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Video clip: United Kingdom school caning 1950s

Richard Dimbleby with school cane

With comments by C. Farrell

United Kingdom - TV item on school caning - 1950s

Behold legendary 1950s BBC TV anchor Richard Dimbleby -- unchallenged "Voice of the Nation" in those far-off black-and-white days when there was only one TV channel.

He sits in the studio brandishing a traditional rattan school cane, bending it to demonstrate its notorious swishy flexibility. Have you, he asks, ever been on the receiving end of this? At least for most of the male half of the population in that era, but for some of the lady viewers too, the answer would of course have been yes.

This is a slightly confusing clip, taken from a modern TV programme, That'll Teach 'Em (hence the silly music), which itself incorporated, in the incoherent and unattributed manner nowadays fashionable with TV producers, these 30 chopped-up seconds of 1950s footage. The voiceover in a northern accent heard immediately after Dimbleby is a present-day commentary superimposed.

We then go back to the original soundtrack, where a 1950s voice introduces us to one Charles Gardner, headmaster of an unidentified school, where, we are informed, he canes both boys and girls when they break the rules. On this tantalising note, the clip unfortunately comes to an end.

What is going on in vision in the last few seconds is not explained. I have a hunch that the people making the modern documentary wanted us to assume, and maybe thought themselves, that this was a glimpse of a caning. But I'm pretty sure it isn't, and I doubt if a real caning would have been shown on TV even if the camera crew had been allowed to film it.

If you look carefully you can see that Gardner isn't holding a cane, he is gesticulating with his fist. I think the scene is in the gym; there are students running about in the background. The senior student stripped to the waist, who at first glance seems to be bending over, is I think being coached by the man for some sporting activity, very possibly boxing. Or, conceivably, it is a drama lesson.


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