Clitheroe Royal Grammar School
Item #: 1602
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, November 1959
Like Robbie I was kept shirtless most of the time and actually got quite used to it
Sam's comment reminded me of a friend I had at school called Tom, whose parents made him go shirtless a lot of the time. They were very into healthy living - no junk food etc - and believed it was healthier for him not to wear a shirt if possible. In summer Tom was almost always in shorts and nothing else, as was his brother who was a couple of years older than us and both of them would be well tanned. Tom was usually shirtless for playing sport, including PE classes at junior school where he was the only boy (or girl!) with no top on. The rest of us used to tease Tom about his minimalist PE kit, but he took it all in good spirit and made it clear he was comfortable with being shirtless.
When we went to senior school Tom was no longer the odd one out in PE classes because it was made clear that all boys were required to do it in shorts and bare chest. That didn't bother Tom at all as he hadn't brought a PE top anyway and I don't think he could quite understand why most of his friends, including me, felt less comfortable about having to take our tops off.
However, having Tom around definitely helped me get used to it because he was so at ease with being shirtless. I was nervous when we had to do cross country, in case any of my family or neighbours saw me running with no top on, but Tom just ran confidently and naturally and after a while I found I could do the same. I surprised Tom when we played tennis together on a hot day the following summer - of course he was shirtless as usual but when he saw me take my top off as well he gave me a sarcastic round of applause!
I lost touch with Tom after school but I'd be interested to know if he kept up his shirtless habit - and, if he had any sons, whether they were expected to follow his example.
When I did cross-country I had to go stripped to the waist whatever the conditions.
Although I didn't like it at first I soon go used to it and eventually I went bare-chested whenever I could.
I remember there was one lad whose father kept him shirtless for most of the time and he refused to wear a shirt even when offered one.
I think one major reason for doing PE shirtless was that when you got sweaty after vigourous exercise it was more comfortable not having a vest clinging to your sweaty back and sweaty chest.
Certainly I enjoyed doing PE stripped to the waist whatever the weather conditions and it also helped me when I worked as a builders' labourer in my vacations both from school and college.
I always was stripped to the waist on site.
Like Paul I well remember doing bare-chested runs after lunch but during the lunch breaks.
We would be cheered on not only by fellow pupils but also by a group of workers on a nearby building site.They were of course all stripped to the waist themselves.
At my school gym was done in underwear. Girls wore navy blue knickers and a white T shirt (bras where allowed for the over 13s). No footwear indoors but outside plimsolls allowed.
Boys wore only tight white briefs both indoors and outdsoors
Outdoors plimsolls were allowed.
X-country in the wet mud was great fun!
In reply to Rob's question about shirts v skins sports that took place outdoors, we sometimes played football that way at my school. Our football/rugby tops were reversible but they were also quite thick and heavy so in warmer weather it was often preferable to play shirts v skins instead. Most boys welcomed the opportunity to run around more freely instead of having to wear a heavy sweat-soaked shirt that clung to your skin.
The school teams wore a different shirt, made of lighter material, for matches against rival schools, but these weren't reversible. That meant that in warm ups, if we played five a side, half the team would be instructed to take their shirts off. Personally I disliked being a skin in the warm up, not because I was embarrassed about going barechested but it felt uncomfortable having to put a shirt on when my chest and back were sweaty.
Cross country at my school was a serious thing. If you weren't good at it, then you had a hard time. Luckily I was (and still am) very good, but that automatically made me a XC Captain and extra training sessions, where failure not an option. Me and a few others were living skeletons -ideal for long distance running and able to take the punishing training schedule handed to us.
Most lunchtimes were comprised of an almost hour-long run with the PE teacher pacing us on his bike, not letting us lose pace. The thinner we got, the easier it was, due to never having lunch, but running instead.
Was great in the summer, with us 5 team runners going out the gate for our lunchtime run - shirtless, usually ending with a lap or two of the field, whilst the others were on their break - getting cheers off the girls and encouraging us till we finished.
It paid off, winning the regional champs and secured places for a 10-day xc camp, which was hard but fun.
Rob, We played skins and vests games outdoors too - basketball on the yard (using the girls netball rings when they were indoors) football both 5 a side and full matches and cross country for which we were all made to run with vests off. May sound harsh but really it was normally good fun until it started to snow
Gary, I'm intrigued by what sports you played shirts v skins outdoors...? Like many here, my PE kit was white shorts only for work in the gym, but outside we did cross country, cricket and athletics in shorts and a t-shirt and had football and reversible rugby shirts for those sports.
In my school in the 1960's it certainly was the rule that all PE was done stripped to the waist and we were all bare-chested whatever the weather even in 1963.
Sounds to me as if Angus just had an unusually kind-hearted PE teacher! I certainly can’t imagine any of the no-nonsense characters who taught us being bothered in the slightest about a boy catching pneumonia or a chill through running bare-chested. I was still at school in the late 80s and shirts and skins was standard for most PE lessons. While it wasn’t an official rule that boys ran bare-chested, I can certainly remember occasions when we were made to take our vests off outdoors. And there was nothing to be gained from complaining about that, one boy in my class did protest and as a result he was made to do every PE lesson with his vest off for the rest of the year.
