Malory Towers (Season 4) – CBBC


It’s lovely to see this back for a fourth series.  It’s obviously proven to be a hit – so take that, all ye Blyton naysayers, especially the primary school teachers who used to moan about how much time I spent reading her books!

In the book, new girls Clarissa, Connie and Ruth are in the same form as Darrell & co, but the BBC have put them in the First Form with Felicity, June and Susan.  It’ll upset purists, but I can see why they’ve done it.   I can’t think of any mention of any other girls in that form, other than Jo who doesn’t appear until a later book, and it’d look a bit daft to have a form with only three girls in it!

Also, Darrell’s been made head of the entire Lower School, not just her own form, which gives her authority over Felicity and should make for some interesting sibling interaction.  But I assume that we’re still going to get the “canon” storylines of Connie’s behaviour towards Ruth, Gwen’s wish to be friends with Clarissa. and Darrell losing her temper.

Incidentally, Enid Blyton really muddled her form systems in the fourth book of the series!  We’d had the First Form, the Second Form and the Third Form, but then suddenly we had the Upper Fourth, with Ruth talking about moving up into the Lower Fifth.  Er, no.  If you’re using the Upper IV, Lower V system, Upper IV is the third year and Lower V is the fourth year, and the first and second years are Upper III and Lower IV respectively!  In this adaptation, they were just referred to as “the Fourth Form”!

Anyway, as I said, it’s great to have this back, and I look forward to watching it all!


The Little Missus by Elinor M Brent-Dyer


Hooray, I have now read all of Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s books!   This is a short historical novel, set in Kent and Dorset during the Napoleonic Wars.  Unlike The Little Marie-Jose, in which the peasants are the goodies and the aristocrats are the baddies, our heroine is the daughter of an English lord and a late French “Pretty Mamma” who had to flee from “wicked Robespierre”.  Lower class people are either faithful servants or a bit thick and, if male, spend most of their time in the pub.

The Little Missus has four much older half-brothers – whom Elinor, as she does, refers to as “step-brothers”.  One of them, Roger, is disowned by his father for marrying Pleasance, the daughter of the family’s steward.  For various reasons, the Little Missus is then packed off to stay with her Great-Aunt Susannah.

Great-Aunt Susannah is planning to evict Seth, who runs the local pub, for getting drunk and swearing a lot and other such heinous crimes.  Meanwhile, she and the Little Missus bump into Roger, who just happens to be living nearby, and she punishes the Little Missus for speaking to him.

So the Little Missus runs away, but only gets as far as the pub before she hurts her ankle, and is rescued by Seth’s wife Mary … and overhears Seth plotting to burn down Great-Aunt Susannah’s house.  In the meantime, a message has been sent to Roger, but he’s away, so Pleasance comes instead, and Great-Aunt Susannah sees that she’s a lady really.

Seth and his mates, the Little Missus and Mary, Roger, and Dear Papa and one of his other sons, then all head for Great-Aunt Susannah’s house.   Roger, who fortunately carries a pistol around with him, shoots and injures one of the baddies,  some soldiers turn up, the plot is foiled, and Dear Papa, Roger, Pleasance, the Little Missus and Great-Aunt Susannah are all reconciled and live happily ever after.

It’s a bit of a daft story, and it’s not very long, but I’m so glad to have read all of Elinor’s books at last, 40 years after I read my first Chalet School book!

The Little Marie-Jose by Elinor M Brent-Dyer


This is a historical adventure story, set in late 17th/early 18th century France, New England and Quebec … and rather exaggerating the conditions of the time, which I suppose at least made it dramatic!   There’s a strong religious theme to it, but it isn’t nearly as preachy as I was expecting: I actually rather enjoyed it.  And it was one of only two of Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s books which I hadn’t read, so I’m very glad to have got a copy of it at last.

