Stop blubbing, Branson

Caning is worse than low-grade sexual abuse

THE NEWS, headlined recently on the front page of The Mirror, that Richard Branson has joined the ranks of celebrity child abuse victims, having been obliged to mess around with an older boy at his public school, will doubtless have spoken eloquently to the thousands of middle-class, middle-aged men who, like Richard, passed most of their childhood at boarding schools. Perhaps, on behalf of these people, I could summarise our response.

Oh boo-hoo, Branson. Why don't you go and blub behind the rhododendrons?

Because, say what you like about the old-fashioned boarding-school education, it did at least set you up with an excellent basic grounding in the whole important area of messing around.

Of course, we messed around. We were adolescent boys, locked away from the world, frustrated and confused. Boredom hung in the air like the stale smell of cabbage, toast and old jockstraps. What else were we to do? It even happened at my public school which, in messing around as in most other areas, was in the second rank, our bewildered gropings in the dorm comparing badly to the sophisticated daisy-chains of misbehaviour that existed in rival establishments.

At my prep school, on the other hand - an establishment now mercifully defunct - child abuse of one kind or another was a central part of the curriculum and one which, bewildered innocents that we were, we took as a natural part of the educational process. Only after we had left, for example, did any of us begin to wonder whether the Latin master's method of marking our unseens and parsing was entirely normal.

As you stood beside his desk in class, his hand would be up the leg of your shorts, caressing gently until he came across an inaccuracy which he corrected with a tender pinch. While this teaching method was not entirely welcome (his hands were extraordinarily cold), it was generally thought to be preferable to those favoured by other masters - the violent tweaking of the short hairs at the back of your neck, the sudden, unprovoked hurling of a hard blackboard duster, the slaps around the back of the head as you worked on a sum.

Now, this is tricky. Without wanting to justify the Latin master's behaviour - life is complicated enough without acquiring a reputation as the paedophile's friend - I have no doubt that this low-grade, unthreatening abuse, which would have horrified our parents had they known about it, was incomparably less harmful to us than the institutionalised sadism which they not only knew about but were also paying good money for.

The real shadow over our lives was not the Latin master and his cold fingers but the headmaster and his favourite educational tool, a cane. A keen disciplinarian, this man beat boys of seven upwards so frequently, and for such trivial offences, that his catch phrase "Bend over, boy, I'm going to give you a good whacking" became a much feared part of school life. What was perhaps more unusual, although none of us realised it until we reached the comparatively gentle world of public school, was the manner of his beatings.

Without fail, boys would be black and blue after a beating, and sometimes the skin would be broken. Those to whom he took a particular dislike - or liking, perhaps - were whacked so hard that, two days later, they would have difficulty walking. Some boys became so traumatised that they had to be taken away from the school. Of those who survived, it seems likely that a fair number took the disciplinary lessons provided in the headmaster's study into later life, becoming hard-line Tory MPs, angry columnists for The Spectator or, at the very least, regular, whimpering clients of Madame Whiplash.

Of course, none of this could probably happen today in our respectable prep schools. And yet, whenever I read an editorial solemnly arguing that the solution to juvenile crime is early, hands-on discipline, or see a TV studio filled with parents baying for the right to hit their children, or on the other hand, find that the lead story in a tabloid newspaper is a breathless version of Richard Branson's messing-around experience presented as yet another child abuse horror, I wonder whether things have changed that much.

Miles Kington returns next week.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own