Ed, the 1980s? I left Catholic Secondary at 16, in 1992. We played shirts vs skins year round in the gym and outdoors in all but the worst weather.(When we'd be in gym, 50% of us shirtless.)This practice continued for a number of years after I left, as did communal showering in an area designed for much smaller classes.
Although things were possibly changing by the 1980's there were still many schools where bare-chested PE both indoors and outside was insisted on.
Things had clearly changed by the time I went to school in the 80s because I had a PE teacher who actually refused to let me do cross country barechested. I realised when we were getting changed that I'd left my vest at home but just put on the rest of my kit (shorts, socks, trainers) and assumed it wouldn't matter. A lot of boys chose to run with their vests off in summer and, although it was November, I thought it'd probably make me look hard in front of the other lads if I ran barechested on a cold day (the kind of thing you tend to think as a 14 year-old boy, which I was at the time).
But the teacher wasn't having it, even though I insisted 'I don't mind Sir', he said it was too cold outside and he wouldn't be responsible for me catching pneumonia! I'm not sure how much extra protection from the cold he thought the cotton vests worn by the rest of the class would give them! However, I wasn't allowed to do cross country that day - instead he told me to go and join the class doing PE in the gym. Ironically they were just about to start a shirts and skins basketball session, so I fitted right in! But I would have been quite happy to run barechested and, from reading some of the messages here, it's clear that I would certainly have been made to do so 20 years earlier.
As with Philip, at my Grammar School in the 1960's I did cross-country stripped to the waist and barefoot.
Again we started at the beginning of the Autumn Term and were used to it by the time it got colder.
Nobody complained and we quite enjoyed showing off our bare chests in the local area especially as many of the lads were quite well-built and muscular.
Several of the older lads had developed hairy chests as well.
I was at grammar school in the 60s and, like many others, ran cross country, mainly in the winter, but always barefoot and bare-chested. This seemed quite normal and, as we started before the weather got cold we got used to it as the temperature dropped. I don't remember any-one being upset by it - we were all treated the same and being shirtless or barefoot was never used as a punishment. Some people these days seem to get upset about a little discomfort - it seems a shame barefoot and shirtless cross country is no longer the norm.
Hi, I am Lars,19, from Germany.
I really like this picture, because of these good locking boys. I wish, the where running stripped to the waist, to see there nice chests.
As Roy said being stripped to the waist for PE was normal in the fifties and sixties.
Boys accepted it and certainly there was also an element of discipline involved as well.
Lads did have to do press-ups etc outdoors while stripped to the waist as a form of punishment.
At my school it was simply the normal practice for all boys to be stripped to the waist for PE and nobody questioned it.
I've read the last few posts about shirtless PE being linked to discipline and there's certainly no doubt this was the case at my school. Unless you forgot your kit, the only time you did PE shirtless was as some kind of punishment, often running around the football pitch in detention. Even if it was just a round of press ups, it wasn't unusual to be instructed to take your vest off first.
Like many teenage boys, I was probably a bit too cocky and lacking respect and I think the idea was to take you down a peg or two. For me it certainly had that effect. I remember suddenly feeling quite small and embarrassed on one occasion when I was told to get my vest off and do laps of the gym. Finally I was allowed to rejoin the rest of the class but the teacher made it clear: 'that vest stays off'. I felt even more uncomfortable because I was surrounded by about 30 other boys all wearing full PE kit and me in just shorts and bare chest.
I'm sure it would have felt different if we'd all had to do PE shirtless on a regular basis. Because we didn't, it was an effective punishment and probably helped to keep boys in line.
I agree with Ben.There seems to be no discipline these days and if doing PE stripped to the waist brings this about then I'm all for it.
I did PE stripped to the waist throughout my school life and it did me no harm
well, if it helps to discipline boys I am all for it. Boys these days need a bit more discipline a firmer approach. Shirtless PE certainly puts them in their place.
Daniel, I think there's a difference between boys choosing to go shirtless because they find it comfortable in warmer weather, and being forced to go shirtless for PE. Swimming was a bit different because no boy would expect to do that wearing anything other than shorts or trunks. But it can be a real shock for boys, especially those who are shy or self conscious, to suddenly be told they must go running or play football bare chested, something they wouldn't normally do. I could see no logical reason why I needed to be shirtless for physical exercise, it always felt like it was more about discipline.
I don't see what is the problem people seem to have about lads having to strip to the waist for PE etc.
You are stripped to the waist for swimming so what is the difference in having to be bare-chested for PE.
Also you often see youths walking around stripped to the waist in hot weather in the summertime in any event.
