Cruel but necessary punishment

19th September 1997 at 01:00
John Cosgrove devises a new television game show for vengeful former pupils

Two recent events prompted an idea. After a gap of 35 years, I met again my reception-class teacher. In some excitement, I told my sister.

"Well I hope you asked for my five shillings," she said.

What on earth was she on about?

"My dinner money." She launched into a bitter and complicated tirade about the morning when she handed over her two half-crowns, saw them disappear into the teacher's pocket and was later accused of having stolen or lost them.

She was forced to scour the playground, crawl on hands and knees in the darkest corners of the cloakroom and in the toilets, and to empty school dustbins to sift the rubbish, knowing all the while where her money had gone. After 35 years, the scar is still raw.

Then I read a newspaper preview of a proposed new TV game show, Can We Still be Friends, in which "old flames and divorced couples" have to answer questions about each other, "with daggers drawn". The show may have "an element of cruelty" and the producers would be interested in "a rude, bitter re-union".

So here's my idea. You want rude, bitter, cruel, confrontational television? Then put teachers and ex-pupils in the same studio.

For a start, I'd like to come face to face with the man who used to hit me across the knuckles with a ruler at least once a week when I was eight and I would love to confront the grammar-school sadist who assaulted our backsides with a strap.

On my programme, Sir and Miss, the audience would be invited to vote on how much of their appearance fee the teachers would be allowed to retain. They would judge the relative value of different acts of bullying, intimidation and cruelty.

For example, the person who destroyed my chances of ever winning anything at a school sports day by deliberately (or so it seemed to me at the time) sabotaging my effort in the dressing-up race might lose Pounds 5.

I had practised for weeks, I was yards ahead, the parents' association had bought lovely prizes, I could almost feel one in my grasp, it was an absolute cert, then this absolute swine sent me back to the start. On second thoughts, make that Pounds 10,000.

But that would be too little for the teacher who used to make me get changed for football matches, told me I was a sub-stitute and left me on the touch-line shivering throughout the entire game: week after week after week. Hey, we were in Divison Eleven as I recall, so how could my contribution for a mere five minutes have been potentially so disastrous?

There could be a regular spot on the show in which the teachers would be invited to show off something they have spent time and care making, then their former pupils could rip it to shreds or smash it to bits shouting, "What is this rubbish? This is not what you were asked to do!" As a final touch, and out of regard for my sister and the many hours she spent kneeling on a hard bristly mat "praying for her soul", the teachers could be made to search for their fee by sifting through the studio's rubbish bin.

John Cosgrove is a deputy headteacher living in Cornwall

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