Tag Archives: History Boys

#The History Boys – grammar school baloney

I am a late arrival at the platform containing one of the most hyped plays of modern times. Alan Bennett, lugubrious Yorkie, has been feted like some kind of colossus of literature for this tale of 80s grammar school sixth-formers aspiring to the silver spires of Oxford or Cambridge.  Perhaps because I was not caught up in the critical storm of approval for the theatre production, and later movie,  that I can take a more dispassionate view. One thing struck me immediately as discordant – the setting in 1983 did not tally at all with the story which was clearly based on Bennett’s own experiences of the 1950s. In fact it was ludicrously out of sync. To have quasi-intellectual teenagers quoting from popular movies and choosing Brief Encounter  instead of say A Man For All Seasons was just wrong.  And then there was the covert and later overt homosexuality one associates with public schools – certainly not grammar schools in the 50s or even later. I can see the appeal of pupils being subject to different ways of inculcating the intellectual tools required for the Oxbridge exam from an old veteran master and a new, flashy one but I felt it fell down on too many levels. I speak from some experience. When I went to grammar school, my later next door neighbour Shirley Williams, decided we should go comprehensive. After three years being whipped by masters in black capes we were then bashed by thugs from the local secondary modern. Incredibly, in a small poverty stricken coastal town, and despite the trauma of  the change, five of my chums got into Oxford. An infinitely more dramatic tale which I may, one day, write about,Historyboys