Historical references in the play.The historical references within the play relate, on the whole, to three main areas. Abrief discussion of each of these, in chronological order, and of how they are dealt within the script might prove helpful to the non-specialist:The English Monasteries and the ReformationThe Norman presence in England, following William the Conqueror’s triumph overHarold’s Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, had profound consequences forthe texture of English life in the centuries which followed. One of these was therevival of the monastic movement and the establishment throughout the country of anumber of new monasteries where the monks belonged to the Cistercian order, foundedin 1098 in France by Bernard of Clairvaulx. Besides being centres of worship andcommunal life for the monks, many of these institutions became owners of considerableacreages of land. They also provided care for the sick and accommodation fortravellers. By the early fifteenth century, life in many of these previously strictabbeys had become relatively lax, with a flouting of the vows of poverty and chastity.Henry VIII had come into conflict with Pope Clement VII over his petition to have hismarriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, so as to allow him to marry his mistress, AnnBoleyn. In 1533 Henry reacted by ordering the Archbishop of Canterbury to grant himpermission to re-marry, thus effectively breaking from the Roman Catholic Church. Hewas made Supreme Head of the Church by an act of parliament in the following year.One of Henry’s moves in this new role was to shut down the monasteries, in what isknown as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This process was completed by 1540. Thebricks from the buildings were often used in the construction of new homes by locallords, whilst vast tracts of land fell into the ownership of the Crown. This action waschallenged in the north of England by a movement known as the Pilgrimage of Grace,whose members marched to London in protest in 1536. Henry promised to look intotheir complaints but his only significant response was to arrest and execute the leaderof the movement, Robert Aske.In the play, Irwin refers to the Reformation on p. 19, during his first lesson with theboys. In an obvious attempt to make an impression upon them as something of aniconoclast, he talks of the fourteen foreskins of Christ said to exist at the time of theReformation, knowledge of which would be useful in answering an essay question on thetopic of the Church on the eve of the Reformation in their Oxbridge examination.At the start of a subsequent lesson on p. 35 and at the opening of Act Two on p. 58,Irwin delivers identically worded lines:Irwin: If you want to learn about Stalin, study Henry VIII.If you want to learn about Mrs Thatcher, study Henry VIII.If you want to know about Hollywood, study Henry VIII.In the first instance, this mantra is used to illustrate to the boys how they shouldadopt a perverse stance in their approach to historical topics for their examinations. In
the second, Irwin is seen introducing a BBC2 programme from the site of the ruins ofRievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire in a scene which goes on to p. 63. This abbey hadbeen founded as the first Cistercian outpost in the north of England, its constructioninitiated by Bernard of Clairvaux himself. Rievaulx was later the centre from whichmonks went out to found nineteen further abbeys. Its best known monk was Aelred,mentioned by Irwin on p. 59,whowas abbot from 1147 to his death in 1167.Aelred, whowas born in Northumberland in 1110, wrote a number of books on history and onspirituallife.He was canonised a saint in 1476.World War OneThe conflict which became known first as the Great War and, later, World War One,was sparked off by the assassination in Sarajevo on June 28th1914 of Archduke FranzFerdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by a Bosnian Serb, oneGavriloPrincip. The subsequent conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary led to theinvolvement of other nations, with Britain, Russia, France, Italy, and, from 1916,America, fighting in a coalition known as the Allies, against the Central Powers ofGermany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria.The war was fought on various ‘fronts’ throughout Europe, the Western Front being innorthern France and Belgium, where the fighting was characterised by trench warfare,gains measured in yards, gas attacks from the Central Powers and heavy loss of life onboth sides. For most of the war, British forces were commanded by Field-MarshallDouglas Haig (1861–1921), who was responsible for leading troops in the battles at theSomme (1916) in northern France, where more than 400,000 men were killed in a four-month period, for little territorial gain, and at Passchendaele (1917) in Belgium, wherethere was again a huge number of casualties.The defeated Central Powers accepted an armistice on the 11thNovember 1914. Theterms of the subsequent peace treaty were set out in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919,whereby Germany ceded parts of its territory to neighbouring European nations, had ademilitarised zone imposed on the areas around the Rhine and, most contentious of all,was required to pay substantial reparations to the allied powers. This contributed tothe economic collapse in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s and the resentment withinGermany against these conditions can be seen to have been one of the factors whichled to the rise of the Nazi party in this period. In 1923, French forces occupied thearea around the Ruhr in response to a perceived failure to pay the reparationsdemanded in the Treaty. The regime in Germany which existed between the end of thewar and the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933 is known as the Weimar Republic,after the name of the city in which the new constitution was drafted.The topic of World War One is prominent in the discussions between Irwin and theboys, who have already studied the poems of the ‘War Poets’ Siegfried Sassoon andWilfred Owen with Hector. On p. 23, Irwin introduces the question of how to writeabout the war in a way which will appear original and imaginative to the Oxbridgeexaminers. On p. 24, the boys show their familiarity with Haig, the Treaty
