Thursday, 12 September 2013

eff off

This is an unexpectedly raw and provocative book title which slipped onto the bookshop shelves firstly in hardback in 1969, and then as a paperback in 1971. It then slid out of sight - but not completely...

It's a novel about a young teacher at a 'special school' for 'violent' children - and according to the blurb on the back of the paperback edition - it reflects the genuine experiences of the American-born author, Sandy Hutson, who came to Britain, and worked as an 'unqualified' teacher. There's a wild quote from the New Statesman which reckoned that 'eff off' sends E.R.Braithwaite's 'To Sir, With Love' "back to the kindergarten!". That classic 1959 semi-autobiographical novel about a British Guiana-born teacher gaining the respect of truculent pupils at a school in Shadwell, East London, is perhaps the best-known of this kind of 'against-the-odds-getting-through-to-the-kids' genre. Perhaps because the 1967 film based on the novel was so very popular - and with a chart-topping title song taken from the film soundtrack.

Another book covering similar terrain (and given the film treatment too) is today much less well-remembered - Michael Croft's 'Spare the Rod' from 1954.

Back to 'eff off'. Here's the '69 hardback edition with its illustrated dust jacket:

published by Arlington Books
But it's the paperback cover that truly rocks. What a coup for Pan Books to come up with such a spell-bindingly punchy cover. I can imagine that most shops of the time shoved it out of sight of young people - and thus making this Five Shilling book quite a scarce item to track down these days. For those who want to read the actual four-letter F-word abbreviated in the title - there are plenty of chances inside. Another reason perhaps why this book was not the most heavily promoted of the literature covering the social issues of the day.

Pan Books Ltd 1971
There are no clues at all about the cover designer anywhere within 'eff off'. Just white lower-case lettering on a sheer black background. The look perfectly straddles both the counter-culture '68 imagery, and the Crass-style punk logos a decade later. And the author's name is nowhere to be seen on the front of the book.

Nice to compare with the 'period' paperback treatment of those earlier classroom-based novels:

Panther Edition 1957

Ace Books 1961

And back to 'eff off' once again. In fact just like the two novels above, 'eff off' the book, did find its way onto film. But (sadly) nobody chose to go near the original title.

Instead, take a hunt around the web and you'll find 'The Class of Miss MacMichael', a 1978 film based on Sandy Hutson's book. It reunited 'Women in Love' stars Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson and was shot on location in London, but it seems to have been punished by the critics, and ignored by the public.

Maybe the time's right for a new cinematic take on the inner city classroom genre. If so, you could do no worse than take the title which still packs a punch. Eff Off.


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