Saturday, 15 August 2015

To Sir With Love Character Based on British Guiana Engineer


E. R. Braithwaite, circa 1959, the year the his book To Sir With Love was published courtesy http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2417081/QUENTIN-LETTS-First-night-review-To-Sir-With-Love.html.



To Sir With Love is a 1967 movie starring Sidney Poitier, a black teacher who is charged with teaching in a rough London high school during the swinging sixties.  Despite racist attitudes and despite the students' lack of motivation, Poitier's character is determined to stick it out  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Sir,_with_Love).

To Sir With Love is based on the book of the same name, published in 1959 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Sir,_With_Love_(novel).  The author, E. R. Braithwaite, was a British Guiana Engineer who came to Britain during the Second World War and signed on with the RAF.  At the war's end, he looked for work, but failed to find a job due to the anti-black attitudes of the time period.

A friend recommended that Braithwaite apply to a high school in London's East End, a rough neighbourhood.  The war veteran soon found out that the students were semi-literate and lacked the motivation to learn.  They tried everything in their power to make their new teacher's job difficult. Braithwaite pointed out that they were almost adults, and that they needed to be prepared for the outside world.  He set new ground rules:  he would let them decide the topics of study but in exchange they were to give him the respect that he deserved.  Braithwaite went above and beyond the call of duty, taking them on several field trips to museums, an experience they had never had before.  The students responded in kind; his enthusiasm was infectious.

A young teacher, Gillian Blanchard , accompanied them on their field trips.  Gradually, she and Braithwaite started to fall in love.  However, given that Gillian was white and Braithwaite was black, her parents did not approve of their interracial relationship.  Despite their misgivings, they realized that they must trust their daughter's judgement.

After a decade, Braithwaite decided to change careers.  His students ordered monogrammed cigarettes for their teacher, wrapped them and wrote on the gift, "To Sir With Love".  Not a smoker, Braithwaite kept the cigarettes as a momento of his cherished time at the East End London school.




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