ofVersailles, the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazis,with Dakin referring onp. 25 to the names of the two battles associated with Haig, Passchendaele and theSomme.Also mentioned on this page are the Cenotaph, the war memorial in Whitehalland the focus of the November Armistice Day commemorations, the Last Post, thebugle call which is played at such events, and the Unknown Soldier, the anonymousfigure whose tomb in Westminster Abbey was created in 1920 as a symbol of all thosekilled in the conflict.Dakin uses references from this war to describe to Scripps the progress of hisattempted seduction of Fiona, the Headmaster’s secretary. On p. 28, he mentionsPasschendaele, the Western Front and theHun, this last a derogatory term for theGermans being given to the lady in question. In Act Two, onp. 81, he gives his friend an update:Dakin: Broke through. Had the Armistice.The Treaty of Versailles. It’s now theWeimar Republic.Finally, we might note an oblique reference to the Treaty of Versailles by Mrs Lintotton p. 85, when complaining about the lack of influence of women on political decision-making:Mrs Lintott: ...In 1919, for instance, they just arranged the flowers then gracefullyretired.World War TwoIt is virtually impossible to provide a summary of this global conflict, which involved somany nations and which was fought on so many fronts. We can, however, pick up on whathas been said above about the rise of the Nazi movement under Hitler in the 1920s,culminating in their victory in the German elections in 1933. In Britain, the Conservativegovernment of Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940) had followed a policy of appeasementtowards Germany. Chamberlain, aided by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax (1881–1959), negotiated with Hitler in Munich in 1938 and returned with a peace treaty whichhe claimed would guarantee ‘peace in our time’. The unification of German-speakingterritories was high on the Nazi agenda and the annexation of Austria in 1938 wasfollowed by the invasion of Czechoslovakia later the same year, the pretext being theprotection of ethnic Germans in the Sudetan areas of that country. The invasion ofPoland on 1st September 1939 led to the declaration of war with Germany by Britainand France two days later. Chamberlain resigned in 1940 when Labour politiciansrefused to serve under him in a National Government, his position as Prime Ministergoing to Winston Churchill (1874–1965). Britain experienced an early defeat when theBritish Expeditionary Force in France was cut off by German forces in May 1940 andsaved only by an evacuation of troops from the port of Dunkirk in an operation in whichsome 900 vessels were commandeered and used to transport over 330,000 men. Theconflict became global in December 1941 when the American naval base of PearlHarbour in Hawaii was attacked by the air force of Germany’s ally Japan, bringing theUnited States into the war.Amongst the many ‘fronts’ at which the war was fought was the one in North Africa.Italian troops, allied to Germany and based in Libya, had attempted to drive the Britishout of Egypt in 1940 but were repulsed. Hitler sent General Erwin Rommel (1891–1944)
to lead the Afrika Corps against the British Eighth Army but, commanded by FieldMarshall Montgomery (1887–1976), the latter force gained a decisive victory in the ElAlemain campaign in November 1942. Some historians see this battle as marking theturning point in the war.The Nazi movement had always been highly anti-Semitic and the expulsion of Jewsfrom German-occupied territory had been a priority in their policy from the start ofthe war. Initially, leaders of the Jewish community in Germany were arrested and sentto detention camps like Sachsenhausen, near Berlin, and Dachau, just outside Munich.When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, it was anticipated that theconquest of the country would enable the Jews of Europe to be expelled to theseeastern territories. Special squads of soldiers (‘Einsatzgruppen’) were, meanwhile,dispatched to execute Jews in the Baltic region, Belarus and Ukraine. The militarysetbacks encountered during this invasion, however, led to a reassessment of thesituation. At one point the purchase of the island of Madagascar from France was evenconsidered as a means of obtaining a territory to which to dispatch Europe`s Jews.Eventually, the Nazis decided upon the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Problem’, which wasto involve mass extermination. Jews in occupied lands were rounded up and sent toghetto areas in urban centres, before being transported by rail to speciallyconstructed extermination camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz, the largest of them,where over one million Jews perished. Whilst a minority of them were kept alive inorder to work for the German war effort at some of these camps, the majority werekilled immediately in gas chambers. In total, some six million Jews were murdered inwhat became known as the ‘Holocaust’.In Act One of the play, on p. 35, Scripps, in narrator mode, recalls Irwin’s technique ontelevision of inverting the orthodox position on any historical topic. He uses the attackon Pearl Harbour as an example, with Irwin contending that the real culpritwasPresident Roosevelt, the United Sates President at the time.In Act Two, p. 70, Irwin introduces to the class the question of the Holocaust and howsuch a sensitive topic might be approached in an academic context.Hector,on p. 72,mentions dismissively the idea of school visits to Auschwitz and Dachau.On p. 89, Dakin uses references to the invasion of Poland in his ambiguousconversation with Irwin, before the teacher focuses on the student’s essay on turningpoints in the war, in which mention is made of Dunkirk, Russia, Alamein, Chamberlain,Churchill, Halifax and Montgomery.More Historical AllusionsIn addition to the references relating to the three areas outlined above, there areother, miscellaneous historical allusions in the play.On p. 31, Hector is discussing famous instances of knocks at the door:Hector: ...Did the knights knock at the door of Canterbury before they murderedBecket?The reference here is to the murder of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.Becket, who was born in 1118, had worked as an assistant to the Archbishop ofCanterbury before being made Chancellor by Henry II, who was himself engaged in apower battle with the Church. He appointed Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury in
