The idea of a commemorative coin celebrating English children’s author, Enid Blyton, was rejected in a meeting of the Royal Mint’s advisory committee in December 2016. The coin they were considering was a proposal to mark the 50th anniversary of Blyton’s death in December 1968. However, members of the advisory committee were concerned over a backlash if said proposal went ahead.
The minutes from this 2016 committee meeting were obtained by a Sunday newspaper under the freedom of information laws. The minutes revealed that members dismissed the plans for a commemorative Enid Blyton coin because “she is known to have been a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer.” The minutes also stated that there was “Deep concern that this theme will bring adverse reaction… concern over the backlash that may result from this.” Instead, the committee chose to find other subjects to honour through commemorative coin.
Michael Rosen, author of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and the former Children’s Laureate, said: “On the negative side, she was some of the things she is being accused of. But at the same time she enabled millions of children to enjoy stories.”
While it may be true that given the time Blyton was writing in, some of her writing could be considered racist, homophobic or sexist it is not true that she is “not a very well-regarded writer.” Blyton published her first book in 1922 and went on to write 700 titles many of which are still enjoyed by children and adults to this day. She is also ranked the seventh most successful author of all time and in the past five year over two million copies of her books have been sold.
Anyone who has read Blyton’s book will also be familiar with characters such as George from The Famous Five and horse-loving Bill from the Malory Towers series both of whom were described at the time as ‘Tomboys’ but were in fact subverting gender norms and may, in our modern society identify as gender non-binary, transgender or queer characters.
Writer, freelance journalist and literary biographer, Laura Thompson, who grew up loving Blyton’s work, also agreed with this assessment of Blyton’s books, she said: “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. Racist I can understand because of the Golliwog in Noddy.”
While novelist Jilly Cooper also dismissed the Royal Mint’s criticism as ‘rubbish’, saying: “Enid Blyton was a brilliant storyteller and her books have got millions of children hooked on reading. She definitely deserves a commemorative coin. I adore her and so do my grandchildren.”
Members of the Royal Mint advisory committee declined to comment on the rejection of Blyton’s commemorative coin. However, 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.”
Despite not being commemorated on a Royal Mint coin, Enid Blyton’s literary legacy continues to live on. In December 2018, the BBC in collaboration with King Bert Productions announced an upcoming TV drama adaptation of Malory Towers. This adaptation follows a successful stage adaptation of the boarding school series which saw a 21st century modernisation with colour-blind casting, which had received rave reviews. Several authors have written new books in the Malory Towers series putting their own spin on the books and Blyton’s publishers have edited some of the characters and dialogue in her books to continue to make the writing relevant for young audiences.