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THE SECRET SEVEN

1


April 17, 2012. The alarm goes at 5.30am. What’s that all about? Oh yes I’m travelling to Newcastle today to see an original Enid Blyton typescript.

Over breakfast I read the opening lines of Enid’s daughter’s own copy of
The Mystery of Holly Lane, which I bought at auction. The book, written in 1953 when Enid was still at her 10,000 words-per-day peak, begins gloriously, just like anybody else’s copy:

‘Bets don’t gobble your porridge like that!’ said Mrs Hilton. ‘There is no hurry, surely!’
‘Well there is mother,’ said Bets. ‘I’ve got to go and meet Fatty’s train this morning. Have you forgotten that he’s coming home today?’


My train leaves Perth station at 6.39am. I must make sure I’m on it. It’s not actually
The Mystery of Holly Lane that I’m going to look at today, though that is owned by Seven Stories, an organisation that celebrates the world of children’s books. Another of the typescripts that Seven Stories acquired at auction was written in 1962, close to the end of Enid’s writing career. I just know that it will have things to say about how Enid’s mind was coming off its well-oiled rails, and how it was trying to cope with that alarming process. Look Out Secret Seven, here I come. Or LOSS for short.

The car is parked and I’m on the train. I’ll be in Newcastle in a couple of hours. But I made the appointment with Seven Stories a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve been getting up to speed on the Secret Seven series. I only dipped into them prior to publishing
Looking For Enid in 2007, partly because I didn’t read the books as a child. I’m just beginning to appreciate them now.

In 1947 Enid wrote a little book for Brockhampton called
At Seaside Cottage. This was advertised as a ‘Janet and Peter ‘adventure, but it was to evolve into the Secret Seven. Unlike most of her other series, Enid didn’t get into her stride straight away, perhaps because she was consciously trying to write an adventure series for younger children. Most of the existing series (Famous Five, the Find Outers, the Barney Mysteries, the Adventure series, St Clare’s and Malory Towers) were written for 10 to 14-year-olds. The new venture was an attempt to capture the attention of their younger brothers and sisters. The story begins:

It was summer time. The sky was blue and the sun shone down. Peter was lying on the grass with Janet beside him.
‘I’m so hot I’m sure I’m going to melt,’ said Peter.
‘We can’t take off any more of our clothes,’ said Janet. ‘We’ve only got bathing costumes on as it is.’


This is very similar to the way that year’s Find-Outers story gets underway. Is it? Well, yes,
The Mystery of the Missing Necklace begins:

Pip and Bets sat in their garden, in the very coolest place they could find. They had on sun-suits and nothing else, for the August sun was blazing hot.

Janet and Peter are whisked off to the seaside by train, and to all intents and purposes the story is set in Kirrin. However, unlike the Famous Five books, the story fails to take off. Having to be rescued from an incoming tide is achieved inside a couple of paragraphs and then, suddenly, Janet and Peter’s two week holiday is over. Let’s go back to the beginning of
The Mystery of the Missing Necklace for an appropriate overview:

‘A whole month of the summer hols has gone already!’ said Pip. ‘And except that we’ve been away to the seaside for two weeks absolutely nothing else has happened. Most boring.’
“The boringest hols we’ve ever had,” said Bets. ‘Not even the smell of a mystery to solve! And not even Larry, Daisy, Fatty, or Buster to play with…’


No need to worry about the Find Outers, their summer would explode into adventure. But where were Peter and Janet going? One did worry for that pair. The best thing about
At Seaside Cottage is Eileen Soper’s art work: 26 full-page illustrations, including cover and endpapers. Back in 1947, Brockhampton Press, having published quite a lot of one-off Enid Blyton books, really wanted this series to work. Here in 2012, all the Soper artwork that adorns this little jewel of a book can be savoured in the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website.

In 1948 Enid wrote another Janet and Peter story,
Secret of the Old Mill, and this time her aim was true. The book is in the same format as the previous year’s story, with Eileen Soper chained to the mast for another 26 full-page illustrations. Peter, inspired by reading about a secret society in a book, creates his own secret society - with rules and rituals – whose members meet in the old mill. And after some enchanting scene setting, the Seven solve the mystery that materialises right before their eyes.

In Barbara Stoney’s biography of EB, she describes how Ewart Wharmby of Brockhampton Press told Enid that his four children had formed a secret society, with rules, password and a shed HQ. Enid wrote to the oldest child to get more details and that was supposed to be the way the Secret Seven got started. It probably was. But BS says the first meeting between Wharmby and Blyton was in 1949. I expect somebody’s memory has slipped up and it was 1948 these communications took place, because they probably preceded
Secret of the Old Mill.