1161, fully expecting the new appointee to lend his support to the monarchy. There was,however, friction between the two men when Becket refused to be so compliant and hefled to France in 1164, spending more than six years in exile. On his return in 1170,matters were not greatly improved and the king raged against this low-born clerk.Acting on their own initiative, four knights went to Canterbury Cathedral in November1170, where they murdered Becket. Henry made public repentance for this act andBecket’s tomb became a major place of pilgrimage, before the shrine was destroyedduring the Reformation.The poet and dramatist T. S. Eliot wrote one of his best known verse dramas, Murder inthe Cathedral (1936), on the events leading up to Becket’s assassination. Given Hector’sliterary background, we might think that this was the source of his knowledge andinterest in the story.There are other references we should note which occur in Irwin’s lesson to the boys onp. 35, when he recommends that they study Henry VIII if they want to learn aboutStalin, Mrs Thatcher or Hollywood. The formula is repeated verbatim on p. 58, as partof his script for a BBC2 programme on Rievaulx Abbey.Josef Stalin was born IosifVissarionovichDzhugashvili – Stalin, meaning ‘Man of Steel’was a nickname he adopted later – in Georgia in 1879, the territory then being underthe rule of the Czar of Russia. He became a full-time revolutionary in his youth, oftenbeing imprisoned, before rising to the upper ranks of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. Followingthe October Revolution of 1917 and Lenin’s subsequent death in 1924, Stalin becamethe effective dictator of the Soviet Union. He was ruthless in the implementation ofhis political and economic plans, notably the collectivisation of farms, which led towidespread starvation in many areas. He was similarly relentless in his attempts toeliminate all opposition to himself, his terror tactics in the 1930s resulting in a plethoraof show trials and executions. Stalin led his country through the Second World War, inwhich it is estimated that some 20 million Soviets lost their lives. His post-war ruleshowed few signs of any softening of approach. He died in 1953.Margaret Thatcher was born Margaret Roberts in 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire,where her father was a grocer. Educated at the local grammar school, she studiedChemistry at Oxford and later Law, qualifying as a barrister. She married DennisThatcher, a businessman, in 1951. In 1959 she was elected as Conservative MP forFinchley, becoming Secretary of State for Education in 1970 under Edward Heath’sleadership and leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. She became Prime Minister in1979 and won three successive General Elections, before resigning from the leadershipin 1990 and leaving the Commons in 1992. She will be best remembered for her radicaleconomic reforms whilst in office and also for her leadership during the Falklands Warof 1982.Finally, there are Hector’s remarks to Posner on p. 55 of the historical context to thewriting of Hardy’s poem Drummer Hodge. The teacher speculates that Hardy waswriting about the Zulu Wars or later the Boer war possibly, these being thefirstconflicts in British military history in which soldiers... or common soldiers... werecommemorated, the names of the dead recorded and inscribed on war memorials. The
Zulu Wars took place in South Africa in 1879, when British forces fought against theZulus in their heartlands over a period of months, concluding with a routing of theirarmy at Ulundi on July 4th, effectively ending Zulu independence. The Boer War wasfought between the years 1899 and 1902 between British forces and those of the Boerrepublics, which had been populated since the seventeenth century by settlers ofDutch descent. The outcome of this war was a conversion of the Boer republics intoBritish colonies, which from 1910 formed part of the Union of South Africa within theBritish Empire.Literary References in the playHector’s favourite poets, and the ones Alan Bennett chooses to quote most often, areAE Housman and WH Auden. Both poets were concerned with the loss of youth,heartbreak and homosexuality, all of which are also major themes in The History Boys.However, at the end of Act One, Hardy’s poem ‘Drummer Hodge’ is shown to touchboth Hector and Posner. Hector can relate to the loneliness of the poem, being aroundthe same age as Hardy was when he wrote it, and feeling a sense of unfulfilledambition, of a life not lived. For Posner, a teenager dealing with his homosexuality in aschool full of heterosexual boys, the loneliness of Drummer Hodge, a boy not mucholder than himself, is deeply affecting.For both of them it is Hardy’s use of compound adjectives that conjures up the feelingthat they had thought special to them. This scene is in stark contrast to Posner’sconfession to Irwin about his sexuality. The audience are told that Posner, in sensingthat Irwin might also be gay, basically ‘wanted company’. Instead Irwin responds withthe comment ‘it will pass’. At the heart of the ‘Drummer Hodge’ scene, which deals withthe loneliness of two of the play’s central characters, there is a defence of poetry.It is the poem that brings together a teenage boy and a man of 59. The poetry, if onlyfor a moment, has provided the company Posner was craving.A Glossary of Cultural ReferencesThe play is full of references to poems, plays, films and songs. The literary referencesspan the last four hundred years, whilst most of the films and songs mentioned in thetext are from the mid-twentieth century. Some discussion of these can be found in the‘Textual Commentary’ section of this guide. Here is a page-by-page review of them.Act OnePage 5‘All knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use’The remark is attributed to the poet A. E. Housman (see below).‘Loveliest of trees the cherry now.’This is the title of a poem by A. E. Housman (1859–1936)Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bow,And stands about the woodland rideWearing white for Eastertide.Now, of my threescore years and ten,Twenty will not come again,And take from seventy springs a score,It only leaves me fifty more.And since to look at things in bloomFifty springs are little room,About the woodlands I will goTo see the cherry hung with snow.Born in Worcestershire, Housman was a classical scholar, holding the position ofProfessor of Latin successively at the universities of London and Cambridge. As a poethe is best known for a volume entitled A Shropshire Lad, which appeared in 1896. Thepoem Loveliest of trees, the cherrynow is from this volume.
