There'll Always Be An England?
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In 2001 an NBC camera crew spent a month at one of England's longest established public schools, Winrowton College, in the leafy Home County of Doltfordshire. The fly-on-the-wall style documentary they produced, "There'll always be an England?", still stands as one of the most telling exposés of life in an exlusive boarding school. Highlights from this ground-breaking film are reproduced below.
"Hullo, delighted to meet you. On behalf of the staff and pupils, welcome to the fifth oldest school in England - Winrowton College. I'm Gerald Manley-Hopkins, I've been headmaster for the last eight years, the sixth Gerald Manley-Hopkins to be headmaster here. It's an hereditary post, of course, though one has to fight all one's sibblings to the death in the main quad to be appointed. It's one of those quaint Medieval traditions we Brits cling to. Fortunately, I only had one sister and she was paraplegic, so she didn't put up much of a struggle. Certainly, there wasn't much fight left in her after I'd clubbed her over the head with the ceremonial mace a couple of times. Ironically, the day after her funeral we discovered that the headship can only be inhereited through the male-line. But we'd given her such a lovely send-off I doubt she'd have minded. She's buried her over yonder, by the clematis. And what was left of her head is in the family mausoleum.
Anyway, on a happier note, you've probably noticed this. It's the "Founding Stone" - set up here by Henry VII in 1485 for "Ye benefit of ye poore boys of Wynrowetowne". And we're very proud that over 500 years later we're still benefitting the poor of the village by employing so many of them to look after our kitchens and gardens. Not that what we pay will stop them being poor, but we are sworn to a policy of improving their lot. For the last ten years we've been looking to employ some teaching staff locally but I'm afraid we haven't found anyone in the village quite up to the task of taking year 7 Latin. They're quite happy hitting things with hammers and so forth but that's about the limit of their intellectual capacity. If their parents had only had the foresight to invest £25,000 a year in school-fees to send them here as pupils it would be a different matter, of course. But that's the poor for you. Consequently, the village boys are stuck with St. Alin's Comprehensive, which doesn't have the educational reputation it used to enjoy back in the days when it was still a reform school for the criminally insane. Still, I hear that it's on the upward path again. It became a Specialist Drama College recently, which is sure to improve the standard of the village pantomime in future years.
Ah, here's the chap I wanted to introduce you to. I always say that the best way to get to know Winrowton College is to be shown around by the people who know it best - the boys. And James here is Senior Prefect and Captain of Crippen House, he knows every nook and cranny of the place having been a boarder here since his parents got fed up with him when he was scarcely weaned.
Take these nice people on a tour, James, and make sure you show them Crippen. That's our largest and oldest boarding house, along with Quisling, Goebbels and Hufflepuff. And do try not to get lost this time, James. You know what a terrible dunderhead you are."
"Gosh, yes, hi. I'm James and this is the most important place at school. This is "tuck" where we buy most of our food - the stuff they serve at the refectory being contaminated with vegetable and all manner of yuck-some stuff. You can buy a good range of healthy snacks in here - everything from Mars Bars to Milky Ways. I tend to go for Skittles and Starburst myself. They both come in fruit flavours and Matron's always on at us to try to get our five portions a day in.
Most boys go through £25 a week in here, prob'ly. Some more, some less. I couldn't even tell you what I spend. My Maths master, Mr Nuffield, would tell you that's because I can't count. But actually it's because I'll never need to be able to count. What with my folks owning Cadbury's, I get most of my stuff for free. Father pays my fees in Creme Eggs, I believe.
Over there is the main teaching block. That end's Geography, I think - or maybe the other end, I have no sense of direction. The opposite end is Astrology, or something like that. Sorry for seeming so random but I haven't been in the building for yonks. The teachers say they find my presence "spoils the educative atmosphere" - which I think means that I smell, or something. Mr Nuffield says my entering his room would reduce the average IQ four-fold, but I've no idea what that's supposed to mean. I was never good at averages. They gave me a test when I arrived here aged six and said I was below average for numeracy, literacy and personal hygiene, but above average for psychopathic outbursts. Everyone has at least one thing they're good at.
