HUGH = GOON?
Not a shred of evidence to link the two... Not one iota of resemblance between them...
I spent much of a chapter in Looking For Enid trying to demonstrate that the buffoon of a policeman - PC Goon, in the Find-Outer mysteries - was Enid’s revenge on her first husband, Hugh Pollock. Some readers were persuaded by the argument. Some were amused but not persuaded. Others seemed to be neither persuaded nor amused judging by the smoke that emerged from their ears. I’m glad to have the chance to put the argument/entertainment again in the light of new evidence. Why am I glad? Because, in my opinion, the story is of such compelling human interest and throws light on what I believe to be Enid Blyton’s most brilliant - and most personal - creation, the Mystery series, featuring Fatty and the Find-Outers.
Looking For Enid came out in 2007. In 2009, Starlight appeared, a self-published book of memoirs by Ida Pollock. Ida was 101 at the time and I think it can safely be assumed that her daughter, Rosemary Pollock, was the force behind its publication. Perhaps the Pollocks were trying to take advantage of all the publicity surrounding the film Enid, which came out in November 2009. Certainly, Rosemary Pollock managed to put in a word or two for her mother’s book, which she claimed redresses some of the rumours that Enid put about following her divorce from Hugh in 1943.
Enid and Hugh were living together in Green Hedges, Beaconsfield, having moved the three miles from Old Thatch, Bourne End, where their marriage came under great strain because of Hugh’s drinking and consequent behaviour. That is the key scenario behind the Mystery series and Fatty’s relentless humiliation of Goon, as I will attempt to show once more now that I’ve scrutinised what’s been revealed by Starlight.
I suspect Enid was trying to make another go of the marriage when she, Hugh, Gillian and Imogen moved to Green Hedges in 1938. But when the Second World War started, Hugh, who had fought with distinction in the First World War, chose to leave his job with Newnes the publisher and rejoin the army. This meant leaving Green Hedges and his family as well, and Enid found it difficult to understand this decision. Perhaps (and here I jest) Hugh was trying to create the same conditions that led to the break-up of his first marriage in 1919, when the woman in question left Hugh for another man when Hugh was away fighting for his country. There was a son from Hugh’s first marriage. More of him later.
By 1941 Hugh was based in Surrey where he had been made Commandant of a new War Office school for Home Guard officers, and he had invited Ida Crowe to be his secretary, a young writer whose first book he had published (echoing his initial relations with Enid). Enid was introduced to Kenneth Darrell Waters in the spring of 1941, according to her principle biographer, Barbara Stoney. Soon after that they were a couple, using a flat in London for their liaisons. Hugh still returned to Green Hedges, particularly at Christmas, but the relationship between himself and Enid gradually disintegrated. In May 1942, ten-year-old Gillian walked Hugh to Beaconsfield station prior to him going to America for a few months on army work. She was never to see her father again. In October 1943, Enid married Kenneth Darrell Waters and Hugh married Ida Crowe. A fresh start for both? Yes and no. Both carried the baggage of their life experiences with them. Enid, it turned out, would not be able to forget what she’d seen and heard at Old Thatch, though her under-mind would ensure that it came out in an indirect and utterly inspired way.
Enid’s divorce from Hugh came through in December 1942, but it didn’t become absolute until June 1943, by which time Kenneth was also free to remarry. Perhaps it was the waiting that motivated Enid to write the first of her ‘revenge on Hugh’ books. The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage was published on December 9th 1943 and is about the burning down of a property. The village of Peterswood is clearly a fictional Bourne End, the village where Enid lived with Hugh for nine years. The lane leading to the river, where the cottage, or workroom, burns down in the book, is effectively Coldmoorholme Lane where Enid, Hugh, Gillian and Imogen lived in a house called Old Thatch. Their handyman/chauffeur Dick Hughes lived in a cottage in the grounds of Old Thatch (and, just to complicate things, he built a miniature house for Gillian in the grounds as well). In Burning Cottage, Mr Hick (a name obtainable by taking the first of the chauffeur’s surname and adding it to all but the first of his Christian name) burns down his own property. Goon looks on ineffectively. The scenario lampoons both Hugh, who drank secretly in a cellar under the stairs in Old Thatch, and Dick Hughes who disposed of the empties from time to time and kept Enid in the dark as to what was going on in her own home.
Near the end, Mr Hick brazenly lies to Bets, youngest of the Find-Outers and the same age as Imogen when the book came out in 1943. This deeply upsets Bets. Finally, Fatty works out that Hick did not really take the train all the way to London on the day of the burning. And when the chauffeur went to pick him up at 9.30 in the evening, shortly after the fire-raising, Hick had only been on the train for a short distance, having first set light to his own property. Perhaps Enid thought that Hugh had played the same kind of trick when he was supposed to be working in London, though any burning down he did was metaphorical. On one level, the book seethes with disgust at what happened at Old Thatch and the person that was responsible for the loss of a lovely family life that could have been lived there, the locale that had inspired The Magic Faraway Tree and the Wishing Chair.