Page 6‘Wash me in steep-down cliffs of liquid fire’This is a line from Shakespeare’s Othello (1604). It occurs in Act V Scene 2, whenOthello discovers that Desdemona, his wife, whom he has just murdered in a jealousrage, was, in fact, innocent and that he has been deceived by the lies of the schemingIago:Whip me, ye devils,From the possession of this heavenly sight!Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur!Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!O Desdemona! Desdemona! Dead!O, O!Page 6‘I have put before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, thatboth thou and thy seed may live.’The line is from the Book of Deuteronomy (30:19) in the Old Testament of the Bible,the words being attributed to God.Page 7‘Vex not his ghost. O let him pass. He hates himThat would upon the rack of this tough worldStretch him out longer.’This quotation and the ones which follow, spoken successively by Timms, Posner, Hectorand Posner again, are from the final scene, Act V Scene 3, of Shakespeare’s King Lear,following the death of Lear, who has himself recently witnessed the death of hisdaughter Cordelia. Kent and Edgar are loyal followers of the king.Page 7‘The Prayer Book’Scripps is probably referring to the Book of Common Prayer, the compilation ofprayers and worship for the Protestant Church of England, first published in 1549 and,in revised formats, used throughout the Anglican communion ever since.Page 7Hymns Ancient and ModernThis is the title of a compilation of hymns for use within the Anglican Communion, firstpublished in 1861 and still the basis for subsequent revised editions.Page 12Edith PiafEdith Piaf (1915–1963) was a French singer famous for her emotional renditions of hermaterial, including her ‘signature’ song, Je Ne RegretteRien.Page 13‘La Vie en Rose’This is the title of a song associated with the Edith Piaf and also the English title ofthe award-winning 2006 French film based upon her life.Page 23
Catcher in the RyeThis is the title of a novel written by the American writer J. D. Salinger andpublished in 1951. The novel describes, through a first person narrative, a weekend inthe life of a teenage boy, Holden Caulfield, first at his boarding school and, later, inManhattan, New York City. It is regarded by many as one of the greatest novels dealingwith adolescent life and perspectives.Page 24...since Wilfred Owen says men were dying like cattle...Dakin’s reference is to perhaps the best known of the poets who wrote verse basedupon their experiences in World War One. The line What passing bells for those whodieas cattle?is the opening of Anthem for Doomed Youth. Other well-known poems byOwen include Dulceet Decorum Est, Strange Meeting and Disabled.Born the son of a railway worker in 1893, Owen joined the war in France in January1917 and began writing his poetry based upon his experiences in the trenches. In thesummer of that year, he was wounded at the Somme and was sent for treatment forshell-shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he met Sassoon. He returned to theFront in 1918 and was awarded the Military Cross. He was killed in action a week beforethe signing of the Armistice in November 1918.Page 26Siegfried SassoonSiegfried Sassoon is, like Owen, one of the most prominent of those known collectivelyas the War Poets, who fought in the First World War and wrote poems withoverwhelmingly anti-war sentiments.Sassoon was born in 1886 and came from a relatively privileged background. As anofficer in France, his daring exploits earned him the nickname ‘Mad Jack’. He hadtreatment for fever in England in 1916 and, on his return to the Front, was wounded inaction the following year. In a letter to the Times he accused the government ofprolonging the war unnecessarily. Deemed unfit for service, he was sent toCraiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland, where he met Wilfred Owen, a fellow poet andpatient. (Their time at the hospital was the basis for the novel Regeneration by PatBarker.) Both returned to the Front, Owen being killed in 1918, whilst Sassoon waswounded once more and returned to England. He wrote verse and prose in his post-warcareer and died in 1967.Page 26Saint Wilfred Owen(See p. 24 entry). Irwin’s ironic ‘canonisation’ of Wilfred Owen stems from the factthat he is by far the best known and revered of the War Poets.Page 26‘If any question why we died,Tell them because our fathers lied.’The lines are from Rudyard Kipling’s work entitled Epitaphs ofWar (1918), a collectionof short poetic statements on war. The couplet above is entitled Common Form.Kipling (1865–1936) was born in India and, after an education in England, he returned tothe sub-continent to work as a journalist. He wrote novels – including The Jungle Book –
and poetry there and back in England, gaining him considerable popularity, though somedisliked what they saw as a jingoistic attitude in his work. He reported from both theBoer War in South Africa and, later, the First World War trenches in France. His onlyson, John, was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915 at the age of seventeen. This deathaffected Kipling profoundly and his mood is reflected in later works like EpitaphsofWar.Page 27Those long uneven lines (and following lines spoken successively by Scripps,Lockwood, Akthar, Posner and Timms).The whole of Philip Larkin’s poem MCXIV is quoted by the boys, though the middlesection is not printed in the text. (The Roman numerals denote the year 1914.) Larkinwas born in Coventry in 1922 and worked as a librarian at the universities of Leicester,Belfast and, for some thirty years, Hull, where he was Chief Librarian up to his death in1985.Page 29‘Bewitched’The song which Posner sings, sometimes known as Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,was first heard in 1940, as part of the new Broadway musicalPal Joey, written byRodgers and Hart. The show made its West End debut in 1954. More recently, thesong was included on Rod Stewart’s 2003 album TheGreat American Songbook 2, in aduet with Cher.Page 29‘O villainy! Let the door be locked!Treachery! Seek it out.’The quotation is from Act V Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as the Prince discoversthat his uncle, King Claudius, has plotted to poison him and inadvertently killedGertrude, Claudius’ wife and Hamlet’s mother, who has drunk from the poisoned chaliceherself.Page 30The TrialThe Trial is the title of a novel by Franz Kafka, who was born in Prague in 1883, and isthe best known of the writer’s works. In the novel, the central character, Josef K, isarrested at his home one morning on an unspecified charge. He is then put on trial forthis alleged crime, about which he knows nothing. Many see the novel as an extendedmetaphor for the workings of a totalitarian police state. The novel was published in1925, the year following the author’s death from tuberculosis.Page 30The person from PorlockAkthar is here referring to the account by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) of the circumstances surrounding the composition of his famous poem KublaKhan,about the thirteenth century Chinese emperor and the summer palace he had built.Coleridge claimed that, during a period when he was living in Somerset, he was inspiredto write the poem by an opium-induced vision, but that he was interrupted in the
writing of it by a visitor from Porlock in Devon. The visit lasted about an hour, by whichtime the vision had dissolved and the poem was left unfinished.Page 30Don Giovanni: the CommendatorePosner’s reference here is to Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, premiered in 1787. In ActOne, the Commendatore is confronted one evening by Don Giovanni, who has beenaccused by the daughter of the former of attempting to seduce her. Her father iskilled in the subsequent duel.Page 30Behold I stand at the door and knockRevelationThe Christian Scripps is quoting from the Book of Revelation, sometimes referred toas the Apocalypse, the last book of the canonical New Testament. According toChristian tradition, the book is the account of a vision seen in a dream by the apostleJohn and written when he was living on the Greek island of Patmos, though somemodern scholars dispute the authorship.The full line Chapter 3, Verse 20 in the Authorised Version is: Behold, I stand at thedoor and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, andwill sup with him, and he with me.Page 30Could it be Paul Henreid and Bette Davis in Now Voyager?The film Now Voyager was released in 1942, the storyline revolving around therelationship between Charlotte, the character played by Bette Davis, and Jerry, amarried man, played by Paul Henreid. The pair meet on a cruise ship and then spendfive days together in Rio de Janeiro, before parting. They meet again later in life,though the relationship is never taken beyond a passionate friendship. The final line ofthe film is the much-quoted Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon... we have the stars.Page 32Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass.‘The untold want of life and land ne’er grantedNow Voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find.’Hector, predictably, not only knows the film but the origin of the title. (The film itselfwas based upon a novel with the same title, written by Olive Higgins Prouty andpublished in 1941.)Walt Whitman (1819–1892) is regarded as one of the foremost poets in the Americantradition. His collection Leaves of Grass,containing the shortpoemThe UntoldWant,was first published in 1855.Page 33the Carry On filmsWhat are referred to as the Carry On films comprise a total of 29 films, all producedat Pinewood Studios and directed by Gerald Thomas between 1958 and 1978. They arebest remembered for the ‘saucy’ nature of the comedy and the appearances ofmainstay actors like Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey.
Barbara Windsor, known to a new generation for her role in the BBC soap operaEastEnders, featured in ten of the series.Page 34George OrwellGeorge Orwell was the pen-name of Eric Blair, who was born in 1903. After an unhappytime as a schoolboy at Eton, Orwell became a police officer in Burma, which was part ofthe Indian Empire. His novel Burmese Days (1934) is based upon his experiences at thistime. Back in Europe, he wrote vivid accounts of his experiences working in a Paris hoteland then living as a tramp in England in a book entitled Down and Out in Paris andLondon (1933). He reported on the condition of miners in the north of England in TheRoad toWigan Pier (1937). Orwell fought in the International Brigade against Franco’sforces during the Spanish Civil War. His direct experience of this situation is recordedin Homage toCatalonia (1938). He is best known for two books in which life under atotalitarian regime forms the major theme, these being the political allegory AnimalFarm (1945) and 1984 (1949), a dystopian vision of Britain as a police state. Orwell diedof tuberculosis in 1950.Page 35RembrandtRembrandt Harmenszoon van Ryn(1606–1669) was a Dutch painter who is best knownfor his portraits, including a famous self-portrait.Page 35Francis BaconFrancis Bacon (1909–1992) was an English painter, noted for his abstracts which oftenhave a grotesque aspect to them.Page 36TurnerJoseph Turner (1775–1851)was an English painter, best known for his landscapes andseascapes, in which the colours and texture of light are key components.Page 36IngresJean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867)was a French portrait painter.Page 36‘About suffering they were never wrongThe Old Masters... how it takes placeWhile someone else is eating or opening a window...’The lines which Timms is quoting here are from a poem entitled Musee de BeauxArtsby the English poet W. H. Auden (1903–1973). In the poem, the poet meditates uponthe painting The Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Breughal the Elder, whichhangs in the Musee de Beaux Arts in Brussels. (There is, it should be said, nowadayssome dispute as to whether the painting is by Breughal.) In the painting we see the fallof Icarus into the sea, as well as a farmer who continues with his ploughing, a shepherdtending to his flock and a man fishing by the sea. Amidst drama and tragedy for some,everyday life goes on for others.
