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
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.