Burnley Grammar School

Childhood - Schools


Year: 1959         Item #: 1607         Views: 713,564         Comments: 2,605

Burnley Grammar School

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There's pleny of room in the modern-styled gymnasium for muscle developing, where the boys are supervised by Mr. R. Parry, the physical education instruction.
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, December 1959

2605 user comment(s) below:-

Comments by Cornwall on 30th July 2013  

Stuart re your comments 28/7. It is strange to think you were comppelled to run in just shorts, but at bedtime forced to cover up in the dorm. Illogical especially as most lads seem to sleep in boxers these days.

David re your comments, was the PE lesson boys only & what was the reaction of boys who had to participate in pants, presumably briefs those days as boxers not generally in fashion.

Comments by Simon on 29th July 2013  

I was at a state day school in the sixties and the rule for PE and cross-country was stripped to the waist and barefoot.
For games we were allowed to wear a shirt for rugby but for soccer and also hockey we had to go bare-chested.

Comments by DAVID on 29th July 2013  djohnmesher@yahoo.co.uk 

I went to Grammar School in the 1960s and you always did PE stripped to the waist. If you forgot your kit you were made to do it in your underpants and bare feet. Felt good though

Comments by Stuart on 28th July 2013  

I went to a boarding school in the 1960’s and we always did indoor PE with just shorts, bare feet, no underpants, vests or t-shirts.

Cross country kit comprised shorts and plimsolls, so again bare backs/chests. Anyone wearing any other kit, no matter how cold or wet it was, would have been made to take it off, and would have been punished. A boy who wore a rugby shirt one very cold day was immediately made to strip, and was also caned.

We slept in dorms, everyone had to wear pyjamas, both tops and bottoms. Prefects came into the dorms at 0600, we were woken up, and sent on a 1 mile run, which took place every morning without fail. Even if it was snowing outside we knew we all had to take off our pyjamas and run outside in nothing more than a thin pair of shorts. The prefects had all experienced the same rules when they were younger, and enforced the rules 110%, so even wearing rugby shorts would have been punished, and some prefects made you run barefoot as well.

One warm summer, a couple of boys slept in just their pyjamas bottoms, thus shirtless. One of the prefects noticed this, reported them, and they were caned as a result.

Thus some boys had been caned for not wearing shirt (in bed), and also been caned for wearing a shirt (on a run) – happy days !

Comments by Tommy on 13th July 2013  

Roy stated it was "virtually obligatory" for lads to be shirtless in the 50s and 60's for games/PE. It certainly was for me.
We had a uniform list, remember those? No vest or T shirt was mentioned. I was taught at a Christian Brothers Secondary School in Northern Ireland. Vests were not even permitted under uniform shirts. Shirtless was compulsory year round. One set of bibs (two squares of fabric connected with string) was distributed during matches. Daily morning cold showers only stopped around 1960.

Comments by Roy on 10th July 2013  

When I was at school in the 1950's and 1960's it was virtually obligatory for boys to do PE etc while stripped to the waist.
I fact I was stripped to the waist for PE from day 1 until I left school when nearly nineteen.
It certainly toughened us up and after I got used to it I quite enjoyed going bare-chest even in the cold winters we seemed to have in the fifties and sixties.

Comments by Ted on 8th July 2013  

Interesting, nostalgic memories. I went to primary/secondary schools in 50s/60s. Fortunately/unfortunately no bare chests, just white vest and shorts, no forced nude showers or spankings in gym, or long country runs. But every teacher had a thick spanking ruler on their desk which was used liberally in class.
What I am curious about here is the mention of obligatory nude swimming for boys in some schools. Some even mentioned female coaches or teachers with the nude swimming boys. I am curious to know how prevalent this was, and which schools had obligatory nude swimming in their pools. Can anyone elaborate please?

Comments by Henry on 7th July 2013  

When I was in school, we had to do gym class indoors with the girls until the beginning of sixth form. The girls wore leotards and leggings, but we boys were only allowed to wear shorts, with bare feet and chests, and no underwear. Our leg, armpit and chest hair was on full show. Though some liked to show off occasionally, we all felt quite exposed, but the girls enjoyed it. Occasionally they would try to tickle our sides, armpits or stomachs, just to make us feel more vulnerable.

Comments by James on 28th June 2013  

Sorry! I meant to say teasing.

Comments by James on 28th June 2013  

In reply to Deb R,we had a compulsary school uniform,although short trousers were optional.My parents insisted I wore the full uniform to school including short trousers which meant I was the only boy in my class wearing short trousers.I was subjected to much ridicule and reasing,mainly from the girls and called names like"nappy pants".