The foreword takes a reference to its being 100 years before the French Revolution literally, and therefore takes the start of the book as being in 1689; but there’s also a reference to having heard of Cotton Mather, so maybe it’s meant to be just after the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.  Or maybe they’d heard about his earlier witch trials.  And was he really that notorious in France anyway?  Am I overthinking this?!  Anyway. What isn’t mentioned at all is the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.   I appreciate that the book was written just after Elinor’s conversion to Catholicism, but the emphasis on Evil Puritans persecuting Those of the True Faith, with not the slightest reference to the fact that Catholics also persecuted Protestants, gets a bit much.  I could also have done without all the thees, thous, dosts, etc, but I suppose they were meant to make the book seem more historical.

Our family are forced to flee after 10-year-old Marie-Jose slaps the local seigneur’s spoilt daughter, who’d drowned her kitten and whom she was frightened was going to kidnap her baby brother.  It’s a jolly good job that they do so, as we later learn that the said seigneur was going to send both children away to do hard labour in factories.  And it’ll be 100 years before the Revolution happens, and frees the oppressed peasantry.

I’m not entirely sure that ancien regime France was full of child-kidnappers, or indeed juvenile aristocratic kitten-murderers, but it’s interesting to see Elinor taking such a strong stance against the ruling classes and in favour of the peasantry, and praising the French Revolution as a time of liberation.  There’s also that idea of Simple Peasants and True Faith which we get when Elinor writes about Oberammergau in The Chalet School and Jo, and also in 19th century movements such as Russian Slavophilism.

With the help of some kind people met along the way, Maman, Papa, Marie-Jose and baby Jeannot take ship for Quebec.  Unfortunately, their ship is hit by a hurricane, and is unable to make it to Quebec but instead has to put our family and some of their shipmates ashore in New England.   They’re initially helped by some English Protestants who are, wa-hey, actually nice and kind, but unfortunately the local schoolmaster sends for the extremist Baddie Puritan authorities.

The French party are then immediately grabbed off the street and hauled off to prison for being the wrong religion, which sounded more like something from Isabella I’s Castile than something from Puritan New England, and the priest was burned at the stake.  Our family are told that they can either convert and be split up and set to work separately or, if they won’t convert, they’ll be sold south into slavery.

There’s no doubt that Puritan extremism existed in late 17th century New England.  Massachusetts notoriously executed a number of Quakers in the early 1660s – and, partly as a result of that, was put under English rule and forbidden from doing so again.  But things’d calmed down a bit by the 1680s and 1690s, and, even before that, people weren’t just grabbed off the street and burnt at the stake.  And the last person I’d have expected that sort of exaggeration from is Elinor Brent-Dyer.  In the Chalet School world, Catholics and Protestants co-exist in perfect harmony.   A Catholic priest and an Anglican vicar ride around together on a motorbike.   When a pupil questions by Protestant pupils are attending a Catholic service, she’s told firmly that the different denominations are just “different paths to God”.  The goings-on in this book are all very dramatic, but not particularly historically accurate and certainly not very Elinor.

Obviously, our family cannot possibly renounce the True Faith.  However, help is, of course, at hand.  Some of the Goodie Protestants whom they’d met earlier break them out of prison, and they set off to a port from which they can get a ship to Quebec.  But then they get attacked by bears.

However, they fight off the bears, and make it safely to Quebec, where they settle and prosper.  Everything’s going swimmingly for them, when who should arrive but the baddie seigneur and his kitten-murdering daughter, who’ve got into trouble at home.  The daughter is inspired by Marie-Jose’s example to become a good person and a True Believer, and eventually realises who she is and asks her forgiveness, and they become best friends.

Then one of the goodie Protestants from New England arrives, looking for Marie-Jose.  They fall in love, but, oh no, she can’t marry him, because he’s not of the True Faith.  But, hurrah, he sees the light and converts, and they get married and live happily ever after.

Despite the rather melodramatic storyline, I did quite enjoy this; and, as I’ve said, I’m very glad to have read it at last.

The New House at Winwood by Clare Mallory



This book combines the trope of a new headmistress making changes with the building of a new boarding house, apparently constructed and filled remarkably quickly.   Some of the girls don’t like the changes, and refuse even to set foot inside it, or to play its teams at sports.   It’s mostly the older girls, which seems remarkably immature of them.  And the younger girls all appear to love fagging for the older girls – really?!  Also, some of the names are rather odd  – Adair, Miff and even Winsome.

