The Happiest Days of Our Lives: Three Plays about Teacher's and their World

94 TUTOR: Fleur Lloyd

Tragedy and tragicomedy, in unequal measure. These twentieth century plays written about conflicted teachers between 1934 and 1961 are a sharp portrayal of secrets, lies, seduction, betrayal and power. You will read the plays together as a group and watch varied screenings of scenes. Exploring these together with biographical details of the playwrights will generate comparison and discussion of changing social mores and sexual politics, the roles of women and men as mentors and the poignant setting of the classroom, which like a court room is a staple of modern drama.

Course Notes

Three very different plays that examine the careers of teachers yet all have one thing, in common- the minefield that can be schools as we witness stage versions of teachers being dealt with unfairly or unjustly.

We will read them in chronological order, before viewing some scenes from each on screen.

The Children's Hour is a 1934 American play by Lillian Hellman. Set in an all-girls boarding school run by two women, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie. It was first staged on Broadway in 1934.

After writing one unsuccessful play Hellman wrote The Children's Hour to teach herself how to write a play. Believing that she would do better to find a subject based in fact, Dashiell Hammett suggested the idea after he read Bad Companions (1930), a true-crime anthology by William Roughead. It related an incident that took place in 1810 at a school in Edinburgh. A student named Jane Cumming accused her schoolmistresses, Jane Pirie and Marianne Woods, of having an affair in the presence of their pupils.

Some critics perceived the work as a "melodrama" with each character being either completely good or completely bad but Hellman responded in a 1965 interview that none of her characters were completely good or bad.

In 1961, the play was adapted, for film directed by William Wyler and starring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner. In the UK, it was released under the title The Loudest Whisper. A revival starring Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss, directed by Ian Rickson, was presented at London's Harold Pinter Theatre in 2011.

The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan, seen by many as his best work, was first performed on 8 September 1948 at the Phoenix Theatre, London. It was originally one of two short plays, jointly titled "Playbill"; the companion piece being Harlequinade, which forms the second half of the evening. It is set in a boys' public school and the Classics teacher in the play, Crocker-Harris, is believed to have been based on Rattigan's own Classics tutor at Harrow School, J. W. Coke Norris (1874-1961). In the play, After eighteen years of teaching there, today is Crocker-Harris' last day before moving on to a position at another school.

In the original production, Crocker-Harris was played by Eric Portman, and his wife by Mary Ellis. The play has been adapted twice for the cinema, and many times for television. The 1951 film version, starring Michael Redgrave as Crocker-Harris, won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival, one for Rattigan's screenplay (with which he lengthened the original stage version for the final speech), the other for Redgrave's performance. It was remade in 1994, starring Albert Finney, Michael Gambon and Greta Scacchi Another made-for-TV version in 1985 starred Ian Holm as the main character.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a 1966 stage play based on the novel by Muriel Spark and adapted by Jay Presson Allen. It starred Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Hussey, and later transferred to Broadway.

Jean Brodie is a teacher at an all-girls school in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1930s. Brodie is known for her tendency to stray from the school's curriculum, to romanticize fascist leaders such as Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco, and to believe herself to be in the prime of life. Brodie devotes her energy and attention to girls she sees as special or malleable, who are referred to as the "Brodie Set". At the play's outset, the Brodie Set is composed of four 12-year-old junior schoolgirls: Sandy, Monica, Jenny, and Mary McGregor.

The critic Vincent Canby stated "Allen created a much better play than is generally recognized. Roles like that of Miss Jean Brodie don't often write themselves"

It is best known as a film adapted from the stage play. The film stars Maggie Smith in the title role as an unrestrained teacher at a girls' school in Edinburgh. Celia Johnson, Robert Stephens, (Maggie Smith's husband at the time). Pamela Franklin, and Gordon Jackson are featured in supporting roles.

Marlborough Summer School will be providing copies of all three texts.

I look forward to welcoming you on this new course

Course Tutor

Fleur Lloyd

About Fleur

Fleur Lloyd Tutor has worked in the theatre as well as teaching both literature, drama and creative writing in schools, colleges and universities. She has taught creative writing and Literature courses at Marlborough Summer School for 17 years and in 2022, she gave a lecture on Desert Island Poems and her book "Just Write” was published. Last year her lecture was on Poetry for all Seasons.



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