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Corporal punishment.

Only a few months ago, there was a press feeding frenzy surrounding stories of Winchester schoolboys being abused by a sadistic teacher during special out of term religious studies. Horror of horrors, some of these extra curricular canings actually resulted in “bloody bottoms”! Judged by today’s standards with corporal punishment of young students being totally eliminated, it does seem pretty heinous. But, even in my early lifetime, it would hardly have raised a press paragraph, let alone many headlines.
I have no great love of schools. I was shuttled from one establishment to another, from Boarding in Scotland, (Belmont House)aged 5, to Northern Ireland, and to South Wales (Selwyn House).
Each move followed my Dad’s wartime postings in RAF Bomber Command. When he was posted to Egypt, his wife Elise, my older brother John and I were finally settled In Bucks for the duration. I had been caned by the Headmaster of Belmont House who informed my Dad of the event on his solitary visit to the school. Did you deserve it Teddy? Yes, Dad. What else could I say in the circumstances. In fact, my Dad never once lifted his hand to either me or brother John. On the very rare occasions he lifted his voice, we were happy to jump to it with a will. We both loved and respected him to the end of his life.
Now I attended my fourth and last prep school, Norfolk House in Penn ruled over in a harsh and unforgiving way by Mr Cyril Glover. Canings were a regular part of everyday life. This tyrannical person had a saving grace which was his love of cricket. He spent hours tending the nets and the middle and he taught me the basics of the game. Visiting the the school years later, it was astonishing to find that the cricket ground was no bigger than a couple of tennis courts.
Mr Glover retired and for the first time I could enjoy two years of education free from the threat of beatings. But this freedom was not to last.
I was squeezed into Radley College a term early, probably because brother John was there already and the “crammer” near Romsey was proving anything but satisfactory. Only now was I to come under the most loathsome of code of discipline which meant that virtually every boy would wind up being caned. And not just caned, but caned by older boys.
Looking back, I wonder how responsible adults could have ever devised, let alone condoned, a system of boys beating boys when they only rarely had the responsibility of doing the job themselves. Certainly, the Warden (Headmaster) the Reverend Vaughan Wilkes, he of the saintly air and other worldly manner, never saw fit to lift a finger - all the while presiding over wholesale canings of the pupils in his care.
It is a particularly sore point with me because as Head of Social (House) , it fell to me to do more than my fair share of beatings. Then I became Head of School and was required to deliver the most severe canings - delivered in the school prefects’ private study and witnessed by all such members. What a horrible thing to be required to do. Not that I suffered pangs of conscience at the time. We were all conditioned to believe that " that was just the way it was". However a form of retribution was not far off.
As my cricketing career burgeoned and my name 'Ted Dexter' became fairly common currency, a certain Peter Cook, he of the famous comedy duo with Dudley Moore, seldom missed an opportunity to tell the world of the beating he had received at Radley College at the hand of yours truly.
I never ascertained whether this was true or even whether Mr Cook had ever been a pupil at Radley College. Guilty or not the damage was done. I did not want to pour any more fuel on the fire. But a sense of revulsion at what I and others did remains alive to this day. Happily, my children will confirm that a very few mild slaps were the limit of my parental corrections.
And even more happily, the days of corporal punishment were numbered, soon to be banned by Act of Parliament, as it is to this day.


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