Enid Blyton - BBC drama

BBC4 just televised a one off drama on her. This review is as scathing as it was to her

It’s not that I’m a special fan of Enid and her morals. Actually, I haven’t touched one of her books in years and the last time I did, I found them rather twee and trying.

What has incited me to write is the slanderous angle taken by the BBC, who wowed her in her heyday and now reverse their charges.

It recalled the cinema biopic Hilary and Jackie, which I wanted to retitle ‘Hilary’s Revenge’. It says – ‘I was the sister of this so called genius cellist, but all you fans need to know what Jacqueline Du Pres was really like; how strange and difficult and obsessive; and how that I too had a talent which I gave up.’

I recall sitting on the hardened benches of Norwich’s Cinema City gallery more than ten years ago, whilst girls behind me buzzed with excitement as the film began. I wondered how that buzz altered as their musical idol was crushed.

As with Du Pres, I am a newcomer to the life of Enid, though not her books. Most people can understand an allusion to Moonface or Dame Slap; and thanks to Enid, I know what a tuckbox is, as enjoyed by Elizabeth Allen. But there is no precious iconic heritage to spoil, which should speak all the more of this rather poor piece of drama.

I deliberately haven’t researched Enid’s life to write this but have made a response purely from the presentation by the BBC.

Enid is important to generations of children. I was introduced to her by my parents, who said she was second only to the Bible to them. Enid’s books instilled a feel of what is right and moral and good. They were safe reading for your children.

Is this a backlash against those morals, a way of being seen as trendy and new?

Why do we feel the need to tear down our idols? A previous generation recalls that Enid’s books suddenly became questionable as literature; and that in the film, she is accused of not actually writing them – a wan attack also visited on Bible writers, Shakespeare and the Brontes.

It’s not that I necessarily share Enid’s books world view. It’s the disproportionately negative script. Every good scene about Enid was shown simply as a contrast to how she really was; the transfixed child fans set against her not knowing how to respond to her own offspring; her happy canine themed writing as her husband buries her dog. the men in her life are shown as long suffering and too good for her. Enid betrays her best friend and is unkind to her youngest daughter.

The Lady says that this youngest daughter, Imogen, has long been writing more acerbically about her famous mother and endorses the BBC drama, where eldest daughter Gillian has remained loyal. Enid should be titled “Imogen’s revenge”, even though it contains many scenes that a young girl cannot have known.

Who are the sources for this – disgruntled friends and lovers, her hurt estranged family? It is like using Catholic Spanish spies as our main sources on Anne Boleyn, whom they never met. Are enemies to distort our picture of Enid too?

It’s not that I’m unwilling to accept that Enid had a difficult side. Helena Bonham Carter calls the character penned for her as ‘complex and fascinating’. But ‘complex’ denotes good and bad, frustrating and endearing – a hybrid of shades and opposites. I admire Helena as an actress and she is a largely the reason why I tuned in avidly; but the way the drama comes across is not complex but defamatory and negative in the extreme. There’s a hint in this quote from Helena, on the official BBC press release, that she saw a more rounded side in the character whom she hoped to do justice to. So where has this almost sinister element come from? Editing?

Disappointed fans comment on Enid Blyton’s official website. Many knew, they said, of Enid’s supposed difficult side but they are determined that the media does not shape their view of her and that Enid’s books and their memories remain.

I would like to have seen understanding of the girl who was sent away to school and wrote those evocative stories of that life; to see her writings brought alive more. The film ends with Beatrice showing signs of dementia and then puts up facts about how widely read she is. These end cards seem like at best a hasty making up for the damming portrayal, and at worst seemingly an irony to the life of the woman we’ve just watched who cut her first husband out of her children’s lives and caused him to lose his job after fighting in a war that Enid sees as ‘dreary’.

But Beatrix Potter’s story in the 2007 film Miss Potter is full of warmth, and her eccentricity of chatting to her creations as if real – even in front of her new publisher – is taken as a pleasingly quirky. Beatrice too loved her father but struggled with a mother that wanted her domesticated and married rather than a public literary figure. Beatrice came across as fluffy as her rabbits – but not Enid. Perhaps as Beatrice has no children to get revenge and her first love – like, Enid, her publisher – died, that Beatrice has escaped the revenge memoirs of other famous writers.

If you have a problem with someone, get a therapist. Write them out, by all means. But don’t publish and denigrate public memory.

And writers – find a better way to make your own mark than demonising those who went before.

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