Enid is a 2009 British biographical television film first broadcast on 16 November on BBC Four. Directed by James Hawes it is based on the life of children's writer Enid Blyton, portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter. The film introduced the two main lovers of Blyton's life. Her first husband Hugh Pollock, who was also her publisher, was played by Matthew Macfadyen. Kenneth Darrell Waters, a London surgeon who became Blyton's second husband, was portrayed by Denis Lawson. The film explored how the orderly, reassuringly clear worlds Blyton created within her stories contrasted with the complexity of her own personal life.
Helena Bonham Carter on being Enid Blyton
"Appealing and appalling." Helena Bonham Carter talks about how she was drawn in by the writer’s creative fire – and her dark deeds.
By Serena Davies
4:06PM GMT 13 Nov 2009
There is a scene in Enid, the BBC’s new biopic of Enid Blyton, where the children’s author, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is asked by a radio journalist how she maintains the balance between work and motherhood.
“Of course children need their mothers,” she replies, before the camera cuts away to show her two neglected daughters at home, listening to the broadcast in a state of sombre bemusement. “Mothers are the heart of any household. I try to spend as much time with my children as I possibly can while also fulfilling my professional duties. It is tricky, but I think I manage it.”
Bonham Carter chuckles as she quotes these lines in our own interview in a London members’ club. She has something of an affinity for Blyton and thinks these words will do as her personal response to the same question. Although, she concedes, her six-year-old son Billy may beg to differ: “Bill threw my script to the opposite end of the room just before I started filming, saying, ‘I like you but I don’t like what you do ’cos it takes such a very long time.’”
It’s a coup, of course, that the BBC has persuaded a film star of Bonham Carter’s standing to appear in a low-budget biopic. “I did it for the money,” she says with a grin, in a jest that is almost cruel. The frenetic 15-day shoot suggests otherwise. The 43-year-old actress, a one-time Oscar nominee for The Wings of a Dove, is more used these days to working in the lavish Hollywood productions of her partner, director Tim Burton. She has recently finished work on his Alice in Wonderland adaptation, due for release in the spring, in which she will play the Red Queen.
Bonham Carter is perhaps the biggest name so far to join the honourable list of actors who have starred in these TV one-offs. Ken Stott, David Walliams and Anne Reid are among those that went before her. And coming after Enid, completing a trio of films on idolised British women, will be Jane Horrocks playing Gracie Fields and Anne-Marie Duff as Margot Fonteyn. The salient feature of all these pieces – and the real draw for such quality casts – has been the writing. “It’s sort of ironic,” says Bonham Carter, “but I always find the better the script the less money you have to do it and the less time.”
Blyton’s is a corker of a story, and this is the first time it’s been turned into a straight drama, after a drama documentary in the early 1990s. The film’s director, James Hawes, is adamant that his feature is, “Neither a hagiography nor a hatchet job”, although the woman that scriptwriter Lindsay Shapero has created here would strike most as first and foremost a vindictive egotist.
Early and sudden fame in the 1920s (“She was the JK Rowling of her day – and then some,” says Hawes) went quickly to Blyton’s head and she soon lost interest in her downtrodden publisher husband, Hugh Pollock (played here by Matthew Macfadyen). She struggled to bond with her younger daughter, Imogen, whomshe left to scream in her cot. “She put the baby in a cupboard and carried on writing and it all fell apart,” as Bonham Carter neatly summarises.
Although both parties were adulterous Blyton persuaded Pollock to take the rap when they divorced, on the promise he would have unlimited access to the children – then refused to let him see them again, telling everyone her second husband, surgeon Kenneth Waters, was their father. She then contacted the major London publishers and used her literary clout to get Pollock blacklisted, so destroying his career. She also pretended her mother was dead because she hated her so much. There’s more, but too much will spoil the story.
The film was made in consultation with Blyton’s main biographer Barbara Stoney and Imogen, the surviving daughter, and the essential facts are easy to corroborate. It doesn’t even venture into the terrain of her possible lesbian affair, which received press attention a few years ago when Pollock’s second wife Ida went public with her own version of why Blyton’s first marriage collapsed.
But just as over the decades public opinion of the literary skills of the creator of Noddy, the Famous Five and around 750 further titles has yo-yoed, so Blyton can’t be painted only as unpleasant. The biopic encourages our sympathy through its depiction of Blyton’s difficult childhood: her father, a cutlery salesman, abandoned the family when she was 13. Her uterus stopped growing at the same age and, at the time, it was thought that this could prevent her having children. The parental trauma is a key reason why Bonham Carter herself finds the author “appealing as well as appalling”.
