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Biography

Carey Blyton (1932–2002)


Carey Blyton was born in Beckenham, Kent on 14th March 1932. He was the second child, and the only son, of Hanly and Floss Blyton, his elder sister Yvonne having been born in 1926.

Carey was educated at the Grammar School there and, during the earlier part of this time, showed not merely an apathy towards music but a marked hostility to it until, as a convalescent from polio in 1947–8, he was taught the piano to pass the time. His natural bent for science throughout his school days took him to University College, London in 1950 as an undergraduate in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, where he began studying for a special degree in Zoology. After only one year there, however, his increasing interest in music (he was composing prolifically by this time) forced a decision upon him. Abandoning his studies, he left to work as a research assistant for the Gas Council while studying music privately.

Musical education

It was during these crucial early years from 1948 (when Carey began to take piano lessons and started showing an increasing interest in music) to 1953 (when he commenced his formal training as a musician) that his style as a composer was forged. In this period (described by one writer as his ‘naïve period’) he participated in the activities of The Beckenham Salon as accompanist in his own songs.

It must have been in the late 1940s or very early 1950s that Carey met Pat Dennis, who was introduced to him by a friend, and they were to marry in 1953. Apparently Carey forgot the wedding ring at the ceremony and had to borrow one from the mother of the same friend. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last and, although few facts are known, it seems they were separated or divorced by 1957 or so.

In 1953 Carey entered Trinity College of Music, London by examination and, during his four years there, obtained all three college diplomas (Associate, Licentiate and Fellow). In 1954 he also won the Sir Granville Bantock Prize for Composition. He studied harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and music history with Dr William Lovelock, piano with Joan Barker, harpsichord with Valda Aveling and viola with Alison Milne.

In 1957 he graduated with a BMus (London) degree and was awarded a scholarship in composition by the Sir Winston Churchill Endowment Fund, which took him for ten months to Det Kongelige Danske Musikkonservatorium, Copenhagen. There he studied composition, musical analysis and more advanced orchestration with the Danish Composer Jørgen Jersild.

Professional life

Returning to England in 1958, he became music editor to Mills Music Ltd for the next five years. During this time he met and married Mary Mills (no relation to Mills Music!), and they moved from Beckenham to Richard Rodney Bennett’s old flat in London in 1962. From June 1963 Carey freelanced as composer, arranger, music editor and lecturer. He was Professor of Harmony, Counterpoint & Orchestration at Trinity College of Music, London from 1963 to 1973, and Visiting Professor of Composition for Film, Television & Radio at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London from 1972 to 1983, pioneering the first such course of tuition in these specialised aspects of musical composition at a musical conservatoire in the United Kingdom. In September 1964 he was appointed music editor to the Music Department of Faber & Faber Ltd (now Faber Music Ltd), a position he held until 1974. While at Faber he was Benjamin Britten’s personal editor until 1971, being responsible for the editorial work on that composer’s scores from Curlew River to Owen Wingrave. He also worked on many scores by Gustav Holst.

During his time at the Guildhall he grew increasingly disillusioned with the way in which the BBC apparently favoured the more avant-garde music of the time over the more traditional and readily accessible music being written by the majority of living British composers. When the opportunity arose, he sent an open letter to the then-head of the BBC Music Division; it was published in The Listener magazine on 17th September 1981.

Musical œuvre

Carey Blyton was primarily a miniaturist, composing mainly songs, chamber music and short orchestral scores. His works include a series of guitar pieces for the Italian guitarist, Angelo Gilardino, published by Edizioni Bèrben, about a dozen works for the London Saxophone Quartet, many works involving wind instruments and works reflecting his lifelong interest in the music and art of the East, particularly Japan. His interest in writing for children is shown in various commissions from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for schools cantatas in the series Music Workshop, the incidental music for three Doctor Who serials, three Victorian mini-melodramas (Dracula!, Frankenstein and Sweeney Todd), and a number of books for children—including Bananas in Pyjamas, a book of nonsense songs and poems which has made his name well-known throughout the English-speaking world thanks to the use of the eponymous song by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC); Carey referred to this unexpected source of income as “the Banana plantation”.

In the documentary film and television fields, in which Carey Blyton worked since 1963, he contributed scores to several international prizewinning films such as Low Water, The Goshawk and Flying Birds, and incidental music to many BBC-tv productions such as Doctor Who, two Somerset Maugham adaptations (Before the Party and Footprints in the Jungle), Play for Today, The Wednesday Play and The Web of Life series. He has some twenty pieces in the recorded music libraries of several music publishers, including several for full orchestra, and in the period 1963–1971 he wrote the music tracks for some thirty television commercials.

