Whacks got a Caning

THERE’S a daily newspaper feature in which readers send in questions, answers to be supplied by other readers. Somebody wrote asking what became of Eric Wildman and his society for the Retention of Corporal Punishment in Schools.

Good heavens! I went to school with him in the 1930s. We used to make him mad by calling him the Wild Man of Borneo. I spotted him shortly after the war running a radio repair shop; and then he was in the news with a new and unusual business – importing and selling school canes.

At that time the movement to abolish corporal punishment was only a small voice, but Wildman started his society in opposition to it. The society had a newsletter named the Corpun Bulletin; he, and it, quickly acquired supporters and subscribers.

In most people’s minds, the cane was a necessary part of going to school. We had a childhood rhyme about Mr Whatsit being a very good man who tried to teach you all he can: “Reading, writing and arithmetic, and he doesn’t forget to give you the stick”.

We chortled over Billy Bunter’s howls – Yaroo! Ouch! Owww! – as he received six of the best; other silly and naughty lads likewise copping it for our amusement in juvenile literature. And experienced it ourselves.

At seven-and-a-half, through a misunderstanding I went for a few weeks to a church school where the bald-headed teacher smirked as he brought the cane down on small boys’ hands. In the proper junior school there was less of it but plenty.

Boys said if you rubbed an onion or orange on your palm beforehand it took away the sting; but we never had those things on us when told to hold our hands out. At grammar school I was one of a trio who got a bend-over caning for putting carbide in inkwells (phew, what a smell!).

That regime of punishment was still taken for granted in my time as a teacher. I remember a father writing “Give him more stick” in response to his son’s report; and girls saying they thought they’d prefer the cane to the female nagging which was usually their lot for doing wrong.

What about Eric Wildman? His business with canes led to events outside the usual run. He was invited to lecture to scholars at a “progressive” school in Hertfordshire [Staffordshire, actually. — C.F.]. Had he not been a chump he would have suspected something.

When he’d expounded the virtues of whacking they asked him where was the best place for it. Beaming, he replied that the posterior was perfect; whereupon boys rushed forward, debagged him [No — C.F.] and trounced him with his own canes.

The incident brought him more publicity. However, the police were increasingly interested in Wildman for other reasons. His society had supporters whose interest in caning wasn’t at all educational. The Corpun Bulletin was full of their descriptive contributions.

Finally, in 1953 his premises in Walthamstow [in fact at this point they were in central London — C.F.] were raided. Besides the Bulletin there were pamphlets in the same vein and even a gramophone record of spanking. He told the police officer he was a chum of Churchill and would complain to him; but the court sent him to prison for publishing obscene material. [In fact the court fined him £500, or in default one year in prison; he was given six months in which to come up with the money; I have so far found no evidence that he actually went to prison — C.F.]

A couple of years later I went in a little shop selling curios, and there was a small oil painting of – surely not! I called out to the proprietor: “I say, you should give this to the National Portrait Gallery! This man is famous!” He loomed out of the shadows; Eric Wildman it was.

He’s dead now. Rather than bad, I think he was just an ass who wanted to be Somebody. Caning in schools is a vanished world; still seems to have those practitioners on other accounts, though.