The real life of Noddy’s cre­ator

New film will dis­solve the im­age of Enid Bly­ton con­veyed by her books

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - LISA SE­WARDS

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.

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