Comments by Tim H on 18th June 2013  

@ Deb R - Thanks for your fascinating (& not unexpected?) comments!

Comments by Deb R on 16th June 2013  

A girls view here... A boys kit should either be a vest or preferably bare chest. Why? Well firstly a vest is easy and quick to put on and take off to make up two teams. There's nothing wrong with making boys show their chests to perform exercise. Well it's far more manly and I think gives boys a sense of worth and a pride in their bodies. The doors to the gym had re-inforced glass and I remember always making a point of passing the gym as often as possible (including taking messages to other teachers) to see boys stripped down and, more often than not, sweating - regardless of their age. I must have spent hours watching them barechested on the field/yard or in the gym! It's a shame boys are no longer treated like young men and what can be more manly than being stripped to the waist for PE/Games lessons?

Comments by Jon on 15th June 2013  

I remember when my class did rock climbing on a field trip, none of us brought our PE clothes. As a result, the teacher made all the boys strip off their school shirts and do it in just our shorts while the girls in our class go to sit out and watch. Certainly must have been quite a show for them getting to see all of us barechested and pouring sweat as we strained up that wall.

Comments by Rob on 15th June 2013  

We, too, had punishments in PE similar to what John describes below – the teacher would stop the lesson and say something like “Oh dear! Davis…” [we were always called by our surnames] “…was messing about and has spoiled it for everyone now. I’ve just got to pop out to the store cupboard – I do hope he doesn’t get beaten up while I’m out of the room!” Which, of course, was the green light for the rest of us to do exactly that! I know it sounds vicious but it really wasn’t – it was a different world back then and nobody ever got seriously hurt – it was understood that we were only expected to let fly with a few punches, and only to the upper body – never below the belt and never to the head or face. The teacher would return in less than a minute, inevitably to find Davis, or whoever it was, in a crumpled heap on the floor, but within seconds he’d be up and playing a full part again. It was a real deterrent because it was instant and most of us preferred it to a detention after school. I wonder what it was about PE that made that seem so acceptable and ‘normal’, when it would be unthinkable in any other lesson…

I absolutely adored PE – after hours or days of sitting behind a desk in boring lessons wearing a shirt and tie and blazer, finally you got the chance to fling off your clothes and run around exerting some energy – such a feeling of exhilaration and freedom. And, although I wasn’t that good at it, I loved the ‘fight’ type situations, of which we seemed to have quite a few in PE – punishment of miscreants as described above, fights during Killerball, the wrestling tournaments we sometimes had at the end of term, or even just trying to give each other ‘nipple cripples’ when the teacher was at the other end of the gym. Again, I know that will all sound terrible to people who never experienced it but we were just boys being boys. We weren’t all like that, of course, and the boys who clearly didn’t enjoy such physical attention were left alone – I’d like to think because we knew that that would be bullying, which we would never engage in, and there truly was an element of that, but, to be honest, it was probably mainly because it was only ever fun getting into a scrap with a boy who you knew would fight back – not someone who would immediately drop to the floor and start crying.

And I don't know if it was just me, but ‘fights’ in PE somehow always gave me an extra special thrill, for two reasons I think: (a) because you could go all out and didn’t have to hold back – there was no danger of your opponent falling and hitting his head on the corner of a desk or the concrete playground, and we knew we weren’t going to get into trouble for it, and (b) the major reason of the two – there seemed to be something extremely basic, simple, pure and uncomplicated about fighting just wearing a little pair of shorts, with no clothes to worry about getting torn or dirty (or blood-stained!) – and no clothes to cushion the blows - you felt so much more exposed and vulnerable to the blows landing on bare flesh and, at the same time, it was so much more satisfying hearing the smack of your fist landing on the other boy’s bare stomach, or the thud of your elbow on his chest or felt your arm around his bare neck as you squeezed him as tight as you could in a headlock! And you could see all the red marks you made on his body. Describing it like this makes it almost sound like a fetish, but, again, I would say we were just boys being boys – something they’re not allowed to be today, and often find outlets for their energy and natural aggression and competitiveness which are less healthy both for themselves and for society.

Comments by Graeme on 7th June 2013  

I can't understand why boys have inhibitions about doing PE stripped to the waist.
I always was stripped to the waist and couln't wait to go bare-chested where ever possible.

