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Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (originally Good-bye, Mr. Chips) is a novel by James Hilton, first published in 1934. The story was first published in the British Weekly, an evangelical newspaper, in 1933 but came to prominence when it was reprinted as the lead piece of the April 1934 issue of The Atlantic. Afterwards, Hilton became a bestselling author, numerous adaptations were made including two Academy Award-winning films and various stage adaptations.

Plot summary

The novel tells the story of a much-loved schoolteacher through the long years of his tenure at Brookfield, the fictional boys' public boarding school where he has taught. Arthur Chipping conquers his inability to connect with the boys at the school, as well as his initial shyness, when he marries Katherine, a young woman he meets on holiday who provides him with his nickname. "Chips", despite his own mediocre academic record, goes on to have an illustrious career as an inspiring educator at Brookfield.

Although the book is unabashedly sentimental, it also depicts the sweeping social changes that Chips experiences throughout his life: he begins his tenure at Brookfield in 1870, as the Franco-Prussian War is breaking out, and lies on his deathbed shortly after Hitler's rise to power. At times, the book is rather ethnocentric. On numerous occasions, Chips ruminates on his faith in "English blood," and at one point makes a mildly anti-Semitic joke about a "boy named Isaacstein." (Later editions of the book eliminated the Jewish reference and simply said that Chips "made fun of a boy's name.") He is seen as an individual who is able to connect to anyone on a human level, beyond what he (by proxy of his former wife) views as petty politics, such as the strikers, the Boers, and a German friend.

Clearly discernible is a nostalgia for the Victorian social order that had faded rapidly after Queen Victoria's death in 1901 and whose remnants were fully destroyed by the First World War. Indeed, a recurring leitmotif throughout is the devastating impact of the war on British society. When the war breaks out, Chips, who had retired the year before at age sixty-five, agrees to come out of retirement to fill in for the various masters who have entered military service. Despite his being taken for a doddering fossil, it is Chips who keeps his wits about him during an air raid, averting mass panic and sustaining morale. Countless old boys and masters die on the battlefield, and much of the story involves Chips's response to the horrors unleashed by the war. At one point, he reads aloud a long roster of the school's fallen alumni, and, defying the modern world he sees as soulless and lacking transcendent values of honour and friendship, dares to include the name of an Austrian former master who has died fighting on the opposite side.


The setting for Goodbye Mr. Chips is believed to have been based on The Leys School, Cambridge, where James Hilton was a pupil (1915-1918). Hilton is reported to have said that the inspiration for the protagonist, Chips, came from many sources, including his father, who was the headmaster of Chapel End School. However, Chips is also likely to have been based on W.H. Balgarnie, one of the masters at The Leys (1900-1930), who was in charge of the Leys Fortnightly (where Hilton's first short stories and essays were published). Over the years old boys have written to Geoffery Houghton, a master of the Leys for a number of years and a historian of the school, confirming the links between Chipping and Balgarnie. As with Mr. Chips, Balgarnie died at the school, at the age of 82, having been linked with the school for 51 years and living his last years in modest lodgings opposite the school. Again, like Mr. Chips, Balgarnie was a strict disciplinarian, but would also invite boys to visit him for tea and biscuits.

Hilton wrote upon Balgarnie's death that "Balgarnie was, I suppose, the chief model for my story. When I read so many other stories about public school life, I am struck by the fact that I suffered no such purgatory as their authors apparently did, and much of this miracle was due to Balgarnie." Furthermore, the "mutton chop" facial hair of one of the masters at The Leys earned him the nickname "Chops", a likely inspiration for Mr Chips's name.

Stage Adaptations

The stage production was written predominantly by Leslie Bricusse with help from Michael Sadler, Robert Meadmore, and performed by the Chichester Festival Cast.

Screen adaptations

1939 film

This is the best known screen version, starring Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn, John Mills and Paul Henreid. Donat won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the lead role, beating Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and Laurence Olivier.

While some of the incidents depicted in the various screen adaptations do not appear in the book, this film is generally faithful to the original story.

1969 film

In 1969, a relatively unsuccessful musical film version appeared, starring Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark. While most critics deemed the songs unnecessary, both O'Toole and Clark were universally praised for their performances and the obvious chemistry between them; O'Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.

The film featured music and lyrics composed by Leslie Bricusse with original underscore by John Williams. The project had been in development for several years, originally with a song score by Andre Previn and his then-wife Dory Previn. The Previns' score was ultimately not used when Previn began his classical conducting career during the time the film was in development.

Many of the scenes were filmed at Repton School, particularly the famous Arch, at Bedford School, and at Sherborne School in Dorset.

1984 TV mini-series

In 1984, it was adapted as a television miniseries for the BBC. It starred Roy Marsden and Jill Meagher and ran for six half-hour episodes. Many scenes were filmed at Repton School in an effort to remain faithful to the original film.

2002 TV movie

Another television adaptation, a television movie, was produced by SMG Productions in 2002. It aired on the ITV Network in Britain and on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre in the United States. It starred Martin Clunes and Victoria Hamilton. Henry Cavill, William Moseley, Oliver Rokison and Harry Lloyd were also in the 2002 film.

See also


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