Page 37Breaking bread with the dead, sir.Akthar, (no doubt having heard it from Hector), is quoting from a line from Audenwritten in an article in the New York Times in 1971 – Art is our chief means of breakingbread with the dead.Page 37The Prayer BookIt is likely that Lockwood is here referring to the Book of Common Prayer (see p. 7note above).Page 37The MikadoThis is the name of a comic opera, with music written by Arthur Sullivan and words byW. S. Gilbert, which opened in London in 1885. It has been performed continuouslysince then by amateur and professional companies throughout the world.Page 37‘The heart has its reasons that reason knoweth not.’As Crowther explains, Lockwood’s quoted line is from the works of the Frenchmathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). He is perhaps best knowntoday for his theological work entitled Pensées(‘Thoughts’), which was publishedposthumously in 1670.Page 38‘Lay your sleeping head, my love,Human on my faithless arm.’Dakin quotes the opening lines of a poem by W. H. Auden (see the note on p. 36), itstitle being the first line. The poem was written in 1937.Page 39‘England, you have been here too longAnd the songs you sing now are the songs you sungOn an earlier day, now they are wrong.’Lockwood quotes the lines and provides the information that they come from a poem byStevie Smith (1902–1971), best known for her poem Not Waving but Drowning. Thisparticular quotation comes from a poem entitled Voices Against England in the Night.Page 40Rachmaninov’s Second Piano ConcertoScripps plays this famous work by the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943), which was first performed in 1901. The piece was used extensively asbackground music to the film Brief Encounter (see below) and has featured in a numberof other films. The melodies from various parts of the work have been adapted as thebasis of a number of more modern songs.Page 40Celia Johnson, Cyril Raymond and Brief EncounterThis second instance of the boys acting out an excerpt from a 1940s film focuses onthe classic Brief Encounter (1945), directed by David Lean. The film stars Celia
Johnson and Trevor Howard as a couple, Laura and Alec, who first meet in the waitingroom of a station and feel an instant attraction to each other. Their subsequentrelationship is made more complicated by the fact that Laura is married to Fred, playedby Cyril Raymond,and is haunted by guilt as she embarks on the affair. Eventually Alec,a doctor, informs her that he is going to accept a job offer in South Africa. The scenesof the final meeting and parting of the couple are some of most iconic in the history ofBritish film. The lines quoted by Posner and Scripps are from the scene when Laurareturns to live with Fred.Page 44‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’The hymn which Posner sings was written in 1707 by Isaac Watts (1674–1748) andexpresses awe at the love for mankind implicit in Christ’s crucifixion.Pages 45–46T. S. Eliot‘A painter of the Umbrian SchoolDesigned upon a gesso groundThe nimbus of the Baptised God.The wilderness is cracked and brownedBut through the water pale and thinStill shine the unoffending feetAnd there above the painter setThe Father and the Paraclete.’As Dakin is quick to recognise, the lines are from T.S. Eliot. They are from a poementitled Mr Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service, which first appeared in a collectionpublished in 1920. Although Eliot (1888–1965) is often regarded as an English poet, hewas born in St Louis, Missouri and educated at Harvard, before settling in England.Eliot’s poetry, including The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (1917), The Waste Land(1922), Ash Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1943) are expressive of thespiritual development of the writer. Eliot is also known for his verse drama, particularlyMurder in the Cathedral (1935) and The Family Reunion (1939).Page 46Pierodella FrancescaNot only is Dakin able to identify Eliot as the poet of Scripps’ quotation, but he alsoknows that the poem is based on a reflection upon a picture in the National Gallery inLondon by the Italian Renaissance painter, who lived from c. 1412 to 1492. The paintingin question is The Baptism of Christ, completed in 1450.Page 47NietzscheDakin’s gaffe relates to the pronunciation of the name of the German philosopherFriedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), whose writings on the decline of religion, thesubsequent secularisation of society and the concept of a super-hero are seen by manyas being influential in the development of Nazi ideology.Page 51
‘After such knowledge, what forgiveness?’Another quotation from T. S. Eliot, this one fromGerontion,first published in 1920.Page 51‘The tree of man was never quiet.Then ‘twas the Roman; now ‘tis I.’Hector is quoting again from A. E. Housman (see p. 5 note), the lines being fromOnWenlock Edge in The Shropshire Lad (1896).Page 52‘To think that two and two are fourAnd never five nor threeThe heart of man has long been soreAnd long ‘tis like to be.’Housman again, this time it’s from XXV of his Last Poems (1922).Page 53PlatoThis is the first of three successive references by the Headmaster to figures who areknown or thought to have been homosexuals.Plato (c. 428–c. 347 BC) was a student of the Greek philosopher Socrates and, in turn,mentor to Aristotle. His best known work is The Republic, which deals with questions ofjustice and earthly representations of ideal forms.Page 53MichelangeloMichelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect andpoet. His best known works include the statue of David in Florence, completed in 1504,and the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, completed in 1512.Page 53Oscar WildeOscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He wrote one novel, The Picture of DorianGray,published in 1891. He became a hugely popular dramatist in the 1890s for his worksLady Windermere’s Fan (1891), A Woman of No Importance (1892), An IdealHusband(1895) and, especially, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). He was convicted ofthe then crime of sodomy with Lord Alfred Douglas in a famous trial in 1895 and servedtwo years imprisonment with hard labour. He died in Paris in 1900 and is buried in thatcity’s Pere Lachaise cemetery, where his tomb is a place of pilgrimage to this day.We might note that Alan Bennett himself used the title A Woman of No Importancefor the first of his monologues written for television, which featured PatriciaRoutledge in 1982.Page 54’Drummer Hodge’Posner recites by heart this poem by Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), one of a number ofpoems by the writer on the subject of war, inspired by the Boer War (1899–1902) orWorld War One (1914–1918). Hardy, who trained and practised as an architect inLondon for some years, turned to poetry relatively late in his writing career, aftercompleting a series of novels in which the people and landscape of his native Dorset –