Anyway, no one seems to mind whether I turn out at class so long as the lorry-load of Creme Eggs comes every month. I've mostly been working on my back-swing on the golf course the last few years, no one complains about my supposed stench out on the fairway and I pay one of the ground staff to fill out my score card. The Head lets me keep my own electric golf-cart but he doesn't trust me to plug the charger into a socket the right way round so I have to hire two kitchen porters to pull it. The Head of Technology designed and built a leather harness for them, which was sweet of him. Maybe he just wanted to keep me on the golf-course instead of in his metal-work shop. I don't mind, though. Father says he does most of his business on the back nine. Odd really, as they do have a toilet block at Cadbury, I've seen it.
Right, well apart from tuck I'd say that this was the most important place in school. This is Crippen, the oldest and best boarding house at school, obviously. As you can see from the date over the entrance, it was built in 1512 when an old boy left money to the College to build accomodation. Not sure who he was - possibly Jesus, there are pictures of him and his Dad all over the chapel at the back.
And this is Buster - he's the biggest stuffed ground sloth in Britain, apparently. They do say that he was hunted by Henry VII himself - the last Ground Sloth ever killed in the country according to the experts. Though I dare say there'll be a few no-one's noticed running round the Highlands of Scotland and the remote parts of Wales. Cardiff and such like.
This is a typical junior dorm. We all used to bunk in together when I was a stripling but it's three to a room now. That's to discourage sodomy according to the Head. And it does to an extent. If a pair of boys are "at it" too long the other will tell them to knock it off so he can get some sleep. Ha, only joking! It doesn't discourage sodomy at all - it's to provide a spare to hold the video camera.
This is the senior corridor and this is a typical room - bed, computer-desk, sink, cupboard to hide your porn in and a small safe to keep your valuables and the valuables you you steal from the juniors, they don't get a safe. Being Captain of House I get a small suite with an extra room. I keep Svetlana in there. I got her from Poznan when we passed through on holiday. She's only little, so she doesn't eat much and I've already made back half of what I paid for her by renting her out to other sixth formers. We split the takings, obviously - I'm not a monster.
Anway, that's it, really. Unless you want a go on Svetlana, she doesn't charge strangers. No? Okay, well I promised to hand you over to Mr Roberts, our Games Master. That's like being a PE teacher, I believe, only you don't have to pretend to have any qualifications."
"Nice to meet me. I mean you. Nice to meet you - though it may be nice to meet me but that's hardly for me to judge, is it? I'm Peter Davies, Head of Games, and this is the Cricket score-board, obviously. It's the hub of the school as far as I'm concerned. From up here you can see every one of our fifteen dedicated sports fields. We play five sports here at Winrowton. There are two winter sports; Rugby and Rugby 7s. And there's Cricket in the summer, or hockey for the sexually suspect. The boys play "The Winrowton Game" year round for an hour a day before chapel. The Winrowton Game is unique to this school and goes back to 1643 - it's fundamentally the same as Rugby but gouging and biting score extra points.
Not everyone likes Rugby, for some reason, and some boys play basketball when the pitches are frozen hard. But we don't encourage it. No one wants the school to get a reputation for catering to Nancy boys. Generally, if the ground's too frosty to get any purchase with studded boots we send the boys for a swim across the river - it's supposed to teach them something, I forget what. Character, I expect. Sister says it's good for their health. Or bad. Bad, probably, swimming in icy water's a crazy thing to do, really.
It is a great view from up here though, isn't it? You can see the crucifix atop chapel peeking out over the roof of the teaching block. And that's one of our overseas boys hanging from it. Mohammed Ibn Hussein's his name, would you believe. He's just having an hour's crucifixion for refusing to eat his bacon at Friday breakfast. Sacrilege, not eating bacon, the bloody savage. Let him rot there, I say.
To the left of chapel are the boarding houses: Crippen for the posh boys, Goebbels for the other posh boys, Hufflepuff for the boys on scholarships - that's the one with all the broken windows and a tree growing through its roof. Staff houses are over there, clustered around that thatched building where the bar is. Just the other side of the Cricket pitch, if you squint a little, you'll be able to see "Hobbiton". That's where most of the college grounds staff live. A lot of them are from China and Africa and Wales and other deprived parts of the world.
