Miss Read

28th September 2001 at 01:00
The heroine of the Chronicles of Fairacre, was the archetypal spinster teacher - and a firm believer in spanking

Don't tell me, she's a sweet lady teacher who lives in an unspoilt English village Spot on. Miss Read moves to Fairacre in 1950 and goes on to become the narrator of 18 books so calm and gentle they make Postman Pat read like Reservoir Dogs This is a world into which modern ways never intrude, right?

Well, yes and no. There is an atomic energy plant over in Craxley and, at one time, Fairacre has to raise every NIMBY argument in the book to fight off plans to build a new town on a 100-acre field. But mostly Miss Read and her colleagues would probably welcome a dose of the modern world.

Teaching in the 1950s is all about practicalities that never occur to us today : seeking out digs for the new assistant (women teachers couldn't afford to buy their own houses) fighting plans to close down rural schools, carrying water in from the stand pipes outside (no running water at Fairacre) and, of course, keeping the children away from coke.

You're kidding Not the kind that we worry about today. Miss Read's pupils would insist on playing where Mr Willet the caretaker stacked it for the stoves. They often got their bottoms dirty.

But come on, no real problems?

Well Miss Read does have to deal with an assistant, Hilary Jackson, who falls for one of the parents.

Ahah! Sex amp; the Single Supply Teacher. I suppose he's the village's serial adulterer?

No, John Franklyn is a widower but entirely the "wrong sort" - a fact proved after Hilary is talked out of her grand passion by Franklyn marrying a local barmaid.

You mean teachers and oiks shouldn't mix. I suppose Miss Read never sullies her sheets either.

Not for 40 years of fiction. Hilary Jackson calls her a "withered old spinster". In the course of 18 books, Miss Read turns down several proposals and retires, happily unmarried, in 1996.

This is not good for the image of career women. Miss Read sounds about as radical as a tellytubby.

The only thing PC in Fairacre is the parish council but Miss Read is very much her own woman. She tells Miss Crabbe, the educational psychologist, that children who suffer emotional outbursts should be smacked and she thinks that removing adenoids would improve the academic performance of the duffers in Miss Clare's class.

Shouldn't that be "underachievers"?

Not in Miss Read's book.

Adrian Mourby

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