In The Fifth at Malory Towers

Review by Laura Canning (February 2, 2005)

Who will be Cinderella? Who is writing the poisonous letters?...Darrell and co's fifth year sees their form entrusted with the end of term entertainment. Moira and Catherine, two old fifth form girls who were left down when their form moved up into the sixth, are joint head girls and set up the entertainment committee. Moira fights with Alicia, with Catherine, with her sister Bridget, with Gwen, and just about everyone else. New girl Maureen looks set to give Gwen a run for her money as the most unpopular girl in the form. Mam'zelle, bless her heart, finally takes revenge on all the girls who have fooled her over the years, and plays a 'treek' of her own. Felicity gets into the school team—does she acquit herself as well as her big sister did? Of course...

The new girl in the fifth is Maureen, a fairly sickening person who simpers on and on about her wonderful last school Mazeley Manor. The girls get sick of her pretty quickly, seeing her as another Gwendoline, and think the two would be perfect friends. Gwen is back a few days after term starts, and at first is surprised by the warm welcome she gets from her form. Smoothly malicious Alicia introduces her to Maureen, and the form breathes a collective sigh of relief.

But Gwen just can't understand what she's supposed to see in Maureen. The girl is stupid, vain, boring, self-obsessed, prattles on and on about trivial and insignificant details that are of no interest to anyone...she is Gwen, in fact, and poor Gwen can't see it. Enid Blyton again shows she has a shrewd handle on human nature, when Gwen not only fails to see that Maureen is like her, but detests her as well. The poor girl is so genuinely puzzled as to why everyone thinks she and Maureen should be friends that you feel quite sorry for her (well, a bit).

Mam'zelle gives the form some relief from Maureen's prattle by inadvertently referring to her last school as 'Measley Manor', and the girls jump on this in delight. For the rest of the book, Maureen can't mention her school without an innocent fifth former saying something like, Now, what was the name of your school again?

But this is a minor matter for the fifth form. They are excited about the end of term entertainment and have decided to produce a pantomime, with Moira and Betty as co-producers. The form fixes on Cinderella, apparently at random, and Moira casually orders Darrell to write the script, since she's 'good at composition'. Darrell is shocked at first, but then starts to enjoy writing. Irene of course is composing the music and Belinda designing the sets. Emily, whom we rarely hear of, is making the costumes. But who will be Cinderella?

Our vain pair, Gwen and Maureen, naturally (and privately) assume it will be them. Gwen goes so far as to drape herself in an eiderdown and, reckless of Matron, takes her hair out of its plaits. Maureen, on a separate occasion, drapes herself equally ridiculously, and both are caught by Moira, who laughs at their even thinking they could be Cinderella. It is Mary-Lou who will get the part. Moira has made two enemies.

This is indeed Moira's term for making enemies. Her sister Bridget hates her after Moira ticks fourth form Bridget and Connie off (yes, Connie has failed the School Cert. and is still in the fourth; Ruth has made it into the fifth). She gives June lines after June sulks that Felicity is only in the lacrosse team because Darrell used her influence. Even saintly doormat Catherine, who everyone rather cruelly mocks for her constant attempts to be helpful, seems to be at the end of her tether. And, in a very handbags-at-dawn moment, Alicia and she have a huge row at rehearsal and Alicia resigns from the play.

Darrell is devastated—she has become very fond of her script and Alicia's part, the Demon King, requires so much conjuring that no-one will be able to learn the part in time. Alicia is sorry for Darrell but unrepentant. Under no circumstances, over my dead body, etc etc.

But then Moira starts getting poison pen letters. They are delivered to her in printed capitals, signed by ME and say how unpopular and domineering Moira is. She is upset but tries to act nonchalant, until Miss Potts finds one of the letters. Who doesn't like you? Miss Potts demands. Er, Moira ses. It could be Alicia, it could be Catherine, it could be Gwen, or Maureen, or Connie, or Bridget...Miss Potts is amazed that so many people hate Moira so much that they could write letters like this. But Mam'zelle then solves the mystery. She finds another letter, and shows it to Miss Potts, who asks where she got it. From a pamphlet I confiscated from June, Mam'zelle says. Miss Potts goes on the warpath.

Some time later, Felicity comes to the fifth form common room in tears. June is going to be expelled. The girls, especially Alicia, are shocked and upset. But Moira saves the day by going to Miss Grayling and pleading June's case. June is let off, after a stern lecture from Miss Grayling who says that anonymous notes are among the lowest things a person can do. Alicia thanks Moira and withdraws her resignation. All is well again. Hurrah!

Enid Blyton then uses one of her frequent 'trick' chapters to lighten the mood. But this time it is not the girls playing a trick on the hapless French mistress, it is Mam'zelle herself. In a delicious fit of irresponsibility, she orders some trick teeth from one of June's catalogues. The teeth are celluloid, protruding, and make Mam'zelle look quite demented. She puts them in and goes prowling. The girls who fall victim to her hideous smile practically collapse in shock, as does Miss Potts, who resolves that she really must tactfully tell Mam'zelle that the new false teeth are not entirely appropriate. Then, horror of horrors, Miss Grayling and a parent approach Mam'zelle and she can't get the teeth out. She grins close-mouthed until she forgets herself, and gives the parent a flash of the awful teeth. Parent and headmistress scurry off in shock, and Mam'zelle can take it no more. She sinks to a seat and laughs so much that the teeth come out. To the crowd of puzzled girls who gather, she delightfully tells them it was a 'treeck!'. The girls of course think she is great, and Miss Potts resolves to remove the joke pamphlets from Mam'zelle's desk as soon as possible.

The next big event is the pantomime, which of course is a roaring success. Alicia is proclaimed to be good enough to be on the stage; Irene's music is haunting and sung wonderfully by Mavis with her recovered Voice. Darrell's triumph comes at the end, when the cheering audience calls for the author and Darrell goes onstage to be applauded. It is her first writing success, and, while the overall success of the pantomime is certainly overdone, this is a nice moment. The book ends here, and we wonder what is in store for the girls in sixth form...