I probably put that over better in Looking For Enid and don’t want to spend too long rehashing the old evidence here. So I won’t say too much about how in the second book, The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat, Enid gives Goon the Christian name Theophilus. In my opinion, crafty Enid does this so that she could make anagrams out of his name. With ‘Theophilus Goon’ she could get ‘O Hugh spoilt one’, amongst other insults. The only time in The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat where the word ‘Theophilus’ is mentioned, is in a sentence which ends teasingly: ‘My name’s not Theophilus Goon.’ Forgive me the indulgence of applying this quote to one of Joseph Abbey’s fine line drawings in the first edition, where Goon strikes a pose reminiscent of Hugh addressing what appears to be the cast of Dad’s Army in one of the images that I’ve placed at the head of this piece:
Enid does the same thing in the next book in the series, The Mystery of the Secret Room. ‘Theophilus’ again comes up only once and in a sentence which ends ‘My name’s not Theophilus Goon’. She does exactly the same thing in The Mystery of the Vanished Prince. ‘My name’s not Theophilus Goon.’ Well, uniformed officer, if your name’s not Theophilus Goon what is it? Hugh Pollock, of course, with bells on. Bear with me again as I apply my favourite line from The Mystery of the Secret Room to one of Joseph Abbey’s sauciest illustrations:
Theophilus Goon: O let Hugh poison? Hugh loopiest, no? O I lost open Hugh. Imogen tells us in A Childhood at Green Hedges that Enid would regularly do the cryptic crossword in the Daily Telegraph, which would include anagrams, and at the weekend she would send in the prize crossword. Barbara Stoney, in her biography of Blyton, points out that Enid used to send postcards that were written in a code she had devised for the use of herself and her school friends, so as to deceive her mother.
But while I’m referencing The Mystery of the Secret Room, I should mention that this is one of the books where Goon ends up being humiliated by being shut in a coal cellar that brings to my mind the cellar at Old Thatch in which Hugh was, in the early summer of 1938, discovered to be drinking:
‘Some one came tumbling up the steps. It was poor Mr. Goon, without his helmet, which was lost somewhere in the coal, and as black as a negro. He was so dirty and black that neither Fatty or the inspector recognized him… Mr Goon was angry, afraid, and puzzled. He walked through to the kitchen, with the Inspector prodding him from behind, and gaped to see the crowd of men in the hall. He also gaped to see the children there, opening and shutting his mouth like a goldfish.’
Enid is vividly seeing the character, and writing up the scene with a combination or relish and venom. (Open Hugh to soil?) In The Mystery of the Vanished Prince, Goon again gets himself into difficulties in a confined space. He ends up being locked in a cowshed. Here’s the denouement:
The noise came again – a loud banging noise, then a series of thuds. The door of the shed shook….It burst open and out came a big, dirty, perspiring, maddened creature, his fists up, and hair standing on end.
‘Goon!’ Said the Chief, almost falling backwards in amazement. ‘GOON! What on earth – is it really you? GOON!’
Yes – it was Mr. Goon, and a sorry sight he looked. He was filthy dirty, very angry, and looked as if he had been sitting down in all the messes he could. Straw was caught in his up-standing hair, and he panted like a dog. He stared in astonishment at the little company before him, and quietened at once when he saw the Chief Inspector.’
Once again there is that combination of vividness and venom. It makes me wonder if Enid ever came across Hugh in one of his hidey-holes, surrounded by empty bottles, having lost control of himself. At the end of The Mystery of the Strange Messages, Goon gets locked in a cupboard overnight in a house once known as The Ivies:
‘We’d better rescue poor Mr. Goon first,’ said Fatty. ‘And Buster too. I’m afraid Mr Goon will be in a terrible temper, sir.’
‘That won’t matter,’ said the superintendent hard-heartedly, ‘Hallo, Bets! You here! And all the others too! Well, I’m blessed.’
’Steady, Buster steady,’ said Fatty. There came a noise from the cupboard and Mr. Goon walked out, looking as if he was about to burst with rage! He advanced on Fatty.
‘You’re at the bottom of this!’ he roared. ‘Toad of a boy! And you, Ern, what do you mean by getting me here in the middle of the night, and…oh…er…good morning, Superintendent.’
What is the rage in this recurring motif about? Well, let me answer that question with another: How dare Enid’s first husband, father of two innocent girls, lock himself in a room at Old Thatch and drink himself stupid on a regular basis?
It was in 1933 that Hugh first seemed to get into difficulties with stress and drinking, at least during his marriage to Enid. Editing Winston Churchill’s book The World Crisis brought back memories of the First World War. Dick Hughes realised Hugh was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And by May, when Hugh was arriving home late and under the influence of alcohol, Enid realised as well. She saw to it that the two of them had a long summer holiday together in Scotland. That may have steadied the ship for a while, but by Christmas, Enid was writing in her diary: ‘Wrote a long letter to Hugh all pm’. If Enid wrote a letter all afternoon then it would have been a long letter all right.
