Captain Corelli’s Mandolin author Louis de Bernières today told of the ‘hellish abuse’ he and other boys suffered at his boarding school at the hands of two sadistic schoolmasters.
The 66-year-old said he never managed to forgive his parents for sending him to Grenham House prep school in Birchington, Kent, and vowed to never reveal what he went through until they are dead.
De Bernières attended the school in the 1960s between the ages of eight and 13, which was run by Denys Jeston, who was known for his love of beating boys, and his ‘paedophile’ deputy Jack Lidgate.
His harrowing account, revealed in a letter to The Times, comes as revelations continue to emerge about sexual bullying and harassment within England’s school system, as revealed on the website Everyone’s Invited.
Louis de Bernières as a child at Grenham House Prep School (bottom right). Also circled is the sadistic headmaster Denys Jeston (left) and his ‘paedophile’ deputy Jack Lidgate (right)
Describing how it was ‘rage, not courage’ that drove him to speak out, he wrote: ‘When [Jeston] beat us, he would move the furniture so that he could get a good run up. After punishment we were supposed to say ‘Thank you, sir.’
‘We would have neat, bloody, parallel wounds across our backsides, in shades of yellow, black, blue and green that took weeks to heal. He could admire his handiwork during compulsory naked bathing in the pool.’
The author wrote of Lidgate, ‘he would slipper us so severely that the imprint would be left as a dark bruise that lasted for days. He liked to show his fondness for us by sitting us on his knee with his hands up our shorts.’
The culture of extreme physical and mental cruelty at the school – which the actor Sir David Suchet also attended with his brother, John – was so bad that one six-year-old was left with a stammer so bad that he could hardly speak, De Bernières wrote.
Describing the pain that Grenham House left within him, the author added: ‘My parents thought they were doing their best for me in paying for all this, and I decided not to speak out until they were dead.
‘What compensation could there possibly be for the thousands of little boys like me, in prep schools all over the country, who had to go through that hellish abuse when we should have been with our parents at home?’
De Bernières attended the school in the 1960s between the ages of eight and 13
The culture of extreme physical and mental cruelty at the school was so bad that one six-year-old was left with a stammer so bad that he could hardly speak, De Bernières wrote
Sir David Suchet and his broadcaster brother John attended the school ten years before De Bernières.
Writing in 2009, John described how Jeston used to beat them with a long bamboo cane.
Corroborating De Bernières account, he said: ‘He’d move the desks out of the way so that he could run right across the classroom to give extra power to the whack.
First day of school: This picture was taken of John Suchet in 1953, ahead of his first day at Grenham House
He caned us both together on one occasion. I bent over first – thankfully we didn’t have to pull our trousers down – and suffered my six strokes. You don’t feel them when they first hit but, two seconds, later the sting is terrible. I can still feel it even now.
‘I walked away clutching my behind and David moved forward to take my place. I remember saying to him, ”Don’t cry, David. Don’t cry.” And this evil man limbered up and started whacking poor David.’
Of Lidgate, he said: ‘He specialised in putting his hands up the boys’ short trousers and pinching their bums. It seemed playful at the time – we were so young that it didn’t occur to us that there was anything wrong with it.’
Describing meeting De Bernières at a function years later and mentioning the school to him, Suchet said: ‘His eyes bulged, his face went red and anger filled every crevice in his face.
‘He spat out the words, ”That school was run by two b******s – a sadist and a paedophile.” It was the first time it had dawned on me that those men were criminals.
‘They’d be in prison nowadays. Sadly, both were dead by then and I was never able to confront them.’
Almost 10,000 reports of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault have now been posted to the Everyone’s Invited website in recent days.
After the claims initially embroiled some of Britain’s top private schools, the number of entries involving state schools has increased by a third.
Robert Halfon, Tory chairman of the education select committee, has condemned the ‘Lord Of The Flies culture’ within classrooms, while another demanded Ofsted be tasked with leading an independent probe.
Actor Sir David Suchet and his broadcaster brother John, who is a host on Classic FM, (right) also attended the school