Why was Enid Blyton so controversial?

enid_blyton_famous-five

Was there ever an author who came in for such vilification as this lady? For some, she wasn’t even a real person but a pseudonym covering a group of American commercial authors. Well no, she was very real, she was English and she had troubles becoming accepted.

You can say I’m showing signs of senility, you can say what you like but I loved her stories about Noddy and Bigears along with Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine, Ransome’s stories and others.

86982The Secret Seven was my favourite though, so spy genre with noir wartime overtones, something not quite captured in other children’s works.

So it was annoying to see read how the BBC had blocked her for so long:

A memo about a short story stated: “Not strong enough. It really is odd to think that this woman is a best-seller. It is all such very small beer.”

Another simply said “reject”.

Head of the BBC schools department Jean Sutcliffe said in an internal memo dated 1938: “My impression of her stories is that they might do for Children’s Hour but certainly not for Schools Dept, they haven’t much literary value.

“There is rather a lot of the Pinky-winky-Doodle-doodle Dum-dumm type of name – and lots of pixies – in the original tales.”  She added that they were “competently written”.

294099-mr_plod_largeEnid Blyton herself knew she was being blocked:

In a memo to a BBC producer she wrote: “I and my stories are completely banned by the BBC as far as children are concerned – not one story has ever been broadcast, and, so it is said, not one ever will be.”

I like the stereotypes and though they don’t suffice for adults, they are more than useful for children who like things to be “just so”.  If the police today could be anything like Mr. Plod, it would be a much happier place and there’d be a whole lot more trust.

Of the Secret Seven, Keith Robinson reviewed it in 2006, saying:

There’s not a whole lot of characterization, but just enough to see the characters as different people.

Well, most of them anyway.

Peter is the leader, proud of his Society and a little pompous and arrogant about it. Janet is his sister, and quite a decent sort of sister too; not like Jack’s annoying sister Susie, who is not a member and never will be.

413px-The_Three_GolliwogsJack, in my opinion, is a nicer guy than Peter, and second-in-command (that might be my assumption in this first book, but later in the series he is “left in charge” while Peter is at the cinema).
Wiki lists many of the later controversies over her work, where the PC brigade got their claws into her and had her works banned from libraries and expurgated.  A case in point is The Three Golliwogs and if you’ve ever read it, the black children are the heroes, not the villains.

Don’t even start me on the PC mafia.

Where the PCists should have looked instead was at her personal life, her ambition, her relationship with her husband and children and in her rank commercialism.

This is treated in a drama, starring Helena Bonham-Carter, to be screened on BBC4 tomorrow, November 16th.

16 comments for “Why was Enid Blyton so controversial?

  1. November 15, 2009 at 14:13

    “…The Three Golliwogs and if you’ve ever read it, the black children are the heroes, not the villains.”

    Oh Dear James, I presume the story is actually about three golliwogs,… three children’s toys that come to life as children’s toys often do in books. It’s not really about “black children” now. Is it????

  2. November 15, 2009 at 14:38

    ” There is rather a lot of the Pinky-winky-Doodle-doodle Dum-dumm type of name ”

    She was the Paula Yates of her day….

    Actually haven’t the Teletubbies and numerous other children’s television shows of recent years copied that naming pattern.?

  3. November 15, 2009 at 14:44

    Andrew – precisely.

    Too true.

  4. November 15, 2009 at 15:05

    Enid Blyton was racist, allegedly (which is nonsense) and her stories aren’t that well written. I did like The Famous Five though, and some of those Chalet School stories seemed pretty sexy.

  5. November 15, 2009 at 15:49

    The Chalet School stories were written by Elinor Brent-Dyer.

    The ‘Adventure’ series were written by Enid Blyton too, and I much enjoyed them; more so than the Famous Five and The Secret Seven.

    Concerning other authors who are and/or have been out of favour, I remember the Biggles stories by Captain W E Johns (though I think the Captain probably was an assumed rank). They disappeared from our local library when I was in my mid teens, much to my annoyance.

    I had all of the first 22 Noddy books. Some where scary, at least for a 6-year old who loved reading – deep into the night with a torch under the covers so my parents would not notice.

    On Enid Blyton and W E Johns, I really struggle to remember any racism in them: perhaps it was too much imagination in some literary circles. A bit like government nowadays: something must be done, so let’s find a problem to ‘fix’.

    Best regards

  6. November 15, 2009 at 16:18

    Mark – I’ll have to check out the Chalet School ones.

    Nigel – I had all of the first 22 Noddy books. Some where scary, at least for a 6-year old who loved reading – deep into the night with a torch under the covers so my parents would not notice.

    Wasn’t it good – reading was a naughty activity.

