Skip to main content

TV show goes back to 1950s

Hundreds of staff and pupils volunteer for month-long experiment that aims to find out if things really were better in the old days. George Wright reports

SPAM fritters, corned beef salad and stewed prunes. Vigorous runs in vests and shorts. What can have possessed hundreds of teachers and pupils to hanker after school life Fifties-style?

But more than 120 teachers and 500 pupils want to give up modern living to appear in a reality television show, The 3Rs, that will recreate life in a 1950s school.

They will abandon whiteboards and interactive teaching for old-style "chalk and talk" in an experiment that explores the debate about school standards over time.

Thirty 16-year-olds, fresh from their GCSE exams, will be sent to a state boarding school in rural England for a month's intensive tuition before sitting O-levels in English, maths and history.

Seven staff, headed by a headmaster and two housemasters, will wear suits and gowns and oversee a strict disciplinary regime that includes vigorous runs and dips in outdoor pools. The only thing missing will be the cane, as corporal punishment is now illegal.

Pupils will be drawn from the top 20 per cent of GCSE entrants, mirroring the proportion of children who sat public exams in the 1950s. They will receive their O-level and GCSE results on the same day.

The TV experiment, supported by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance exam board, aims to explore the debate over standards by comparing modern teaching methods with those of another era.

The producers of The 3Rs, to begin on Channel 4 in August, have been staggered by the response to an advertisement for volunteers in The TES two weeks ago. Simon Rockwell, series producer and a former history teacher at Camden School for Girls, said: "In the first weekend we received more than 300 email applications. It has really captured people's imagination.

"For many it is simply the uniqueness of the project that appeals. Others are interested in the historical aspects, and for some it is nostalgia.

"We have had a lot of interest from older teachers who have been teaching since the 1950s or were at school then, and have seen many changes in education. Some younger staff are curious about how their modern, more interactive teaching methods will compare to the older chalk-and-talk style."

The producers are sifting through applications and have begun contacting people for initial interviews.

"It's been an overwhelming response but we still want to hear from more people, especially teachers," said Mr Rockwell.

"We are looking for a broad range of people from all regions and from state and private sectors. We need people who can double up to teach music, sport, debating and drama as well as the core subjects."

The series is being made by TV company Twenty Twenty, which produced the award-winning ITV1 show Lad's Army, recreating National Service.


Average gross earnings (1955): pound;550

Average house price (1955): pound;1,937

Loaf of bread: 3.1p, pint of milk: 2.9p

Average meal: roast beef, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, cabbage, carrots, and tapioca and custard

Popular films: Rear Window (1954), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), The 10 Commandments (1956), Some Like It Hot (1959)

Film-stars: Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant

Popular songs: Rock Around the Clock,Bill Haley and the Comets; Peggy Sue, Buddy Holly; Blue Suede Shoes, Elvis Presley; Living Doll, Cliff Richard

Popular TV and radio programmes: Muffin the Mule, The Goon Show, Hancock's Half-Hour, Bilko, Dixon of Dock Green

Fashion: for women - large shoulders, cinched waists, full or pencil skirts, poodles; for men - jeans, T-shirts, baggy, single-breasted jackets, trousers with turn-ups, loud ties

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you