Louis de Bernières reveals 'extreme cruelty' he suffered at prep school

Louis de Bernières, the bestselling author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, has written of the “extreme physical and mental cruelty” he experienced while at prep school in Kent in the 1960s.

In a letter to the Times on Wednesday, as schools around England face a wave of accusations of sexual abuse, bullying and harassment, De Bernières reveals details of his time at Grenham House, which was closed in 1984.

The novelist writes that the deputy headmaster, Jack Lidgate, would “slipper” boys “so severely that the imprint would be left as a dark bruise that lasted for days”, and how he “liked to show his fondness for us by sitting us on his knee with his hands up our shorts”.

De Bernières, who was eight when he began attending the prep school in 1963, said the school’s headmaster, Denys Jeston, used to move the furniture so he could “get a good run-up” when he beat the boys.

“We would have neat, bloody, parallel wounds across our backsides, in shades of yellow, black, blue and green that took weeks to heal,” writes De Bernières. “After punishment we were supposed to say ‘Thank you, sir’.”

In what the author describes as a “culture of extreme physical and mental cruelty” that prevailed at Grenham House, boys were expected to partake in “compulsory naked bathing”, with the headmaster “most concerned to make sure that the cracks in our backsides were properly dried afterwards, so he took on that task himself”.

The school was also attended by actor David Suchet and his brother, the broadcaster John Suchet, both of whom have also spoken out about the abuse they suffered at the school. De Bernières has also written in the past about his experiences at the school, but in the Times letter he shares how he decided not to reveal his experiences until his parents, who “thought they were doing their best for me in paying for all this”, were dead.

“I have never quite managed to forgive them,” writes the author, who ends by asking: “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?”

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