The train moves smoothly through the morning taking me closer to the typescript of
Look Out Secret Seven, the 14th official Secret Seven book. The first appeared in 1949. It was called simply The Secret Seven. In this story, Peter and Janet live in the Old Mill House and convene meetings in the shed at the bottom of their garden. Jack is a member of the society, but his sister Susie is not, and will remain an outsider, a pain in the collective Secret Seven backside all series long. Jack loses his badge one winter’s day, and, returning for it late at night, he stumbles across strangers and a mysterious creature in the grounds of an old house. So the mystery begins. By the end of the adventure, members of the Secret Seven have dressed up as snowmen, saved a racehorse from the house’s cellar and earned a reward from Kerry Blue’s owner. Well done, Secret Seven!

Year after year, the same formula is used. There are hush-hush meetings held in the shed at the bottom of Peter and Janet’s garden. There is interminable confusion over the password. There is mockery of the Secret Seven by Susie, who is livelier than any individual member of the Secret Seven. There is the need for the society to do good, to solve a mystery, and for each member of the SS to contribute to the do-gooding and the mystery-solving. In other words the books are full of stuff that younger, less independent children can relate to. Kids who are not quite ready for the rebelliousness of the Famous Five’s George or the brilliance of Fatty Find-Outer, but who are being primed for both.

This morning I’m reading
Look Out Secret Seven for the first time. So far I’ve got to chapter five. The password for the meeting at the beginning of the book is ‘Holidays’. The meeting is interrupted by Susie and her friend Binkie, who throws a pail of water over the Seven when they emerge from the shed. When the Seven finally get down to business, Colin reports that his neighbour, an old general, has had his medals stolen. I need to read again the actual words of the book here:

‘And – er - yesterday I saw him telling somebody about them, in his garden – it’s next to ours – and it was awful, because tears ran down his cheeks all the time.’

Thus, in the twinkling of a typewriter, the story has gone from the farce of water being thrown over over-earnest children to the sadness of adult tears. Back to the huddle of children in a shed at the bottom of the garden:

There was a shocked silence. Grown ups hardly ever cried; and soldiers never. And yet the old general had had tears running down his cheeks. How unhappy he must be!

And down goes the adult man into the absorbing children’s story...




2


I’m sitting at a desk in the Seven Stories archive. It’s not the visitor-friendly premises in Newcastle itself but a unit in an industrial estate in Gateshead. But I got here, via the metro, just fifteen minutes after disembarking from my train in Newcastle Station, so the place is easily accessible and that’s the main thing.

I’m nearly ready to start, but let’s take my time. I was met by Paula who has signed me in, taken the perfectly reasonable £6.50 fee from me, and got me to wash my hands before stepping into the room full of manuscripts and rare children’s books.

The typed pages of
Look Out, Secret Seven are in transparent sleeves of archival quality, two back-to-back pages per sleeve, so it’s just a matter of gently turning each heavy plastic page. Pens are not allowed in this room, so I have a box of pencils and I’ll be making my notes in the first edition copy of Look Out, Secret Seven that I read from start to finish in the train.

Overview. There are 80 pages of manuscript, all typed, which turns into 120 pages of printed book. The top page has Enid’s address and telephone number typed in the top right corner. In the middle of the page she’s typed the following:

Look Out, Secret Seven!

The 14th Book in
THE SECRET SEVEN SERIES.


In the top left corner Enid has written in flowing blue fountain ink ‘My Original Copy’ in between two diagonal lines.

The first paragraph in the typescript is as per the printed book, except that there are a few more words in one of the typed sentences. I’ll underline them below, if that doesn’t cause confusion in at least my mind. What I mean is, when Enid wants a word italicised then she underlines it using the underline key on her typewriter:

‘Holidays at last!’ said Peter, coming in at the back door, and flinging his school satchel right across the kitchen. It struck the chair that the cat was lying in, and she leapt high in the air, gave a yowl of fright and disappeared at top speed through the open window.

Either the printer missed the words that Enid typed (those that I’ve underlined) or Enid decided to have them removed when reading through the proof copy. Is the paragraph improved by dropping those words? Less is more. The satchel flies in and the cat flies out. Game on, Secret Seven!

Now, I’ve only got one day to work here, so I can’t go through the book on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. Perhaps someone else will take on that task sooner or later. Apparently, I’m the first researcher to look at this manuscript (or indeed any of the long Blyton manuscripts that were bought at auction in October, 2010) so I must try not to miss the blindingly obvious.

