Burnley Grammar School
Item #: 1607
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, December 1959
I’m sorry you had such a bad time Danny, and I don’t want to make light of your experience but I don’t feel it is black and white.
I was the butt of jokes in school, banter and bullying and I agree there is no clear distinction. That said I do feel it is part of life.
The school bullying prepared me for the fact that life isn’t fair and we are programmed to exploit weakness in others.
The banter in my workplace is what makes the days fly by. I could probably have a handful of people sacked for it if I so desired but I know it was all meant in good humour.
You’ll never stop bullying because it’s human nature. Any head teachers that say “my school doesn’t have a bullying problem” are clearly blind to it. Schools should prepare children in every respect.
Louise, I am sorry you were shocked. Please bare this in mind - your dad, brothers and farm workers no doubt removed their clothing because they WANTED to. I don't suppose for a moment that your dad or whoever owned the farm FORCED them to - especially on cold days in November or January.
As I went to an all boys school, there was no temptation to gawp at girls in bikinis - nor would I have wanted to. I knew and know what the human body looks like, and I had other interests, which required study, which meant I was never tempted to buy The Sun, or top shelf magazines, or attend striptease.
I was just intrigued as to why you enjoyed viewing boys at school with no tops on, or why you relished "banter"
Alan, I'm genuinely shocked by the tone of your response. On my part there was no intent to offend. Saying I got an eyeful at home is at the the very least crude. If you think seeing my brothers, dad and the farm workers working topless is an eyeful you're wrong. They stripped down due the physical nature of their job. Have you ever stacked hay bales in barns, if you had you'd have known what it's like and it may change your perception of farm work It's a lot tougher than you'd imagine.
Jason32 you are right. I wasn't afraid of work in fact I still lamb ewes and calve cows skills I learned before I was 10. I'd always help whether it was working herding livestock, rolling fleeces during clipping you name it I did it. Though when it came to stacking bales I wasn't as quick as the others but I still lifted bales. Watching people take off their shirts or with there shirts off was par for the course.My brothers are 3 and 4 years older than me. I was more of an afterthought.
Alan, Jason summed it beautifully. If girls were wearing bikini tops you'd have been s little more interested at that age? It's the same for me. The chance to see other boys in my year group stripped down to the waist sweating and exercising in the gym was just that. Oh, I mentioned this to my hubby and he was also stripped off to the waist for his three recruitment fitness tests along with 14 other recruits, none of them thought it odd to be made to strip off. r wonder if that was too masculine?
No Tom, fun and especially the term "banter" can actually mean bullying, intimidation, teasing and just all round unpleasantness. It's not always just meaning a bit of good fun and jesting in good humour, far from it. The very word "banter" is that oh so affable sounding word that caught bullies just love to use as their defence time and again. When Louise mentioned the word "banter" I related it strongly as a negative and far from good natured word from a girl I was at school with when sharing PE and drama classes with her in a barechested state that enabled her to pass highly personal comment and innuendo that were far from fun or "banter" to me. We made contact again at 40 for the first time since 16 and I brought her behaviour up at one point and she literally didn't even have any concept of the way her behaviour impacted others like me and the old "banter" defence got wheeled out. My only regret is that I didn't have the confidence at the time to fire the right words back with some quick thinking at the time rather than allow myself to get flustered and clearly red faced which led to more "banter".
Louise, can you give examples of what kind of specific banter you dished out and do you think you might have ever made anybody unhappy with it? Especially if you were bantering with mandated shirtless boys in school. Remember, boys are more sensitive than girls at these ages.
Does fun and banter automatically mean sex and perversion.
Jason32 - I take it she enjoyed the view and therefore, did indeed find it "fun". To put it bluntly, she got an eyeful at home, why did she need them at school. supposedly a place of learning She also used the word "banter" - where does "banter" end and abuse start?. One person's banter is another person's insult.
School should not be a place where adolescent sex fantasies are given free reign - for boys OR girls.
To Louise or mostly to those who misinterpret the word "fun".
