An English Lesson by Paul Thain


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“AN ENGLISH LESSONĒ
by
Paul Thain

REH/REC:
STUDIO: TAPE NO: EDITING: ANNOUNCER: TX: STUDIO
PRODUCTION Carol MeShane Bert Coules David Chilton
SECRETARY Maggie West Room 6121 BH Extn. 3685

DIRECTED BY MARGARET ETALL

CAST:

MICHAEL: PAUL RIDLEY
ARNOLD: CRAWFORD LOGAN
DANNY: HAYDN JONES
NORMA: THERESA STREATFIELD
HEADMASTER: ALEXANDER JOHN
MR. JARVIS/PABLO:  SION PROBERT
ALLAN: ANTHONY McEVOY
TONY: BRIAN BOVELL
MARY: CHRISTINE ABSALOM
MARK: SPENCER BANKS
ARVIND: ART MALIK - (HIS FIRST PROFESSIONAL ROLE)
ALISON: PATIENCE TOMLINSON
MICK: STEPHEN GARLICK

CHARACTERS:

The Teachers:

ARNOLD WEBSTER
MICHAEL SUTCLIFFE
DANNY WILLIAMS
NORMA
HEADMASTER

The Pupils:

MARK JONES
MARY OíSULLIVAN
ALLAN ROOKS
PABLO PAPASPIROU
ARVIND RAMPAL
ALISON
TERRY MICK
TONY CAMMERBATCH
Careers Officer: ALFRED JARVIS

“AN ENGLISH LESSONĒ
by
Paul Thain

(THE ACTION THROUGHOUT TAKES PLACE IN A LONDON COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL)

(INT. MONDAY MORNING. A CORRIDOR. ARNOLD WEBSTER, EARLY FORTIES, HEAD OF ENGLISH IS REPRIMANDING MARK JONES. A FIFTH-FORMER)

ARNOLD: Listen Sunshine. If I say you were kicking the ball
in the corridor, you were kicking the ball in the corridor

MARK: I just dropped it ...

ARNOLD: And your foot just happened to get in the way? And then the ball
just happened to levitate itself to the other end of the corridor and hit that triumph of Modern Art?
Eh?
And stand up straight, for Godís sake ...

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

(INT. A SMALL ROOM. OFF THE MAIN CORRIDOR, USED BY THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
AS A MEETING POINT AND FOR THE PREPARATION OF WORK.

MICHAEL SUTCLIFFE. A TEACHER. EARLY THIRTIES, IS MARKING ESSAYS
- INTERRUPTED BY ARNOLD

ARNOLD: No sugar and the bloody milkís gone sour.

MICHAEL: Thereís a tin of the powdered stuff. And thereís saccharine in Normaís filing cabinet.

ARNOLD: I want coffee, not a chemical cocktail. Looks like Iíll have to face Britainís hope on
an empty stomach then ... Oh, I had the misfortune to bump into one of your shower on the way
up. Kicking a football at the Lower School Arts Exhibition. Mark somebody ... shaven head ...
faraway gormless look ...

MICHAEL: Mark Jones?

ARNOLD: Thatís the one. Iím seeing him tonight after registration.

MICHAEL: Do you want me to Ė

ARNOLD: No, no ... Iíll sort it. Youíre being remarkably diligent this morning.

MICHAEL: Essays for 5H. Should have finished them yesterday.

ARNOLD: Letís have a shufftie ...

(MICHAEL HANDS ARNOLD THE SHEAF OF ESSAYS)

ARNOLD: Ö Allan Rooks,eh?

MICHAEL: Bright boy.

ARNOLD: Yes, bright ... and a major pain. You still coping?

MICHAEL: I think so.

ARNOLD: Ö Jimmy Hartley ... Salem Rampal ... Terry Baines ... dear oh dear Ö you have got
some villains, haven’t you? Alison Wrigglesworth Ö ? Isnít she the one who called Norma a tart
because she didnít wear a bra?

MICHAEL: Thatís why we had her moved to mine, remember? Norma refused to teach her.

