English Costumes of Literary Characters: The Famous Five

Figure 1.-- Enid Blyton published 21 volumes in the "Famous Five" series beginning in 1942.

Another famous English literary character was really a group of five--four children and a dog. The central characters are Julian, Dick, Anne, George, and the dog Timmy. This was a children's series created by famed children's writer Enid Blyton, one of Britain's best-loved children’s authors. It was one of the most popular series of children's books in England and America. The series began in 1942 and were translated into many languages. The boys were commonly costumed in period clothes, jumpers, short trousers, and sandals.

The Author

Enid 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 Books

Enid Blyton books are about children in jeopardy, children empowered, children winning through. Enid Blyton is still the world's greatest storyteller for children. Blyton published 21 volumes in the series. The first was published in 1942. The last Famous Five book was published in 1963. It was one of the last books that Enid Blyton published before her death in 1968, although her prolific output continued, in more scattered fashion, into the mid-1960s. HBC readers may be interested in more detailed information about the Famous Five. More information on Famous Five dates of publication can be found on an interesting Blyton page by Michael Edwards which is part od a wider work on children's literature.

Book Reviews: Michael Edwards

Enid Blyton enthusiast Michael Edwards has prepared several reviews of books in the Famous Five series as well as other Blyton books. Readers interested in the Famous Five might want to have a look at his reviews which provide interesting details on several individual books. They will give you a good idea of what the Secret Seven books are like.


The central characters are Julian, Dick, Anne, George, and the dog Timmy. Julian, the older brother of Dick and Anne, is the natural leader of The Famous Five. He's the older brother, so he keeps Dick in line and looks after his sister, Anne. He's sensible and he believes in setting a good example. George is, the tomboy alter ego of Enid Blyton, whose best friend is her beloved dog, Timmy.


Julian is the eldest of the five characters, and older brother of Dick and Anne. Naturally he assumes the role of the group leader. He has a resourceful and dependable nature, helping the group through many sticky moments. He is bold, but sensible, knowledgeable and thoughtful.


Dick is the younger brother of Julian, and the joker in the group. He is the tease of the Five, a natural humorist who is always cracking jokes and enjoys nothing better than stirring the others up. He is sensitive to other's feelings, and has a sharp mind, which often makes him a valuable asset when, as always, a mystery has to be solved.


Anne is the sister of both Julian and Dick, and is the youngest of the group. She likes nothing better than cooking, cleaning and generally looking after other people. As a result, her character has been used to substantiate charges that Blyton's Famous Five series is sexist. Anne is more emotional than her brothers. However, she is imaginative and often strong in the face of adversity.


Julian, Dick and Anne in the first book, Five on a Treasure Island, meet their cousin Georgina. Georgina likes to act like a boy and hence is called George. In one interview Enid confessed that George was based on herself. She is the tomboy of the group whose main aim in life is to prove that she's just as good as a boy. Although she is often stubborn, strong-willed and hot-tempered, she remains a true friend to her cousins. By far her best friend though is her faithful dog Timmy, her unconditionally loyal aide.


Timmy, the lovable mongrel, is never happier than when he is with his master George. His second favorite pastime of chasing rabbits gets him into frequent mischief, as does his escapades with George, Anne, Dick, and Julian.

The Illustrations

The original illustrator was Eileen Soper. Through the first dozen books the children age in the illustrations in line with the passage of time through the stories: Julian from 12 to 18, Dick and George from 11 to 17, and Anne from 10 to 16. In the later stories they appear to be fixed at: J 15/16, D & G 14/15 and A 13/14. Later illustrations to modernize the appearance of the five now look hopelessly dated, with 1970s style flared trousers and androgynous kids. Also the artists are nowhere near as skilled as Miss Soper. Recent paperbacks have restored her illustrations but in a colored form.


The series began in 1942 and were translated into many languages. The boys in the early editions were commonly costumed in period clothes, jumpers, short trousers, and sandals worn by British boys in the 1940s and 50s. This changed somewhat a the children were allow to age in subsequent books. Also publishers began "updating" the illustrations to make the books appear more timely.


