Tom Brown's Schooldays (TV serial)

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Tom Brown's Schooldays
Written by Thomas Hughes (novel)
Anthony Stevens (writer)
Directed by Gareth Davies
Starring Anthony Murphy
Iain Cuthbertson
Simon Fisher Turner
Richard Morant
Country of originUK
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes5
ProducerJohn McRae
Running time225 min
Original network BBC1
Original release14 November 1971 (1971-11-14)

Tom Brown's Schooldays is a 1971 television serial adaptation of the 1857 Thomas Hughes novel Tom Brown's Schooldays . Consisting of five one hour long episodes, the series was directed by Gareth Davies and used a screenplay by Anthony Steven. [1]



Tom Brown's school is closed down due to a local epidemic, and he returns to his home in Uffington. Here he has an unpleasant interaction with a visitor, Sir Richard Flashman, who mistreats one of Tom's friends and attempts to abuse the housemaid. Tom stands up to him on both occasions and by way of revenge, Sir Richard persuades Tom's father to send Tom to Rugby School with the intention that his own son, Gerald Flashman, should bully him there. At Rugby, Tom meets the new reforming headmaster Dr. Arnold who is determined to reverse Rugby's recent decline. Tom is also befriended by another junior boy East, who is also a favourite victim of Flashman. The two take refuge in East's study, while Flashman and the other bullies attempt to smoke them out. They are caught by the School House Captain Brooke, who gives Flashman a caning. Brooke warns the boys about the evils of bullying, but this has little impact upon Flashman and his gang, who roast Tom over a fire and toss him in a blanket, causing him injury. None of the boys - not even Tom himself - will reveal the identity of the culprits, and Flashman goes unpunished. When Sir Richard visits the school and finds Tom's spirit still unbroken, he beats Flashman for his failure, causing Flashman to become even more devious. With the help of a local gamekeeper Cully, Flashman frames Tom for poaching, for which Tom receives a flogging by the headmaster. However, Cully's daughter Rosie knows the truth and after much soul-searching turns her father in. Tom is exonerated, and Flashman sentenced to be flogged and expelled. Flashman arranges for his father to rescue him before the chastisement begins, but after Dr. Arnold tells Sir Richard how Flashman had blamed him for his bad behaviour, he leaves his son to his fate. The story ends with Tom welcoming a new boy, in much the same way East had earlier welcomed him.


Tom Brown's Schooldays originally screened on the BBC1 Sunday afternoon slot, which often showed serialisations of classics aimed at a family audience. It made some free adaptations to Hughes's novel, creating the role of Flashman's father, and added new sub-plots about Flashman and Arnold. [2] It also included scenes of bullying and corporal punishment which may have been too graphic for family viewing. "Clean-up TV" campaigner Mary Whitehouse claimed that the programme broke the BBC's guidelines on the depiction of sadistic violence. [3]

After its 1971 premiere on the BBC, the series was later shown on Masterpiece Theatre in the United States in January and February 1973 through a grant from the Mobil Oil Corporation. [1] In his review in The New York Times , critic Howard Thompson wrote, "Two previous film versions of Tom Brown's Schooldays (one from England) pale beside this home‐screen project, which so far (two chapters) seems almost too good to be true, even from Masterpiece Theater." [1] The program won the 1973 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series, [4] and actor Anthony Murphy won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for his portrayal of Tom Brown. [5]

The 1976 television play Tomkinson's Schooldays (later incorporated into the Ripping Yarns series) is a parody of the 1971 television adaptation of Tom Brown's Schooldays. [6]


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  1. 1 2 3 Howard Thompson (13 January 1973). "TV: 'Tom Brown' Crosses Atlantic". The New York Times . p. 62.
  2. "Kathryn Hughes finds that Tom Brown's Schooldays is not the jolly romp most of us remember". the Guardian. 19 September 2008. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  3. Charles Gillies "Mrs Whitehouse, Casanova, and Tom Brown's Schooldays", Glasgow Herald, 8 December 1971, p. 8
  4. Steven R. Welsivian (21 May 1973). "Fosse Adds Emmy to Oscar and Tony; 'The Waltons' Best Drama Series". The New York Times . p. 66.
  5. Thomas O'Neil (1998). The Emmys: The Ultimate, Unofficial Guide to the Battle of TV's Best Shows and Greatest Stars. Berkley Books. p. 167. ISBN   9780399524233.
  6. Neil Archer (2016). Beyond a Joke: Parody in English Film and Television Comedy. I.B.Tauris. ISBN   9781786720900.