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Above is a scan of the cover of my childhood copy of Spiteful Letters. I think I read the paperback in 1968, when I was 11. Below is a scan of the dustcover of Gillian Baverstock’s childhood copy of Spiteful Letters. Gillian being Enid’s elder daughter. I suspect I know which of the images you’ll find most interesting.

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I bought Gillian’s book in the 2010 auction of her stuff. The marks of two removed stickers near the bottom of the spine show that the book went from a book shelf in Green Hedges to the book collection of Darrell Waters Limited, the company set up for tax purposes by Eric Rogers, Enid Blyton’s business advisor.

Unlike in her copy of
Disappearing Cat (see the scans on the appropriate page of this website) Gillian has not put an ownership signature in the book. As she had turned 15-years-old by the time the book came out on 5th September, 1946, she may not have been reading much of her mother’s output by then. Also, and alas, Gillian lost the key to her diary in August of 1946 and didn’t find it until nearly a year later. So even if she’d wanted to say that her mother had given her very own Fatty a copy of brilliant Fatty’s latest triumph, she couldn’t. (I’d better repeat here that Gillian made entries about her own increasing weight when she resumed her diary in autumn of 1947.)

A few points about the above covers. The Armada paperback shows Goon presenting the Find-Outers with what he thinks is a bag of false clues. In fact, the bag contains Pip’s dictionary (with some words underlined), an alphabet book, a child’s copy book (with some pages filled in) and a bus timetable (with the 10.15am to Sheepsale marked). These were real clues that Goon had chanced upon under a hedge, he just didn’t have the sense to interpret them. The same bag of clues led Fatty straight to the culprit: Mrs Moon, the cook at Pip and Bets’ house.

What rhymes with Goon?
How about Moon?

Or as Enid teases us towards the end of the book:

‘Said Mr. Goon
To Mrs. Moon’


The original Methuen dustcover (see above) shows Fatty, dressed as a red-headed messenger boy, trying to extract a signature from an elderly suspect. There are a couple of dubious aspects to this illustration. First, Fatty is portrayed as slim. Second, he is given a uniform that I suspect he does not wear at this stage in the book. Fatty’s messenger-boy disguise consists of a red wig and a little round hat, nothing else as far as I can make out.

The red-headed business starts on the first page when a red-haired telegraph-boy turns up at the Hiltons with a telegram for Pip. Goon happens to be there and the telegraph-boy’s bike clunks him on the shin. The telegram announces that Fatty is flying to Tippylooloo in China where he has a mystery to solve. The boy is described by Enid in the opening chapter: ‘
He had red hair, freckles all over his face, red eyebrows and a funny twisty mouth.

When dressed as a telegraph-boy, Fatty probably is wearing a uniform, cos after he’s revealed himself to the Find-Outers, he says:
‘I must go, I’ve got to slip back and change out of this telegraph-boy’s suit. I’ll just put my wig and eyebrows on again in case I meet Clear-Orf.’ Which makes this first illustration by Joseph Abbey acceptable, from at least the dress code angle.

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Later in the book, Fatty dresses as a butcher-boy. Red wig again. Black eyebrows this time. A reddened face instead of freckles. He also wore a dirty old suit and a butcher-boy apron. Not much happens when he’s in this second disguise. But he’s spotted by Mrs Hilton at a significant time and the butcher-boy becomes a suspect in the delivery of an anonymous letter to Mrs Moon, of all people. Goon is told about the red-haired butcher boy and is immediately suspicious. ‘
Mr Goon departed, determined to run the red-headed butcher-boy, and the equally red-headed telegraph-boy to earth.

In the very next chapter, Fatty is at it again: red wig, freckles and a round messenger-boy’s hat. After attempting to get sample signatures from a couple of suspects, including Mrs Moon, he meets Goon cycling through the village. Goon ‘
took firm hold of Fatty’s arm and led him down the street to his own small house. He pushed him inside, and took him upstairs to a small box-room, littered with rubbish of all kinds.Now you just sit here, and wait for me to come up and question you. I’m tired of red-headed boys, I am - butting in and out - picking up letters and delivering letters and parcels - and disappearing into thin air. Ho yes, I’m getting a bit tired of these here red-headed boys!”’

