Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

To Sir With Love

A 1967 film produced, written and directed by James Clavell and based on the novel by E. R. Braithwaite. The 105 minute British colour film was distributed by Columbia and the music was by Ron Grainger. Braithwaite was born in Guyana and after the war, like many skilled members of an ethnic minority, he had difficulty finding work, so he ended up as a teacher at an East End school. His experiences there were published in his book ‘To Sir With Love’ in 1959. The cast comprised Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, Christian Roberts as Bert Denham, Lulu as Barbara ‘Babs’ Pegg, Adrienne Posta as Moira Joseph, Judy Geeson as Pamela Dare and Suzy Kendall as Gillian Blanchard. The soundtrack was issued on Fontana TL 5446 and contained four songs by Lulu and two by the Mindbenders.

In some ways this was a British equivalent of ‘The Blackboard Jungle’, but not as dark. It also featured one of that earlier film’s actors, Sidney Poitier, in the leading role. The musical content, rather than the ‘rebellious’ rock ‘n’ roll of Bill Haley & His Comets, mirrored the sentimentality of the film with Lulu’s rendition of the title song which became a No1 hit for her. Lulu also had a small acting role in the film and Manchester group The Mindbenders performed during the end-of-term school dance sequence with ‘Off and Running’ and ‘It’s Getting Harder All The Time.’

The story tells of a young African engineer from British Guyana, unable to find a post in his own profession, mainly because of colour prejudice, who becomes a teacher at North Quay Secondary, an East End school with a classroom of tough 16-year-old youngsters, disillusioned and rebellious because of the limited opportunities before them due to their environment and background.
Even on his first day he is warned of the problems he faces as his predecessor resigned because of the hostile attitude of the kids towards anyone in authority. Thackeray is initially frustrated by their apparent lack of interest and their disruption of his classes: they slam their desk tops, walk out of class without asking for permission and generally show a lack of interest in their lessons.
To Sir With Love

Lulu  - To Sir With Love When he finds the girls burning tampons in the classroom stove he erupts, sends the boys out of the room and gives the girls a piece of his mind before retreating to the staff room where he feels guilty about losing his temper.
As a result he then begins to use unorthodox teaching methods and builds up the youngsters' self respect, treating them as young adults and getting them involved in dialogue. When another teacher, Mr Bell, forces an overlarge boy to jump a hurdle when it is obviously beyond the lad’s capabilities, the boy falls and breaks the hurdle. Furious, another boy attacks the teacher with a broken piece of wood.

Thackeray intervenes, tells the teacher off and advises the boy that he shouldn’t lose his temper. Denham, the most disruptive boy in the class challenges Thackeray to a boxing bout. Thackeray was once a Golden Gloves contender and floors him with a single blow. Thackeray helps him up and begins to gain the boy’s respect. Gradually, teaching his students as young adults and getting them to respect each other begins to pay rewards.

There were other little sub-plots – the death of a boy’s mother, who is black, also indicates the racism of the time, but is overcome when the entire class attend the funeral.
Sidney Poitier - To Sir With Love

Thackeray has a mild flirtation with Gillian, one of the other teachers and one of his students, Pamela, has a crush on him.When Thackeray receives a letter offering him a job with an engineering company, he has a decision to make: to work in his chosen profession, or to continue to communicate with youngsters and help them to be better prepared for their future. He decides to stay and at the end of term dance, he is paid a tribute when one of his students, Barbara, sings a song she has written about him, ‘To Sir With Love.’

After bidding his students farewell, he comes across a sullen youngster who declares, ‘I’m in your bleeding class next term’ and realises his work is cut out for him.

The soundtrack was issued in 1967 and a CD released on 11th January 2000. The tracks were:
Side One: ‘To Sir With Love’, Lulu; School of Break Dancing; ‘Stealing My Love From Me’, Lulu; Thackeray Meets Faculty, Then Alone; Music From Lunch Break; ‘Off and Away’, The Mindbenders; Thackeray Loses Temper, Gets An Idea; Museums Outings Montage; ‘To Sir With Love’, Lulu.

Side Two: A Classical Lesson; Perhaps I Could Tidy Your Desk; Potter’s Loss of Temper In Gym; Thackeray Reads Letter About Job; Thackeray and Denham Box In Gym; The Funeral; End of Term Dance; ‘It’s Getting Better All the Time’, The Mindbenders; ‘To Sir With Love’, Lulu.
To Sir With Love

note: A TV movie sequel ‘To Sir With Love 2’ was released in 1996, also starring Sidney Poitier. After working in the school for twenty years and spending another ten in administration, Thackeray decides to leave for a teaching post in Chicago. At his farewell party, Pamela (Judy Geeson) and Babs (Lulu) come to say goodbye.

In Chicago he has similar problems to those experienced in London’s East End, but far more serious with gun problems, gangs and the police and also discovers a son he never knew he had.
The book was adapted for Radio 4 in 2007.
   To Sir With Love   Lulu

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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