Blyton: the wrongs and writes

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Few writers have suffered such opprobrium as Enid Blyton. Fifty years ago her work was pronounced `ephemeral' by one librarian, there were accusations of classism, sexism and racism and more esoteric interests such as the use of spanking came under scrutiny in the Faraway Tree. She was attacked for undemanding, repetitive vocabulary, weak, unrealistic plots, and poor characterisation. Nevertheless, Blyton, who would have celebrated her centenary this month, sold 700 books, and The Famous Five, Secret Seven and Noddy are back on the shelves. What do her readers think of her now? Gwenda Joyce-Brophy finds out

Ann Widdecombe (age 48)

Occupation: MP

Read: "Every one" of Blyton's books.

Favourite Series: Mallory Towers (set in a girls' boarding school). They were really exciting.

Favourite character: Big Ears - he was endearing.

Influence? They encouraged me to read, read and read. The best stimulus to a child's mind is the development of an active imagination in a creative, yet structured form - enter Enid Blyton.

Politically correct? I loved my golliwog.

Would you/have you bought Blyton for your own or other children? Yes.

Clare Short (age 51)

Occupation: Secretary for International Development

Read: Quite a few I think of the Famous Five and Secret Seven. They were an easy read but I read lots of other books as well.

Favourite character: George the tomboy. [Georgina of the Famous Five]. I think like many women I identified with the more independent-minded girl character.

Influence? Not a lot.

Politically correct? My upbringing celebrated all the values that are now described as politically correct; they were, and are, strong in me. I didn't object to Enid Blyton, but I did recognise that the books were a bit trivial, but I still enjoyed reading them.

Would you/have you bought Blyton for your own or other children? Probably not. I wouldn't ban them, but I feel that there are other, perhaps better, books available.

George Player (age 48) Occupation: Features Editor for Period House magazine

Read: Famous Five.

Favourite series: Famous Five, they were good adventure stories.

Favourite character: Probably one of the boys.

Influence? The Famous Five had good action holidays. My children I hope have had something of the same, but with pretend rather than real-life baddies. I finally stopped reading Enid Blyton books when I grew up myself, about three years ago.

Politically correct? My memory is that the children seemed normal, natural and polite. The politically correct aspect of some children's books today is so laboured that it overpowers the storyline.

Would you/have you bought Blyton for your own or other children? Yes.

Fern Britton (age 39)

Occupation: Currently presenter of Ready, Steady Cook

Read: All the adventure and mystery stories plus school books such as Mallory Towers

Favourite series: The adventure and mystery ones. I loved the gripping nature of them - honestly! They left me totally spellbound. I identified with all the characters, and I also loved the fact that adults didn't interfere.

Influence: They created a huge extra dimension to my childhood, a childhood shared with the characters. They were my adventures, too.

Politically correct? No.

Would you/have you bought Blyton for your own or other children? Yes.

Gifte Gakpeto (age 32)

Occupation: Law graduate, from Ealing, Middlesex, working in Intellectual Property protection.

Read: Famous Five and Secret Seven at home in Ghana.

Favourite series: The "Adventure" series. I loved the suspense and the tension the stories created.

Influence: It enlightened me, and showed me how other kids behaved and reasoned.

Politically correct? No.

Would you/have you bought Blyton for your own or other children? Yes.

Maria Savva (age 24)

Greek, grew up in Haringey.

Occupation: Economics PhD student.

Read: Twenty Minute Stories, later the Famous Five.

Favourite Series: While the stories for younger children drew me in as a Blyton fan, when it came to the series written for older children the love affair with Blyton was over.

Politically correct? The characters did not seem exotic enough to be truly exciting, yet they were far enough removed from my life and experience growing up in Haringey so that I could just not identify with them. They were just too middle-class for my liking.

Would you/have you bought Blyton for your own or other children? No.

Andrew Davenport (age 31)

Occupation: Writer and co-creator of the television programme The Teletubbies.

Read: The Adventure of the Wishing Chair and the Secret Seven.

Favourite series: Secret Seven.

Favourite character: The Wishing Chair was a personal favourite - an ordinary dining room chair that could grow wings and fly.

Influence? For my generation books by Blyton were often the first books that were engaging, as well as being cheap, readily available and easy to read. I think she deserves credit for introducing thousands of children to independent reading.

Politically correct? I remember being slightly baffled by the fact that characters always went away to school and had very large gardens and playrooms, but I don't think as a child you really question this. I think you're far too preoccupied with the notion of a chair that might be able to fly than with social issues.

Would you/have you bought Blyton for your own or other children? Yes, I don't see why not. Children's culture has boomed in recent years and there is a lot more to choose from and I am not sure that Blyton would be at the top of a list. I certainly would not prevent a child from reading any book they found fulfilling.

Charles Kennedy (38)

Occupation: Agricultural and Rural Affairs spokesperson, Liberal Democrat Party.

Read: The Famous Five, Mallory Towers and the Secret Seven series.

Favourite Series: Secret Seven. The mystery plots and all the detail appealed to me.

Influence: I would say that her books added to my imagination. I ultimately stopped reading them because they all belonged to my elder sister and she outgrew them.

Politically correct? Some of the references in her books were decidedly middle-class English, and thus alien to me as a Scot .

Would you/have you bought Blyton for your own or other children? Yes.

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