To Sir, with Love

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 directed from his own screenplay, which was based on E. R. Braithwaite's 1959 autobiographical novel of the same name.

To Sir, with Love
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Clavell
Produced byJames Clavell
Screenplay byJames Clavell
Based onTo Sir, With Love
1959 novel
by E. R. Braithwaite
StarringSidney Poitier
Music byRon Grainer
CinematographyPaul Beeson, B.S.C.
Edited byPeter Thornton
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 14 June 1967 (1967-06-14) (US)
  • 29 October 1967 (1967-10-29) (UK)
Running time
105 min
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$625,000[1] or $600,000[2]
Box office$42,432,803[3] or $22 million[2]

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.[4]

A made-for-television sequel, To Sir, with Love II (1996), was released nearly three decades later, with Poitier reprising his starring role.


Mark Thackeray, an immigrant to Britain from British Guiana via California, must wait a long period to hear about an engineering job he applied for. He accepts a teaching post at North Quay Secondary School in the tough East End of London, as an interim position.

Most of the school's students have been rejected from other schools, and their antics drove the last teacher to resign. Led by Bert Denham and Pamela Dare, the students' antics range from disruptive behavior to distasteful pranks. Thackeray retains a calm demeanor, but loses his temper upon discovering something being burned in the classroom stove (implied to be a used sanitary napkin). Thackeray orders the boys out of the classroom, then reprimands all the girls, either for being responsible or passively observing, for what he says is their slutty behavior. Thackeray is angry with himself for allowing the students to get the better of him. Changing his approach, he informs the students they will no longer study from textbooks. Until the end of term when they graduate, he will treat them as adults and expects them to behave as such; they can discuss whatever issues they wish, including relationships, marriage, sex, and applying for jobs. Thackeray gradually wins the class over except for Denham, who continually baits him.

Thackeray arranges a class outing to a museum which goes well. He loses some support when he defuses a potentially violent situation between Potter and a gym teacher, Mr. Bell. In class, he demands that Potter apologize directly to Bell, even if he believes Bell was wrong. The group later refuses to invite Thackeray to the class dance. When Seales' mother dies, the class takes up a collection for a wreath but refuse to accept Thackeray's donation. The headmaster tells Thackeray that "the adult approach" has failed, and future class outings are cancelled. Thackeray is to take over the boys' gym classes until the headmaster can find a replacement. Meanwhile, Thackeray receives the engineer job offer in the post.

During gym class, Denham smugly challenges Thackeray to a boxing match, which comes to an abrupt end after Thackeray delivers one punch to Denham's mid-section. However, Thackeray compliments Denham's ability and suggests he teach boxing to the younger students next year. Denham expresses his admiration for Thackeray to his fellow students; Thackeray regains their respect and is invited to the class dance. Later, when Thackeray attends the funeral of Seales' mother, he is touched to find that his lectures on personal choices and responsibility have had an effect.

At the dance, Pamela chooses Thackeray as her partner for the "Ladies Choice" dance. Afterward, the class presents a gift to Thackeray, who is too moved for words and retires to his classroom.

Two younger students rush into the classroom, in what appears an attempt to be alone together. The two laugh at the sentimentality of Thackery's gifts, a silver tankard and card, "To Sir, with love", with the graduating students' signatures. The two students joke that they will be in his class next year. After they leave, Thackeray tears up the engineering job offer, reconciled to the work he has ahead of him. He then takes a flower from the vase on his desk, places it in his lapel, and leaves.



Sidney Poitier and James Clavell wanted to do the film, but Columbia was reluctant. They agreed to make the film for small fees, provided Poitier got 10% of the gross and Clavell 30% of the profits. "When we were ready to shoot, Columbia wanted either a rape or a big fight put in," said Martin Baum. We held out, saying this was a gentle story, and we won."[2]


Upon its U.S. release, Bosley Crowther began his review by contrasting the film with Poitier's role and performance in the 1955 film 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."[5]

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".[6]

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".[7] 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 an 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."[8]

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

To Sir, with Love holds an 89% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews.[9] 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,[3] 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.[10]


To Sir, with Love
Soundtrack album by
GenreTraditional pop
LabelFontana 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.[11]

The title song was a Cash Box Top 100 number-one single for three weeks.[12]

  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. "An author at home in Hollywood and Hong Kong". Dudar, Helen. Chicago Tribune. 12 Apr 1981: e1.
  2. A Blue-Ribbon Packager of Movie Deals Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times 20 Apr 1969: w1.
  3. "To Sir, With Love, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  4. EW Staff (28 August 2015). "50 Best High School Movies". Entertainment Weekly.
  5. Crowther, Bosley (15 June 1967). "Poitier Meets the Cockneys: He Plays Teacher Who Wins Pupils Over". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  6. Walker, John, ed. (1999). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide 2000. London: HarperCollins. p. 845. ISBN 0-00-653165-2.
  7. David Pirie review in Johm Pym (ed), Time Out Film Guide 2009, London: Ebury, 2008, p. 1098.
  8. 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.
  9. "To Sir, with Love, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
  10. Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood. Penguin Press. p. 328.
  11. To Sir, with Love at AllMusic
  12. "Top Single". Cash Box Magazine Charts. Cashbox. 1967. Archived from the original on 27 September 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  13. "To Sir, with Love".
  14. "Judy Geeson". IMDb.
  15. DGA 1967. Retrieved on 24 April 2012.
  16. "Christian Roberts". IMDb.
  17. "Grammy Awards (1968)".
  18. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 5 August 2016.
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