P. L. Travers

Pamela Lyndon Travers OBE (/ˈtrævərs/; born Helen Lyndon Goff; 9 August 1899 – 23 April 1996) was an Australian-English writer who spent most of her career in England.[1] She is best known for the Mary Poppins series of children's books, which feature the magical nanny Mary Poppins.

P. L. Travers

Travers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, c. 1924
Travers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, c. 1924
BornHelen Lyndon Goff
(1899-08-09)9 August 1899
Maryborough, Colony of Queensland
Died23 April 1996(1996-04-23) (aged 96)
London, England
Resting placeSt Mary the Virgin's Church, Twickenham, UK
Pen namePamela Lyndon Travers
OccupationWriter, actress, journalist
CitizenshipAustralian, British
Genrechildren's literature, fantasy
Notable worksMary Poppins book series
ChildrenCamillus Travers Hone

Goff was born in Maryborough, Queensland, and grew up in the Australian bush before being sent to boarding school in Sydney. Her writing was first published as a teenager, and she also worked briefly as a professional Shakespearean actress. Upon emigrating to England at the age of 25, she took the name "Pamela Lyndon Travers" and adopted the pen name "P. L. Travers" in 1933 while writing the first of eight Mary Poppins books.

Travers travelled to New York City during World War II while working for the British Ministry of Information. At that time, Walt Disney contacted her about selling to Walt Disney Productions the rights for a film adaptation of Mary Poppins. After years of contact, which included visits to Travers at her home in London, Walt Disney did obtain the rights and the Mary Poppins film premiered in 1964. In 2004, a stage musical adaptation of the books and the film opened in the West End; it premiered on Broadway in 2006. A film based on Disney's efforts to persuade Travers to sell him the Mary Poppins film rights was released in 2013, Saving Mr. Banks, in which Travers is portrayed by Emma Thompson. In a 2018 sequel to the original film, Mary Poppins Returns, Poppins, played by Emily Blunt, returns to help the Banks family once again.

Early lifeEdit

Helen Lyndon Goff, known within her family as Lyndon, was born on 9 August 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia. Her mother, Margaret Agnes Goff (née Morehead), was Australian and the niece of Boyd Dunlop Morehead, Premier of Queensland from 1888 to 1890. Her father, Travers Robert Goff, was born in Peckham, South East London, England, in 1863[2] of parents who were both the children of Irish clergymen.[3] He was unsuccessful as a bank manager owing to his alcoholism, and was eventually demoted to the position of bank clerk.[4] The family lived in a large home with servants in Maryborough until Lyndon was five years old, when they relocated to Allora in 1905. Two years later, Travers Goff died at home at the age of 43.

Following her father's death, Goff, along with her mother and sisters, moved to Bowral, New South Wales, in 1907, living there until 1917.[5] She boarded at the now-defunct Normanhurst School in Ashfield, a suburb of Sydney, during World War I.[6]


Goff began publishing her poems while still a teenager. She wrote for The Bulletin and Triad and began gaining a reputation as an actress under the stage name "Pamela Lyndon Travers". She toured Australia and New Zealand with Allan Wilkie's Shakespearean Company, before leaving for England in 1924. There, she changed her name to "Pamela Travers", keeping "Lyndon" as her middle name, to act and dance on stage, a career move opposed by her family.[7] In 1931, she moved with her friend Madge Burnand from their rented flat in London to a thatched cottage in Sussex.[4] There, in the winter of 1933, she began to write Mary Poppins.[4]

Travers greatly admired and emulated J. M. Barrie, author of the Peter Pan character. Her first publisher was Barrie's ward, Peter Davies, one of the five Llewelyn Davies boys who were the inspiration for Peter Pan.[4]

