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Torfaen Tales

A Class Act

It was Saturday afternoon, and Sarah Jones was preparing for the week ahead. Like most teachers she put in a lot of hours over and above the time she spent at school. And like most English teachers she was trying to find inspiration for this year's media project for her third form class. They had to produce either a play or a film. Sarah had thrown it open to the class for discussion on Friday afternoon, but her students had been unable to come up with a project that was either inspiring or viable. Nathan Woods had suggested a re-make of the Ten Commandments, and had seemed quite crushed when she pointed out that the school's facilities were not sufficient to simulate events such as the parting of the Red Sea.

Sarah took a break, made herself a cup of tea and slumped in front of the television. She flicked the remote control. It seemed remarkable that with so many channels on offer there was still nothing worth watching.

Then she came across a film she remembered from her teens. 'To Sir With Love'. Ah, the masterful Sidney Poitier. And Lulu, who looked better now at 60-odd than she had in her teens.

Sarah pondered as she sipped her tea. Would it be possible for the class to recreate such a film? Set mostly in a school, it shouldn't be too difficult to find suitable locations. This snapshot of a bygone era might just capture the imagination of her students, and it was full of interesting bits of social history such as attitudes to racial prejudice, poverty, the career expectations of working-class students … yes, Sarah felt she had something.

She rang her friend Amy who worked for the BBC. "Amy, how would I get hold of a film script? I want to re-make 'To Sir With Love'."

Amy launched into a lengthy diatribe, the outcome being that there seemed very little chance of getting a script.

Back to Square One, thought Sarah dismally as she tidied away her papers. However, later that evening at the local mini-supermarket she was astounded to find 'To Sir With Love' among the video rentals. It seemed like an omen, so she took the video home and watched it again.

On Monday afternoon she put her proposal to Class C3.

"I've found a film that might be suitable for your project. It's called 'To Sir With Love'. Is anyone familiar with it?"

She cast her eyes around the class. Two students had raised their hands. Impressed, she inserted the video tape into the machine and they settled down to watch the film.

By the end of the afternoon she and the class had laid plans to re-make 'To Sir With Love' without a script, improvising the dialogue and action.

A lively discussion ensued during their next English lesson when they decided who would play the various parts. Three black male students auditioned for the part played by Sidney Poitier, and Robert Ellis won hands down. His American accent was impeccable. Cathy Greenhalf, possessing a lovely singing voice, was chosen to play Lulu's part.

Sarah was pleased that the film required quite a large cast, giving most of her students a chance to appear on film. Naturally not everybody wanted this. Marcus Wong, a hitherto quiet and unassuming lad, put himself forward to direct the film. Two boys and a girl volunteered to operate the camera and microphones, and the class's resident computer geek, Mike Smith, was to edit the footage and assemble the final cut. Unashamedly gay Tristan Crowther jumped at the chance to source Sixties clothing and deal with all matters wardrobe-related.

Sarah's first task was to watch the film again and make detailed notes around which the students could base their improvisation.

It took them four weeks to shoot the film. Some days they made good progress, and other days, no matter how hard they tried, the resultant footage was considered lacking. The students tackled the project with enthusiasm, staying behind after school to shoot and re-shoot certain scenes. Marcus proved an exacting director with something of Quentin Tarantino in his bearing. Someone made him a makeshift megaphone by cutting the bottom off a two litre plastic milk bottle, and he strutted and bellowed before his assembled cast.

Mike stayed on in the school's editing suite well into the evenings, incurring the wrath of the caretaker who wanted to go home.

"Sit down, man," encouraged Mike. "Take a look at this and tell me what you think."

"Cor, is this 'To Sir With Love'?" he asked through a mouthful of crisps. "I remember it well. It was pretty cutting edge stuff for its time."

Before long the caretaker had been conscripted into the team as an advisor. He found he was enjoying his late-night sessions with Mike, dissecting every little nuance of the production.

Finally the great day arrived, and the whole of the school assembled to view the results of Class C3's media project.

The Head Teacher suddenly looked serious, and took Sarah to one side.

"I remember this film having an Adults Only classification. How can we let our students see it?"

Sarah's heart dropped into her boots. She thought long and hard, devastated that all her students' hard work was not to be appreciated by their peers.

"There's no bad language or overtly sexual content, Mrs Gorman. You see, the students have been improvising, not working from a script. They've made the film within boundaries that fourteen year olds are comfortable with."

Mrs Gorman's expression softened. "I see. But perhaps I'd better give it the once-over before I decide whether the whole school gets to see it."

The students were disappointed at having to return to their regular lessons, and Sarah and Class C3 spent an anxious night waiting for Mrs Gorman's response.

Luckily she approved the film for general release, and a Saturday afternoon screening was arranged. Sarah watched the students filing into the assembly hall, heartened that so many were keen to give up their leisure time.

They cheered, applauded and stamped their feet noisily at the end of the film, singing along to the theme tune. Mrs Gorman's cheeks were pink as she stood at the front and called for silence.

"I'd like to say 'well done' to Class C3 for a thoroughly entertaining and very professional effort. I'm sure all those who participated have found it inspiring. Yours will be a hard act for successive media projects to follow."

The assembled students clapped and cheered once more.

Later, Mr Bridges, the caretaker, swept the assembly hall and stacked the chairs, whistling the theme tune. He grinned to himself, for he had just signed up for an evening class in media studies.

By Karenne Griffin

Last Modified on: 05-11-2015

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