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Pow-Wow

The shell-shocked hero of RF Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days belongs to an age of innocence in schooldays fiction.

Now what kind of name is that for a teacher?

Pow-Wow is what young Bamfeldians call David Powlett-Jones, history master and, eventually, head of Bamfylde school for boys.

Ah we're back in Mr Chips territory are we?

Very much so. To Serve Them All My Days is Chips with everything - and lashes of nicknames. At first Pow-Wow is unable to navigate his way around The Planty, Rogues' Gallery and Havelocks or indeed distinguish "perks" from "stinkers" or "The Sunset Club" from "Lump".

You've completely lost me there.

But, after the inevitable ragging (obligatory for all new beaks) Pow-Wow soon gains the boys' respect. Bamfylde becomes his home and marriage to a gutsy progressive young woman completes the schoolmasterly idyll.

This sounds exactly like Goodbye Mr Chips!

Absolutely, even down to the unexpected death of gutsy new wife (leaving Pow-Wow to soldier on for the sake of his boys) and the battle with staffroom progressives who want to ease out poorer pupils to make the school more profitable.

Just as in "Chips". Is there actually anything original in this book?

Well PW does have a daughter who survives the death of his wife and the book does go on as far as World War II, whereas Chips stops in the 1930s, but no, basically, it's the same story. One man's love affair with 600 boys.

Has someone been cribbing, headmaster?

Basically, there are two kinds of school story. Those anti- (like Frost In May and Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) which show how kids are harmed by 13 years' exposure to sexually-repressed sociopaths and the ripping yarns (like "Chips", "To Serve Them" amp; "Browning Version") which demonstrate how youngsters actually benefit from prolonged contact with a band of crabby old misfits. The problem with this kind of story is that nothing serious must ever go wrong. The odd spate of bullying or clash with a wealthy parent who throws his weight around, the discovery that matron is a 65-year-old Belgian transexual. That's about all that ever happens. So, to spice it up the hero has to lose his wife either in childbirth (Chips), a road accident (To Serve Them) or to another teacher (Browning Version). Anti-school stories have much more going for them.

I say Bring back The Blackboard Jungle.

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