The real life of Noddy’s creator
New film will dissolve the image of Enid Blyton conveyed by her books
ON PAPER, the world of Enid Blyton was one populated by happy, carefree children whose idea of bliss at the end of an adventure-filled day was a slice of plum cake washed down by lashings of ginger beer.
The setting was an idyllic Britain, one of thatched cottages and lych gates, a fairytale time, in an age of innocence.
But the creator of Noddy, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and Malory Towers was in truth a cold-hearted mother and a vindictive adultress who set out to destroy her former husband.
The darker revelations, which will dissolve the image of Blyton conveyed by her 753 much-loved books, are part of a brilliant new television biopic, starring Helena Bonham Carter as the author.
At first glance, Blyton’s life seems unlikely material for gripping drama, as much of it consisted of her sitting at a desk, knocking off 10 000 words a day. Her books sold 600 million copies around the world and made her rich and famous. Her works still sell eight million copies a year.
But Blyton’s home life at her cottage, Old Thatch, near the Thames at Bourne End, then at Green Hedges, a mock-Tudor house in Beaconsfield, was nothing like as idyllic as the picture she tried to create.
In spite of the children’s nursery, crumpets for tea, Bimbo the cat and Topsy the dog, all foisted on the public in convenient photocalls to project the Blyton brand, the truth was more conflicted.
Bonham Carter says: “I was attracted to the role because Blyton was bonkers. She was an emotional mess and quite barking mad.
“What I found extraordinary, bordering on insane, was the way that Blyton reinvented her own life. She was allergic to reality – if there was something she didn’t like then she either ignored it or re-wrote her life.
“She didn’t like her mother, so let her colleagues assume she was dead. When her mother died, she refused to attend the funeral. Then the first husband didn’t work out, so she scrubbed him out.
“There’s also a scene in the film where her dog dies, but she pretends he’s still alive because she can’t bear the truth.”
Emotionally, Blyton remained a little girl, stuck in a world of picnics, secret-society codes and midnight feasts.
It acted as a huge comfort blanket. Many of Blyton’s obsessions can be traced to her father, who left her mother when she was 12. She then seized up emotionally and physically.
“When Blyton consulted a gynaecologist about her failure to conceive, she was diagnosed as having an immature uterus and had to have surgery and hormone treatment before she could have children,” says Bonham Carter.
The irony was that when she finally did have two daughters, Gillian and Imogen, with her first husband, Hugh Pollock, she was unable to relate to them as a normal mother.
She loved signing thousands of letters to her “friends” the fans, encouraging them to collect milk bottle tops for Great Ormond Street Hospital to help the war effort, and even ran a competition to name her house, Green Hedges.
But her neighbours said Blyton used to complain about the fearful racket made by children playing.
She was distant and unkind to her younger daughter, Imogen, and there was clear favouritism in the way she privileged her elder daughter Gillian, who died two years ago aged 75.
Imogen Smallwood, 74, says: “My mother was arrogant, insecure and without a trace of maternal instinct. Her approach to life was childlike, and she could be spiteful.”
Although Imogen prefers to remain private, she did visit the set to advise Bonham Carter. “We agreed that I wasn’t going to try to impersonate her mother because this is a drama,” says Bonham Carter.
There is a poignant scene in the film where Blyton holds a tea party at home for her fans. But her daughters are banished to the nursery. Pollock called Blyton “Little Bunny” and adored her. He helped launch her career after they met when he was her editor at Newnes, the publisher. Blyton’s first book, Child Whispers, a collection of poems, was published in 1922. She wrote in her diary soon after meeting him: “I want him for mine.”
They were married for 19 years, but as Blyton’s career took off in the 1930s, Pollock grew depressed and took to nightly drinking sessions in the cellar while Blyton managed to fit affairs in between writing.
She mocked him in later adventure stories, such as The Mystery Of The Burnt Cottage, as the clueless cop, PC Theophilus Goon.
After a bitter divorce, she married surgeon Kenneth Darrell Waters. Although the drama shows Blyton’s flirtatiousness, directors chose to omit some aspects of Blyton’s apparently sensual side, such as visitors arriving to find her playing tennis naked and suggestions of a lesbian affair with her children’s nanny, Dorothy Richards.
But the drama does highlight the author’s cruel streak. When Pollock remarried, as she had done, Blyton was so furious that she banned her daughters from seeing their father.
According to Ida Crowe, who later married Pollock, Blyton’s revenge was to stop him from seeing Gillian and Imogen, and to prevent him from finding work in publishing. He went bankrupt.
Crowe, 101, is using her memoir, Starlight, published this month, to break her silence on her feelings towards Blyton, whom she portrays as cold, distant and malevolent.
Crowe confirms that during her first marriage, Blyton embarked on a string of affairs, including a suspected relationship with Richards.Yet, Blyton could never forgive Pollock for finding happiness of his own .
Rosemary Pollock, 66, daughter of Crowe and Pollock, says: “My father was an honourable man – not the flawed, inconsequential one which was the misconception perpetuated by Blyton.”
Crowe and Pollock met when she was 21 and he was 50. In her memoirs, she describes him as “shatteringly handsome” – tall and slim with golden hair and blue eyes.
After Crowe narrowly escaped death in an air raid, she says, Hugh asked for a divorce and Blyton agreed.
The memoirs claim, however, that Pollock agreed to be identified as the “guilty” party in the divorce in return for an amicable separation and access to their daughters.
Rosemary got in touch with her half-sisters after Blyton’s death in 1968, at the age of 71.
Blyton was named Britain’s best-loved author in a poll last month. Despite her private life, no amount of detraction will diminish her as one of Britain’s great writers who shaped millions of childhood imaginations, although it may be harder for the adults they grew into to imagine what the creator of Noddy got up to in real life. – Daily Mail
TRUTH: The role of Enid Blyton, left, will be played by Helena Bonham Carter in a film about the author’s life.