Friday, 30 May 2008


One of my personal literary heroes - or, rather, heroines - is Mary Cadogan who has written extensively about children's books and periodicals and the authors and artists who created them and who, today, celebrates her 80th birthday.

Mary and I have been friends now for over thirty years and I am in total admiration of her youthful fascination with life and her indefatigable energy, which keep her writing, talking and broadcasting about subjects on which she has been a passionate advocate now for over three decades.

A literary historian - a term Mary would never use of herself - her books have included the definitive portrait of the creator of that anarchic young man, Master William Brown - Richmal Crompton: The Woman Behind William - as well as a book about the boy himself, Just William Through the Ages

She has also told the story of the prolific writer who gave the world Billy Bunter, the Fat Owl of the Remove, and his fellow pupils at Greyfriars School, Frank Richards: The Chap Behind the Chums and Richards' female counterpart, Angela Brazil, and her contemporaries in You're a Brick, Angela and Chin Up, Chest Out, Jemima!

Other favourite childhood worlds about which Mary has written are those inhabited by Rupert Bear and the numerous characters created by Enid Blyton from Noddy, via the the Famous Five and Secret Seven to the girls of Malory Towers and St Clares.

"Reading has always been a joy," says Mary, "I just love books." And because she does, she can't stop herself from guiding us to the bookshelf, pulling out volume after volume and thrusting them into our eager hands.

Mary Cadogan wears her considerable knowledge lightly and what makes her books on the subject of children's literature and popular fiction so readable and accessible is that she is never the Learned One, dispensing knowledge from some ivory tower of academe; rather, it is as if she were sitting beside the youngster-inside-us-all, head bent over some much-thumbed book or comic reminding us of things that amused us, thrilled us or caught and excited our imaginations.

This underrated talent - an ability to share not just knowledge but, above all, an unashamed, undiminished enthusiasm for authors and their works - is something I prize and, in my own way, have tried to emulate.

In celebration of Mary's birthday, she has compiled a new book Mary Carries On: Reflections on Some Favourite Girls' Stories a collection of essays that follows the fortunes of young literary ladies from Katy Carr (as in What Katy Did) through to Modesty Blaise.

Along the way she discusses Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women (left) and its sequels; L M Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables); Elsie J Oxehnham (The Abbey Girls); Elinor Brent-Dyer (The Chalet School); W E Johns (Worrels of the WAAFS) and, of course, Brazil, Blyton and Crompton.

What great characters there were in these books and in the weekly comics and story papers such as School Friend: 'Belle of the Ballet'; 'Kitty Hawke and her all-girl air crew' (and, rather less inspiring, 'Angela, Air Hostess'); 'Wendy and Jinx', the sleuthing schoolgirls, and that tantalizingly mysterious schoolgirl secret society, 'The Silent Three of St Kit's'...

Click to enlarge

"Gosh!" really is the only word for it!

Writing of her new book, Mary describes it as a "tribute to the many writers who have enriched my childhood and subsequent years. It is not an academic treatise but - I hope - a sharing of pleasures."

Thank you for sharing those pleasures, Mary, and --- many happy returns!

For more information about Mary Carries On, visit the website of the book's publishers, Girls Gone By.

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