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Book review: School’s Out! by Jack Sheffield

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As a new term begins at a tiny North Yorkshire primary school in September 1983, headmaster Jack Sheffield feels that familiar mix of excitement and trepidation.

There’s a fresh intake to settle in, a new teacher to be appointed and at home, Jack and wife Beth are getting used to being parents to baby John.

But nothing has prepared him for the tragedies, triumphs and scandals that will test his skills and endurance in the months that lie ahead...

For those who haven’t already met Jack Sheffield and his amazing, multi-faceted cast of characters, welcome to Ragley-on-the-Forest, a fictional village which forms the backcloth for some of the headmaster-turned-author’s hilarious and heart-breaking real-life experiences at two North Yorkshire schools in the 1970s and 1980s.

School’s Out! is the seventh instalment of the ever-popular Teacher series, and memories of the brave new world of the Eighties, Sheffield’s wry Yorkshire humour and moments of childhood magic are still flowing with the same irresistible exuberance, charm and affection.

For Jack and his cohorts, it’s the era of the new CD player, Microsoft adverts featuring something called Word, the McDonald’s McNugget, a range of strange dolls called Cabbage Patch, the threat of miners’ strikes and a final farewell to the halfpenny piece.

And at Ragley CE School, Jack gets ready for an even more eventful year than usual, including a bizarre introduction to new girl, four-year-old Madonna Fazackerly, who is sporting a Wham! t-shirt, black stone-washed jeans and red pixie boots.

Her ‘sensitivity’ has got her mum and dad ‘proper flummoxed’ and they are eager she should continue a family tradition and ‘mek ’er mark’ on the school. By the end of the first day, some unfortunate graffiti, a wall decorated with handprints and the near death experience of two goldfish will ensure her parents’ fears were groundless.

And there are tests ahead for the village’s adults. School caretaker Ruby’s nostalgia, as the last of her six children gets ready to leave Ragley Primary, is overtaken by a shocking event, and at the village Coffee Shop, assistant Dorothy Humpleby is planning a ‘dirty weekend’ with boyfriend Malcolm in pursuit of a marriage proposal.

But the appointment of a new teacher sets tongues wagging and a scandal brews that is uncomfortably close to home for headmaster Jack.

The joy of Sheffield’s laugh-out-loud books is his attention to period detail, his ability to tap into the fun and foibles of both school and village life and a gentle touch which adds poignancy and pathos to sensitive plotlines.

Top marks again to everyone’s favourite headmaster!

(Bantam, paperback, £12.99)

 

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