Enid Blyton’s Famous Five celebrate 75 years of making young Suffolk readers happy
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
For every child who has longed to spend summer romping around the countryside with friends, solving mysteries and eating a picnic of sandwiches and cake lovingly prepared by mother, served with lashings of ginger beer, 2017 marks a significant anniversary.
Later in the year, the Famous Five series is 75 years old.
Published in September 1942, three-quarters of a century ago Enid Blyton would have been crafting her first Five story, Five on a Treasure Island, starring four very middle-class and a dog.
Most people who loved these tales when they were young tend to particularly relate to one of the charcacters... though maybe not the dog.
Who are the Five?
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Julian: Julian is the oldest (12 at the outset), cousin to George and brother of Dick and Anne. He a natural leader, tall, strong and intelligent as well as caring, responsible and kind.
Dick: Dick is a cheeky young man but also quick-witted, dependable and kind. He is very caring towards Anne and does his best to cheer her up when she gets upset.
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Georgina: A tomboy, she insists on being called George, cuts her hair short, dresses like a boy and loves it when she is mistaken for a boy. She is headstrong and courageous with a fiery temper. Blyton was to reveal that the character was based on herself.
Anne: The youngest, Anne gets frightened more quickly than the other but is also brave and resourceful as the others. Domestically driven, she likes keeping things clean and tidy... even if they're in a cave.
Timmy: George's faithful dog. He is friendly – clever, affectionate and loyal to the children.
Five's Friends include Alf, the fisherboy and Jo, the ragamuffin girl whose parents were in the circus. Other regulars are George's parents Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin, a world famous scientist.
The Five would set out with an adventure kit that would include maps and torches as well as a picnic and visit places with names like Smuggler's Top and Demon's Rocks. What larks!
The stories take place in the children's school holidays after they return from their boarding schools. Enid Blyton had expected to write around eight books in the series, but high sales and commercial success persuaded her to carry on and she eventually completed 21 full-length Famous By the end of 1953 more than six million copies had been sold. Today, more than two million copies of the books are sold each year, making them one of the biggest-selling series for children ever written, with sales totalling over a hundred million.
Memories of the Famous Five
Liz Nice: 'I loved so much of Enid Blyton - from Mallory Towers and St Clare's to the Secret Seven and the Wishing Chair but the Famous Five were my favourites of all, so much so that I demanded to be called George for most of my early childhood and insisted on dressing as a boy at all times. I even changed my dog's name to Timmy which he hardly noticed fortunately, being actually called Kim. These days, I can see elements of the Famous Five that irk me. The way Julian always took charge, while Anne was a bit of a lightweight, who kept having to go and 'help Mother'. Uncle Quentin was a parenting disaster too - the classic distant father locked away in his study, making zero contribution to family life. But George was a feminist icon who lives with me still and I reckon it's down to those books that I still see every day as a potential adventure rather than a drudge. I still dream of moving to Kirrin Island too. Alone. With no one to bother me again ever. (Smugglers beware).
The Famous Five are in my heart, and they always will be.'
Jo Malone: 'I remember being taken by my parents from Norfolk to holiday at my grandparents' home near Worthing in Sussex with my older brother when I was about nine and my parents leaving me a set of Famous Five books on my bed as a surprise when they'd gone. I was delighted, I loved those stories and spent as much of the holiday as I could with my head in a book, looking at the downs within sight of their garden and the sea when we visited the nearby beach and wondering if there were hidden coves, caves and passages there. The stories felt so real yet so exotic. The children went to boarding school, they had homemade lemonade, George had her own dog, they were allowed to camp on their own, to take out boats, to investigate mysteries and there seemed to be a huge amount of cakes eaten. It was all so exciting. I wasn't keen on George's dad, he seemed so distant and scary – so different from my dad, but I loved the occasional appearances from Jo, a super brave character whose parents I think were in the circus. Naturally it helped that she was called Jo!'
Natalie Sadler: 'I did read the Famous Five – and later watched the childrens' TV series but it was The Magic Faraway that was a childhood favourite for me. It was these tales that turned me into a bookworm. My copy is still in existence, be it a little battered and bruised. It sits on my bookshelf awaiting a time when I can read the captivating tales to my own children and revisit the enchanted Land of Do-As-You-Please and the Land of Dreams.The Christmas before last, my mum bought my step-daughter her very own copy of the Magic Faraway series but she is yet to introduce herself to Moonface, Silky and the Saucepan Man. I patiently wait for her to discover the true magic of Enid Blyton.'
Andy Russell: 'I loved Enid Blyton's Adventure series - Castle of..., Island of..., River of... etc rather than Famous Five. Same format, group of kids - Philip, Jack, Dinah and Lucy-Ann along with Kiki the parrot and great scrapes they got into. Gripping stuff, I read all eight books one after another in the school holidays and was gutted when I had finished them.'
Born in 1897, Enid Blyton, who purveyed lashings of moral rectitude in her children's stories, trained to be a nursery teacher in East Anglia. Brought up in Kent, she worked for a time at Ipswich High School for Girls, living for a time with family friends at Seckford Hall, near Woodbridge.
Probably the most successful children's author of her generation (stiff competition here from Arthur Ransome who based many of his stories on the Norfolk Broads and kept a boat in Suffolk) Blyton also gave us Noddy, the Secret Seven, Adventures of the Wishing Chair, The Magic Faraway Tree and Mallory Towers. The prolific writer penned more than 750 books over the course of 37 years with peak output during the 50s.
Famous Five books
Five... on a Treasure Island... Go Adventuring Again... Run Away Together... Go to Smuggler's Top... Go Off in a Caravan... on Kirrin Island Again... Go Off to Camp... Get into Trouble... Fall into Adventure... on a Hike Together... Have a Wonderful Time... Go Down to the Sea... Go to Mystery Moor... Have Plenty of Fun... on a Secret Trail... Go to Billycock Hill... Get into a Fix... on Finniston Farm... Go to Demon's Rocks... Have a Mystery to Solve... Are Together Again
Inevitably, over the years, the books have been accused of being class-ridden, racist and sexist and have been generally mocked but they strike a chord with children and children who loved them seem unscarred by their affection for the Five – some are feminists and even socialists. Currently, a new brand of adult Famous Five parodies exploits their mannered storytelling: Five Go Gluten Free; Five Give Up the Booze; Five Go on a Strategy Away Day; Five Go Parenting; Five on Brexit Island.