Having said all that, it does work pretty well.  The characters are well drawn, and the story of the ongoing feuding and its development comes across quite convincingly even though it seems a bit pathetic that girls of 17 would make such a fuss about the new house.   Of course, in the end everyone makes up and the school becomes united.  Not bad.   And I found this copy very cheap on Amazon, so I’m rather chuffed about that!

Maeve of the Chalet School by Helen Barber




I know that a lot of people will be getting this as a Christmas present, but I can’t really post spoilers because it’s set during the same term as both The Chalet School in the Oberland and Shocks for the Chalet School.  I personally would rather have had a book set during the “unfilled” term when Marilyn Evans was Head Girl, but that’s no reflection on this book.

It’s not a typical Chalet School book, in that there are no accidents, epidemics, weather-related incidents or troublesome new girls, and it’s not a typical “fill-in” in that most of Maeve’s friends, and their form mistress, are only minor characters in canon (the original series).   However, it’s a very good read, just the thing for cold December nights!   And it’s pleasantly devoid of Joey “butting in” or being  consulted about school affairs whilst on the other side of the Atlantic, but, hooray, does feature Madge comforting Maeve.  It could have done with a bit more action, though.

A lot of the focus is on Mollie Bettany’s illness.   Chalet School fans will already know how things turn out, but of course the characters don’t.   How the Bettany family cope with that is quite moving.   

Other than that, there’s a drama/detective club, which isn’t very exciting.   And a reference to Peggy’s new friend Lucy.  Have I missed something.  Who is Lucy?!

It’s a nice book, though, and finishes on a nice festive note.   I’d still like to see a book about that term with Marilyn as HG, though!

Malory Towers Christmas special – CBBC


  This had nothing to do with the books, but it was a very enjoyable bit of festive fun.  I’m so pleased that the TV adaptations have been popular enough to merit a Christmas special.  I grew up in the days when the educational Establishment disapproved of Enid Blyton books, so it’s wonderful to see the iconic stories being rehabilitated into popular culture.   It’s also interesting to see the much-maligned character of Gwendoline Mary being fleshed out and made more sympathetic.

This was just a two-part special in which, for various reasons, the characters featured in the main series ended up spending the Christmas holidays at school, but it carried on the themes of friendship, togetherness and teamwork, which are what the TV adaptations have really emphasised.  And Matron sorting out a broken-down car, and saying that she (like my grandma) drove ambulances during the War (no need for rescue by passing males!), was a nice touch.  It won’t work for purists, because it had nothing to do with Enid Blyton’s writings, but the spirit of the stories was there, and it made for a really lovely hour’s watching.

Dust Up at the Crater School by Chaz Brenchley


This is the second book in the series which began with Three Twins at the Crater School.  The two sets of twins and their friends are now part of the group called The Crew, like that (rather forgettable!) gang in the later Chalet School books.  And we learn that the school’s founder left to marry the head of the Sanatorium.  Of course she did.  Several other mistresses (mistresses, not teachers) have also left to marry doctors.  Of course they did.  In fact, there’s a sister/mother school in Tyrol.  The founder hasn’t got a sister, as far as we know, but the “butting in” role is fulfilled by former Head Girl Rowany de Vere, back at the school after she failed to get into Oxford.

We learn that the colony on Mars has been there for 150 years, and that those on the “First Ship” are venerated rather like those who were on the Mayflower.  There’s a lot of talk about Pioneers, and at one point there was a Long Winter – although there’s no mention of anyone called Ingalls or Wilder 😉 .Not many women carry on working after marriage because, we also learn, Martian society is still rather patriarchal, with careers for married women not being a thing.  And sport for women isn’t really a thing either.  At the same time, Martian women are supposed to be strong, because the colony would never have survived otherwise.  Definitely a bit of Laura Ingalls Wilder there.

