: Norman Lee (cover); Ron Lumsden (story)
Thirteen-year-old Meg Ferns and her widowed mother have just moved to Redport. At her new school, Meg is impressed with the looks of Arlene Ainsley and her gang and wants to be friends with them. But they are snobs and don’t think she’s good enough for them.
Moira Samson does offer to be friends with Meg, but Meg declines as she still wants to get in with the Ainsley gang and they wouldn’t like Moira, whose background is not good enough for them either. When Meg sees Arlene’s glamorous mother she wishes her mother were like that instead of being in a factory job and doing nothing but housework when she comes home.
In town, Meg sees a glamorous model at a shoot and learns her name is Lillian Ferns – the same surname as hers. She thinks it would be so marvellous if Lillian were her mother. The snobs come along, talking about the same model. Before she knows what she is saying, Meg brags to them that the model is her mother. The snobs fall for it – except one, Priscilla. The other snobs are all over Meg now, but Priscilla means to investigate Meg’s claims.
So the double life of deception and its complications begin for Meg. And although she does not know it (yet) she has the added handicap of one girl being on to her from the start and determined to catch her out. Priscilla starts by checking out Lillian’s address (and Meg realises that’s more than she did) and having Meg invite them over to her “mum’s” house. At the house she convinces them that “Mum’s” not in, but she sees Priscilla hanging around to see if she does enter the house and realises Priscilla is suspicious. Seeing a key in the door, Meg takes advantage to enter the house, pretend she’s coming home, and hopefully throw Priscilla off the scent.
At this point Lillian catches Meg. Meg blurts out the whole story. Realising how desperate Meg is to keep those snobs from finding out, Lillian proceeds to take full advantage. She agrees to help with the pretence – on one condition. As Lillian has no housekeeper at the moment, Meg is to become her housekeeping slave, and without one penny in payment. It also means getting up extra early, dashing twelve miles to serve breakfast and back to school, back again at four for chores, back at any time Lillian wants her, do any catering she wants, etc, etc, … otherwise, she will tell those snobs the truth. And there is a verbal earbashing whenever Meg doesn’t do the job right. Er, what was that you said about it being so marvellous if Lillian were your Mum, Meg?
Of course this is soon causing difficulties, such as Meg getting lines for being late for school. But Meg is gaining in confidence because she is getting it so good for the Arlene gang and thinks she is real friends with them now. She throws a scare into Priscilla to hopefully throw her off, but Priscilla only pretends that it worked. Moira also warns Meg to be careful about getting on the wrong side of that snobby lot, but Meg doesn’t listen.
As Lillian has given Meg her house key for the chores, Meg has full access to the house to show it off to the snobs while Lillian is out. They lap up all the luxuries it offers. Priscilla takes advantage to do some snooping. As she suspected, she finds no photographs of Meg in the house or any bedroom that looks like hers. She also helps herself to the food Lillian laid out for the party she is going to hold that night. When Lillian finds out about the food, she is absolutely furious with Meg.
At the party Meg has to do all the waitressing. Ironically, one guest, Mr Tolman, comments that she looks photogenic and should consider modelling herself. Meg also spots Priscilla spying outside and rushes to close the curtains in an awful hurry. The trouble is, Lillian pulls them in the opposite direction, which causes the whole thing to come crashing down. Lillian really blows her top at Meg because she wanted to impress Mr Tolman as he owns the advertising company she wants to work for. Meg is also worried about what Priscilla will say the following day.
Next day at school, Priscilla laughs at Meg for dressing as a waitress and “curtain calls”. Meg manages to pass off the waitressing as a punishment for the food Priscilla scoffed, and kindly stop snooping. This makes Priscilla unpopular with the other snobs and Meg thinks she is now safe from her. Meg’s an even bigger hero than ever with them now, especially with Arlene. It now looks like all that slaving for Lillian is worthwhile. However, Priscilla is not only still suspicious but also upset that Meg has pushed her out and wants revenge.
Meg has another close call when Mum waves to her across the street and the Arlene gang comment on how common she looks. They buy Meg’s cover story that she’s the cleaning lady – except Priscilla, who notices that “the char” bears a strong resemblance to Meg and begins to put two and two together.
The same incident has Meg beginning to feel ashamed of the way she is treating her mother because of this deception. For the same reason she begins to get closer to Moira. But the gang warn Meg they will no longer be friends with her if she continues with “peasants” like Moira. At this, Meg realises how wrong she had been to bother with those snobs at all.
So Meg decides to end her deception, starting with revenge on Lillian. Meg tells Lillian she’s had enough of her and then heaves a bucket of dirty scrubbing water all over her. She hears with great satisfaction that she has ruined Lillian’s new Paris outfit, and then walks out.
