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Carey Blyton - Beckenham Composer & Author

The launch of the Harry Potter film last 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" and, it seems almost on cue, Carey Blyton was born that year in The Drive, Beckenham to parents Floss and Hanly Blyton (Enidís brother). In October last year at Brittenís world famous music venue, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, the 69 year old Carey, shrugged off the tightening grip of post-polio syndrome and 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, May Parker, 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 to pay for music training in order 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 and celebrated at The Three Tuns in Beckenham High Street, last December.

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 centenary in Beckenham at Langley Park when Careyís music was played throughout the day.

There were plenty of recordings by the Langley Park 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 1965, the connection with Beckenham is sustained by the townís youngsters, the Beckenham Junior Choir for example.

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 etc. And the Bananas B1 and B2 have been seen by over 100 million children in 50 countries.

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 1916, leaving brother Hanly to care for their mother Theresa.

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 her brother.

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 & Masonís.

Careyís fun and flair is manifest in the sleeve notes of his latest CD "The Early Songs" (upbeat classics URCD160) 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 year. The highlight will be on Thursday, March 14th when the Library will be specially open to invited guests for a Tribute to Carey on his 70th Birthday. That day is also World Book Day which is also appropriate as 2002 is the 30th anniversary of Careyís Bananas in Pyjamas book which went on to launch 1000ís of bananas world-wide!!

Among the special guests on March 14th will be Carey Blytonís younger son, Daniel; his cousin Imogen Smallwood (Enid Blytonís younger daughter); the librarian, Simon Finch, who brought the publicís attention to Enid Blytonís formative years in Beckenham which led, in turn, to a book by local author, Nicholas Reed (another of the guests attending) and, during the last 12 months, the research for a planned book by Cliff Watkins who is staging the Carey Blyton Exhibition in compunction with Bromley LB.

A director of Upbeat Records, and Careyís music agent, Liz Biddle will also be attending and she may be contacted on liz@upbeat.co.uk, or telephone 020 8773 1223


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