The Children on the Top Floor was first published in 1964.
It is now out of print.
Story | Connections
to Other Books | Thoughts | Editions
Malcolm Master is a succesful television personality. One Christmas
Eve, he says in a broadcast that "Christmas is not Christmas
without children. You cannot guess what this old bachelor would
give to wake tomorrow morning to the squeals of delighted children
opening their stockings" (The Children on the Top Floor,
1964:10). The next morning, four babies are left on his doorstep.
Malcolm Master lives with his old nurse, Nannie, his secretary,
Mamie Briggs, and a married couple, Alfred and Alice Mink, who
are valet-chauffeur and cook. The logical thing is for Nannie
to look after the children, so the top floor rooms are made over
The children get named out of nursery rhymes - Tom ("Tom,
Tom the piper's son), Lucy ("Lucy Locket lost her pocket"),
Margery ("See, saw, Margery Daw") and William ("Wee
Willie Winkie runs through the town"). Because of Malcolm
Master's fame, and their own unusual arrival, the houshold is
inundated with offers to use the children in advertising. Before
they can crawl, the faces of the "Master Quads" are
well known in advertisements ranging from Kiddie Komfort Shoes
to Home Beautiful.
When the children are six, they are sent to school. However,
as they continually need to take time off to be photographed or
filmed, the school feels this is too disruptive. As a result,
when they are eight they get a governess, Rose Comfort.
At the end of the year, disaster strikes. Malcolm Master has
a heart attack, and is ordered to take a holiday. On the same
day, Thomas goes to hospital with a broken leg. For the first
time in the children's lives, money becomes a problem. Not only
is Malcolm not earning - neither are the children. All of the
advertisers want the quads - with Thomas in hospital, there is
no work for just three of them.
Connections to Other
In Chapter 26, Thomas visits Cob's Circus, from The
Circus is Coming. Although he does not meet any of the
performers personally, we learn that the circus still has many
of the same acts as it did before the Second World War: the Elgins,
Maxim Petoff's Liberty Horses, Schmidt's Sea-Lions, Kundra's Elephants
and The Whirlwinds.
(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have
not read the book.)
The Children on the Top Floor has occasionally been
compared (unfavourably) to Ballet
Shoes. Certainly, there are some similarities - a family
of adopted children, a Nana to look after them, a father figure
who disappears, and the idea that by being adopted the children
are free of hereditary expectations or limitations. However, The
Children on the Top Floor is not simply Ballet
Shoes for the television age. From some of the same elements,
Noel has created a totally different story - a tale of children
in a controlled, and somewhat sterile, environment coming into
contact with the ordinary world of childhood.
The Children on the Top Floor is the last of Noel's
books to include a Nannie character, as Nannies had become virtually
unheard of in modern families. Up until now, the virtually unchanging
Nana/Nannie/Pursey had appeared in four of Noel's children's books,
and The Children on the Top Floor offers a glorious finale
for this character's last appearance. For the first time, Nannie
has total authority over the children, without the interference
of any other adult. In spite of the unusual circumstances (which
she never challenges, unlike Rose Comfort), Nannie tries to bring
up the children in a normal manner. Of course, being of a different
generation, and "set in her ways", Nannie's view of
"normal" is somewhat out of date. Rose Comfort is concerned
that the children may be a little too well-behaved, but she nevertheless
recognises the quality of Nannie's achievement: "'Marvellous,'
she thought, 'how Nannie's discipline holds even when she isn't
there"" (The Children on the Top Floor, 1964:63).
And while Nannie's discipline may be firm, she has never attempted
to repress the individual personalities of the children. In spite
of the limitations on their lifestyle, the children are far from
For the first time, Noel allows an element of frailty to enter
the Nannie character. One feels that the other Nana characters
will go on forever, looking after the next generation of children
(certainly Hilary expects this in Wintle's
Wonders) and probably the one after that: in Ballet
Shoes, the Fossils are Nana's second generation of children
in Gum's family, and even when they are grown up (in The
Painted Garden), Nana is still going strong. In
The Children on the Top Floor, however, Nannie "though
nothing would have made her admit it, [finds] bringing up four
children rather much for her" (The Children on the Top
Floor, 1964:32). When Rose Comfort arrives, Nannie does confess
that "I'm glad not to have to take the children for walks
for I feel my feet more than I did" (The Children on
the Top Floor, 1964:41), and later she suffers an attack
of lumbago. However, in spite of this frailty Nannie still has
an air of comfortable continuity and reliability about her. And,
of course, she is proven to be right in her steadfast belief -
against all odds - that Malcolm Master is still alive. We are
therefore left with an image of Nannie who, despite not being
as young as she once was, will always be there, and will always
Editions and Availability
The Children on the Top Floor was first published by Collins
in 1964, with illustrations by Jillian Willett.
In 1976, White Lion publishers released a new hardback edition,
still with Jillian Willett's illustraions. Interestingly, the
title page calls it The Children of the Top
Floor, although the cover and dustjacket show the correct
A paperback edition was released in 1987 by Swift Books.
In the same year as its UK release (1964), it was released in
the United States by Random House. Another edition was released
In 1960, there was a Dell Bantam Books paperback edition, which
was reprinted in 1985.
As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text
was in any way amended.
Out of Print
The Children on the Top Floor is out of print. In February 2004, second hand copies through online booksellers start
in price at around £20. (Source: Addall
Used and Out of Print Book Search.)