As a musical production of Malory Towers heads for the Theatre Royal, MAXINE GORDON meets some real-life boarders in York to discover what life is like at a modern-day boarding school

WHAT would Enid Blyton think of the teenage girls at a York boarding school who spend their evenings in their pyjamas watching Love Island on the TV, checking notifications on their mobile phones, and snacking on pizza slices?

Instead of playing lacrosse and tennis, this group prefer rugby, badminton, yoga and working out in the gym.

Oh, and there's no tuck shop. They don't need one when there is a Sainsbury's just down the road.

Boarding-school life in 2019 might seem a world apart from the 1940s and 1950s when Blyton penned her much-loved Malory Towers series. But is it really?

To find out, I've popped in to meet four teen boarders at St Peter's School in York.

It's good timing because a new musical production of Malory Towers will open in Bristol this summer and run at York's Theatre Royal from September 10 to 14.

And a new set of stories about life at the Cornish girls' boarding school written by modern authors has just been published: New Class At Malory Towers, by Patrice Lawrence, Lucy Mangan, Narinder Dhami and Rebecca Westcott.

In York, the theatre production has been sponsored by St Peter's, based in Bootham, which has four boarding houses – two for girls, two for boys – providing home for 130 children, almost half of whom come from overseas.

During our visit, we called in at Dronfield, a large two-storey house that can take up to 40 girls. This year, it has only had 28, but next year it will be full.

Inside are a handful of pupils – all with a purpose. One dressed in sports kit is looking for a clean pair of socks because she has a squash match in ten minutes. She heads into the laundry room where matron Magda Cross is busy folding towels. Magda has been in post for six years and is originally from Romania. She is in charge of a team of domestic staff and also forms a close bond with the girls. "I am looking after the girls. I am like a second mother."

Besides doing their laundry and making sure they keep their rooms and themselves tidy, Magda keeps a close eye on their wellbeing.

House parents Jon Whitehouse and his wife Lucy also have that responsibility and live on site. Jon is also a teacher at the school while Lucy is a physio – which must come in handy if the girls come back with a sports injury.

Sport is a big part of life at St Peter's, just as "games" were for Blyton's Malory Towers girls. But don't expect our St Peter's girls to be playing lacrosse, as favoured by the Malory boarders. Hockey, badminton, yoga and going to the gym are much preferred.

Or rugby in the case of 16-year-old Hope from Durham who wants to be a professional rugby player.

Hope, who has just sat her GCSEs, has been a boarder for two years and says the girls are "just like sisters". She adds: "I was at state school in Durham before and coming here has made me happier. I get on with everybody really well and like all the activities."

Isabel, aged 15, has been boarding for a year. She came from Canada but her parents now live in China. She likes playing badminton and enjoys piano lessons. Homesickness was an issue at first – but she got over it. "I enjoy boarding and it is a lot different to what I thought it would be like; I imagined the stereotype of a really big posh house. But it's really nice with all the different rooms."

The younger girls often share accommodation and can have single rooms in the upper sixth. Sharing is a way to combat homesickness and loneliness for new starters, says house parent Jon Whitehouse.

"My roommate is my best friend. We chat all the time," says Hope.

Sixth-former Ester came to St Peter's two years ago from the Czech Republic – not that you would know; her English accent is flawless. She enjoys sharing. "It's like having a sleepover all the time!"

The girls all said they liked eating together, especially the brunch and Sunday dinners on weekends, which create a family atmosphere.

Anna is in the upper-sixth and shares a room. Her roomie is packing to go on her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award challenge, and is methodically laying out her clothes on the single bed ready to pack.

The room is standard sized with two single beds and all the paraphernalia you'd expect from a teen girl's den. Anna's duvet cover has a pink flamingo print and there are two fluffy pillows on the bed. A pin board is on the wall and there are picture frames, make-up and books on desks and window ledges.

"The girls are free to decorate their rooms and make them their own," says Jon.

The rambling house affords lots of space for the girls to gather together to study or watch TV (a favourite pastime at the moment is watching Love Island in the snug in their pjs). On Saturday night, Jon brings them pizza.

There are a range of smaller rooms offering a quiet spot to read or study.

One of the boy's boarding houses is directly opposite and they are welcome to come over and watch TV with the girls - but are strictly not allowed upstairs to the sleeping quarters.

There are strict rules too governing the use of mobile phones. Depending on the age of the girl, mobiles are not allowed in their rooms in the evening and are kept downstairs. A sensible policy that Blyton would surely approve of.

Interestingly, Katherine Pomfret, marketing manager at St Peter's, says she believes boarders use social media less than day pupils because they live together and share more time together with friendship groups.

All the girls we met said they were looking forward to going to see the production of Malory Towers when it comes to Theatre Royal in the autumn.

Of the four teenagers we interviewed, only Hope had read the novels as a child. So how different is boarding-school life today? Do they get up to any naughty high jinks and midnight feasts like Darrell Rivers and her classmates at Malory Towers?

The girls laugh and say they don't need to be naughty because they have a lot of freedom to go into town to shop and visit cafes and restaurants.

As for those midnight feasts, the closest they admit to is sharing food in the snug while watching TV.

But there is one source of feuding – and one that is familiar to households across the land.

"There is only one source of drama and that is over the dishwasher," reveals Hope. "We have duties and have to tidy the snug and the kitchen, but often you go to empty the dishwasher and it is full and there is a new load to put in but the pans still have food in them. That's when we get on the group chat and say: 'please tidy up'."

I'm sure the Malory Towers girls would have done exactly the same – and just as politely.

To book tickets for Malory Towers at York Theatre Royal, running from September 10-14, visit:

Malory Towers fact file

There are six books in the original Malory Towers series, written between 1946 and 1951, by children's author Enid Blyton.

The main characters are the hot-tempered but steady Darrell Rivers, who eventually becomes head girl, and her best friend Sally Hope. Gwendoline Lacey is a spoilt girl, who is picked on by Alicia Johns, who is also the class clown. Wilhelmina Robinson, known as Bill, is the tomboy of the form. Miss Grayling is the much-loved head mistress, strict but fair and kind. Other teachers are the stern Miss Potts and the gullible French mistress Mam'zelle Dupont, who falls for the girls' pranks.

Other writers have carried on the Malory Towers story in recent years. Six more books were added in 2009, written by Pamela Cox and a new collection of stories has just been published – New Class At Malory Towers, by Patrice Lawrence, Lucy Mangan, Narinder Dhami and Rebecca Westcott, published by Hachette, priced £6.99.

Emma Rice, the former director of Shakespeare’s Globe, has adapted Malory Towers into a new stage musical. She has cast actors from diverse ethnic backgrounds as well as a non-binary actor, Vinnie Heaven, in the role of Bill, who is described in the books as looking “exactly like a boy”.