The Queen isn’t the only one celebrating a major anniversary this year. The Famous Five are too. Did you know that Enid Blyton’s classic stories of Julian, Dick, Anne, George and George’s mongrel Timmy have been entrancing generations of children for a magnificent 70 years?
I was one of them. I loved Enid Blyton books so much that every Saturday morning I’d spend the whole of my two shillings and sixpence a week pocket money on a new story. Some weeks I’d go for a Malory Towers or St Clare’s tale, but more often than not it would be the Famous Five.
The first story to be published was Five on a Treasure Island, which came out in 1942. It was one of my absolute favourites - so much so that I recently downloaded it as an audiobook to listen to in the car. And guess what? I was as captivated as ever. The story sounds ridiculously old-fashioned, with children who spend their days swimming at a Dorset cove, taking Timmy for long walks and solving the mystery of an ancient shipwreck, but it’s still completely gripping.
These days some critics knock Enid Blyton for her simplistic language, while others accuse her of being elitist, racist and sexist. I know prissy Anne and her fondness for party frocks and dolls are a bit hard to take but the best thing about Blyton was that she could spin a great yarn. The fact that her stories have sold a mega 600 million copies is proof of that.
What struck me as I listened to Five on a Treasure Island was the freedom children used to have. Julian, Dick, Anne and George are all aged between 11 and 13 but they leave the house after breakfast and don’t come back till tea-time. They’re allowed to row out to Kirrin Island by themselves and camp there alone for two whole days.
To mark the 70th anniversary, Hodder Children's Books have reissued five Famous Five stories, complete with drawings by some of the best children’s illustrators around, like Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark. Not only that, from this month (June) you can download the Famous Five Adventure Trail, which takes you to some of the Dorset locations that feature in the Famous Five books. I’m half tempted to try it myself…
PS. Did you know that a 70th anniversary is a sapphire jubilee? No, me neither.