(DANNY WILLIAMS. A WELSHMAN. AGED SIXTY-FIVE, ENTERS)

DANNY: Morning, fellow sufferers ...

ARNOLD: Greetings, oh favoured one.

MICHAEL: Morning, Danny.

DANNY: Any coffee?

ARNOLD: Coffee, yes. Milk and sugar, no

DANNY: Ah, well Shouldnít complain, I suppose ... One more week and all this will
be mere memory. Ghostly images to relish as I luxuriate in blissful retirement.

ARNOLD: You been reading Dylan Thomas again?

DANNY: Now, now, Arnold. No sour grapes, please. Youíve only another Ö what is it?
Twenty-five years? Itíll soon pass. Is there no powdered milk?

MICHAEL: Filing cabinet. Top drawer.
     
(AS DANNY PROCEEDS TO MAKE HIMSELF A CUP OF COFFEE)

DANNY: No, Arnold ... I look forward to my twilight years in the certain knowledge that
you and Michael are continuing the good fight. Raising the masses into a golden dawn of
enlightenment

ARNOLD: You know, Danny ... Iíve always admired your unfailing gift for cliche.

DANNY: Very kind of you to say so. But, of course, the true genius of the cliche was our
former headmaster. A certain Dr. Alfred Hedgegrove. Bit before your time this, Michael ...
the poor man died of a broken heart when the school went comprehensive ...
(DANNY STIRS HIS COFFEE)
Anyway, when I first came to the school ... Being totally inexperienced I was, of course,
given the worst timetable and the most difficult classes. Well. Dear old Alfred, sensing my
imminent nervous breakdown, kindly took my Fourth Year, you see. But amazement soon
turned to admiration as he read them page after page of Dickens. God, this coffeeís revolting ...
Anyway, it was amazing to see Ö within ten minutes he had the entire class riveted with
sheer boredom. Perfect silence. Perfect control, none of your -

(THERE IS A KNOCK. AND THE DOOR IS IMMEDIATELY OPENED BY MARY 0í SULLIVAN,
AGED FIFTEEN)

MARY: Scuse, sir ... The careersí manís waiting in the office.

MICHAEL: Thanks, Mary. Do you think you could bring him up?

MARY: But Iíve just come up, sir ...

MICHAEL: Then you’ll just have to go down again, wonít you?

MARY: Aw, sir ...

MICHAEL: Go on ...

(MARY LEAVES. CLOSING THE DOOR)

DANNY: Careers man?

ARNOLD: Michaelís preparing them for the big bad world outside.

(BELLS RING. INDICATING START OF REGISTRATION)

DANNY: Looks like Normaís late

ARNOLD: Again.

MICHAEL: Probably the buses.

DANNY: Hasnít she phoned?

ARNOLD: Or another dose of flu. I saw her Friday night, outside Woolworthís ...
flogging her “Socialist WorkerĒ. Pouring with rain, it was.

DANNY: Now thereís commitment for you.

ARNOLD: Subversion, more like. She catches a cold, then takes a week off
on full pay. I don’t know ...

(NORMA. EARLY THIRTIES. ENTERS IRATE AND FLUSTERED)

NORMA: Damned buses! All half an hour late. And then full
when they do arrive.

ARNOLD: Morning Sweetness. Good of you to join us.

NORMA: Cut it out, Arnold. It’s hardly my fault. Where’s that damn register?

DANNY: Allow me ...

NORMA: Thanks, Danny.

ARNOLD: Well, dear colleagues - shall we face the savage hordes?

(A FEW MINUTES LATER. INT. THE REGISTRATION AND FORM ROOM OF 5H
MICHAEL IS FINISHING THE CALLING OF THE REGISTER)

MICHAEL: Papaspirou.

PABLO: Sir.

MICHAEL: Rampal.

ARVIND: Sir.

MICHAEL: Rooks.

ALLAN: Here, sir.

MICHAEL: Sitwell. (pause) Pablo ... You would happen to know what’s wrong
with Sitwell ...?

PABLO: Dunno, sir ...

MICHAEL: Well, if you do happen to bump into him ... and if he is bunking off, as I strongly suspect ...
you might warn him that the Welfare Officer plans to have a chat with his mother. If you take my meaning?

