To Sir, with Love

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To Sir, with Love
UK theatrical release poster
Directed by James Clavell
Screenplay byJames Clavell
Based on To Sir, With Love
1959 novel
by E. R. Braithwaite
Produced byJames Clavell
John R. Sloan
Starring Sidney Poitier
Judy Geeson
Christian Roberts
Suzy Kendall
The Mindbenders
Cinematography Paul Beeson, B.S.C.
Edited byPeter Thornton
Music by Ron Grainer
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 14 June 1967 (1967-06-14)(US)
  • 29 October 1967 (1967-10-29)(UK)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Budget$625,000 [1] or $600,000 [2]
Box office$42,432,803 [3] or $22 million [2]

To Sir, with Love is a 1967 British drama film that deals with social and racial issues in an inner city school. It stars Sidney Poitier and features Christian Roberts, Judy Geeson, Suzy Kendall, Patricia Routledge and singer Lulu making her film debut. James Clavell directed from his own screenplay, which was based on E. R. Braithwaite's 1959 autobiographical novel of the same name.


The film's title song "To Sir with Love", sung by Lulu, peaked at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States for five weeks in the autumn of 1967 and ultimately was the best-selling single in the United States that year. The movie ranked number 27 on Entertainment Weekly 's list of the 50 Best High School Movies. [4]

A made-for-television sequel, To Sir, with Love II (1996), was released nearly three decades later, with Poitier reprising his starring role.


Mark Thackeray, an immigrant to Britain from British Guiana, has been unable to obtain an engineering position despite an 18-month job search. He accepts a teaching post for Class 12 at North Quay Secondary School in the East End of London, as an interim position, despite having no teaching experience.

The pupils there have been rejected from other schools, and Thackeray is a replacement for a teacher who recently died. The pupils, led by Bert Denham and Pamela Dare, behave badly: their antics range from vandalism to distasteful pranks. Thackeray retains a calm demeanour but loses his temper after discovering something being burned in the classroom stove, which turns out to be a girl's sanitary towel. He orders the boys out of the classroom, then reprimands all the girls, either for being responsible or passively observing, for what he says is their "slutty behaviour". Thackeray is angry with himself for allowing his pupils to incense him. Changing his approach, he informs the class that they will no longer study from textbooks. Until the end of term, he will treat them as adults and expects them to behave as such. He declares that they will address him as "Sir" or "Mr. Thackeray"; the girls will be addressed as "Miss" and boys by their surnames. They are also allowed to discuss any issue they wish. He gradually wins over the class, except for Denham who continually baits him.

Thackeray arranges a class trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum in South Kensington which goes well. He later loses some support after defusing a potentially violent situation between his student Potter and the gym teacher, Mr. Bell. He demands that Potter apologise to Bell, even if he believes the latter was wrong. The group later refuses to invite Thackeray to the class dance. When mixed-race student Seales' white English mother dies, the class takes a collection for a wreath but refuses to accept Thackeray's donation. The students decline to deliver the wreath in person to Seales' house, fearing neighbourhood gossip for visiting a "coloured" person's house.

The headmaster tells Thackeray that the "adult approach" has failed, and future outings are cancelled. Thackeray is to teach the boys' gym classes until the headmaster can find a new permanent gym teacher. Meanwhile, Thackeray receives an engineering job offer in the post.

Pamela's mother asks for Thackeray to talk to her daughter about her behaviour at home. However, this annoys Pamela, whom Thackeray believes is infatuated with him. During a gym class, Denham challenges Thackeray to a boxing match. Thackeray initially declines but then reluctantly agrees. Denham delivers harmless blows to Thackeray's face, but the bout comes to an abrupt end after Thackeray’s lone punch is to Denham's solar plexus, which doubles Denham over in pain. Thackery attends to Denham and then exits the gym unhurt, to the amazement of the class. Thackeray compliments Denham's ability and suggests he teach boxing to the younger pupils next year. Denham, impressed, expresses his admiration for Thackeray to his classmates. Thackeray regains their respect and is invited to the class dance. Later, while attending the funeral of Seales' mother, Thackeray is touched to find that his lectures on personal choice and responsibility have had an effect, and the entire class has attended.

At the dance, Pamela persuades Thackeray to be her partner for the "Ladies Choice" dance. Afterward, the class presents to Thackeray "a little present to remember us by." Too moved to speak, Thackeray retires to his classroom.

A rowdy couple enters the classroom. They mock Thackeray's gift, a silver tankard and card inscribed "To Sir, with Love" signed by the departing class, and goad Thackeray that they will be in his class next year. After they leave, Thackeray stands and rips up the engineering job offer, reconciled to the work he has ahead of him. He then takes a flower from the vase on his desk, places it in his lapel, and leaves.