The troubles appeared again the next year. A diary entry of Enid’s from May 1935 reads: ‘He drove home and we nearly had several accidents.’ But that year, their second child, Imogen, was born and things seemed to settle down at Old Thatch. Alas, the prospect of a new World War gradually got to Hugh. He became ill in the early summer of 1938 and that’s when the bottles were discovered by Enid in the cellar under the stairs at Old Thatch, a room only accessible through the maid’s bathroom. Hugh was in hospital for a month. In one of her regular letters in Teacher’s World, Enid wrote: ‘Gillian’s Daddy has been very ill indeed...I am sure you will be glad to know that he is getting better now - but it is a dreadful time when daddies or mummies are ill, isn’t it?’ At the end of August they moved to Green Hedges, perhaps Enid wanted to get Hugh away from the temptation of the cellar at Old Thatch. Indeed, according to Imogen, the family stayed in a rented house for a few weeks before moving into Green Hedges, leaving Old Thatch empty. Did Hugh set up a drinking den for himself at Green Hedges? There’s no suggestion he did. But he did suffer another bout of pneumonia that autumn so perhaps a debauched lifestyle was affecting his health again.
In short, at the time, Enid did what she could to encourage Hugh to clean up his act. When she came to think about it once the marriage had broken down completely, she let her pent-up feelings express themselves through the only outlet they really had: through her books for children. The rest of the world can only be grateful. There is nothing else quite like the Mystery books in Enid’s canon. No such commitment to place or to character. No-one like Goon, or his nemesis, Fatty.
Blast, I hadn’t meant to get all those bottles/skeletons into and out of closets again. I’ve got new evidence that I must systematically present before the jury. What I mean is, Enid may have been careful to cover Hugh’s tracks for him - discreet in her diary, coded in her fiction - in order to protect the privacy of her family. But, as I now know, Ida Pollock is a different kind of writer.
In 1944, a year after marrying, Hugh and Ida had a baby. Hugh was in America at the time but he saw the baby when it was three months old. He didn’t like the name Rosemary and the child went on to be known as ‘Ba’ or ‘Babs’, short for Barbara.
Ida is not very generous with dates in Starlight, but often mentions the season, and writes chronologically, so it seems that it was about a year later, in 1945, that Ida reports as follows. Hugh arrived at their house in Shropshire tired and thin. He was in a blazing temper. Ba, who he hadn’t seen for months, was walking now and incredibly beautiful, or so Ida thought, and she looked forward to seeing Hugh’s reaction. Apparently, Hugh just glanced at his daughter then looked away. Ida drew attention to her hair, her eyelashes, the special dress she was wearing. In response, Hugh suggested it must be past her bedtime. Ida knew then that something was wrong but tried to make allowances.
The family moved to a house in Chelsea at the end of the War. Hugh had been unable to get his old job back at Newnes, or a job like it anywhere else in publishing, probably because Enid didn’t want him at any of the publishers she wrote for, and there were plenty of them. However, he got a job putting together an official history of World War 2 working for the Government. Ida knew her husband was doing demanding work but his temper worried her. Hugh found it infuriating if his daughter happened to be up when he got home in the evening. This was something that struck Ida as ‘almost insanely unreasonable’. I can’t help wondering how Enid coped if Hugh behaved this way in the mid-Thirties when Gillian was in her infancy. Perhaps the clue is there in the fiction. If there’s one single expression that defines Goon it’s the phrase ‘clear orf’. Here is how the almost insanely unreasonable Goon is introduced at the beginning of The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage.
Mr Goon the village policeman, was there, directing men to throw water on the flames. He saw the children and shouted at them.
‘Clear orf, you! Clear orf!’
‘That’s what he always says to children,’ said Bets. ‘I’ve never heard him say anything else.’
Imogen tells us in A Childhood at Green Hedges, that when she and Gillian were playing games downstairs in the lounge in the early evening after her mother had finished her work, it would be in her mother’s side of the room that the Ludo or Snakes and Ladders board was laid out. Imogen was wary of her mother, but Enid could make the games great fun. Hugh, in contrast, did not play games. I dare say it was all he could do to stop himself telling his children to clear off up to the nursery.
Ida’s narrative takes us on to the spring of 1949, when Babs would have been coming up for 5. Hugh was irritable and distracted; also he was drinking too much. He caught a chill and was prescribed a drug that meant he had to stay in bed and cut out alcohol. Forty-eight hours later he felt better, but in the bedroom’s mirror he wasn’t seeing what he should be: wallpaper and a mahogany dressing-table. Instead - so he told Ida - he saw a room with windows that opened on to a sunlit garden in which there was a man a woman and a child. After a few minutes, Hugh turned the mirror to face the wall. The following morning, when the maid took up Hugh’s breakfast, he warned her to keep well away from the giant who was brandishing an axe on the staircase.
Ida telephoned the doctor. His diagnosis was that Hugh was suffering from delirium tremens as a result of suddenly coming off alcohol. In the language of the time, he had the DT’s. The doctor thought he would recover, but in the meantime he should not be argued with. The maid and Ida had to accept there was a giant axe-man on the stairs if Hugh said so. That night, Ida woke in the night to find Hugh pacing up and down in his dressing-gown. He had been downstairs, he said, and the axe-man was still there. He needed a weapon. ‘Where the hell were his Burmese knives?’
Ida sat up in bed. They were living temporarily in the White Hart Inn at Lewes in Sussex, and Hugh’s knives were in storage with the rest of their belongings, but she felt it would be unsafe to claim this to be the case. She said she would go and search for them downstairs. In so doing, she told Hugh, she would make sure the axe-man didn’t notice her.
