Tune in, switch off - Blyton blighted

4th December 2009 at 00:00

If, as a child, you enjoyed Enid Blyton's books and still have happy memories of what her publisher husband, Hugh, called "bunnies, picnics and talking bloody gollywogs", please look away now. Pour yourself a ginger beer and turn straight to the back page column, or close your eyes tight.

Blyton's hundreds of novels haven't made it to the screen - probably because the characters are too flat and the plots too thin. They may work on the printed page, in children's heads, but on film they would be like half-drawn cartoons. Her own life, however, was a dramatist's dream and a therapist's nightmare.

In Enid (BBC Four) we saw her as so spiteful, selfish and naughty that in one of her own stories she would have been scolded and sent to bed without any supper. Helena Bonham Carter, a touch too beautiful but otherwise pitch-perfect, revealed her icy heart. This was Blyton blighted.

Although Blyton genuinely believed she was the guardian of children's morals, she was, in fact, a liar and a hypocrite, pretending, for example, that her mother was dead and her father a saint. Her secrets would have turned her gollywogs grey and made Big Ears's giant appendages burn.

She began telling stories to comfort her younger brothers during their parents' rows. Her father's desertion left scars only a fantasy world could hide. Embarking on her big adventure in the far away tree where writers live, she had no family contact until her mother's death 30 years later.

For Enid's emotions were frozen in time, just like her undeveloped uterus, described by her doctor as that of a 12-year-old girl. She underwent hormone treatment so she could bear her own children, but instead she lavished affection on the dog she carried around, refusing to pick up her own howling infant when she finally became a mother.

Dorothy, the midwife, calmed the baby by holding her, while Enid cuddled her pet, really believing her week-old daughter was naughty and wilful. Peremptory in manner, she sounded like Margaret Thatcher without the kind side or Joyce Grenfell without the jokes.

Her hapless chauffeur was told to get rid of his cold by the end of the week or he would be fired.

While her own children were exiled to the nursery, she hosted parties for her little fans in which success was measured by the amount of raspberry jelly consumed. Her irrational, callous behaviour towards first husband, Hugh, drove him to drink while she unjustly claimed he was having "a fandango with a floozy". Who said her vocabulary was limited?

After her affair with Kenneth Waters, she offered Hugh unlimited access to the children in return for his playing the bad guy in divorce proceedings, but it was a double-crossing deal. Then she told her publisher to sack him or she would remove her books. That's how she treated chauffeurs and husbands.

But did they all live happily ever after like the Famous Five? Not likely. You can open your eyes now.

Ray Tarleton is the prinicpal of South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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