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News > OP updates > How misbehaved were pupils in the 1960s?

How misbehaved were pupils in the 1960s?

7 Feb 2022
Written by John Sadden
OP updates
Well-behaved and conscientious geographers, c 1970
Well-behaved and conscientious geographers, c 1970

Some of the crimes and misdemeanours committed by boys from the turbulent 1960s onwards are recorded in a surviving "punishment book" that makes for interesting reading, though it must be considered in its historical context. The offences recorded are more William Brown than Che Guevara.

Taking 1968 as an example – the year that shook the world with youthful rebellion against American Imperialism in general and the war in Vietnam in particular – PGS pupils couldn’t make up their mind whether to engage in “dumb insolence” or “persistent talking”. Nascent arsonists played with matches, and potential revolutionaries honed their skills by “squirting water pistols”. One schoolboy terrorist was apprehended after an incident with a “stink bomb at Hilsea”. And what the boy who was caught “fooling with physics apparatus” was up to is not known, but there was widespread global concern about the splitting of the atom.

“Caught smoking” was recorded as an offence on more than one occasion, though at a time when many masters smoked it is possible that being caught was more serious than the act itself. Similarly, “throwing a beer mat” is recorded divorced from any context, as is the presumably unrelated offence of “deliberate evasion”. One trainee vandal was caught “damaging a master’s chair”. Whether this was a sawing-through of a leg in an act of sabotage, or perhaps the carving of something rude or political, is not mentioned. “Swearing at a prefect” was an offence recorded more than once, though whether there was a scale of offensiveness depending on the swear word, or any dispute about what constituted a swear word, is not known.

There was one odd incident possibly inspired by the old Ealing film, “A Canterbury Tale - “putting a sweet in another boy’s hair”. Another was “hair pulling in Cathedral”, the location of the offence clearly adding to the offence. More sinister was “organised desk shuffling”, worrying because, if left unchecked, it could potentially escalate to more serious collective action. Fortunately, this was all nipped in the bud, and one imagines that all miscreants, offenders and potential revolutionaries are now captains of industry, solid pillars of society, or respected members of the political elite.

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