I went to a boarding school in the early 60s which was spartan to say the least running over the moors and through the bogs. Cross Country was always done in vest, shorts and plimsols. No underwear of any kind was allowed or rugby shirt under the vest. The first puddle in winter and the toes turned blue. In winter the ice on the frozen puddles cut the ankles.
PT in the gym and the school yard was done barefoot and in some strange stretchy shorts that were more like swimming trunks. PT included running outside barefoot in all kinds of weathers.
To his credit our ex-army didn't stay in his office drinking tea but joined us similarly dressed and was always ready to encourage us along with a quick swipe on the buttocks or legs.
Many of our runs were timed so that he could punish any boys who had been lazy and brought in a slower time.
Happy days though.
When I was about fifteen a group of boys from a secondary modern school joined our Grammar School to do O Levels.At their previous school they were stripped to the waist for PE and at their new school they continued to be bare-chested.Gradually more and more of us started to strip to the waist and eventually we were all stripped to the waist!
My parents had moved home so I changed schools too. Our PE teacher was hard (ex Army) and following a sharp frost early November I changed into my PE kit - vest, shorts and trainers for my first lesson. After leaving the comfort of indoors we were lined up on the school field and being the new boy was singled out to stand in front of the class and told to drop my vest on the freezing ground and form a skins team. Upon seing me react to the cold our teacher yelled out "You'll have your vest off until I tell you otherwise. I'll toughen you up!" For the next 5 years he was as good as his word regardless of the time of year/conditions or temperature I remained barechested for PE and Games lessons until I left at 18.
To answer Stuart's questions, we always did cross country in vests, shorts and trainers or plimsolls. The only variation was when it was really hot or humid and some boys would ask to take their vests off, but I don't think anyone ever asked to go barefoot.
Personally I was quite shy so I always kept my vest on for PE unless I was made to take it off. This happened quite regularly in the gym where most team sports were played as shirts versus skins. One boy in my class frequently used to turn up without his vest and therefore would almost always be on the skins team. If you were a skin you played in just white shorts, but never barefoot.
Outdoors we had reversible football/rugby shirts which were worn for team sports, and black shorts instead of white.
In those days the school was divided into two: lower and senior. The separation was distinctive. The lower school had a different dress uniform insofar that junior boys (ages 11-13) wore shorts and long socks with garters. The seniors wore long trousers, and sixth form students had their own tie. Various badges denoting sporting, academic and meritorious achievement could be adorned on school blazers. I once had the temerity to pin my Ian Allan Loco Spotters badge to the lapel of my junior blazer only to have it ripped off by a supercilious sixth form prefect. I was summoned to a senior house master who gave me a dressing down and threatened to cane me for bringing the school’s reputation into disrepute! I bagged a detention and I never retrieved my badge.
We had a separate PE and sports uniform. The PE uniform in the lower school consisted of a white vest, white shorts and white plimsolls. The plimsolls and white vest were worn ostensibly for outside activities; otherwise we were permitted to wear only a pair of shorts. Some boys found this disconcerting, neither liking to go barefoot or bare-chested, or both. In fact, the rule was arbitrary and rested on the whim of the teacher taking us. His understanding of temperature was purely subjective, so it was not unusual for us to run shirtless in the cold. And all p.e. lessons ended with a cold, sharp shower.
I have to say that the constant exposure to the elements hardened us to the point that midway through the spring term it made no difference to wearing a vest or not. We were never discouraged from discarding the vest and occasionally were told to run barefoot on the school’s grassed running track.
The sports uniform was particular to whatever team game or activity we were playing. Therefore my parents had to fork out money for a full rugby strip and cricket creams, including sleeveless sweater. Lucky for them – but not for me – I inherited a few ill-fitting items of clothing from my elder brother and cousins. It is a proof that clothing in those days lasted a long time because the Bukta rugby shirt I inherited from my cousin was later donated to another cousin, who in turn gave it to a younger brother.
The afternoon we played sport depended on our year group: Ist Year was on a Monday; and we all had to play on a Saturday morning. The latter practice ceased when the school became a comprehensive. Apparently the sitting Labour MP objected to the tradition (presumably viewing it as elitist and anachronistic) and the local education board stopped the practice. I was then in the sixth form and had conflicting feelings. I enjoyed playing sport but also valued the opportunity to go and earn some much needed money at Sainsbury’s. So I guess the classless socialist turned me into something of a capitalist!
By today’s standard the regimen of sport and p.e. at my school in the 1960’s and 70’s would appear Spartan. My masters were men who had grown up in the 1930’s Depression and had fought in the Second World War. Their mindset was greatly influenced by their experiences. Yes, they were tough and uncompromising, and demanded respect; but they were decent and generally fair and wanted to produce fit, healthy, and vigorous young men. I would like to defend their ethos.
I also realise, now with hindsight of being a father and a grandfather, how disorganised and forgetful boys and young teenage boys can be. My school’s approach to a p.e. uniform ( or lack of one) was therefore practical and insightful. I can truly say that because I had two p.e. and two sports lessons per week I entered the adult world in better physical shape than my own sons did at the same age.