Next day at school, Meg finds out she ended her deception at just the right time – the game is up anyway. Priscilla snooped into the school records, found Meg’s real address and her mother’s occupation, and has now informed the others. They are ready to confront her, but Meg stands up to them. Moira sees the commotion and rouses a prefect, who tells the snobs to clear off. Meg explains how it was really her fault to start with, but what makes her really ashamed over it all was how she let her mother down. The prefect tells Meg not to worry about that; she’s learned her lesson. Moira’s offer for friendship is still open, and this time Meg accepts.
Remembering how photogenic Meg looked, Mr Tolman tracks her down and gives her a job in TV adverts. Everyone is pleased for Meg – except for certain snobs who are green with envy.
There have been plenty of stories where protagonists run a double life, pretending their backgrounds are grander than they really are, all because of a bunch of snobs. Inevitably the deception gets complicated and there is no way they can keep it up indefinitely. The question is what will happen when the inevitable does happen. “Pop Starr” from Bunty is one example.
It’s unusual to have one girl suspicious of the deception from the start. Usually in these types of stories someone grows suspicious over time. That or the protagonist just gets caught right out. Perhaps it was the 62-page limit, which did not allow for one of the snobs to become suspicious over time. However, it does make the story even more exciting and different, having someone onto the protagonist from the very start. And Meg is quick to realise Priscilla suspects her, which sets a very exciting premise for keeping one step ahead. Meg soon proves she can do it very aptly, and is very deft at thinking quickly to get out things if those snobs get too close and foiling Priscilla’s attempts to catch her out. Unfortunately for Meg, she cannot get Priscilla off her back entirely, especially when Priscilla gets vengeful.
This deception story has the Cinderella and blackmail themes thrown into the mix as well, which makes it even more striking and interesting than a mere string of lies, close calls and complications as the deception snowballs and the protagonist falls deeper and deeper into a sticky web of deceit. The true real-life personality of the glamorous model Lillian Ferns is there to teach Meg to appreciate what she’s got in her own mother and being rich and famous does not necessarily mean an improvement. The lesson is slow in coming, though. It takes Meg’s treatment of her mother as part of her deception to make the lesson sink in.
There are always prices the protagonist has to pay while carrying out her deception. Meg’s biggest one is becoming an unpaid slave to Lillian Ferns. Lillian Ferns comes from another popular theme in girls’ comics: a famous celebrity who is in fact a nasty piece of work in real life. “Aunt Aggie” (Tammy) and “Everyone’s Perfect Mum” (Mandy) are other examples. Not to mention using blackmail to turn the protagonist into their slave, and there are countless examples of that in girls’ comics. It is obvious that Lillian’s treatment of Meg stems from her being tight-fisted, not to mention being a bully and bad employer. She can well afford a housekeeper instead of using Meg as unpaid help, and pay Meg well for what she’s doing. But she does neither. We bet the reason Lillian doesn’t have a housekeeper is that the last one quit because Lillian was just as horrible to her. It would not be surprising if quite a few housekeepers had quit Lillian’s employment already and she’s now on a number of blacklists at employment agencies. With any luck the real-life Lillian will be found out and it won’t just be her new outfit that gets ruined. Lillian’s treatment of Meg has already ruined her chances with Mr Tolman and even got the job in Lillian’s place. Lillian will be absolutely fuming when she finds out. And the irony is, it’s all her own fault because of the way she treated Meg.
There are a few ironies too, in the way Meg develops through her deception. For example, Meg becomes accepted by the snob gang she finds her confidence growing, but in the wrong way. Her true confidence comes when she decides she’s had enough of Lillian and stands up to her. And heaving that bucket of water in Lillian’s face is absolutely priceless! We don’t often see protagonists in blackmail stories turning around and getting their own back on their blackmailers, so we just love seeing it here. Meg also develops quick wits and thinking on her feet in the way she can pull herself out of those sticky situations she get herself into.
We reckon that if the snobs had not found Meg out she would have told them anyway, and tell them to sod their stuck-up ways too. Which is of course what she should have done in the first place when the Arlene gang turned her down because they were so stuck up. But instead she wants to continue pursuing them despite their snobby rudeness to her. Even then she can see there is a good friend waiting in Moira, but keeps throwing it away because she is wasting time and energy trying to get in good with those snobs.
Silver linings do come out of the clouds in this story. As well as becoming more mature, confident and learning what true friends are made of, Meg also gets a glamorous job and possible future career out of it all. So life will become a lot better for Meg and her mother. And we can just see Lillian’s face when she finds out about Meg’s job.