GUARDIAN – ER Braithwaite, the Guyanese author of To Sir, With Love, has died at his home in Maryland at the age of 104.
Born in Guyana on 27 June 1912, Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite was the child of privileged parents, both graduates of Oxford University. His father was a diamond miner while his mother raised the family.
During the second world war, he joined the Royal Air Force to fight as a pilot before going on to Cambridge to read physics. He later said that he experienced no racial prejudice within the RAF.
On graduating, he found himself barred from work as an engineer because of racism. Unable to find an alternative, he took a job as a teacher at St George-in-the-East school in London’s East End, which was recovering from the battering it had taken during the war. This experience formed the basis of his autobiographical novel To Sir With Love, his 1959 book later adapted into a film of the same name starring Sidney Poitier.
At the school, renamed Greenslade School in the film, the well-educated middle class graduate was confronted with casual racism, violence and antisocial behaviour by a group of disadvantaged pupils. Hardest to bear was the self-hatred the racism brought out in him and the low expectations of colleagues for their charges.