Enid Blyton, the consummate old-fashioned storyteller, is going the way of Walt Disney. With the 100th anniversary of her birth tomorrow, she has become a corporation, and the owners of Noddy and Big Ears plan to exploit their portfolio of "brand names" to cash in on the centenary party.
Dismissed for years as badly written and politically incorrect, Blyton's work is again finding favour, and the aggressive marketing which accompanies the celebrations will harness this new-found respectability.
The ultimate prize is a share of the US market, where her characters will be pitted against the giants from the Disney Corporation.
Set up in January 1996 after Trocadero plc bought the publishing and merchandising rights from the Blyton family-run firm Darrell Waters Ltd, The Enid Blyton Company was founded specifically to exploit the largely untapped commercial potential of Blyton's literary estate.
Samantha Paynter, the company's marketing manager, sees the centenary as the ideal opportunity: "The media's coverage of the centennial has encouraged the Blyton revival. This has made it much easier to negotiate deals which will allow us to break into new markets."
The company has already struck a deal for a pounds 5m cartoon series, based on the Noddy characters, to be made and screened in North America. With extensive airtime agreed with US broadcasters PBS, and merchandising tie- ins of all kinds planned, the profits are potentially enormous.
Back in Britain, the company has benefited from Blyton's rehabilitation as a writer. In April the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature acknowledged the imaginative power of her books, declaring them a "thumping good read". Tomorrow English Heritage will unveil a blue plaque at Southernhay in Surbiton, the house where Enid Blyton penned her first book, Child Whispers.
As the result of such attention Ms Paynter estimates they are attracting 1 million new readers each year. To her the appeal is obvious: "If you look at the values inherent within the work, you see it is empowering for children. Through their imaginations they can experience the freedoms their generation no longer enjoy."
But if her reputation as a writer is on the up, recent allegations of infidelity and child neglect have tarnished the image of cosy domesticity Blyton projected through her stories.
Tony Summerfield, of the Enid Blyton Literary Society, draws a distinction between the woman and the writer: "People forget that she was a writer, and it's her work that she's remembered for. Its value is unaffected by what may or may not have gone on in her private life."
The public clearly agrees, with annual book sales averaging 8.5 million - boosted by around 15 per cent this year after the launch of centennial editions of her most famous collections. The Enid Blyton Festival being staged today at the Edinburgh Book Fair will no doubt give sales a further lift.Reuse content