9 December 2017
Spare the Rod (1961 film with Max Bygraves)
Directed by Leslie (father of Barry) Norman, who produced The Cruel Sea, and starring Max Bygraves as an idealistic teacher, the young Richard O'Sullivan as a pupil, plus Geoffrey Keen and Donald Pleasance, this is a film to slot in with Violent Playground and other late fifties/early
sixties British films which illuminate the times.
Based on a novel by an English teacher, the writer wanted Trevor Howard as hero but the film is pretty well done in any case. Bygraves does a decent job although I don't think he's a great actor. I read that the film took a while to be made, in part because there was a suggestion earlier that some of the teachers took a perverted relish in administering punishment. That was dropped - and in my opinion it's quite enough that a group of people are so terrified of losing their authority they fear any change to their system. The film also suggests that some of the worst offenders drifted into teaching for security and resent their position (those Armstrong and Miller spoof teacher recruitment sketches are not so far from the truth in my experience).
The story essentially concerns Bygraves's efforts over a term as supply teacher to reach his class of unruly fiften year olds. Things move to a head with a riot when a cane-loving teacher who has been locked in the toilets overreacts, calmed down by Bygraves, but the main thing is that the film doesn't overstretch itself, either by pretending kids are feral beings beyond redemption or that one man has the power to change everything in a term - though it does end on a note of hope which rings true.
Nevertheless, I do wonder what Trevor Howard or possibly Stanley Baker (who plays a Juvenile Liaison Officer in Violent Playground, mentioned above, from a James Kennaway screenplay) might have done with the part.
You can read more about Violent Playground here.