I skip to the last paragraph of the first chapter. Again a few words in the typescript have been omitted from the first edition:

‘WOOF!’ said Scamper, joyfully, his stump of a tail wagging like clockwork. Meetings! Biscuits! Holidays! Walks! Adventures! Woof, woof – life was going to be FUN!

Perhaps when Enid was reading over the proof - with the equivalent of Scamper on her lap – the dog barked when Enid read aloud the words ‘Walks!’ and ‘Adventures!’ If so, Enid may have taken this to be a reminder that less is more and deleted the words with a flick of her fountain pen.

OK I’ve just spotted the blindingly obvious. This typescript seems to be the latest one that has survived. The book was published in 1962, a month before the second last Famous Five book came out. The final Famous Five book and the final Secret Seven book were published a year later but they haven’t survived in typescript form. And nothing else of true full book size was written in 1963 or subsequently. This is a very late typescript I have before me, and what Enid was doing was summarising the chapter just written before going on to write the next!

Written in ink before chapter 2 gets underway is the following summary of chapter one:

‘Holidays have come at last! Peter and Janet have been given an enormous tin of chocolate biscuits and are calling a meeting of the Secret Seven so that everyone can share them.’

Flicking through the typescript, I can see that she usually types the summary of the preceding chapter and that she underlines the whole paragraph, so that the printer will know that the para is not part of the text to be set up. Now a dumb printer would think that the whole para had to be set in italics but there is no such thing as a dumb printer, so Enid would have been quite safe to do what she did. The typed summary of chapter two reads:

Susie and Binkie have played a trick on the Secret Seven members meeting in their shed. Susie dressed up in her brother Jack’s clothes and went to the meeting, telling Jack it was at half past five instead of five so that he wouldn’t be there in time. When the others chased Susie out of the shed, Binkie was waiting with a pail of water to souse them all!

Fine. That sets Enid up to carry on typing the next chapter, which, when she’s reading it over with a pen in her hand she calls ‘A Very Good Meeting’. Let’s see how she summarises chapter three when she sits down to write chapter four:

The Secret Seven have had a very good meeting and have decided on two aims for the Secret Seven Club. Peter wants the Club to keep an eye on gangs who destroy birds nests and eggs and nestlings in Bramley Woods – and Colin has suggested that the Club should try to discover something about some war medals that have been stolen from old General Branksome.

I ask Paula if any of the earlier manuscripts have these summary paragraphs. She thinks not and after a quick check of
The River of Adventure and The Mystery of Holly Lane, she still thinks not. So Enid, conscious that her memory is beginning to fail her, is writing a summary of the previous chapter before typing the next in the way she always has done, courtesy of her under-mind. Each chapter is about 2000 words long, so I’d suggest that this was how much she was writing each working day towards the end of her career. Quite a lot, but quite a lot down on her maximum flow of 15,000 words a day, the incredible speed at which she wrote The River of Adventure. I’ve had a quick look at its 232-page typescript. There is no evidence of any rewriting of the story. Where she has made a minor change or two on re-reading, if it’s created any confusion on the page, she’s re-typed the paragraph in question and pinned it on top of the original typed page. She’s only done that 6 or 7 times in the whole typescript. Right from day one, The River of Adventure flowed like a highland stream in spate.

I need to pause a little longer to reflect on how this summarising business changes our understanding of how Enid wrote. She spells out her technique in Chapter 15 of
The Story of My Life (1952). She sat down at the beginning of a book, cleared her thoughts, allowed the characters and their environment to emerge, and tried to keep up with the private cinema screen inside her head as the story unfolded. She reiterated this is in the letters she wrote to Peter McKellar in the early fifties, which appear as an appendix to Barbara Stoney’s biography. In both summaries she emphasises that she doesn’t consciously come up with the story nor do any planning. That’s not inconsistent with what I see before me in the Look Out, Secret Seven typescript. But when she sat down each day to log in again to her under-mind, she must have realised that it helped to remind herself where she had got to in the story. No planning still. And no substantial corrections needed later. Once she’d found her restarting point, it was still just a matter of opening the floodgates of her mind and trying to keep up with the flow of word and images. As it always had been.

