Michael Moore's TV Nation: Caning (9 minutes)
Time for some light relief ...
In 1994 Michael Moore, now famous for big political films, visited Britain for his series TV Nation, which was shown in the UK itself as well as, presumably, in the USA. Much of it consisted of Moore making gentle fun of the British and their peculiarities, in his trademark faux-naif style.
This particular extract is all about caning. The punishment of Michael Fay in Singapore (May 1994) is mentioned as a recent event, and the programme dates from later that year.
Moore goes to see Harry Greenway, a slightly dim Conservative MP and former school headmaster who frequently called for the restoration of CP, and effortlessly makes a complete idiot of him.
When he visits "Dai" Llewellyn the match is much more evenly balanced, and they have an uproarious time. It is hard to know whether Moore or the old-Etonian Llewellyn has his tongue further into his cheek. Dai Llewellyn (d. 2009) was an upper-crust playboy, epicure and wit (later Sir David Llewellyn, Bart) who, on a whim and purely for fun, had bought up the defunct Bognor Cane Company, former supplier of punishment implements to schools.
When this film was made in 1994, corporal punishment had already been banned in UK state schools for six years, but it was still legal in private schools. Moore visits one of these, the Rodney School near Nottingham, whose ancient headmistress had recently got into the headlines by caning some girls. It is sometimes suggested, though it would be impossible to establish conclusively, that the Rodney School might have been the last-ever mainstream private school to give up CP. At all events, it was one of a handful of schools often mentioned in the media as still caning in the middle 1990s, along with St James boys' school in London.
Spatchcocked into the film are a brief TV news clip of Michael Fay emerging from court in Singapore, and part of the caning scene from the 1971 BBC TV dramatisation of Tom Brown's Schooldays.
Finally there are scenes filmed in a London nightclub, now possibly defunct, called School Dinners, which managed to create a unique niche market out of nostalgics for corporal punishment and terrible food. Its patrons volunteered (especially, no doubt, after they have had a little too much to drink) to be "caned" by gorgeous, pouting young ladies dressed up as St Trinians-style schoolgirls. It was clearly all harmless fun. Moore contrives to make it all look a bit tacky, and he perhaps misses, or more likely pretends to miss, the heavy dose of British irony underpinning the whole enterprise. Never mind: every time I watch this film, he makes me laugh out loud.
HERE IS THE CLIP:
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