Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes, adapted by Joe Dunlop

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BBC Radio 7, 8-9 March 2010
Sometimes it is difficult to take stories like this very seriously - particularly in the light of spoofs such as Tompkinson's Schooldays, part of Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns series of the 1970s, which made fun of the arcane rituals associated with boys' public schools of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Nonetheless Chris Wallis' production made a valiant effort to underline Thomas Hughes' basic message; in spite of the hardships endured by Tom Brown (Tom Huntingford) and his chums, Rugby School provided a valuable training ground for generations of young men, who would subsequently go on to rule the Empire. It taught them masculine virtues such as teamwork, loyalty and good fellowship; how to endure suffering with a mixture of stoicism and pluck; and to combine strength with humanity. Tom Brown himself only became aware of this, once he started to care for the little boy Arthur. By contrast the bully Flashman (Jordan Copeland) proved to be a yellow-belly at heart, as he was beaten up and eventually expelled from the school.
Dunlop introduced a clever framing-device, as Hughes' story was narrated by the older Tom Brown (Robert Hardy), who looked back on his schooldays with a mixture of cynicism and nostalgia. While he had certainly misbehaved to a shocking extent, he yearned for the simplicities of school-life, which were set against the complexities of adulthood. He became so enamoured of his dreams that he lost all track of time; at the end of the first episode, the Radio 4 continuity announcer had to interrupt him to read out the credits. The same thing happened at the beginning of the second episode; the continuity announcer gave the programme title and the name of the adapter, but was subsequently cut off in mid-sentence by the older Tom, who obviously could not wait to continue his story. This neat little narrative device showed how Tom Brown's Schooldays in a sense represented a return to an edenic world in which right could be easily distinguished from wrong, good behaviour was rewarded and troublemakers always punished. It is this quality of nostalgia, of a world now lost, which perhaps provides the book's main attraction for contemporary listeners. 

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