What is all this red-headed stuff about? High spirits on the part of the author? Perhaps, but I hope to show it’s also a tribute to the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The name ‘Sherlock Holmes’ comes up no less than four times in
Spiteful Letters. First, Fatty tells the others he’s been reading the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and admires the way the detective solves mysteries. Then, in response to ‘Elementary, my dear Pip’, from Fatty, Pip replies ‘Marvellous, Mr Sherlock Holmes.’ Pip refers to Fatty as Sherlock Holmes a second time, and finally, Larry, referring to the mystery of the anonymous letters, comments: ‘One that even the great detective, Mr Frederick Sherlock Holmes Trotteville can’t solve either!’

The second case in
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is called ‘The Red-Headed League’. A notice is put in a daily paper for red-headed men - and only red-headed men - to apply for a job. Sherlock’s client, using a vivid turn of phrase, tells him of the day he followed up the advert: ‘Fleet Street was choked with red-headed folk, and Pope’s Corner looked like a coster’s orange barrow.’ Jabez Wilson is the name of the lucky red-head who gets the position, the job being to turn up at a certain address every day between the hours of ten a.m. and two p.m. and to copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica by hand. It’s a funny story and I can imagine Enid laughing when she read it. I certainly did, just as I laughed when I read Enid’s Conan Doyle tribute, which comes just one book after The Mystery of the Secret Room, which alludes to Edgar Wallace.

OK, back to red-headed Fatty. Below is a photo of the police house/station as it still stands in Bourne End, though it’s no longer in use and is now owned by Tesco. Perhaps Fatty was locked in the room to the left of the silver birch. ‘
Fatty looked round quickly. It was no use trying to get out of the window, for it looked on to the High Street and heaps of people would see him trying to escape that way and give the alarm.’ Nowadays, the Google van and Tesco’s CCTV would see anyone escaping from the building.

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Instead, Fatty performs his ‘unlocking a locked door trick’ by pushing the key that’s on the outside of the door out of the lock, letting it fall onto a sheet of paper and drawing the paper back into the room. Joseph Abbey provides an inept illustration of the scene, making nothing of wig and false eyebrows while making the bottom of the door seem like it’s in mid-air.

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Once out of the cell, Fatty stands at the top of the stairs and listens out for Goon who is making a phone call. He then goes to a small bathroom, washes his face, removes his eyebrows and wig which he stuffs in his pocket. He grins at himself in the mirror. ‘
Disappearance of another red-headed boy,’ he quips. Fatty then creeps downstairs, slips into the small empty kitchen, leaves the police house by the back door, goes down the garden and into the lane.

The next chapter has Goon searching the village for red-headed boys, interviewing butchers and the manager of the post-office, all in vain. ‘“
Gah!” said Mr Goon, wiping his hot forehead. “What with these here letters - and hysterical women - and red-headed disappearing fellows - and that cheeky toad Frederick Trotteville - my life in Peterswood aint worth living!”’ You said it, Goon!

OK, so what is this mystery about over and above Fatty’s disguises? Well, it starts in April, a year after the outhouse was burned down in
Burnt Cottage. As with the first three books in the series, the fourth starts on Haycock Lane. As with books two and three, we’re with Pip and Bets Hilton in the Red House just up the lane from the site of the burning.

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Mrs Moon is the cook at the Hiltons’ house. So she lives there with the family as does Gladys, the housemaid. While Mrs Cockles, Bets’ favourite, is the char-woman who, while also doing for Mr Goon, comes twice a week to clean the Hiltons’ house. (That should be enough domestic help for a family of four! I suspect it’s pretty close to the arrangement Enid herself had at Green Hedges. One often gets the feeling that Mrs Hilton, mother of a twelve year-old and an eight-year old when the Find-Outer series starts, as was Enid, is pretty close to Mrs Blyton.)

Gladys receives an anonymous letter and is upset by its insinuations. So upset that Joseph Abbey is moved to put pencil to sketchpad:

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The children go out for the day to Burnham Beeches. Unlike in
Burnt Cottage, a year before, Bets is old enough to join in. But when she and Pip get back home they discover that Gladys has cleared out her room. Where has she gone? Bets and Pip try a couple of tricks to get the address of her aunt’s house.

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Unfortunately, Mrs Hilton is brusque with the children. She does not want them interfering in whatever is going on. So the Find-Outers wait at the church corner (not far from the station), and, knowing that Goon will want to interview Gladys, simply follow him on bicycle to where Gladys lives. Going by the directions, Haycock Heath may be Flackwell Heath, but I would not stake my computer on it. On the following map I’ve marked with a purple tack the house where Gladys may have lived with her aunt. The red tacks are where Pip and Fatty live. The green tack will be mentioned in a minute.

