John Walker's Electronic House

BBC Blyton Blither

by on Sep.08, 2008, under Rants

Obviously the standard of journalism on the BBC News website has never been that stellar, but at least once a week you’ll find a piece that’s just so awful you rightly become more suspect about everything else they publish. While it’s tempting to forgive them due to their current campaign to sneak in many naughtily ambiguous headlines, and increasingly irreverent captions, it doesn’t quite address the rubbish that gets slung up in response to half-interesting stories. For instance, this drivel about Enid Blyton.

Blyton was an absolutely fascinating woman – a terrible, noxious individual whose spite was targeted against anyone who might cross her path, including one of her own daughters. She was intriguing tabloid fodder in a pre-tabloid age, who was also generating children’s books at a rate of one per fortnight.

Pullman’s comments in the BBC piece are absolutely spot-on – she was a terrible writer with no skill for prose – but for one thing. Not only did she write books that compelled her target audience to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next as Pullman says, but she captured a spirit of adventure like no one else. Not out of great crafting, but I suspect because of the lack of it. There was something pragmatic about her delivery, where elaboration on a description would be a waste of time when she could be moving on to the next incident. It makes the books laughable to read as an adult, but for a kid it was perfect. Who cares what kind of blue the sea was. It was blue, and the children were going to swim in it, inevitably discovering a cave and overhearing a conversation between some smugglers. Pullman’s an interesting example – his books are beautiful. Compellingly crafted and riveting. But that was for me as an adult. I’m fairly sure as a kid I’d have been horribly bored by his descriptions of Oxford, just waiting for a bear or witch to finally show up.

The BBC story came about because of the publication of The Famous Five’s Survival Guide, which they describe as, “a reunion of sorts for the four young sleuths and Timmy the dog.” A reunion “after a 45-year hiatus.” And this is why I’m cross. Certainly this is not a matter of great import, but it’s absolutely empirical proof that not a glimmer of fact checking is perfectly acceptable at the site, no one needing to bother to researching a story before writing it. Exactly how hard would it be to have looked on Amazon for Famous Five books, to instantly discover that there were many of them written in the 1980s? Er, not very hard at all.

Or to remember that there was a TV series made of the Blyton books in 1978? And another one made in 1996?

Oh, and what about the choose your own adventure Famous Five books? Were they written in the last 45 years? All fourteen of them. Oh yes, that would be during their terribly unpopular 1980s. A hard decade for the five of them.

The piece is just one man’s poor memory of things he might have read about the books. It’s a mess of ignorance, published on one of the world’s most popular and trusted news sources. Of course it doesn’t matter a great deal in this isolated case – it’s about that dreadful old racist’s storybooks getting another reinvention. But it would be nice if the person employed to write it knew that it was “another”. Or had bothered to check. I mean, I got all the way through this without having to check Wikipedia, but for hoping to find a link for the choose your owns at the end there. Had the BBC stumbled upon this little known site, they might have spotted them too.


5 Comments for this entry

  • Jay Whittaker

    Interesting stuff, John, but I’m intrigued by how Enid Blyton wrote Famous Five books in the 1980s when she died in 1968. ‘Five Use A Ouija Board’ perhaps?

  • botherer

    You might have just somewhat missed the point there. I’m also not suggesting she directed the 1996 television programme. Nor indeed that she’s responsible for the new book about to be published. But it would obviously be much cooler if she were.

  • Nick Murdoch

    Enid Blyton would probably fit quite well into today’s culture. “Their motivation is that they’re FOREIGN TERRORISTS”.

  • Pace

    To be fair, that whole ‘magazine’ section seems rather less formal than the main ‘news’ site. In the international version of, the magazine section isn’t even linked to. When I’d stumbled upon it in the past it immediately seemed like a whole different site.
    The main site however I’ve always been very impressed with.

  • NM

    I’ve detected many more factual errors and inaccuracies in the BBC’s output than I have in wikipedia recently. It’s even worse when you know the subject that’s being reported. It’s become too painful to listen to any radio report about the Internet or aviation, for example. When the Qantas flight had its side ruptured some weeks ago, they spent almost a day talking about the “death plunge” which, they implied, was somehow caused by the decompression, and quoted people, unquestioningly, about how lucky they were that the pilot regained control of the plane after the “plunge”. When the first reports came on to Today, I shouted at the radio “it’s an emergency controlled dive to below 10 thousand feet, which is standard practice!” But it took them nearly a day to listen to my shouts.

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