Enid Blyton

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Enid Blyton Pencil Portrait
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Last update: 17/5/15

As a brand name, novels by Enid Blyton still generate annual sales of over 450,000.

In September 2010, Hodder published revised editions of the Famous Five which modernised some of the language and the names, in order to attract a new generation of readers, although the publisher was quick to add that traditional versions would remain available. Words such as “golly,” “rather” and “awfully,” were phased out, while “Mother” and “Daddy” was replaced with “Mum” and “Dad”. A spokesman for the high street retailer, Waterstones, was quoted as saying at the time: “The way the children express themselves in Enid Blyton can be a bit alienating for children today. The way the books are written and the words that are used, are not necessarily relatable to nowadays.”

Still ever present in the annual list of top twenty best selling authors, despite the perceived dated quality of her prose, her work has endured without the added assistance of film adaptations. That’s some going, nearly fifty years after her death.


Unlike the stories she so vividly evoked in her books, Blyton’s life was not a thing of gripping drama, vivid incident and intellectual ferment. Much of her time was spent sitting at a desk, churning out 10,000 words a day, and publishing 753 books over 45 years: a torrent of children’s novels, stories, poems, the long sagas of ‘the Secret Seven’ and ‘the Famous Five,’ the ‘Noddy’ books, the Angela Brazil-derived, girls-at-school books about Malory Towers and St Clare’s, the tales of magic, circuses, farms and nature. They sold 600 million copies around the world, and made her extremely rich and famous.

Her works defined escapism for the under-12s. She told stories of children escaping from mad or eccentric aunts and uncles to explore somewhere more exciting; children whose parents were unaccountably away for whole weekends, allowing them to roam, unchecked, through haunts of smugglers, kidnappers and dodgy foreigners – whom they would outsmart at the climax of the story and deliver to the hands of the local constabulary, before being rewarded with platefuls of plum cake and inevitably, lashing of ginger beer.

It is this unprecedented level of literary productivity that lies at the heart of her tarnished reputation as an unfit mother. It was Blyton’s daughter Imogen, who first shattered the illusion that her mother’s home life remotely resembled her fictional idyll, where everyone enjoyed sumptuous picnics and rumbustious adventures. She wrote a candid memoir in 1989, 21 years after her mother died, entitled “A Childhood At Green Hedges” and pulled no punches.

“The truth is, Enid Blyton was ­arrogant, insecure, pretentious, very skilled at putting difficult or unpleasant things out of her mind and without a trace of maternal instinct,” she wrote. “As a child, I viewed her as a rather strict authority. As an adult, I did not hate her. I pitied her.”

It is doubtful however, that Blyton engendered much pity in her first husband, the publisher Hugh Pollock. The following link, which features an interview with his third wife, the author Ida Crowe, recounts how the now successful Blyton, negotiated a scandal free divorce – despite her own adultery – whilst subsequently reneging on an agreement to allow her ex-husband full visitation rights to their two daughters. Later on, she would use her influence in publishing circles to ensure he never worked in the city again.


By the time of her death in 1968, Blyton’s books were already facing a critical backlash from the literary world, and yet I recall my teacher announcing that – despite this press attention – fresh editions of her books would be available in the school library. By the age of eleven, I was no longer reading her works, yet she had undoubtedly fired my interest in the written word. I moved onto Fleming and the world of espionage in my teens, and that was basically it. Despite being a voracious reader, I have never really ever returned to fiction. I enjoy having my wife read to me on foreign holidays – invariably a high profile novel like “The lovely bones,” but you will be unsurprised to learn that she shows little appetite for reciprocation on my part. “White Heat – a history of Britain in the swinging sixties (1964-1970)” or “Stalingrad 1942” are not the type of volumes to be found by her sunbed. Having complained about the weight of my books for years, I am now the proud owner of a ‘kindle white’ reader which I will use on future overseas jaunts, so harmony has been restored at airport check-in desks!

