Tuesday, 17 November 2009
"I am the Guardian of our Children's Morals"
It has taken me 24 hours to find out who wrote the biopic Enid, which I saw on BBC4 last night. It was Lindsay Shapero - not that you'd know it from Radio Times or a slew of newspaper articles I read online. (I discovered she also wrote When Boris met Dave, which I enjoyed a few weeks ago).
Anyway, it said at the beginning that some bits of dialogue had been made up and I was dying to know which. The one in my title? Or "Childhood is a magical time" "My father was twice the man you'll ever be!' (to her first husband), "Last year I made more money than the Chancellor of the Exchequer" "Hugh is having a fandango with a floozy" (I do hope she said that!) "New beginnings are always marvellous!"
It was terrifically watchable, with a blinder of a performance by Helena Bonham Carter as Blyton, who deserves a BAFTA. (Lucky EB - we should all be so fortunate as to have posthumous biopics made with classically beautiful and talented actors playing us). Actually, she reminded me of my late Auntie Johnnie (real name Nora) who modelled her style on Wallis Simpson. All those high shoulders and tipsy little sideways hats and red, red lipstick - gorgeous!
The play took the view of the younger rather than the older of Enid's daughters - that she was a monster as a mother, wife and friend, not to mention daughter and sister. And it was chock full of symbols - the empty wardrobe, with the clothesless hangers clattering together on the rail after her father left home when Enid was thirteen, the fact that her womb stopped developing at exactly that time, her insistence on writing jolly anecdotes about the family dog while her husband was burying him in the garden ...
She was ruthless, competitive, ambitious and a ferociously hard worker. 6,000 words a day hunted and pecked on the typewriter first husband Hugh gave her as a wedding present, 750 books published, millions made in her lifetime and eight million a year now, over forty years after her death. I hope if Gillian and Imogen were even a hundredth as neglected and coldly treated as the play showed, that they got some joy out of their inheritance.
But it's still incomprehensible to me that she was and is such a success, even though I think I probably read every word she wrote when I was a child. Not one character, incident, idea or line of dialogue remains to me from that deluge of prose; she went through me like a dose of salts. The idea of reissuing her books now, or cleaning them up to be PC or having someone write sequels is anathema: there are so many better writers working in the field of children's books now - let's just bury Enid.
A footnote: I met Mr Waters, Enid's second husband, but never knew he was Kenneth. We weren't on first name terms. At least, not in that direction. He took my appendix out when I was not yet seven. I was very ill - "on the danger list for a fortnight" as family lore has it and my cousin Doreen got me red roses in January because I asked for them and everyone thought I might die (except me, I suppose).
Mr Waters offered me Enid Blyton's autograph and I said the 50s equivalent of "yah-hah!" but added "how can you get it?" "Very easily," he said, not looking a bit like Wedge Antilles with a hearing aid, "She's my wife."