I went to Perse School for Girls, the real-life inspiration for St Trinians
We did as we damn well pleased
The Perse School for Girl’s in Cambridge was the inspiration behind British artist Ronald Searle’s famous St Trinian cartoons. His illustrations of naughty schoolgirls were first published in 1941, and were years later made into a series of books and films, the most recent film being in 2007 starring Russell Brand. As a teenager, Mr Searle was a sketch artist for The Cambridge Daily News and sketched the Perse girls he saw coming home from school, who he called “a positive source of inspiration” – I was one of those girls.
I remember, when the film came out, watching my headmistress on TV talking about how proud she was of how we were associated with St Trinians. She said while the fictional St Trinian’s girls were badly-behaved gamblers who smoked and committed crimes, they were still “independent, entrepreneurial and quite extraordinary young people”. We even got to skip our science lessons to watch a screening of the new film after learning the Girl’s Aloud St Trinians song by heart.
All the tropes of St Trinians on film were there in real life at my school. There was the posh totty clique, obsessed with fashion and ponies. Everyone idolised the senior girls, just like in the films – if you were invited to a party by girls in the years above you it was like being knighted by the Queen.
Just like in St Trinian’s, it was easy to spot a first year at my school. Their skirts fell at their ankles and their jumpers were far too large. They also wore no make-up, had their hair in centre partings in low pony tails and wore velcro shoes from Clarks. You then had the geeks. Or shall I say, absolute geniuses. They were the ones who you’d make friends with in Chemistry as you would have no idea what to revise in exams after spending the whole class time drawing pictures of naked boys in your homework diary.
I was flattered to have been once invited to a genius’ birthday party. We played with her ferrets.
There were the standard emos who wore incredibly dark eye makeup and got told off for having piercings and always skipping PE. My best friend went through an emo stage. I remember when she turned up on a non-uniform day wearing a tutu with stripey stockings. I wish I had the guts to do that. But then again, I was always one of the preppy girls who wore ugg boots and liked Hollister.Co. (I could never afford real uggs though, mine were from Primark, so I never completely fitted in). So that was me, the sporty blonde girl who was still lucky enough to know all the lyrics to songs by My Chemical Romance and All American Rejects.
We had a queen bee too, she was like the head girl in St Trinian’s with her posse of impressionable girls who followed her everywhere. Being last-minute invited to her bat mitzvah was a big moment for me.
There were also many differences between my school and the fictional boarding house, which always make me chuckle, down to the little details. Although St Trinian’s was hugely inspired by our hockey girls, (I’m talking rah daddy’s daughters whose french plaits always seemed to stay immaculate even after an entire game), one thing that our players never needed to do was replace their mouth guards. It was never an aggressive game. In fact I wish it had been. If we had all knocked each other’s teeth out on the pitch, the bitchy conversations at lunch might have been slightly more challenging. I remember receiving this face-guard as a present one year. Sadly the only time I needed it was for this photo.
Much to the disappointment of many, our bad behaviour was nothing compared to our fictional counterparts, and a constant desire to achieve left little time for delinquency.
As well as this, the downside of going to a girls school was that we would get rather fixated on any event involving the opposite sex, from science days to bonfire nights. This wasn’t shown so much in the St Trinian’s movie. For us, doing activities with boys were the biggest school highlights of the year, and we would spend months deciding on the perfect outfit to wear for the special day. It would be normal to see us donning the shortest rah-rah skirts and back-combing our hair to oblivion just to impress boys at discos, who, horrified by our strangeness, would run away confused about why Halloween would be celebrated in July. Sometimes there would be rumours of “boys in the building” which would spread like wildfire, causing us to run around screaming and pushing and shoving to the nearest mirror to put our make-up on, which we would always carry around with us – just in case.
There were differences in the uniform too. In the St Trinian’s film, the girls could prance around in whatever they liked from skimpy shorts to funky hairbands. What I remember specifically from my school, however, were these not-so sexy nylon gym knickers that we had to wear for running, and I mean literally just the knickers. That’s right, no shorts over the top. Just a nappy with trainers. Of course I kept mine in hope of stripy high-waisted pants coming into fashion. Sadly it hasn’t quite reached the catwalk yet.We also had to wear a buckled belt over our pinafore dresses. There was just enough room in the zipped pouch to put a few spare pennies for the tuck shop at break time. Sometimes we would join belts with a friend just for giggles and walk around attached at the hip until we were told off (for health and safety reasons). In year 10 we would wear our belts with age 7-8 elasticated waist skirts. The waist would stretch enough to fit your waist but the length would be pretty short. But of course we’d still roll it up a few times anyway, leaving a giant sausage bulge on our waistline that was subtly hidden by our navy over-sized jumpers.
Finally, lessons with male teachers were also exciting but not because we were being taught how to make cheap vodka like Russell Brand taught the St Trinians, but because we felt like dogs when they meet babies for the first time. We would stare at them all lesson, not really knowing how to act or respond when they moved or spoke. Their low voices and hairy faces were so alien to us that any male, whoever they were, was put in the annual hot-list. Subtle photographs were taken daily of these species in their natural environment. However the best day was when the school organised mixed netball and we’d get to watch them run around and practise their lunges.
So there you have it. My school inspired Searle to create a fictitious boarding school, and I’ll always be proud of that. And although, admittedly, there were some differences between my experience there and those of the troublesome characters in St Trinian’s, I believe my school certainly has that magical touch.
So in true Perse Girls style, we sing “until the end, St Trinian’s, defenders of anarchy. Don’t let the bastards get you down”.