Every scorching Australian summer I like to dust off my Enid Blyton books and return to the country lanes, tumble-down summer houses and quaint ways of post-war Britain in the leafy shires.
In Enid Blyton world, the child sleuths lived in houses that always boasted a box-room and playroom upstairs with a cook, a maid and a grumpy gardener. The village postie, baker, butcher, grocer and milkman made house calls daily.
What is less well known is that the Famous Five books contain the earliest evidence of global warming. Every summer, the children and pet dog are described as melting in the extreme heat of the Home Counties, requiring sometimes as many as three ice-creams each from the local dairy to cool down.
Despite this progressivism, Enid Blyton can lay claim to being the most banned author in the Anglosphere, the victim of early political correctness. Her stories were banned from the BBC for thirty years from the 1950s, the head of the BBC’s Schools Department claiming Blyton to be no more than a ‘competent and tenacious second-rater’. The librarians of Britain, and shamefully Australia, decreed there was no place for her on their shelves.
Blyton has been accused of all the isms – racism, sexism, classism, nationalism. The golliwogs were removed from her Noddy books in the mid-eighties because they were racist. Big Ears and Noddy were put in separate beds because kiddies might get ideas they shouldn’t. More recently the books have been cleaned up to substitute ‘shorts’ for ‘jeans’ for a modern vibe (at odds with the illustrations), remove suggestive names like Dick and Fannie in The Magic Faraway Tree and take out sexist stereotyping, such as Anne of the Famous Five saying boys don’t have dolls and pretty frocks. (Clearly they can if they are trans).
It is true that Julian and Dick in the Famous Five adventures were sometimes condescending pillocks, telling their cousin Georgina, known as George, that she couldn’t do what boys do. However, this is not the authorial voice and Blyton, who identified as tomboy George, made sure that George was as active, strong and brave as any boy.
As to the claimed xenophobia, Blyton only left England once to visit the US which so underwhelmed she never left England again. Americans on the odd occasion they appear, as in Five on Finniston Farm, can be loud, uncultured braggarts with poor manners and too much money. You could say the same thing about the depiction of the wealthy American woman in Hitchcock’s film Rebecca as she stubs out her cigarette in a jar of cold cream.
Gollywogs sometimes got up to bad things like stealing Noddy’s car, but the owner of the local garage in Toytown, Mr Sparks the mechanic, was a gollywog pillar of the community. Blyton responded to the charge that gollywogs were racist by saying that, ‘Gollywogs are merely lovable black toys. Teddy bears are also toys, but if there happens to be a naughty one in my books for younger children that doesn’t mean that I hate bears.’ You could say that Toytown with its multi-coloured toys and dolls was a happy example of diversity.
My favourites were the Five Find-outers in the Mystery series, and I am astonished by the excellence of the vocabulary for adults never mind ten to 12 year olds. Here are a few words chosen at random – stentorian, ponderously, reconnoitre, lugubrious, bombastic. The books in which the children find clues and test evidence are a wonderful exposition of logical deduction and clear-thinking. They are also exercises in discrimination as the children distinguish empty authority figures like the foolish, unpleasant PC Goon from adults worthy of respect like Inspector, later Chief Superintendent, Jenks. It is also a Manichean world in which good competes with bad and rigorous truth-seeking uncovers wrong-doers, some of whom are violent criminals who threaten, assault or imprison the five.
Enid Blyton’s vignettes of English life have even greater poignancy today as Britain’s ‘Manchurian candidates’ who overwhelmingly pledged their vote for the Brexit bill after the vote now resist the will of the people in the biggest democratic vote ever to forsake vassalage within the European Union, because that is what three quarters of Brexit voters wanted – sovereignty.
Traditionally, Britain has never been part of Europe, and cheap flights by Ryanair and easyJet have changed nothing except getting there faster for a mini-break. Europe was always ‘the Continent’. The Duke of Wellington resisted the building of a channel tunnel because he thought a French army could one day suddenly appear in Folkestone or Dover. The Brits have never trusted the French or, indeed, had any reason to do so.
It was always a marriage of unlikes which did not matter until a trading community turned into a globalist, anti-nationalist European Project. The Brits were pragmatic where the French were philosophic, the Germans methodical and the rest unhygienic. The Brits had bad food and the Beatles, the Continent good food and Beethoven.
This time last year I explored the village Enid Blyton used to live in on the Thames and stayed in another in Surrey with new friends. It really could have been Blyton’s England of the fifties and sixties. The only diversity was in the fruit and vegetables at the local co-op. In this stable homogenous, low-crime patch of England where many have holiday houses in France or Spain, Brexit is not an issue. In the meantime, an hour away in the London of Labor’s Sadiq Khan, violent crime has surged in the last year. Were the Five Find-outers or Famous Five investigating today it would not be burglaries and abductions so much as homicides, stabbings, rapes and acid attacks with black and minority ethnic youths the chief victims and perpetrators.
Since the Brexit vote, the continental hordes have begun to retreat, causing employment rates and salaries to rise for Brits with earnings up 3.4 per cent and 853,000 more jobs on the same period last year, according to Office of National Statistics figures just released. Britain now has the highest employment rate since 1971. Come 29 March I would expect the Famous Five to be singing ‘Britons never, never shall be slaves’ as they down eclairs and macaroons, currant buns and bottles of ginger beer at a local street party. If not, they could go mad in Dorset.