While in Ireland in 1925, Travers met the poet George William Russell (who wrote under the name "Æ") who, as editor of the Irish Statesman, accepted some of her poems for publication. Through Russell, whose kindness towards younger writers was legendary, Travers met W. B. Yeats, Oliver St. John Gogarty, and other Irish poets who fostered her interest in and knowledge of world mythology. She had studied the Fourth Way teachings of George Gurdjieff under Jane Heap and, in March 1936 with the help of Jessie Orage (widow of Alfred Richard Orage), she met Gurdjieff, who would have a great effect on her. She met several other literary figures as well.[8]

At the invitation of her friend John Collier, the US Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Travers spent two summers living among the Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo peoples, studying their mythology and folklore.[9][7] After the war, she remained in the US and became writer-in-residence at Radcliffe College and Smith College.[10]

Travers returned to England,[11] making only one brief visit to Sydney, in 1960, while on her way to Japan to study Zen mysticism.

Travers's literary output other than Mary Poppins and its sequels included other novels, poetry collections, and works of nonfiction.

Mary PoppinsEdit

As early as 1926, Travers published a short story, "Mary Poppins and the Match Man," which introduced the nanny character of Mary Poppins and Bert the street artist.[12][13] Published in London in 1934, Mary Poppins, the children's book, was Travers's first literary success. Seven sequels followed, the last in 1988, when Travers was 89.[14]

While appearing as a guest on BBC Radio 4's radio programme Desert Island Discs in May 1977, Travers revealed that the name "M. Poppins" originated from childhood stories that she contrived for her sisters, and that she was still in possession of a book from that era with this name inscribed within.[15] Travers's great aunt, Helen Morehead, who lived in Woollahra, Sydney, and used to say "Spit spot, into bed," is a likely inspiration for the character.[16][17]

Disney versionEdit

The musical film adaptation Mary Poppins was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1964. Primarily based on the original 1934 novel of the same name, it also lifted elements from the 1935 sequel Mary Poppins Comes Back. The novels were loved by Disney's daughters when they were children, and Disney spent 20 years trying to purchase the film rights to Mary Poppins, which included visits to Travers at her home in London.[18] In 1961, Travers arrived in Los Angeles on a flight from London, her first-class ticket having been paid for by Disney, and finally agreed to sell the rights.[19] Travers was an adviser in the production, but she disapproved of the Poppins character in its Disney version; with harsher aspects diluted, she felt ambivalent about the music and she so hated the use of animation that she ruled out any further adaptations of the series.[20] She received no invitation to the film's star-studded première until she "embarrassed a Disney executive into extending one." At the after-party, she said loudly “Well. The first thing that has to go is the animation sequence.” Disney replied, "Pamela, the ship has sailed" and walked away.[21]

Travers so disliked the Disney adaptation and the way she felt she had been treated during the production that when producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her years later about making the British stage musical, she acquiesced only on conditions that British writers alone and no one from the original film production were to be directly involved.[22][23] That specifically excluded the Sherman Brothers from writing additional songs for the production. However, original songs and other aspects from the 1964 film were allowed to be incorporated into the production.[24] Those points were even stipulated in her last will and testament.[25][26]

In a 1977 interview on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, Travers remarked about the film, "I've seen it once or twice, and I've learned to live with it. It's glamorous and it's a good film on its own level, but I don't think it is very like my books."[27][28]

Later filmsEdit

The 2013 motion picture Saving Mr. Banks is a dramatised retelling of both the working process during the planning of Mary Poppins and of Travers's early life, drawing parallels with Mary Poppins and that of the author's childhood. The movie stars Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

In 2018, 54 years after the release of the original Mary Poppins film, a sequel was released titled Mary Poppins Returns, with Emily Blunt starring as Mary Poppins. The film is set 25 years after the events of the first film, in which Mary Poppins returns to help Jane and Michael one year after a family tragedy.

Personal lifeEdit

Though Travers had numerous fleeting relationships with men throughout her life, she lived for more than a decade with Madge Burnand, daughter of Sir Francis Burnand, a playwright and the former editor of Punch. They shared a London flat from 1927 to 1934, then moved to Pound Cottage near Mayfield, East Sussex, where Travers published the first of the Mary Poppins books. Their friendship, in the words of one biographer, was "intense", but equally ambiguous.