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After Goon has cleared off, the Find-Outers talk to Gladys. She tells them that her letter said:
‘We know you’re a wrong-un, and you didn’t ought to be in a good place with decent people. Clear out or we’ll tell on you!’ But Gladys can’t show them the spiteful letter cos she’s given it to Goon. What she can do is go round to Goon’s police house and get the letter back!

In fact, she gets a bag containing several anonymous communications. One is a postcard sent to an old gardener which reads: ‘WHO LOST HIS JOB THROUGH SELLING HIS MASTER’S FRUIT’. Altogether there are four letters and a card, all written in crude capital letters. Larry notices from the postmark that all the items have been sent from Sheepsale, a little market town the Find-Outers have sometimes been to. Fatty works out from the dates that all were posted on a Monday and all franked at 11.45am. Because all the recipients live in Peterswood, Fatty reckons that the letters are sent by someone who lives there too but goes every Monday to the market at Sheepsale, perhaps getting there via the bus which leaves Peterswood at 10.15am and gets to Sheepsale at one minute past 11. Now it has been suggested that the couple of houses that make up Sheepridge (see the green tack on the above map), which is only a mile or so from Bourne End, is what Enid had in mind as Sheepsale. But it would take a bus four minutes to get there, so that’s a non-starter.

Where is Sheepsale? That’s what I asked myself yesterday. And here is how I went about getting an answer. First, I looked up market towns in Buckinghamshire. This gave a list of about ten towns, but none were on top of a hill as Sheepsale is repeatedly mentioned as being. By Googling ‘perched on top of the Chilterns’ I came across the village of Speen. There’s mention of a Christmas market that’s been held for a few years at the pub by the village green. Worth a virtual bus trip, I thought.

As you can see from the timetable below, there is a bus as 9.49am which leaves from Bourne End Rail Station and which gets into High Wycombe at 10.15am. That’s only half-way to Speen, but bear with me.

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In the ‘ON THE BUS TO SHEEPSALE’ chapter, before the Find-Outers get on the bus, it’s suggested that each of them sit beside a passenger that they will then try and get information from. When Bets suggests this might be awkward, Pip retorts that all Bets need do is point towards Fatty and say: “Isn’t that a remarkably clever-looking boy over there?” to break the ice. They all laugh, as many readers will have done when reading that paragraph.

Here is a laughable illustration of the Find-Outers on the bus, all interviewing their neighbours. Looking at it again I wouldn’t like to say that Joseph Abbey even knew what children were! Miniature adults with screws loose? Aliens in human form
a la Doctor Who? Daisy is sitting beside Goon. Larry is staring at Miss Trimble from Disappearing Cat. Fatty is sitting beside a sour-faced man who doesn’t give much away when they talk. Bets is beside Mrs Jolly (not shown). And Pip is sitting beside a young girl artist (not according to Joseph Abbey he’s not) who comes up with the evocative line: ‘It’s such a jolly market - small and friendly and very picturesque, set on the top of the hill, with that lovely country all around.’ Yes, we’re on our way to Sheepsale!

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Getting off the number 37, the present-day passenger has fifteen minutes to wait in High Wycombe Bus Station before boarding the number 333, as you can see from the following timetable.

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The 333 is due to arrive at the King William the Fourth pub in Speen - where the Christmas market is held - at 10.53am. In
Spiteful Letters, the single journey from Peterswood to Sheepsale takes 46 minutes. Nowadays, from Bourne End to Speen, the two legs of the journey (26 + 23 mins) add up to 49 minutes. So we’re in the right ballpark! And what a ballpark, as you can see from the photo below. The Chilterns has long been designated an Area of Natural Beauty and Enid lived on the edge of it (Bourne End and Beaconsfield) for about forty years.

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Soon be at Sheepsale now,” said Fatty. “Golly, isn’t this a steep pull-up? They say it wanted eight horses to pull the coach up in the old days before motor-buses.”’

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I’ve marked Speen with an envelope symbol on the above map. (I’ve also marked the two legs of the bus journey, the first in red, north to High Wycombe, and the second in blue, north from High Wycombe.) An envelope symbol because what happens at the postbox and postoffice is the whole point of the Find-Outers journey to Sheepsale. Who from Peterswood is going to be caught red-handed posting an anonymous letter?