referred to in the fiction as Wessex – play a prominent role. Amongst these are Underthe Greenwood Tree (1872), Far from the Madding crowd (1874), The MayorofCasterbridge (1886), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1896). Allof these have been adapted for television and/or the cinema.Page 54Rupert Brooke... ‘There’s some corner of a foreign field...in that rich earth a richer dust concealed...’Rupert Brooke was born in Rugby in 1887 and studied at Cambridge. He lived at the OldVicarage, Grantchester, subject and title of one of his most famous poems (1912). Asonnet sequence entitled 1914 was published in 1915, the year Brooke died of bloodpoisoning in Greece whilst serving with the British forces in Greece in World War One.The poem Posner is quoting from is Sonnet V: The Soldier:If I should die, think only this of me:That there’s some corner of a foreign fieldThat is forever England. There shall beIn that rich earth a richer dust concealed;A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,A body of England’s, breathing English air,Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.And think, this heart, all evil shed away,A pulse in the eternal mind, no less,Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.Page 57‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.You that way, we this way.’The quotation is from Act V Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s playLove’s Labours’ Lost.Act TwoPage 64CordeliaCordeliais the youngest daughter ofKing Learin Shakespeare’s play. When confrontedwith the task of displaying her love for her father in public, alongside her two sisters,Goneril and Regan, to determine which of them will inherit the most land, she refusesto comply.Page 66Beethoven’s Pathetique
ThePathetiqueis the name often given to a work of the great German composer Ludwigvan Beethoven (1770–1827). Its more official title is the Piano Sonata No 8 inCminor, opus 13. It was written in 1798.Page 66Greig’s Piano ConcertoThe Piano Concerto in A minor is one of the great works of the Norwegian composerEdvardGreig (1843–1907).Page 66SvengaliSvengali was the name of a fictional character inTrilby(1894), a novel by the Englishwriter George du Maurier(1834–1896). In the narrative, which is set in Paris in the1850s, Svengali uses hypnosis to transform Trilby O’Ferrall, a half-Irish girl working asan artists’ model and laundress, into a great singer, despite the fact that she is tone-deaf. The name has become a general term for anyone who manipulates an artistictalent through excessive personal influence.Page 67James Mason and Anne Todd in the Seventh VeilIn this 1945 British film, Anne Todd plays Francesca, a concert pianist who undergoespsychiatric treatment. The ‘seventh veil’ refers to the final uncovering of the emotionaltruth which must come if she is to understand the source of her neurosis. In a seriesof flashbacks, Francesca portrays her relationship with Nicholas, played by JamesMason, who is her guardian and the Svengali-like driving force behind her career as aconcert pianist. The soundtrack to the film features Beethoven’s PathetiqueandFrancesca herself plays part of Greig’s Piano Concerto.Page 67‘When I’m Cleaning Windows.’ George Formby.George Formby (1904–1961) was a Lancashire-born star of the musical hall, radio andseveral films. He was known for his wide grin, his banjo playing and his songs whichoften contained a number of double-entendres. His best known songs are When I’mCleaning Windows, which featured in the 1936 film Keep Your Seats,Please and Leaningon a Lamppost, which he sang in the film Feather Your Nest, released in the followingyear. His catchphrasewas‘turned out nice again!’, which was also the title of a 1941 film.Page 67Gracie FieldsGracie Fields (1898–1979) was born in Rochdale, Lancashire, and became an extremelypopular singer both in Britain and the United States, especially during World War Two.In many of her songs, Fields used her native Lancashire accent for comic effect.Page 69van GoghVincent van Gogh (1853–1890) was a Dutch painter, many of whose most famous works,featuring bold use of colour and texture, were executed during the time he lived in theProvencal town of Arles. He later lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, producing paintings at aprolific rate, before shooting himself on July 27th1890. He died two days later.Page 71
‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’The lines quoted here by Dakin are from the conclusion to the work entitledTractatusLogico-Philosophicus(1921) by the Austrian-born philosopherLudwigWittgenstein (1889–1951). He was appointed to the chair of Philosophy atCambridge University in 1937.Page 77No more the bike’s melancholy long withdrawing roar...Scripps’ reference here is to a line in the poem Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold(1822–1888). The poem is a reflection on the decline of religious faith and certainties,containing the stanza:The Sea of FaithWas once, too, at the full and round earth’s shoreLay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.But now I only hearIts melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,Retreating, to the breathOf the night-wind, down the vast edges drearAnd naked shingles of the world.Page 79Gracie Fields’ ‘Sing as We Go’.