REVIEW / And these are the best days of your life?

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The Independent Culture
'BLESS our Prime Minister, O Lord.' It isn't heard in too many state schools, that uncommon prayer, though it probably wings its way heavenwards from Downing Street at bedtime, and it's clearly a fixture in the Preparatory School Prayer Book. 'The Making of Them', a film for 40 Minutes (BBC 2), visited Ye Olde Englishe Preppe School (or, to be precise, two of them), an institution which even at the end of the 20th century remains the most reliable breeding ground for emotionally stunted venture capitalists.

The argument for sending a child away from his family at the age of eight was succinctly put by a sweet little blonde boy, who looked up beyond the camera to his interviewer and advised, 'When I'm a business man, when I'm about 20 or something, I have to be able to manage by myself.' A perfect Tory prototype, he had already drunk deep of the doctrine of self- help. Like the Lord's Prayer, however, the words must have been learnt by rote. He was then asked his age, and after revealing that he would be 10 on 3 November the robotic coherence of his speech malfunctioned when he talked about saving the best bit of his cake for himself. Self-help or icing - which is the more real and important preoccupation? At nine years old, there's no contest.

When his mum arrived to take him home for the weekend, he ruined the naturalistic charade by introducing her to Paul, the cameraman. The film brought back from the front line in the dorms was as authentic as any footage captured among people not used to cameras can be. You just didn't know whether to believe what you saw, just as boys don't know whether to believe mothers who say 'Love you' like a mantra and then leave them like a martyr. One new boy looked particularly lonely in a crowd of boisterous tree- climbers, but then his isolation might have been artificially exaggerated by the fact that in his first weeks away from home he had a film crew on his tail. You'd probably shed a tear or two if, at perhaps the most delicate moment in your life, your parents and those in loco parentis sanctioned such an intrusion.

This boy wore specs. One of the immutable laws of prep school life is that boys in specs are either solitary or super- intelligent or, occasionally, both of the above. Another boy in specs was wheeled on to tell his tale of willing assimilation. He must have been chosen because he was the school brainbox, or at least the most successfully brainwashed. His first words on being sent away from home were 'Oh flip', which just goes to show that boarding school might screw you up for life but it does wonders for the sanitariness of your language.

Of all the grown-up prep schoolboys who remembered their exile to what one called 'an environment without love' none had a good word to say about it. On the prep school syllabus they learnt about sums and kings and verbs and self-repression. One middle-aged man blamed the work ethic he dutifully imbibed for the ruination of his parental instinct, his marriage, his career and, ultimately, his life. No, he wasn't a government minister for, according to the Preparatory School Prayer Book, the Lord blesses them too.

It was a busy night for inadequates and emotional flops. While Kind of Blue (Channel 4) examined in words and music the phenomenon of depression, All Quiet on the Preston Front (BBC1) entered the milieu of the Territorial Army. This column can't put its hands on any statistics right now, but it would be no surprise to learn that a lot of disorientated old prep school boys sign up for this consoling institutional adventure club.

Eric (Paul Haigh) likes it because it's the only place he can keep his best friend Hodge (Colin Buchanan) away from the distraction of women - in particular, a flesh-creepingly nice restaurant chanteuse and health-food shopgirl called Laura (Lucy Akhurst). Tim Firth's lively script about bonding and rivalry and wet, windy weekends promises wry amusement for the next five episodes. So chin up.