PABLO: Sir ...

(THE CLASS BECOMES RESTLESS)

MICHAEL: All right. That’s enough. I’ve nearly finished. Alison Wrigglesworth?

ALISON: Sir.

MICHAEL: Fine. Right, you lot. Quiet, please ... Mark - I am not sitting here talking to myself.

MARK: I’m just telling him sir ...

MICHAEL: Well, just tell him in your own time,eh? Not mine.

MARK: Won’t take a minute, sir ...

MICHAEL: You know, Mark ... If you brain was half the size of your mouth,
you’d be a genius ...

MARK: What, like you, sir?

MICHAEL: Yeh. That’s right, Mark. Like me. And if you’d pay attention for
once, you might surprise us all and actually learn something ...

MARK: That’d be a change ...

ALLAN: Jonesy, shut your stupid mouth!

MARK: Gonna make me, Rooksie?

MICHAEL: All right. Thatís enough out of both of you. And I donít need you
to stick your oar in, thank you, Allan…

ALLAN: Aw, he makes me sick, sir.

MARK: Well you make me sick too.

MICHAEL: And youíre both making me sick. Thatís enough, right?
(PAUSE)
Okay ... Now as you know, these last few lessons weíve been talking
about jobs Ö What you lot are going to do when the great day arrives
for you to leave your beloved school ...

(VARIOUS MOANS AND GROANS, PARTICULARLY FROM MARK)

MICHAEL: Yes, thatís right, Mark. Schooldays are the happiest of
your life ... so you can imagine how bad the rest are going to be.

MARK: Funny.

MICHAEL: Anyway, in common with many teachers, I’ve never actually left school myself ...
consequently I donít feel particularly well-qualified to advise you lot. So Iíve asked the
Careers Officer, a Mr. Jarvis, to come and have a chat with you.

ALISON: Where is he then?

MICHAEL: On his way up. Now, I shouldnít have to remind you how important
this is, and I hope youíve all prepared some intelligent questions ...

(ALFRED JARVIS, THE CAREERS OFFICER ARRIVES ACCOMPANIED BY MARY)

Ah, Mr Jarvis. Thanks, Mary. Sorry I couldnít meet you myself.

MR JARVIS: Perfectly all right, Mr. Sutcliffe. Iím pleased I had Mary to guide, though ...

MICHAEL: Well then, this is 5H. And most of them will be leaving at the end of next term.

MR JARVIS: Fine. Letís get cracking then, shall we? Now, as youíve all no doubt seen
on the television and read in the papers, it’s not the best of times to start looking for a job.
Especially your first. So I won’t stand here and pretend that itíll be easy, but there are
people like myself to help you, and, of course ... Look. Iím sure you donít want to listen
to me rabbiting on ... You must have plenty questions youíd like to ask?

MICHAEL: Well, I promise you theyíre not usually this shy, Mr. Jarvis. Come on, Mark ...
You’ve had plenty to say for yourself this morning.

MARK: Aw, I dunno, sir ... Don’t seem a lot of point. I mean ... Well, my brother Jimmy ...
wanted to be a mechanic, see ... Wrote off to dozens of garages, he did ... Never even
got a reply from most of them. Don’t want to know, do they?

JARVIS: Well ... Mark, is it?

MARK; Sir ...

JARVIS: Well, Mark. I did say it wasn’t going to be easy. What’s your brother
doing now?

MARK: On the dole. Like me Dad.

JARVIS: And does he have any qualifications?

MARK: Not really. Mucked around too much, like me. But he’s not stupid

JARVIS: I’m sure heís not.

MARK: And heís great with cars.

JARVIS: So what about you?

MARK: Dunno really. Like I said ... Don’t seem much point ..,

JARVIS: Of course there’s a point. You don’t want to spend the rest of
your life living off the State, do you?

MARK: Course I don’t ... None of my family does. But our Jimmy’s cleverer
than me. So what chance have I got?

JARVIS: Not much, if that’s your attitude. Look Mark, try and realise just
because something might be difficult, doesn’t mean you give up, right?

MARK: Sir.

