Burnley Grammar School
Item #: 1607
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, December 1959
Thank you Luke for such an interesting account of your PE experiences, there's so much in it that really resonates with me. I also remember that mixed feeling of being shy at the prospect of going barechested, yet part of me wanting to try it and feeling excited about the idea.
It sounds as though your school had an excellent approach to the whole situation, opting to encourage boys to do PE without a top rather than making it compulsory. One thing that seems clear from this whole discussion is that there's no 'one size fits all' approach. Some boys are keen to exercise barechested, some are horrified at the idea and some are curious but need the opportunity to give it a go.
My personal experience was the same as yours in that, if there hadn't been shirts and skins games in my PE lessons, I probably wouldn't have taken my top off in the first place. The reason I did was because the teacher picked the teams and assigned me to the skins, so the choice was taken out of my hands. In theory the idea of asking who's comfortable with being skins is a good one - I'm not convinced it would work though as only boys who were already more confident would volunteer.
No doubt it may be different for others, but for me the initial self consciousness of being barechested gradually gave way to growing confidence. This was early 1990s by the way.
I was someone who was introduced to bare chestedness through PE, and when I first got to try it, I found:
- I liked feeling the wind/rain/sun/cold on my shoulders and back, and it was new to me
- It felt freeing and made me more confident
- It was thrilling to be one of the few shirtless
Sam H - My class was not mixed sex.
The girls were definitely surprised and interested to see us bare chested. They were clearly not looking at my face, but at my chest. I felt good about it, I thought I would feel shy but I didn't. I think this was a good experience because it showed me that going shirtless in front of girls, even though I was skinny, was still a good thing.
I attended a different school for 6 months when I was 13 due to travel and in that school they had no uniform for PE. The boys wore long shorts and big t-shirts. If I had asked to take my top off, I really think they would have said no.
Chris P - If they had forced us to be shirtless, I think I would have still ended up liking it. Wearing no top on a cross country run though might not have been enjoyable if I had been forced to be cold. By choosing to wear no top, I faced the cold and rain on my own terms. I think it was a good challenge.
But we were forced to be shirtless sometimes, such as shirts and skins games. I think the reason a choice worked well was that they reminded us that we could choose whether to wear a top. The instructor reminded us 'for tennis, you don't need your top'.
Alan - it would be great to offer a choice, while still making it a chance for those who are nervous about being bare chested to give it a try. If there hadn't been shirts and skins games I might never have given it a try. Perhaps they could ask who is ok being on the skins team?
Reading some of the horror stories recounted here makes me appreciate how enlightened my own 1970s comprehensive was, especially in the PE Department. No punishment beatings, no detentions, no masochism, just plain honest exercise. Sports kit, economically multi-functional, to say the least, comprised black Rugby shorts, bi-coloured reversible Rugby shirts and knee-length socks, catering for all outdoor activities, Rugby from September to March, Cricket and Tennis through the summer, and cross-country year-round. With two of each item, we, or more usually our Mums, didn't have to wash today's field-muddied garments for tomorrow's indoor PE class. For PE in the gym, the kit-list specified plimsolls (socks optional) and a vest.
Like Luke, I soon discovered that the PE vest was another optional item. If you wore one, that was OK. If you wore your Rugby shirt, that was OK. If you wanted to go topless for the session, that was OK, too, and was actually encouraged by the staff. In practice, almost all of us opted to be topless, by choice rather than compulsion, and I can't remember anyone wearing a top for a whole lesson. The only dress requirement, as far as our PE staff were concerned, related to the safety and security of one's "floppy bits", and so supportive underwear, especially jock-straps for the more well-endowed, was mandated.
At the practical level, being topless didn't bother me at all. As a kid, Mum had encouraged me to take my shirt off when playing outside in the sunshine, and even to go to bed minus my PJ top during hot nights. Needless to say, she then had the greatest difficulty in getting me to keep a top on when she thought I needed one.
I never did swimming in school so I can't comment on that.
If we forgot our kit for PE we were given a pair of bright red nylon shorts and expected to be shirtless and barefoot whether in or out.
All indoor PE was barefoot and if you didn't have trainers then you went outside barefoot.
Luke - I think your school had the most sensible idea - you had the choice to wear a top or not wear a top, and it is good to know some schools didn't dictate, even if they expressed a preference. That is all I have been arguing for on here - especially for older pupils.
I don't know if you missed it:
what about swimming?
what happened if you forgot your kit?
