The Sounds of Whispering Island

October 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Travel | 2 Comments
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‘”I think we’ll have to stay on the island till the tide turns, and we can row back on it,” said Julian […]

They pulled the boat a little further up on the firm sand, took out their bundle of clothes, and hid them under a bush. They walked up the beach towards towards a wood, thick with great trees. As they neared them, they heard a strange, mysterious sound.

“Whispering!” said George, stopping. “The trees are really whispering. Listen! It’s just as if they were talking to one another under their breath! No wonder it’s called Whispering Island!”

“I don’t like it,” said Anne. “It almost sounds as if they’re saying nasty things about us!”

“Shooey, shooey, shooey, shooey!” said the trees, nodding towards one another as the wind shook them. “Shoey, shooey!”‘

Some classic Blyton prose here, as the Kirrins accidentally land on Whispering Island in Five Have a Mystery to Solve. Later on, after discovering a lost hoard of treasure and eluding some Bad Men, the Five, plus their new chum, Wilfred, attempt to discover a secret passageway via the Wailing Cliffs. In the words of Shakespeare’s Caliban, ‘the isle is full of noises’ and its cliffs make an unearthly sound, ‘like a giant wailing and wailing at the top of his voice, the wailing going up and down in the wind’. For poor Anne it sounds more like someone ‘crying and sobbing and howling’.

There is much speculation about the real settings of the Famous Five books. Corfe Castle in Dorset is generally taken to be the model for Kirrin Castle, for instance, although there are other contenders for the crown too. The original of Whispering Island is widely accepted as being Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset, with Blyton herself noting in her preface to Five Have a Mystery to Solve that ‘the island is real, and lies in the great harbour, still full of whispering trees’.

I was therefore interested to see what sounds Jarvis Cocker would come up with for the album he has recently produced for the National Trust, who administer Brownsea Island. The album features some lovely recordings of creaking staircases, ticking clocks, old music boxes and the sound of billiard games from Chartwell, Blickling, Lanhydrock and Upton House, respectively. I do confess that I was mildly disappointed to hear that the sounds of Brownsea Island are in keeping with this more tranquil perspective. The sound of waves lapping on the shore is no doubt more palatable to the ear than the blood curdling wailing of the wind round the cliffs and the eerie ‘shooey shooey’ of the whispering trees, however…



September 8, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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September is a good month for Blyton fans. Monday sees the BFI DVD release of the Children’s Film Foundation adaptations of Five on a Treasure Island (1957) and Five Have a Mystery to Solve (1964), complete with new film transfers, gorgeously illustrated booklets and specially commissioned essays by Blyton expert Norman Wright. Box sets with heritage editions of the stories are exclusive to HMV (currently available to pre-order for £11.99).

The BFI must be chock full of Enid admirers because this month also heralds the launch of a Blyton-themed Mediatheque programme called Toyland Tales and Happy Endings: The Legacy of Enid Blyton. As well as teaser episodes of both of the CFF serials, there are a host of other exciting and often hard-to-see films and television programmes including the first episode of the 1990 Castle of Adventure; the recent biopic, Enid (2009); First Reaction (1992), a schoolgirl’s thoughts on the editorially tweaked new versions of Blyton’s books (with toned down sexism); the classic parody, Five Go Mad in Dorset (1982); and bonkbuster author Jackie Collins, interviewed in 1996, on what is a somewhat surprising choice for her favourite book…


September 6, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Posted in Anne, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook, Timmy | 1 Comment
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‘”Does anyone know what happened to the sausages that were in the larder?” [asked Mother]

“Sausages – sausages, let me think!” said Julian, frowning. Anne gave a sudden giggle. She knew quite well what had happened.

Well, Mother – you said we could get our own meal last night, as you were out,” said Julian. “So we poked about and decided on sausages.”

“Yes, but Julian, two whole packets of sausages!” said his mother. “I know Georgina came over to spend the evening – but even so…!”