I have not noted the boys commonly wearing caps as most of the adventures normally take place away from school, but I think that the children are sometimes pictured in their school uniforms.

Short pants

The boys mostly appear in short trousers in the original editions. I think some of the modern editions of the books may have changed the drawings, but I am not yet sure of this.



As many of the adventures take place during summer vacations, the children--both the girls and boys--commonly wear sandals. The style is the traditional school sandal style with the narrow center strap.


The books that children most often buy with their own pocket money are Enid Blyton's. They give children an appetite for reading. Her books have been translated into nearly 70 languages (other sources say 40) and sold 400 million copies. Blyton's legacy is one that has captivated children of all ages for generations. Enid Blyton's books remain best-sellers for children around the world. The 1990's sees an ever increasing demand for the books and products that have evolved from her imaginative creations.


Blyton's books have been criticized. Although Blyton was a actually better writer than she is generally given credit for, it is fair to say that she was hardly a wordsmith who struck fire from the flint of language. Among the criticisms are racism, sexism, and snobbishness. Her writing does indeed reflect the temper and thought of the times in which she wrote. Even those who admire her books admit that the attitudes displayed in many of the books can be considered as sexist and outdated. Another criticism was that her works were not true literature. In the late 1950s many librarians in England refused to stock books by Enid Blyton on the grounds that children would not read the great works of literature. After a period of attacks from the press, Enid Blyton allegedly stated that criticism from the over 12's did not really count. One Blyton proponent personally remembers that one of her teachers told the class that he did not wish to see any pupil bring Enid Blyton books into the class as there were unsuitable reading material. The result of the criticism and removal of books from libraries was that children pestered their parents to buy the books at shops and Blyton sold more books than ever before. The books continue to appeal to children and have found new readers in each successive generation. "She was a child, she thought as a child and she wrote as a child," the psychologist Michael Woods has offered as the secret of her books. In the final analysis, a key to the value of a children's author id perhaps not the brilliance of the writing, but the success it interesting children to reading. Once they are hooked on reading, they will seek out many of the great classics that so concern scholars.

Figure 2.--The Famous Five are shown here in a recent British TV series. Notice the characteristic short pants and sandals.

Continuing Popularity

The Famous Five continue to be popular with young readers and not just English children. A French reader reports in 2003, "I just dicovered your site as I was looking for information about the Famous Five, the new favourite heroes of my 7 year old son."


The children's film foundation in the UK during 1957 made a film serial of Five on a Treasure Island.

Television Series

Recently a television series of most of the Five books has been shown which more or less followed the plot of the books. One reviewer writes that the only problem she had with the television series was Timmy the Dog. (He was too small!) Enid Blyton's daughter, Gillian Baverstock, has been closely involved in the TV adaptation of her mother's work. When she saw The Famous Five in their costumes for the first time, she gasped and said, "Oh, if only my mother could have seen them - they're perfect!"


Interestingly, the Famous Five books as well as other Enid Blyton books are among the most translated books ever written. No one has an exact count of vthe number of translations of the Blyton books. We note one estimate exceeds 3,500. That wouls make her the fifth most translated author in history. This huge number results from the large number of books written by Blyton and the many different translation in some if the more important languages, just as thereare many English language editions of the same book, Nor do we know how many lanuages are involved. We know the books have been translated into all the major languages and most smaller languages, smaller in the sence of the number of speakers. One study lisdted 36 languages, but we suspect that the actual number is even greater. We are sure just whu her works are so popular, but there clearly is a universal appeal. One factor is that younger children like for children to be some of the characters in the books read. Especially characters that appeal to them. And the simplicity of vocabulary makes the books idea for young readers. Of all the Blyton books translated, the Famous Five series is by far the most important.


Ariaux, Bénédicte. E-mail message, June 17, 2003.

Baverstock, Gillian. Tell Me About Writers, Enid Blyton (Evans Brothers Ltd).

Rice, Eva. Who's Who in Enid Blyton (Richard Cohen Books) .

Stoney, Barbara. Enid Blyton's Biography (Hodder & Stroughton) .


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Created: January 12, 2001
Spell checked: September 17, 2001
Last updated: 11:20 PM 3/14/2011