Recommended viewing

Enid (BBC Tv) 2009

I tuned into this drama out of idle curiosity, sheer wonderment actually, at how the BBC would fashion a ninety minute screenplay about a seemingly innocuous woman who wrote ‘Noddy’ and regularly invited her young fans over for tea and crumpets.

Not unexpectedly, this much-anticipated screen biography of Enid Blyton depicts the dark and often melodramatic truth behind the life of one of the world’s favourite children’s authors. Authenticity is nonetheless preserved; the production meeting with the approval of Blyton’s daughter Imogen Smallwood, when she visited the film set.

Smallwood’s relationship with her mother was complex and fraught, and she was aware of her flaws. Yet Enid is an unflinchingly honest biopic of the woman behind ‘Noddy’ and ‘The Famous Five.’ It depicts Blyton as a woman who presented her public and her family with different faces. After training as a teacher, she got her first break thanks to Hugh Pollock, who worked at the London publishers George Newnes and helped her publish her first stories in 1924.

In particular, she had an awareness of marketing, publicity and branding that was far ahead of its time. As her fame grew during the 1940s and 1950s, she launched a magazine, ‘Sunny Stories,’ aimed at her young readers, or ‘‘friends’’ as she called them. She even enlisted their help in naming Green Hedges, the Buckinghamshire country pile that her success brought her. She also oversaw the design of her books, insisting on her distinctive signature being placed on every cover. In many ways she paved the path for the literary stars of today, from Jacqueline Wilson to JK Rowling. Helena Bonham Carter, who portrayed her most convincingly – if a mite too attractively – was quick to identify her character’s primary strengths. “She was unbelievably modern. She was a complete workaholic, an achievement junkie, and an extremely canny businesswomen,” explains Bonham Carter. “She knew how to brand herself, right down to the famous signature. What I found extraordinary, ­bordering on insane, was the way that Enid reinvented her own life. She was allergic to reality. If there was something she didn’t like then she either ignored it or re-wrote her life.” The actress would further add that, “She didn’t like her mother, so let her colleagues assume she was dead. When her mother died, she refused to attend the funeral. Then the first husband didn’t work out, so she scrubbed him out.”

The way Blyton treated her first husband, Major Hugh Pollack, appears to have been deplorable. He was a married editor at her ­publishing house when she was a fledgling novelist and, in 1923, she wrote: “He’s going to fall in love with me, I want him to be mine.”

They married a year later and had Imogen and Gillian but the relationship soured. Blyton then began an affair with surgeon Kenneth ­Darrell Waters, who was to become her second husband.

Pollack agreed to be named as the guilty party in the divorce case to protect Blyton’s reputation, in return for access to his daughters. However, after the divorce Blyton ruthlessly cut him off from the ­children despite knowing how much her own father’s absence had hurt her. It hit both daughters hard.

The typewriter was her escape hatch, a portal into a fantasy world she could unceasingly fashion, whilst distancing herself from the unpalatable realities of her own life. One can only hope, for her sake – that it all seemed worthwhile in her darkest moments.

Recommended reading

Enid Blyton: The Biography ( Barbara Stoney) 1974 : Reprint 2006

A revised edition of Stoney’s original biography with an updated book listing, based on extensive research by Tony Summerfield of the Enid Blyton Society.

I picked up my copy for £2. The colour pictorial centre section with replica first edition covers was warmly evocative of a bygone era.

Five on a Treasure Island (1942)

I used to own a hard copy edition of this volume, the first outing for the Famous Five which sees them set out for Kirrin Island on their summer holidays, hunting for gold lost when George’s great-great-grandfather’s ship was wrecked decades before.

The first entry in a 22-book series, Five on a Treasure island is particularly admired for its natural descriptive qualities that clearly betray the author’s love of the southern English countryside and accompanying coastline. Like most readers, I yearned to be in the gang, a by-product of the immersive qualities of Blyton’s writing.


The Enid Blyton Society