I don’t want to jump to any premature conclusions, but I think that’s clear enough, so let’s move on. The centrepiece of the fourth chapter of
Look Out, Secret Seven is the following statement by the old general:

‘I expect you heard about someone stealing my medals. To think of a cowardly thief owning them! Boy, those medals were won by bravery and daring, by wounds and pain. They were all I had to show that I was once a fine soldier. I’m an old man now, and nobody thinks much of me – but once people see these medals, ha – they change their minds. They look at me with different eyes. They don’t see the poor old fellow I am now – they see someone who had DONE things! And now my medals are gone, and I feel old, old, old! I could still feel young when I had them to look at…’

Enid may herself have been feeling her age when she wrote this. And what are her books if not medals? What is
The River of Adventure, pinned sections and all, if not something won by her under-mind’s bravery and daring. What is The Mystery of Holly Lane but something to show that Enid was once a scintillating writer. No wonder she seems to empathise with the old general.

The summary of chapter four reads:
The Secret Seven have told George to go and see old General Branksome and try to find out about his stolen medals – it is a mystery they are trying to solve. Colin has been to see him but has not been able to find out much. The others have been told to keep a watch in the woods to stop a gang of nest-destroyers.

What’s significant about this summary is that Enid has mistakenly used the name ‘George’ when she means ‘Colin’. On reading this over she’s noticed her mistake and corrected it in pen. In reading over the chapter itself, she’s had to change George to Colin 24 times! When the members of the Secret Seven leave the meeting, it’s Colin who is thinking about going to see the old general. Then it’s consistently George talking with the general for a full eight pages before Enid reverts to Colin in the last paragraph of the chapter. She’s corrected her mistakes when she’s come to read the typescript, either before going on to write the next chapter, or perhaps more likely - since she makes the same George/Colin error in the chapter summary heading the next chapter - when she’s read through the whole typescript prior to sending it off to the printer.

Enid behaves herself from a George/Colin point of view all through chapter five, which she has titled when reading over her typescript: ‘Bird Nesters – and a Rescue’. The fact that she had to wait until she’d written the chapter before giving it a title is more evidence that she didn’t have an overview until her under-mind had done it’s thing. She didn’t plan ahead; she titled retrospectively.

Chapter five is summarized before the start of chapter six as follows:
George, Jack and Barbara went to Bramley Woods and tried to stop three children from bird nesting. They were attacked by the bird nesters but a man came to their rescue, and is now having a picnic with them. Jack has told him all about the Secret Seven.

This man is Tom Smith and he soon proves to be a villain. Has he had something to do with the theft of the General’s medals? Let’s see how Enid summarises chapter six at the start of chapter seven:
Colin, Barbara, Jack and George have met a man called Tom Smith in the woods, who says he knows where the thief has hidden the medals stolen from General Branksome – in a hole in a tree. But Tom says he cannot get the medals because his hands are too large. He refuses to tell the children where the tree is and becomes angry. They are now running away from him.

The Secret Seven convene another meeting in their shed. Enid bypasses the usual password palaver and they discuss the situation in detail. But let’s go to Enid’s summary of chapter seven:
The Secret Seven have made exciting plans. They are going to Bramley Woods when it’s dark to wait for the thief to go to the tree where he has hidden the stolen medals. Then they mean to loose Scamper the spaniel who will hold the man until Peter himself gets the medals out of the hole in the tree.

What could possibly go wrong with such a plan? Silently lying in wait in the woods is quite funny, thanks to Peter’s exasperation at Jack sneezing and Pam shrieking. In fact Peter orders the poor girl to go home. But they do manage to settle down and keep quiet until big-handed Tom Smith enters the scene. But what does Enid say about that chapter?:
The seven are all hiding in Bramley Wood at night, waiting to see if the man who stole the general’s medals will come and go to the tree in which he has hidden them. Tom Smith, who is in league with the thief, has also arrived and has hidden himself waiting for him, sure that the man is going to take the medals for himself, and get the reward.

It feels a bit like
A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream at this point. One expects Puck to come along and press wild thyme into the sleeping eyes of the Secret Seven. And Tom Smith’s scene at the tree when he’s arguing with the thief, Wily, makes me think of the rude mechanicals, Bottom et al, and their play within the play, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. How’s this for Elizabethan farce:

‘You know I can’t get my great hand in there,’ said Tom fiercely. ‘You were going to double-cross me, weren’t you – coming here in the dark and take the things out of their hiding place without me knowing. Oh, no, Wily – you just take them out here and now, and hand them over to me. Go on! You don’t want to fight a big fellow like me, do you? My fists would make twelve of your dainty little hands.’

