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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
Unemployed engineer Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier), a black British Guyannan living in London, accepts his first job teaching at North Quay Secondary School in London's East End. What he gets is a mob of white, unruly, defiant seniors, particularly class tough Bert Denham (Christian Roberts) and precocious Pamela Dare (Judy Geeson), both of whom excel at one thing...teacher baiting. With no prior teaching experience, Mark must dig deep into himself and into his students, to find a way to keep his head until his long-sought for engineering job comes through.
To Sir, with Love is a 1956 autobiographical novel by Guyana-born E.R. Braithwaite. The novel is based on his experiences as a black schoolteacher working in a predominately white school in the East End of London. The screenplay for the movie was written by screenwriter and director James Clavell. The movie was remade as To Sir, with Love) in 1974. A sequel, To Sir, with Love II, featuring Mark Thackeray 30 years later, was released in 1996.
In one scene, Thackeray arrives to the classroom and discovers his students standing around the fireplace oven which is displaying a considerable amount of smoke. Upon looking into the oven, Thackeray becomes visibly upset, dismisses the male students and furiously scolds the female students. The item is never shown or mentioned on screen but considering that Thackeray only spoke to the female students, most viewers believe that the female students burned a sanitary napkin (feminine menstrual pad) in hopes of shocking and offending Thackeray. In the novel, the burning item was indeed a sanitary napkin.
No particular subject was mentioned. Thackeray had a degree in engineering, and it seemed like he was required to teach all subjects, such as English, history, math, sociology, even P.T..
As his students will be graduating at the end of the term, Thackeray intends, first and foremost, to teach them about the adult world that is waiting out there for them. His rules are these: (1) Students will address him as either "Sir" or "Mr Thackeray"; (2) when he is talking, students will listen without interruption, and the same respect must be shown to any student who has been given the floor; (3) girls will be addressed as "Miss" and boys by their surnames; (4) girls will learn to behave with dignity as adult men do not want to marry sluts; and (5) boys will bathe and dress in clean clothes as it will make them more appealing to adult girls.
In Cockney rhyming slang, a rhyming phrase is substituted for the the actual word, e.g., "frog and toad" is a road, "weeping willow" is a pillow. Usually, the rhyming word is dropped, leaving only the beginning of the phrase. So you might hear, "up the frog" in place of "up the frog and toad (road)". Other Cockney phrases the students introduced to Thackeray included "trouble and strife" for "wife", "apples and pears" for "stairs, and "ginger beer" for "queer."
Job applications. Thackeray was offered the teaching job midterm when the previous teacher quit. He took the job because he hadn't been able to secure a job using his Engineering degree. Still, he didn't give up mailing applications in a search for a better job.
Mark is finally offered a job as an engineer and is looking forward to leaving. The students invite him to the passing out dance. Pamela asks him to dance during a ladies' choice while Babs (Lulu) sings the theme song, To Sir, with Love. When the students give him a present, Mark is so touched that tears well up in his eyes, and he has to leave the dance. As he sits at his desk looking at the pewter mug that was his present, two rowdy students enter the classroom and announce that they will be in his class next term. When they leave the room, Mark stands up, pulls the job offer from his pocket, and tears it up.
Those who have both seen the movie and read the book report that the film is pretty faithful to the book, in essence at least, but trimmed for length.There is more regarding the author's position in British society and his feelings about being black in that society. There are a couple of chapters covering his job search and how he was treated, a lot more characterization and back-story. The movie also tends to eliminate a lot of the scenes in which overt racism was described and dissected as a social illness. In the book, his relationship with Gillian (Suzy Kendall) is explicit -- he even goes to meet her parents -- and there is a nasty scene involving a racist waiter in a restaurant. In the movie, Thackeray's relationship with Gilliam was not so detailed. Another major difference that viewers mention is that the book is set in the 50s whereas the movie moves the setting into the 60s.
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