Downstairs, Ida rang a nursing sister. She advised her to lock the door of the house and call the doctor. With what she describes as ‘a flash of horror’, Ida remembered Ba asleep in her room just across the landing from Hugh and Ida’s room. Would Hugh burst in on her? But the nursing sister told her she should not go back upstairs. The doctor was called. He saw Hugh alone and concluded that he needed to be hospitalised that very night.
Hugh recovered in hospital. But he was bitterly resentful of the way he had been treated. Ida describes the day he came back home. Hugh ‘was sober as only a Scotsman who isn’t drinking can be, and he was also in an icy temper’. A plateful of shortbread biscuits disappeared within minutes (as a recovering alcoholic, Hugh had developed a passion for cakes and sweets) and he drank several cups of tea. The frozen atmosphere continued to the next day. Ida writes: ‘Hugh had been through a period of stress and humiliation, and he thought that his problem – if he had one – could have been resolved without any of that.’
Now we don’t know if Enid ever witnessed Hugh when he had the DT’s, but there’s a scene in The Mystery of the Hidden House which is one of several which make me suppose she did. The time when Goon beats off Fatty who had jumped on him in the mistaken impression that Goon was his nephew, Ern. Finding himself heaved off, Fatty ran away down the hill.
‘He must have been a big chap,’ thought Mr Goon. ‘a big hefty strong chap. And I heaved him off as easy as winking.’
That in itself is fine. After all Goon was attacked in the dark by Fatty. Goon continues to think about his experiences that night on Christmas Hill.
‘Flashing lights – all colours – in two different places. A cat, a hen, a cow and something that wailed in a horrible manner. And a great giant of a fellow who attacked me out of the dark.’
Perhaps that is fine too. Because the noises, though they were all made by Fatty, did actually happen. At the end of the book, Goon reports to the Inspector as follows:
‘Then sir,’ said Mr Goon, warming up, ‘a great hefty giant of a man flung himself on me, sir – got me right down on my face, he did. He hit me and almost knocked me out. I had to fight for my life, sir. But I fought him off, and gave him a fearful trouncing. He’ll bear the marks to his dying day.’
Now I think harder about it, the starting point for much of this Goonery could have come from Enid observing Hugh’s irrational fantasies. By turning it into a Fatty and Goon scene Enid almost makes the fantasy seem reasonable. The giant, the threats, the voices, aren’t left as the ravings of someone temporarily unhinged. They become the product of a genius: one Frederick Algernon Trotteville! Talk about taking control of a situation and moulding it to your own ends! Some imagination Enid had. Some powerful imagination.
So if, like Ida, Enid did have to listen to Hugh talking garbage about giants and axe-men, it would have been most distressing for her. It would also have been grist to the writer’s mill. Experience that you might only get courtesy of your nearest and dearest at their daftest. Speaking of which, how about Hugh and his devouring of a plateful of shortbread biscuits in front of Ida and, I dare say, Enid? Here is Goon enjoying tea with the Find-Outers at the end of Mystery of the Strange Bundle:
After his fourth macaroon, and third piece of chocolate cake, Mr Goon was ready to be Fatty’s best friend.
Ha-ha-ha! Oh, Enid you are a tease!
A month or two after Hugh’s hospitalisation, the Pollocks had moved again to Yew Tree Cottage near Guilford in Surrey. Hugh had been back at work, but one day hurrying down the staircase he tripped and fell, fracturing his ankle. Ida writes that he was frustrated at not being able to return to the office. ‘Even when his temper sizzled in the summer heat I tried to be patient, but it wasn’t always easy.’
Ida tells us that in order to reach the bathroom, everyone had to pass through the sitting room, and when one or other of the children (Ba had a friend called Patti) were involved they tended to come as a party. One morning, Hugh sat with his ankle propped in front of him, glowering at a newspaper, the playroom door opened and a small column emerged. This was Ba followed by Sally-the-cat, followed by Patti and her spaniel. ‘Roughly five minutes later the column filed back gain, and half an hour after that it re-appeared, once more heading for the bathroom.’
‘Good God!’ Hugh exploded. “What the hell do they think they’re doing?”
Ida pointed out that it didn’t really matter what they were doing. At which point Hugh went incandescent with rage. So Ida picked up the saucer beside her and aimed it, not at Hugh, but at the oak crossbeam above the fireplace where it smashed to smithereens, bringing Hugh to his senses.
Why did Ida react so aggressively? Because, as Enid said in the last interview she ever gave, the last thing you want to do is frighten a child. ‘Adventure, excitement, yes. Fear never. The worst thing you can do to a child is to frighten it.’ And the picture that Ida paints is of a self-absorbed man, utterly cut off from the sensibilities of children, who had it in him to strike fear into the youngsters hearts, albeit without meaning to.
Soon Hugh started seeing things again. First it was a mouse that no-one but him could see, repeatedly moving between the fireplace and a chest of drawers. Then the stories started to get more disturbing. Ida decided to get advice from the doctor who saw Hugh alone after which interview he got Ida to pack away a hunting rifle and a pair of cutlasses that were on display in the house. Hugh had to go back into hospital. As they took him away, Hugh asked the gardener to look after things while he was gone. ’They’re all round the place, you know…hiding behind the hedge. They’ve got knives and axes. I’d just like you to keep an eye on them. Make sure they don’t get in.’
