Pair united over Twiggy and To Sir With Love: Aussie gran searches for long-lost Rush Green pen pal

18:00 26 January 2014

Lucy Chan (back L) with her husband and three grandchildren

Lucy Chan (back L) with her husband and three grandchildren


Before the internet, the ancient art of letter writing kept us in touch across the globe – which is how Lucy Chan, who lives about as far from Romford as anyone can, became interested in our town.

Lucy Chan, née Ling, in 1963 when she was corresponding with Helen TomlinsonLucy Chan, née Ling, in 1963 when she was corresponding with Helen Tomlinson

A resident of Brisbane, Australia, who grew up in Malaysia, Lucy began writing to her penfriend Helen Tomlinson, who lived in Dagenham and later Romford, in 1958.

Lost touch

They lost touch nearly 50 years ago, but now she’d love to get back in touch with the girl she used to write to excitedly about Twiggy and To Sir With Love.

“I think I found Helen for a penfriend in a magazine called School Friend,” remembers Lucy, whose maiden name was Ling.

“We started corresponding and wrote regularly through the years – as often as I could afford the stamps and air letters.”

But the pair lost touch after Lucy – now a grandmother – moved to a different town for her education.

She ended up in Kuala Lumpur, where she studied English at university, before meeting her husband and eventually emigrating to Australia in 1984.

She is now retired, and volunteers as an English teacher.

“I remember sending Helen bits of rubber sheets,” said Lucy, 67, “because my father had a rubber processing and smoking factory.

“Helen sent me beautiful postcards of places in the UK. I think we also exchanged postage stamps.

“My husband and I have visited the UK several times and I have always wondered where Helen is now.”

Lucy’s life in Malaysia would have been a stark contrast to Helen’s childhood in what was then suburban Essex – but just like youngsters today they found common ground in popular culture.

“We enjoyed sharing our experiences growing up in such different environments – yet the pop songs of the day, the fashion icons like Twiggy and movies like To Sir With Love connected us as teenagers,” said Lucy.

“She enriched my life and now I have the time to reconnect with old friends, it would be great to find her again. I think it would be a surprise to Helen to hear from me again – from the bottom of the world this time!”

If you know Helen and would like to get in touch with Lucy, call 020 8477 3778 or


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