Wednesday 24 January 2018

Children will be naughty whether they are reared on Blyton or blood-sucking

Cassandra Jardine

Joanna Lumley has lauded Enid Blyton's 'moral exactitude'. But, confesses Cassandra Jardine, it didn't stop her youthful bad behaviour.

I hate to disagree with Joanna Lumley, who has passed beyond the status of mere national treasure to become a global deity, but when it comes to Enid Blyton she is just wrong. In an interview in the Radio Times to publicise her reading of The Cheat, a Blyton short story, on the radio this week, she explains why, nearly 50 years on, children still love those books. “It’s her moral exactitude that so appealing,” says Lumley.

In the days when all children read Blyton – if their parents weren’t too intellectually snobbish to allow them – she claims that crime was non-existent among the young. There was only one incident of stealing during her school days, when a fountain pen went missing. “I was taught not to shoplift, not to steal, not to behave badly,” she says – whereas now children find such misdeeds “laughably amusing”.

What’s happening to our celebrities? Two weeks ago we had Jamie Oliver repining about the days when he worked 18-hour stretches, and would never grumble like today’s “wet” brats. Now we have Lumley all sentimental about the happiness of a seven-year-old child in Ethiopia who herds goats all day with “only a chapati to eat and his whistle.” Both of these much-admired figures seem to be succumbing to a bad case of nostalgic glow.

Of course there is plenty to criticise in today’s children. They are lazy, lying, thieving beasts – at least mine are, sometimes – but children always have been. I’m a few years younger than Lumley, but I too went to a convent school and was reared on Enid Blyton. From this semi-shared experience, I beg to suggest that Lumley’s memory is playing tricks on her. There was plenty of bad behaviour in those days and possessions regularly went missing: I remember a girl who stole my sister Victoria’s pencils arguing that they had been given to her by a man called Jardine in Victoria station. As teenagers, my contemporaries pinched T-shirts from Biba as fast as they could stuff them in their bags.

Sadly, or happily, books influence children’s behaviour less than adults, and authors, like to think they do. Today’s Mormon-written vampire books don’t appear to have encouraged teenagers to begin blood sucking any more than Harry Potter has duelling.

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