Article Review: The Children Who Inspired Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Book covers are revealed

I know I promised you, a review of the audio adaptation of Second Term at Malory Towers, unfortunately I’ve been unable to locate my cassette tape of this one, and at rather the last minute as well. I took drastic action and decided to review an article from the Daily Telegraph which I’m sure we’ve all seen floating about in the last couple of months. In fact it was published on the 18th November 2015, so it’s safe to say that this is a fairly recent, up to date article regarding our dear Blyton.

Mary Gernat taken from the Hampshire Life Article.

Mary Gernat taken from the Hampshire Life Article.

As you can see by the title of my blog, the article has a rather long winded name; it’s hardly a headline stealer. Nor does it roll off the tongue! However, The Children who inspired Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Book Covers, is about the children of illustrator Mary  Gernat, who took inspiration from her sons at play to draw and design the covers to the Armada paperbacks in the 1960s.

We all know that Eileen Soper was of course the orginal illustrator of the Famous Fives, and some of the other Blyton stories. However Gernat, as the title suggests, did note provide cover pieces for the Famous Five but for Malory Towers, and other Blyton stories. Gernat is perhaps one of the lesser known illustrators who lent their art to these great and treasured books. She had a very particular way of creating her illustrations such as interrupting the boys’ own adventures in sand dunes and rock pools and [asking] them to freeze mid-play so she could quickly draw their rough outlines…” (Telegraph 18th November 2015). Using her own children to creat natural looking outlines for her work is very much a stroke of genius, working from life to bring life to these characters we all adore.

Now if you’re like me and had never heard of Mary Gernat before, the marvel of actually putting a name to some of the book covers I adored and treasured when I was growing up will be a real joy. I’m sure there are those out there (I’m looking at the Blyton aficionados over at the Enid Blyton Society) who knew about Gernat, but for those of us who just saw these amazingly bright colours and fell in love with the characters they portrayed, making us want to read the book miles before we fell in love with Blyton, it’s nice to be able to give her some of the recognition she deserves.

From the Jane Badger Books website, and their biography of Gernat, it appears that not only did Gernat draw covers for Blyton, but even had the fortune of meeting her. Unfortunately the feed back that seemed to be passed on to Gernat’s sons was not overwhelmingly positive. Mary’s son Roger told [Jane] she met Enid Blyton, whose paperback editions she illustrated, but she was not enamoured by her, and found her an “odd person”.

The natural style of the covers do provide the perfect backdrop to Blyton’s adventures and the article talks to us about how her artwork came to light after such a long time. One of her sons had some of her artwork in his framing shop and ended up telling a customer on where these pictures had come from. His customer then encouraged him to go and see if anymore could be found which is when a stash of original paintings were found in the attic of Mr How’s father’s house.

The paint set that Mary carried everywhere with her to capture unique moments with her family. Photo: MaryGernat-How/BNPS

The paint set that Mary carried everywhere with her to capture unique moments with her family. Photo: MaryGernat-How/BNPS

Mr How says that he believes that his mothers investment in good paints contributed to the vivid colours that can still be found on the paintings after all this time. Luckily, she was quite fastidious about her materials; she only bought very good watercolour paper and paints which means the images are as bright and vivid now when they’re 50 years old as they were when she did them.

There are also some old notes from the publishers/ editors asking for certain things to be changed, so it all sounds wonderfully fascinating. Unfortunately there is no mention in the article about what’s happening next to the paintings, and if they’re going to be displayed anywhere. It would be nice to see all the other pictures she did for other books, not only the Blytons. According to Jane Badger Books Mary Gernat also drew a lot of covers for a range of pony books.  The search for Gernat’s covers and artwork is also highlighted by Jane as quite tricky to search for, given that It is particularly difficult to track down exactly what she did, as for many books Armada and Dragon tended to keep the original internal illustrations, and it’s the internal illustrator who tends to be listed at the copyright libraries, and rarely a separate cover artist.

Unfortunately Gernat gave up painting commercially after the birth of her daughter but continued to paint privately and didn’t down tools when she became ill with multiple sclerosis. She died in 1997, but kept painting for a long time.

A separate article from the Hampshire Life, talks to Roger How in more depth about his mother and what is to happen to the paintings now they have been found. Sandra Cain the reporter remarks that Commercially however, there seems to be a window of opportunity with the 70s back in fashion, so we could perhaps see these wonderful pieces of art in a display somewhere, but Mr How is a bit more savvy and adds;

I’d like to licence some of the images for homeware. They are a brand in their own right. It would be great fun for kids to snuggle down in bed with a Bunter themed duvet cover or a Just William themed pillowcase, or wear a Malory Towers themed bathrobe. The opportunities are endless – but we’ll see. (Cain 2015)

Well I for one would love to view the original works and maybe even purchase a print or two of the covers to hang up whenever I manage to get space on my wall or in my own place. Plus, that’s Blyton birthday and Christmas presents sorted out for the foreseeable future!  Either way it was nice to learn a bit about the artiest behind some of my childhood covers to Blyton’s novels. Now I can put a name to the work, like any artist wants!


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5 Responses to Article Review: The Children Who Inspired Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Book covers are revealed

  1. Francis says:

    Thank you Stef – really interesting.


  2. chrissie777 says:

    It also would be interesting to find out who inspired Soper’s covers/illustrations. And Stuart Tresilian’s Adventure series illustrations. Did they have particular people in mind or just created them?


  3. RereadingBlyton says:

    Thanks Stef, very interesting. In the piece I wrote earlier this year on ‘why I love reading Enid Blyton’ I used Mary Gernat’s cover of a St Clare’s book as one of the illustrations, but I never knew anything at all about her so it is good to learn more. Chris


  4. Sandra Cain says:

    Hi … My name is Sandra Cain. I am the customer who encouraged Roger and writer of the piece In Hampshire Life Magazine. FYI… all Mary Gernat’s original illustrations can be viewed and prints bought from Roger How (Mary’s son). Google PicturePerfect (framing) in Mford on Sea, Lymington for contact details if interested.


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