Remembering ‘To Sir, With Love’

Nick Thomas speaks with actors Christian Roberts and Judy Geeson, who played Denham and Pamela Dare in the film.

By Nick Thomas | originally published 2017

Hollywood has depicted the enduring battle between teachers and rebellious high school students for decades. One of the most popular portrayals was the British production “To Sir, with Love” which premiered in the U.S. 50 years ago on June 14, 2017. The title song, by Lulu, became the top U.S. pop single in 1967.

Based on the autobiographical novel by Guyana-born E. R. Braithwaite, the film loosely recounts his own teaching experiences in a working-class London neighborhood. Braithwaite (as character Mark Thackeray) is portrayed by Sidney Poitier who attempts to tame defiant East End inner-city students led by the undisciplined Pamela Dare (played by Judy Geeson) and class lout Denham (played by Christian Roberts).

“It was my first film fresh out of drama school,” recalled Roberts from London. “I did a reading for director James Clavell and it turned out to be a wonderful experience acting with Sidney, Lulu and Judy.”

One scene remains especially notable for Roberts.

“I had a boxing scene with Sidney and it was great landing a few punches on this distinguished Hollywood actor,” he laughed. “I had done some boxing at school so felt I knew what I was doing. Sidney was very good with all the young actors and we admired him immensely.”

While popular with audiences, some critics noted the film diverged from the book becoming overly sentimental and lacking realism. Even author Braithwaite was critical.

Christian Roberts as Denham and Judy Geeson as Miss Dare in 'To Sir, with Love'

“He actually visited the set one day, chatting to us, and seemed like a good guy,” said Roberts. “But after the film was made he said it didn’t depict the same experience he described in the book.”

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