Enid Blyton’s Class of 2020

Olivia Furness

Huddled under the covers, clutching my little torch, reading late into the night is a fond memory of my childhood. Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series was always a firm favourite of mine, and I simply couldn’t hide my delight in seeing it being adapted into a series by the BBC early last year. Despite an array of university deadlines, a global pandemic hit and I had a whole lot of time on my hands. As such, I found myself rushing downstairs at lunchtime to snuggle on the sofa with my younger sister, reliving my childhood, and cherishing every single episode. 

Blyton’s First Term at Malory Towers (1946) is very much a product of its time. Yet this title sequence offers a contemporary twist on its classic source text. The adaptation is a beguilingly modern take on the classic books, featuring an impressively diverse cast. Don’t worry; it’s not filled with TikTok. Producers remained true to the warm, saccharine style of Blyton’s writing; it still features pillow fights, midnight feasts and idyllic views of steam trains rolling through the English countryside, providing that much-needed nostalgia for readers like myself. 

Alongside all these familiar aspects of the books is a subtle feminist message; the series seeks to empower young women. In an interview with the Daily Mail, the show’s co-writer Sasha Hails claims, “It was a changing world when Blyton wrote these, and a pivotal point for women,’ says Sasha. ‘It’s a chance to show today’s kids what the world was like.” Complete with an allusion to the pioneer of early twentieth-century feminism, in the very first episode, one girl states: “Mother says a woman needs a room and money of her own to be truly happy.” 

“There’s a quietly feminist message. The headmistress Miss Grayling is very progressive, and the lead is a fiery girl with a temper, which isn’t shown on TV much.” 

Addressing important issues like bullying, struggling with studies and feeling left out of a friendship group, the series showcases problems young girls face and normalises the emotions they experience. Regardless of the time, these are universal and relevant things that people face. Combining this familiar essence of Blyton’s style with a modern exploration of diversity, gender equality, and female empowerment is what makes this adaptation so unique.  

Moreover, the series has received buckets of praise over on Twitter, for its evident change in the girls themselves, diversifying the shamefully inaccurate, hegemonic image Blyton painted previously. The cast is formed of a mix of white and BAME girls, and reflects body diversity, with girls of all different sizes and one with a facial disfigurement. 

In an interview with the creative team behind Malory Towers, one viewer said: “It was refreshing to see that Beth Bradfield’s visible difference was not central to her character Jean’s story line.” 

Ultimately, this ‘jolly good’ series has proven that adaptations and modern re-visioning can be successful. This is certainly a series loved by all the family; the perfect viewing for the young and (ahem) less young alike!