Costumes of English Literary Characters: Secret Seven


Figure 1.--This illustration by Burgess Sharrocks appeared in a 1957 edition. At the time it was an accurate depiction of what children were wearing in English preparatory schools.

The Secret Seven is another group of English children created by Enid Blyton. The books are about a secret club with official meetings and everything. The club members were Peter, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam, Colin, Janet and of course Scamper (the dog). These books are not great literature, in fact, English teachers one discouraged children from reading them. HBC has, however, included them because of the huge number of children who read them and Blyton's enormous ability to interest children in books and reading.

Author

The Secret Seven is another group of English children created by Enid Blyton. Enid Blyton, the author of the series, wrote over 400 children's books by the time she died in 1968, including the sister series, The Famous Five. Blyton is probably the most successful children's author of all time--although not the most famous. She published an amazing number of children's or juvenile books, 600 by one account. She certainly was the most prolific author of all time, and with over 700 books and 10,000 short stories to her name, she is likely to remain so for years to come. Her importance is that she wrote books that children loved to read and attracted them to books--much like J.D. Rowlings. Blyton's most famous series was The Famous Five. Blyton's works painted an idyllic vision of rural England and hearty Englishness and in recent years she has been criticized for this. It is interesting that Rowlings who also attracts children to books has been criticized for just the opposite--a dangerous forbidding world of wizardry.

The Group

The books are about a secret club with official meetings and everything. The club members were Peter, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam, Colin, Janet and of course Scamper (the dog). They fancy themselves a pretty sharp group of detectives, and, they prove themselves to be. The Seven manage to retrieve stolen goods, capture crooks and scoundrels, and having the most brilliant adventures, they also contribute to good causes. They helped buy a violin for a destitute blind boy called Benny Bolan, after his was destroyed in a fire. They retrieved stolen medals for an elderly war veteran, who lived next door to Colin, and whose medals had enormous sentimental value to him. They also raised money to send Lame Luke to the sea.

The Seven

The members of the Secret Seven include:

Peter

Peter is the official leader of the Secret Seven, and he founded the club with fellow member and sister Janet. He is very strict about the club rules and likes them to be kept. He gets very annoyed when somebody forgets the password or their club badge (a frequent occurrence!). Peter and Janet own the eighth, unofficial member, referred as a hanger-on by the Seven: Scamper the Golden Spaniel. Peter goes to an all boysí preparatory school, with fellow members Colin, Jack and George. English Preparatory schools in the 1950s were mostly single gender schools, but are now increasingly coeducational.

Janet

Janet is Peter's sister and the co-owner of Scamper, the Golden Spaniel. She is the co-founder of the Secret Seven. Alongside Peter, and has made many worthwhile contributions, one example lies in The Secret Seven On the Trail when she comes up with a brainwave that has set the Seven going again when they thought they had come to a dead-end. She attends the same school as Barbara and Pam.

Jack

Blyton depicts Jack as the Secret Sevenís second in command. He goes to the same school as Colin, Peter and George. Susie is his sister and the Sevenís worst enemy, fooling and outwitting them on many occasions. She plays many tricks on them, with friends such as Binkie, just because Peter wonít let her join. Jack loses his badge a lot of the time (due to Susie!), and once resigned from the society because of it. He got into a terrible row with Peter, and walked out throwing his badge on the floor. He soon rejoined, though, after he solved the mystery, so all was well!

Colin

Colin's experiences have led the Seven onto a great many adventures; for instance, in Secret Seven Adventure, when he spotted the thief of a pearl necklace while playing a game of Red Indians. Another was when he went to his grandmotherís house, and found the place ransacked, and the safe broken open, all the contents stolen. Also, he spotted something worth looking into when he was practicing shadowing people, and discovered a man and dog going up an ally-way. The man returned minus a dog, and there was no obvious solution to where the dog could have gone to. Colin also fancies himself as a poet, too, thinking up a rather rude poem about Binkie, after she had made up one about the Secret Seven (Puzzle for the Secret Seven).

George

George was once forced by his father to resign from the Secret Seven, in Go Ahead, Secret Seven, when he was caught by a rather nasty young man when shadowing a man for practice. It didnít help, though, that he was caught swinging a brown genuine-looking truncheon, even if it was made of rubber. He attends the same school as Peter, Jack and Colin.

Barbara

Barbara is obviously best friends with Pam because they were always going off to parties and such together. She is an awful giggler and gets into a lot of trouble with Peter, for that and her loud mouth. She does have her useful side, though, and has helped the Seven with the tackling of adventures by coming up with some bright ideas. Barbara goes to school with all the girls from the Secret Seven, as well as Susie.

Pam

A bit brighter and more helpful than Barbara, although Pam is still a terrible giggler, and gets severely ticked off by Peter regularly. I feel, however, that she has contributed more than Barbara to helping the Secret Seven. She attends ballet lessons with Barbara, and the same school.