The hand size disparity is mentioned over and over again. ‘Lay it on with a trowel why don’t you, Enid?’ Actually, it’s got me thinking of Enid’s small hands as they flowed over the typewriter as she tapped out the story in 1962. Compared to my big hands as they clumsily turn the delicate pages - thankfully protected by plastic sleeves – as I, a 54-year-old, read the book meant for children, 50 years on from the day they were written!

OK here’s Enid’s summary of
Midsummer Night’s Dream, Secret Seven: The Secret Seven are in Bramley Wood with Nabber the Alsatian dog guarding them, so that they cannot go home, nor can they go to the police to send them after the two thieves. The Alsatian has been ordered to guard the children until they themselves are safely away.

What no mention of Peter’s sleight of hand? Tom Smith made Pam of the Secret Seven, who has a particularly small hand, put her arm in the hole. But Peter told Tom that he was scaring Pam and got him to stand back a bit. As Pam quickly got the case with the medals, Peter slid the medals into his pocket and returned the case to Pam to give to the oafish Tom Smith. Poor old Bully Bottom - beaten by the faster wits of the Secret Seven.

The Secret Seven have a long cold night in front of them because Nabber means business and poor Scamper is too small to help the Seven escape. The next synopsis is written in ink rather than typed, and reads: ‘The seven are in Bramley Woods at night with Nabber the Alsatian dog keeping them prisoner there. Susie and Binkie suddenly arrive and Peter has sent them to fetch the police.’

Not sure why Enid has to repeat to herself that Nabber is an Alsation dog. Maybe to remind herself that Nabber is not Puck. Puck’s evocative line: ‘I’ll put a girdle round about the Earth in forty minutes,’ effectively becomes Nabber’s: ‘I’ll put a girdle round about the Secret Seven all night long.’ In pen, Enid has written the title of the following chapter ‘Nabber meets his match’. The chapter starts promisingly and soon Barbara has this nice Midsummery line:

‘This must be a dream I think,” said Barbara, rubbing her eyes. ‘It can’t really be happening!’

Two trained police dogs, Vanya and Sasha quickly subdue Nabber. The police then set off after Tom Smith and Wily and nab them coming out of a pub.

Wily was amazed to see his dog. ‘I’m dreaming!’ he said., stroking Nabber. ‘Yes, I’m dreaming! Nabber, I left you with them kids – and here you are with the police. Yes, I’m dreaming. Good thing you’re in my dream too, Nabber – you’ll look after me won’t you?’
‘I’m beginning to feel I’m dreaming too,’ said Janet, as the two cars went on their way again, with seven children, four dogs, two policemen a dog-handler and two prisoners.

Enid writes a chapter summary for her own benefit:
The story is almost ended. Tom Smith and Wily are caught. The stolen medals are safely in Peter’s pocket. What a wonderful surprise the old General is going to have!

The old general is indeed delighted. His cook suggests to him that they make up small medals for each of the Secret Seven, with their names on one side and ‘FOR BRAVERY’ on the other side. And that’s what happens. With extra medals for Susie, Binkie and Scamper.

The last few pages of the typescript are missing. That’s to say what becomes pages 115 to 120 of the printed book. I imagine they got separated from the rest of what was simply a pile of loose sheets of paper until Seven Stories bought the script and had it properly archived.

Overview. The typescript is so neat that only once did Enid have to retype a page, and pin the revision on top of the original, so that the printer was not thrown by her penned amendments. That’s page 76 of the manuscript: page 108/109 of the printed book. But the changes from the original typing are just cosmetic. No re-thinking has had to be redone, because her under-mind got it right first time even in this late book.

I’m starving! Luckily there is a canteen in the building and Paula has given me directions to it. Look Out, Secret Stomach!


3

After lunch I look at Gillian’s diary and it’s not until I’m back on the train that I resume my analysis of Enid’s later writings. In her last three productive years, she wrote a Famous Five and a Secret Seven each year, plus
The Mystery of Banshee Towers. This last, a distinctly sub-standard book, came out in 1961, four years after the excellent Mystery of the Strange Messages. It seemed that Enid was no longer able to recapture the energy and spirit of Fatty and the Find-Outers and the story reads more like a Famous Five book, secret tunnel and all. Blyton never tried to bring Fatty or Goon to life again.

However, in
Fun for the Secret Seven, the last Secret Seven story which was published simultaneously with the last Famous Five story, in July 1963, she does mention Peterswood, the village that the Find-Outers live in. It’s been assumed that this was an example of Enid’s memory failing her, an example of her increasing difficulty in keeping apart the various sets of characters she’d juggled for so long. But having seen the slickness of the Look Out, Secret Seven typescript, notwithstanding the George/Colin mix-up, the mentions of Peterswood could be a last tribute to the fictional setting of the series of books that meant most to her.