I don't think she was meaning it in a bad way or was amused about boys being shirtless. She was just a girl who liked seeing boys shirtless, same for being raised on a farm seeing her brothers and the other hands on the farm shirtless.
On the other side boys might enjoy seeing girls in just bikinis etc.
I wouldn't think it's good to be that picky about a single word. She was totally honest with this statment and thats a normal reaction from her perspective.
also directly to Louise:
In what situations you saw your brothers and the others on your farm shirtless? Were you made to work there too? Did they ever noticed your "wachting them"?
Before we went to the school, we knew what kit was worn for cross country. We had seen boys out running from the school, also the kit list said under sports kit, white cotton shorts for indoor pe and cross country. There was no mention of vests or plimsolls. When my parents saw this they just said you run in just your shorts, like the rest.
We just turned up, changed, lined up outside. Beyond the initial lessons, you knew what to do. It was only really cold waiting for everyone else. No debate about it anyway !
Fred, I think in reality I maybe ran the xc in light snow maybe twice and I don't recall any issues except with 30 odd boys running over the same bit off grass and the added wetness from the snow meant it got churned up real fast and a little more unstable underfoot however we learned to grip into the mud with our toes whereas if we wore plimsolls we'd have slipped and landed on our backsides.
Greg - he would probably have been found sniffing them before he dropped them - seriously what was the practical point of him getting the boys to put the vests on, only to make them take it off almost immediately afterwards - so he could handle them. I bet he was a keen scoutmaster as well... If he insisted on these boys running barechested why not start off like that instead of engineering a private strip show?.
I hope all those men on the site who dream of a return to old fashioned values and the women who thought it was fun to see half naked boys watched the 3 documentaries this week on the BBC - "Footballs Darkest Secret", and realise how depraved some of those coaches were - two received lengthy prison sentences for sustained abuse over a number of years (they only went back to 1970) and both the police and the victims, now middle aged men, still scarred by their abuse, believe that both these "men" were guilty of far more offences than they were charged with, because too many victims were too embarrassed to come forward. Also, it is hard to believe that only two men were guilty of the indecencies they perpetrated - very many more were lucky not to be caught.
Danny C, it sounds like your drama assigned shirtless roles to boys because it gave him a buzz.
Hi Simon, Personally I found
running stripped to the waist for cross country in winter was hard. We were lined up outside, told to strip off and one by one handed out vests to the teacher. After he'd dropped them inside we'd set off.
>>lost from the police force, sorry - service.
Ha ha! That made me chuckle. Unfortunately very true....
At my grammar school we had to run barefoot and shirtless.
You just got cold and wet, in the UK it doesn’t get really, really cold. The worst part in fact was being stripped to the waist, as you got your bare back and hair soaked.
It was normal at the time for most schools to make boys do cross country in only their shorts, certainly all the other secondary school in my home time did this. The whole school had cross country once a week as a pe lesson, and everyone ran minus vests and plimsolls.
Charles, you said to me “I am not doubting your word but your last post does sound a little hard to believe”, so in half a sentence you managed to say you believed me and then instantly called me a liar effectively. Then said you found it “quite bizarre and intriguing”. Well you cannot just assume that just because you had one particular experience in your own school environment that it was mirrored much the same elsewhere, whenever your schooldays were. Mine were ‘81-’87. I’m happy to answer your questions regards being 40% barechested in drama classes.
Firstly, drama seemed to be taken quite seriously, and also it’s worth saying that our head of drama also stood in as a PE teacher sometimes when any regulars were absent, often doing football and rugby in particular. We had a fully kitted out dedicated drama studio building, almost a mini theatre, with stage and lights etc. My drama classes lasted all afternoon each Thursday. We used to have a lot of costume changes and this led to being undressed a lot and sometimes staying that way. Also a lot of our drama was very similar to an actual PE class at times, with music, movement and dance tasks, which boys were often told to lose the tops. None of us ever wore anything on our feet for drama either. I took part in about 10 stage productions over time, some in front of the rest of school, some in front of parents. In three of these aged 12 to 14 I was barechested on stage with other boys, either part of the time or the whole time. I did a production about children’s home Barnardos, playing a homeless kid, and was one of 8 boys shirtless for a period in the play as we had our dirty rags (my dad’s oversized old shirt) taken away for better clothes. I wanted the suited role that allowed me my blazer but didn’t get it and was told my role. Another time I did an environmental play and along with five boys was shirtless and bodypainted green as the five of us morphed into a tree with branches. Finally, and maybe the worst of all, we read Lord Of The Flies in English Literature and it was complemented by our year doing a stage version in drama too, which involved all boys in our class being shirtless almost the whole time with it. This was performed for parents one early evening too, much to my horror at the time. Avoidance would have caused me even more trouble. I did try on that last one but gave up and got on and endured it.