Good for Ida for getting her mad husband out of the house. Good for Ida for defending her child from a very 20th Century man’s obsession with violence.
Let’s say Enid observed some such erratic behaviour at Old Thatch, which seems more than likely. On one level it would scare her on behalf of her children. On another it was yet more good old grist to the writer’s ever-grinding mill. There’s a hilarious section in The Mystery of the Strange Bundle where Fatty is practising ventriloquism. He convinces Goon, who has already searched a house and found it empty, that there is a kitten, a dog, a pig and a man shouting for his Aunty. Goon reports back to police HQ:
‘Send some one up here at once. There’s a fierce dog in the house – and a pig – yes., I said a pig – P-I-G. Yes, PIG, you ass. And a groaning man who wants his Auntie. AUNTIE! Yes, I did say Auntie. Are you deaf or something? Well, how do I know why he wants his Auntie? No, I’m not daft, but I soon shall be if you don’t send someone to this address at once. Yes, I do want help – YES there IS a dog here – and a pig – and an Auntie – no, not an auntie, but a man who wants one. Oh, and there’s a kitten, too, I forgot to mention that.’
The comedy is all very well – well, no, Enid in Goon-mode is absolutely brilliant – but there is a serious side too. Which dominates - the tragedy or the comedy inherent in all this?
I must take a break. During which I’ll check to see if there are any new posts on the forums of the Enid Blyton Society accusing me of wild speculation and pointless muckraking. If there are, I’ll need to change from the blue crepon of pride, which I’ve been wearing so far this week thanks to a post on my Malory Towers thread, into the red crepon of shame.
After the break, regardless of whether I’m wearing blue or red, I’m going to go back through Starlight once more, focussing on the interaction between the Pollock and the Darrell Waters households. I figure that if I share my insights, then others will be encouraged to share theirs. And so we’ll gradually build a more comprehensive picture of Enid Blyton’s talent and achievement.
Christmas, 1944. Babs was a few months old, but Hugh’s transatlantic colleagues must only have had a vague idea of his family life. A package arrived at the Pollock household containing a large doll and an apricot-coloured velvet coat. It would be years before Babs could benefit from either, so at Ida’s suggestion the package was forwarded to Green Hedges. In her acknowledgement, Enid told Ida that the doll was given to Gillian (though at 12 she was surely getting too old for dolls). She also wrote that as the coat was too small for either Gillian or Imogen it had been sold. I expect the proceeds went to one of the many charities that Enid supported, but Ida doesn’t say so.
What the transaction summons up in my mind are the scenes in The Mystery of the Strange Bundle involving a doll’s clothes. Goon is first to get his hands on them, retrieving them from where they’ve been thrown in the canal. The first thing he extracts from the bag is a small red coat. He is bemused by the package of tiny clothes. There is a very violent scene whereby Goon assaults Fatty and pushes the wet clothes down the back of his neck, punishing Fatty more effectively than he’s ever done in the past. In a funny sort of way, that could summarise Hugh sending Enid the package with the doll and the too small coat. Did what may have seemed like an act of generosity from Hugh get under Enid’s defences, causing her subconscious to come up with the Fatty-pummelling scene?
Fatty and the Find Outers go through the strange assortment of little clothes, Daisy putting all the soggy garments in the dustbin. Fatty realises there is still a single little garment about his own person. ‘I can feel a nasty, cold wet patch on my tummy’. It turns out to be a glove, the pair to the one that he found in the house of Mr Fellows, who got rid of a strange bundle late at night. Fatty instructs Daisy to get the rest of the garments out of the bin but it’s the next day before the Find-Outers get a chance to go through the clothes in detail. Again, in a funny sort of way, all this could summarise Enid getting round to considering the positive aspects of the big doll and the little coat that came in the package from Hugh’s household.
Inspecting the doll’s clothes goes on and on. Enid really gets off on the examination and I did wonder about this when I read the book while researching Looking For Enid, though I didn’t know what to make of it then. By the end of the chapter called ‘Examining the clothes’ Fatty has a Eureka moment. He comes across a tiny hanky that has the name EURYCLES written on it. Which is the clue that makes Fatty realise these aren’t ordinary doll’s clothes, these belong to a ventriloquist’s doll! Perhaps it was when handling the velvet coat and the big doll in 1944 that Enid came up with the kernel of an idea that would become The Mystery of the Strange Bundle, though that funny and mysterious book wasn’t actually published until 1952. Towards the end of Strange Bundle, the doll’s clothes get stolen from Fatty’s shed, all except a little shoe that good old Buster comes up with, which contains a precious list of names and notes. The Chief Inspector is thrilled as this means very valuable Secret Service information has been rescued! All very hush-hush but well done Fatty and the Find-Outers! By this stage in the series, Treyer Evans was the illustrator of the books. Here is one of his boldly hatched images though I have slightly amended the caption:
OK, let’s move on to something even more intriguing (if that’s possible): The Mystery of Hugh’s Son. Ida tells us that one morning a letter arrived from Enid. She expressed a hope that Hugh hadn’t ruined her life as he had ruined hers. She went on to say that she didn’t suppose Hugh had mentioned it, but he’d been married before. The son from the marriage was now an adult and this Alistair had been in contact with Green Hedges asking for his father’s address. Now Hugh had indeed not mentioned this first marriage to Ida. And he had to admit to his third wife that he’d made no effort to meet his son in the last twenty years.
