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.
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
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 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 members of the Secret Seven include:
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 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.
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'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 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 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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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."
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."
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.... "
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]
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
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
SEVEN (1961), LOOK OUT SECRET SEVEN (1962), and FUN FOR THE
SECRET SEVEN (1963).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
"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]
Navigate the HBC literary pages' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the main Main English literary page]
[Famous Five] [Our William] [David Cooperfield] [Jennings] [Peter Pan] [Secret Seven]
[Main illustrators page]
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]