As for the steep pull-up that Fatty mentions, well, there is a steep road near Speen as the following aerial view shows. Perhaps the bus comes into Speen from the north these days, see the blue line, so as to avoid Chapel Hill, marked with a blue bus symbol. Of course, going the roundabout way might just add three minutes to the journey time!

The aerial view also shows that the bus stops in between the inn, setting for the Christmas market, and the post office.

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The picture below shows where the bus stops in Speen, on either side of the road. Hopefully, it also gives a feel of the quaint village that’s perched on top of the Chilterns. The white car is coming into Speen along the route the bus does, from the north.

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When the FInd-Outers arrive in Sheepsale at 11.01am, they don’t hang about enjoying the scenery:

‘“
Quick - hop out first!” said Fatty to the others. “Stand by the post-office - and keep a close watch.” The Find Outers spotted the post-office at once and went over to it. Fatty produced a letter, and began to stamp it carefully.
“Anything I can do for you Mr Goon?”
“What are you hanging about here for?” said the policeman. “Funny thing I can’t seem to get rid of you children. Always hanging on my tail, you are.”
“We were thinking the same about you too,” said Fatty.’


Fatty notices a sweet shop across the road from the post office. So the Find-Outers go over to it in order to keep an eye on the post-box through the glass door. I prefer this Google view from the side, in part because it shows that the gable end displays patches of the flints that occur naturally in the chalk that the local hills are made of. Lovely to think of the houses and shops emerging from the very rocks themselves. Lovely to think of Enid capturing this (or a similar) Chilterns village’s elemental essence back in the mid-Forties, and that essence still being there for us to enjoy today.

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Sheepsale must be a quiet place because no-one, apart from Fatty, posts a letter from 11.01 to 11.45! Which is when the postbox is emptied and the mail franked inside the post-office. The Find-Outers are despondent. But then they perk up. After all, they are in a lovely part of the world and can enjoy the market, which I can well imagine taking place in front of the pub.

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The Find-Outers separate from Fatty, who is still gloomy about the absence of local letter-posting. Eventually, Bets goes looking for him. Enid writes tenderly: ‘
He was sitting on a bench in the village street, lost in thought. Bets looked at him in admiration. She could quite well imagine him grown-up, solving deep mysteries that nobody else could.’

Fatty soon perks up again. He goes into the post-office and phones Peterswood in order to get permission to have lunch out, which he gets from all three sets of parents.

‘“Good old Fatty!” said Larry. “It’s a treat to be up here on a day like this, among all the farming folk and their creatures. What’s the time? I’m getting jolly hungry.”’

They eat in a place called Light Lunches. ‘
It was a nice little place - shining and spotless, with a plump woman in a vast white apron to serve them and beam at them.’ They order two boiled eggs apiece and some plates of bread and butter, plus bottled gooseberries served with a jug of cream.

Can you get that sort of thing in Speen today? Well, at the King William IV, they offer ‘light refreshment’, such as olives, bread and balsamic with olive oil for dipping. Pan fried creamy flat mushrooms on toasted bloomer. Sharers-for-two baked Camemberts with bread and cranberry jam. Yes, I think the light-luncher of today would do all right here. Seriously all right.

As the scene carries on, Enid writes tenderly. She must have really liked such spots in the Chilterns:

“I think,” said Daisy, battering with her spoon at her egg. “I think that there can’t be anything nicer than to keep your own hens and ducks, and grow your own fruit and vegetables, and do your own bottling, and pickling and jamming. When I’m grown-up I’m not going to get a job in an office and write dreary letters, or things like that - I’m going to keep a little house and have my own birds and animals and make all kinds of delicious food like this!”
“In that case,’” said Larry, “I shall come and live with you, Daisy - especially if you make jam like this!”
‘I’ll come too,” said both Fatty and Pip at once.
“Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all live together, and have lovely meals like this, and solve mysteries for the rest of our lives!” said Bets fervently.’


The trip to Sheepsale amounts to a 20-page section of
Spiteful Letters and covers three glorious chapters. If Enid’s not referring to Speen, then she has in mind somewhere close by in the Chilterns. But for sure Speen gives the right idea. The idea that traditional rural values are still there to be enjoyed in the British landscape 70 years on, if we care to root them out.

Back at Peterswood another anonymous letter is received. Fatty is at the Hiltons’ house when he takes a call from Mrs Cockles who asks him to tell Mrs Moon (who is out at the butcher’s) that she can’t come in to do cleaning that day as she has to stay with her sister who has been upset by an anonymous letter. Fatty makes an appointment to see the sister and the letter, during which process he bumps into Goon and humiliates him by revealing that he’s seen
all the letters.

