Americans, are you familiar with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series of books? There are 21 of them and I’ve read every one. They are about a group of children who have fantastical adventures while home from boarding school.
The Telegraph reports that Mary Gernat, who illustrated the books, sketched her four young sons – Roger, Francis, Nicholas and Justin – for the nostalgic art work for the covers, published by Armada in the 1960s (Gernat died in 1998 at age 72).
Mary with her boys (L-R) Francis, Roger, Nick and Justin on holiday in the early 1960s Photo: MaryGernat-How/BNPS
Now, for the first time, the identities of the children on the covers have been revealed! The big twist? One of the five didn’t exist. Where did fck did the fifth kid come from? Oh, the fifth is Timmy the dog. The dog was counted as a guy but the covers often depict five children so it can be confusing. Whatever, counting’s for servants and nannies.
Mary with her boys on holiday in the early 1960s. Photo: MaryGernat-How/BNPS
A customer visiting one of the son’s (now 58), framing shop made the discovery of many of Gernat’s drawings in a box full of books with notes all over them. Knowing that the public would be interested, the son brought the pictures out of hiding to share with others.
“In lots of the original drafts we have got there are notes from the publishers and from mum – ‘make this smaller or change this background colour.’
The paint set that Mary carried everywhere Photo: MaryGernat-How/BNPS
“I knew there would be a lot of interest in them because it’s such an interesting story and they’ve never seen the light of day before – apart from on the finished printed books.”
The Famous Five are a group of
five four decidedly upper-class children plus mongrel dog who have nonstop adventures, solving mysteries and getting tangled up with robbers, smugglers and other criminals. They really just want to have a great, privileged time strolling about the countryside and having picnics, but these insidious adventures just keep popping up and getting in the way. The Famous Five really get around—to the moors, the countryside, castles, Cornish villages and the like.
Like in all teenage sleuth universes, non-adults are permitted to bop about all the country on their own, (cycling to Finniston Farm for a holiday, staying at bed and breakfasts along the way, riding in pony traps or caravans, or camping on Billycock Hill), even though the landscape is teeming with villains and ne’er-do-wells, and there is always something very dodgy going on.
As any teen sleuth aficionado knows, food descriptions abound. From The Famous Five, I learned about Humbugs, toffees, ginger beer, ham rolls, potted meat and cucumber sandwiches. These children eat a lot. Plain foods are made delicious: “A large ham sat on the table, and there were crusty loaves of new bread. Crisp lettuces, dewy and cool, and red radishes were side by side in a big glass dish, great slabs of butter and jugs of creamy milk”. A picnic with a simple spread of cold ham, salad, bacon and eggs, plums and a ginger cake fuel the discovery of gold ingots on Kirrin Island
It’s Julian, Dick and Anne and their cousin George, and oh yeah the dog. Julian and Anne are quite posh and reserved with nice straight, parted blondish hair, sweaters and tucked in shirts and hairbands and concerns about safety. Boring Dick is always hungry. Cousin George is inarguably the best character of the
five four. George is actually a girl who wants so desperately to be a boy she chops off her curly hair, and struts about doing boy things. She is in a constant battle to prove she’s “as good as any boy,” and absolutely hates it should anyone call her by her name, Georgina. She’s obstinate, temperamental, and brave. She’s physically strong, an excellent swimmer, impressive in a small rowing boat and makes bad decisions in the face of danger. She lover her dog, Timmy, better than any human, and refuses to like people who don’t like dogs. Timmy even intervenes on George’s behalf when she was being forced into a dress. To all intents and purposes George is a boy, and it pleases her no end when strangers mistake her for one.
Mystery Moor is my favorite of the series, it starts with them riding at Captain Johnson’s riding school. Then comes the gloomy, brooding moor and a set of twins to boot. Named “the Harries”—the boy twin is named Henry which “naturally” became Harry (I never understood that logic), and the girl twin is named Harriet, which “naturally” became Harry too. And because Henry “can’t grow his hair like a girl,” it’s down to Harriet to crop hers so that the two look identical. Naturally George loathes Henry. They have a poodle called Snippet and are sullen and not rich and their poor mother, Mrs. Philpot, has to work. They speak in unison for some reason.