Comp: A Survivor’s Tale
Published by Victor Gollancz, 1998
Comp is a memoir of my time at Holland Park Comprehensive, a flagship state school in London. It got a lot of attention when it was published because newspapers found in my account things that justified their own fixed ideas, both for and against comprehensive education.
An Educational Wonder
Holland Park was one of the first comprehensive schools, designed to educate together people previously separated into grammar schools and secondary moderns. It opened in Notting Hill in the late 1950s.
People have always been divided about Holland Park. Some considered it to be extraordinarily privileged. Others said it was, basically, a sink school.
At times, it was both at once.
The Eton Of Comprehensives
‘The first time the lid has been lifted on the school once described as the “Eton of comprehensives”’ – Edward Marriott, The Evening Standard
Holland Park Prison
‘Makes The Lord of The Flies look like a soft-soap cover-up’ – Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
A Teacher Writes
‘I’ve just re-discovered this book on Amazon. I lost my copy years ago. In pre-twitter pre-blog era, John-Paul Flintoff, a former student at Holland Park, decided to write about his experiences. Before publishing, he visited the school in ’97 to talk to teachers at the time. One of them was me.
He got a bit of flack for it – it’s not exactly a documentary. It’s based around his own recollections of life at the school in the 1980s but it makes it sound like a zoo – which it wasn’t. Crazy things happened – but it wasn’t the wall-to-wall chaos described here. Comp is still fun to read – especially if you worked there.’ – Tom Sherrington
A Classmate’s Opinion
‘On the whole I thought it was very good, very well written & extremely funny throughout, although having said that I also found it untrue & very exaggerated in places…’
[ He described several major errors. ]
‘I’m sorry to go on but I thought I would point out some facts. Anyway like I said I thoroughly enjoyed it (except for the things I mentioned). It made me laugh for hours & brought back some really good & bad memories (mainly good). I also enjoyed all the history you wrote on Holland Park which I never knew.’
Quite A Lot Of Stuff From Book Reviews & People Who Interviewed Me
‘It has faint echoes of the tender bravado of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and gives a nod to the wicked young Amis of The Rachel Papers. But mostly Flintoff writes as his own likeable, transparent self’ – Melissa Benn, New Statesman
‘Very readable, in an Adrian Mole-possessed-by-Satan kind of way’ – Roy Kerridge, The Spectator
‘High quality anecdotage and characterisation… Should strike a chord with anybody who’s ever been to school or, indeed, Borstal’ – Robin Askew, Venue (Bristol)
‘May not bring much comfort to supporters of the comprehensive system, but it is a fascinating read’ – Mario Basini, Western Mail (Cardiff)
‘Often hilarious… the timing of a natural’ – The Sunday Times
‘Funny, sometimes disturbing’ – Denise Winterman, Hampstead and Highgate Express
‘I hope John-Paul Flintoff is a fast runner. He’ll need to be if his old classmates at Holland Park Comprehensive ever find him. Flintoff has written an hilariously merciless memoir’ – Guy Somerset, Metro
‘It all rings too horribly, comically true’ – Glasgow Herald
‘Comp is a compendium of teenage delinquency… the great strength of the book – which is often funny in the blackest way imaginable – is its non-judgmental frankness’ – Adam Lively, Times Educational Supplement
‘Might shock parents’ – Maxim
‘Hilarious, hair-raising narrative… manages to be both supremely entertaining and an invaluable social document. The closing “register” of what happened to Flintoff’s old school friends is priceless’ – Max Davidson, Daily Telegraph
‘Unmissable’ – Joe Jenkins, Catholic Herald
‘A light-footed comic autobiography… in an understated way, it also has much to say about how we teach children’ – Adrian Turpin, The Big Issue
‘A fun and honest book’ – Lisa Allardice, Literary Review
‘An entertaining and thoughtful memoir… Flintoff’s book manages to be funny while making a serious point… He conveys the blatant hostility of the less privileged, the chaos of adolescent lust, and the comedy of classroom anarchy, while acknowledging the treacherous cruelty of which teenagers are capable. There may be a lesson here, but Flintoff is the gentlest of moralists’ – Susanna Rustin, Financial Times