Clitheroe Royal Grammar School
Item #: 1602
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, November 1959
Chris G and others.
A very happy Christmas to you too and new year.
IP Logged: ***.**.149.188
A happy and peaceful Christmas to all.
IP Logged: **.***.131.18
I used to blush very easily when feeling anxious or embarrassed. This even used to happen to me in PE if I was suddenly asked to take my top off and be in a bared chest. I could feel and sense my face reddening many times. Now I was told by mum back home that it was only me that noticed what I was doing and that nobody else would even be aware I was blushing. Except one day in PE the teacher asked me what the matter was with me because I had a red face before even doing any PE, and the redness even went over my neck onto my upper chest which he drew attention to. This made me go crimson and even worse and the more I thought about trying to control it the worse it seemed to become.
Toby, thank you for your kind words. Please don't feel silly. The journalist Matthew Parris commented that as a child he had a terrible time over the state of his handwriting; his teachers continually rebuked him over it. He said that in his adult life "Now I type and all is forgotten"; perhaps that is a parallel about how strongly we feel things as children.
Well I feel so silly reporting it now, but at 11 it seemed to be A Thing. As an adult I know they aren't even all that uncommon.
I'm sorry to hear the comment about the scar on your tummy. Even when said kindly/out of interest it still hits home.
Toby, you have my sympathy.
I remember the pang of self-consciousness one day as a ten-year-old, changing for PE in the classroom with the other children. I had taken off my shirt and vest when a girl - out of innocent curiosity - pointed at the operation scar on my belly and said, "What's that?"
I could make no reply.
As I said in another thread, one of the things that stopped me enjoying PE was the point at which it was pointed out to me that as an outer, my belly button was unlike everyone else's. It wasn't something I'd really thought about and as my brothers also had outers it was just the norm for me. Until that point, PE in a bare chest wasn't an issue. After that, source of embarrassment. And yes it does seem so silly writing that now!
In terms of sleepwear, I'm pretty sure I was sleeping shirtless by about 15. Given my parents didn't approve of lounging round shirtless and I always had PJs I'm not sure how that came about. Possibly because I found the button up top uncomfortable?
Rachael? But you are clearly a male writing that post from what you described.
Have you had gender reassignment since your schooldays?
Hi Sharon, good to see a female view. No but we did have a female PE teacher cover and take us on a good number of times aged between 13 to 18. There was an emphasis on physical education and accordingly we were stripped off at any opportunity regardless of weather or season.There was no difference in the way the lessons were taken. We stripped to waist in the gym as usual and regularly went skins vs shirts or vests outside just like we would do with our regular teachers.
It was normal for girls to see us bare chested especially The outsized windows in the gym allowed a very good view and see what was going on and no doubt played a part in first boyfriends. I didn't mind the attention though I looked no different to anyone in my group but it was nice
I was thirteen years old in 1983 and went to a school where the boys did PE like you three Stephen, Simon and Christopher have said, having no type of shirt on. The flu was going around and some of the teachers were off and they were short on staff so the girls got a rare chance to join up with the boys in PE for the first time ever. We got told this while we were changing by our year head, a woman, and I remember the tittering that went on about joining the boys in PE because they would't have shirts on and we'd see them all up close like that. It felt exciting to some of us and it was very much so. It was a very exciting PE lesson but I did think some girls got very embarrassed by it. When we arrived a lot of the boys looked like they had embarrassed smiles on their faces and some looked peeved that we were there at all. It did seem like it was a bit of a distraction but maybe it wouldn't have been if it was something we did always. But what kind of straight girls aren't going to enjoy looking at nice looking boys their age with their tops removed.
Simon what a great answer you've given to that quite simple question by Ian, so simple infact that nobody has ever thought to ask it much.
I was in school at the back end of the 70's and into the early part of the 80's. I left in 1982 when I was 16.
My PE recollection matches up with you almost perfectly, except the shorts colour in my case was black for boys in the gym or outside. But in that school gym that was it, only the shorts. I can always remember that funny shuffle we all used to do on our way to the gym along from the changing room, shuffling our bare feet on the cold school corridor floor. When you are only dressed like that, no top or footwear you kind of walk differently as you go along, on the front of your feet rather than heel first. Well that's how I did and seem to recall it.
Our PE teachers always wore shorts, a vest, trainers and had the whistle permanently around their neck.
But you are right Simon, it's a complete leveller in a way even a uniform isn't. I remember many of us would make our own personal modifications to the school uniform in little ways. Sometimes these got called out but much of the time not. But you can't really do a lot about a set of black shorts.
I can see us now in that gym at the start of the lesson many times. We had to all sit along a bench at the side of the gym sometimes to listen to that day's teacher. What I can still see to this day and thought when I was sitting there at the time was how we all just became the same. I liked to stand out and be different. Being 'another brick in the wall' like the famous song said around that time was not for me.