JARVIS: How many of you intend to stay on in the Sixth Form? Hm ...
Only three, eh?

MICHAEL: I thought you were, Mary?

MARY: I was, sir. But my Dad’s been put on short time. Might be laid off soon.
Can’t really afford it if that happens.

JARVIS: Even so, you can still continue your education, you know ... day release ...
night classes ... That sort of thing.

ALLAN: I think Tony wants to ask a question, sir Ö

TONY: Shut your mouth, no I don’t ...

ALLAN: He wants to join the Army, sir.

MICHAEL: Oh? Is that right, Tony?

ALLAN: Tell him he’s mad, sir ...

MICHAEL: Tony has the right to choose whatever job he wishes.
The same as you.

ALLAN: Oh. So he can choose any job, can he? What?  Like brain surgeon?

MICHAEL: You know very well what I mean, Allan.

TONY: So whatís so great about what youíre gonna do? Youíre full of crap, man.

MICHAEL: Thatís enough of that talk, Tony.

ALLAN: Yeh? Well perhaps Iím doing you a favour.

TONY:I donít need you to do me no favours ...

ALLAN: Aw, sir ... tell him.

MICHAEL: Tell him what? I think youíre the one that needs telling.

ALLAN: Oh, I see ... Well at least I wonít be shooting anyone.

TONY: I ainít gonna be shooting no-one, man. You know nothin about it.
I wanna be a technician. Radar. You ever heard of that?

ALLAN: Oh yeh? An what if they do happen to stick a gun in your hand?

TONY: Thatís my problem.
ALLAN: Yeh, thatís your problem. So whatís your answer?

MR JARVIS: Mr. Sutcliffe ... If I could perhaps point out to our young friend here,
that however strongly he feels about pacificism ... he should know that all countries
need to be able to defend themselves ...to protect the sort of society they believe in.

ALLAN: Oh yeh? An I suppose Tony believes in this sort of society, does he?

MICHAEL: Allan. Youíre being impertinent. Canít you just respect Tonyís decision?

ALLAN: Why?

MICHAEL: Why? Because heís free to make up his own mind. Thatís why.

ALLAN: Just ask him why he wants to do it.

MICHAEL: Tony doesn’t have to explain himself to me or any-one else.

ALLAN: So you agree with him ...?

MICHAEL: It doesn’t matter what I think.

ALLAN: I thought you was meant to be educating us ...?

MICHAEL: Don’t push your luck, that’s not the same thing, and you know it.
And this is not what Mr. Jarvis came to hear.

Now. Are there any other questions ...?

ALLAN: Yes sir - is Tony joining the Army just cos heís black an can’t get
any other job?

MICHAEL: Rooks! Iíve just about had enough of Ė

TONY: You think youíre so bloody clever, donít you?

MICHAEL: All right, Tony ...

ALLAN: So whatís so clever about getting your head blown off in Northern Ireland?

TONY: No-oneís gonna blow my head off, man

ALLAN: Oh yeh? Donít you read the papers? You got a charmed life, or something?

TONY: Yeh. Thatís right. You never heard of voodoo? Iíll be sitting in my barracks
sticking pins in little green dolls ...

MICHAEL: Okay ... I think you’ve both had your say.

ALLAN: But it’s important, sir ...

MICHAEL: I know it’s important, Allan. But we canít talk about it now.

ALLAN: When then?

MICHAEL: Just leave it, Allan.

ALLAN: You could at least teach him what heís gonna be fighting for.

MICHAEL: Donít you tell me my job.

ALLAN: I’m not, sir. But you always tell us to ask questions and say what we think ...

MICHAEL: All right, all right. Point taken. I promise you weíll talk about it on Friday. Okay?

ALLAN: Friday?

MICHAEL: Yes, Friday. Now can we please move on ... Ah. Well done, Alison.

ALISON: My Dad says robots is gonna do all our jobs soon, anyway. So thereís
nothing really to worry about.

(CLEAN OUT)

(MORNING BREAK. INT. A NOISY CORRIDOR.

