Gillian’s diary is more likely to give us insight into Third Year at Malory Towers than either First Term or Second Form. This is because the first two Malory Towers books were written by January 1946, while Gillian’s diary only starts in January of that year. That’s her in the image above, writing her diary while lying in the grounds of Green Hedges one stormy night, with Enid and Kenneth returning on horseback from a bridge party in Beaconsfield. (Only joking. Though not about the bridge parties. Enid and kenneth were serious players.)

We don’t know when exactly
Third Year was written (if anyone does, please tell me!), but it was published on October 21, 1948. Gillian’s diary tends to be continuous from day to day but has gaps of months on end. So the meticulously completed diary from January to August 1946 could be pertinent to the writing of Third Year. The next phase of the diary is from August 1947 to April 1948. Gillian’s experiences of the time may or may not have provided raw material for Enid to weave her third web of Malory Towers magic with. I imagine the book would have been written by April 1948 at the very latest, so as to give the publisher time to commission illustrations etc, but it may well have been written prior to August 47. In any case I’ll be bearing both the 1946 and the 1947-48 entries in mind.

I’ll also be bearing in mind that from February, 1946, Benenden School moved back to its original home in the Kent countryside. So Glllian began attending a school set in its own extensive parkland, as shown below, and was no longer perched in a cliff-top hotel on the Cornish coast. Gillian took her mother over the school on March 3, 1946, as her diary informs us. Enid would not have been thinking about her third Malory Towers book at that stage, at least not consciously. Rather she would be asking herself whether her daughter was going to be happy in this new environment.

DMPhotos 113

Third Year at Malory Towers there are, again, three new girls introduced. Wilhelmina, known as Bill, who is crazy about horses. Zerelda, an American girl who sets great store by her glamorous appearance, fancying herself to be an actress. And Mavis who allows her singular singing voice to define her. In the book, the fates of the three are skilfully woven together but I’m going to deconstruct the text with Gillian’s diary in mind.

Zerelda is introduced right at the start where she makes a very bad impression on Darrell as they travel together to Malory Towers. Her grown-up persona, and her ignorance, also go down badly with the school authorities who demote her from the fourth form to the third, which is Darrell’s year. Zerelda’s only admirer is Gwen who is always impressed by superficial glamour. When the class is given
Romeo and Juliet to study and perform, Zerelda looks forward to showing off her Juliet, a part she already knows. However, she is humiliated when she tries to recite some verses for Gwen’s benefit in the music rooms, first by Irene who is trying to concentrate on a piece of music she is composing. Zerelda goes to another room, wraps herself in a blue curtain for dramatic effect and tries again to play Juliet. When she’s interrupted by a fourth-former, Zerelda fakes a show of artistic temperament and chucks her copy of Shakespeare at the source of her irritation. Matron witnesses this and punishes Zerelda, in part by plaiting her hair.


Things go even more badly for Zerelda when it comes to the first rehearsal of the play. This is how the English teacher sees it:

‘How dare you behave like that?’ stormed Miss Hibbert. ‘Sending the class into fits! Do you think that’s the way to behave in a Shakespeare class? They may think it comical but I don’t. Those are lovely lines you have been saying - but you have completely spoilt them. And do you really think it is clever to throw yourself about like that, and toss your head? Don’t you know that Juliet was young and gentle and sweet? You are trying to make her into some horrible affected film-star.’

Zerelda is crushed by this. But she does have humility, and she does retrieve the situation to some extent. I’ll come back to that, but first what about Gillian’s own acting experience at Benenden?

May 12, 1946
In the afternoon I was given the part of captain Hook in Peter Pan. It is nice and long. Then I copied it out and started learning it.

May 26, 1946
We had a rehearsal of Peter Pan in the afternoon.

July 17, 1946
Our Peter Pan came next it was jolly good. We got a first and I was commended.

July 20, 1946
Peter Pan went off jolly well. Lots of people said I was jolly good. I felt so marvellous as Hook.

