NIGHT SCHOOL

TeacherIn retrospect, Miss Pitts wasn’t exactly a bubbling cauldron of constrained and suppressed sexual tension; she wasn’t even – with respect – someone I’d look at twice today. But to a school containing many a sweaty, spotty boy in the throes of nascent pubescent lust, she was an object of desire, a real woman amongst girls. This was a desire that culminated in an ad-hoc end-of-term play in which a scene she participated in saw her exploit her object status by wrapping the flesh of her nether regions in a deliberately teasing slit-skirt that conformed to the laws of gravity when it fell to the ground as she fought off a pretend attacker, gifting the male members of the audience a glimpse of fully-developed female thigh. The response was a resounding cheer and, I suspect, a wave of amateur erections.

At that age, any female teacher – however retrospectively unattractive – will suffice in the absence of anything else. And I would imagine the same applies for the girls re the male employees of such an establishment; at that age, your imaginative libido will take anything it can get.

Miss Pitts had been the girls’ games teacher at my middle-school, which was mixed. At my all-boys high-school, there were two female teachers I remember. Both became the focus of fantasies that never crossed the line into reality; graffiti on toilet walls and in exercise books were as far as these primitive fantasies went, sketched by boys with no real idea as to what a physical encounter genuinely entailed. There was no hardcore internet porn to provide pointers; big brother’s hidden stash of ‘lorry drivers’ magazines’ was the sole source material. Not that this prevented the tall tales of elder boys as to what had happened one quiet evening during detention, of course. Embellished bullshit abounded where the female teachers were concerned, though pop culture had already capitalised on this. One thinks of the line from ‘Maggie May’ by Rod Stewart, which hints at the seduction of a youngster by an older woman – ‘It’s late September/and I really should be back at school’.

Somebody who did cross the line that nobody I was at school with crossed has this week been rewarded a record £4 million (or whatever the US equivalent currently stands at) and is, by his own dubious admission, ‘scarred for life’ by the experience. The fact that the teacher in question became pregnant by her pupil helped complicate matters. One could instinctively blame him for not wearing a condom, but – as the senior party – one should really blame her for not being on the pill. Whoever is ultimately responsible, the outcome of one pupil who genuinely got what every schoolboy yearns for was an unexpected baby, and that takes the affair onto another level altogether.

This case climaxed in a Californian courtroom and resulted in the record-breaking payout for the ‘traumatised’ boy while his seducer can look forward to twelve months behind bars and a lifetime on the American sex offenders’ register. Both parties were culpable, but a law that fails to take into account that some are older than others when a particular legal age is within a whisker heaps the majority of the responsibility on the shoulders of the elder participant. The pernicious US virus of serial litigation has already crossed the Atlantic, so there’s no point in adopting a superior attitude where our American cousins are concerned. The same outcome would probably happen here now; and that’s nothing to celebrate.

31-year-old Laura Whitehurst, who was described in characteristically subtle fashion by the Daily Mirror as ‘sex-crazed’, faced a potential sentence of 29 years, which was reduced by 28 after she did a deal by admitting six counts. Her momentary ‘other half’ (the scarred-for-life party) will receive his payout from his local education authority, who he sued for being negligent and complicit in his affair with Ms Whitehurst. He had claimed other teachers at the school knew about his ‘abuse’, but turned a blind eye. It’s hard not to envisage the vested interests of other parties after the event – specifically parents and law firms – and come to the conclusion that a boy who was 16 at the beginning of his romance with his teacher has repaid the woman who provided him with the desired extracurricular education in a pretty shitty fashion.

As soon as the case went to trial, the oh-so familiar factor of ‘other victims coming forward’ reared its ugly head, especially when the whiff of filthy lucre was in the air. Two former pupils hedged their bets by claiming similar ABUSE on the part of Ms Whitehurst, one of whom alleged he’d received a blowjob from her in the classroom whilst he was at the tender age of 14. By contrast, the boy who took the case to court was a couple of years older at the time his after-school lessons with Ms Whitehurst began – old enough to be recruited by the Armed Forces and old enough to earn his living.