It looked as if that was going to be the main theme in this book – the role of women, and the GO trope of the tomboy.   A lot of attention has been paid to this in recent years, since the Malory Towers musical which suggested that Bill Robinson was non-binary or transgender.  Bill turned up with a horse, and possibly inspired the chapter in which the Crater School’s Ella-Stephanie, known at home as Stevie, turns up with a camel.  And there’s Tom Gay at the Chalet School, whose father raised her to be a “gentleman”.  Stevie’s father, a widower in a male-dominated pioneering community, has also raised his daughter more as a boy than as a girl.   But there’s no suggestion that Bill, Tom or Stevie identify as anything other than girls, whereas George Kirrin of the Famous Five is always delighted to be mistaken for a boy.  It’s a big “in” topic … but nothing really happens in this book.  Ellen-Stephanie is determined to be girly and ladylike, but pals up with Pete, who insists on being known as that rather than by her proper name, and is into traditionally boyish things, but that’s about it. Nothing really happens.  Mind you, it never does with Bill or George either.

There’s also a half-Russian girl, Catherine/Ekaterina.  Rowany finds out that Ekaterina/Catherine’s dad wants her to spread Russian propaganda at the school.  But she doesn’t.  Then she runs away.  But all this is in the space of a couple of chapters: we don’t really see her trying to get close to people for her own purposes, as the Chalet School’s Gertrud Beck did.

There’s a storyline about ghost stories and sleepwalking, which is very Chalet-esque. And there’s a big dust storm.  And a Nativity Play, with the issue of an Earth calendar not really working on Mars – and that ends it all on a happy note, with everyone feeling jolly and Christmassy.

I did enjoy the book, but it feel rather bitty.  There are a lot of different elements to it, none of which really extend through the entire course of the book, and it keeps jumping about between them.  It might have been better to have kept the focus on fewer characters, and saved some of the storylines for another book.  But still, it was entertaining enough, and I hope that we see more books in this series.  I think we will.


Cherry Tree Perch by Josephine Elder


This is the second of the three “farm school” books, and the title comes from a cherry tree with two “perches”, where Annis and her best friend Kitty go for a bit of peace and quiet.  We’re told that there are various “dens” around the school grounds, used by individuals or groups of friends, and that everyone else respects that they’re someone’s do not disturb territory.   That sounds wonderful!   The lack of privacy is the worst thing about most fictional schools.  As a little kid, I used to think how wonderful it would be to go to the Chalet School or Malory Towers, but the lack of any sort of private space would have done my head in very rapidly.

There are several dramatic-ish incidents, including several small fires and a grand show, but there’s no big storyline, just a generally entertaining read about a summer term at the Farm School – the fruit-picking (which, oddly, all seems to take place at the same time as year), animal husbandry, pony riding and lessons.  The book emphasises over and over again how wonderful the Farm School is: the teachers are all wonderful (we’re told that they’re *not* perfect, but they’re praised to the hilt), the lack of rules doesn’t seem to cause any problems (although this is tackled in the final book of the trilogy) and helping on the farm is a far better use of time than anything which kids at ordinary schools might do.   But at least there’s plenty of emphasis on the need for hard work and passing exams, which there isn’t in some school stories.

There are some ups and downs in Annis and Kitty’s friendship, mostly involving Kitty’s admiration for newcomer Miss de Vipon, on whom Annis isn’t so keen.  That’s perhaps the theme of the book, the need to learn to share, be that people or things.

It turns out that the fires are being started by Kenneth, Kitty’s brother who has what would now be called special needs.  That storyline doesn’t sit very well with modern sensibilities, but the book’s over 80 years old, and Annis shows great understanding in accepting that he meant no harm, and hushing it up in case people started saying that he should be sent to an institution.

Annis accepts Miss de Vipon in the end, but Miss de Vipon obligingly moves away, and Annis and Kitty’s friendship continues on its way.  And the final chapter also includes a scholarship win and an engagement.

I’ve really enjoyed the Farm School series.  It’s not going to become a big part of my life, but these are three very enjoyable books and I’d recommend them all.