Scamper

Scamper is the Golden Spaniel belonging to Peter and Janet, and a fierce one when he wants to be. He has on many occasions saved the Secret Seven from the grasp of the enemy. He likes a scamper after rabbits, as do most dogs, and a bit of potted meat on a big dog biscuit. Scamper isnít an official member, although when George reluctantly resigned Scamper took his place. But throughout most of the books, Scamper is referred to as a ďhanger-on ó and a very nice one at that!Ē

Popularity

These books are not great literature, in fact, English teachers one discouraged children from reading them. HBC has, however, included them because of the huge number of children who read them and Blyton's enormous ability to interest children in books and reading.

The question emerges. Just what was Enid Blytonís success? Here are some thoughts:

1. Excellent marketing. Blyton made sure of this by marrying her publisher. No writer could do better than that!

2. A huge number of books on book shop and library shelves. Thereís nothing like having readers staring all the time at your name on the spine of a book!

3. Children started with Noddy books and by the time they were ready for novels Blytonís name was firmly established in their minds.

4. Blyton always delivered what children wanted (even if they had to wait for it!) and that is, quite simply, lots of action and adventure, usually in mysterious, spooky places. With few exceptions (such as Harry Potter) todayís publishers are giving children what they (and others) think is good for them rather than what they think children will enjoy.

5. Blyton never preached. Her books have absolutely no depth, but at least readers can rest assured that they will be allowed to escape from their problems (i.e., the bully at school, parentsí divorce) rather than have the problems shoved down their throats.

6. The children solved the mystery themselves, got out of trouble without adult help, and often presented the police with the solution to a crime before the police had done much more than start on the case. The child reader therefore feels empowered.

7. The children roamed all over the English countryside on their bicycles, whereas todayís children are taken everywhere by car and donít have anywhere near the freedom of Blytonís characters. A New Zealand reader comments, "My sisters and I certainly didnít roam the countryside like this. Wwe were city kids and didnít have bicycles anyway, but we thought nothing of playing on the tree-clad hills above deserted paddocks (now mostly swallowed by one of Aucklandís motorways) where all that could be seen was an occasional horse. Even the presence of a horse was cause for comment. We never once imagined someone evil might be lurking under the thick cover of the trees."

8. Of course it was parents who bought the books. Many parents as they were familiar with Enid Blyton from their own childhood, felt safe with buying the books for their children.

Reader Assessments

Michael Edwards

One reader comments, "There's no doubt about it: the Secret Seven stories are rather simpler than most of Enid Blyton's other mystery and adventure stories, and are probably intended for a younger audience than most of the others. However, seen within that context, they are quite effective mystery stories with a few elements of dangerous adventure, although less so than some of the other adventure stories for slightly older children. They are, in Enid Blyton's mystery/adventure stories, at the opposite end of the complexity and sophistication spectrum from the Adventure series, the 8-book series featuring Jack, Lucy-Ann, Philip, Dinah, and Kiki the parrot, which are full-length novels of considerable complexity and excitement, and sometimes incorporating within their international settings quite complex political elements. The main problem I have with the Secret Seven books is that the characters do not seem to have much personality, and are not easy to distinguish from each other. The boys are vaguely boyish, the girls girlish - but otherwise they are rather alike, except perhaps that Peter can be distinguished for his occasional bossiness as head of the Secret Seven and his pedantic insistence on the letter of the rules being observed, which sometimes makes him appear a little unpleasantly peevish and petty. But I honestly cannot tell Pam from Barbara, Colin from George, and so on."

Other

Another reader comments, "When I was a child and she already had a huge body of work to her credit. I remember I loved the Famous Five and the Secret Seven, but I grew up not even remembering their names let alone any of their adventures! However, I do remember wondering why I had to read a good two-thirds of the book before something exciting--really exciting--happened."

Experiences

HBC will archive here recollections of readers about the Secret Seven"

"As a child, my brother did not read a whole lot. But one time when he was sick and BORED, I suggested he read one of my Secret Seven books. He was hooked. He didn't become a bookworm, but he asked for Secret Seven books every time he was sick. In fact, I think he snuck a few even when he was well. What child wouldn't like Secret Seven--mysteries, secret club.... "

Editing

American Editions

The American editions were revised and edited by M. Hughes Miller. I'm not sure just how they are edited for American readers. Presumably the spelling is changed. Many of the titles were changed for the American readers. The differences between the titles of the American and English versions are an interesting case study in linguistics. The Secret Seven story known as The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret in the U.S. and as Three Cheers Secret Seven in the U.K. and English-speaking Commonwealth countries. Apparently the editors assumed that Americans needed a new title, but not readers in other English speaking countries. Although the U.S. titles may not be properly and traditionally Blytonesque, they are far more descriptive of the content of the stories, whereas most of the British titles (the ones chosen by Blyton herself) simply allude to mysteries and adventures in general, or to being on the trail, and so on, or else merely congratulate the Seven and say nothing about the actual story. It is not clear what else may have been changed in the American editions. [Michael Edwards, 2001]

Updating

Amazon.com reports that the Secret Seven books are "carefully and sympathetically updated for today's young readers." HBC is not sure at this time just how the books are updated. There is some "sanitizing" of some editions. In one of Blytonís books "woolly black hair and a watermelon smile" had been changed to read "dark curly hair and a cheerful expression"! Blyton would have been extremely upset to hear that her very evocative phrase is now regarded as offensive. So if you want to read the real Enid Blyton, go to the second-hand book shops rather than the library or retailers of new books. And make sure the publication date on the book you are buying is from the 1960s or earlier.

