There are two films in particular that bring back memories of my schooldays. One is the classic movie Kes and the other is a film that I watched last Sunday night; Gregory’s Girl.
Gregory’s Girl was a low-budget movie made in 1981 and was written and directed by Bill Forsyth. The film is a gentle comedy about a young lad who fancies a girl who has just joined his school football team. The film was one of those special films where so many things come together to make a truly great and memorable film, in fact it is ranked number 30 in the British Film Institute’s list of the top 100 British films.
It reminds me so much of my own schooldays in so many ways. The hairstyles in the film were similar to those of myself and my friends back in 1973, the year I left school (armed with only four O levels to take on the world). The school ties and jackets were similar to mine, the classrooms and desks were also similar and lead actor John Gordon Sinclair’s gaudy and shy manner both on and off the football field was just like mine.
The scene where Sinclair, playing the part of Gregory, asked Dorothy for a date brought back memories. I remember asking some long forgotten girl out once. I had planned what to do and what to say but nothing came out. The girl, perhaps recognising my situation asked me ‘would I be going down the shops tonight?’
The shops, yes that’s where my school friends used to congregate of an evening and we didn’t do much except talk and wander about. Sometimes there would be a ball game, other times, just like Gregory, we’d go down to the chip shop and eat a bag of chips. We did talk, that long forgotten girl and me, but that was about all we did, after all we shared our ‘date’ with about six other people!
On Gregory’s date he borrows his friend’s jacket and my friend Chris also had a jacket which he loaned to his friends. It was his number two jacket, not quite as smart as his number one jacket and when Chris used to take us to places where we could ‘chat up’ the girls I would always get friends and acquaintances asking me ‘is that Chris’ jacket?’ I would always deny it but that jacket was pretty well known!
In the early seventies fashions were different and I was famous at my school for having the biggest and fattest tie, just like my hero, flamboyant TV detective Jason King. Back then my school pals and I all loved Jason King and his trendy outfits and we went out of our way to get a giant tie knot, just like the one Jason had in ‘Department S.’ Most of the kids got the big knot by tying their ties way down at the fat end of the tie making their ties short but at least with a big knot. I got some help with my tie from an unexpected source: My Mother!
We were watching Department S one day and I was wishing out loud for a big fat tie like the one Peter Wyngarde who played Jason King was sporting and she said to me “You could make one yourself. It’s easy.”
“Easy!” I said. “How?”
“Well, all you need is another tie to go inside the first one and make it bigger.” Sounds good I thought but how do you get one tie inside another? My Mum showed me how with a big safety pin! What you had to do was get your second tie, the one that needs to go inside the other, pin the safety pin to it and then you can thread it through the other one, manipulating it along with the safety pin which you can feel through the material.
I dug out an old tie and threaded it through my school tie, took out the safety pin and then tied my tie in the usual way. Result-one huge knot that Jason King himself would be pleased with.
The next day I went into school wearing my new fashionable tie and half the school–or so it seemed to me-were stunned by my trendy new school tie. Where did I get it from? How did I get such a knot? Did I tie it in a special way?
I remember once after games, getting changed in the changing rooms and everyone turned to watch as I fastened my tie. There was me, fastening the tie in the mirror with all my school mates watching. I had become a sort of mini school celebrity: The kid with the trendy tie!
“Here it comes,” said someone as I made the final tie of the knot, “Super knot!”
Well, my fifteen minutes of fame came, went, and vanished as other people worked out how to make their own special ‘super knots.’ Jason King went on to star in his own spin-off TV series then he too vanished into TV’s Golden past. Fashion moved on and in the eighties ties went the other way; narrow thin ties were the norm. Trousers lost their flares, jacket lapels slimmed down once again. ‘Penny round’ shirts were forgotten but then, that’s the great thing about old movies like Gregory’s Girl, whenever they pop up again on TV you can experience everything all over again!
Another movie that reminds me of schooldays, although in a different way, was Kes. Kes was a 1969 film directed by Ken Loach and based on the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. It’s about a teenage schoolboy in a deprived part of Yorkshire. The boy comes from a dysfunctional family and he is bullied by his older brother. He fares badly at school and has few friends but seems to find a direction in life after finding a baby kestrel and he decides to care for and train the bird.
It’s a gritty film that pulls no punches and it’s shot in a realistic documentary style using a lot of local and amateur actors as well as professionals. One sequence that stood out for me was about a group of boys who are outside the headmaster’s study awaiting punishment. Another lad who comes along with a message for the head finds himself caught up with the guilty boys and given a few strokes of the strap as a result. When they shot the scene, director Loach assured the boys they would not be strapped and he would call ‘cut’ just in time. He didn’t and the result, seen in the film is for real.
My own headmaster was very like the head in the film. He used to give these long elaborate morning assemblies and talk, quite eloquently about some subject or other, the Vietnam war being one of his favourites and then, right in the middle of speaking he would burst out in a complete frenzy, shout at some boy or other to remove himself and wait at his office for punishment for talking during assembly. Why he couldn’t just make a note of the offenders and seek them out later or arrange for one of his teachers to direct the boys to his office I don’t know.
Looking at the trailer above there were some great performances from both amateur and professional actors. Brian Glover, a familiar face to British TV viewers played the aggressive football master and Colin Welland played one of the more sympathetic teachers. He was a veteran of the TV show Z-Cars and went on to write the screenplays for the movies Yanks and Chariots of Fire for which he won an Oscar.
Two movies then, both completely different in tone and outlook. Both wonderful viewing but one makes me look back and think ‘thank God my school days are over’. The other allows me to look back warmly and remember the good times. School days are important and I made such a lot of mistakes back then, mistakes that changed my whole life. If only I’d chosen my subjects better, if only I’d been more determined to be a writer back then and hadn’t had my head set so firmly in the clouds. Maybe I could have trained as a newspaper reporter and actually written for a living.
Either way, I’d probably still be here, still writing this blog although perhaps with a better title: Letters from a Northern Reporter sounds good . .