'Second-rate' Blyton's Pinky-winky names too much for Auntie

CHILDREN'S author Enid Blyton was banned from the BBC for nearly 30 years because the corporation thought she was a "second-rater" whose work "lacked literary value".

A series of letters and memos from the BBC archives disclose how Blyton, the creator of the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and Noddy – and one of the best-selling authors of her time – was kept off the radio as executives dismissed her plays and books as "such very small beer".

In an internal memo dated 1938, Jean Sutcliffe, head of the BBC Schools department, dismissed the author's work in no uncertain terms.

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"My impression of her stories is that they might do for Children's Hour but certainly not for Schools Dept; they haven't much literary value," she wrote, before adding they were "competently written".

"There is rather a lot of the Pinky-winky-Doodle-doodle Dum-dum type of name (and lots of pixies) in the tales."

Two years later, in August 1940, the popular daily radio programme Children's Hour rejected Blyton's play The Monkey and the Barrel Organ, saying its dialogue was "both stilted and long-winded".

One team member wrote: "It really is odd to think that this woman is a best-seller."

For Blyton, it was clear she had been banned by the BBC.

After being invited to speak on Hullo Children in May 1949, she replied to the producer: "I and my stories are completely banned by the BBC as far as children are concerned – not one story has ever been broadcast, and, so it is said, not one ever will be."

Children's Hour head Derek McCulloch, known as Uncle Mac, confirmed the existence of the ban in a "strictly confidential and urgent" memo dated 1950.

And in 1954, in response to a query from Woman's Hour editor Janet Quigley as to whether Blyton could be interviewed on the programme, Ms Sutcliffe explained her concerns about the "second rater".

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She wrote: "If she is allowed to lay down the law on aims and methods of writing for children, unchallenged by really good writers or parents and educationalists … the BBC becomes just another victim of the amazing advertising campaign which has raised this competent and tenacious second-rater to such astronomical heights."

Blyton, who first pitched ideas for a radio broadcast in 1936, finally appeared on Woman's Hour in 1963.

Letter to BBC producer Lionel Gamlin, 24 May 1949

Dear Mr Gamlin,

Thank you for your nice letter. It all sounds very interesting – but I ought to warn you of something you obviously don't know, but which has been well known in the literary and publishing world for some time – I and my stories are completely banned by the BBC as far as children are concerned – not one story has ever been broadcast, and, so it is said, not one ever will be. I have never minded, of course, because I am primarily a writer, and only really interested in children reading my books – using their own minds – and also, of course, I cannot do with much more publicity – I get over a thousand letters a week as it is, from all over the world!

Your idea sounds interesting – but won't children be bored with eight different versions of holidays? I certainly wouldn't like to be the seventh or eighth person speaking on the subject! If I did do it I'd prefer a straight talk – I'm so used to talking and telling stories to children, as you know, and the whole atmosphere of a live broadcast is so different from a recorded one. Children feel it at once – mine do, anyway!

It's very nice of you to ask me, and the children listeners would, of course, be thrilled – but I do think that you will find it wouldn't be welcomed by anyone responsible for broadcasts to children at the BBC, and I do not want to cause you embarrassment.

I love the way you handle interviews – how in the world do you do it!

Yours, with best wishes,