Paradise Lost - The Times

Schoolboy hope to bleak resignation

Sean Day-Lewis
The Times

The once popular adult cliché about schooltime as the happiest days of your life was always sadly defeatist: they are slow days but a fleeting time when placed in the three-score-years-and-ten allotted at least to Mrs Average.

That the old saying can sometimes contain an element of truth was poignantly illuminated last night with BBC-2‘s Paradise Lost.

This vivid opener of “City,” a six-part series from BBC Manchester which will illustrate various aspects of inner-city decay, was carefully photographed and edited to establish the maximum contrast between smiling hope at the beginning of the ‘teens and bleak resignation at the end of them.

The idea was personalised through Orlando and Desmond. Yorkshire-accented sons of West Indian-born parents, the former enjoying his school achievements, the latter apparently only leaving home to draw his unemployment pay and engage himself in desultory billiards.

It was doubtless a much simplified view: the headmaster of the multi-racial Harehills Middle School, in the Chapeltown district of Leeds, has maybe approached near his ideal of mixing “minority ethnic groups” into “one big happy family,” but not all his pupils are able to take part in the annual dance production which makes his school special and which dominated this film.

The pure joy expressed by 13-year old Orlando after taking part in a loose dance interpretation of “Paradise Lost” was something rare and beautiful to behold: but it is not really possible to generalise too far from particular and equally rare talent of the school’s dance teacher Nadine Senior.

The element of truth nevertheless remains and becomes even more of a reproach if the unsupported implication of the film, that things may start to go wrong for the Orlando’s of this world, when they move to their less caring high schools at 14 can be sustained.

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