Comments by James on 2nd June 2013  

We used to get strapped on the bare back in PE which was very painful and left marks. We had a very strict PE teacher who used many forms of punishment including caning the bare backside. Boys were often sent to him by female teachers to be caned which he carried out by in his office next to the gym. We always had to wear our pe shorts and no tops but as the female teachers were often present, we kept our shorts on. Still hurt but taught us a lesson.

Comments by Paul on 2nd June 2013  

At first I thought Gymnastics were brutal. These sessions were around two hours and were intense. I didn't like it at first, and one time sprained my neck whilst doing head stand. Luckily, like most we were quite fit and thin, so this training wasn't too bad. After a while we got used to it and being topless helped keeping cool, even though being really skinny, still made us sweat so much that our mats were covered in it. Most of us were really skinny, and which was normal, due to very little food and intensive activities. Our shorts were blue, not white, and hardly stayed on around my tiny waist, being elasticated, not string. I don't think pupils could take that punishment today!

Comments by Archie on 30th May 2013  

I remember now - they called it a "double whammy"!

Comments by Archie on 29th May 2013  

Still an interesting discussion going on here. As we did PE shirtless our PE masters occasionally punished us by clapping their hands together with us standing in between - so one hand hit our chest and the other our back. Done properly it gave a bit of a sting! They had a name for it, but can't recall what it was. That was obviously only done for minor annoyances rather than for real misbehaviour.

If we were being actually punished we would have to put our hands up and/or bend over for a dose of the belt (tawse).

Comments by Justin on 23rd May 2013  

While I agree with Roy about the kind of punishments that have been described, I can't see why they are different from other practices that were clearly quite common years ago. In other words, why would it be acceptable to cane a boy on his bare backside but not to hit his bare back or front torso? Surely both are painful and humiliating forms of corporal punishment that nobody should have to endure, certainly not children or teenagers. I'm glad to say when I did PE in the 80s none of those punishments were deemed acceptable - we got extra press ups, laps of the pitch or something like that.

Comments by John Lavender on 22nd May 2013  finswimmerjohn52@gmail.com 

@ John : Our PE Teacher didn't employ that Punishment method, but for a Minor offence it was 20 press-ups or squat-thrusts.
Greater mismeandours earned a 'scragging' by the rest of the lads - around 20 - in the class. lasted about 5 minutes , enough to make you think twice before repeating the Transgression. We were in plain-white Tees for PE although we did do 'Skins vs. Vests' for Killerball games. As I pointed out previously quite a while ago, some of us wanted to be barechested all the time and took any opportunity to do the lesson stripped to the waist.

We had 'Running the Gauntlet' as well as a slow-change Punishment. Some of us slow-changed deliberately so we could do it! Occasionally the Runner would stop dead and land a Punch on one of the other lads doing the Back-slapping. A brawl would sometimes break out and that was always good fun! You could always get the score evened up if you were on the Opposing Team in the Killerball game at the end of the lesson. The PE Master telling one team to get into Skins was always the sign that we were going to play it.Used to look forward to that!

Comments by Roy on 22nd May 2013  

If teachers today used any of the methods described by Adam and others it would quite rightly be described as child abuse and dealt with accordingly.

Comments by John on 20th May 2013  

I thought only our PE teacher was the only one to use such painful punishment methods. I can confirm it hurt like hell, when he whipped your back with his cord, and yes, it happened that the cord swung around your body to hit your chest or tummy. As we were always barechested for PE, indoors and outdoors and he also had a unique way of making sure we changed in the least amount of time. The two last boys out of the changing room had to run the gauntlet at the entrance of the gym hall, where the other boys would wait in two lines and hit the boys' bare backs as they passed by. I can assure you, boys at my school got changed within a few seconds!

Comments by Chris on 19th May 2013  

John's comment sent a shiver down my spine. My PE teacher also used the cord of his whistle in that way and, boy, did it sting! One of my worst memories is a PE detention when I was made to take off my vest and do various exercises, but if I failed to complete them correctly or within a tume limit, the whistle cord would come out. He must have had plenty of practice because he managed to aim the cord so that it wrapped around and landed on my chest or tummy! Not a nice man.
Even without that painful 'bonus', it was quite common to be bare-chested for PE punishments, sometimes outdoors as well as in the gym.

Comments by John on 18th May 2013  

Really? Caned on their backs? What kind of offence merited that punishment? Seems extremly harsh too me. At my school in the 70ies we got caned on our backsides but our PE teacher sometimes whipped boys on their backs with the cord of his whistle. Very painful indeed, but we never got the cane on our backs!!

