Dear Anthony Chenevix-Trench: The Old Etonian novelist addresses the man who was headmaster from 1963 to 1970, following revelations about his cane-wielding in 'Eton Renewed', the new book by the present vice-provost, Tim Card

I'm writing to you, although you were never my headmaster, and anyway you're dead. But perhaps you get the Independent in heaven, or wherever Eton headmasters go when they die. My headmaster was 'Red Robert' Birley. He was a tall man, looked even taller in his gown and mortar, and when he flogged a boy, which he did ritualistically on a traditional block, it was said that the boy stayed flogged.

Later I corresponded with him on Amnesty International business when he was fighting apartheid. I couldn't understand how he could flog small boys and then fight white supremacists. Birley taught me not to jump to conclusions. Perhaps I shouldn't with you either.

Boys and masters flogged at Eton. 'Pop-tannings' were particularly unpleasant. The victims received one stroke from each member of Pop - 21 strokes if all were present, and I expect they cancelled previous engagements to be there. Members of house libraries caned, with 'The Ride of the Valkyries' blaring from the old HMV console.

When I became house captain I announced that I would not beat boys. My housemaster, 'Purple' Parr, encouraged me but warned that it might not be easy to keep order unless I did. It wasn't and in the end I did. The boy was called Nutting, son of the Foreign Secretary. The infliction of pain is exciting. Like rape, it's more about power than sex, but sex is a part of it, isn't it? As I beat Nutting I was ashamed of myself - sorry, Nutting - and afterwards I never resorted again to the cane. Curiously, I don't think Nutting had done much wrong.

I think you took over shortly after my book The Fourth of June came out in 1962. The novel attacked Eton on three counts: snobbery, which was rife, homosexuality, which was inevitable, and beatings, which were not. People said to me: 'Good book, but too late - the battles have been won.' I hoped so.

By the time you took over I assumed that the boys were treated with dignity as children should be. I should have realised that headmasters, despite the gowns and mortars, are far from being saints. Did you hate yourself or those you flogged while you flogged? Did you love them? - that would have been really sick. Did you believe you were helping them? Did you play the guilty memories back in your damaged head at night?

This week I heard a woman on Radio 5 calling for the return of flogging, for girls as well as for boys. Most callers agreed with her. One old cretin of 84 wanted parents and grandparents of offenders flogged. Apparently most Americans are in favour of young Michael Fay being brutally flogged in Singapore. Will CNN cover the event?

And then I thought: they ban violent videos and shred sex education manuals, but permit their children to be beaten at school. The way things are going, they'll bring back the cane in primary schools. If I was asked which would damage a child more, to watch violent images, or to suffer violent assaults, I know what I would answer.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

    Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

    SAP BI CONSULTANT

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

    Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

    Drama Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice