If… writer leaves behind legacy of Tonbridge satire

If... writer leaves behind legacy of Tonbridge satire

DAVID SHERWIN, the scripwriter who described his time at Tonbridge School in surreal fashion for the iconic film If…, has died aged 75.

Sherwin collaborated with the director Lindsay Anderson and actor Malcolm McDowell – in his first screen role – on three films, the first of which was If… in 1968. The others were O Lucky Man! (1973) and Britannia Hospital (1982).

His parents were both Oxford Dons, historian Adrian Nicholas Sherwin-White and Marie Downes, a Latin tutor. The writer attended the school with John Howlett in the late 1950s, and the friends wrote the original script, called Crusaders, aged 18 when they were at Oxford together – though Sherwin left after a year.

The satirical narrative describes an uprising by pupils at a boys’ boarding school, led by McDowell’s character Mike Travis, which culminates in a massacre on Founders Day, when parents pay a visit.

The film was made at another public school, Cheltenham College, where Anderson had been educated. A dummy script was given to them to secure the agreement to base it there. The fake script was called “If…” after the Rudyard Kipling poem, and was retained. Later scenes were mostly shot at Aldenham School in Elstree.

Released in France shortly after the student riots of May 1968, the film was a great success

Released in France shortly after the student riots of May 1968, the film was a great success and went on to win the Palme d’Or at the 1969 Cannes film festival. The British Film Institute named it as the 12th best British film.

Sherwin was then commissioned to rewrite John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, which saw Sevenoaks School pupil Daniel Day-Lewis in his first film role at the age of 14. It won a Bafta and Golden Globe for Best Picture.

McDowell’s starring role in If… saw him cast as Alex in Stanley Kubrik’s Clockwork Orange, and he went on to international stardom.

But Sherwin himself completed few other projects. He worked on a sequel to If… but it was shelved after Anderson’s death in 1994.

Two years later, Sherwin wrote an autobiography called Going Mad in Hollywood: And Life with Lindsay Anderson.

He died on January 8 of Sepsis, leaving two children, Luke and Skye, from his marriages to Gay Conolly and Monika Hayden respectively.

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