Luke - Were your PE lessons mixed or single sex? I noticed you mentioned the girls seeing you shirtless in the hall afterwards. What was thier reaction (and yours) to you being shirtless?
Luke, Your school was definitely progressive. My boarding school had a mandatory bare chested policy for all from the age of 9 to 18 when I left in 1995. After changing for our first lesson we were simply told to run and leave our vests along the back wall of the gym and run back to the front then the lesson began. From that point no-one ever wore a vest indoors again which given we were all worked hard to show sweat on our bare chests. It was unheard of for any male class to leave the gym not sweating.
Outside we did have rugby shirts but it was common for the teachers to pick a team of skins as opposition and maintain a bare chested presence for exercising. The feeling of freezing rain driving onto my bare chest/back remains with me.
Ah yes I had an afternoon games lesson every week too which is when we did outside sports such as rugby, cricket, athletics and cross country. We had a single period indoor lesson weekly too.
Inside it was always shorts n tee with bare feet and outside we were allowed a rugby shirt and trainers (sockless if you didn't bring a spare pair)
If you forgot any part of kit we went without and often there'd be a boy running around outside shirtless and barefoot.
Punishments were running laps and detentions.
I went to secondary school starting in 1993, before which I had only ever been bare chested in my own bedroom or at an indoor swimming pool. I also had only one pair of shorts that were knee length.
I had seen other boys who were shirtless and I was curious about it, but very shy and embarrassed. I was very skinny but I wasn't ashamed of being skinny. Mostly I was aware that bare skin made me feel vulnerable. Even wearing a t-shirt made me feel nervous.
The PE uniform they assigned us was white cotton shorts and red singlet for indoor PE, Rugby shirt, shorts, kleats and knee socks for outdoor PE in the winter, and a cricket shirt (white) with white shorts for summer outdoor PE. I tried the PE kit on at home in my room and found the shorts were very short and I had never worn a singlet before.
For the first PE class in the gym, they did not have us change, but gave us a talk on the rules and uniform. The PE teacher said to us: "the gym uniform is shorts and singlet OR shorts and no shirt. We prefer you to be bare chested, that is with no shirt on."
I was shocked but also excited because I started thinking about what it would be like to wear no shirt.
For the first indoor PE class everyone wore their shorts and singlet except one boy. He was a friend of mine and I was really impressed. He continued to come to class shirtless and was the only one, but I didn't want to ask him about it.
We had hour first shirts and skins basketball game but I was on the shirts team.
The first time I took my shirt off was during a running game in the gym and a few other boys had take their shirts off already. I suddenly took mine off and threw it to the side. I felt really free and relaxed with it off, it was a very different experience. I kept my shirt off for the rest of that class, even though some boys put their back on, and I remember we saw some girls in the hall on the way back to the changing rooms and that they noticed me.
We did cross country in the winter, and a few boys ran shirtless, but I didn't. I thought about coming to class regularly with no shirt, but was still really shy about it. It wasn't until year 8 that I did it. I pretended to have left my singlet at home, and I remember being stared at as I walked in, bare chested, in the gym and I felt embarrassed. But at the end of class my PE instructor patted me on the back and said "it is really good that someone shy like you could come to class with no shirt. Most boys would hide in the changing room." I said, "thank you. I might try it again sometime." he said "good".
I started to come to class shirtless and it really helped build my confidence. By the time I was 14-15 I was not shy about being in shorts and bare chested outdoors, cycling shirtless with my friends, being shirtless at the campsite, or running shirtless. All thanks to the flexible PE uniform policy that showed me it was OK.
We had 2 pe lessons a week, one in the gym, one xc. In addition we had a games afternoon each week, involving rugby, then cricket.
Looking back the school had strict rules, but to us it was normal. Things like having tidy uniform, correct kit, putting clothes neatly on peg in changing room etc. We had the normal range of punishments from classroom detentions, punishment runs, up to caning.
In the summer it was great to run in just shorts, not so much in the winter
what about swimming?
Sounds like a tough cross country, and weekly! Gosh. I had a cross country every term and I though that was bad. Our outside kit was rugby shirt, shorts and trainers Probably seems a little extravagant compared to your minimal kit and bare feet.
Although I did run cross country barefoot a few times on the occasions I forgot my trainers.
Once I settled into the school, I realised that all cross country was in only shorts as we often saw groups of boys on the way out or returning from their run.