Comments by Adam on 18th May 2013  

I was a day boy at a state secondary school in the sixties and on our first day there it was made clear that you did PE etc stripped to the waist both in the gym and outdoors whatever the weather.
It was no use complaining.Those who did had to do punishment press-ups outdoors for up to an hour still bare-chested.
For the very few who still objected it was not unknown to receive corporal punishment-usually the cane on the bare backside but sometimes a boy would be caned on his bare back.

Comments by Jamie on 17th May 2013  

Yes, the picture brings back memories. I was a boarder at a prep school. We always did pe in just white cotton shorts and plimsolls. If it was sunny, we would go outside and do our lesson on the grass or in the playground. If we went to the tennis courts, we had to walk along the road all stripped to the waist. No one ever gave it a second thought.
For swimming, we had to do the lesson naked. Again, all normal and everyone got on with it. It was a lot easier as you just had to remember your towell.
As a boarded, even at weekends when we went swimming, most boys were naked although we could wear trunks. The ones who wore trunks were generally the weedy one. How things have changed.

Comments by david pattison on 16th May 2013  david.d.pattison@gmail.com 

I went to BGS from 1959 to 1964.
My memories of Mr Parry are of him taking Detention Class in the afternoon.....and doing Gym work as part of detention :-)

Comments by Rob on 13th May 2013  

When I went to secondary school we were supposed to wear a vest for PE but there was one lad (who had come from a different junior school) who never wore a vest for PE.In fact he never wore one at all.
Gradually more and more of us followed his example and very soon we were all stripped to the waist.

Comments by Neil on 7th May 2013  

We used to do PE stripped to the waist whatver the conditions and I think that the girls used to look forward to seeing hunky young lads stripped to the waist!!!!
Also when we did cross-country many of the locals also used to look forward to seeing us all bare-chested and sweaty!!

Comments by Mark on 7th May 2013  

I too well remember doing PE outside stripped to the waist and barefoot with snow on the ground.
It certainly toughened us up and we certainly used to go about bare-chested whenever we could.

Comments by Toby on 3rd May 2013  

My PE teacher was a keen disciplinarian. Our uniform (or lack of) consisted of brief shorts (no underwear), vest and plimsolls or footie boots. Vests often discarded as a punitive measure or to distinguish teams (shirts vs. skins).

Very similar to my school, also during the 1970s but in southern England. We often did shirts vs skins, but I also remember having to remove my vest as a punishment. On one occasion I got into trouble for cutting corners on laps of the playing field and was made to do them again, this time in just shorts and bare chest. For PE detentions we were always in 'skins', which could be in the gym or outdoors. I never really thought about it at the time but I suppose the idea was to make you feel small and less sure of yourself.

Comments by John Lavender on 25th April 2013  finswimmerjohn52@gmail.com  http://s1053.photobucket.com/user/hagi52156/media/PE.jpg.html

There is also a UK photo on this URL, Lads Shirtless.

Comments by Dave on 23rd April 2013  

Great scene.It brings back memories.Especially of outisde lessons in cold weather clad only in a vest.Are there any other european old movies which have a PE class scene?

Comments by pierce on 20th April 2013  

This is a very interesting forum which provokes many memories, some good, some bad. However my overriding memory of P E 1970s Northern England is the extreme cold. My PE teacher was a keen disciplinarian. Our uniform (or lack of) consisted of brief shorts (no underwear), vest and plimsolls or footie boots. Vests often discarded as a punitive measure or to distinguish teams (shirts vs. skins).
I recently watched a movie which also brought me back to my teens.
A scene in the film shows lads in a traditional vest and shorts uniform. The thinly clads boys are racing in a snowy park while their teacher and spectators are wrapped up in heavy coats, much like my own PE teacher wore.
Deep End was filmed in 1970 and stars John Moulder-Brown and Jane Asher.
It gave me a chill recalling those harsh winter PE sessions with snow on the ground, biting northern winds and, worst of all, sleet or driving hail stones. We suffered it all but were stronger for it, compared to todays youth who live in over insulated homes and are so susceptible to viruses and colds .

Comments by James on 13th April 2013  

viewpoint James! From what you say I'm assuming the boys always went bare chested for PE (as well as detention). Do you think that made you more keen to work hard in PE and develop a good body, knowing the girls would be watching and commenting on it? And did most of the boys in your class feel the same? We sometimes did PE bare chested (vests versus skins) but never in front of the girls and that was only up to the age of 16.