At the age of 40, two years after moving out on her own, Travers adopted a baby boy from Ireland who she named Camillus Travers. He was the grandchild of Joseph Hone, W. B. Yeats' first biographer, who was raising his seven grandchildren with his wife. Camillus was unaware of his true parentage or the existence of any siblings until the age of 17, when Anthony Hone, his twin brother, came to London and knocked on the door of Travers's house at 50 Smith Street, Chelsea. He had been drinking and demanded to see his brother. Travers refused and threatened to call the police. Anthony left but, soon after, following an argument with Travers, Camillus went looking for his brother and found him in a pub on King's Road.[29][30][31][better source needed] Anthony had been fostered and raised by the family of the essayist Hubert Butler in Ireland.

Travers was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1977 New Year Honours. She died in London on 23 April 1996 at the age of 96.[32] Although Travers never fully accepted the way the Disney film version of Mary Poppins had portrayed her nanny figure, the film did make her rich.[33] The value of Travers' estate was probated in September 1996 at £2,044,708.[34]

Camillus died in London in November 2011. He was over 70, but his life had nonetheless been cut short from the effects of alcoholic excess.[29]



  • Mary Poppins, London: Gerald Howe, 1934
  • Mary Poppins Comes Back, London: L. Dickson & Thompson Ltd., 1935
  • I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, London: Peter Davies, 1941
  • Aunt Sass, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941
  • Ah Wong, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943
  • Mary Poppins Opens the Door, London: Peter Davies, 1943
  • Johnny Delaney, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944
  • Mary Poppins in the Park, London: Peter Davies, 1952
  • Gingerbread Shop, 1952 (an adapted version of the "Mrs. Corry" chapter from Mary Poppins)
  • Mr. Wigg's Birthday Party, 1952 (an adapted version of the "Laughing Gas" chapter from Mary Poppins)
  • The Magic Compass, 1953 (an adapted version of the "Bad Tuesday" chapter from Mary Poppins)
  • Mary Poppins From A to Z, London: Collins, 1963
  • The Fox at the Manger, London: Collins, 1963
  • Friend Monkey, London: Collins, 1972
  • Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, New York & London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975
  • Two Pairs of Shoes, New York: Viking Press, 1980
  • Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane, London: Collins, 1982
  • Mary Poppins and the House Next Door, London: Collins. 1988.


  • Stories, 1952


  • Moscow Excursion, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1934
  • George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, Toronto: Traditional Studies Press, 1973
  • About the Sleeping Beauty, London: Collins, 1975
  • What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story, New Paltz: Codhill Press, 1989

Manuscript and pictorial sourcesEdit

  • P. L. Travers - papers, ca. 1899-1988, 4.5 metres of textual material (28 boxes) - manuscript, typescript, and printed Clippings, Photographs, Objects, Drawings, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 5341 , MLOH 62
  • P. L. Travers - further papers, 1901-1991, Textual Records, Graphic Materials, Clippings, Photographs, Drawings, 2 boxes - 0.26 Meters, State Library of New South Wales MLMSS 5341 ADD-ON 2130
  • P. L. Travers, four diaries, 1948-1953, Camillus Travers is the son of P. L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins. He gave these notebooks to his mother as a boy and they were used by her for recording his schooldays and their holidays spent together, as well as other events over this period, State Library of New South Wales MLMSS 7956
  • Family and personal photographs collected by P.L. Travers, ca 1891-1980, 1 portfolio (51 black and white, sepia, col. photographs, 2 photograph albums, 1 hand coloured lithograph, 17 coloured transparencies) various sizes, State Library of New South Wales PX*D 334


