As I say in the page about First Term, the second book in the Malory Towers series was written in January 1946. By the time Enid sat down to write it, she would have been aware that Benenden School was moving back to its pre-WW2 premises in Kent. Perhaps Enid wanted to get another book out before some aspect of the Kent environment overwrote the impression she’d got of the Cornwall location. Perhaps she wanted to bang out a thrilling cliff-top scene while one was fresh in her mind. If so, she succeeded on both counts.

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The above photo was taken recently from Hotel Bristol, Newquay, or Benenden School as it was in the autumn term, 1945. Is the weather changeable on the Cornish coast? Oh yes, one day bright sunshine and the next boarding school girls being blown from bus stop to beach.

I wonder if Gillian would have been a touch disappointed by the second book in the series. Although Darrell Rivers features, she is not the focus. The book begins in the autumn term (a year and a term having passed since the start of the first one) and again there are three new girls joining what’s now the second form: Belinda (scatterbrained artist), Ellen (scholarship girl who works too hard) and Daphne (almost as spoiled as Gwendoline). The book follows the fortunes of Ellen and Daphne in particular.

The girls of the second form think Ellen has been stealing their valuables because she’s been seen lurking suspiciously in rooms and corridors. Alicia (sharp and hard, as in the first book) accuses her, and Ellen reacts by committing the crime she
has been planning - sneaking a look at the exam papers in order to ensure a good mark in the end of term tests. Darren catches her red-handed in a scene similar to the one in First Term where Darrell confronts Sally about the existence of her baby sister. Darrell doesn’t lose her temper as badly this time, but Ellen still ends up in the San. Daphne, who is the girl who has been stealing the girls’ things, takes the opportunity to get rid of the empty purses, making up a parcel that she tells Mary-Lou she must get off in the post ASAP.

Mary-Lou admires Daphne and has been helping her with her French. In fact they’ve become quite chummy, though Daphne falsely suggests to Gwendoline, her other friend, that she has been stringing Mary-Lou along. When Mary-Lou suggests that she will take the parcel to the post-office - by the cliff-top path so as to get there on time - Gwendoline openly mocks the idea. Firstly, because of the storm that’s blowing outside. Secondly, because Daphne does not really like Mary-Lou. This perspective upsets Mary-Lou, but it doesn’t change her mind. Even if Daphne is not a friend of Mary-Lou’s, Mary-Lou is a friend of Daphne. Once again, Mary-Lou is a most sympathetic character and every reader must root for her.

Mary-Lou disappears into the storm. She doesn’t turn up for dinner. When Daphne hears from Gwendoline what Mary-Lou has done, she is mortified and goes out after her friend. Mary-Lou is soon found, calling for help, having been blown to the edge of the cliff. Daphne takes off her raincoat belt and ties it to her tunic belt to make a makeshift rope, just in time to stop Mary-Lou losing her perilous hold on the cliff-top. Daphne wraps her feet round a gorse bush all the better for her to hold fast. Mary-Lou holds tight too. The friends are found in that position when a search party arrives from the school.


As well as in the illustration immediately above, the brave pair can also be seen if you go back to the dustcover that Lilian Buchanan made in 1957 and which begins this page. The girl wrapping her legs around the gorse bush made an impact on both artists. Funny thing is, if you take a trip to Newquay today there are still suitable gorse bushes overlooking the cliff within a hundred yards of the Hotel Bristol in the direction of the post office. I took this shot during my own brief visit to Newquay.


And the next one one was taken from the beach looking up to the top of the cliff. Can you picture Daphne and Mary-Lou - seventy years after Enid pictured them - hanging on for dear life? Perhaps this quote from
Second Form will help:

Daphne lay down flat again. She found a stout gorse bush behind her and she pushed her legs under it till her feet found the sturdy root-stem growing out of the ground. Heedless of scratches and pricks, she wound her two feet firmly round the stem, so that she had a good hold with her legs and would not be likely to be pulled over the cliff by Mary-Lou.
A frantic voice suddenly came to her. ‘Daphne! This tuft of grass is giving way! I shall fall! Quick, quick.’
Daphne hurriedly let down the rough rope, made of her two belts. Mary-Lou caught at it and looped the end firmly round her wrists. Daphne felt the pull at once.
‘Are you all right?’ she called anxiously. ‘You won’t fall now, will you?’
‘No, I don’t think so. My feet have got quite a firm hold,’ called back Mary-Lou, much reassured by the belt round her wrists.