Works in later years included The Girl from Nogami, a one-act opera commissioned by the Opera Department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. There was also a Sherlock Holmes Suite for brass quintet, commissioned by the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble, Yugen for solo guitar, commissioned for an album of contemporary guitar music (Oxford University Press), Sweeney Todd the Barber, Dracula! or The Vampire Vanquished and Frankenstein, or A Bolt from the Blue, three Victorian mini-melodramas for schools (the first two of which have been recorded by Meridian Records), After Hokusai (five duets for two flutes based on Hokusai prints), The Indian Coffee House Roof Garden Orchestra Tango (or The Last Tango in Pondy) for wind quartet (for the Workshop 21 School Series), commissioned by Universal Edition Ltd and a Nursery Song Suite for unaccompanied SATB choir, commissioned by The Scholars for an EMI/Toshiba record.

Later commissions include two for the London Borough of Bromley’s Battle of Britain Arts Festival, 1990: Scramble!, a fanfare for brass, and an arrangement of Lili Marleen for children’s choir (almost 1000 voices!), two pianos and side-drum; also a little suite of ‘mechanical pieces’ for strings, commissioned by the Petersfield Area Schools’ String Orchestra (PASSO), called Musica Mechanica.

Fiction and autobiographical writings

On the literary front, a sixth short story, A Very Good Rate of Exchange, appeared in the June 1994 issue of Short Story International, USA; his memories of evacuation to Somerset during World War II as a 12-year-old to escape the V1s, Summer in the Country, was published in an anthology of evacuee stories, Children in Retreat (Sawd Publications) and issued in the USA (Student Short Story International in June 1994); and a commissioned short story, Beggar Your Neighbour, appeared in an anthology of stories by disabled writers aimed at a disabled readership, published by Blackie & Son Ltd, for the National Library for the Handicapped Child. The Puffin paperback of this book was published in June 1991, and the story by Carey Blyton was issued in the USA in Student Short Story International in September 1994. It is worth noting that Summer in the Country and all of Carey Blyton’s other short stories have since been published in a single hardback volume, Collected Short Stories and Summer in the Country, by Fand Music Press.

Chief among numerous currently unpublished writings is his monumental In Search of Serendipity, a travel journal of a six-month trip that Blyton made to Sri Lanka and India in 1984–1985. Vastly entertaining and companionable, Blyton’s charm and humour infuse virtually every sentence of this huge ‘albatross’—as he came to view it, and its demands to be kept up every day!

Late works

Carey Blyton enjoyed something of an ‘Indian Summer’ of creativity in his last years, though generally he was prolific throughout his life, as his catalogue shows. Late works of particular note (all published by Fand Music Press) nearly all exhibit his leanings toward ‘the mysterious East’, from In The Spice Markets of Zanzibar for brass quintet to Lyrics from the East for tenor and piano (a short epigrammatic song-cycle based on Eastern poems, written for Ian and Jennifer Partridge). One of his very last works was El Tango Ultimo for symphony orchestra&emdash;the essence of Blyton’s art in a brief Tango cromatico.

Also among these last compositions is Vale, Diana!, a poignant tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, scored for string orchestra, and his Dirge for St Patrick’s Night, a ballad for voice and piano (or guitar) setting to music a poem by Elsa Corbluth, written in memory of her daughter, Eilidh, who tragically died in a fire aged 18.

As noted above, his Collected Short Stories and Summer in the Country were published by Fand in 2002, shortly before he died.

Envoi

The ‘Beckenham boy’, Carey Blyton, was honoured by his home town in 2002 on the occasion of his 70th birthday by an exhibition and talk about his work at Beckenham Library. Many friends, supporters and colleagues contributed to an ‘appreciation’ which clearly showed the incredible diversity and range of interest, all reflected in his work, of this uniquely talented man. Unfortunately, owing to ill health, Carey himself was unable to attend (though a video recording was made), and he died of cancer and post-polio syndrome on 13th July 2002 at Woodbridge in Suffolk.


In memoriam

A Service of Thanksgiving was held at St Mary’s Parish Church, Woodbridge on Wednesday, 24th July 2002 at 11.00am. The hymns sung during the service were For the beauty of the earth, I vow to thee, my country and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation.

Carey’s death was marked by tributes in the local and national media and in other musical publications, including the following articles: