Reuters, July 12, 2000

Gone are British school caning and cold showers
By Paul Majendie,

LONDON, July 12 (Reuters) - Gone forever are the days of caning and cold showers at Britain's boarding schools, once grim bastions of Empire where the bully often reigned supreme.

>From Winston Churchill to Prince Charles, generations of British boys spent their teenage years learning to develop a stiff upper lip amid a plethora of rules and regulations.

Now boarders are to have their own bill of rights that could forever ban the archaic world of bizarre initiation ceremonies, spartan food and doorless lavatories.

Flashman, the bully who made life hell for young boys in the classic ``Tom Brown's School Days,'' would no longer be able to run riot under 40 pages of guidelines drawn up for the new National Boarding Standards and published on Wednesday.

Standard Four outlaws corporal punishment along with various unusual sanctions like ``Deprivation of access to food or drink, enforced eating or drinking, prevention of contact by telephone or letter with parents.''

Winston Churchill recalled being summoned out of his form at Harrow by a master and called ``the stupidest boy'' at the school. Boys would then swipe him with wet towels.

For Prince Charles, Gordonstoun in Scotland offered a bracing teenagerhood of cross-country runs and cold showers.

School dinners -- from porridge to soggy Brussels sprouts -- have killed many a British taste bud over the years.

In future, the 75,000 pupils at Britain's boarding schools should be offered a vegetarian option and the food must be ``adequate in quantity, quality, hygiene and temperature.''

Author Evelyn Waugh would complain bitterly about the doorless lavatories at Lancing College.

Now, under Standard 44, lavatories must be ``in individual rooms or separate cubicles with partitions and doors.''

British boarding schools may have been designed to be character-building but many a product of the old boy network speaks less than fondly of the emotional after-effects.

Comedian Hugh Laurie, who went to Eton, Britain's most famous school for the elite, confessed that he could not even cry when his mother died.

And fellow comedian Stephen Fry, an avowed homosexual who later on film played Oscar Wilde with flamboyant panache, said he had been ``a sensitive young weed struggling to grow up in a robust thicket'' before being expelled from Uppingham School.

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