Summerhill at 70 (Channel 4 1992)

Founded in Germany in 1921 by Alexander Sutherland Neil who was firmly of the belief that school should allow children to basically do what they want. This documentary, part of the ‘cutting edge’ strand of Channel 4 documentaries, spent time at Summerhill (which was originally called New School until moving to a building in Lyme Regis which was called Summerhill) during its 70th year.

Summerhill pupils don’t have to attend school lessons if they don’t want to and at the time filming commenced new rules abandoing bed times had been put in place leading to very late nights and a general air of shambolicness. Every decision is decided by meetings which anyone can attend and make a contribution. The show caused a degree of controversy with its bad language and nudity but it does offer up what seems to be an accurate look at the goings on at the school.

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There is something very sad in the watching of this show, times have not got any better but surely it is really important that children don’t grow up too quickly and for all of the meetings (of which there seem to be endless) and bickering, what they really want to do is be kids and what they really need is some firm guidance. Summerhill is to be applauded for trying something different and some children it might be a viable alternative but for many of the children featured in this doco all they really needed was someone to love them.

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production details
UK | Channel 4 – Middlemarch Films | 1×60 minute episodes | Broadcast 30 March 1992

Directed and filmed by Peter Getzels, Harriet Gordon Getzels

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.