You can see some boys practising their cover-drives in the nets there - next to that group of year eight boys passing around the Cuban cigar. We're very proud of our Cricketing tradition. Our first XI is undefeated in seven of the last ten years and not just because it never stops raining long enough to complete a three day match. Sport is important in this type of school. I think it was the Duke of Wellington who said that the Battle of Hastings was won on the playing fields of Eton. That's nonsense, of course, because if there'd been gunfire on the playing fields of Eton they'd have heard it here. Eton's only seven miles away.
Nevertheless, parents who send their children here know that sport builds moral fibre. Every boy breaks an arm or a leg playing Rugger at some point in their time here and the patience needed while waiting for a bone to knit is a valuable life lesson to anyone. Especially to those who go on to sever their spinal column in the scrum at university. Those lessons in patience really kick in when they're facing up to forty years in a wheelchair.
We get some boys here who aren't very sport-minded, of course. We call them the hockey team. No other schools play hockey locally, so they're forced to compete against the St. Alin's girls' team in the village. One taste of violence on that level and they're knocking on my door, begging to be allowed to play prop forward in the first fifteen Rugger, I can tell you.
Ah, here's the Chaplain come to show you round the chapel. He's a nice old stick, really but he will drone on about Jesus all the time. Don't let him take you through the locker-rooms on the way out of the gym, the smell of sweaty boys does something strange to him - especially when he's been at the Communion Wine. Mind you, I don't think he's been sober for more than ten minutes since he got here in '82. One day last year he was so full of the Holy Spirit he tripped on his own cassock and head-butted Christ the Redeemer. That was a funeral service to remember."
"Greetings and blessings be upon you. Welcome to St. Rumpet's Chapel - this is where the boys assemble every morning for a few minutes prayer and reflection after playing the Winrowon Game. I try to send them off for a day's lessons with a rousing hymn or two. A lot of the staff like "Jerusalem". I can't think why anyone would want to see "Jerusalem builded here, In England's green and pleasant land" personally. I went on pilgramage to the real Jerusalem once and it was full of the most terrible sorts of people, most of them trying to sell you fluorescent replicas of the crown of thorns or blow each other up. The boys prefer Negro spirituals like "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and the enthusiasm with which they do the actions is a sight to behold. Even the Rugby team used to join in, until the Head banned them, can't think why.
This is my favourite place in the whole of school. From here in choir-stalls you get a great view of Our Lord in the Rose Window, and if you look past the font you can just see through to the room where the choristers remove their vestments. Mostly I like to sit here just after the service, when one of them has kindly warmed their pew for me. There are few things are heart-warming, or pew-warming, as the pert buttocks of a year nine boy.
My role at the school is to listen to the troubles of staff and pupils alike. I don't descriminate, we are nominally a Church of England school but we have plenty of parents who are agnostic, or who have no faith at all. Jews, for example. I make myself available to ease the spiritual burden of each and every one of them no matter what they believe, even the Catholics - though they are going to Hell, however much I try to intercede. The door to the chapel is always open, as is the door to my little vicarage - though for some reason few of the boys choose to accept my invitation to tea these days. Perhaps if they knew that the police are no longer investigating...
Apart from ministering to the College's spiritual needs I'm also a part-time music teacher. I teach piano to junior boys three or four times a week, and I look after the organ-scholars. We have a lovely old Schultz organ here, built in 1886 and transported to Winrowton back in 1965, having graced Rennes' St.Impy's cathedral for almost a century. I love to play it. Is there anything better than the feeling of a mighty organ throbbing and pulsing as you sit astride it? Many's the day I've picked up a small boy from the detention room after lunch and frog-marched him into chapel, pushed him down onto his knees and made him grasp that venerable shaft and give my old organ enough blow to make the very Earth move beneath my feet. I tell you, they may not like writing lines, but that's not half the punishment of coming in here and having a twenty minute pumping session with me.
I have to steel myself not to get carried away and keep the boy bobbing up and down for hours as I beat out a glorious rhythm to the glory of God. No lad deserves that level of punishment for more than half an hour or so. But I can't help myself! I can't even begin to describe the spine-tingling excitement I get as I run my fingers up and down - poking and prodding away to my heart's content until everything builds to a mighty climax. Then I simply melt and collapse spent onto the chapel floor and watch as the poor boy hobbles away, back hurting from being bent double for so long! It sounds cruel, but there's always a smile on my lips from the knoweldge that his pain has taught him a lesson and allowed me to experience the most heightened sensation an unmarried clergyman can hope to know."