Hi Darren, The boys did indeed go bare chested for all PE/Games lessons (and Gym detentions)and I think it did give a certain motivation for boys to put the extra effort in. It was amusing that girls from all different year groups looked forward to seeing us exercise especially on the colder days. The detentions were the worst as it was just you and the teacher so it made more difficult not to put the required effort in.

Comments by Darren on 7th April 2013  

Interesting viewpoint James! From what you say I'm assuming the boys always went bare chested for PE (as well as detention). Do you think that made you more keen to work hard in PE and develop a good body, knowing the girls would be watching and commenting on it? And did most of the boys in your class feel the same? We sometimes did PE bare chested (vests versus skins) but never in front of the girls and that was only up to the age of 16.

Comments by James on 7th April 2013  

Darren, the girls used to see us barechested indoors and outside through until I left at 18 and it made no difference even when doing co-ed classes. It was always good natured banter with them remarking on how we looked, discussing it in the classrooms and us wanting to impress them at the slightest opportunity. One of those girls, who later became my wife, still reminds me about a 2hr detention I was given by the PE teacher in the gym and watching a 16 year old me dripping with sweat as the session dragged on.

Comments by Darren on 5th April 2013  

Interesting how the film focuses totally on the boys even though it's a co-ed class, the girls seem very much in the background. Have to feel sorry for poor Nick, he gets criticised for his lack of ability even though it's the other boy (with the strapping on his leg) who stumbles during the routine! The boys look about 13 or so, I can't help wondering how they felt about being bare chested in front of the girls. Not sure I'd have been comfortable with it at that age (at my school PE classes were single sex).

Comments by Tim H on 5th April 2013  

An interesting piece of film - does anyone know the date? It refers to Key Stage Three which would be late 80s/ early 90s/

The commentary sounds a bit dated but as an example of gym in the UK the 80s its pretty good.

Comments by Pandy on 4th April 2013  

Here's a fairly recently gymnastics class which features the boys shirtless & in shorts while the girls don black leotards


Comments by Alexander on 3rd April 2013  

Shirtlessness is still de rigueur in several armies around the world.
I have found some pictures of Russian soldiers exercising in what they call uniform no 2.
And judging by the leafless trees in the background you can certainly tell that not all of these pictures were taken on a warm summer's day !




Comments by Dave on 2nd April 2013  

Hi Paul!

Where is this photo from?Is this was taken from a school's website?
Yes it seems there are still some schools where shirtless PE kit is a rule.

Comments by Paul on 1st April 2013  

Compulsory shirtless PE seems still to required in some countries today. This photo apparently is of a Polish school:

Comments by Paul on 1st April 2013  

In reply to Tim,I had to change into shorts when I returned home from school,as the wearing of short trousers was not allowed at school.Under my parent's insistence and to keep me dressed identicaly as my younger stepbrother,I had to wear shorts for evenings,weekends and holidays.I prefered wearing long trousers,but as this ritual continued I became quite blase about wearing shorts and became indignant about the derogatory comments.

Comments by Tim on 31st March 2013  

My father used to keep my and my four younger brothers shirtless nearly all the time.
As soon as we got home from school we had to strip to the waist and remain shirtless for the rest of the day.
We soon got used to it and by summer time we were all quite sun tanned.

Comments by Donny on 18th March 2013  

have a look at this:

Comments by John Lavender on 18th March 2013  finswimmerjohn52@gmail.com 

@ Dave: Yes, good video.
I do think PE should again be mono-gendered and should much more concentrate on Hard physical work in class (at least 5 1-hour sessions per week)with special emphasis on combatting over-weightness and muscle and general physical developement. PE Teachers should also be gender-specific.
Boys PE should concentrate much more on the forthcoming roles in life of the Boys, in both Sport and Personal Lives.
This might mean some howls of anguish from the "New Breed" of PE Teachers but I think after a few years result in a much better physical fitness profile of the population.

Comments by Dave on 16th March 2013  

If you watch this video you can see (from 5:15) that all the boys are barechested for massed P.T. None of them seems uncomfortable and unhappy because of the kit they have to wear even in mixed exercises.


Comments by Simon on 15th March 2013  

I attended a state Grammar School in the early sixties and altough the official PE uniform did specify a singlet many boys didn't wear them and always did PE stripped to the waist.
More and more of us followed suit and eventually we were all bare-chested in the gym.
Again a few lads went topless outdoors for cross-country and again more and more lads bared their chests and eventually we were all stripped to the waist.
Some were even barefoot both in and out of doors.