Oi, oi, pin back your lugs for the next couplet of Ian Dury’s England’s Glory in our attempt to establish the quintessence of Englishness.
“Enid Blyton, Gilbert Harding/ Malcolm Sargent, Graham Greene (Graham Greene)”
When I was a kid Enid Blyton was at the peak of her fame and popularity as a children’s writer. Her fictional creations included Noddy and his gang, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. As well as a penchant for alliteration her books were engaging and fed the childish mind with innocent tales of derring-do and adventure. She was a prolific author and is thought to have sold over 600 million copies and her works have been translated into some 90 languages.
As we moved into a more politically correct era, Blyton’s books ran into choppy critical water and she was accused of being elitist, sexist, racist and xenophobic and her literary style was deemed to be unchallenging in terms of vocabulary and grammatical construct. The prominence of a golliwog amongst Noddy’s gang led her works to be banned by “more enlightened” libraries. Notwithstanding that Blyton’s works continued to be popular until and after her death in 1968 showing, as usual, the disconnect between right-on liberalism and popular taste, and her characters are a form of cultural reference for many people the wrong side of fifty to this day. It is dangerous to retro-fit modern sensibilities to works which reflected attitudes that were prevalent at the time they were written, a tendency that is all too present in our society today.
Gilbert Harding was the presenter of the very first edition of the Beeb’s televised panel game What’s My Line. Unusually for the time, Harding developed a persona as a bit of a character rather than the bland reader of a script which most TV presenters were at the time. He was famed for not suffering fools gladly and was dubbed the rudest man in Britain. In 1960 Harding hit the headlines again when he broke down in tears under John Freeman’s questioning on the Face to Face series. A closet homosexual whose gruff exterior was a defence mechanism, Harding was instrumental in developing the role of a TV presenter. As often is the way in England, nothing is what it seems.
Malcolm Sargent was probably the most famous English conductor in the 1950s and 60s, being the principal baton waver at the Proms. Known as a bit of a flash harry because of his debonair appearance, he did much to maintain the popularity and accessibility of classical music.
Graham Greene is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and a particular favourite of mine. His works were often what are now termed as thrillers although he described them as entertainments and include Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory and The Third Man. His Catholicism and the sense of guilt and the need for forgiveness run through them. Despite being a serious writer his books were phenomenally successful and many were converted into films.
Both Sargent and Greene were in their different fields great artists with the common touch and that is what the English appreciate most.