Alas, we don’t have the typescript to study. It may well be one of the many that Enid’s elder daughter, Gillian, got rid of. Tony Summerfield, writing on the Enid Blyton Society website, reported that some years before her death Gillian phoned him and told him she’d had a bit of a clear out of her mother’s stuff. It turned out that she’d thrown away the majority of the typescripts that she had, treating them as her mother’s junk rather than as evidence of a unique author’s creative faculty never mind valuable memorabilia of a best-selling career.

Without the typescript, all we have is the printed book to fall back on. The first mention of Peterswood in the whole Secret Seven series is in the first chapter of the last book,
Fun for the Secret Seven. I have my copy with me. The sentence reads: ‘They were soon on their way and went the round of Peterswood, popping the notes into various letter boxes.’ The word ‘password’ has cropped up several times in the previous page, as has ‘Peter’s hand’, so those may have prompted Enid to write Peterswood by mistake.

The second and final mention is in the last chapter of the book and echoes the first: ‘No notes needed to be written to call the Secret Seven to a meeting. When the news ran round Peterswood that horse thieves had been to Peter’s house, the rest of the members came rushing down to find out what had happened.’ No talk of passwords this time and the mention of Peter’s house comes after Peterswood so it’s less likely to have been an alliterative error this time. So what was going on?

Enid knew her writing career was coming to an end. She seems to have arranged for her final Famous Five book and her final Secret Seven book to come out simultaneously in July 1963, (though I’d like to know more about that). She doesn’t want her career to end without an allusion to the very best of her mid-life writing, those books featuring Fatty and the Find Outers. So she uses the strongest of her late writing to mention Peterswood, which is the real life equivalent of Bourne End, where she gave birth to her two daughters and where her writing career took off. Are the last three Secret Seven books better than the last three Famous Five books? I’m aware that many knowledgable members of the Enid Blyton Society think that the last Famous Five book, the last Find-Outers book and the last Secret Seven are just about Enid’s weakest books. But I think the shorter format of the Secret Seven books, and a particular thing about their content, suits her late period.

The final Secret Seven story is about the plight of an old horse, Brownie, and its master, Old Man Tolly. When the plight of the pair is being discussed at the beginning of chapter two the word ‘old’ is used seven times on one page, four times about the man and three times about the horse. The former strength of the horse is evoked here:

The horse was strong then, and could pull carts and wagons and goodness knows what. Then one day it pulled a heavy cart-load of stones down that big hill – and the weight made the cart run too quickly for the old horse, and it ran into its back legs and lamed them. So he wasn’t any use for heavy work any more.

In the last two books of the series, the Secret Seven help an old general recover his medals and an old horse into a comfortable retirement. I can’t help thinking that Enid’s subconscious is considering her own predicament. And, with the loving relationship of Old Man Tolly to Brownie, of Enid and her husband, Kenneth. Kenneth was proud of the recognition that Enid received in her career. And this is what Old Man Tolly says about Brownie when horse-thieves are mentioned:

‘Horse-thieves!’ he said. ‘They’d like my Brownie, so they would. He’s got good blood in him, Brownie has. The prizes he won when he was younger! I’ve got them all in the cottage. You must see them, youngsters, you must see them.’

Shame from the perspective of this argument that Enid made Brownie a male horse! Brownie is put into the stables that Peter’s father owns. Horse thieves come in the night, but Old Man Tolly brings Brownie into action and the thieves are routed. Oh yes, there’s life in the old horse yet.

An apt way for old Enid to sign off. Having knowingly written the word ‘Peterswood’ a page or two before, she now takes the humble form of an old workhorse and compliments the children in the book’s last lines. Not just the Secret Seven but the millions of children who will read her books.

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It’s just possible that Burgess Sharrocks was in on the metaphor as well, because his painting of the cover of Fun For the Secret Seven places a magnificent old horse in the centre of the composition. The horse looks a bit like Enid, with her long face and a great mane of grey hair, though its true to say the artist has fallen short of putting a necklace of pearls around the splendid creature’s neck.

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But I can’t leave it on that flippant note. I have to acknowledge that the book has weaknesses due to Enid’s failing memory. As David Cook points out in his
review of the book on the Enid Blyton Society website, there is confusion about Old Tolly’s relationship with the farmer who employs him. In chapter two a boy talks of when Old Tolly worked for the farmer on the hill, as if he doesn’t work for him any more. Whereas in chapter four, Tolly says: ‘I don’t like working for Mister Dinneford now…I’ll leave Brownie with you [Peter and Janet’s father] and work out a week’s notice with Mester Dinneford.’