Titles

Blyton published 15 Secret Seven books from 1949 until 1963. All were published by Brockhampton, later shortened to "Brock". The titles included, THE SECRET SEVEN (1949), SECRET SEVEN ADVENTURE (1950), WELL DONE SECRET SEVEN (1951), SECRET SEVEN ON THE TRAIL (1952), GO AHEAD SECRET SEVEN (1953), GOOD WORK SECRET SEVEN (1954), SECRET SEVEN WIN THROUGH (1955), THREE CHEERS SECRET SEVEN (1956), SECRET SEVEN MYSTERY (1957), PUZZLE FOR THE SECRET SEVEN (1958), SECRET SEVEN FIREWORKS (1959), GOOD OLD SECRET SEVEN (1960), SHOCK FOR THE SECRET SEVEN (1961), LOOK OUT SECRET SEVEN (1962), and FUN FOR THE SECRET SEVEN (1963).

Sample Book Review: Michael Edwards

A good example of a Secret Seven book is Three Cheers Secret Seven (1956). The U.S. title was the The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret. The need to change the title for American readers is both an interesting exercise in American and English usage and a variety of cultural factors. Enid Blyton enthusiast Michael Edwards has prepared a fascinating review of this volume. Readers interested in the Secret Seven might want to have a look at his review. It will give you a good idea of what the Secret Seven books are like. Michael tells us that The Secret Seven books are only a small part of her work, and in fact are not of his favourite series. This links goes to a page that has additional infotmation on Blyton's work.

Chronolgy

Considerable changes occurred in boys wear in England between 1949 when the first volume was published. The last one was published in 1963. HBC is unsure to what extent changes in clothing fashions were reflected in the books. The drawings in many new editions were updated with more modern looking clothingm but I'm not sure if there have actually been changes to the text. Probably as the clothing was not normally described in great detail, this was not necessary.


Figure 2.--Many of the 1970s editions of the Secret Seven included obvious attempts to update the clothing the children were wearing. In this Derek Lucas illustration, caps and blazers are still seen, but the boys now wear long trousers in this 1973 edition.

Illustrators

HBC has noted the following illustrators in various editions of the Secret Seven. The original editions of the books had illustrations with very traditional school clothing. Later editions attempted to update the clothing. Unfortunately we have been able to find little information about the careers of the various illustrators and the other books they have illustrated.

George Brook


Bruno Kay


Derek Lucas

Derek Lucas illustrated some of the Secret Seven books in the 1970s. He attempted to update the clothing the children were wearing. The boys still had caps and blazers in some of the illustrations, but they were all wearing long trousers. Some boys still wore school sandals. I did not notice any sneakers or American innovations like baseball caps.

Burgess Sharrocks

Burgess Sharrocks appeared in many of the original editions of the Secret Seven. His drawings in the 1950s depict the children in traditional school attire, caps, blazers, jumpers, short pants, kneesocks, and school sandals.

An Australian View

"I went to primary school in Australia in the early 1960s, and my school uniform then was quite similar to that the Secret Seven are depicted wearing by the original illustrators - jacket, shorts, long socks, and school cap. What's notable in the Secret Seven books, though, is that the boys seem to wear their uniforms even when going about town or on picnics, etc., which I would never have done. I would normally have changed into ordinary clothes immediately upon arriving home after school: partly because I would feel uncomfortable wearing school uniform out of school, and partly to preserve the school uniform, which was probably more expensive than casual clothes. I do recall that, around 1970, my school abolished the school cap, perhaps feeling it was getting a little too obviously old-fashioned; and my younger brother promptly ritually destroyed it with considerable glee (I myself being a little more sober, and not given to such destruction). Those caps were never again used by the school, and are now memorabilia -- items of historical interest -- and sought after by the school historian and archivist. A few years before that, at an earlier school which also used caps, my brother's lack of respect for the school cap was demonstrated by his filling it with blackberries picked wild, the juice of which completely wrecked the cap, turning it a deep, blotchy purple -- to the considerable displeasure of our parents." [Michael Edwards, 2001]





Christopher Wagner







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Created: January 13, 2001
Spellchecked: September 17, 2001 Last updated: September 17, 2001