“She brought Timmy,” said Anne. “He rather likes sausages too, Mother.”‘

This weekend I visited a friend in Tunbridge Wells and we were invited to a barbeque. As I accompanied Julie to ‘The Sausage Shop’ to get provisions, I couldn’t help but recall the opening scene of Five Have a Mystery to Solve. Poor old Mother! The Five eat her out of house and home during the school holidays and without Joan the Cook to provide a constant stream of buns, biscuits and cakes, sausage supplies get seriously depleted. I worry about the stock at their local butchers too – despite having polished off a substantial quantity of sausages, when Mother asks the children what they’d like for dinner you can guess the reply: “SAUSAGES!”. There would be no problem if the Sausage Shop was on their doorstep. It has ample supplies of delicious sausages including ‘Kentish Village’ (pork, sage, mace and nutmeg), ‘Firecracker’ (with green and red chillis), ‘Somerset Pork Apple and Cider’ (sic), and Pork and Stilton. Just don’t tell Curly and Benny…

Five Have a Mystery to Solve

August 1, 2009 at 8:12 am | Posted in Anne, Dick, Eating and Drinking, Fun and Games, George, Learning Stuff, Timmy | 3 Comments
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Five Have a Mystery to Solve BFI

The Children’s Film Foundation serial, Five Have a Mystery to Solve, was screened at BFI Southbank today. The Five are asked to stay with an orphan called Wilfred who has a mysterious power over animals. Wilfred doesn’t really want the Five’s company, preferring mice and badgers, and is soon attempting to frighten poor Anne with toads, slow worms (“it’s a viper!”) and spiders. He even tells a decidedly feminine George that Timmy prefers him, Wilfred, to his mistress (this doesn’t go down well, as you can imagine). When nature-loving Wilfred hears of animal-trapping taking place on the spookily named Whispering Island, he and Timmy set off to the rescue. Boy and dog are soon joined by Julian et al and an adventure involving a lost Crusader’s treasure and giant stripy bunny rabbits ensues…

Blyton’s Five Have a Mystery to Solve was published in 1962, with the CFF serial released two years later, in 1964. The Foundation had filmed Five on a Treasure Island even earlier, in 1957, again as a serial. Unfortunately the Foundation’s back catalogue is not yet available on DVD so this was a rare opportunity to see the film. Before the screening we stocked up on ginger beer from A. Gold, purveyor of traditional English foodstuffs, and chewy homemade macaroons from Spitalfield’s Market Coffee House. The Five go hungry for much of the film, however. Wilfred’ antics interrupt the Five’s tea of sandwiches and buns (although the ever-hungry Dick has the foresight to wrap a few buns in newspaper and stuff them under his jumper). Luckily, the children are imprisoned in a kitchen at one point so they are able to make doorstop slices of bread and jam, which they wash down with cocoa (made by the girls, of course!).

Cinema doesn’t rate particularly highly on the Five’s list of cultural pursuits (Dick does kills some time in the cinema in Five Fall into Adventure, however) but  a survey of the out of school activities of children undertaken in the 1940s revealed that the cinema was one of the most popular leisure activities for young people. It was partly with these statistics in mind that the British flour miller turned screen mogul, J. Arthur Rank, helped set up the CFF in 1951, in a bid to provide wholesome entertainment for the nation’s youth. Initially led by pioneering educational filmmaker Mary Field, early CFF films owed much to the Blytonian ethos and concentrated on ‘clean, healthy, intelligent adventure’. A later executive officer, Henry Geddes, noted that the CFF was often accused of making middle-class films for middle-class children but from the later 1960s films were more representative of their intended audiences. Stories were often urban-set and featured socially and environmentally-conscious plots as in The Battle of Billy’s Pond which pits its heroes against a heartless chemical company.

The BFI’s screenonline provides an excellent introduction to the Children’s Film Foundation and more detailed reviews of several of its films.

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