Edward Blishen

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Edward Blishen
Born(1920-04-29)29 April 1920
Died13 December 1996(1996-12-13) (aged 76)
OccupationAuthor and broadcaster

Edward Blishen (29 April 1920 – 13 December 1996) was an English author and broadcaster. He may be known best for the first of two children's novels based on Greek mythology, written with Leon Garfield, illustrated by Charles Keeping, and published by Longman in 1970. For The God Beneath the Sea Blishen and Garfield won the 1970 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject.[1]

There is also his series of autobiographical books, including A Cack-Handed War (1972), a story describing his experiences as a conscientious objector, set against the backdrop of the Second World War, and Roaring Boys (1955), an honest account of teaching in a London secondary modern school in the 1950s, a book still valuable to understand teaching in a "rough" part of a city. Its sequel, This Right Soft Lot, was published in 1969. He finished the concluding volume of his autobiographical sequence, Mind How You Go, in 1996, just before his death; it was published posthumously by Constable in 1997.


Edward Blishen was born in Barnet, Hertfordshire, England. He attended Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Barnet, and after failing his exams at the age of 17 he left school to work on a local newspaper.[2]

When the Second World War was declared he registered as a conscientious objector (CO), although he came from a long line of soldier ancestors. His father had served in the First World War, from which he returned wounded, suffering from shell shock and silent about his experiences. As Blishen recalled: "He wasn't sympathetic to pacifists. He felt that if he had fought a war, then I ought to fight a war as well." But having read some of the now-famous books revealing the horrors of the First World War, the younger Blishen realised: "I can't be somebody who does that to someone else." Registering as a CO was an uncomfortable experience: "Everybody was declaring themselves at one counter, and there was this other forlorn counter for you to declare you weren't going to join in. It felt as though you were separating yourself from the rest of the world."[3]

Later, he taught for three years teaching in a Hampstead prep school, before going on to a secondary modern school in Holloway Road, north London, where he wrote his best-selling first book, Roaring Boys in 1955. Following its success, he gave up teaching in 1959 — although he did some part-time teaching at York University between 1963 and 1965 — in order to devote more time to writing and then to developing a career in broadcasting. Fans of Roaring Boys and its sequel, This Right Soft Lot, ranged from the novelist Kingsley Amis to former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock.[4]

For more than 33 years, from its inception in 1961 until, at least, 1994, Blishen was the editor of the Junior Pears Encyclopaedia, published by Pelham Books.

Blishen had a regular column in The Young Elizabethan.

As a broadcaster, Blishen did some notable work with the BBC's African Service and later was a presenter of the BBC Radio 4 programme A Good Read and regular contributor to Stop the Week.

He also compiled a number of collections in the Kingfisher Treasury of Stories series and Children’s Classics to Read Aloud.

In June 1995, Blishen was awarded an Honorary Degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University.

He had two sons and was married to Nancy Smith.

Selected works[edit]

  • Mind How You Go (Constable, 1997)
  • The Disturbance Fee (Hamish Hamilton, 1988)
  • The Outside Contributor (Hamish Hamilton, 1986)
  • A Second Skin (Hamish Hamilton, 1984)
  • Donkey Work (Hamish Hamilton, 1983)
  • Lizzie Pye (Hamish Hamilton, 1982)
  • Shaky Relations: An autobiography (Hamish Hamilton, 1981)
  • A Nest of Teachers (Hamish Hamilton, 1980; Allison & Busby, 1985)
  • Sorry, Dad (Hamish Hamilton, 1978; Allison & Busby, 1984)
  • Uncommon Entrance (Thames & Hudson, 1974; Trafalgar Square Publishing, 1983)
  • The Golden Shadow (Longman, 1973) ‡
  • A Cack-Handed War (Thames & Hudson, 1972)
  • The God Beneath the Sea (Longman, 1970) ‡
  • This Right Soft Lot (Thames & Hudson, 1969; Panther, 1971)
  • Roaring Boys: A Schoolmaster's Agony (Thames & Hudson, 1955; Panther, 1966)
‡ by Blishen and Leon Garfield, illustrated by Charles Keeping


  1. ^ (Carnegie Winner 1970) Archived 22 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  2. ^ ThisIsAnnouncements.co.uk website, 12 December 1996. Archived 5 May 2013 at Archive.today
  3. ^ "Conscientious Objection in Britain during the Second World War, Peace Pledge Union". Ppu.org.uk. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  4. ^ Nicholas Tucker (16 December 1996). "Obituary". The Independent. Independent.co.uk. Retrieved 29 April 2014.