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Enid’s elder daughter had just turned 14 when she first went to Benenden School as a boarder in the autumn of 1945. Gillian wasn’t new to the boarding school experience as she’d attended Godstowe - just six miles from Green Hedges - since the autumn of 1942. All the same, it was to be a significant move if only because it inspired the glorious Malory Tower series of books, outdoor swimming and all.

First Term at Malory Towers came out in the summer of 1946, but we know it was written towards the end of 1945. How do we know this? Because Gillian’s diary mentions that Enid was writing the second Malory Towers book in January, 1946, with teenage Gillian reading it hot off the typewriter:

Friday, Jan 25:
‘I read as far as Mummy had got with second book of Malory Towers.’
Tuesday, Jan 29:
‘After tea Mummy finished Malory Towers, which I read.’

Gillian’s diary for 1946-1950 is inscribed with the name ‘Gill Darrell Waters’, with the two little underlines familiar from her mother’s signature. In advance of her switching schools in 1945, she had changed her surname to that of her stepfather, Kenneth Darrell Waters. Her signature then owed something to both her parents (and nothing to her natural father).

In First Term at Malory Towers, Darrell Rivers makes the journey to school by taxi to London and special school train to Cornwall. However, Darrell’s parents drive all the way down for half term in her father’s ‘plain black car’ (Gillian’s stepfather invested in a black Rolls Royce after the war, courtesy of Enid’s phenomenal earnings from her writing.) Did Enid herself go to Cornwall that term? Well, there is no 1945 diary of Gillian’s as far as I’m aware, but there are reasons to suspect Enid did make the journey. Gillian would know for sure. But she died in 2007, just before her 76th birthday. How does a 14-year-old girl travelling to boarding school get to be an elderly woman lying on her deathbed? That’s a question largely beyond the remit of this webpage, but the beginning of the long, winding journey can be traced.

Benenden School had been relocated to Cornwall for the duration of the war. As it turned out, Gillian was only in Cornwall for one term, as the school returned to its original location in Kent for the Easter term of 1946. No matter, the cliff-top Cornwall location must have bitten deeply into Enid’s mind. One thing that makes me think Enid must have visited the school while it was in Cornwall is the plan that was placed, next to a front elevation, on front and back endpapers throughout the Malory Towers series. Here’s how it looks on my copy:

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Where are the girls that were drawn so evocatively by Stanley Lloyd for the dust-wrapper of the first edition? They are scattered around what’s called ‘The Pool’ in the middle of the left hand page, towards the top of it (see the path that connects school and shore). Alicia, Mary-Lou, Sally, Gwendoline and, above all, Darrell, are about to take the plunge into boarding school waters. More about this living, laughing group very soon.

At the top right of the left hand page, the compass indicates north is to the right. Why bother with such a complication if the drawer of the plan was not trying to keep to the author’s brief? A Cornwall location could be consistent with the school overlooking the north, south, west or (just about) east coast. But in fact the school was located in Newquay, on the west coast of the county.

Compare the bird’s eye view sketch with the Google image (below) of the Bristol Hotel, Newquay, which was the temporary site of Benenden School until the end of 1945. I suspect Enid has been vaguely aware that the school overlooked the sea on its west side (actually north-west). She’s communicated this to the draughtsman, Richard Cribb, who has drawn it accordingly.

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Is that clear? Probably not. All I’m saying is that Enid embraced the cliff-top Cornwall location. Actually, although the general location is Cornwall, two important details of the site are from Dorset: the swimming pool cut into the rocks is a dead ringer for the one at Dancing Ledge, which is just a few miles from Swanage where Enid and family went on holiday every year from 1941.

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The above is a good enough picture of the actual pool. But it’s not as evocative as Stanley Lloyd’s painting. And nothing to the sparkling word picture painted in chapter seven of First Term at Malory Towers. Alicia has just swum the width of the pool, back and forth. Gwendoline has spotted a chance to pick on Mary-Lou and has ducked her for longer than she meant. Darrell intervenes, helping a half-drowned Mary-Lou to the surface and turning on Gwendoline in a rage. There comes the sound of four stinging slaps as Darrell hits out at Gwendoline. The slaps sound like pistol-shots, Enid tells us. Katherine shouts at Darrell. Darrell shouts back, insulting the head-girl, but by the time that Darrell has climbed the cliff to the school her fury has melted away. ‘How could she have acted like that?’ she asks herself. How could she have let her rage flare up as it used to when she was younger? More of Darrell’s temper very soon.

Also close to Swanage, about 15 miles away, is Lulworth Castle, which has a tower in each of its four corners. A straight steal by Enid for Malory Towers? Oh yes, I think so. Talking of which I’ve picked up this observation from an article that Tony Summerfield wrote in Enid Blyton Society Journal, issue 31. Anyway, here is a bird’s eye view of Lulworth Castle, which is not by the sea, but check back to that left hand endpaper in any case!

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Right at the start of
First Term, Enid established that there are four houses in the school. It’s North House we’re to be concerned with, principally the first form dorm, which contains ten beds. Enid sets the scene economically, sketching in the house-mistress and the matron. She also gives a quick pen portrait of each of the ten girls in the dorm, though it’s the interwoven stories of five of them that are most important: Alicia, Mary-Lou, Darrell, Sally Hope and Gwendoline.

Three of these girls – Darrell, Sally and Gwendoline – are new to the school. Enid has them come up in the summer term whereas Gillian started school conventionally, in the autumn term. Moreover, Darrell is still only 12 when she first goes to Malory Towers while Gillian was just turned 14. Perhaps that’s partly what motivated Enid to quickly write
Second Form within a month or two of having written First Term. She’s getting Darrell up to speed, as it were.

