The Famous Five - Was Life Ever Like That?

As a child, I loved Enid Blyton’s books, and my favourite series was The Famous Five. Three siblings - Anne, Dick and Julian - had all sorts of adventures with their cousin George (Georgina actually) and her dog Timmy.

I found one of my old Famous Five books the other day and was flicking through it. It’s Five Go On A Hike Together. There are a whole heap of things about it that I never questioned as a child but amaze me now. For a start, the kids in it are aged between 10 and 12 years old, but they are allowed to go off by themselves on a hiking trip. The teacher is concerned that it will be too cold at night to camp but they tell her that it’s ok - they’ve picked out some farm houses on the map and will stay there. She’s happy to hear that. On the first night out, two of the children get caught in a storm and end up staying with a deaf old lady who is terrified about what her son will do if he finds them, and sends the girl upstairs to sleep while the boy is sent out to the barn.

In this day and age of “stranger danger”, the concept of a teacher being relieved to hear that her pupils are going to front up at various farmhouses and ask for a night’s accomodation is unimaginable. What’s more, I can’t think of a single parent that would allow their 10-12 year old children to go camping by themselves, especially for days on end. Has the world changed that much since these books were written, or did Enid Blyton write about a world that never really existed?

Another thing that surprised me was that the boarding school the girls attend allows pets. I don’t really know much about boarding schools but that detail surprised me. Creative licence or fact?

It’s so weird to find how different my experience of these books is now. As a child, I longed to be one of the Famous Five, now I just shake my head and wonder what their parents were thinking.

Do you know, those were some of my favorite books growing up, and I had forgotten them until now? Bless you for bringing those memories back, and you’re right: those kids got to do way more stuff than me!

I remember that when I read them they were only a few years older than me (if at all), and I do think that I understood that they could do a lot more stuff than I could. But I think I just figured that’s how Brits are, and I couldn’t do all that stuff because I wasn’t a Brit.

I suspect that the world isn’t too much different now than it was then, and that Enid Blyton was writing for her audience.

(I also loved her other series, about the boarding school, but I don’t remember the title. I do remember resenting her portrayal of Americans, though!)

Perhaps Enid Blyton’s success in writing these fantasies of 12 year old children going off camping by themselves was because even in her time they were precisely that - fantasies. Children then, as children now, enjoyed the idea of adventures without their parents simply because it wasn’t likely actually to happen. I know I loved Enid Blyton’s books for that very reason.

I can’t remember what type of pets the girls had in the books. For what it’s worth though, my sister attended a girls’ boarding school in Sydney in the 1980s and she and other students were allowed to have small pets e.g. guinea pigs, mice, fish. I also remember back in 1981, at the time of Princess Di’s ill-starred marriage, that the newpapers carried photos of her at boarding school, clutching a guinea pig. So presumably she was also able to keep pets while at school.

How interesting. Could you explain it to me?

Possibly Malory Towers? Or St. Clares? At a reach, maybe The Naughtiest Girl In The School?

She had so many great books. There was a series called the Five Find-Outers and Dog that starred Fatty… and the Adventure series with Phillip, Dinah, Jack, Lucy-Ann and Kiki the parrot… I know I used to read The Secret Seven but I don’t seem to remember all that much about them. I had to look up some of the names, but I fondly remember how much I loved to read them at the time. I also remember wanting a dog like Lucky from the Mr Galliano’s Circus books, and I wanted to live on a farm like Willow Farm or Cherry Tree farm.

Malory Towers! That’s it!

I don’t remember which form it was, but an American girl came to school. She was beautiful, but quite stuck up and pretentious. She also caked on her makeup and was quite mean at times. She was also, if I recall, quite mad for movie stars. Oh, and her parents! Quite the worst “ugly Americans” you could ever find! But, at some point, she realized how lovely all the British girls were, scrubbed off the makeup, and turned nice.

At the time, I was one of only three non-Brits at my school (my sister and an Australian girl being the other two), and there were already so many misconceptions about Americans that this seemed like a heavy burden for my delicate, childish shoulders to bear.

I loved those books, though. But it’s a cautionary tale; I can’t go back and read them now, because I don’t think they’ll measure up to how good they were then, if that makes sense.

“Blah blah blah, secret plans. Blah blah blah, missing scientists.”

“Ham and turkey sandwiches, heaps of tomatoes, fresh lettuce and lashings of ginger beer.”

I used to think the title of the Housemartins’ album, “Five get over-excited”, was a greatly exaggerated pisstake title, until I found an old copy of “Five have a wonderful time”. I mean, really!
I always preferred (still do, really) the Noddy and Far-away Tree books’cos they were clearly fantasies and not some fifties vision of how England should be…
But I still maintain George was a hottie.

