To Sir With Love; An Evening with ER Braithwaite.

In 1959, E.R. Braithwaite wrote a book called To Sir With Love,based on his experiences teaching teenagers in London’s poor East End.  The book became a

E.R. Braithwaite wrote To Sir With Love

major best seller and iconic motion film, starring Sidney Poitier in 1967.  Even today the impact of his work as a teacher has inspired a multitude to follow in his footsteps.  But, in the long scheme of things, Braithwaite’s stellar career as an author is but a moment in the life of an incredible man.

Born of Oxford educated parents — both mother and father — in British Colonial Guyana, Braithwaite eventually went from being an unemployed, racially discriminated, Ph.D physicist in London, to a teacher, best selling novelist, social worker, consultant to UNESCO, Permanent Representative to the U.N., and professor at NYU and Howard Universities.  He is a man who has looked at life as a whole, not defining himself by any one moment or career, a true Renaissance man.

Ted stood straight and bright-eyed at the podium last night as he reminisced about his life and his famous book.  The content of his talk was intriguing — Life on Guyana, a land of water where the sole purpose of being, was the cultivation and export of sugar.  His own odd situation as an extremely bright black boy on scholarship in a school of privileged white students, where he was constantly held up as a role model of studiousness to the others.  A territory under British rule, where every large house or new car undoubtedly belonged to a white man.  He told us of his voyage to England on a steamer, where he spent long days holed up in a small cabin studying and reading books on every subject, and ending up on the docks of Liverpool.  His studies as a Ph.D student were normal, seeing white people without shoes and begging, was completely foreign and disorienting.  He said, when “one man begged for coppers, I gave him a few pieces of silver.”  He then shook his head as if still perplexed by the memory.

Braithwaite’s book, To Sir With Love, became an iconic movie starring SidneyPoitier

Braithwaite is a humble, no-nonsense man.  He takes inordinately long pauses between his words.  “To keep the audience in anticipation,” he said more than once.  The habit made it difficult to listen to an otherwise engaging tale.  Yet, later, when we discovered he’d be one hundred at his next birthday in June, those of us in the audience were amazed.  He appeared nearly thirty years younger than his years and of course, allowances were made.

When asked about his inter-racial marriage at a time when such things were rare, he said he never paid attention to such things.  “If you look right and left to see who is staring at you, you’ll ending up [falling and] breaking your nose.”

Ted Braithwaite with Diana Belchase

He focused attention on his book career stating writing came easily and his fame a great surprise to himself and his family.  As to the movie?  He snorted a quick, “No,” when asked if he liked Poitier’s portrayal.  “The movie made it look like fun and games,” he replied.

And what was the mysterious, unnamed present given to him by his students at the end of To Sir With Love?  Braithwaite seems embarrassed, then admits, “A very expensive set of about 100 cigarettes, custom monogramed ERB.”  Unfortunately Braithwaite, didn’t smoke.

Recently, someone said, to get struck by lightening, you must stand in the rain.  Ted Braithwaite has been struck several times by the lightening rod of fame and success, but his story proves the adage true.  He certainly has known the rain.

About Diana Belchase

I am an author, who won the Golden Heart for my suspense novel Spy in the Mirror and was a Golden Heart finalist, once again, for my second novel, Spy in the Harem. I am also a triple Daphne Du Maurier Award for Mystery and Suspense Finalist for three other books. Please follow me at my website: DianaBelchase.com, or friend/follow me on facebook and twitter. I blog on KissandThrill.com. See you there!

Posted on March 13, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Amazing. Enjoyable post. Can’t believe that movie was 45 years ago!

  2. What a remarkable man! Diana, where was Mr. Braithwaite speaking?

  3. What a fascinating event, Diana. I love learning more about the people behind the book/movie. Thanks!

  4. I heard him speak way back in the early sixties and remember his passion. He was truly inspirational.

  5. Wonderful post, Diana! He really is a Renaisance man and I can’t BELIEVE he’s almost 100!

    What a treat for you. Thanks for sharing.

  6. It always lifts me up to read inspiring true stories like these. Makes you wonder why with all the truly wonderful people living amazing lives, our headlines so often feature the uninspiring.

    Great post, Diana! Thank you.

  7. What a wonderful post, Diana, I loved the movie but now I can’t wait to read the book!

  8. What an amazing life! Thanks for sharing the story, Diana.

  9. Fascinating. I remember reading his story as Reader’s Digest book. How interesting to hear the rest of the story.

  10. Is Mr. Braithwaite married..?? What happened to his relationship with Miss Blanchard ??

  11. Swati: I believe Dr. Braithwaite actually married the woman portrayed in movie as Gillian Blanchard, but I don’t remember mention of any children. And I think the author of this article may be mistaken about his age. Wikiipedia indicates that there is some question as to his actual date of birth.

    • Thank you for your comment. When I met him, Mr. Braithwaite had remarried. His wife and a close friend of his were the ones who told me his age. So I believe the facts presented are correct. I hope you will stop by to share your thoughts again.

  12. He Critisized the mixed race child as someone who would allways
    take the easy way out. why? (in To Sir With Love)

  13. Just learned of E. R. Braithwaite. What an amazing and brilliant man. Thank you Sir, for bringing us “To Sir, With Love.” And thank you for this wonderful post.

  14. Mr. Braithwaite, “Ted,” became an acquaintance of mine and I had the privilege of arranging for him to speak at a few Kiwanis Club meetings in D.C.’s Georgetown Group, as well as an all-Black group on Capitol Hill. In the telling of his story, he always included new pieces. He was patient, allowing that not everyone in attendance had read his book. I am sorry to say I lost track of him, but for years he lived in D.C. at the Kennedy-Warren Apartments where I lived and met him. And then at the condo just across Connecticut Avenue on Davenport Street.

  15. Please can someone send me mr. Braithwaite’s contact details. I enjoyed To sir with love and i have a question for him.

  16. Please can someone send me mr. Braithwaite’s contacts. I enjoyed To sir with love and i have a question for him.

  17. There is no mention of Mr Braithwaite’s wife. In fact some posts on the internet suggest he never married. I am confused. Did he marry Gillian? If not whom did he marry?

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