To Sir, with Love

To Sir, with Love

UK theatrical release poster
Directed by James Clavell
Produced by James Clavell
Written by James Clavell
Based on To Sir, With Love
1959 novel
by E. R. Braithwaite
Starring Sidney Poitier
Music by Ron Grainer
Cinematography Paul Beeson
Edited by Peter Thornton
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 14 June 1967 (1967-06-14) (US)
  • 29 October 1967 (1967-10-29) (UK)
Running time
105 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $640,000
Box office $42,432,803[1]

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 and singer Lulu making her film debut. James Clavell (who, aptly enough, penned The Children's Story three years prior) directed from his own screenplay, which was based on E. R. Braithwaite's semi-autobiographical 1959 novel of the same name.

The film's title song "To Sir With Love", sung by Lulu, reached number one on the U.S. pop charts for five weeks in the autumn of 1967 and ultimately was Billboard magazine's No. 1 pop single for that year. The movie ranked number 27 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.

A made-for-television sequel, To Sir, with Love II (1996), was released nearly three decades later, with Poitier reprising his starring role. It also inspired the Hindi film Imtihan (1974) starring Vinod Khanna as the teacher, and Tanuja as his love interest.


Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier), an unemployed man, applies for an engineering job but it will be a long time before a decision is made. He also applies for, and is awarded, a teaching position at the North Quay Secondary School in the tough East End of London. He comes from British Guiana via California.

Thackeray learns from the staff of North Quay that most of the students have been rejected from other schools, and their antics drove their last teacher to resign. The students live up to their reputation. Led by Bert Denham (Christian Roberts) and Pamela Dare (Judy Geeson), their antics progress from disruptive behavior (banging desk lids to break Thackeray's train of thought) to distasteful pranks. (One student, Williams, casually wears sunglasses right in the classroom; Thackeray, as a running gag, keeps removing them for him.) Thackeray retains his calm manner but a turning point comes one morning when one of the female pupils acts disrespectfully, going so far as to burn a used tampon in the fireplace. He loses his temper, reprimanding both the girl who put the tampon in the fireplace, and the others for knowingly and willfully allowing her to do so, then informs them that from now on they will be treated as adults and allowed to discuss issues of their own choosing for the remainder of the term. Future classes discuss what the students can expect as adults, such as how to fill out resumes.

Thackeray wins the class over, except for Denham, who continues to bait him. Thackeray suggests a class outing to a museum, which turns out to be a success. He loses some of this new-found support when he defuses a potentially violent situation between Potter (Chris Chittell) and a gym teacher, Mr Bell. In class, he demands that Potter apologize directly to Bell for the incident even if he believes Bell was wrong. The group refuse to invite Thackeray to the class dance, and when 'Seales' (Anthony Villaroel) mother dies, the class takes up a collection for a wreath but refuses to accept Thackeray's donation. At this point, the headmaster advises him that he feels "the adult approach" has failed; future class outings are cancelled, and Thackeray is to take over the boys' gym classes. Meanwhile, Thackeray receives the engineer job offer in the mail.

He starts to win the students back after he beats Denham in a boxing match, but tells him that he has genuine boxing ability and suggests that Denham teach boxing to the younger students next year. Denham expresses his admiration for Thackeray to his fellow students, Thackeray wins back their respect and is invited to the class dance.

At the dance Barbara Pegg (Lulu) announces a "ladies choice" dance and Pamela chooses Thackeray as her dance partner. While Miss Pegg sings the film theme song, the class then presents Thackeray with a gift and he is too moved for words and retires to his classroom.

Two youths rush into the classroom, and upon seeing Thackeray they begin mocking his gift and joking that they will be in his class next year. Thackeray realises that he has a job to do and he tears up the job offer letter, signifying that he is going to stay on at the school. He realises how affectionate he feels towards the children and understands he can never part from them.



Upon its U.S. release, Bosley Crowther began his review by contrasting the film with Poitier's role and performance in the 1955 film The 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."[2]

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".[3]

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".[4] 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 as 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."[5]

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

To Sir, with Love holds a 92% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[6] 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,[1] making it the eighth highest grossing picture of 1967 in the US. Poitier especially benefited from that film's success considering he agreed on a mere $30,000 fee in exchange for 10% of the gross box office and thus arranged 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 that percentage term, the studio was forced to revise the deal with Poitier when they calculated they would be committed to 80 years of those payments.[7]


To Sir, with Love
Soundtrack album by various
Released 1967
Genre Traditional pop
Label Fontana Records (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.[8]

The title song was a Cash Box Top 100 number-one single for three weeks.[9]

  1. To Sir With Love (Lyric: Don Black / Music: Marc London) - Lulu
  2. School Break Dancing "Stealing My Love from Me" (Lyric & Music: Marc 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" (Lyric: Ben Raleigh / Music: Charles Abertine) - The Mindbenders
  14. To Sir With Love - Lulu

Awards and honors


Laurel Awards


Directors Guild of America

Laurel Awards

10th Annual Grammy Awards

Other honors

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

See also


  1. 1 2 "To Sir, With Love, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  2. Crowther, Bosley (15 June 1967). "Poitier Meets the Cockneys: He Plays Teacher Who Wins Pupils Over". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-19.
  3. Walker, John, ed. (1999). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide 2000. London: HarperCollins. p. 845. ISBN 0006531652.
  4. David Pirie review in Johm Pym (ed), Time Out Film Guide 2009, London: Ebury, 2008, p. 1098.
  5. The Seventh Virgin Film Guide, London: Virgin Publishing, 1998, p. 729. Published by Cinebooks in the US. The "mediocre rating" claim is based on the authors giving the film three out of five stars.
  6. "To Sir, with Love, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
  7. Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood. Penguin Press. p. 328.
  8. To Sir, with Love at AllMusic
  9. "Top Single". Cash Box Magazine Charts. Cashbox. 1967. Archived from the original on 2012-09-27. Retrieved 2013-12-19.
  10. Laurel Awards 1968
  11. 1968 Female New Face
  12. DGA 1967. Retrieved on 24 April 2012.
  13. 1968 Male New Face
  14. IMDB Grammy 1968
  15. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-05.
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