MAY 1, 1949

I want to drop in on Enid right bang in the middle of her extraordinary life. I'm going to make it the first day in May of 1949 for several reasons. First, she was visited by a photographer that day, so there is a visual record I can bounce off. Second, I calculate that this is a day after having written and published six Mysteries, the number that she had intended to stop at. How could she possibly improve on the sequence, that's to say:
Burnt Cottage, Disappearing Cat, Secret Room, Spiteful Letters, Missing Necklace and Hidden House? The last of these was published on November 25, 1948.

But why am I using the photo below again? Because it was taken on this particular day of May in 1949. It's a Getty picture, and, on its website, the photographer is indicated as George Konig, though Hulton Deutsch is the name of the archive printed on the image itself. And the date is given as 1 January, 1949, which is, I know for a fact, a few months out.


Enid's scribbling away. Has she decided to start on a seventh Mystery? Don't get too excited, she wrote her books directly onto the typewriter and she didn't make preliminary notes. She may just be making a note for her cook. 'Fish tonight.'

More interesting to our present purpose are the books spread at her feet. These have been put there for the shot, I suggest. Enid was a tidy woman and was not in the habit of sitting with her feet hard up to a pile of books and papers. So let's have a closer look at them:


A little research reveals what the four books are. The Island of Adventure (published in 1944) is resting on The Mystery of the Missing Necklace (published in November, 1947) which is resting on The Second Holiday Book (published in 1947). Also resting on The Second Holiday Book is The House at the Corner (published in 1947). Specially chosen books? I doubt it, given the way they are displayed.

The photographer then went outside with Enid, to a nice spot at the back of the house. This image, facing east, is reproduced in the 1952 book
The Story of My Life. But it was also taken by George Konig and Enid is wearing exactly the same clothes as in the first shot. It's more obvious that it is spring from this picture. Look at that display of daffodils, tulips and other spring favourites.


But what does Enid have in her basket? How about: The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat, The Mystery of the Secret Room, The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters, The Mystery of the Missing Necklace (retrieved from the floor) and The Mystery of the Hidden House?

That last of these books is the copy in which she has written, with a fountain pen, on the front end-page: 'This book belongs to Enid Blyton. Green Hedges, Penn Road, Beaconsfield. Please return it to above address.' So you see, if she wanders off the premises, puts down her basket absent-mindedly and forgets to pick it up again, she will still get her books back. If she is lucky.

The sun has come out. Enid looks towards it.


Two Easter Mysteries: Burnt Cottage and Spiteful Letters: ah spring is in the air. Two summer Mysteries: Disappearing Cat and Missing Necklace: feel the heat! And two Christmas Mysteries: Secret Room and Hidden House, the cold and dark can't put Fatty off, though coats are compulsory. What an achievement!

But is there to be
a seventh book involving the Find-Outers? If so, it should be another Easter holidays story (if Enid sticks to the rota she's set up so far) and so she might as well get on with writing it. As well as a secure sense of place, the Mysteries have a consistent sense of season and weather as well. Which isn't to say that, for example, The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat and The Mystery of the Missing Necklace were necessarily written in high summer, because Enid had easy access to her imagination. We know from a letter that Enid wrote to Peter McKellar that she wrote The River of Adventure in January, whereas the book actually begins in late September.

Enid could play tricks with her readers. And a trick that she played on 1 May, 1949 was to go and get changed so that it looked as if she had been visited on two separate occasions by photographers. She has got changed, and is sitting on the swing seat in the south-facing side of the garden and has been joined by Gillian and Imogen, her children, and Laddie her spaniel.


The reason I know it's the same day, is that the pile of books on the swing seat consists of the same four titles that have been carted from Enid's writing room inside, to her writing spot outside. This time the
Second Holiday Book is open at the start of a story. Again, the high quality of George Konig's photograph allows that to be shown.


In the next image I've replicated the set up with books from my own collection. Though my copies of The Island of Adventure and House at the Corner lack their dust-jackets.



Enid has a sheet of paper in her typewriter. Does that mean she's made a start on the next Mystery? Is she about to pop back into the house and dress up as a pantomime cat?

Well, we don't know. But we can see Enid is excited about something.


Enid may still be exhilarated by all things Noddy. It was on March 17th of 1949 - less than two months before - that at the request of David White, the publisher at Sampson Low responsible for the Holiday Books, arranged a meeting between Enid and a dutch artist-illustrator called Van Der Beek. At that meeting, Enid was bowled over by his drawings, and four days later she presented the publisher with the first two Noddy stories and a covering letter which ended:

'Now about the general title - at the moment this is 'All Aboard for Toyland', and I imagine we might have as a 'motif' a toy train rushing along crowded with passengers - going all round the top, sides and bottom or something like that - to give the books a 'series' look. The specific titles (which will all be different of course) will each contain the word 'Noddy'. In the end, if they are very successful, they'll probably be referred to and ordered as the 'Noddy' books. What do you think about it?'