You mentioned choice. We had little genuine choice. We could choose roles at times but the less popular ones got given out by our drama teacher. Counter to some of the obvious enthusiasm for embracing barechestedness in PE on here, not many boys seemed to opt enthusiastically for a drama role that involved not wearing a top while on our school stage with people gazing on. Not even the notably more confident ones. Interesting that eh. You could never simply choose not to take part. I’m afraid our drama teacher was somebody who actually said one day that he liked us to “explore ourselves through our bodies”. He also threw less confident types in at the deep end with relish.
I hope I’ve answered your questions okay Charles. I’d like to say something in reply to Louise too, regards so called “fun” and “banter”, which also relates quite strongly to my drama class too, which was always mixed gender but next time maybe, this is already quite long enough.
To all those who were made to run shirtless or barefoot in the snows of winter, were there ever any instances of frostbite or hypothermia? If so, what was the faculty's reaction or response?
Louise - you know as well as I do girls would never have been required to wear just their bras for PE, and if the situation HAD been reversed and a male had gushed about how it was "fun" to see half naked girls on a public forum, he would rightly be accused of being coarse and lewd. That in microcosm is the double standards that applied in the past - the "good old days" that so many on here dream about.
Well I am of the view that ditching the traditional police uniform in favour of a sports top and cap and no longer restricting recruitment to tall and capable men was probably a retrograde step. All part of the dumbing down, Peelian principles seem have been lost from the police force, sorry - service.
Alan, I attended mixed middle and high schools where teams of vests vs skins or full PR groups were skins so it inevitable we'd see males exercise stripped to the waist, How could we avoid not witnessing this especially as we all followed the same timetable? And yes...it was fun to see who was stripped off. Good grief there weren't many girls objecting! We didn't tease anyone about their appearance when bare chested at any point. There was banter but it remained as that. I'm a 100% certain if we'd gone down to our bras at any time the same lads would not have objected either! As for your point about masculinity, of course stripping to the waist is exactly that and has been for centuries? I would not be astonished or surprised if Emma's son strips for boxing competitions because for one he'll undoubtedly sweat and 2 because he's become confident baring his chest in front of a crowd..
John: I have said to the point of repletion on this site, that if a boy wishes to exercise without a shirt, then he should be perfectly entitled to do so, however, this should not be used as leveridge to make other boys conform to his (and perhaps the schools) desires.
Michael: I always find it interesting how ex-grammar school pupils seem to imagine that their schooldays turned them into paragons of industry and hard work, which apparently eluded the rest of us. . I have worked all my life, too, and I am self-employed today. I have never been unemployed, and didn't need the old school tie to see me through.
As for that nonsense about "bare chests equalling masculinity" , I'd suggest you write to your local chief constables and Army officers and get their men to go out barechested, as no doubt they would do their work that much better appearing so masculine. What a ludicrous excuse - you can hardly dignify it with the word argument
1950s attitudes have gone, and they are not coming back.
Finally I'd say to the woman who said how much "fun" she had looking at boys barechested at school, that schools are not there to pander to the adolescent fancies of pupils, male or female., and perhaps girls should have had an equally harsh school experience as well as the boys - I wonder how many of them would have found that "fun"?
Louise hits the nail on the head with the comment about masculinity. To suggest that those who don’t have the modern day Puritan values regarding modesty are not enlightened is unfair.
My comments come from my own experience and also some regret of not embracing the opportunities I could have taken.
