Enid Blyton Day: 9th May, 2009
After a slow start in ticket sales, this year's Day saw about 132 attendees flock to Loddon Hall in Twyford, Berkshire. You can skip straight to the photos or read on for the full story...
Report by Anita Bensoussane
With quotes from from various Society members and others
What a fantastic time was had by those who made it to the sixteenth Enid Blyton Day in Twyford on Saturday 9th May, 2009. Yet the event nearly didn't take place at all, owing to ticket sales being unusually slow. Society Organiser Tony Summerfield wrote on the forums of the Enid Blyton Society website at the end of March:
Cancelling is the last thing I want to do... We only have this Day in the first place because of the persuasive powers of Barbara Stoney [Enid Blyton's biographer, who died on 6th March] and I would dearly like it to go ahead in memory of her. When I originally tried to book this Day in early June last year, both this date and all other possible dates at Loddon Hall were already booked. May 9th was booked for an Elvis Presley convention! As many of you know, Barbara Stoney lived almost opposite Loddon Hall and she immediately took up our cause, telling them that we were regulars and had always had this particular date (second Saturday in May) apart from once when we had to give way to the local drama group. Her persuasive powers won through as the Elvis people eventually agreed to change their date, but we went through a nervous week or two before this happened.
Thankfully, ticket sales picked up and 132 people attended the event. My daughter and I travelled to Twyford by train and had a leisurely stroll from the station to Loddon Hall, passing wisteria-covered houses, hawthorn hedges and horse-chestnut trees in full bloom. Every year we look out for the house called White House, which reminds us of Fatty!
On arriving at Loddon Hall, the first people we saw were Nanine and her husband Maiko from Holland, and Wolfgang from Germany. As we stood chatting in the car park, two red kites (the birds, not the things on strings) flew overhead — a magnificent sight — and we reflected on how excited Jack Trent would have been to see them!
Once inside, we were greeted at the desk by Enid Blyton's younger daughter Imogen Smallwood (who looked relaxed and well, as a number of Society members commented) and Tony Summerfield. It was marvellous to see them but where was David Cook, we wondered? He soon appeared and carried out various duties throughout the day. It was only later that I found out he wasn't feeling at all well, having been ill for several days. It was good that he was present despite his illness and I hope he made a speedy recovery.
Before long, the hall was buzzing as people greeted old friends excitedly and became acquainted with new ones. As Nigel (Moonraker) remarked, it was like "the first day back at Malory Towers after the hols." Newcomers included Oscar from Spain and his Hungarian girlfriend Tünde, Laura from Scotland, Donna (One Of The Five) and Petermax. Petermax looked so much as I'd always imagined from his posts on the forums that it was quite uncanny! Oscar generously handed out attractive yellow badges depicting the Spanish Famous Five. Mine is currently pinned to the jersey of a Rupert Bear — a McDonald's soft toy which I once "rescued" from a charity shop.
Catching up with friends is one of the highlights of the Day and it was a joy to chat to people with whom I communicate frequently by email or through the Society forums. There is a wonderful air of camaraderie. Petermax said:
I noticed in conversation with the forumites that we ended up going off topic in much the same way as we do on the board. I discussed railways with Moonraker, angle grinders and mig welding with George@Kirrin, the trials of dealing with the travelling public with Lucky Star and dogs' names with Julie2owlsdene. As well as a shared interest in all things Blyton, I found that we had a lot of common ground in many other areas.
The bookstalls were bursting with goodies as usual, with 'Peakirk Books' and 'Award Publications' there for the first time along with regular sellers Sue Bell ('Green Meadow Books'), Sarah Key ('The Haunted Bookshop'), David Schutte and Colin Harding. I treated myself to a copy of Stories for Monday, which has charming illustrations by Dorothy Hall and contains a number of short stories I hadn't read before. It is rather limiting being restricted to reading it only one day a week, though!
Julie (Julie2owlsdene) was selling jigsaw puzzles depicting her painting of Green Hedges and was over the moon when Imogen Smallwood, who had of course grown up at the house, bought one. Vivienne Endecott (Viv of Ginger Pop) had the plans for her Eileen Soper centre (which is to open this summer in Poole) on display and Val Biro was selling artwork and sketching portraits. Noddy illustrator Robert Tyndall was also present for a short while and his illustrations for Sophie Smallwood's Noddy book (due out in November to commemorate Noddy's 60th birthday) were available to view.
At twelve o'clock Norman Wright opened the proceedings with a minute's silence for Barbara Stoney, who died in March at the age of eighty-four. Many of us had the pleasure of meeting Barbara at previous Enid Blyton Days and she came across as a very warm and intelligent lady, vibrant and alert, who took a keen interest in people. Her definitive Biography of Enid Blyton, published in 1974, has taught us all such a lot about the woman behind the books.
