Giles - School and "Chalky"
Schooldays in Norwich and London, and Giles’ infamous teacher Mr Chalk.
Giles recalled that, as a child, “I used to spend so much time up in Norwich at my grandmother’s house that I went to school up there.” He enjoyed his time at the Willow Lane Roman Catholic school, but his cartoons of school life drew instead on his time at Barnsbury Park School in London, to which he later returned. Giles remembered this as “a large red box in a square of asphalt”, and depicted it as a kind of prison, where unruly inner-city children were kept in order by the iron discipline of their autocratic teacher Mr Chalk, whom they called Chalky - “but only behind his back.”
The unruly, bespectacled Giles was one of a gang of boys who met their match in what he called “Mr Chalk’s concentration camp”: “On the first day of term my little mob - a real dreadful lot - would come in and sit in a gang, clustered in the same area at the back of the class...Chalky would look at us all and he’d take his glasses off and hold them up and slowly clean them. ‘Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,’ he would say. ‘How very nice. And are you all comfortable?’ His voice was so silky and friendly. Then he would shout: ‘GET UP!’ And we would all jump. And then he would redistribute us round the class.”
Giles recalled Chalky as “a tall man, like a skeleton, and he had a head like a skull.” He drew him in more than a hundred and sixty cartoons, and recalled him ruling by fear, for “in his class you weren’t allowed to make a sound. Even if you were dying to go to the toilet you couldn’t ask.” Chalky maintained order with the cane and the punishment book, and Giles remembered that “you knew about it all right when he used the cane”: “You got six on the palm and you couldn’t use your hand for weeks.” Yet he confessed that “it wasn’t the beatings we minded - you were practically an outcast if you didn’t get a wallop on your bum - it was the sarcasm we dreaded most.”
“He was a sarcastic bugger,” Giles recalled of Mr Chalk: “When we came creeping in to the classroom a bit late he would he would take his glasses off and say with that terrible sarcasm: ‘How nice of you to join us.’” Through the cartoon figure of “Chalky” - sometimes spelled “Chalkie” - this sarcastic manner became as familiar to readers as it had been to the young Giles himself: “If Mr. Giles would kindly come to the front of the class, place the gob-stopper he is sucking in the wastepaper basket, and hand me that intriguing piece of literature he is composing under his desk, I shall be delighted to read it aloud to the rest of the class while he goes upstairs and fetches the cane and book.”