  1. ^ PL Travers (British author). Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. ^ "GRO Reference: 1864 M Quarter in GREENWICH Volume 01D Page 612". General Register Office indexes. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  3. ^ The Waterford News. 5 October 1855. p. 3. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d Picardie, Justine (28 October 2008). "Was P L Travers the real Mary Poppins?". The Daily Telegraph (telegraph.co.uk). London. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  5. ^ Lawson 1999.
  6. ^ "The truth behind Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers" by Time Barlass, The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 January 2014
  7. ^ a b Witchell, Alex (22 September 1994). "At Home With: P. L. Travers; Where Starlings Greet the Stars". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  8. ^ Lawson 2005, p. 185.
  9. ^ Burness & Griswold 1982.
  10. ^ Lawson 2006, p. 290.
  11. ^ Tipton, London History Tours, Adrian Sill, Jeremy. "Mary Poppins author lived here". www.shadyoldlady.com. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  12. ^ Valerie Lawson, Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers, 2005, p. 100.
  13. ^ Text of the short story
  14. ^ Cullinan, Bernice E; Person, Diane Goetz (2005), Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, Continuum, p. 784, ISBN 978-0-82641778-7, retrieved 9 November 2012
  15. ^ "P L Travers". Desert Island Discs. BBC Radio 4. 21 May 1977. Audio recording of the episode featuring Travers with Roy Plumley.
  16. ^ McDonald, Shae (18 December 2013). "PL Travers biographer Valerie Lawson says the real Mary Poppins lived in Woollahra". Wentworth Courier. Sydney: The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) [dailytelegraph.com.au].
  17. ^ Nance, Kevin (20 December 2013). "Valerie Lawson talks Mary Poppins, She Wrote and P.L Travers: Biography reveals original character's sharp edge". Chicago Tribune. p. 2. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
  18. ^ "Saving Mr Banks: the true story of Walt Disney's battle to make Mary Poppins". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 May 2017
  19. ^ "What Saving Mr Banks tells us about the original Mary Poppins". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2017
  20. ^ Newman, Melinda (7 November 2013). "Poppins Author a Pill No Spoonful of Sugar Could Sweeten: Tunesmith Richard Sherman recalls studio's battles with Travers to bring Disney classic to life". Variety. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  21. ^ Flanagan, Caitlin (19 December 2005), "Becoming Mary Poppins: P. L. Travers, Walt Disney, and the making of a myth", The New Yorker
  22. ^ Ouzounian, Richard (13 December 2013). "P L Travers might have liked Mary Poppins onstage". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  23. ^ Rainey, Sarah (29 November 2013). "Saving Mr Banks: The true story of PL Travers". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  24. ^ Rochlin, Margy (6 December 2013). "A Spoonful of Sugar for a Sourpuss: Songwriter Recalls P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins Author". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  25. ^ Norman, Neil (14 April 2012). "The real Mary Poppins". Daily Express. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  26. ^ Erbland, Kate (26 December 2013). "The Dark, Deep and Dramatic True Story of Saving Mr. Banks". Film.com. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  27. ^ "Saving Mr Banks (2013): Did the real P L Travers weep at the Mary Poppins movie premiere?". History vs Hollywood. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  28. ^ Desert Island Discs: P L Travers. BBC Radio 4. 23 May 1977. Event occurs at 17:02. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  29. ^ a b Hone, Joseph (6 December 2013). "Steely, self-centred, controlling — the Mary Poppins I knew". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  30. ^ Minus, Jodie (10–11 April 2004). "There's something about Mary". The Weekend Australian. p. R6.
  31. ^ Kelleher, Lynne (19 January 2003). "Mary Poppins writer took baby because she 'loved Ireland': Sugar and spice not so nice for twin separated from brother by author". The Sunday Mirror. London: The Daily Mirror. Retrieved 5 December 2013. Archive copy at The Free Library (thefreelibrary.com).
  32. ^ Rochlin, Margy (3 January 2014). "Not Quite All Spoonfuls of Sugar: Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson Discuss Saving Mr. Banks". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  33. ^ Valerie Lawson, Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers, 2005, p. 270-74.
  34. ^ Valerie Lawson, Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers, 2005, p. 360.


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  Media related to P. L. Travers at Wikimedia Commons

  Quotations related to P. L. Travers at Wikiquote