June 10, 1946:
Letter from Mummy. See memo.
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.

Enid was obviously aware of her daughter’s aspirations to be an actress and would seem to have been encouraging her. Knowing that Gillian was likely to read Third Year at Malory Towers as soon as she wrote it - she was Enid’s primary audience, as it were - Enid may have been subtly priming Gillian to accept that she may not, in fact, be a great actress.

Whether Gillian had by the autumn of 1947 read
Third Year or not, by then she was involved in another JM Barrie play, and this time her reflections on her acting are very different:

Oct 12, 1947
Dear Brutus play. I might be Matey or Punchie.

Oct 13, 1947
Matey. couldn’t do cockney accent so I shall be Coade which is a very small part.

Oct 14, 1947
Virginia said she thought I was the best actress in the school. Last year I would have been thrilled at this, but now I think it's flattery because I know I can’t act well.

Oct 17, 1947
Today in English I read Romeo and Juliet.

Dec 1, 1947
Dear Brutus first run through.

Dec 6, 1947
Grand finale of Dear Brutus.
It went very well. Everyone said it was very good. All the actors were terribly good except me. For the last three plays I have not been as good as I am sometimes.

Interesting that Romeo and Juliet crops up both in the diary and in Third Year at Malory Towers. It suggests that Enid may not have written Third Year until the back end of 1947, or even later. And if she was aware that Gillian’s attitude to acting had gone from gushing enthusiasm to disillusion she may have designed Zerelda in such a way as to provide some consolation to her daughter. Essentially, Zerelda learns that the best thing she can do while at Malory Towers is to put her heart and soul into being an ordinary school girl.

Mavis of the unique voice comes a cropper as well, after she comes down with a throat infection after getting stranded and soaked to the skin after attending a local talent show that she mistakenly thought would be a springboard to fame. That really is her lying on the ground in the dustcover that heads this page. And when Mavis loses her voice, Zerelda is there by her bedside to try and help her cope with her situation. The ‘Mavis and Zerelda’ chapter ends movingly:

‘I’m going to make the others see that I wasn’t only a Voice,’ croaked Mavis. ‘Zerelda will you go on helping me? Will you be friends with me? I’m not much, I know - but you haven’t got a friend have you?’
‘No,’ said Zerelda, ashamed to say it. ‘Well, I suppose I’m not much of a person either, Mavis. I’m just a no-account person - both of us are! We’ll help each other. Now I must go. Good-bye. I’ll come again tomorrow.’

If Gillian did feel pretty low at the end of the autumn term in 1947, at least
Third Year would show her that she wasn’t alone, and that help was at hand in the form of her school fellows and the books of her caring mother.


The third new character introduced into
Third Year is Bill. She’s there in order for Enid to introduce a horse theme into Malory Towers. Gillian’s diary shows that her interest in horses takes off in the Easter holidays of 1946. Imogen was also into horses by then. She mentions in A Childhood at Green Hedges that the stables were to the north of Green Hedges, in Penn, between Beaconsfield and High Wycombe, a lovely part of the Chilterns. Anyway, this is what Gillian has to say:

April 11 1946
This morning I had a two hour ride. I rode Vanity fair. I have not ridden for 7 months so I am very stiff. We took lunch up to the stable I oiled the ponies hooves. We caught the 3.0 bus.

April 18, 1946
At 10.30 I went for a 2 hour ride. The ground was rather hard for cantering but we had four of them.

April 20, 1946
Today I went for an all-day ride. We started at 10.30. We went past Hughendon. Then we had lunch outside an inn. I forgot to bring my halter rope. We went on up steep hills to West Wycombe. Then we got home. We got back at 5.30. It was super. We caught the 5.47 bus but it broke down so we walked part of the way. But we went the rest in the bus. We got home at 7.15.