“Her writing was possibly a response to her father leaving her,” she explains. “That sort of painful encounter with reality meant that she wrote a world that was much more comfortable. My father fell really chronically ill when I was 13 and that’s when I phoned up an agent and started to act. So I had a very similar response and have always had great comfort from living imaginatively.”
But surely all Blyton’s deceits regarding her own family – she once pretended her dog was still alive when it wasn’t; she eulogised her womanising father – they’re not living imaginatively, they’re pathological fantasy? “Yes, her fantasy was so divorced from reality she was virtually insane,” says Bonham Carter. “It is very hard to have that creative force married to a totally sane brain.”
Bonham Carter couldn’t be more different from Blyton in real life. Demonstrating her customary disregard for fashion, the flouncy, lacy, multilayered get-up she wears for the interview includes bloomers, while her hair is a bird’s nest of a quality that any member of the Famous Five would be proud to discover. She looks about 25 and engages with candour with nearly every subject thrown at her. She says she only read a little Blyton growing up “but I’m reading Noddy to Billy now whether he likes it or not,” she laughs (she has another child, Nell, but she’s too young even for Blyton).
“And he does like it,” she adds. “All the things people criticise her for, such as repetitive language, he loves it, it makes it really easy to read.” She points out that all the racism that so bothered detractors during Blyton’s critical nadir in the Seventies has been taken out these days, and the sexism doesn’t seem too bad.
“When you write for very young children what they want is something familiar and safe and stereotyped. They want to know where they are… Lots of subtle and very intelligent friends of mine say, ‘Thank God for Blyton, she brought me up.’”
Blyton, whose books still sell around 8 million a year, is having a resurgence generally at the moment. Last year a survey found her Britain’s most popular author. The ex-Children’s Laureate Anne Fine recently made a Radio 4 programme in her defence. So she’s not the hate figure she once was. Enid comes out at an apposite time then, although, despite Bonham Carter’s defence of her, the film is unlikely to further endear the author to the nation.
New TV drama reveals Enid Blyton as a barking-mad adulterous bully …
by Lisa Sewards for Mailonline
13 November 2009
On paper, the world of Enid Blyton was one populated by happy, carefree children whose idea of bliss at the end of an adventure-filled day was a slice of plum cake washed down by lashings of ginger beer.
The setting was an idyllic Britain, one of thatched cottages and lych gates, a fairytale time, in an age of innocence.
But the creator of Noddy, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and Malory Towers was in truth a cold-hearted mother and a vindictive adultress who set out to destroy her former husband.
Barking mad: Enid Blyton will be played by Helena Bonham Carter (right) in a new television drama
The darker revelations, which will dissolve the image of Blyton conveyed by her 753 much-loved books, are part of a brilliant new television biopic, starring Helena Bonham Carter as the author.
At first glance, Blyton's life seems unlikely material for gripping drama, as much of it consisted of her sitting at a desk, knocking off 10,000 words a day. Her books sold 600million copies around the world and made her extremely rich and famous. Her works still sell eight million copies a year.
But Blyton's home life at her cottage, Old Thatch, near the Thames at Bourne End, then at Green Hedges, a mock-Tudor house in Beaconsfield, was nothing like as idyllic as the picture she tried to create.
In spite of the children's nursery, crumpets for tea, Bimbo the cat and Topsy the dog, all foisted on the public in convenient photocalls to project the Blyton brand, the truth was more conflicted.
Enid Blyton pays a visit to Victoria Palace in 1958 to meet some of the young artists who will portray her characters in Noddy In Toyland
Fairytale time: The author pays a visit to Victoria Palace in 1958 to meet some of the young artists who will portray her characters in Noddy In Toyland
Children's favourite: Blyton's Famous Five books are still delighting young readers across the world
'Enid's self-awareness was brilliant and she was incredibly controlling, too,' explains Bonham Carter. 'I was attracted to the role because she was bonkers. She was an emotional mess and quite barking mad.
'What I found extraordinary, bordering on insane, was the way that Enid reinvented her own life. She was allergic to reality - if there was something she didn't like then she either ignored it or re-wrote her life.
'She didn't like her mother, so let her colleagues assume she was dead. When her mother died, she refused to attend the funeral. Then the first husband didn't work out, so she scrubbed him out.
'There's also a scene in the film where her dog dies, but she carries on pretending he's still alive because she can't bear the truth.'
Emotionally, Blyton remained a little girl, stuck in a world of picnics, secret-society codes and midnight feasts. It acted as a huge comfort blanket.
Many of Blyton's obsessions can be traced to her father, who left her mother when Enid was 12. She then seized up emotionally and physically.
'It was my job to understand how she became like this in the first place, not to judge her,' explains Bonham Carter.