We’ve had similar cases here over the past couple of years, and it’s time a line was drawn between the playground patroller who lives by the maxim that a finger of fudge is just enough to give the kids a treat and the older woman (or man) who responds to the hormonal approaches of a teenager by giving them what they want. Neither is morally ‘right’, but there are distinct differences between the two that the law needs to recognise, and fast. Otherwise, this farcical state of affairs can only get worse – or better, if you’re working for a law firm that stands to benefit. But I’m guessing most people reading this don’t.

© The Editor

FANTASY ISLAND

RTSay the words ‘Grange Hill’ to anyone of a certain age and a flurry of names will enter their head – Tucker Jenkins, Benny Green, Trisha Yates, Gripper Stebson and poor old ‘Row-land’ will probably spring to mind before any others. Plotlines will no doubt be quickly evoked too. There was one particular plotline in the early 80s that perfectly captured the hormonal turmoil of nascent adolescence, when an absence of sexual fact is compensated for by sexual fiction, though the two have a habit of blurring in the imagination. Yes, we might remember Duane having the hots for ‘Sexy Lexy’ and even enrolling in the extracurricular computer course in order to gaze at the object of his pubescent desire for an additional hour; but it was his pal Claire Scott whose unrequited passion for a member of staff landed that oblivious teacher in hot water.

Mr Hopwood – played by the same actor (Brian Capron) who drove Gail Platt and family into the Manchester Ship Canal a couple of decades later on ‘Coronation Street’ – was unaware his doe-eyed pupil had taken her infatuation with him to another level by recounting her fantasies in the pages of her diary. When her mother broke the golden rule by dipping into it whilst cleaning Claire’s bedroom, she reported what she assumed to be evidence of a genuine affair to her husband, prompting an incensed Mr Scott to storm up to the school and grab Mr Hopwood by the shirt collars, accusing him of something that would now lead to instant dismissal on the pretext of guilty till proven innocent.

Poor, humiliated Claire confessed it was all in her head and that Mr Hopwood had never laid a finger on her; but in an age when ‘Jackie’ magazine was still turned to for advice as the only help-line for young teenage girls focusing their embryonic lust on the nearest grownup male figure outside of family, Claire Scott’s predicament was genuine. It had happened for real just ten years earlier, as sensationally exposed in typically crass fashion by the News of the World in an early example of Rupert Murdoch’s grudge match against the BBC. Claiming ‘Top of the Pops’ was a hotbed of vice and debauchery (always the paper’s favourite subjects), the revelation emerged of a teenage member of the dancing studio audience who had written in her diary of a sexual encounter with one of the show’s hosts.

The girl’s mother got her hands on the diary, took it as Gospel, approached the BBC to lodge a formal complaint (without success) and the private document of her daughter’s fantasies then mysteriously fell into the hands of the Digger, who demonstrated his trademark tact and sensitivity by publishing extracts from it. When the ‘confession’ appeared in the News of the World, his breaking of the sordid little story pushed the girl over the edge and she committed suicide; a police investigation at the time (1971) exonerated the BBC, TOTP and the unnamed ‘seducer’ – a sad chapter in the show’s history that said more about the dysfunctional nature of a mother/daughter relationship than any perceived lack of moral fibre on the part of a programme produced under characteristically stringent BBC rules and regulations.

Over forty years later, the long-forgotten mini-scandal was dredged up anew during Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry into Jimmy Savile’s alleged illicit activities on BBC premises; Dame Janet claims she couldn’t fathom why there was precious little evidence of this incident residing in the BBC archives, though a broadcasting institution that routinely wiped copies of its most popular shows in the 60s and 70s was hardly likely to retain every document relating to a brief episode in which every party involved had been cleared of any wrongdoing. Naturally, when a Fleet Street hungry for any Savile story – however dubious and fantastical – heard about this, their ears pricked up, and the wicked rapist of a 15-year-old girl simply had to be Sir Jimmy. Besides, the actual TOTP presenter named by the dead girl as her seducer, Tony Blackburn, couldn’t be ‘outed’ because he had taken the precaution of a super-injunction.

Now that has expired and Mr Blackburn has been named and shamed, how does his employer of many decades respond to the public revelation of something they were well aware of whilst continuing to pay his wages? It sacks him on the spot. Remember, Blackburn was exonerated in 1971 and once again when he was interviewed as part of Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry. So, that means he has twice been found not guilty of the accusation that has now cost him his job. He wasn’t even fired by the men in charge of the station he works for, Radio 2, but the actual Director General of the BBC himself, Tony Hall. The man whose voice opened Radio 1 in September 1967 is rightly furious and the statement he has issued to the press doesn’t see him mince his words. Legal action is threatened and it would seem he has a very strong case for wrongful dismissal.

