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Why the Royal Mint refused Enid Blyton commemorative coin

Aug 27, 2019
James Ashford

Famous Five author branded racist, sexist and homophobic by advisory committee

George Konig/Getty Images

Children's author Enid Blyon sold millions of books

The Royal Mint turned down a proposal to honour Famous Five author Enid Blyton with a special edition coin due to concerns that her dated views on race and gender would spark a public backlash, according to newly-released documents.

The Mint’s advisory committee blocked plans to mark the 50th anniversary of Blyton’s death last year with a commemorative 50p coin, according to minutes of their meeting obtained by the Mail on Sunday under Freedom of Information laws.

The committee said she was “known to have been a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer”.

And they registered “deep concern that this theme will bring adverse reaction… concern over the backlash that may result from this” at the December 2016 meeting.

Blyton’s books have sold 600 million copies, including more than 2 million in the last five years.

As well as her best-known creation, the Famous Five series, Blyton also won legions of loyal juvenile readers with the Secret Seven and Noddy books. Her Malory Towers novels, set in a boarding school for girls, sold 350,000 copies last year and are set to be turned into a 13-part drama for CBBC, the BBC reports.

A spokesperson for the Royal Mint said: “The point of the advisory committee is to ensure that themes commemorated on UK coins are varied, inclusive and represent the most significant events in our history. For these reasons not every event will progress to a UK coin.”

However, novelist Jilly Cooper dismissed the Royal Mint's criticism as “rubbish”.

“Enid Blyton was a brilliant storyteller and her books have got millions of children hooked on reading,” she told the Mail on Sunday. “She definitely deserves a commemorative coin. I adore her and so do my grandchildren.”

Was Enid Blyton sexist?

Blyton’s stories have been accused of being reductive in their representation of gender.

Ceri Radford, writing in The Independent last year, said: “The gender politics – where fathers fulminate in studies, mothers serve up tea, and tomboy George must learn she will never be as good as a real boy – are problematic to say the least.”

The youngest of the Famous Five, Anne, is regularly patronised by the boys as “a proper little housewife”, writes Andrew Martin in the The Guardianbut whether her “stories indicate a writer of greater than average prejudice for a woman of her place and time, I doubt”.

In fact, tomboy George should be considered a “feminist” trailblazer, argues Melanie McDonagh in the Daily Telegraph: “Here was a character who could declare: ‘I hate being a girl. I won’t be. I don’t like doing things that girls do. I like doing the things that boys do’.”

Literary biographer Laura Thompson told the Mail: “I don't think she can be described as sexist. George in the Famous Five and the girls at Malory Towers were very sparky and some of the boys seemed feeble by comparison. I also don't get homophobic.”

However, she added: “Racist I can understand because of the Golliwog in Noddy.”

Was she a racist?

Accusations of racism have dogged Blyton since 1966, when a Guardian article criticised her book, The Little Black Doll. The story features Sambo the doll, who is hated by his owner and the other toys for his “ugly black face”. He is only accepted when rain washes his face “clean” and he can return home with his now pink face.

The Noddy books are criticised for the famous “wicked golliwogs” of Toytown, removed from the books in later editions and quietly dropped from the 1980s BBC adaptation.

And even in 1960, Blyton’s publisher Macmillan rejected her book The Mystery That Never Was after an internal review found that: “There is a faint but unattractive touch of old-fashioned xenophobia in the author's attitude to the thieves; they are ‘foreign’... and this seems to be regarded as sufficient to explain their criminality.”

Her use of the n-word is seen as further proof that her books are not fit for a modern audience.  In Five Go Off to Camp, she describes George as “black as a n***** with soot” - changed in later reprints to “black as night”.

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