Did anybody see the programme Enid this week, a biopic of Enid Blyton starring Helena Bonham Carter? It was on BBC4, and is still available as ‘watch again’ for UK residents. Apparently it got the third highest ever audience for BBC4. I’ve watched the first half, and it’s rather good (though I’ve already spotted a mistake – the Famous Five are mentioned in 1939, when in fact she didn’t start writing the series until 1942). The programme is on quite similar lines to the excellent 1992 biopic with Maureen Lipman, which (whisper it) is available on YouTube. Both, I think, are heavily influenced by Barbara Stoney’s 1974 book Enid Blyton: The Biography, which I read years ago, and by which I was impressed.
None of these paint Enid as saintly, by any means – I think the fairy-like goodness of her author-persona means biographers (whether in book or on screen) relish the points of departure, but even so, Blyton seems to have been a far from ideal wife and mother. Not to be read/watched by those who want to keep an untarnished vision of the author, but fascinating if you can cope with it.
Whatever her character, I will cherish her as the author who introduced me to a love of reading. I know there have been bans over the years, but they are ridiculous – as book banning almost always is. Her output is extraordinary – 753 titles, according to Wikipedia, which have sold over 600 million copies altogether. And in fact, the Famous Five books continue to sell a million copies a year – the numbers are frankly astonishing. And yet, why are there no films? As far as I can tell, well-loved series like The Secret Seven, St. Clare’s, Malory Towers, and The Naughtiest Girl in the School haven’t even been adapted for television. Is there something in them that makes them addictive reading, but wouldn’t work on screen? Surely not – I loved the Famous Five series on television… well, I’d be intrigued to find out why. But in the absence of these, at least we can watch works about Enid Blyton’s life – perhaps while that takes the spotlight, the BBC and others are reluctant to show the happier side of her life. But I, for one, would love to watch both.