The first item on the stage was the unveiling of the cover of The Secret Valley, Trevor Bolton's sequel to the Secret series, illustrated by Val Biro. Anna Wilkinson from 'Award Publications' had had a giant-sized front cover made. Norman held it (at first upside-down, causing some amusement!) so that we could only see the blank side, which was labelled "top secret". Then it was turned over, to reveal the dramatic cover design. Trevor Bolton came up on stage and Anna presented him with a bottle of champagne.
Next came a talk by Clova McCallum, Lee Morris and Eleanor Moran about the Carnival biopic of Enid Blyton's life, due to be shown on BBC4 later this year. It was an informative talk which was particularly interesting to me as Tony Summerfield and I were fortunate in having been invited to the film set (an impressive-looking, slightly shabbily grand old mansion in Surrey) in March. The speakers told us how, in the initial stages of the project, those involved with the casting drew up lists of actresses who might possibly play the part of Enid Blyton. Helena Bonham Carter's name topped each and every list but they hardly dared hope that she would accept the part. They were overjoyed when she said yes immediately, before proceeding to research the role with great enthusiasm. Other cast members included Matthew Macfadyen as Hugh, Denis Lawson as Kenneth and Ramona Marquez (one of the child stars of the television show Outnumbered) as the young Imogen.
Lee Morris remarked that Helena liked to have a mug of tea or coffee constantly to hand — not that it was any trouble keeping her supplied with drinks or whatever she required, as she more than earned them through her commitment and hard work. That reminded me that, when Tony and I were introduced to Helena on our set visit, we could barely shake her hand as she was holding two mugs (and a hot water bottle as it was a cold, wet day and she was wearing short-sleeved dresses for much of the time). She was very pleasant and told us that, in preparing to play Enid, she had consulted not only various books but also the Society website!
Clova McCallum and the others talked of how much research the actors did for their roles and of the amount of work that went into the sets and props in order to have everything looking as authentic as possible. They also spoke of director James Hawes' vision and drive. As it was a BBC4 production, the budget was considerably lower than if it had been a BBC1 or BBC2 production and the schedule was tighter. Helen (221b) wrote on the forums, "What a feat to film in seventeen days. I've worked on TV dramas before and sometimes a two-parter can take 6-8 weeks so Carnival must have had to be really inventive." Filming is followed by two or three months of editing and, as Lee Morris pointed out, to a certain extent it is in the editing that a film is actually made. We were treated to a slide show and film clips on the Day ("roughs," since the film was still in the process of being edited) and it was clear from comments made afterwards that the glimpses of the film have whetted people's appetites, making many of us impatient to see the whole thing when it is broadcast.
Our appetites for food had also been growing and we were glad to tuck into our lunches at about one o' clock. My daughter and I had brought a packed lunch but a variety of food could be bought from the caterers at the hall, who also served scrumplicious-looking Famous Five-themed cream teas later on in the afternoon.
The next speaker was writer Mary Cadogan whose latest book, Mary Carries On — Reflections on Some Favourite Girls' Stories, was published in 2008 to mark her 80th birthday. I recently obtained a copy which I have not yet read, but it promises to be a compelling and enlightening wallow through girls' fiction.
Mary spoke with warmth of Enid Blyton's books. She missed out on them as a child but recalls admiring the appealing red and white covers of Sunny Stories magazine when she was about twelve, while considering herself too old for it. It was only later in life that Mary discovered that Enid Blyton had had an influence on her childhood after all. At the age of seven she had played the part of the fairy queen in a school play and had been enormously excited, dressed in a pink-and-silver costume made by her mother. The enchantment of the experience remained with her long afterwards and, for several decades, she found herself wondering from time to time who had written the play, eventually learning to her surprise that it was by Enid Blyton — 'The Christmas Fairies' from The Teacher's Treasury (1926).
Mary talked of Enid's schooldays and of how Enid threw herself into school life with gusto, enjoying lessons, games and practical jokes and becoming Head Girl of St. Christopher's. Her enthusiasm comes across in her Naughtiest Girl, St. Clare's and Malory Towers series. Enid Blyton breathed new life into the genre at a time when the boarding-school story was in decline and did it so well that her school stories remain in print, are on sale in bookshops and are still popular with children, unlike boarding-school books written by other authors including Angela Brazil and "The Big Three" — Elsie J. Oxenham, Dorita Fairlie Bruce and Elinor Brent-Dyer. (Incidentally, I hadn't realised before listening to Mary's talk that Angela Brazil's surname was pronounced "Brazzle"!) It was marvellous when Mary read out Miss Grayling's famous speech urging the Malory Towers girls to become "good-hearted and kind, sensible and trustable, good, sound women the world can lean on." Hearing those words ringing out solemnly from the stage, I felt for a moment as though I were a twelve-year-old schoolgirl at Malory Towers!
Enid Blyton's stories provide plenty of excitement but Mary pointed out that there is at the same time a feeling of security and stability about them — something that was important to Enid as her own world was turned upside-down as a child when her beloved father walked out on the family.
