by Cliff Watkins
The launch of the Harry Potter film at Christmas led
to a media debate: was JK Rowling or Beckenhamís Enid Blyton the greatest
author of childrenís stories. That argument overlooked another Blyton,
whose work has entertained and help educate children the world over,
the Beckenham composer, Carey Blyton.
In 1932, a 19 year old Benjamin Britten completed his
choral work "A Boy was Born" coinciding with the birth of
Carey that year in The Drive, Beckenham to parents Floss and Hanly Blyton
(Enidís brother). In October last year at Brittenís Snape Maltings,
the 70 year old Carey, shrugging off the tightening grip of post-polio
syndrome, made the short journey from his home in Woodbridge to the
Maltings to oversee the recording of his own choral music.
Unlike Britten, who was composing by the age of 5,
Carey took to music at 16 when, still housebound 9 months after polio
had struck, a neighbour suggested he learn to play the piano. Careyís
life changed direction. Instead of becoming Beckenhamís David Bellamy,
the previously ardent naturalist Carey forwent a university place in
Zoology and took temporary jobs while training himself to be accepted
by TCM, London.
In 1950, the 19 year old Carey was developing his musical
career by forming the Beckenham Salon with local artists and musicians,
including Hugh Bean and with Sir Arthur Bliss as patron. The Salon anticipated
by 20 years the Arts Lab created by Beckenhamís other famous music maestro
David Bowie. (See last monthís Living South).
Downtown Beckenham in the 1950ís resounded to the late
night sessions of playing jazz/blues and composing new music. Venues
for Salon concerts included the Public Hall and the Grammar School in
Beckenham Road. Last October while Carey was at Snape, the Grammar school
marked its anniversary in Beckenham at Langley Park when Careyís music
was played throughout the day.
There were plenty of recordings by the school band
of his music because, like his auntís stories, much of Careyís work
was specially written to be enjoyed and moreover played by young people.
Thus, although Carey and his wife Mary moved to an affordable house
in Swanley in the 1960ís, the connection with Beckenham is sustained
by, for example, members of the Beckenham Junior Choir and school musicians
playing his work.
Long before taking up music, children the world over
are entertained by the bijou masterpiece Bananas in Pyjamas (BIP) created
by Carey as a soporific for son Matthew on a long car journey. Mary
urged Carey to write down the music and lyrics which were published
by Faber in 1972 in a collection of nonsense songs and poems. Ten years
later, BIP videos were produced by Australian Broadcasting Corporation
(ABC). Since then, ABC have issued licences world-wide for over 1000
items of BIP merchandise: books, toys, toothpaste, toothbrushes, clothing
But what of Enid Blyton who as 3 month baby had moved
to Beckenham in 1897? She (like her beloved father earlier) had walked
out on the family in 1920, leaving brother Hanly to care for their mother
In the 1940ís Enid Blyton was at the height of her
fame living in Beaconsfield, while brother Hanly battled in Beckenham.
He maintained his clothing business in the City despite being bombed
out of three premises; he was caring for Floss who was degenerating
year by year with rheumatoid arthritis, he was supporting his mother
now in rented rooms in Penge and surrendering to Alzheimer's disease
In 1944, the house in The Drive was made uninhabitable by a VI Rocket
and in 1947 the previously athletic and adventurous Carey was struck
down by polio. But Enid never visited.
Enidís apathy towards her relatives changed briefly
in 1965 when she contacted Carey, who was at the height of his musical
career and, with scholarships at TCM and Guildhall, was freelancing
as a composer of scores for documentary films and drama, including three
Dr Who serials, and working for Faber as Brittenís music editor. Enid
invited Carey to compose for her collection of songs, published under
the title Mixed Bag. Beckenhamís two famous Blytons met twice: in a
private box in the Stoll Theatre and for afternoon tea in Fortnum &
Careyís fun and flair is manifest in the sleeve notes
of his latest CD "The Early Songs" (upbeat
classics URCD160 - review)
most of which were composed in Beckenham. Beckenhamís unknown although
well sung hero will be celebrated in an exhibition marking his 70th
birthday to be held in Beckenham Library from March 4th to 20th this