Carey Blyton gave pleasure to millions of children with his nursery song Bananas in Pyjamas. As a young man he was encouraged by his aunt, the famous children’s author Enid Blyton, who persuaded him to stick with his career as a composer despite the constant setbacks.
In a rare gesture of intimacy she told him she had received more than 500 rejection letters from publishers when she started writing. “You don’t put me off with the talk of your disappointments,” she wrote to her nephew. “Such a tale is quite usual.”
She was right to spur him on. Bananas in Pyjamas, which he invented when singing his son Matthew to sleep, was adopted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) as the signature tune for a children’s series about two bananas and three teddy bears, which was shown all over the world.
Although he made no money from the show’s merchandising he received a royalty every time the song was played. “It’s very little but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” he commented five years ago, adding “Suddenly, when it’s almost too late, I have started to earn some money.”
The son of Blyton’s brother Hanly, his life was a battle of courage after a polio attack at the age of 15 left him disabled. During his convalescence he resolved to use his time to learn the piano. Within a year he was writing his own piano pieces.
He studied at Trinity College of Music in London and won a prize for composition and a scholarship to study at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. Returning to London, he went into music editing, working with the composers Gustav Holst and Benjamin Britten. From 1963 he spent a decade on the staff of the Trinity College of Music and from 1972 another 10 years as professor of composition for film, television and radio at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
He wrote music for films, TV ads – including Nimble bread – documentaries, dramas and three episodes of Doctor Who. But he was also a serious and prolific musician who wrote orchestral and instrumental works, folk songs and music for brass, guitar and piano.
Carey with his wife Mary
Carey met his famous aunt only three times, in the Sixties, when they collaborated on setting her words to music for a collection of songs for schools. They also discussed writing a children’s opera together—a plan that never came to fruition. But they struck up a close relationship in their correspondence.
A fascinating insight into the way she worked came in a letter with some poems that she wanted him to set to music. “Let yourself go! Spontaneity is the key. Do a bit of galloping instead of too much careful plodding. Alas—if I try to write slowly, the whole thing goes cold on me.”
When Enid’s daughter Imogen saw the letters, she was close to tears. “Imogen told me I must have been the only person her mother gave comfort and advice to in the whole of her life,” said Carey. “Enid was always very distant and unloving to her children.” He was tickled that his “totally daft little song” earned more for ABC than his aunt’s Noddy character earned for the BBC.
In 1961 he married Mary Mills. They had two sons, Matthew and Daniel, and in 1996 moved to Woodbridge, Suffolk, a village that he had got to know and love when working with Britten. Earlier this year his home town, Beckenham, honoured him with a civic reception. He was too ill to attend but greatly enjoyed the This Is Your Life-type film that was made of the occcasion.