Well, Van Der Beek was as excited as Enid, but he needed time to do the drawings of Noddy and Big-ears, so it would be a bit longer before Enid would see on the page what she could already see in her mind's eye. Which is not a problem we have in 2020. Here are the first two titles in a series that was going to be huge, complete with Enid's suggested train. Her phrase 'All Aboard for Toyland' is emblazoned over the back cover, along the bottom of which the rear carriages of the train run, packed with passengers, including Noddy and Big-Ears.


Kenneth arrives and George König steps back to get a shot of the whole family. But the laughing and the joking goes on.


Enid: "Gillian, do you know YOU'RE SITTING ON The Mystery of the Missing Necklace?

Gillian: "You hum it, Mum, I'll play it."

Kenneth takes a quick stroll around the garden with Enid. He take the opportunity to ask Enid how much extra money the Noddy books are likely to bring in. He wants to know because he has a weakness for expensive cars. He has a Rolls Royce in the garage, and a Bentley, and an MG, and whatever else. He is also a betting man, and one thing a betting man needs is a decent stake.

Fortunately, Enid isn't listening to her husband. She is more interested in the activities of a chaffinch that is nesting in the flowering trees that line the pergola.

If Kenneth was going to take an interest in what Enid was earning, he might have done them both a favour and thought of the tax implications. With Enid publishing more and more books, her income was increasing exponentially. Spending money for Kenneth! Alas, for years Enid had been paying tax on the same increasingly out-of-date estimate of her earnings. This was storing up problems for the couple, problems that they would alerted to later in 1949, according to Imogen.


All the same, it makes it even more apparent what an opportune moment May 1,1949 was for a photo opportunity. Make the most of it, Enid Blyton!

OK, she was in the middle of
a photo shoot. And one photo that might come in handy was of Enid, sitting with the typewriter on her knee, accompanied by Laddie the dog.


This is because another new series had just begun, and its first title, The Rockingdown Mystery was published… well, I'm not exactly sure which day in which month of 1949. But this tells me it was out before June 8, of this special year.


Before I forget, here is the printed dedication page.


Actually, the photo that is brought to mind by the dedication, is the one with Laddie pawing Enid's pearls as the girls look over her shoulder at what she is typing.

Anyway, here is the book.


From the flap of its dustcover, see below, you can read how excited the publisher (Collins) was that they had Enid Blyton writing for them. Though I can't think that the publisher (Methuen) of the main Mystery series - the Find-Outers - would have been too pleased to see this coming out from a rival. After all, Enid's original agreement would seem to have been for six Find-Outer Mysteries, and this might have signalled the end of the gravy train for Methuen.


There would indeed be plenty more books for all at Collins. But I don't suppose anyone other that herself would have been in a position to know just how productive Enid was being at this time. (George Greenfield only became her agent in 1953.) Her arrangement with Hodder and Stoughton, re Famous Five books, had been for six titles. She'd then assumed she would stop. But she'd been urged - by children, by parents, by Auntie Gladys's - to go on. And, to everyone's delight, Five Go Off To Camp had appeared in August 1948. What's more, Five Get into Trouble would appear in November, 1949. A Famous Five, whether for Christmas or summer was a commercial certainty, and it brought joy to a generation of children, as well as to the owners of Hodder and Stoughton.

Had Enid already written
Five Get Into Trouble by May 1, 1949? Well, we don't know. We would know if Kennneth, her second husband, hadn't destroyed her work books and her diaries. I've read somewhere that he did this to preserve Enid's privacy. It is far more likely, in my opinion, that he did it in order that some financial habit or irregularity of his could be erased from the record. Enid telling the world just how much Kenneth had spent on luxury cars, for example. Or bets on horses.

Actually, although the flap on
The Rockingdown Mystery might have put the wind up a few people at Methuen, the folk at the helm of Macmillan, who published the Adventure series would also be concerned. They wouldn't be wanting a Kiki the parrot versus Miranda the monkey contest going on in the minds of the Auntie Gladys's of this world when it came to mid-year purchases. The Mountain of Adventure came out in this very May of 1949. In other words, at roughly the same time as The Rockingdown Mystery. Could Auntie Gladys afford to buy little Gwyneth both books?


Another word as to when exactly these photos were taken. According to Getty's records, the photos were all either 1 January, 1949 (clearly wrong) or 1 May, 1949 (several of them) or 11 May, 1949 (just one of them). The latter date is attributed to just a single crop (there are several in existence) of the above picture. I reckon that May 1 is the most likely day of the photo shoot, not just because it crops up a few times, but because that was a Sunday and could most easily explain why Gillian and Imogen were around.


Looks like Enid has found her muse. This is the money shot, the one which makes her look like the person she was. Accessing her imagination.. Finding her muse… Mining her under-mind…

Upper Fourth at Malory Towers was also published for the first time in May, 1949. Enid had already published three Malory Towers books set in the summer term, the autumn term and the Easter term, respectively. In other words, Enid had been going through the seasons, systematically, via the terms and long holidays that dominate British school life. Anyone who has put their children through school, or gone through school themselves, will be able to relate to these units of time. Which means just about all of us, I expect. The Malory Towers books, taken together with the Find-Outers books, which take place in the holidays, mean that all of a pre-adolescent's life is covered!

Upper Fourth, Enid takes us back to summer term. The book’s theme can be summed up in one word: sisterhood. This was no doubt because, in the autumn of 1948, Imogen had joined Gillian at Benenden for what would be Gillian’s final year at boarding school. Though that's not what's emphasised in the book's blurb


As I say, the book was published in May, 1949, so I imagine it would have been written the autumn that the sisters, Gillian and Imogen, went to Benenden together, as leaving it any later would have been pushing it for spring ’49 publication. Hence the sisterhood theme. Alas, Gillian did not make entries in her diary between April 1948 and October 1949, only resuming them when she went up to St Andrew’s University. So the diary, which provides much food for thought re
Third Year, is not much use when it comes to Upper Fourth. Not that I blame Gillian for lack of diary entries. As I've said, I blame Kenneth.

But what's this. Enid has ordered her daughters inside for a change of appearance. Gillian is tasked with plaiting her sister's hair once she has changed her own dress. In the meantime, George Konig has to keep himself busy, so he does. A photo that Enid captions in
The Story of My Life.


When Enid and her family reappear, they sit on the wall that's on the right edge of the above photo. Just where the wall exits the picture. The date in the Getty archive for the photo below is again January 1,1949, but again we can see its spring, presumably of 1949. That same May Day as before? That's what I'm suggesting. That will be the same newspaper that was at Enid's feet in late morning, and lying on the swing seat a little earlier in the afternoon. The joke that is being shared is 1 May, 1949. May Fool's day, anyone? Enid's joke. Enid's rules.


They move on to have afternoon lemonade by the summerhouse. According to Imogen, this summerhouse was not used much, though it could function as a gathering point for tennis parties, as it was next to the courts. More often, the immediate family had tea or cold drinks there.


Enid loves it there because the summerhouse reminds her of House-For-One where Noddy lives next to Four-Chimneys (Green Hedges has five-chimneys, though if you were trying to count them from a random spot or two in the garden, you might come up with four chimneys).

In the first Noddy book (at that moment being drawn by Beek) Big-Ears helps Noddy build his house. And right at the start of the second book, there is a plate to show Noddy proudly standing outside his front door, greeting the milk-man.


Where next? To the rectangular pond at the back of the house. In other words to the east, close to where the photos of Enid carrying her basket were taken earlier in the day.


What is Gillian pointing at? An insignificant-seeming book has been left on the stone edge of the pond. It is actually a very significant book, in that it is the first Secret Seven book, though it was never classed as such, because of the format in which it appeared.


It was sold as a 'Janet and Peter Adventure', not a Secret Seven. But inside, the reader will find the Secret Seven. That's Colin, Pam, Jack, George and Barbara, as well as Janet and Peter. They set up a Secret Seven Society. They all have to remember a password to get into each meeting of the Secret Seven. As I say, a complete Secret Seven adventure.

Eileen Soper was hired to give visual expression to the feast of children, but I suspect she was always going to be too busy to be lead artist for the series. Nevertheless, she helped launch it for Lutterworth. One can see from the illustrations, that whether the emphasis was on a younger group of Find-Outers, similar to Fatty, Daisy, Larry, Pip and Bets…


…or a younger group similar to the Famous Five…


…the point was that
these were younger children, whose characters were less well-formed. The adventures they got involved in would be a bit simpler than in Enid's other series, so that seven- and eight-year-old readers could enjoy them.

Enid and Gillian have walked a little further, from the east side of the garden back to the south side, close to the swing seat. This is a favourite quiet spot, where Enid can relax with the goldfish which swim in the round pond.


Last photo coming up. Enid is going for an afternoon walk on her own. She will be starting a new Mystery come Monday morning. The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat.

Writing this essay has brought a certain perspective to mind. This was the last year that Enid felt free to be able to make positive creative moves in her writing career. First, the creation of Noddy and the Secret Seven, widening her target audience. Second, pushing on with the Famous Five, the Adventure series, the Find-Outers and adding an additional Mystery series for Collins. Soon after the Inland Revenue would be in touch and she would be pressurised into accepting Eric Rogers as her business manager. He, like Kenneth, was a money man, only interested in the bottom line. That would become very frustrating for Enid, who was primarily interested in writing, her charitable interests, and the well-being of the children she wrote for.

But those pressures were yet to be felt on Sunday, May 1, 1949. So let's try and stay in the moment, a pretty special moment it has to be said.

Enid hasn't got
a clue what will happen in The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat; her work, indeed her life, for the following week. All is well with the world.