"Hullo, Simon Sheppard. I'm the Chemistry master here. You must be the Yanks the Head's been telling us to suck-up to. I think they asked me to speak to you because, once upon a time, I was a boy here. I'm fairly sure they didn't want me to just show off our facilities - this is our best lab. Ghastly, isn't it? Not a new socket or gas tap since 1952, which tells you how much of a priority Science is for these boys. Honestly, if they hadn't spilled so much Mercury and other poisonous stuff in here back in the 1920s the benches would be riddled with wood-worm. One of my colleagues studied dendocrinology at university and he claims that the wood in my desk was reclaimed from Spanish Armada wrecks.
Not that anything will change for the better, no one cares about Science here. The boys mostly go on to join their fathers' businesses and raid their pension funds; or become barristers so they can wind-up as MP's and raid the nation's pension fund. As a consequence results aren't great. About 60% of our boys gain one good Science GCSE grade. The rest study Biology.Which is not to say that nothing ever changes here. When I came here as a boy myself, masters still regularly beat boys with wooden paddles. Some of them even drove drawing pins through them. By the time I came back as a member of staff such things were in the process of being outlawed by the bloody EU and parents had had opt into corporal punishment - which at least gave them the chance to specify how many strokes could be used etc. I had one father ask me to drive hob-nails through my paddle and spread cyanide on the points! Of course, any form of physical punishment is considered torture now, so we've had to change our ways. All non-standard punishments are now carried out in the administration block by the Head himself. The boys call it Abu Ghraib, but we haven't done any actual water-boarding in there for months.
And things move on in the pastoral care system too. People have entirely the wrong idea about boarding schools. As soon as they hear about the old "Fagging" system, they think that life is all fellatio and flowers. But I was a "fag" for an older boy when I was a junior and the closest he ever came to sexually abusing me was making me strip naked so he could sketch me for his O' level Art project. Not sure why he had to wear his mother's clothes while he was doing it but you know what arty-types are like. I had a fag myself, when I was a senior. He just kept my study tidy and ran errands for me, I certainly never had sex with him - the filthy little oik, I wouldn't have touched him with yours! Come to that, I don't think I ever heard of anyone trying to sleep with any of their "fags". Back then Sixth formers with those sorts of interests just hired boys from the village.
Come into my office for a moment, I'm fairly sure the smell in here is less carcinogenic. Ignore these two bounders. Jenkins and Boothroyd are being punished for synthesising crystal meth in an A' level lab. In the old days they'd have received six of the best and a severe talking too. But I'm just having them copy out the periodic table thirty times each - it won't teach them anything but it saves on photocopying. Actually, between you and me, I'm rather proud of them. The police said it was the best quality speed they'd ever come across."
The documentary "There'll always be an England?" first aired on NBC in 2002 and caused a diplomatic incident between the USA and UK governments when it showed a mixed party of boys and staff enjoying a July 4th party at which an effigy of George Washington was draped in the Stars and Stripes and ritually immolated to chants of "Burn the traitor". Questions about Winrowton's child-protection regime were raised in Parliament when British viewers saw the BBC re-broadcast and several viewers objected to scenes of senior prefects using prep-school boys as golf-tees, door-stops and bed-warmers.
A disastrous decline in student numbers followed in 2003 as further incidences of bullying and abuse were revealed in the mass-media. Only Scottish recruitment held up (and in rose in 2004) as locking twelve year olds in cupboards with only bread and porridge for sustenance was found to exceed minimum child-care standards in Scotland, and Winrowton's £25,000 annual fees were considered more affordable than gaol. Nevertheless, Winrowton never recovered from the public exposure and, when the much depleted first XV Rugby team eventually conceded a try to state school opposition after 150 years, Gerald Manley-Hopkins VI was forced to close the College and commit suicide.
A year later the building was acquired by the nation for a nominal £1 and rebuilt as a maximum security prison. Many of the staff and some of the in-mates remained unchanged. An Ofsted inspection in the Autumn of 2010 found that educational and welfare standards had improved considerably.