This is the only expierence I’ve had with the Famous Five. It was a spoof film made by the guys that did The Young Ones. Five go mad in Dorsett was the title and although I never knew the Five I knew they had to be a Brit version of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. God it was funny.

My uncle speaks fondly of week-long camping trips he would make with his brothers in the hills beyond his grandfather’s ranch in Idaho. They’d take a couple of chickens in a cage, ride horseback, etc. There’s a picture of them on horseback that I have. My father is the oldest at age 12.

Yes, it did happen. It was a different country.

When I opened this thread, I thought it was going to be about this Famous Five. :slight_smile:

I was on a train in Scotland 4 years ago now and the sweetest old lady that I was sitting next to told me that they’ve fallen out of vogue these days b/c of the ethnic/gender stereotypes (I guess like Dr. Doolittle). She was really suprised I had even heard of them.

I’ve read almost every single one-Mallory Towers was my favourite although I also like the Fantastic Five (the one where “George” owns the Island…damn that bully Julian and his meek sister) as well as the ones featuring the parrot Kiki.

We were suposedly banned from reading Enid Blyton at school something to do with her ‘style’ (posh all girls but not boarding - IIRC this edict went out when I was at junior school so in the late 70s) of course that just about turned us all towards Mallory Towers and was it St Clare’s :wink:

In response to the OP - my parents are as British as they come, in their mid seventies, both remember stumbling across a nest of adders while roaming as children with no adult present (not together, one nest each).
My Dad and his dad would regularly cycle thirty miles or so in their Sunday best for lunch with relatives then cycled home (no car you see); Dad’s parents (a country vicar and his wife) were in North Wales, his boarding school south of London (he was on a scholarship) - he would make the journey alone, in his school uniform, it took the best part of a day, in fact I know he sometimes had to wait in Crewe in the one waiting room with an open fire when going home, so make that over a day. Being wartime the journey was especially difficult and he wouldn’t see his parents from one term end to the next - he recalls the older boys having to teach the younger ones, who had never seen them, how to eat bananas; poeple thinking the warden on duty the night the first V1 rockets flew over had lost his mind etc.

My mother was on holiday with relatives in the North of England when war broke out, her parents (a well to do dental surgeon and his wife) went back to London, she and her brother stayed with their aunt and uncle. They had a governess (a Fench au pair who was unable to return home & earned a promotion!) and enjoyed weekend visits to the cousins who lived on a farm. Later Mum too was sent to boarding school - a fairly small one, there were only two of them in the sixth form. She will casually make mention of X whose parents were stationed in Rome meaning she had to go home with Y for the holidays; the various cousins all holidaying together; the teachers she names were all unmarried; at school the girls pooling their sweet rations and the older girls assuring everyone got their fair share etc.

So certain aspects of Blyton’s books were certainly based in the realm of the possible. There is also the theory that, sorry to contradict you Cuncator , that the motif of absent parents (the absence is seldom explained) was so common precisely * because *during the forties (when the first Famous Five books appeared) and early fifties it was an experience common to many children - the offspring of servicemen and women, evacuees, boarding school pupils etc.

And maybe all this keepiong an eye on anything ‘odd’ started as a type of ‘war propoganda for kids’; the school books could have sweetened the pill of being sent away to boarding school ? THe focus on food started as a reaction to the austerity of war and post-war cuisine ? Maybe.

I work a couple of days in an Oxfam bookshop. We get quite a few Famous Five and other Enid Blyton books in the shop and they still sell. Some people are real collectors and only go for old , hard-back copies with the dust jackets , but even fairly tatty paper-back copies still sell. A few weeks ago we had a special display of them in the shop and that created a lot of interest. If you do have some old Enid Blyton books hidden away it’s always worth checking out the price of them on Abebooks. Some of them are quite valuable, if they are in good condition and first or early editions.

ah, good times. We also had a copy of Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book For Boys And Girls, which included the story “The Famous Five go Raping and Pillaging”

I think Channel 4 ran another spoof episode called * The Famous Five Get High on Mescalin*

Five Go Mad In Dorset
Five Go Mad On Mescalin

Almost right !

By the way, who else got a strangish vibe off of George-nee-Georgiana? I’m sure these days we would be reading a lot into her gender-bending. There were so many characters like that-was it Bill-nee-Wilhelmina at Mallory Towers?

When I was young I always wanted to go off to boarding school and have secret overnight parties broken up by Matron.

These books look great!

I have in my pile to be read Amazon & Swallow by Arthur Ransome. I’ve only heard excellent things about it and I’m guessing it is along the similar lines of children unchaperoned and having the time of their lives. It is most definately on my soon to read list.