Cross country was a weekly event for all boys, and took place irrespective of the weather. We had to change and line up outside the gym ready. On that first day, not only was I cold because I was stripped to the waist, but also it felt really uncomfortable with my feet on the gravel. One of the other boys said you’ll get used to it, and added were not allowed to talk, or we’ll both be punished.
I soon discover that shorts only meant exactly that, and even briefs had to come off. Both cross country and pe lessons were strict, and disobeying rules soon got you punished, either with the plimsolls, or cane. About 4 weeks in, 2 boys skipped part of the xc course, were caught, and were caned in front of us, 6 strokes each.
Winter was worse, especially if it was cold and wet. Within a few mins you had water running down your bare back.
Stuart, your comment reminded me of my own school switch in middle school aged 10 due to moving house. I went to a middle school that did pe in shorts, tee and trainers. On my first day of the new school we had pe! I didn't bring my kit and I only had the trainers I wore to school, luckily I was let off and loaned a kit because I was the new boy but on changing I saw all the other lads pulling their shoes and socks off and leaving their feet bare. Well I just put on my trainers and started walking into the hall when a fellow pupil told me "erm we do pe barefoot " I ignored him which I regret because when our PE teacher saw my trainers she immediately told me to take my trainers and socks off and said we do pe barefoot at this school.
I changed schools at 12 because my parents moved.
My old school did both cross country and indoor pe in what I regarded as normal kit, meaning shorts, vest, plimsolls.
Day 2 at my new school it was freezing cold, so my mum packed my new rugby shirt for cross country, saying I expect it will be called off. I pretty soon found out from my new mates that we wore just shorts, but thought I was being wound up.
Anyway, we all arrived at the gym changing rooms, and started to undress. I noticed all the other boys were just pulling shorts on, nothing on their feet, and stripped to the waist. Pretty soon I worked out that we had to run like this. I was frozen.
Back home I told my parents about our kit, my dads reaction was it won’t do you any harm, wait until you get the cane ! It didn’t take long for me to discover how painful the cane was.
My apologies - the recent posting about Peter Swan and the length of shorts is from me - not Frank C (returns wine bottle to where it was ...)
I saw the picture some years back and its down to be recorded when it appears.
One thing which comes up is the length of shorts. My paper carried an obit of the England footballer Perter Swan. It says his 'trademark was hitching up the baggy shorts of the day to reveal his legs [apparently he had a pefect physique]. 'I got it off Albert Quixall' he said. 'He told me "You look at athletes. They don't wear big , baggy trousers" '. (Another obit says it was to make him look intimidating to the opposition)
Tim, A review of this film is on empireonline.com gives storyline and backround. I can relate to this scenario as it mirrors a great deal of what I observed and experienced at the school I attended late 1960s!
Congratulations to the board for reaching 3000 posts: it doesn't seem that long ago that we were applauding 1000 - its good to see some of the people from then still around.
I completely agree with the sentiments in Bernard's & Michael's recent posts. As someone from a working class background I (& my parents) realised how lucky I was to be going to a grammar school (You can use words like 'proud' & 'privileged' if you like). Like it or not, many working class children of my generation are thankful of the chances it gave them.
Off topic: Someone said about people wearing shorts in the middle of winter - the simple answer is: Why Not? I have a reason for wearing shorts when I can; other people (especially wives) might put it down to a reversion to child-hood, or simply because its easier if you're getting in and out of vans all day (bare legs do dry quickly than soggy trousers. There is climate change, too.
When the board started there was much talk of a film with the strange title 'P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang' as an example of growing up in the late 40s. For anyone who's interested its on Film Four at 2.00 next Tuesday morning. (I hadn't realised but the Director was the late Michael Apted, who died this month).
Bernard: Just because you went to a "better" school than mine, and obviously feel somewhat superior (and may I just say your somewhat condescending attitude isn't appreciated), it still does not give you the right to speak for ALL your fellow pupils.
You will notice, ill-educated though I might have been, I said SOME of our boys felt as I did, I do not presume to speak for all of them, I am sure some of them, like yourself, really enjoyed running round in streets of snow and ice and freezing cold gyms wearing next to nothing, but many did not, and might I suggest rather too many people look back on such things, and a good dose of the cane if they did not obey orders, with rose-coloured glasses. SOME of us do not.
Alan - I appreciate that your schooldays were not happy - I expect I would have been unhappy if I had been forced to attend a comprehensive school such as yours. It is clear that your experience was very regrettable and left you with a chip on your shoulder. What is also regrettable, of course, is the ferocity with which you attack those of us whose contributions do not fit in with your way of looking at things.