It's all very enlightened and 'hunky-dory' for children to be given choices, but if you give them too many choices some would elect not to attend school at all, or do very little work once there.
Without being too roseate about it, I think my old grammar school got the balance of choice/compulsion about right overall.
Allowed the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say that mistakes were made. However, considering the prevailing attitudes of the time, chronic staff shortages and budget constraints, I am prepared to cut my old school a bit of slack.
Like many others, I left my school with lots of qualifications, a confident outlook and a committed work ethic. These advantages got me through university and served me well throughout my career.
So, my old school must have got some things right...
Society may have become more ‘enlightened’ and that enlightenment needs to extend to children being given choices and not have rules imposed upon them. Some lads may prefer to exercise shirtless and should be allowed that choice and not be made to wear shirts or vests.
Louise, you wrote "I understood why the teachers made them go bare and it was fun to see them bare chested"
With all due respect, the school was not there to provide you with "fun" at other people's expense.
I think you, and other posters here who have roseate memories of the habits of previous generations are whistling in the wind if you think those days will ever return, because society has, thankfully, got more enlightened.
Go Emma and Louise! Your views on exercising bare chested are refreshing and welcome. Emma, hope your youngest continues to box bare chested after lockdown. He's a real credit.
Hey Emma, Obviously being stripped to the waist is as masculine as you get. I can only speak for myself here but watching boys exercise without a top was normal at my middle and high school. I understood why the teachers made them go bare and it was fun to see them bare chested and how they were getting on with the class Being raised on a farm it wasn't unusual to see my brothers and the farmhands working in a shed or barn during clipping and harvest or any point in between, they'd all strip down and seeing them sweat was part of the nature of the work. It's scary that something so sensible and practical worries people today when there's more important things around.
Danny C (17th March): I am not doubting your word but your last post does sound a little hard to believe, as well as being quite bizarre and intriguing. Why on earth did you spend “almost half” of your Drama lessons with no shirt on? PE yes, I can understand – that was the norm for boys in most schools for quite a period of time, but a lesson like Drama? In our Drama lessons, no matter who we were supposed to be, we all just played along in our uniforms – parts really weren’t taken that seriously. What roles did you take on, who decided you should play those parts, and who decided that they must be acted out shirtless? How many others were the same in these classes?
Also, surely performing in a school production would have been a voluntary matter? What roles needed you to be shirtless in a school play, and did you not have a choice as to whether you played a particular character or not?
I understand the reasoning for it and will join anybody in condemning the unsavoury actions that a small minority of adults in positions of trust have carried out.
I still believe it is sad that such modesty is now a requirement.
Tom B: No it is not a sad "sign of the times" that the government doesn't want communual showers, and do want privacy for boys (and girls). They are just facing up to the harsh reality of modern day life. It is acknowledged, at last, that all P.E. teachers are not as pure as the driven snow. There are three films being transmitted on BBC1 this week, highlighting the appalling abuse young apprentice footballers went through at the hands of dirty minded "coaches". These are not one off cases but disgusting practices that went on for years. There are cases of young female gymnasts being fiddled about with by coaches
Also Tom why do boys have to be naked "ro bond"?, You can bond on a field trip or in a band, and you certainly don't have to be stark naked to do that. Boys who are friendly with each other will "bond" anyway, and for boys who are, or feel different in any way, they will still endure bullying, and "bonding" has nothing whatsoever to do with that. I have bonded with many people over the years but I didn't need to see them naked to do that.
I do feel kit should be fairly minimal to match the level of exercise. Shorts and a vest or just shorts should be sufficient for strength and fitness training and team wear for sports. Branded school tracksuits shouldn’t really be necessary and are just a way for the suppliers to bump up the cost.
There have obviously been terrible cases of abuse which have led to concerns over safeguarding. It is a shame that this has led to a change in attitudes towards modesty.
I do believe it is good for boys, maybe even essential, for them to bond with one another in the locker room environment. I read elsewhere that government guidance was now against communal showers for new school and sports changing facilities. It is a sad sign of the times.