Tony Blackburn was perhaps a tad too hasty to distance himself from Jimmy Savile when all that broke out at the end of 2012 and Paul Gambaccini was equally quick to point the finger at a dead man, regarding his reputation as a respected broadcaster and prominent media gay as a sure-fire safeguard against any accusations. He paid the price for his superiority complex and now one of the lowbrow broadcasters who personified the cheery cheese of Radio 1 when Gambaccini joined the station in 1973 has also been hung out to dry by a spineless, weak-kneed BBC as it bends over backwards to ensure its charter is renewed in the face of renewed hostility from a government on Murdoch’s payroll.

What this latest headline says about the BBC, the Metropolitan Police Force, the legal system, and the state of this country in 2016 seems pretty clear. There doesn’t seem much point in spelling it out.

© The Editor

THE BACK OF MY HAND

DennisSometimes I fancifully imagine the state education system waited for me to finally leave school before they outlawed corporal punishment on their premises. The facts bear me out. I exited education in 1985; caning and other forms of physical teacher-on-pupil chastisement were abolished in 1986. Okay, so I might be exaggerating my small pond reputation as a trouble-maker, but it does seem retrospectively coincidental. I actually managed to evade the cane, which now seems quite an achievement; but I was cunning. However, that didn’t prevent me once being led into a darkened room by a teacher, where I was ordered to bend over, and a term’s worth of pent-up frustration of being outwitted by a smart-arse shit was unleashed in the form of a hard plimsoll on my backside. That was the ritualised form of punishment; there were more spontaneous acts of violence on the part of the staff during lessons, of course – objects being hurled across the classroom, tables being shoved into the midriff, heavyweight registers whacked on the back of the head – all perfectly legit and an accepted response by an exasperated or simply sadistic teacher to a pupil he regarded as disruptive or merely annoying.

In the public schools, regular beatings were regarded as character-building as sport, especially in the days when pupils were being groomed to govern the colonies; so entrenched was the practice that prefects could administer a thrashing of a younger pupil on behalf of a teacher, viewed as a perk of the prefect system. Parodied and satirised as a key aspect of public schooling in literature, films and on television (anyone remember Jimmy Edwards in ‘Whacko!’?) it was no wonder it took longer for the law to be extended beyond state schools – 1998 for England and Wales, 2000 for Scotland, and 2003 for Northern Ireland.

The birch was the most commonplace implement for punishment in schools up until the advent of the cane in the late nineteenth century, eventually being outlawed throughout British educational establishments in 1948, though controversially retained on the Isle of Man until the mid-70s. The cane became rarer as a form of school discipline in the 70s, usually administered only by the headmaster and gradually superseded by the slipper. By this time, buttocks bearing the brunt of the impact were no longer bare, probably to the disappointment of those teachers who paid good money for their own bottoms to receive a far harsher treatment from a lady of their choice. A greater awareness of the physical as well as psychological effects on a developing body and mind played their part in the eventual ending of corporal punishment in schools, and the subversive sexual element of the exercise was probably a factor too.

I haven’t even mentioned the unlicensed activities of playground bullies, but we’re talking adult-on-child here. Away from school, parental punishment was less regulated and more impromptu, if just as predictable. Strangely enough, being aware of what the consequences could be rarely stopped an act guaranteed to provoke them; a deterrent? Not really; but it did have some effect, looking back. It certainly made any affection towards my father difficult, knowing what he was capable of; and I have always found it hard to forgive and forget, quite frankly. The memories of running away from a six-foot ogre in anticipation of a red handprint on my legs loom large in my childhood recollections.