In chapter five, Old Tolly says to Peter and Janet’s father ‘I’ve given in my notice, sir, and Mester Dinneford, he was right down angry with me and said I must go at once.’ Which might be consistent with what Tolly has said in chapter four, but isn’t with the following in chapter six: ‘I shall soon be leaving the farm up on the hill there – I can’t work for Mester Dinneford any longer, and anyway, I’ve given in my notice.’

No, you won’t soon be leaving the employ of Mester Dinneford, Old Man Tolly. He’s already kicked your backside down the road! The muddle shows why Enid was summarising chapters before going on to write new chapters in the penultimate Secret Seven. But if she used that technique in the last SS book, and we can only guess that she did, then it didn’t stop her getting into scrapes.

When the horse thieves arrive in chapter 12, Janet sees three men fighting with Old Tolly, Brownie and the other horses. Tolly asks Janet to run for help. Janet’s mother and father get involved and when Janet takes the police to the stables, her parents and Tolly have each subdued a thief. However, in chapter thirteen Janet goes to fetch Peter so that he doesn’t miss out on all the excitement. Enid tells us that most of the trouble was over now and describes how Old Man Tolly and Brownie had set about the thieves, with no mention of Peter and Janet’s parents. Janet then asks Tolly for his version of what happened and he describes in detail how Brownie alerted him to the presence of thieves. How Tolly pitchforked one of them and how Brownie sent two thieves flying, one cracking his head on a door. You get the impression that Enid’s subconscious is still working on the scene as she’s gone along, rather than being in complete control, coming up with the finely tuned flow of plot, dialogue and action that it had done all through the Thirties, Forties, Fifties: all through her thirties, forties, fifties.

Enid must have known it was happening. She did know it was happening. She didn’t write another long book after all, and it seems she had settled on a final publishing day for the FF and the SS. Goodbye Peterswood. Goodbye Famous Five. Goodbye Secret Seven... Wuff-wuff, Buster, Timmy and Scamper… Cheers and tears all round.

Enid’s memory problems were caused by some kind of dementia. How did the disease proceed from 1963 until her death in 1968? I’m going to investigate that in my own way. But not tonight.

Crikey, I’m tired. Still I feel I’ve done a good day’s work. Nothing compared to a good day’s work for Enid. But all we can do is our best. Until we can’t do anything much at all.

Tomorrow, I’ll take Mum out of her care home and tell her, and Dad, what I’ve done today. Mum won’t understand a word, so severe is her dementia now, but she’ll know she’s being included in things and this will help her morale. Our collective family life goes on.



4

Time flies. It’s now June 25, approximately two months after my visit to Seven Stories and one month after putting the preceding part of this text online and drawing attention to it on the forums of the Enid Blyton Society. Now that I’ve managed to put on this site the pieces called ‘Enid’s Last Interview’ and ‘Malory Towers’ as well, I’m in the mood to return to this page and push it a little further. So here goes.

About 20 minutes after drawing the EBS’s attention to this webpage, Anita Bensoussane posted on the thread I’d created, pointing out that
Look Out Secret Seven was originally published as instalments in Princess magazine between August and October 1961. She pointed out that the reason there are chapter summaries before each new chapter in the typescript is that Enid knew that the material was going to be published a chapter at a time and was providing an aide memoire for the reader, not for herself! That explains why, when mentioning Scamper or Nabber in her summaries, she describes them as being the spaniel and the Alsatian, respectively. She knew very well what breeds the dogs were and wouldn’t have needed reminding. Yes, that has been niggling away at the back of my mind and I’m glad to have an explanation for it. Thank-you, Anita.

In other words, the penultimate Secret Seven manuscript shows little sign of mental deterioration on the part of its author. The typescript is a dementia-free zone, more or less. And to celebrate this perspective I’ve taken my copy of
Look Out Secret Seven and made a slight alteration. If Enid could - with a few strokes of her pen - change the name George to Colin throughout a chapter in her typescript, then I feel this gives me the right to take this one stage further in my own copy of Look Out Secret Seven. I know there are purists (and I’m one of them) who dislike publishers changing names of characters in new editions of Enid’s book, but this is not the same thing at all!