The exciting cliff-top scene replaced the following - decidedly less dramatic - wraparound cover that Stanley Lloyd produced for the first edition. He’s chosen to portray the morning after, when Darrell and a group of the girls (Sally, Irene and Belinda) come across the parcel oozing purses not far from the cliff-top path, close to the scene of the cliffhanging incident. Or has the artist depicted a discarded packet of fish and chips? You decide.


From that point, the story is predictable. Everyone realises that Ellen was falsely accused of stealing the purses and she is forgiven for being goaded into stealing the exam papers, though she made a very bad error of judgement and must mend her ways if she is to thrive. The girls themselves are asked to stand in judgement of Daphne, who - although she was brave in saving Mary-Lou -
was the person who stole the purses and set the near-disastrous sequence of events in motion.

Of course, led in a funny sort of way by Mary-Lou, the girls choose to forgive Daphne who has grown by leaps and bounds in the whole process.

I don’t know what Gillian thought of
Second Form at Malory Towers, because all she says is that she read it straight off the typewriter at the end of January, 1946. But what her diary does reveal is that she spent a lot of that Easter term in bed. The following extracts are all the occasions in February where her mother is mentioned or alluded to.

Feb 7: I got my letter from home.

Feb 8:
I got a parcel from Mummy.

Feb 9:
I got a letter from Mummy, a lovely surprise.

Feb 15:
I got a lovely long letter from Mummy, a parcel also arrived but I haven’t had it yet.

Feb 20:
I got along letter from Imp and Mummy. Mummy will come for the weekend.

Feb 22:
Mummy rang up to find out how I was last night.

Feb 23:
I got a parcel from Mummy containing a letter, my fountain pen and The Castle of Adventure.

Feb 26:
I got a parcel in which was my crayon (blue) a few assorted fudge and a note from Mummy. I also got a letter from Mummy and one from Imp.

Feb 28:
I got my red crayon and a letter from Mummy.

So many letters and parcels from Mummy. The least Gillian could do would be to send one back to Green Hedges full of empty purses! At one point Gillian writes she has flu and later on complains of a sore throat, and ear-ache. She seems to have been seen by the doctor several times, and was given drops for her ear and had to inhale Friar's Balsam. Luckily for Gillian she also had an attentive mother. Eight letters in a month as well as a term-time visit. Also, having read the typescript of Second Form at Malory Towers, presumably Gillian wouldn’t be getting too concerned about the lessons she was missing. Enid makes it clear in her description of Ellen’s predicament that good health would always be more important than top marks. Ellen got things out of proportion and paid a heavy price for it. Presumably Gillian could concentrate on getting better in bed at Benenden, knowing that she wasn’t under parental pressure to perform miracles in the classroom.

Actually, perhaps the projected parental visit towards the end of February was postponed for a week. Because on Saturday, March 2 Gillian writes:
Mummy and Daddy came and took me out. Then on Sunday, March 3, she writes: Mummy came at 11.30. I took her over the school. After lunch we talked. They went at 2.30 because of the weather. (Snow.) Enid being shown round the school suggests that this may have been the first time that she had visited Benenden in its Kent location. It seems that Kenneth passed on the opportunity of having a guided tour round the girls boarding school. Perhaps he preferred a child-free lunch at whatever luxury hotel he and Enid were staying at.

Anyway, in March, Enid was again very attentive, sending eight letters from Green Hedges, Bucks. It seems that Gillian had come down with a cold and a sore throat, and ended up in bed, taking penicillin tablets. By April 8, Gillian is able to write that she had received a good school report. However, though I didn’t make a note of it on the day, I did read somewhere in the diary that Gillian was bottom of her class in mathematics. Darrell is not good at arithmetic either, but l don’t think she was ever last in the class!

How would Gillian’s time at Beneden School in Kent feed into the Malory Towers series from book three onwards? That’s something I’ll be thinking about over the next few weeks, especially when I’ve had another look at Gillian’s diary. For now I leave you with this illustration of a strong parental bond:


Gillian: “Mummy, I had this dream last night. I’d just been told that I was bottom of the class in maths when this great wind got up and blew me out of the classroom and towards the cliff edge.”

Enid: “You must remember, darling, that Mummy doesn’t mind if you do badly in your work as long as you try your best, and that your school is now many, many miles from the coast.”

Gillian: “In the dream, I was blown all the way from Kent to Cornwall! But I didn’t fall off the cliff into the sea because you arrived just in time, making a rope out of all the letters you sent me last term.”

Enid (smiling at her first-born): “I’m so glad the rope didn’t break.”

Gillian: “Oh, I dare say that if it
had broken there would have been a safety net to catch me, made from all the pages of your brilliant books. When are you writing the next Malory Towers instalment, Mummy?”

Enid: “At the right time, child, when it will be of most use.”

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.

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.