It is true that successive generations of children experienced a less violent form of physical retribution from a parent as chastisement fashions changed; my parents came from the era when a father removing his belt and whipping his child was a common occurrence, giving rise to the ‘it never did me any harm’ cliché as justification for dishing out their own punishments, ones in which the hand was regarded as a more humane alternative to the belt. The backside was generally the target area, with the head and ears reserved for special occasions. Mostly, the casual nature of these smacks reflected the minor misdemeanours I committed; my mother would routinely smack me in public and nobody would have considered her guilty of child abuse. Dennis the Menace always ended his weekly adventure bent over his father’s or teacher’s knee with a slipper or cane poised to descend upon his bum, after all. Did I really deserve it, though? I was no Dennis as a child, certainly not in comparison to some of the kids I went to school with; but that was the language of child-rearing as spoken during my formative years. I wasn’t to know then that within twenty or thirty years the language would be outlawed forever. I wasn’t to know then that I belonged to the last generation of children who would receive it both at home and at school.

One could say there’s a fine line between ‘acceptable’ chastisement of a child by a parent and actual abuse, though the majority of parents know where the line lays. Any government interference that robs them of authority over their own children’s punishment stinks of the state adopting an in loco parentis approach. The last major poll surveying parents in 2012 found that 63% disapproved of a smacking ban.

I suppose there’s an argument to be made that being exposed to such rough justice from an adult at an early age toughens you up and eradicates any brattish tendencies, just as parents and teachers telling you you’re a waste of space and will never amount to anything could galvanise you into proving them wrong. We now have a generation of young adults who bypassed all of that, whose idea of punishment at home was the naughty step and at school, suspension. They’re the ones we saw throwing wobblers in supermarkets back in the noughties as their hapless parents had to stand and watch. They’ve also been repeatedly told how special they are, something that won’t necessarily prepare them for the gradual realisation they’re not. Imagine when they get to university and how they’ll cope with something that contradicts their opinion of themselves and the world around them. Oh, we’re already there.

© The Editor

WORDS OR PICTURES

youtube-20100805-042515[1]I try to encompass as many subjects on here as possible, or at least ones that motivate me to write something others may also find interesting. However, I have consciously avoided a certain subject that I wrote of extensively in a past online life, partly because I didn’t really think I had anything left to say about it and partly because there are several people out there who devote more time to it and can therefore speak about it with a greater degree of knowledge and insight than me. I also began to weary of it, to be honest.

Nevertheless, the bandwagon has rumbled on without me and the situation seems to get worse rather than better, bleeding into so many areas of contemporary life that it can appear contrary to wilfully avoid it. I see excellent articles tweeted on a daily basis and often read them, coming away from the last paragraph shaking my head and somewhat in despair. What the pen shies away from, though, the video can still dip its toes into.

I was satirising this long before I wrote a word about it and see no reason why I shouldn’t return to it every once in a while via my chosen medium, especially when the dire state of affairs positively demands it. It feels like I’m shirking my duties to keep mum, and I find satire remains the best vehicle for me personally when it comes to this particular topic.

Therefore, having digested further reading material over the past few days, I have produced a couple of videos that best suit my take on the subject. One is a ‘short’ – running at barely a minute and taking the form of opening titles characteristic of the old ‘Quinn Martin Productions’ that used to grace (mainly) ITV screens in my formative years; I based it upon the opening titles for ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ and also borrowed its memorably funky theme tune. For those who don’t remember, it starred Karl Malden and his amazing nose as well as giving an early break to Michael Douglas, when he still slept with women his own age. I imagined how Quinn Martin would introduce the viewer to a series covering a contemporary police agenda in the shape of Operation Midland. Now you can see precisely how I visualised it.

The second video is a little longer, lasting just under ten minutes, and reflects my love of British police series of the 60s and 70s; as with ‘Coronation Street’ from the same era, my love manifests itself in the form of parody. I wondered how Sgt Dixon would cope with modern policing and the stark contrast with the world of law and order he knew; the major change that has altered the job over the past few years is the focus of the mini-episode, and I’d rather do it this way than churn out a collection of paragraphs repeating what I’ve said before or reading as a pale shadow of those more capable and qualified than I.

So, if satire appeals, feel free to view. I might not want to write about it, but I don’t mind parodying what sometimes seems perilously close to parody without my input.

PS: Probably best to watch these sooner rather than later. BBC Worldwide and ITV plc are becoming increasingly averse to their archive material being used for satirical purposes, and it’s only a matter of time before the dreaded phrase ‘Blocked in every country’ appears attached to both videos and I’m faced with no option but to remove them. You have been warned!

© The Editor