Again at Pip and Bets house, the Find-Outers think through their next move. They need to find out if there is anyone who is usually on the bus to Sheepsale on Monday, but who wasn’t there
this Monday for some reason. Mrs Trimble, still living next door to Pip and Bets, tells the Find-Outers en masse, while admiring the daffodils, that there were three regulars missing from the bus: Miss Tittle, Old Nosey and Mrs Moon. So the next step is to find out if any of them were up early enough to have posted the latest anonymous letter. All three were. So Fatty dresses up as a red-headed messenger boy and tries to get samples of the suspects’ handwriting. Fatty has just obtained a handwriting sample from Mrs Moon when he bumps into Goon and ends up in the police-house. So we’re up to speed. What next?

After Fatty escapes, the Find-Outers have a chat in the summerhouse of the Hiltons’ house, which is where Fatty has left his red wig. Pip warns him to hide it properly, but a distracted Fatty doesn’t, and the upshot of this is that Mrs Moon finds the wig, maliciously tells Goon about it, and finally the red-headed penny drops. Goon finds Mrs Moon’s bag of writing aids but is seeing through a red mist, too mad to make sense of it, and flings the sack down in front of the Find-Outers.

Fatty works everything out from Pip’s dictionary, the childish lettering that is the same as Mrs Moon’s, and the annotated bus timetable. The inspector is called to witness the denouement. Unfortunately, Joseph Abbey is called into action again as well, and below is what he makes of things. Pip seems to be in pain. Can he be that upset that the family cook, who has been living - unloved and taken for granted - under the same roof as himself and his sister, turns out to have been a writer of spiteful letters?

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The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters came out on Thursday, September 5th, 1946. I like to think Enid celebrated the occasion by taking a day off. I like to think she walked out of Green Hedges, caught the 10.04am bus from the stop adjacent to Beaconsfield Rail Station and travelled to High Wycombe. These days the bus is due to get to the bus station at 10.30am, which is exactly the time that the second bus departs for Speen. But that’s the sort of sharp little risk that Enid enjoys taking when she is on her own. Enid knows she’ll make the connection. And if she doesn’t make the connection, she knows it doesn’t matter.

She makes it. The bus chugs through the rolling chalk landscape and arrives at Speen on schedule. It is a nice day, a fine mid-morning, so she sits on the bench opposite the post-office and deals with her mail.

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She is sending one of her author’s copies of
Spiteful Letters to Gillian at Benenden School. In her covering note she makes a little joke which she hopes Gillian will appreciate even if she doesn’t read the book.

THE COOK AND I KNOW WHY YOU LOST THE KEY TO YOUR DIARY. BLANK PAGES TELL NO LIES!

After a short pause, she decides it might be wise to add: ‘
This is a joke, Gillian. To get it you will have to read the enclosed book which features our favourite Fatty.

Enid lifts a second copy of
Spiteful Letters from her basket and writes in the book itself:

‘Imogen.
With my warm love, darling
Enid Blyton (Mummy)’

She addresses the parcel to her daughter at Godstowe, knowing that at just coming up for 11-years-old, she is at the perfect age for enjoying this book. But will her troubled daughter feel the inclination to dip into her mother’s work?

Enid has one more copy of her new book to post. More conscious than ever of the natural father her daughters have lost, she takes a blank card on which she writes:

‘THEOPHILUS GOON: O HUGH SPOILT ONE.’

Enid places the card inside the book. The parcel is addressed to Hugh Pollock, 84 Beaufort Mansions, Chelsea. She then crosses the road to the post-office to have her parcels weighed, knowing that there is plenty time to ensure they make the 11.45am collection and are franked accordingly. ‘What a wonderful autumn day,’ she thinks, breathing the fresh air deep down into her lungs and putting her first husband right out of her mind. ‘One simply can’t beat the Chilterns at any time of year. I imagine Kenneth will want to hit a golf ball round one of its pretty courses all weekend. If so, I’ll be right by his side.’




Acknowledgements: Internal illustrations from the original Methuen edition of The Mystery of the Invisible Thief are taken from the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website, which is the work of Tony Summerfield. Thanks to Google for the use of their mapping facilities.

Note: If any copyright holder wishes an image to be removed from this page then they should contact me and I will do as they ask.




Olives, bread and balsamic with olive oil for dipping