This puts me in mind of the most dramatic scene in
Third Year. Mavis - of the rejected voice - has missed her last bus and walked for hours through the rain and in the dark. Miss Peters comes across the collapsed girl after midnight while on a mercy mission for Bill. Bill’s horse, Thunder, is sick with a bad stomach and Miss Peters has successfully gone out into the dark and the rain and found the vet, and is riding with him back to Malory Towers in the early hours of the morning. It’s all a lot more dramatic than the bus breaking down and Gillian not getting back until 7.15pm! But if that made Gillian (and Imogen) an hour late, then the anxiety induced in their mother’s breast may have been enough to stir Enid’s imagination. Below we have a sketch of Enid and Kenneth, after an evening’s bridge, having ridden out towards High Wycombe on the lookout for Gillian!


Back to the reality of Gillian’s diary:

April 27, 1946
I went up riding at 10.30. We had a superb ride. We cantered 6 or 7 times. I rode Sweetie part of the way to the field we had a canter. I caught the 4.30 bus back alone as Imp wanted to ‘ride’ Beccy to the field. I am going on the week’s ride.

April 29
Today I went up to riding at 11. I rode Ghillie and for the first time I rode with double reins. It was superb. I mucked around in the stables then I took Ghillie to the field and brought Grem back. It poured with rain I got soaked so I went home and had a hot bath. I didn’t canter Grem bareback. Mummy got me 2 aertex vests and two pairs of aertex knickers.

May 1 1946
Today I went up to riding at 10.30. I rode Sweetie for two hours. I had lunch and tea at the stables in the afternoon I helped with the horses. After tea I rode Maffait half way to the field bare back. I had a vigard (?) canter. I went home by the 6.27 bus.

Gillian also took up riding at Benenden. But not in the summer term of 1946. And then there was the year long gap in the diary. But in October 1947 she writes about riding Moonlight. Any connection between Moonlight and Thunder? Hard to say. Gillian was very busy with lacrosse, the
Dear Brutus play, not feeling very well herself, and worrying about Imogen who had infantile paralysis and was confined to bed for much of the autumn term. So she didn’t write much about riding Moonlight. However, I feel sure that the part horses start to play in Gillian’s life in 1946 motivated Enid to include them in Third Year at Malory Towers and even to find ways of weaving Bill’s passion for horses into everyday school life.

OK, back to Malory Towers. Darrell, Alicia, Belinda, Mary-Lou, Sally and the rest are all involved throughout
Third Year, discussing the personalities and experiences of Mavis, Zerelda and Bill. Darrell’s most active part in the book involves her aspiration to be chosen for the lacrosse team. Was Enid recalling her own time at St Christopher School for Girls where she was an outstanding athlete? She went on to become captain of the lacrosse team and tennis champion as well as Head Girl during her last two years at St Christopher’s. Anyway, this is what Gillian writes about lacrosse - lax - in her diary:

March 12, 1946
played goal for the first time this term.

March 17, 1946
This afternoon I practised lax. Sarah sent balls at me, and I got much better.

April 3, 1946
We played Medway today. It was finals. We won the score was 4-2 so we have got the cup. I played Goal.It was the best match I have ever played, people said I played awfully well. But I played no better than anyone else.

Tennis takes over from lacrosse in the summer term. There are a few mentions of Gillian being coached and practising tennis. Then there is the whole year without diary entries before a new lacrosse season gets underway in the autumn term of 1947:

Oct 7, 1947
Playing badly in goal. Changing to defence.

Oct 20, 1947
I played cover point in lax.

Nov 26, 1947
Today was the second house matches. I played cover point. I was captain.

Captaining the second team in a house match is not bad, though Gillian must have then been in the fifth year. In Third Year at Malory Towers, after much extra practise in all weathers and under the assessing eye of Molly, Head of Games, Darrell is chosen to be third reserve for the third team. She is overjoyed at this, a rare achievement for such a young girl. Alas the game gets cancelled. And when it is surprisingly reinstated at the end of term, Darrell has the disappointment of not seeing her name amongst the reserves on the team sheet pinned up on the noticeboard. Her disappointment turns into joy when its pointed out to her by her classmates, Alicia and Bill, that she’s not in the reserves because she’s in the team itself, donkey! Darrell is over the moon.

