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Les Gilets Jaunes

My comments arise from scenes of recent unrest in Paris, with echoes from 50 years ago.

From very early in my career at Bolton School, led at first by Ken Haigh, and then with other colleagues, I took school parties to France to engage in family exchanges – originally to Clermont-Ferrand, for a short while to Le Mans, and finally to Moulins, where links live on.

So, in April 1968, I took a party of Bolton School pupils to Clermont for a two-week stay. This was the first occasion when I had decided to open the exchange offer to members of the Lower Sixth. I think my contact at the time was Madame Marie-Fernande Rougier, with whom I worked for several years.

The April '68 exchange was unremarkable in my memory, though many boys later reported how their eyes had been opened and their experience widened by spending a short time being a member of a French family.

When the group re-assembled for the journey back to Bolton, I chose my moment and then asked one of the party to prepare a report for the School Magazine. It was one of the older boys that I approached.

Soon after the start of the Summer term, this young man came to me with his account of his visit. Next day I had to seek him out, and tell him, “This isn’t at all what I wanted. This is all politics, not suitable at all for the School Magazine.” I remember his response, “But that's what we talked about, Sir, all the time.”

I hope I thanked him, but stuck to my decision and went back to one of the Fourth Formers for a more anodyne account, which was duly submitted to the magazine editors.

Of course, any student of French affairs remembers “mai ‘68” and the “soixante-huitards”. The students of the Lycée Blaise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand were just as involved as anyone in Paris, and I believe the street outside the French school was blocked by demonstrations, and the police were called out to restore order.

My question now is: who was our student who knew exactly what people were thinking, and whose account and judgements I rejected? Even with my French school contacts, I was totally unaware of what might be brewing, but he was spot on.

So, 50 years on, I owe him an apology. I hope at the time he was able to crow, “Sir got it all wrong!”

Michael Tatman (Boys’ Division Staff, 1958-1993)