Shortly after this bolt from the blue, no doubt provided with the appropriate address by Enid, Alistair wrote to Hugh. Ida felt that the letter from ‘the boy’ was touching. Actually, he wasn’t a boy any more, he was about thirty and planning to get married. Alistair wanted his father to be at the wedding. One line from the letter stuck in Ida’s memory: ‘I’m so proud of you, Father.’ How did Hugh respond? By telling Ida that he was too busy to go to the wedding. Ida urged him to make some kind of arrangement to meet his son. Hugh said he’d think about it. But as far as Ida knew, Hugh never did respond to the reaching out of his own flesh and blood. How sad and cruel is that?
I can’t help wondering if Enid wasn’t touched too. Could it account for the sudden appearance of Ern, Goon’s big-hearted nephew, in The Mystery of the Hidden House? That book was published in November 1948. Now Alistair was born in 1915 and if he really was about thirty when he got married, that would place the marriage in 1945. However, Ida and Hugh only moved into the house in Chelsea, where they were when Enid’s letter came, in the middle of 1945. They stayed there for two and a half years and so it was prior to Feb 1948 that the correspondence took place, which, on the face of it, would fit in with being a possible inspiration for Ern. Enid, of course, wouldn’t have known that Hugh didn’t agree to meet Alistair. Ern’s appearances in the Mystery series could represent her imagination working on what these visits might have been like! If she had an inkling of the ‘I’m so proud of you, Father’ line, then she went out of her way to put the opposite point of view in the Mystery books. Ern makes it clear to the Find-Outers what a low opinion he has of his uncle. They don’t know quite how to respond. This is from early on in Hidden House:
‘We’ve got a low opinion of Old Clear-Orf ourselves,’ said Larry. ‘But really to hear Ern speak of his uncle any one would think he was the meanest, slyest, greediest, laziest policeman that ever lived!’
Ern was always bringing out dreadful tales of his uncle. ’He ate three eggs and all the bacon for his breakfast, and he didn’t leave me nothing but a plate of porridge,’ said Ern. ‘No wonder he’s bursting his uniform!’
‘My uncle isn’t half lazy,’ he said another time. ‘He’s supposed to be on duty each afternoon, but he just puts his head back, shuts his eyes and snores till tea-time! Wouldn’t I like the Inspector to come along and catch him!’
Enid warms to her theme. By the middle of the book, Fatty is writing a facetious poem on Ern’s behalf. How’s this as a riposte to ‘I’m so proud of you, Father’…
TO MY DEAR UNCLE
Oh how I love thee, Uncle dear,
Although thine eyes like frogs’ appear,
Thy body is so fat and round,
Thy heavy footsteps shake the ground.
Thy temper is so sweet and mild
‘Twould frighten e’en the smallest child,
And when thou speakest, people say,
“Now did we hear a donkey bray?”
Dear Uncle how…
At that point Fatty is interrupted by Ern coming back to the shed. So he quickly shuts Ern’s ‘portry note-book’ and the reader has to wait awhile for the pay-off when Goon opens the book and reads the poem about himself. Laughter truly is the best revenge!
Serious point. Goon is a terrible parent figure, striking fear into Ern and punishing him cruelly in one caning scene that has been expunged from later editions of Hidden House. Enid emphasises how the beating makes a coward of the boy. But Ern does learn about courage in the book, thanks to his wise parent-substitute, Fatty. By the end of the book Ern is capable of self-sacrifice. How did Alistair end up? He died of cancer in his fiftes, though obviously I’m not blaming Hugh for that, and nor is Treyer Evans:
Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on Hugh, harder than I was in Looking For Enid. Well, I’ve come to believe Hugh himself was quite hard on the people around him. Three times in his life he married young, impressionable women (neither Enid nor Ida had a boyfriend before Hugh came along). In none of these marriages does he seem to have taken much interest in or responsibility for the children. This looks like a more glaring deficiency now than it would have done at the time. Hugh did his bit for the country in the two World Wars and by editing book projects about both Wars. During the First World War, Hugh narrowly escaped Court Martial for disobeying an order. As a result of this insubordination he was able to capture a German-held village, plus 50 prisoners, without losing a single man; and at the end of that war he was awarded the DSO. He was an officer, a leader of men, a clubbable drinker: a man’s man. But he wasn’t much good with kids. He wasn’t much cop about the home. When required to heat up a rice pudding for himself and Babs for lunch in Ida’s absence one day, the pudding remained stubbornly tepid. It was the child who, in retrospect, reckoned that Hugh should have shut the oven door during the heating up process.