'When Enid consulted a gynaecologist about her failure to conceive, she was diagnosed as having an immature uterus and had to have surgery and hormone treatment before she could have children.'
Cold-hearted mother: Blyton with her daughters Gillian and Imogen
The irony was that when she finally did have two daughters, Gillian and Imogen, with her first husband, Hugh Pollock, she was unable to relate to them as a normal mother.
She loved signing thousands of letters to her 'friends' the fans, encouraging them to collect milk bottle tops for Great Ormond Street Hospital to help the war effort, and even ran a competition to name her house, Green Hedges.
But her neighbours said Blyton used to complain about the fearful racket made by children playing.
She was distant and unkind to her younger daughter Imogen and there was clear favouritism in the way she privileged her elder daughter Gillian, who died two years ago aged 75.
Imogen Smallwood, 74, says: 'My mother was arrogant, insecure and without a trace of maternal instinct. Her approach to life was childlike, and she could be spiteful, like a teenager.'
Although Imogen prefers to remain private, she did visit the set to advise Bonham Carter. 'We had email correspondence before Imogen visited the set. We agreed that I wasn't going to try to impersonate her mother because this is a drama,' says Helena.
'Imogen is sensitive, but was very supportive and gave me a few tips, such as how her mother did everything at immense speed because she was ruled by the watch. Enid's domestic life was seen as an interruption to her writing, which was her escapism.'
There is a poignant scene in the film where Blyton holds a tea party at home for her fans, or 'friends' as she preferred to call them. But her daughters are banished to the nursery.
'Enid is one of the kids at the Famous Five tea parties - the jelly and ice-cream are as much for her as they are for her fans,' explains Helena.
'It's also significant that when her daughters go to school, a large mannequin of Noddy - her new child - arrives in the hall to take the place of the children.'
Blyton's first husband, Hugh, called her 'Little Bunny' and adored her. He helped launch her career after they met when he was her editor at Newnes, the publisher.
Blyton's first book, Child Whispers, a collection of poems, was published in 1922. She wrote in her diary soon after meeting him: 'I want him for mine.'
They were married for 19 years, but as Enid's career took off in the Thirties, Hugh grew depressed and took to nightly drinking sessions in the cellar while Enid managed to fit affairs in between writing.
The marriage deteriorated and Hugh moved out. She mocked him in later adventure stories, such as The Mystery Of The Burnt Cottage, as the clueless cop, PC Theophilus Goon.
After a bitter divorce, she married surgeon Kenneth Darrell Waters, with whom she had a fulfilling sex life.
Although the drama shows Blyton's flirtatiousness - she entertained servicemen to dinner at the house while her husband was away at war and found them and their attention attractive - directors chose to omit some aspects of Blyton's apparently sensual side, such as visitors arriving to find her playing tennis naked and suggestions of a lesbian affair with her children's nanny, Dorothy Richards.
But the drama, which has been given the thumbs-up by the Enid Blyton Society, does highlight the author's cruel streak. When Hugh remarried, as she had done, Blyton was so furious that she banned her daughters from seeing their father.
According to Ida Crowe, who later married Hugh, Blyton's revenge was to stop him from seeing Gillian and Imogen, and to prevent him from finding work in publishing. He went bankrupt and sank into depression and drinking.
Ms Crowe, 101, is using her memoir, Starlight, published this month, to break her silence on her feelings towards Blyton, whom she portrays as cold, distant and malevolent. Ms Crowe confirms that during her first marriage, Blyton embarked on a string of affairs, including a suspected relationship with nanny Richards.
Yet Blyton could never forgive Hugh for finding happiness of his own when their marriage ended.
Rosemary Pollock, 66, daughter of Ida and Hugh, says: 'My father. was an honourable man - not the flawed, inconsequential one which was the deliberate misconception perpetuated by Enid.'
Ida and Hugh met when she was 21 and he was 50. In her memoirs, she describes him as 'shatteringly handsome' - tall and slim with golden hair and blue eyes.
After Ida narrowly escaped death in an air raid, she says, Hugh asked for a divorce and Enid agreed. The memoirs claim, however, that Hugh agreed to be identified as the 'guilty' party in the divorce in return for an amicable separation and access to their daughters.
But Rosemary says: 'This agreement was a sham because Enid had no intention of allowing him any kind of contact with either of the girls. She even told Benenden, the girls' boarding school, that on no account was their father, who was paying the bills, to be allowed near them.'
Ida and Hugh married within days of the divorce being granted in October 1943. Gillian and Imogen were 12 and eight. Rosemary got in touch with her half-sisters after Enid's death in 1968, at the age of 71.
Rosemary says: 'Gillian said the last time she saw her father was when they were walking to Beaconsfield station and she had this awful feeling she was not going to see him again.