MICHAEL AND JARVIS MAKE THEIR WAY TOWARDS THE STAFF ROOM)

MICHAEL: Sorry we got a bit ... er ... sidetracked ...

JARVIS: Not at all. I rather enjoyed it. Theyíre quite a lively bunch, arenít they? Especially, er ...
Allan Rooks, is it?

MICHAEL: Yes ...

JARVIS: I can imagine him being quite a handful ...

MICHAEL: Yes e.. Iím afraid he is sometimes ... But ... Well, theyíre all good kids really ...

JARVIS: I wouldnít have your job for anything ...

MICHAEL: Yours canít be so easy either these days.

JARVIS: Having to disappoint the kids. Thatís the worst of it. And weíre having to do it more and more ...

(CLEAN OUT)

(TWO DAYS LATER. INT. THE HEADMASTERíS STUDY.
A PENDULUM WALL CLOCK TICKS QUIETLY)

HEAD: Ah, Michael .,. Come in. Have a seat.

MICHAEL: Thanks. Arnold said you wanted a word ...?

HEAD: Yes. Yes, I do ...(PAUSE) And howís everything in
the English Department?

MICHAEL: Fine ...

HEAD: The new literature course going down all right?

MICHAEL: Seems to be. Some of the coursework is quite excellent.

HEAD: Good. I hope Iíll soon be seeing some of it.

MICHAEL; Iíll be glad to.

HEAD: Never been the sort of headmaster who keeps himself locked away.
I do like to be kept in touch. (pause) Michael, Itís about your registration form.

MICHAEL: Now what?

HEAD: Iíve ... er ... had a letter from Andrew Jenkinsís father ...

MICHAEL: Oh yes ...?

HEAD: Apparently you had someone from the Youth Employment Office to
talk to them earlier this week ...?

MICHAEL: Thatís right.

HEAD: And somehow the discussion got around to the Army and our involvement
in Northern Ireland ...?

MICHAEL: Iíd hardly have called it a discussion. Tony Cammerbatch wants to join
up, and ... Well ... Allan Rooks started ...

HEAD: Rooks ...?

MICHAEL: As you probably know, heís a boy with some ... strong opinions.

HEAD: Hm ... And there was some sort of argument?

MICHAEL: Not an argument. Not really. Allan quite reasonably pointed out that
they all knew very little about the Ö the issues. And that we ... er ... perhaps
ought to discuss it. Of course, with Mr. Jarvis being there, we agreed to talk
about it later ...

HEAD: I see.

MICHAEL: So whatís this letter about?

HEAD: Well. Apparently that little discussion ... or whatever you choose to call it ...
upset young Jenkins rather a lot.

MICHAEL: But ... I donít think he said a word ...

HEAD: Precisely. According to Mr. Jenkinsí letter, you don’t seem to have
contradicted Allan Rooksí notion that anyone who joins the Army is ... Well ...
less than sensible?

MICHAEL: I certainly don’t recall agreeing with him either.

HEAD: So you took a ... neutral position?

MICHAEL: If you like.

HEAD: You see the problem though, donít you?

MICHAEL: Not exactly Ö perhaps youíd like to explain.

HEAD: Look, Michael. I know how some members of your Department are committed to
dealing with certain, er ... sensitive ... controversial issues ... Abortion ... Race relations
and so forth ...

MICHAEL: Are you saying youíd rather they didnít?

HEAD: Not at all.  The days when English teaching was entirely circumscribed by
Dickens and Shakespeare are well and truly gone, I’m pleased to say. In this school at
least. But if we really want the syllabus to be more relevant, it demands a great deal more
Ö more care.

MICHAEL: I assume youíre implying ...

HEAD: Let me read you part of Mr. Jenkins’ letter ...

“Because Andrew tells me that Mr. Sutcliffe intends to discuss further the Army and its role
in Northern Ireland, I thought you should at least he aware of the situation. Whilst I am not
qualified to comment on Mr. Sutcliffe’s abilities as a teacher, I should have thought it wiser
for him to confine his pupilsí interests to education, and not politics ...”

Michael, I don’t want to dictate or impose ...

MICHAEL: But you’d rather I didn’t give the lesson ...?

[end of extract]



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