Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a novella about the life of a schoolteacher, Mr. Chipping, written by the English writer James Hilton and first published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 1934. It has been adapted into two cinema films and two television presentations.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Cover of the UK first edition
AuthorJames Hilton
IllustratorEthel 'Bip' Pares
GenrePsychological fiction
PublisherLittle, Brown (USA)
Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Publication date
June 1934 (1934-06) (USA)
October 1934 (1934-10) (UK)


The story was originally issued in 1933, as a supplement to the British Weekly, an evangelical newspaper. It came to prominence when it was reprinted as the lead piece of the April 1934 issue of The Atlantic. The success of the Atlantic Monthly publication prompted a book deal between the author and the US publisher Little, Brown and Company, who published the story in book form for the first time in June 1934. The Great Depression had elevated business risks for most publishing houses, and Little, Brown were no exception. They cautiously released a small first print run. Public demand for more was immediate, and Little, Brown went into an almost immediate reprinting the same month. Public demand remained strong, and Little, Brown continued to reprint the book in cautious lots for many months, with at least two reprintings per month.

The first British edition went to press in October 1934. The publishers were Hodder & Stoughton, who had observed the success of the book in the United States, and they released a much larger first print run. It sold 15,000 copies on the day of publication,[1] and they quickly found themselves going into reprints as the reading public's demand for the book proved insatiable. With the huge success of this book, James Hilton became a best-selling author.[2]

Plot summary

The novella tells the story of a beloved school teacher, Mr Chipping, and his long tenure at Brookfield School, a fictional minor British boys' public boarding school located in the fictional village of Brookfield, in the Fenlands. Mr Chips, as the boys call him, is conventional in his beliefs and exercises firm discipline in the classroom. His views broaden, and his pedagogical manner loosens after he marries Katherine, a young woman whom he meets on holiday in the Lake District. Katherine charms the Brookfield teachers and headmaster, and quickly wins the favour of Brookfield's pupils. Their marriage is brief. She dies in childbirth and he never remarries or has another romantic interest.

One of the poignant and bittersweet themes of the book is that Chipping so outlasts all of his peers that his brief marriage fades into myth and few people know him as anything other than a confirmed and lonely bachelor. Despite Chipping's mediocre credentials and his view that classic Greek and Latin (his academic subjects) are dead languages, he is an effective teacher who becomes highly regarded by students and the school's governors—he has become a well worn institution. In his later years, he develops an arch sense of humour that pleases everyone. However, he also becomes somewhat of an anachronism, with an antiquated pronunciation (ironic, perhaps for a teacher of classic languages) and is pitied for his isolation. At this deathbed, he talks of the fulfillment he felt as a teacher of boys. In many ways, the novella can be read as a meditation on the meaning of an unspectacular life, quietly lived.

Although the book is unabashedly sentimental, it depicts the sweeping social changes that Chips experiences throughout his life: he begins his tenure at Brookfield in September 1870, at the age of 22, as the Franco-Prussian War was breaking out; he dies in November 1933, at the age of 85. To a modern reader, the fact that this is shortly after Adolf Hitler's rise to power frames the story significantly, but with added poignancy. Neither the author nor the readers of those early editions were aware of the devastation that Hitler would bring to Europe in a few years.


The setting for Goodbye, Mr. Chips is probably based on The Leys School, Cambridge, where James Hilton was a pupil (1915–18). Hilton is reported to have said that the inspiration for the protagonist, Mr. Chips, came from many sources, including his father, who was the headmaster of Chapel End School. Mr. Chips is also likely to have been based on W. H. Balgarnie, a master at The Leys (1900–30), who was in charge of the Leys Fortnightly (in which Hilton's first short stories and essays were published). Over the years, old boys wrote to Geoffery Houghton, a master at The Leys and a historian of the school, confirming the links between Chipping and Balgarnie, who eventually died at Porthmadog at the age of 82.[3] Balgarnie had been linked with the school for 51 years and spent his last years in modest lodgings nearby. Like Mr. Chips, Balgarnie was a strict disciplinarian, but would also invite boys to visit him for tea and biscuits.[4]

Hilton wrote upon Balgarnie's death that "Balgarnie was, I suppose, the chief model for my story. When I read so many other stories about public school life, I am struck by the fact that I suffered no such purgatory as their authors apparently did, and much of this miracle was due to Balgarnie."[4] The mutton chop side whiskers of one of the masters at The Leys earned him the nickname "Chops", a likely inspiration for Mr Chips' name.[4]

In Hilton's final novel, Time and Time Again (1953), protagonist Charles Anderson bears clear biographical similarities to Hilton himself. Early in the novel, Anderson briefly reminisces about attending Brookfield and knowing "Chips".