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Why have I done this? I know Enid intends me, and indeed all her readers, to share the Secret Seven’s adventure. The change helps me feel part of the action all right, and I’ve a feeling it would help you too. So why not amend your own copy of the book accordingly? If you’re a boy, go through Look Out Secret Seven from beginning to end, substituting your own name for Colin’s, safe in the knowledge that even the author couldn’t consistently distinguish him from George. Why shouldn’t such a character be ditched? If you’re a girl you have to be a little more careful, because you don’t want to saddle yourself with changing the word ‘he’ to ‘she’ in all the right places. So instead I’d recommend substituting your own name for Pam. Or Barbara.

My real motivation for replacing Colin with myself is so that I’m very much part of the action in Bramley Woods the night the Seven go in search of the old general’s medals. Peter gives the order for everyone to find a hiding-place. I climb into an old oak tree and make myself comfortable on one of its great branches. George is hiding up the same tree, but that’s OK: plenty space for two. Peter is also in a tree. The rest of the Seven are hiding in bushes or ferns.

An owl hoots and I jump. Scamper growls and Peter hisses at him. A rabbit lollops lazily across the grass. Soon there are three of them lolloping in the moonlight. For some reason Scamper doesn’t bark. Well done that spaniel! What self-control!

A squirrel comes bounding along the branch where George and I are hiding. Neither of us moves. The squirrel runs over my face, sniffing inquisitively.

“Oooh - don’t tickle,” I whisper. Then there’s a sneeze. But it’s not from me, it’s from poor old Jack.

“Idiot,” says Peter in a loud whisper. “Don’t do that again for goodness sake. I nearly fell to the ground.”

Susie comes along and realises that the Secret Seven are hiding in the wood. “Jack are you hiding in Peterswood?” she asks slyly.

“It’s not Peter’s Wood its Bramley Woods,” says Jack, giving the Seven away.

“Moron,” says Peter. And Susie laughs aloud.

Actually, Bramley is only one letter away from Bromley, where Enid was brought up in South London. What I mean is, Beckenham is a town in the London borough of Bromley. Enid’s under-mind is alluding to the very woods that she used to play in when she was the age of the Secret Seven. Bromley Library is the only library that subscribes to the Enid Blyton Society journal, no doubt because of the geo-biographical connection. At least it was the only library taking the journal when I was researching
Looking For Enid. There has been a resurgence of interest in Blyton recently and, for all I know, all the libraries in the land are subscribers nowadays.

An owl descends near Pam’s ferns and she leaps up with a shriek, making me smile into the bark of the oak branch.

“Pam! You’d better go home!” says Peter in a fierce whisper. “Go on. Go home.”

But nobody has to go home, except Susie. Instead, in due course, we Seven follow Tom Smith and retrieve the old general’s medals from a hole in a tree. But then Wily and Nabber round us up and we have to sit in a circle, guarded by Nabber, waiting to be let free in the morning. We boys sit on the outside of the circle, protecting the girls from the cold, night-wind.

“Looks like we’ll be here for hours yet, so let’s keep ourselves amused by naming Secret Seven books,” Jack suggests.

“Good idea,” says Peter. I’ll start:
Well Done, Secret Seven. Boys first, then girls. You next, George.”

Secret Seven Win Through. You next, Jack.”

Puzzle for the Secret Seven. You next, Duncan.”

Three Cheers, Secret Seven. You next, Anita.”

Puzzle for the Secret Seven.”

“We’ve had that,” says Peter.

“Go home!” jeers George.

“Go on. Go home!” says Jack, laughing.

Good Old Secret Seven,” says Anita.

“Just in time,” says Peter. Janet?”

Well Done, Secret Seven. You next, Pam.”

“That’s them all, isn’t it?”

“Go home,” jeers George again.

“Go ahead. Go home,” seconds Jack. Then he clarifies: “It’s a clue!”

“Oh yes.
Go Ahead, Secret Seven,” says Pam.

And so the entertainment goes round and round. We sit there in a circle in the hope that our childhoods will never end. The Secret Seven have been sitting in Bramley Woods for forty years. They have been sitting in Bromley Woods for a hundred years. And still they continue to amuse themselves. And us.
Well Done, Secret Seven!

“We’ve had that,” says Peter.

“Go home,” jeers Jack...

“Go on. Go home, Duncan.”

“I can’t go home. Nabber won’t let me.”

“Good point,” says Peter.

“Yeah, very good point,” say the rest of the Seven, while Scamper, not for the first time, whimpers at the Moon.

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Acknowledgements: The scan of the Burgess Sharrocks illustration from Look Out Secret Seven that tops and tails this page is 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 the typescript of Look Out Secret Seven.

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.