This article is not written to Sidney Poitier directly because:
1. I have never met him and would not presume such familiarity with a man named, by the American Film Institute, among The Greatest Male Stars of All Time; a man who in 2002 received an Honorary Award “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being”; a man who is Bahamian Ambassador to Japan and who, in 2009, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the USA’s highest civilian honour) by President Barack Obama,
2. I doubt very much whether the great man has ever even heard of me.
No, I am writing this because I am trying to be a writer of novels, books that can entertain you for a few hours; maybe make you smile, laugh out loud or, perhaps, cause you to pause from the daily distractions of a demanding life to think of something “different”. And recently I wrote a book about the very many interesting, amusing and often frustratingly difficult people that we call children or – horrifyingly to many – teenagers! It is a collection of fictional stories and characters based on my twenty plus years in education.
When I wrote it I included a main character, Robert Jeffrey, who was inspired to become a teacher, not only by some of his own teachers, but by some of the books that he had read. I wanted him to struggle to keep to his ambition of being “a good teacher”. So I decided to give Robert a list of books from his past that helped him stay on track, a list that came from my own list. This decision of mine, of course, made me then sit down and think of the books that had inspired me to want to teach.
My list for Robert included authors like A S Neill, Robert Holt, D H Lawrence, Thomas Hughes, Charles Dickens, R Delderfield and E R Braithwaite. (The book titles may be found elsewhere on this website in the Book Description for So What! Stories or Whatever!) Now it is the last author in the list that has a connection with Sidney Poitier. E R Braithwaite wrote the book To Sir With Love, which later became a film and several generations will know and love that film – not just the Baby Boomer generation of which I am one!
In an earlier life I was a trainee manager employed by a very large retailer of photographic products, and one day a colleague and I decided to see the film To Sir With Love after work. We were both staying at a very small, very cheap hotel in the Potteries and missing our families. We were part of the sales staff preparing to open a new branch of the photographic company and had worked long hours for a couple of weeks creating displays, writing sales tickets and so on. You will recognise some of this information in Fallen Hero, my first book.
Chris and I had already seen Disney’s Jungle Book the previous week and driven everyone crazy with our renditions of I’m The King Of The Jungle and Wanna Be Like You etc, but that’s another story! To Sir With Love stuck in my mind for weeks. It reminded me of the teachers that I had admired and felt proud to have known. Let’s face it many adults are lucky to feel like that – but many are not! And that’s what Sidney Poitier’s character in the film also reminded me about; the many kids who need someone like him to help them achieve something of value from education; the kids who will always struggle to climb onto the first rung of a ladder that seems to belong to another class, society or culture.
The film encouraged me to read the book later on, but when I was writing my book list in the description above, I was reminded of how much I had always admired the work of Sir Sidney Poitier KBE. As a teenager I was completely knocked out by The Defiant Ones, when he co-starred with Tony Curtis, and later as a young adult I was in awe of his characters in In The Heat Of The Night and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. I cheered him in They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! All of them absolutely watch-again-and-again movies! He is the best at portraying people who have to triumph against the odds in an unfair world. People who want to put right some of the wrongs in the world.
So what’s all this about iconoclasts? Well, I read Sir Sidney’s autobiography back in the eighties and loved it. But it seems that often when you read someone’s biography, a writer’s take on someone else’s life - usually one of your heroes that you’ve loved for years - then that writer often finds more than a pair of feet of clay. And so your admiration for your icon gets severely dented, even destroyed! And it can leave you feeling a little hollow and empty for a while. This has happened for me with Peter Sellers, George Orwell, Richard Wagner and Charles Dickens to name just a few, and I just wanted to say I’m fed up with those biographers, those iconoclasts.
If I ever come across biographies of Sir Sidney Poitier or Sir David Attenborough, or… Sh! they might read this… whoever! I’m just going to “recycle” it to give me warmth!