On that bench sat down we really did look no different. We were nearly all the same build, all of us quite slim, all very pale and white, and we were all white in my classes. Our legs looked the same and you could see all these wriggling toes lined up all looking much the same, nothing looked different and if you could only see someone from the neck down it would have been hard to tell who was who. Quite a vulnerable exposed look I suppose, yes, when you have to remember that most of the boys would not really be wishing to be hanging about like that if they didn't have to. But you had to.
On top of that we always had to take jewellery completely off as well, no watches were allowed or even small chains around our neck that some boys had. Absolutely nothing. It must be the most pure form of gym PE attire you can turn out like. We had some quite posh well to do intelligent boys in my class from very good homes alongside a couple of common not very sharp boys from poorer or broken homes and in those gym lessons we all had to turn out the very same and once like that there was visually no chance of telling who might be who out of the lot of us.
As I say and you agree, a huge leveller in so many different ways. But was it really meant to be or is that just overthinking something.
One thing I do know about these PE lessons I was in at that time is they were active. After we got up off that bench to actually begin the lesson we didn't stop moving for too long, we were always on the go in some way and I nearly always came away from a gym PE lesson knowing what I'd done, muscles ached, especially my biceps in my case I remember that. We did a lot of climbing and hanging off things.
I don't know whether I could say it knocked any extra confidence into me but it might have done for some. It made me aware of what other boys my age looked like and I did pay attention to this, although nearly all of us in my classes at the time looked the same so there was not anything dramatic to compare against that comes to mind.
The schools in those days, not even that long ago really is it, didn't seem to understand about the issues that revolve around young people nowadays such as self worth and body image.
The lessons in gym were only all boys however we did sometimes find ourselves being taken for PE in the gym by one of the girls teachers often quite unexpectedly but the basics remained the same with little change.
Christopher - I think there is a lot of truth in what Alyson B says. Throughout the ages, and all over the globe, especially in the hotter regions, men have gone bare-chested, often permanently, but especially when engaged in physical labour or exercise, almost universally to manage perspiration. The adoption of bare midriff styles by female athletes, a look now widely acceptable for everyday wear for women of all ages, even in quite formal situations, represents a major step towards equality, although one wonders why male athletes are still unable to perform fully topless
thank you for that very interesting question which I have myself thought about from time to time after having experienced shirtless and barefoot PE in the 1980ies, for indoor and outdoor activities. Our PE kit consisted only of white shorts, which weren’t too long either.
Oddly enough, this enforced dress code seemed to bring about a curious transformation in behaviour. With shirts discarded, a sort of camaraderie emerged among us boys. There were no status symbols or fashion statements, which were obvious throughout the rest of the school day, even with a school uniform, only a kind of shared vulnerability beneath the harsh gym lights. I think, it made us shift your focus from superficial appearances to the shared experience of physical exertion.
The absence of shirts fostered a sense of equality. No one could boast about the latest sports jersey or designer label, or fancy shoes, instead, we all bore the same uniform—simple white shorts, bare chests and feet, which blurred the lines between social classes. Also, the PE teacher being clearly distinguishable by wearing his tracksuit added to the strong sense of belonging to a group which was expected to follow instructions without arguing. And funnily enough we did, unlike in other lessons.
I think that the apparent discipline was mainly because the enforced simplicity of the dress code seemed to instil a sense of pride in us, as we were being treated like ‘men’, or at least we felt that way, that we were expected to endure hardship and go without the comfort of a shirt, whereas the girls got to wear much more clothing and even tracksuits outside, We, as a group of boys, embraced the challenge, recognizing that true character lay beneath the fabric of a shirt, we struggled together through endless series of sit-ups or push-ups and we seemed to find during the length of the PE lesson a common ground that transcended cliques and stereotypes. The gym hall became a level playing field where personalities flourished, unencumbered by the usual teenage bravado, trying to impress girls.
For me, those PE lessons were by far the best ones in school and I remain grateful to my PE teacher for instilling that sense of positive discipline and teaching us to take pride in being a boy and later a young man.
I was once told that boys behave better if they don't wear shirts in PE.
Could somebody explain how and why?
I very much doubt sweat had anything to with it. I don't really think there is any one actual reason for going bare chests in gym rather than wearing tops. Some teachers just preferred us that way I guess and in some schools it was just the done thing for boys in PE. Nobody ever thought to actually ask the question - why are you asking/telling us to do PE without any top on.
In my case it was a constant gym PE thing that boys went to PE in bare chests when it was taken in the school's gymnasium or sports hall. If we ever played a team game in the gym we would simply place differing coloured thin sash like ribbons across our bare chests but other than that we had to be complete skins above the waist.
Hi I'm just curious. Was the reason your shirts came off in the gym because you would sweat?
Comment by: Darren on 10th November 2023 at 18:29
Better to be outside feeling a bit fresh in your PE kit than back inside burning to a crisp or inhaling smoke don't you think.
The fire drill at ours was you stop immediately anything you are doing and go, you don't take anything at all with you, it's out rapidly and orderly. We used to get timed on it to the point the entire school was assembled outside. If we were not quick enough the head used to get really quite ratty about it.
I've never really thought about it but if I'd been in the school gymnasium shirtless at the time we had a drill, we had some way to go to get our clothes so would probably have ended up at the meeting point just like you as speed was important.