I need to say more than that. After all, two of Hugh’s children are still alive: Rosemary Pollock and Imogen Smallwood and they may still care what the world thinks of their father. Well, I think this: Hugh must have been a very intelligent and charismatic individual to attract the attention and gain the love of Enid and Ida, two supercharged women. But it’s not the man that Enid married, her loving ‘Bun’ that Enid lampoons in Goon. It’s a side of his personality that came out when Hugh was under pressure and drinking heavily. Goon is not Lt-Col Hugh Pollock, DSO. Or Hugh Pollock, successful book editor. Goon is old Clear Orf. Goon is old Burmese Knives.
When Hugh went bankrupt in 1950, when his war book project came to an end, Ida showed herself to be resourceful by getting into the swing of writing romantic fiction for a commercial market. She started off writing for Mills and Boon under the name Susan Barrie. Soon she was churning out so much fiction she needed two more pseudonyms at Millls and Boon and four more publishers! Almost out-Eniding Enid! She stayed loyal to Hugh, and, largely through her efforts, it seems to me, they raised their daughter successfully. In Starlight, Ida is kind and loyal towards the love of her life, which is as it should be. But being honest, she’s unable to conceal certain happenings, those I’ve picked up on. And so a certain side of Hugh, a side that Enid transformed into stunning art, stands exposed.
There are two more occasions when the Pollock and the Darrell Waters households came into contact. In 1952 the Pollocks were living for a while in Buckinghamshire and Ida’s first Mills and Boon hadn’t yet been published. Ida mentioned to a friend the trust fund that Hugh had set up in favour of Gillian and Imogen to cover the cost of their boarding school education. The friend, Dora, suggested that Enid might be willing to let Babs - who was eight by this time, and who Ida wanted to send to boarding school too - in on the fund. Moreover, Dora, who was an amateur actress, was willing to get on a bus and visit Enid at Green Hedges to put the case. The interview did not go well. Dora reported back that when it was put to Enid that Babs had health problems, she replied: ‘I don’t care if the child dies.’ On the face of it, that seems horribly harsh. But can the truth of the reported exchange be relied on? I don’t think so. Ida has to admit that under Enid’s direction the trust was opened up to release £200 for Babs. Ida does not comment on the amount, but on the very next page she mentions getting exactly the same amount from the Sultan of Johore. ‘Around three thousand in today’s money’, Ida tells us. ‘I just felt dizzy with gratitude.’
On to 1957 and the final exchange between the Pollocks and the Darrell Waters. Babs was 13 by this time and she’d picked up somehow that her half-sister, Gillian, who was 26, was about to get married. A reporter turned up at the Pollock household and managed to get the following quote from Hugh: ‘I haven’t seen Miss Blyton for fifteen years, and I don’t want to see her now.’ Perhaps he was caught on the hop, as Ida suggests, but it was still a crass thing to say. How would Gillian feel when she read her father’s remark? Not that it seems essentially different to Hugh’s attitude when his only son, Alistair, was about to marry.
I mustn’t oversimplify things here. According to Ida, Hugh felt very close to Gillian in particular and would like to have kept in touch with Gillian and Imogen after the divorce from Enid. However, Enid, having got Hugh to officially accept responsibility for the break-up of their marriage by his adultery, though it was her own adultery that came first, reneged on the deal they’d struck giving Hugh access to the children. Perhaps she did this remembering how the absence of her own father had affected her teenage years even though she did have access to Thomas in his new life. Or perhaps Enid did this to protect her children from what she’d come to see as Hugh’s wayward influence, though if so in this she was certainly misguided. In the vast majority of cases, children benefit from having contact with both their natural parents.
On the day before the wedding, Hugh told Ida that he wished he’d written Gillian a letter. Ida urged him to phone Green Hedges and speak to his daughter. So he tried to do that. Alas, the call was picked up by a young woman who told him she was a secretary. According to Ida’s report, Hugh knew it was Imogen. Just as, according to Imogen in A Childhood at Green Hedges, she recognised the Ayrshire accent of her father. Hugh asked if he could speak to Gillian, who was in fact in the room. Imogen said that Gillian was out. And that was that. Oh, the crucifying distance between parent and child.
The story goes that Enid was paranoid about Hugh turning up at the wedding and making a scene. Perhaps she had good reason to be nervous. It’s a bit much when George Greenfield, Enid’s literary agent who met Hugh only once, states in his brief biography of his prodigal author that Enid asked him to stay near the back of the church in case Hugh ‘made a sudden entrance and caused a scene, which was the last thing he would have done’. As we now know, Hugh was a man of action, a man subject to paranoid delusions. He might have turned up with a hand grenade! Ida tells us how, on the Home Guard training ground in Surrey in 1941, Hugh would retrieve the lethal missiles and toss them to one side as if they were stray tennis balls. She also tells us of the explosives demonstration that went wrong. Hugh’s blood was everywhere and he ended up in hospital to have shrapnel removed from his throat.