Strangers at the Farm School by Josephine Elder


This is one of the sequels to Exile for Annis,  set at the Farm School which is one of several unconventional fictional schools inspired by Summerhill School.  The school has expanded, and amongst the new pupils are Hans and Johanna, two children brought from Germany to Britain on what we now call the Kindertransport.  Both they and the other new pupils initially struggle to fit into life at the Farm School, and, whilst of course everyone settles in in the end, what happens is quite interesting and thought-provoking.

The timing with the Kindertransport’s actually a bit out, because they arrive at the start of the 1938/39 academic year, three months before the transports began.  That can be forgiven, though.  The book was published in 1940 and, with most children’s authors either writing spy stories or ignoring the war and the build-up to war, this book, with its focus on refugees, would have been something different.

We see contrasting attitudes from the children.  Johanna is happy and grateful to be in Britain, but Hans is initially suspicious of the British due to hearing Great War stories whilst growing up; and, the children being from a wealthy family, he resents the fact that they no longer live in a big house with servants and luxuries.  That’s very interesting.  It’s not unrealistic that a child might have felt like that, but I think that an author today would be afraid to present a refugee in a negative way for fear of a backlash, even though it’s explained that Hans is reacting like this because he’s afraid and unsettled and struggling to come to terms with what has happened to him and his family..

Meanwhile, Annis has been elected as the first female president of the school.  The book is very supportive of women’s rights: Annis learns to drive, and insists that girls should be allowed to play whatever sports they like.  We also see that several female former pupils have gone on to university, and that Annis herself is hoping to go to Cambridge, to study sciences.  We also get arguments in favour of food and drink using only natural ingredients, with mutterings about not wanting beer produced in test tubes: that again seems like a very modern view in a book from over 80 years ago.  Comments about “peasants” and “gippos” are more dated.  I’m not trying to judge the book by today’s standards, just interested in the views on these issues, especially given what an “in” topic women’s sport, in particular, is at the moment.

Other than Annis, no-one actually seems to do very much schoolwork!   They’re either doing farmwork, learning to ride, watching hop-pickers or playing sport.   Very little time seems to be spent in lessons, something which the new pupils find strange and objectionable. To be fair, people with exams coming up are excused from some of the farmwork, but they still seem to do an awful lot of it.  But then there’s trouble when some of the new kids don’t want to get stuck in.

Of course, everyone eventually decides that the school is wonderful, but I’m not sure how realistic it is that people would have sailed through external exams after so little preparation.  And there’s a happy ending for Hans and Johanna.   But it’s not a simplistic book: there’s a lot in it to make the reader think.   The idea in a lot of Girls’ Own books is that everyone should learn to fit in and subjugate their own interests to the common good, but, using beehives as a metaphor, Annis suggests that that would be like living in a totalitarian state, and makes it clear that a balance has to be found between personal interests and group interests. But that’s easier said than done: they run into trouble with packing the apples because there are no rules about it and not enough kids volunteer.   But then is it OK to miss group work to pursue, say, a talent for art?

It’s a very interesting book, which goes a lot deeper than some school stories do.  Of course, all turns out well in the end, but it takes a while to get there.

Flight of a Chalet School Girl by Katherine Bruce


The only time I’ve ever enjoyed an exam was when one of my General Studies A-level papers asked for the historical background to the war in Yugoslavia.  I love Balkan history.   I even love the history of fictional Balkan countries, so I’m delighted that, as a change from school stories, Katherine Bruce has written a book about Crown Princess Elisaveta of Belsornia’s flight from her homeland, as Nazi German troops prepare to invade, to safety in Britain.

We’re given the outline of the story of Elisaveta’s journey by Elinor M Brent-Dyer (EBD), and it has to be said that it’s one of several rather silly and unlikely episodes in the wartime Chalet School books.  For a kick off, Belsornia moves from the NW Balkans to the SE Balkans.  Then, on arrival in Britain, the princess takes a job as a charlady until she can afford to kit out herself and her children with clothes from a second-hand shops, and then takes a taxi to Armishire!   I mean, what on earth?!   Why didn’t she just report to the authorities?   Or send a telegram?  And who would employ a well-spoken woman, and one who probably had a foreign accent, as a charlady anyway?  Plenty of Continental royals sought refuge in Britain during the war, but none of them worked as charladies!