The fire bell went off one afternoon straight after lunch just as soon as we had all assembled in the gym to begin PE which we always did shirtless on Tuesdays in the spring of 1983 with this one particular teacher when I was fifteen and we ended up shivering outside on a cold May afternoon for half an hour with the rest of the school because we weren't allowed back into another block to grab our shirts. I kept getting told to stop complaining and stand still while also having others smirking away at the state we must have looked. Teachers completely unsympathetic and Rich is right, PE teachers did prefer to have gym classes taken with bare chests more often than not, same in my school, just a very normal comprehensive in Wellingborough at the time.
Our teachers preferred us barechested as much as possible including gym, cross-country and some outdoor fitness activities were either skins vs vests or with sll the class. barechested.depending on who was taking the lesson.
Milo - Don't forget that in 1959, when the Clitheroe photo was taken, the UK was still recovering from the austerity imposed by WW2. Clothes rationing was only ended in 1949, and many households didn't have spare cash for the multiple sets of sports kit that schools subsequently grew to demand. Also, industrial Lancashire was, still is for that matter, a relatively poor area compared with the affluent South-East/London area. My PE/games kit at the same period (1959) was considerably less elaborate than yours: cotton t-shirt tops, rugby shirts in 2 different colours for teams, black rugby shorts, plimsolls and boots. By and large, it didn't matter which top we wore for PE or XC runs, as long as we wore a top, with underwear vests, which many lads wore in those days, also acceptable.
What surprises me about the grammar schoolboys in the photograph is how untidy they look as a group in so many different tops and shorts colours. When I was at grammar school from 1966 until 1972 boys always dressed in a formal kit for all kinds of PE dependent on what we were doing.
Outside for example we would all wear a navy blue top in winter with black shorts and navy socks with boots.
In summer we would wear a white vest and white shorts outside that had a navy blue stripe across both items, along with white socks and light coloured plimsolls.
In the school gym we wore a black pair of shorts, went barefoot and barechested.
If we went running in summer then we would sometimes be required to remove vests before setting off. There was never a time when some had one kit and others had something else.
No matter what type of PE lesson we took we always looked more or less the same as each other.
Robbie, 25th Oct:
Surely, if you father slept naked, and presumably made no secret of it, it was a bit unfair of him to insist on full PJs until you were 18, wasn't it?
Hi Fiona, Ivan,
Like Ivan I was in a very traditional household where wearing long pants and nice shirts was the norm, and pajamas were always expected of me at bedtime. So like Ivan, when I got the chance and realized that I could experiment away from the eyes of my parents, at scout camp I took every chance I could to be topless and wear shorts, at night no pajamas. I was able to build up my confidence thanks to a supportive environment from my patrol leader and practicing at school in PE. It was a kind of secret rebellion for me, and I think it helped me build my self confidence.
Hi Fiona, It did take a little time at first to adjust. I remember feeling grown up and felt more comfortable too. Once my dad was satisfied I was topless for bed there wasn't any more said. With hindsight he did me a favour.
. . .I was starting to surreptitiously experiment in that direction myself at that age.
Pete - so, apart from the compulsion to stop wearing your vest to bed, did you actually have any issues with sleeping topless. As Claire points out, many boys choose to sleep that way, without parental influence, and I was starting to surreptitiously experiment in that direction myself.
Hi Cassie, No probs. My dad likely thought he was trying to be protective of my sister when she was 16/17. When she'd turned 18 she was able to wear what she'd liked to go out.
For me yes up till then it was simply vest and pants for bed.
I think it's been the case for a long time that most of us learn to swim in primary school for some reason, meaning any age from about 8 until 12, and you leave primary and never get a chance to swim at school again. I wonder why this is, when secondary school PE is supposed to be even more demanding than primary yet they leave out swimming which is as healthy and good a physical lesson that you could possibly ask for.
Come to think of it, why did most of us even have to wait until primary school to go swimming and learn, why isn't it started nice and early at first schools from the age of 4 or 5 until 8 years old straight away to get children used to, confident and familiar with water. It seems like school swimming is zoned in on a very particular age range as cited by Robbie here.
In response to Ivan,
Swimming and Water Safety lessons are part of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 1 or 2 (primary school), with a target of all pupils being able to swim at least 25metres unassisted by the time they leave Primary. Most schools bus their pupils to their local municipal pool on a weekly basis for a term to do this. However a few are now hiring 'pop-up' pools for a couple of weeks intensive lessons as an alternative.
By contrast when I was at school (1960s / 70s) we didn't have swimming lessons until the first or second year at Secondary School (I can't remember which now).
These were once a week at our local swimming pool, which was quite near to our school, so swimming lessons were always during the first lesson of the day. We met at the pool and were then walked to school afterwards.
Many of us could already swim by then anyway and we also did the Personal Survival test mentioned by someone else in an earlier post.
Thank you for your update about swimming in schools today.
As I have posted previously I was subject to a strict pyjama regime and
I was glad when I was away from home and family and could be free form the strict rules.