(See p. 67 note).Sing as We Go is a song from a 1934 film with the same title, starringGracie Fields and Stanley Holloway, and written by the novelist J.B. Priestley. Fieldsstars as a Lancashire mill-worker who has been laid off in the depression. She takesherself to Blackpool, where she has several adventures.Page 79Barbara StreisandBarbara Streisand was born in New York in 1942 and is one of America’s best knownsingers and film stars. Amongst her film hits are Funny Girl (1968), The WayWe Were(1973) and A Star is Born (1976).Page 82Richard RogersThe British architect Richard Rogers (b. 1933) has designed several well-known publicbuildings, including the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Millennium Dome at Greenwich,the Welsh Assembly building in Cardiffand Heathrow’s Terminal Five.Page 82WrenSir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) was the architect who designed St Paul’sCathedral, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and the library of Trinity College,Cambridge.Page 82HawksmoorNicholas Hawksmoor (1661–1736) worked for Sir Christopher Wren on a number ofmajor projects and then, in collaboration with John Vanbrugh, on the designing ofBlenheim Palace, Oxfordshire and Castle Howard, North Yorkshire. He is known as the
architect of a number of churches in London and of the towers of the west front ofWestminster Abbey.Page 82Richard Rogers? Doesn’t he write musicals?Here Mrs Lintott, perhaps as a joke, is ‘confusing’ Richard Rogers, the Britisharchitect, with the American Richard Rodgers (1902–1979), who co-wrote musicals,first with Lorenz Hart and later with Oscar Hammerstein. With the former he wrotePal Joey (1940) and with the latter Oklahoma (1943), Carousel (1945), The King and I(1951) and TheSound of Music (1959).Page 83MozartThis is, of course, the great Austrian-born composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart(1756–1791).Page 84WittgensteinSee p. 71 note.Page 86This Sporting LifeThis is the title of a film, based on a novel written by David Storey and released in1963. It stars Richard Harris as Frank Machin, a professional Rugby League player inthe industrial north of England, and deals with his life on and off the pitch.Page 86Jean-Paul SartreThe French writer Sartre (1905–1980) is one of the great names of twentieth centuryphilosophy. He is also known for his plays and novels.Page 87KafkaSee p. 30 note.Page 92‘Magnificently unpreparedFor the long littleness of life’The lines are from a quatrain written by the English poet Frances Cornford (1886–1960) about Rupert Brooke (see p. 54 note):A young Apollo, golden haired,Stands dreaming on the verge of strife,Magnificently unpreparedFor the long littleness of life.Page 92Gracie Fields’ ‘Wish me Luck as You wave Me Goodbye’.(See p. 67 note.) This song was one of her 1940s hits.Page 94‘The open road, the dusty highway.Travel, change, interest, excitement.Poop,poop.’
These words are taken from Chapter II of the novel The Wind in the Willows byKenneth Graham (1858–1932). Hector’s ‘quotation’ is a compilation of various lines fromthe chapter, all spoken by Mr Toad.Page 94Brief EncounterSee p. 40 note.Page 94Gracie FieldsSee p. 67 note.Page 96The Lord of the RingsThis is the title of the trilogy of novels by J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), which werefirst published as a trilogy in 1954–1955. The novels, sequels to the earlier work TheHobbit (1937), are concerned with life in the fantasy world of Middle-earth. Each novelof the trilogy – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King– has been made into a hugely successful feature film.Page 96Virginia WoolfA leading member of the literary set known as the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf(1882–1941) is a major figure in twentieth century English Literature. In novelsincluding Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928) and TheWaves (1931), she presented a form of narrative which emphasised the detailedworkings and impressions of the consciousness of an individual.Page 98Wilfred OwenSee p. 24 note.Page 102The SpectatorThis is the title of a political magazine which is published weekly. It was first publishedin 1828.Page 104The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s a Sin’.A rare – indeed unique – reference in the play to an item of 1980s pop culture! ThePetShop Boys is the name of a hugely successful duo – Neil Tennant (vocals) and ChrisLowe (keyboards) – who have been making electronic-based music since the mid-80s.It’s a Sin was released in 1987.Page 104Gracie FieldsSee p. 67 note.Page 104‘Give him the money, Barney!’This was one of the catchphrases from the popular BBC radio game show Have a Go,which ran from 1946 to 1967. The show came from different locations every week andpeople from the local area talked of their loves and memories to the host,
WilfredPickles (1904–1978). In one part of the show, contestants would, in succession,try to answer four general knowledge questions. Before the quiz, Wilfred Pickles wouldask his co-presenter, his wife Mabel, to describe the prizes on offer that week, inaddition to the usual cash awards, by saying What’s on the table, Mabel? Whenever acontestant answered all of his/her four questions correctly, Pickles would respond withthe cry Give him (or her) the money, Barney!, referring to the show’s producer, BarneyColehan.Page 106Bye Bye, BlackbirdThis song was first published in 1925 and written by American song-writers RayHenderson (music) and Mort Dixon (lyrics). It has been recorded by a host of artistssince then.Page 106‘We are mulched by the dead, though one person’s death will tell you more than athousand.’Lockwood expresses his confusion as to which of Hector’s sayings were his own wordsand which literary quotations. This sounds like one of the latter, but, as far as we cantell, it is not!Page 108‘Finish, good lady, the bright day is done and we are for the dark.’These words are spoken to Cleopatra in Act V Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s AntonyandCleopatra by Iras, one of her faithful handmaidens, as her mistress chooses deathbefore dishonour at the hands of the triumphant Octavius Caesar.