Match day comes. Darrell is playing on the wing, up against a strong and fast player. But in the second half her opposite number begins to tire and Darrell starts to play a pivotal roll in the contest. The game is poised at two goals each and the ball is with Catherine of Malory Towers. Over to Enid (that’s Enid, at least in my mind - she with the pigtail, on the far right of Stanley Lloyd’s original dustcover).


She threw. It was a clumsy throw, but Darrell ran to catch the ball. Once in her net she kept the ball there, dodging cleverly when she was tackled. A great cry came up from the onlookers:
And Darrell shot. She threw the ball with all her might at the goal. The Barchester goalkeeper came out to stop it. The ball struck her pad, then struck the goal-post - and rolled to the back of the net.

Glory for Darrell then. Meaning glory for Gillian, or for Enid herself? The latter I think, given the attacking flair of Darrell, and her speed. Gillian was not built for speed, as I’ll come to in a bit.

But Enid did miss one open goal. When Benenden was located at Newquay the girls used to play lacrosse on the beach as the picture below shows.


No doubt the girls weren’t playing at half-term during Enid’s single visit. I mention this now as a way of underlining that the coastal Cornwall location doesn’t count for much after the second book. Not until the last book in the series, that is, when Enid pulls her socks up and remembers that Malory Towers is supposed to be set by the sea!

Whenever Enid did sit down to write
Third Year at Malory Towers, I suspect she said to herself. OK another book about Malory Towers. What’s Gillian been up to recently? Oh, that acting business. And all those horses. Now let’s see... And Third Year at Malory Towers would be up and cantering. Simple as that.

I can’t end this page without drawing attention to some more diary entries from the second half of 1947:

Aug 30, 1947
I got tennis shoes. We went to a dance and did not return until 12.00. I danced a lot and enjoyed it. If only I were not so fat and ungainly I might get more partners. As it was I had nice ones.

Dec 12, 1947
I weigh 11 stones and 4 and 1/4lbs

Dec 20, 1947
In the morning I went to Diana’s party. I didn’t want to go cause I am so plain, but Mummy gave me a necklace and silver sandals and a pair of silk stockings. And she said I was the prettiest there. I enjoyed the party.

Good for Enid for trying to boost her child’s morale. Not just trying to boost her morale, but succeeding in doing so. However, in 1948 Gillian continued to record her weight, which crept up. I wonder when she first started to get worried about this. Could it even be that Enid’s greatest invention of all, Fatty, was so called in an effort to help her daughter’s self-esteem? The message being, “So what if you’re slightly overweight, Gillian. Look at Fatty, he’s fat all right, but he’s also brilliant and popular. So for goodness sake don’t worry about it. Just get on with putting your heart and soul into being a school girl.”

OK let’s end with this photograph. Please forgive the poor quality of the scan:


“Are you ready Gillian? We’re going to beat Kenneth and Imogen this time, or I wasn’t tennis champ at St Christopher’s!”

“I’m ready, Mummy. And I’ll try my best.”

“That’s the spirit. Of course, we won’t be too hard on Imogen, she’s not yet back to full strength. We must strike a balance between nurturing her delicate body and encouraging her gung-ho spirit. OK IMO, LET’S SEE YOU GET THIS BACK...”

And Enid hits a three-quarters speed serve towards her younger daughter whom she hopes to send to Benenden in the autumn of 1948. Two sisters at the same school. Simply bound to have implications for the next Malory Towers book!

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. The picture of Gillian and Enid playing tennis in the late forties was scanned from a photocopy of a page in the Enid Blyton Society Journal. If someone would kindly provide me with a better scan then I’ll substitute it for my own. Thanks to Seven Stories for allowing access to Gillian’s diary.

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.