I was in the top stream of a grammar school and can't recall having any very gung-ho lads in the class. If you are suggesting that such a description might be appropriate for me then you would be very wrong. As a child I was fairly shy and not very good at p.e. though there were several boys who were more shy and worse at p.e. than me. I really think I am in a better position to speak for those boys than you are.
I was very lucky in that the teachers at my school were like those at Michael's school - they really tried to bring out the best in us. Our p.e. teachers realised that some boys, like myself, were not very capable and they were happy if we tried hard. Achievements were applauded be they the greater ones of the fitter boys of the lesser ones of the less fit ones. The kit we wore - nothing but a pair of shorts - had nothing to do with our teachers - it was decided by the school or possibly the LEA. I enjoyed p.e. largely because of the encouraging attitude of the teachers but also because of the kit which made us all feel very much the same. We had one boy from a very poor family. His normal school uniform was obviously second hand and not replaced as quickly as it might have been as he grew. Wearing just a pair of p.e. shorts he looked just like the rest of us.
Like Michael I realise I was very lucky with the school I attended and do have sympathy for those who went to schools with less dedicated teachers.
I felt privileged to attend my old grammar school, because it was obvious that despite tight budgets and teacher shortages, all the staff were working hard to bring out the best in us.
There were plenty of instances when we could have been treated with more respect, but few large organisations (even today) get it right for everyone all of the time.
"nothing we couldn't cope with"
I hope this is the Royal "we". I can't see how you can presume to speak for all your fellow pupils. From experience, when you have some very gung-ho lads, the quieter ones are unlikely to express their feelings to that clique. They tend to express them to like-minded lads.
Let's just be grateful that in the 21st century the wellbeing of all pupils, including the boys, is taken into consideration, and they are not treated like convicts any longer
Alan - we certainly got cold running in nothing but a pair of shorts in the middle of winter but it wasn't anything we couldn't cope with. I know that I wasn't alone in preferring cross country to playing on the football pitches when it was cold as we could keep moving better and didn't get so cold. Also, for those of us who were not so good at physical activities we were able to go at our pace and not feel we were letting a team down. As we were not unduly bothered by our cross country runs I would have hoped that any onlookers did not feel the need to be appalled or disgusted on our behalf.
Alan,it must have made a marked impression to so many people watching boys running in just their shorts.Although we were conditioned to wearing just our shorts for cross country runs and other sporting activities, I found it bewildering why we had to wear just our shorts for these activities.
We were always timed on these runs and given a merit if we exceeded our previous time and had to explain to the teacher if we lagged behind.The punishments could be very severe if we didn't come up with a reasonable excuse.
Michael comments “almost 3000 comments” under this photograph.
It’s very much back and to with people in favour of a more old fashioned physical education and those against.
I’ve been interested to note over recent weeks with temperatures around zero lots of guys wearing shorts.
Perhaps it’s because people are feeling more causal working from home but it’s interesting to see the popularity in spite of cool conditions.
Bernard writes: "Thinking about it I suppose it must have been quite a comical sight in the winter - 30 boys wearing nothing but a pair of shorts running through the streets while any-one else around would have been bundled up against the wind and rain!"
Only "comical" to the thoughtless, the brainless, or the sadists among the population. To most people, I should hope they were appalled and disgusted, at the inconsiderate behaviour of the schools concerned. and remember some of us didn't have nice quiet leafy lanes, to run down - some of us came from towns where the school abutted the high streets
Danny - I hadn't thought of shirtless cross country like that. In the 60s we had to go out of the school grounds and along a couple of residential streets to get to the open countryside for our runs. Similarly, we ran along more residential roads on the way back. We wore the appropriate kit - white shorts - and thought nothing of it. Thinking about it I suppose it must have been quite a comical sight in the winter - 30 boys wearing nothing but a pair of shorts running through the streets while any-one else around would have been bundled up against the wind and rain!
I note this thread has now reached a total of 3000 comments. Are congratulations in order?
My PE teacher used to drive out to the turning point of our cross country run and, while we ran past in the cold or freezing weather, he would be sitting in his big car with its engine running and heater on, ticking off our names against the class list.
He would do this only very occasionally, but we never knew when. So, anyone taking a short cut during the run was also taking the risk of being found out.
He never accompanied us on our runs, which we resented at the time. But, thinking back, I reckon he could hardly have been expected to do four or five such runs in the day, with different classes. He would have been worn out!