From Good Companions to Big Ears

March 11, 2019

From Good Companions to Big Ears

J.B. Priestley gave it a name, Enid Blyton used it

By Robert Messenger

British author J.B. Priestley gave a typewriter model its name, yet he preferred to type his books on another machine, a Royal portable. With 20-year foresight, the beautiful Imperial Good Companion (the title of Priestley’s 1929 novel about an English concert tour) might just as easily have been called the Imperial “Big Ears”, especially given that distinctive carriage lever which swivels up into the air like a protruding lughole.

Enid Mary Blyton (1897-1968) typed her children’s stories on an Imperial Good Companion and they are among the world's best-selling books, topping 600 million copies. Among those works which have been translated into 90 languages are her Noddy, Famous Five, Secret Seven and Malory Towers series of books.
Blyton was prolific on her Good Companion, producing up to 50 books a year as well as writing for magazines and newspapers. She typed her stories as events unfolded in her imagination. Naturally, the BBC ensured it had the first model of the Imperial Good Companion for Helen Bonham Carter to use when in 2009 it made a film about Blyton's life.

Not only that, but the BBC also carefully recreated a 1949 scene in which Blyton was snapped by celebrity photographer George Konig with her typewriter on her lap and her daughters, Gillian and Imogen, leaning over her shoulders. The pictures were taken at their home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.

It was this type of photo opportunity that Blyton was always keen to grasp, to her considerable advantage. A biographer claimed her success was enhanced by her "marketing, publicity and branding that was far ahead of its time". Still, Blyton herself put her massive output down to sheer hard work, saying, “It is “partly the struggle that helps you so much, that gives you determination, character, self-reliance - all things that help in any profession or trade, and most certainly in writing”.

In February 1953, psychologist Peter McKellar wrote to Blyton asking about the imagery techniques she employed in her writing, for a research project he had undertaken. Blyton replied, “I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my [Imperial Good Companion] portable typewriter on my knee - I make my mind a blank and wait - and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me in my mind's eye ... The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don't have to think of it - I don't have to think of anything.”

At her peak, Blyton's daily routine varied little. She usually began writing soon after breakfast, with her Imperial Good Companion on her knee and her favourite red Moroccan shawl nearby; she believed that the colour red acted as a “mental stimulus” for her. Stopping only for a short lunch break she continued writing until five o'clock, by which time she would usually have produced 6,000-10,000 words.

As we all know, or should all know, the Imperial Good Companion is a portable typewriter well and truly capable of such an enormous work load.