All the new girls have problems adjusting to life at the school. Gwendoline is spoilt and selfish. Sally Hope is withdrawn and cold. Darrell has a temper. The second time she loses her temper is when she’s asking Sally why she has lied in claiming that she doesn’t have a baby sister. Finding herself under pressure, Sally pushes Darrell. Darrell, not bearing to be touched when in a temper, shoves back with all her might, and Sally goes flying across the room. She falls across a chair and lies there, moaning, her hand on her stomach.

As with the swimming incident, right away Darrell is very upset with her own behaviour. Worse, Sally seems badly injured and ends up in the San. In fact, she is seriously ill with what turns out to be appendicitis. Darrell’s father is a surgeon (just as Gillian’s father is a surgeon), and, in the absence of the school’s usual doctor, who is ill, Darrell’s father is called upon in the middle of the night to perform an emergency operation.

How exciting would this have been for Gillian to read! She probably read
First Term at Malory Towers in manuscript (when she was reading the manuscript of Second Form, the first book in the series was still several months away from being published). Gillian would have been reading about her school, her father and, most pertinent of all, her temper. Why do I say that? Well, an entry in Gillian’s diary for August 7 1947, reads: ‘Imo annoyed me and I got in one of my tempers and knocked her down. She might have hurt herself. Really, I just don’t know what I do when in a temper. I might easily kill her one day.’

Interesting that nothing like that (that I can remember) gets into Imogen’s account of her early life. The person who damaged child Imogen, according to grown-up Imogen when writing
A Childhood at Green Hedges, was her mother, Enid, the woman who had not one ounce of maternal instinct in her body, according to her second-born. Which is something I’ll be coming back to.

Meanwhile, here is Gillian’s own sketch of how she knocked down her sister. Well, no, it’s Stanley Lloyd’s illustration in the Methuen first edition:

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When Sally recovers from her operation, she gets insight into her past behaviour. Conversations with Darrell help her to understand that it’s been jealousy of her baby sister - resentment of the love that her mother has lavished on the second-born - that has caused her to become withdrawn. When she gets a healthy perspective on this, Sally soon manages to become the balanced individual and constructive team member she has the capacity to be. She turns out to be a very good reader of character and is able to advise Darrell more wisely than Alicia when it comes to the next vital issue of trying to get poor Mary-Lou to pull herself together.

Sally points out to Darrell that Mary-Lou is ashamed of herself. But being ashamed doesn’t give her courage. So what should they do? Sally suggests that they must put themselves in the place of the other person and feel like them and then think how
you could cure yourself. Darrell realises that this is what her mother is always telling her to do. Get into someone else’s skin and feel what they’re feeling.

Darrell comes up with a specific plan. She will feign getting into trouble in the pool. The other girls will be at the far end and Darrell will call upon nearby Mary-Lou to throw in the lifebelt. She is sure to be able to do this because her bond of friendship with Darrell is so strong. Then Mary-Lou will be bucked up when it sinks in that her brave action has saved her friend.

Predictably, the lifebelt is missing and Mary-Lou actually dives in, fully clothed, to save Darrell. Sally is convinced that the show of bravery, admired by all the girls, will allow Mary-Lou to realise she has been courageous about one thing that really mattered to her and so can be brave about lots of other things if she puts her mind to it.

The book closes with all the girls having learnt something about themselves in the year. With only Gwendoline not having been able to make real progress in the serious business of growing up.

Whatever else it is,
First Term at Malory Towers is a gift from Enid to her daughter. Enid shows Darrell losing her temper, how that costs Darrell dear. Reading all about and around this will surely help Gillian handle her own personal demons.

Gillian is also shown that not only do the strong protect the weak, but they do what they can to help the weak members of the team - like Mary Lou - become stronger. And having made the weak stronger there is every chance that the initially strong will benefit from the new found strength of the others, as Darrell benefitted from Sally finding her true self.

Ultimately, the main message of the Malory Towers books may be ‘know thyself’. Know thyself, and help others to know themselves. And if the children can do that, then the sky’s the limit for them when they are let loose into the adult world.

Perhaps this is best summed up by a diary entry that Gillian made in 1946. She made it on June 10, a month before
First Term at Malory Towers appeared. And because she wanted to say more than there was space for in the little window in her five-year diary, it was written as a memo at the back of the diary:

‘In the letter Mummy wrote she said she thought I would make a good actress and that if I wanted to be an actress she and Daddy would back me up. She said she was glad I was able to analyse my feelings. She said I had the right sympathetic feelings for an actress. She was very nice and I love her.’

When it came to Gillian’s 15th birthday on 15 July, 1946, she writes that her mother gave her two cakes, crackers, sweets, a little glass horse and a French dictionary. I don’t know the exact date in July of publication of First Term at Malory Towers, but I suspect Enid would have given Gillian a copy as soon as hers arrived from the publishers. In February of that year, Enid had sent a copy of The Castle of Adventure to Benenden and in March a copy of The Put Em Rights. In fact, in that Easter term, 1946, Gillian’s diary reveals that Enid sent her daughter 15 letters (including a ‘long letter’ and a ‘lovely long letter’), her fountain pen, boots, bananas and marmalade. Also a box of sweets that Gillian no doubt made available to the other members of her dormy.

Enid was very nice and Gillian loved her. For now let’s leave it at that.

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Acknowledgements: The scans of the dust-wrappers from the Malory Towers series, and internal illustrations, are taken from the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website, which is the work of Tony Summerfield. Thanks to Seven Stories for allowing access to Gillian’s diary.

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