However, Katherine’s made a brilliant story out of the brief account of the long and extremely eventful journey, and has clearly done a lot of research into the situation in Europe and North Africa at the time.  She’s even made sense of the charlady affair, and generally made everything as realistic as a book about an unlikely journey made by a Ruritanian princess could be.  We even, touchingly, see Elisaveta going to London to sign the Allied Declaration condemning the treatment of Jews by the Nazis.

At the beginning, we see the visit of Elisaveta, her fiance and his aunt to the Tiernsee, and then we see the royal wedding, both of which are referred to by EBD after the events, not actually shown.   GGBP “fillers” are consistent with each other, but Bettany Press books evidently aren’t included, because neither Madge Russell nor Jack Maynard attend Elisaveta’s wedding in this book, although they did in Two Chalet Girls in India.  However, we do get some senior Yugoslavian and Bulgarian royals there, bringing Belsornia and Mirania into the real Balkan world.  It may be a Ruritanian country, but there’s nothing Ruritanian about the Second World War.  We jump forward to 1941 by means of letters exchanged between Elisaveta and Jo, and then the “adventure” part begins.   It all comes across very well and very realistically, as we hear that German troops are massing on the Miranian border and will in all likelihood soon reach Belsornia, and Elisaveta, her children and her maid are leaving, initially planning to go to Turkey and take ship from there, until things went wrong.

The name “Constantinople” is used even though the city had officially been called Istanbul since 1930; but, to be fair, EBD did that too.   And I could have done without the repeated use of “England” for “Britain” and “Russia” for “the Soviet Union”, but both were and are very common.  EBD sometimes even used “England” when referring to places in South Wales!  Also, the afterword mentions that a family with whom they travel are Armenian, which isn’t clear in the text as they had Turkish names.  Sorry, I’m a right nitpicker.  There are only minor nits to be picked, though!  The one big EBD-ism/KB-ism was saying that Jem Russell had been knighted.  He wasn’t knighted: he was created a baronet.  But what would a Chalet School book be without an error?   It’s all part and parcel of Chalet lore!   Having said which, Hilda Annersley would ban computerised spell-checkers, which don’t pick up typos such as borders for boarders or miner’s for miners’.

There’s a lot of careful detail about how they manage for food and shelter on their journey through Turkey and North Africa, and also about the ups and downs – literally! – of sailing on a small boat.  Arletta must have had superhuman strength to have been able to carry both the boys, but there wasn’t really an alternative: EBD doesn’t seem to have considered the practicalities of travelling with a newborn baby and two small children!  Just as an aside, my first ever piece of Chalet School fanfic featured Freddie Helston, Elisaveta’s eldest son, as the hero, so I was very pleased to see him in a “real” book.

The section about their time in Spain and Portugal is a bit rushed, but it would have been a bit samey to have heard any more about trekking and looking for food and shelter.   There’s no suspense element because we know that they’d make it safely to Armishire in the end, but then you kind of know anyway that children’s adventure books will have happy endings, and it doesn’t make the exciting bits any the less dramatic.  And Katherine’s done an excellent job of making sense of what happened when they arrived in Britain, by saying that the six week wait was due to quarantine after coming into contact with a scarlet fever case, that the charring job was shared with a woman with whom they travelled from Portugal, and that they only took a taxi from Armiford station to Joey’s!  She’s also shown Elisaveta being in touch with Belsornian officials in Britain, and other Belsornian exiles, which EBD curiously never does.  Much more realistic than the idea that an exiled Crown Princess would just have a jolly time living with an old schoolfriend.

I thoroughly enjoyed this.  I wonder if we’ll see more “fillers” along this line, a bit of a spin-off.  I think all the missing terms have been “filled” now, and books retelling the story of a “canon” term from a different viewpoint are limited as to what they can say because the story’s already there.   I’d certainly read anything else like this one: it was excellent.


Maybe, at some point during her stay in Britain, Elisaveta got to meet the young Princess Elizabeth.  I am so saddened by the loss of our beloved Queen.  May she rest in peace.