I agree wholeheartedly with Helen (221b) who said of Mary Cadogan, "What an absolutely charming and interesting lady she is. I hope I am as vivacious and as full of fun when I'm eighty-one."
After a tea-break, Norman Wright played us the first episode of The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage from a long-running 1950s Australian Find-Outers radio series. It was hugely entertaining! The children playing the Find-Outers did their best to come across as "English" but Larry in particular had a very distinct Australian accent and Fatty sounded, as Norman put it, "like a middle-aged woman in tweeds" (or something like that!) Robert Houghton commented, "I've always imagined Goon to be very heavily Cockney, rather than the 'Rochdale' type accent he was given. It made him seem bumbling without any menace and I feel Goon could be menacing as well as daft!" Helen (221b) wrote of "Daisy sounding like she'd stepped out of a 'Cholmondley-Warner' Harry Enfield sketch and wandered into Crocodile Dundee!" The narrator who introduced the village of Peterswood described it as something akin to Trumpton-Chigley-Camberwick Green, full of jolly farmers building golden hayricks from sunrise to sundown. Did Norman really say that more than 400 episodes were recorded altogether, or did I mishear? I'd never imagined that so many were made!
It was also interesting to hear about the costs involved in releasing the video, some time ago now, of the 1957 Children's Film Foundation serial of Five on a Treasure Island. It took Norman ten years to sell all the copies and he worked out that he'd have been better off financially if the money invested in the project had simply been left lying in the building society! For that reason the 1964 Children's Film Foundation serial of Five Have a Mystery to Solve has never been released on video or DVD, though I was pleased to learn that there is to be a showing of the serial at the British Film Institute in London on Saturday 1st August. I've circled the date on my calendar in sparkly gold glitter-pen!
All too soon, the Day was over and people were saying their goodbyes. However, about twenty of us headed off to Dinton Pastures for a picnic — or what John (Lucky Star) referred to as "a feast worthy of the Land of Birthdays." I had made some chocolate chip cookies and an apple, date and walnut loaf-cake. I had to bring the latter still in the tin in which I'd baked it, having been unable to get it out in one piece, but fortunately it still went down well even though the slices were far from being perfect rectangles. We also had ginger-beer and other drinks, sandwiches, pasties, sausages, salami, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, crisps, raspberries, tinned pineapple and so many cakes and biscuits we couldn't hope to eat them all! As always, food tasted so much nicer out of doors!
After the picnic my daughter and I caught the train from Twyford Station with Rob (Viking Star). It wasn't until we waved goodbye to him that, for us, the Day was truly over. What a smashing time we'd had! A selection of comments from Blyton fans (below) shows what a fantastic day it was and how much we owe to Tony, who organises the whole thing every year. I know there were more than a few setbacks and alarms in the run-up to the Day, including a telephone call on the Friday afternoon to say that Margaret Conroy from Hodder was ill and would be unable to give her speech on The Famous Five's Survival Guide. Thanks for your tireless work and dedication, Tony — it certainly paid off!
Sarah Key (Dealer from 'The Haunted Bookshop,' attending her fifteenth Enid Blyton Day):
I thought that the talks this year were of an exceptionally high calibre... I am especially looking forward to seeing the Blyton biopic when it comes to fruition.
Jeff Lawrence (Dealer from 'Peakirk Books,' attending his first Enid Blyton Day):
Heather and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and met some very enthusiastic and interesting people. Obviously we were there as a trade stand but we both enjoyed the programme of events as delegates and found the guest speakers and Norman's radio presentation fascinating.
Anna Wilkinson (from 'Award Publications'):
Many thanks for what proved to be a wonderful day out... wonderful people, some great speakers (one notable exception) [I assume Anna is being modest and referring to herself, but she was great too!] and a chance to thoroughly immerse oneself in things Blyton! One couldn't ask for more.
Vivienne Endecott (from 'Ginger Pop Promotions'):
Overall it was the most enjoyable Day that I've ever attended. The early ones, I didn't know anyone. The later ones, I was attempting to run a stall at the same time. Yesterday I didn't have a stall, Helen drove, the speakers were super and I met lots of friends.
It was a truly wonderful Day! Chick and I enjoyed every minute of it and we still have smiles on our faces when we think of all the special people we met at Loddon Hall.
John Lynch (Lucky Star):
Tony, I know that this year's Day cost you no end of trouble and headaches but wherever I went in the hall and at the picnic people were full of praise for the Day, the turnout was magnificent in these recession-hit times and a thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all. Hopefully that knowledge will repay you a little for the gargantuan labours you had to put in to make it all happen.
I noticed that Tony Summerfield did not relax for a moment, he worked constantly behind the scenes to give us a seamless day packed end to end with quality.
Nigel Rowe (Moonraker):
I know how difficult it was to organise this year's Day. It was nigh on impossible for Tony to get speakers to commit or guarantee names to the Day. On top of that, until the last minute, ticket sales were really down on other years (happily a late surge improved on the figure). We must not take the Day for granted, we all know it doesn't happen easily.