Hugh didn’t turn up to the wedding. And if Gillian was hoping to see her father on this most special of occasions, which apparently she was, she was disappointed. To make up for the disappointment (and here I’m joking) Enid gave Gillian a copy of The Mystery of the Strange Messages, which was published that month, August 1957, and which contained plenty of Gillian’s dear father in the form of Goon. This story begins with sly notes that Goon stumbles across in his house, the name ‘Mr. goon’ pasted on the envelopes. Later in the book, Fatty comes across crates that have ‘RANGOON’ stamped on them. He wonders if there might be a newspaper such as The Rangoon Times from where the word ‘goon’ could have been extracted. Now Rangoon is in Burma, and the word ‘Burmese’ keeps coming up in the chapter called ‘A Very Lucky Find’. Fatty, dressed as a rag-and-bone man, ends up in a shed inspecting what he describes as Burmese junk. A big brass tray, green with neglect, a broken gong and a pair of small Burmese idols in brass. But all Fatty wants is to get his hands on any old newspapers that are there. Soon he has a pile of The Rangoon Weekly and he finds the actual papers where the word ‘goon’ has been cut from the word ‘Rangoon’. Bingo!
‘Very valuable evidence!’ said Fatty. ‘But evidence of what, I don’t know. Funny mystery this – all made up of bits and pieces – but I’ll make a proper picture of them soon, and then we’ll see what it shows! Whew!’
Perhaps what it shows is Enid realising how she came up with the name Goon in the first place. After World War One, Hugh stayed in the army for several years, transferring from the Royal Scots Fusiliers to the British Indian Army. The Burma Rifles was his regiment. He served in Burma, amongst other places, and he is very likely to have been in Rangoon (now Yangon), the country’s capital and the hub of its transport network. I can imagine Hugh, in his cups, droning on about his time in Rangoon, and Enid having to listen. Come to think of it, if Hugh still had his Burmese knives when he was with Ida, then in all probability he had the exotic military keepsakes at Old Thatch while he was living with Enid. Maybe he kept them in the cellar where he did his drinking! I wonder if he ever uttered the immortal line ‘Where the hell are my Burmese knives?’ when living at Old Thatch. Or something similar about the Burma Rifles. Hark, is that Hugh’s gravelly Ayrshire voice I hear growling?:
“I belong to Ran-goon
Dear old Ran-goon town;
But what’s the matter wi’ Ran-goon,
For it’s goin’ roun’ and roun’!
I’m only a common old soldier chap,
As anyone here can see,
But when I get a couple o’ drinks on a Saturday
Ran-goon belongs to me!”
I think I’d better wrap this up, I’m beginning to hallucinate. Ida writes that the last time there was any correspondence between the Darrell Waters and the Pollock households was in the year of Gillian’s marriage. Four years later, Enid did have another stab at a Mystery, but, as most commentators recognise, The Mystery of Banshee Towers is a damp squib. She should have left the series alone after Strange Messages which ends gloriously, with Ern, Goon’s neglected nephew, rescuing a concussed Fatty from a cupboard and inadvertently causing Goon to have to spend the night in that same cupboard.
‘Good old Ern.’ That is how the last paragraph of the book both begins and ends. Demonstrating that Enid loved her fictional children as much as Hugh neglected his children in real life. Not that it was fundamentally his fault. The First World War must have done terrible things to many a young man’s mind. Once a traumatised soldier, always a bag of nerves.
So let’s leave it at that. Thanks for your attention. Oh, one more thing, courtesy of Joseph Abbey, Ida and Rosemary Pollock, Barbara Stoney, O Hugh Spoilt One, The Rangoon Weekly and the irrepressible Enid Blyton:
Postscript. I’ve paid a second visit to Seven Stories to look at Gillian’s diary, primarily so that I can carry on with my analysis of the Malory Towers series. But I was also on the lookout for other material that might shed light on my concerns. I came across this quote from April 1, 1950 when Gillian was at home in between terms of studying History at St Andrew’s University:
‘In the afternoon tried to make up anagrams for Mummy; did flowers. After tea packed [illegible] and did more anagrams. After supper I read [illegible] and watched TV and Mummy and Daddy and I had one of our stupid evenings and went into gales of laughter over anagrams and rhyming couplet. We got very low. It was good fun.’
‘Anagrams’, ‘anagrams’, and thrice the word ‘anagrams’. I’d been hoping to get proof that this was something that Enid took an active interest in and at last I had it. I may have been tired when I got back from Newcastle that July evening, but not too tired to adapt a poem from Wind in the Willows for celebratory purposes. It’s not made up of rhyming couplets exactly, but I just couldn’t resist it...
FOR HUGH POLLOCK (AKA THEOPHILUS GOON)
The world has held great Heroes:
The inventor of fudge-macaroon;
But never a name more worthy of fame
Than redoubtable Mr. Goon!
(O Hugh spoilt one.)
The clever men at Oxford
Know how far it is to the Moon.
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Goon!
(Hugh loopiest, no?)
The Chief sat in the Station and cried,
A face on him like a sad baboon.
Who was it said, "There's clues ahead?"
Encouraging Mr. Goon!
(O Hugh spot no lie.)
The policemen all saluted
As they marched across the dune.
Was it Sir Winston Churchill?
No, The-o-philus Goon.
(Toes in pool, Hugh!)
Enid and her Ladies-in-waiting
Inflated a purple balloon.
She cried, "Look! who's that handsome man?"
They answered, “Blowhard Goon.”
(O I lost open Hugh.)
I wish that diary entry of Gillian’s wasn’t dated the first of April. People are never going to believe it.
Acknowledgements: The basic scan of the dust-wrapper from The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat, and internal illustrations from the Mystery series, are 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 Gillian Baverstock’s diary.
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.