Figure 1.--The boys in the 1939 version wear Eton collars and boaters. This is from the classic 1939 version with Robert as Chips with a pupil.
The first film version of Goodbye Mr. Chips was released in 1939 and is classic British film. A new schoolmaster at the staid public school Brookfield is dedicated, but finds it difficult to relate to the boys. He becomes stern and distant. An unexpected mairrage gives him a new outlook on life and his students. Even with the tragic death of his wife and son, his approch to the boys change and he cecomes a revered senior master. Rather well done movie, with quite a few boys, although few have extensive parts. There are some uniforms with caps and blazers. All the boys wear long trousers.
Sam Wood directed the film. The screenplay was based upon James
Hilton's short novel. Hilton was born in Leigh, about 20 miles from Manchester.
Hilton's father taught school in Leigh. Two teachers who Hilton was inspired by were the models for Mr. chipping. One teacher was his father and the other was a teacher at his independent school. Repton students and faculty serving as extras in the film. The film had stiff competition in 1939. Obviously Gone With thew Wind dominated the year, but it wa not the onky impportant film. Robert Donat won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1939 (his only Oscar in fact). He was one of the few non-Gone With the Wind winners. He came out on top of some of the most famous nominated performances in film history: Clark Gable's performance as Rhett Butler, James Stewart as Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
The setting is Brookfields, a fictitious public school estblished in 1492. I'm not sure why 1492 was chosen, perhaps because as the date olumbus discovere America, it was an old date known to everyone. The film was shot at a school in Derbyshire--Repton. Repton School which was founded in 1557.
Robert Donat plays the main role as Mr. Chipping. This actor was born in Lancashire.
John Mills the future director plays Peter Colley-as a young man. Greer Garson plays Katherine Ellis, Chips' wife.
The basic plot of all the major productions is the same and is described on the main Goodbye Mr. Chips page.
There are some wonderful vignittes in the 1939 production. One of my favotites is a scene with an aging Mr. Chipping and a new boy.
The film begins in the late 1920s at a school assembly. The new school term has just begun and the headmaster announces a "small disappointment" for the students. He tells them gravely that "For the first time 58 years, Mr. Chipping has been unable to attend first-day assembly. Chips--and you'll allow me to refer to him as 'Chips,' seeing that 37 years ago this autumn, he gave me a thrashing for sheer-bone laziness. Well, Chips has a cold, and a cold can be quite a serious thing for a young fellow of 83." He was ordered to stay at home by the school's doctor, "but it was quite a battle. Our old friend was finally induced to surrender, and he is now sitting under violent protest by his own fireside."
As the headmaster speaks, an eldely genteleman a little unsteady on his feet, Mr. Charles Chipping (our "Mr. Chips"), a retired master who having devoted his life to Brookfield still lives on the school grounds. He has ignored his doctor's orders and is seen shambily attired in full academic garb (with mortar board and walking stick) shufulling toward the school assembly. Masters and tardy students alike are locked out if late. Mr. Chips thus passes the time with a newboy named Dorset by speaking about the building's stone tablets that memorialize former students or "stinkers". [HBC notes: Every English public school had its own vocabulary and terminology as wll as destinctive rules. At Brookfield, new boys were "stinkers".]
Mr. Chips: So, you're a stinker, eh?
Dorset: A stinker, sir?
Mr. Chips: A new boy. That's what we call them here. Stinkers... (he points to a tablet which reads: "Sir Francis Drake 1552")
Dorset: Drake! Was he here, sir?
Mr. Chips: Yes.
Dorset: Was he a stinker too, sir?
Mr. Chips: To be sure he was. But he grew out of it. And so will you.
Dorset asks about his school position, prompting Chips to reflect back to his first year.
Mr. Chips: I was a master once. I've taught thousands of boys, right back to 1870. But I gave it up, gave it up 15 years ago.
Dorset: I say, you must be terribly old, sir.
Mr. Chips: Well, I'm certainly no chicken, no chicken.
Figure 2.--This is the Repton School extra that played Dorset, the "stinker," in "Goodbye, Mr.Chips" (1939). I'm not sure what his name was. Notice the school cap.
The boys at the school are depited in several different uniforms as the styles change over times. I/m not sure about the dating. Here we see boys wearing Eton collars and boaters, presumably before World War I (figure 1). Then boys wears grey suits, vests (waistcoats), and peaked school caps in the inter-war years leading up to World War II (figure 2).
A HBC reader asks, "Who was the Repton School extra that played Dorset, the "stinker," in "Goodbye, Mr.Chips" (1939)? He was a good little actor and his facial expressions are precious to say the least. Unfortunately, he is not
listed in any credits. I am a movie buff who cannot stand lacking information on things which interest me and also the fact that my son, who is seven, looks like Dorset the stinker too. It would be a great human interest story to know what happened to him. Any information would be much appreciated." -- Tony
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