Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 18, 2009

Goodbye Mr Chips, by James Hilton

GoodbyeMrChipsAnother book about an old man dying, but entirely different to Rules for Old Men Waiting and Out Stealing Horses!

Everyone’s familiar with Mr Chips.  He is the stuff of legend, immortalised in films which, like this book, and its 1972 succesor by R.F.Delderfield, To Serve Them All My Days, are affectionate portraits of  English schoolmasters in the public school system in England.  It comes from the time when men who were ‘not good enough’ to be university dons took up the teaching of boys in boarding schools.  They lived on site, some in married quarters but mostly not, and they spent their lives teaching successive generations of the British upper and middle classes.  (Some of these men were probably gay, and some of those were paedophiles, but there’s no hint of that in these books!)

To Serve Them All My DaysIn both these books the men are mildly eccentric, at least as far as the rugger-playing boys are concerned, and they lose their wives – so as not to clutter up the male ambience.  Fond memories remain: boys and other Masters were fond of these women and their prowess as hostess-with-scones, but the men recover and go on to become much loved Masters.  There is the occasional tussle with heartless authority; there are minor ambitions mostly not achieved, but the portrait is of a good man, caring for the lads, grieving for them when they’re lost in war and proud of their adulthood as they make their way in the world.

All very fine, but I’m a teacher, and there are aspects of the mythic Mr Chips that I don’t like at all.  I blogged my reservations over at my professional blog, LisaHillschoolStuff….


  1. LOL Lisa. I read your school blog as well. I guess it points to the days when solidity and inflexibility was valued over willingness to change and adapt. These days almost every selection criteria for a job includes for the ability to be flexible!


    • Yes, but I think that school teachers have always needed to adapt. The pace of change has intensified, but change has always been there. Just think of English teachers needing to adapt to evacuees or Jewish refugees with no English in WW2, of Aussie teachers needing to adapt to mass migration and all those new cultures arriving postwar. Science teachers have always had to move with the times, or their students fail. In Mr Chips’ time there was Freud and a new understanding of individual differences and how people learn, not to mention changes in the social class of their pupils. Even in the teaching of the classics, the book itself makes reference to how Latin was pronounced – and it was Mr Chips’ inability to adapt to this that made his students fail.

      And what does it to do people when they fail? It makes them feel bad about themselves, it makes them give up, it sometimes stops them from going on with something that they might be good at if they have enough support from a wise, capable and caring teacher. Mr C is a fictional character, but we all know older adults who missed out on further education because they or their families thought they weren’t smart enough. Who knows what those people who missed out might have contributed? Lisa


  2. Oh, I wasn’t defending Mr Chips. Quite the opposite in fact. I think flexibilty (applied with intelligence) is about the most important quality we can have). I can see that my comment was a bit terse and ambiguous.


  3. No worries, Sue, I didn’t interpret it as terse or ambiguous.
    What may be true is that over our lifetimes employers have begun to articulate that value of of flexibility whereas when I begna work all those years ago I think employers didn’t realise that it was a key selection critera LOL


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