Unman, Wittering and Zigo
The play is a thriller set in a traditional boys' boarding school where a senior form master has just been killed in a tragic accident. The main character is John Ebony, a teacher in his first job, brought in as a temporary measure, though one he hopes will be confirmed as permanent. Between his rebellious wife Nadia, the eccentric art master Cary Farthingale and the class of Lower 5B, Ebony struggles to exercise power, but is thwarted by reality and a disbelieving Headmaster. The resonant quotation from the play falls to the wise old Farthingale. "Authority is a necessary evil, and every bit as evil as it is necessary."
The play was adapted for television as an episode of BBC 2's Theatre 625 series and broadcast in June 1965. It was the BBC's Italia Prize entry that year. It featured a number of young actors who gained a higher profile including Hywel Bennett and Dennis Waterman.
The play is part of the curriculum for GCSE and Standard Grade English coursework in the United Kingdom and is frequently performed in public schools. Cooper himself attended Lancing in Sussex from 1932-1936, a school associated with fine writing, having produced in the 20th century Evelyn Waugh, Sir David Hare, Christopher Hampton, Tom Sharpe, Sir Tim Rice, and the playwright Royce Ryton. Both Cooper's sons, Guy and Ric, also went to Lancing.
A feature film version, directed by John Mackenzie, was released in 1971 with a screenplay by Simon Raven which stayed true to the basic plot, but added sexual scenes and changed Ebony's wife's name from Nadia to Sylvia. The 1971 film featured actors including David Hemmings and a young Michael Kitchen, and is also currently used for educational purposes in the UK.
A reference to the play is made in the British TV series Little Britain, in which a schoolmaster finishes the morning roll call with "Unman, Wittering and Zigo absent", while Alan Bennett credits Giles Cooper and the play's influence in his creation of The History Boys.
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