'She said that on her wedding day, she looked around the church and hoped her father would turn up. My father said he was devastated not to have been invited to Gillian's wedding.'
Rosemary has also accused Enid of wrecking Hugh's literary career. 'Enid was capable of many vindictive things and she didn't want her former husband occupying a prominent position in London publishing, a world she dominated.
'My father had to file for bankruptcy in 1950 because he couldn't find work. She also put out a story that he was a drunk and an adulterer, and that he had made her life a misery.
'Incredibly, Enid even wrote to my mother three years after they had both remarried, saying: "I hope he doesn't ruin your life as he did mine."
'My father did drink, but it was in order to numb the pain. I never heard him criticise Enid. He would praise her remarkable talents.'
Certainly, Blyton is enjoying a renaissance. Disney UK is planning a new, animated feature called Famous 5: On The Case, in which the children of the original Five, and a dog, enjoy some new adventures.
She was also named Britain's best-loved author in a poll last month.
Imogen attributes her mother's success to the fact she 'wrote as a child with an adult's writing skills'.
Despite her private life, no amount of detraction will diminish Blyton as one of Britain's great writers who shaped millions of childhood imaginations. Although it may be harder for the adults they grew into to imagine what the creator of Noddy got up to in real life.
On 28 August 1924 Blyton married Major Hugh Alexander Pollock, DSO (1888–1971) at Bromley Register Office, without inviting her family. Pollock was editor of the book department in the publishing firm of George Newnes, which became her regular publisher. It was he who requested that Blyton write a book about animals, The Zoo Book, which was completed in the month before they married. They initially lived in a flat in Chelsea before moving to Elfin Cottage in Beckenham in 1926, and then to Old Thatch in Bourne End (called Peterswood in her books) in 1929.
Blyton's first daughter Gillian, was born on 15 July 1931, and after a miscarriage in 1934, she gave birth to a second daughter, Imogen, on 27 October 1935. In 1938 Blyton and her family moved to a house in Beaconsfield, which was named Green Hedges by Blyton's readers following a competition in her magazine. By the mid-1930s, Pollock – possibly due to the trauma he had suffered during the First World War being revived through his meetings as a publisher with Winston Churchill – withdrew increasingly from public life and became a secret alcoholic. With the outbreak of the Second World War, he became involved in the Home Guard. Pollock entered into a relationship with a budding young writer, Ida Crowe, and arranged for her to join him at his posting to a Home Guard training centre at Denbies, a Gothic mansion in Surrey belonging to Lord Ashcombe, and work there as his secretary. Blyton's marriage to Pollock became troubled, and according to Crowe's memoir, Blyton began a series of affairs, including a lesbian relationship with one of the children's nannies. In 1941 Blyton met Kenneth Fraser Darrell Waters, a London surgeon with whom she began an affair. Pollock discovered the liaison, and threatened to initiate divorce proceedings against Blyton. Fearing that exposure of her adultery would ruin her public image, it was ultimately agreed that Blyton would instead file for divorce against Pollock. According to Crowe's memoir, Blyton promised that if he admitted to infidelity she would allow him parental access to their daughters; but after the divorce he was forbidden to contact them, and Blyton ensured he was subsequently unable to find work in publishing. Pollock, having married Crowe on 26 October 1943, eventually resumed his heavy drinking and was forced to petition for bankruptcy in 1950.
Blyton and Darrell Waters married at the City of Westminster Register Office on 20 October 1943. She changed the surname of her daughters to Darrell Waters and publicly embraced her new role as a happily married and devoted doctor's wife. After discovering she was pregnant in the spring of 1945, Blyton miscarried five months later, following a fall from a ladder. The baby would have been Darrell Waters's first child and it would also have been the son for which both of them longed.
Her love of tennis included playing naked, with nude tennis "a common practice in those days among the more louche members of the middle classes".
Blyton's health began to deteriorate in 1957, when during a round of golf she started to complain of feeling faint and breathless, and by 1960 she was displaying signs of dementia. Her agent George Greenfield recalled that it was "unthinkable" for the "most famous and successful of children's authors with her enormous energy and computer-like memory" to be losing her mind and suffering from what is now known as Alzheimer's disease in her mid-sixties. Blyton's situation was worsened by her husband's declining health throughout the 1960s; he suffered from severe arthritis in his neck and hips, deafness, and became increasingly ill-tempered and erratic until his death on 15 September 1967.
The story of Blyton's life was dramatised in a BBC film entitled Enid, which aired in the United Kingdom on BBC Four on 16 November 2009. Helena Bonham Carter, who played the title role, described Blyton as "a complete workaholic, an achievement junkie and an extremely canny businesswoman" who "knew how to brand herself, right down to the famous signature".