Initially, Columbia was reluctant to hire Sidney Poitier or James Clavell, despite the interest which both expressed toward doing the film. (Clavell, aptly enough, had published The Children's Story just a few years prior.) Poitier and Clavell agreed to make the movie for small fees, provided Poitier got 10% of the gross and Clavell got 30% of the profits. "When we were ready to shoot, Columbia wanted either a rape or a big fight put in," said Martin Baum, Poitier's agent. "We held out, saying this was a gentle story, and we won." [2]

The film was shot in Wapping (including the railway station) and Shadwell in the East End of London, in the Victoria and Albert Museum and at Pinewood Studios. [5] The headmaster of the school where author Braithwaite taught, St George-in-the-East Central School (now the Mulberry House apartments) [6] adjacent to the north side of St George in the East church in Wapping, would not let the production film at that school. [5] The spire of the church is visible in the film, when Sir walks up Reardon Street, en route to the funeral for the mother of his student. [5]


Upon its U.S. release, Bosley Crowther began his review by contrasting the film with Poitier's role and performance in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle ; unlike that earlier film, Crowther says "a nice air of gentility suffuses this pretty color film, and Mr. Poitier gives a quaint example of being proper and turning the other cheek. Although he controls himself with difficulty in some of his confrontations with his class, and even flares up on one occasion, he never acts like a boor, the way one of his fellow teachers (played by Geoffrey Bayldon) does. Except for a few barbed comments by the latter, there is little intrusion of or discussion about the issue of race: It is as discreetly played down as are many other probable tensions in this school. To Sir, with Love comes off as a cozy, good-humored and unbelievable little tale." [7]

Halliwell's Film and Video Guide describes it as "sentimental non-realism" and quotes a Monthly Film Bulletin review (possibly contemporary with its British release), which claims that "the sententious script sounds as if it has been written by a zealous Sunday school teacher after a particularly exhilarating boycott of South African oranges". [8]

The Time Out Film Guide says that it "bears no resemblance to school life as we know it" and the "hoodlums' miraculous reformation a week before the end of term (thanks to teacher Poitier) is laughable". [9] Although agreeing with the claims about the film's sentimentality, and giving it a mediocre rating, the Virgin Film Guide asserts: "What makes [this] such an enjoyable film is the mythic nature of Poitier's character. He manages to come across as a real person, while simultaneously embodying everything there is to know about morality, respect and integrity." [10]

The film premiered and became a hit one month before another film about troubled schools, Up the Down Staircase , appeared.

The novel's author, E.R. Braithwaite, loathed the film, particularly because of its omission of the novel's interracial relationship, although it provided Braithwaite with some financial security from royalties. [11]

To Sir, with Love holds an 89% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews. [12] The film grossed $42,432,803 at the box office in the United States, yielding $19,100,000 in rentals, on a $640,000 budget, [3] making it the sixth highest grossing picture of 1967 in the US. Poitier especially benefited from the film's success, for he had agreed to a mere $30,000 fee in exchange for 10% of the gross box office receipts, thus arranging one of the most impressive payoffs in film history. In fact, although Columbia insisted on an annual cap to Poitier of $25,000 to fulfill the percentage term, the studio was forced to revise the deal with Poitier when they calculated that they would be committed to 80 years of payments to him. [13]

Despite the character of Mark Thackeray being a leading role, the film has been criticised in modern times for Poitier's portrayal of the Magical Negro trope. Specific criticism of the portrayal was directed at the character's service as the sounding board and voice of reason for white antagonists. [14]


To Sir, with Love
Soundtrack album by
Genre Traditional pop
Label Fontana (UK)
Singles from To Sir, with Love
  1. "To Sir with Love"
    Released: 1967

The soundtrack album features music by Lulu, The Mindbenders, and incidental music by Ron Grainer. The original album was released on Fontana Records. It was re-released onto CD in 1995. AllMusic rated it three stars out of five. [15]

The title song was a Cash Box Top 100 number-one single for three weeks. [16]

  1. "To Sir With Love" (lyrics: Don Black; music: Mark London) – Lulu
  2. School Break Dancing "Stealing My Love from Me" (lyrics & music: Mark London) – Lulu
  3. Thackeray meets Faculty, Then Alone
  4. Music from Lunch Break "Off and Running" (lyric: Toni Wine; music: Carole Bayer) – The Mindbenders
  5. Thackeray Loses Temper, Gets an Idea
  6. Museum Outings Montage "To Sir, with Love" - Lulu
  7. A Classical Lesson
  8. Perhaps I Could Tidy Your Desk
  9. Potter's loss of temper in gym
  10. Thackeray reads letter about job
  11. Thackeray and Denham box in gym
  12. The funeral
  13. End of Term Dance "It's Getting Harder all the Time" (lyrics: Ben Raleigh; music: Charles Abertine) – The Mindbenders
  14. To Sir With Love – Lulu

James Clavell and Lulu's manager Marion Massey were angered and disappointed when the title song was not included in the nominations for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 40th Academy Awards in 1968. Clavell and Massey raised a formal objection to the exclusion, but to no avail. [17]

Awards and honours

Directors Guild of America Awards [18] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures James Clavell Nominated
Grammy Awards [19] Best Original Score from a Motion Picture or Television Show Ron Grainer, Don Black and Mark London Nominated
Laurel Awards [20] Sleeper of the YearWon
New Male Face Christian Roberts [21] Nominated
New Female Face Judy Geeson [22] 2nd Place

Other honours

The film is recognised by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also

Related Research Articles

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