  7. MTG
    November 15, 2009 at 17:47

    You cannot revisit that past magic without spoiling good memories.

  8. November 15, 2009 at 17:56

    I was brought up on “Noddy” but I hated that George character in the “Famous Fivw” – too masculine for me to identify with – and therein lie B.yton’s probl4ems. She had a rather strange family life, as I recall.

  9. November 15, 2009 at 19:09

    Yes MTG.

    Welshcakes – strange is a mild word.

  10. November 15, 2009 at 19:11

    I enjoyed reading Enid Blyton as a child (from 5 or 6 onwards as I recall I consumed a lot of her output voraciously). Her work portrayed what was basicallly a very untroubled existence, with lots of ‘mischief’ and ‘japes’, but nothing really dramatic and definitely nothing really nasty, not so much different really from my own fairly happy childhood.

    I don’t think she was ‘racist’, any more than I think Agatha Christie was really racist either (I started consuming her books in earnest when I was perhaps 8 or 9), but in retrospect their was a certain ‘racism’ implicit in both – which of us can honestly say we didn’t collect tokens from Robertons marmalade in the form of ‘golliwog’ images to send off to get an enamel brooch? I certainly did and was really pleased when it arrived and wore it proudly as did many of my school-friends. Even today it is difficult for me to understand completely why so many of the black people I know found it so offensive, but generally they do – and that’s the reality, there was an implicit racism in it (if you heard Lenny Henry, the comedian, speaking about the times when he ‘blacked up’ to take part on the Black and White Minstrel show when he was much younger, you’ll get the picture, from someone who basically has few hang-ups, but still in retrospect realised how bizarre it was). In my own childhood until I was 10 or 11 the only non-white person I ever met was an anglo-Indian gentleman who was an eye specialist in Edinburgh, as I have a particular and relatively unusual eye defect, diagnosed when I was about 3. My mother and father were enormously pleased to have been recommended to him by our own doctor and optician, because he was regarded as an expert in his field, so from my own earliest childhood my own memories of visiting his consulting rooms (which were very smart and located in a nice part of Edinburgh) and meeting someone who wasn’t white were over-whelmingly positive. This has undoubtedly coloured my whole outlook since then, I’m glad to say.

    About Agatha Christie there is more to say, though. Although not ‘racist’ she came from an era and class (like Blyton) which had certain unspoken, usually, attitudes about ‘other’ – in Christie’s case this was reflected in some of her allusions to Jews in certain of her novels, a few of which have hardly ever been published since the early 1950s; I have read all 79 of her novels and 5 or 6 of the ones I am referring to were difficult to get hold of and and did shock me a little when I read them. They were nothing unusual in the climate of the time though – one of the Mitford girls, for example, went one way and another went in a completely different direction politically. A member of that family that I know perosnally (not one of the ones that is famous) was a lovely quite elderly lady, but quite unconsciously possessed some of the same attitudes, although she could by no stretch of the imagination be called ‘racist’. This was just part of the predominant British culture and attitudes in the 1930s, and was present at all levels of British society in different ways.

    Even today some of these attitudes continue to exist, even if they are almost never vocalised or written about in ‘polite’ society, specially when they touch on matters of ‘race’. However, social class is still a major factor in Britain and there is a definite cultural divide on certain issues. For example, whatever one may think about artist Jack Vetriano, he has been commercially very successful, but has been almost totally black-balled by the ‘establishment’. Enid Blyton in her own way fell foul of a similar cultural ‘snobbishness’ on the part of the BBC. What more can one say?

    Sorry for rambling on for so long 🙂

  11. jpt
    November 15, 2009 at 19:54

    I’m reading my five year old daughter old Ladybird books from the 1950’s and 60’s at the moment – bliss!
    Absolutely non pc.
    I have about eight of them – one of my favourites is ‘Pets’ where pets included a goat and a hedgehog!!
    I must blog about it actually.

  12. November 15, 2009 at 20:14

    JPT – yep.

    Bill – it’s the rambling I really appreciate. These things add so much.

  13. November 15, 2009 at 22:26

    I always loved the Enid Blyton stories. It annoyed me so much when all this political correctness decided that the original words had to be changed!

  14. liz
    November 16, 2009 at 09:06

    I was never a big Blyton fan and haven’t read many of her books , in fact, I think it was only the ‘Adventure’ stories I read.

  15. November 16, 2009 at 10:14

    Yes, they weren’t for all but many of us loved them.

  16. Stephen Isabirye
    November 21, 2009 at 23:17

    For all Enid Blyton fans (and maybe detractors as well) and readers, i am glad to inform you that I have published a book on Enid Blyton titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com).

    Stephen Isabirye

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