A 50-minute adaptation by James Hilton and Barbara Burnham was broadcast on the BBC National Programme at 20:00 on 23 July 1936, with Richard Goolden in the title part and a cast that included Norman Shelley, Ronald Simpson, Lewis Shaw and Hermione Hannen.[5] There was a repeat broadcast the following evening.[6]

A radio adaptation by the Lux Radio Theatre starring Laurence Olivier and Edna Best and presented by Cecil B. DeMille was first broadcast on November 20, 1939.


Barbara Burnham adapted the book for a stage production in three acts, which was first performed at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 23 September 1938, with Leslie Banks as Mr. Chips and Constance Cummings as his wife Katherine.[7] It ran for over 100 performances[8] until 14 January 1939.[9]

A stage musical based on the original novel, but using most of the Leslie Bricusse vocal score of the 1969 film, was mounted at the Chichester Festival and opened on 11 August 1982. The book was by Roland Starke and the production was directed by Patrick Garland and Christopher Selbie. Among the Chichester Festival cast were John Mills as Mr. Chips, Colette Gleeson as Kathie, Nigel Stock as Max, Michael Sadler and Robert Meadmore in supporting roles, and 20 local school boys, including Kevin Farrar who was selected by Bricusse to sing the final verse of the iconic "School Song", which features on the original cast album which was recorded on 'That's Entertainment Records' label TER 1025 at Abbey Roads Studios in London on 17/18 August 1982. JAY-jay Records also have a release of it.


1939 film

This version stars Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn, John Mills, and Paul Henreid. Donat won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the lead role, beating Clark Gable, James Stewart, Laurence Olivier, and Mickey Rooney. While some of the incidents depicted in the various screen adaptations do not appear in the book, this film is generally faithful to the original story. The exteriors of the buildings of the fictional Brookfield School were filmed at Repton School,[10][11] an independent school (at the time of filming, for boys only), located in the village of Repton, in Derbyshire, in the Midlands area of England, whilst the interiors, school courtyards and annexes, including the supposedly exterior shots of the Austrian Tyrol Mountains, were filmed at Denham Film Studios,[12] near the village of Denham in Buckinghamshire. Around 200 boys from Repton School stayed on during the school holidays so that they could appear in the film.[13]

1969 film

In 1969 a musical film version appeared, starring Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark, with songs by Leslie Bricusse and an underscore by John Williams. In this version the character of Katherine is greatly expanded, and the time setting of the story is moved forward several decades, with Chips’ career beginning in the early 20th century and his later career covering World War II, rather than World War I. O’Toole and Clark's performances were widely praised. At the 42nd Academy Awards, O’Toole was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.


1984 serial

In 1984 it was adapted as a television serial by the BBC. It starred Roy Marsden and Jill Meager and ran for six half-hour episodes. Many scenes were filmed at Repton School, Derbyshire, in an effort to remain faithful to the original film.[14]

2002 serial

A television film adaptation was produced by STV Productions (then known as "SMG TV Productions") in 2002. It aired on the ITV Network in Britain and on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre in the United States. It starred Martin Clunes and Victoria Hamilton with Henry Cavill, William Moseley, Oliver Rokison and Harry Lloyd.[15]


Goodbye, Mr. Chips was parodied in the British sketch comedy programmes Hale and Pace (as Piss Off, Mr. Chips) and Big Train.

Vince Gilligan created the television show Breaking Bad with the premise that the show's protagonist Walter White would turn from "From Mr. Chips to Scarface" through the series' course.[16]

See also


  1. "Among The Fiction – Outstanding Sales". Reviews. The Times (46928). London. 4 December 1934. p. 20.
  2. "''Atlantic'' on education". The Atlantic. Retrieved 11 April 2011..
  3. "Milestones". Time. 30 July 1951. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  4. Timothy Carroll (9 December 2002). "Who was the real Mr Chips?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
  5. "Broadcasting – Mr. Goolden in a School Play". Arts and Entertainment. The Times (47434). London. 23 July 1936. p. 21.
  6. "Broadcasting". Arts and Entertainment. The Times (47435). London. 24 July 1936. p. 12.
  7. "Shaftesbury Theatre". Reviews. The Times (48108). London. 24 September 1938. p. 8.
  8. "The Theatres". Reviews. The Times (48189). London. 29 December 1938. p. 6.
  9. "Art Exhibitions". Classified Advertising. The Times (48203). London. 14 January 1939. p. 10.
  10. "Movies made in the Midlands". Sunday Mercury. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  11. "Repton, Derbyshire". Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  12. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) on IMDb. Retrieved 11 April 2011
  13. "1930s: A year of tragedy and war worries". Archived from the original on 21 March 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  14. Other scenes were filmed at Christ College, Brecon; with many of the school's pupils taking roles in the production. BBC Derby
  15. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (2002 TV) on IMDb. Retrieved 11 April 2011
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