I first encountered Professor Price when he interviewed me to be his teaching assistant. He told me his methods and asked if I agreed with them, then he took my backside off with a thick whippy school cane. It was so humiliating and painful that I cried. I was twenty-two years old and held a first-class honours degree.
He was Head of the Chemistry Department at Brocklehurst University. The year was 1974. His methods were unusual even then. In those days, we didn’t have the mass higher education we have today and most of his students, and myself, had attended elite “public schools” or upscale grammars and were well acquainted with corporal punishment. But none of us expected to be subjected to the cane when we arrived at the university.
Prof. Price taught the boys separately from the girls. The “young ladies” as he liked to call them were left unscathed; not so, the “young gentlemen.” His regime was strict. He gave regular classroom tests and a student who scored eighty percent or fewer would be required to attend the professor’s study. Then he would be instructed to bend over the back of a low “comfy” chair and Prof. Price would whip his backside with six stingers.
A young man who submitted a poor laboratory report or essay would find himself in a similar position. I have no independent scientific evidence to support this (as science researchers would demand) but his method appeared to be effective. Students thus treated would in future spend less time in the bar and more in the lab and library. He achieved excellent examination results and many of his graduates went on to enjoy highly-lucrative careers in the scientific community.
I wonder what university lecturers today would make of this. If a student commits a crime of racial aggravation or sexual harassment, he (or she) might expect expulsion. There is no punishment at all available for more “everyday” misdemeanours. Therefore, indolence is rife and cheating and plagiarism abound. Of course, there will be no introduction of corporal punishment onto the campuses, but what if it was acceptable today to use Prof. Price’s whippy canes? How different might our students be?
Those readers who attended universities in the 1970s and earlier would know that Prof. Price’s methods were unusual, not to say damn-right strange. The use of corporal punishment on students was not officially sanctioned, not even at Brocklehurst. He did not make a big song-and-dance about his methods, but they could hardly be kept entirely secret. Today, such activities would be reported all over social media (secretly-taken photographs included), but back then there were few channels of communication open.
The professor’s family were wealthy benefactors to the university; witness the Price Building that housed many science laboratories. So, the Brocklehurst University authorities turned a blind eye to Prof. Price’s methods and in time were rewarded with a second building.
Readers might think that since this happened in the 1970s, Prof. Price was guilty of so-called “historic sexual abuse.” Not so. I am certain that no “sex” ever took place. It is true that the professor would occasionally require a repeat offender to lower his trousers and bend across the chair for nine, or even twelve, swipes across the seat of his underwear, but it never went further.
His students would sometimes mutter behind their hands that Prof. Price “enjoyed” caning them; meaning, I suppose, that he got some sexual thrill from it. How can we know? As far as I saw, he never exhibited such tendencies. He never spoke about the beatings he had delivered or those he intended to give. I am not aware that he kept a record of his canings in a punishment book, so there would be nothing concrete for him to drawl over later.
Prof. Price was a relatively young man and would probably have been in his forties during this time. He was married and had two daughters, whom he adored. A framed photograph of the three of them took pride of place on his desk.
Of course, I have clear memories of my own trips across Prof. Price’s chair. I began in his department as a teaching assistant and my main job was to be in the laboratories to help students in their lab work. I had been at the university for about four weeks when I was summoned to attend his study. Prof. Price told me that he had seen a deterioration in the grades of students in the department and he accused me of not giving sufficient assistance in lab work. For this, I was to be beaten.
His “study” was a contemporary office in a new building. The furniture was mostly made of some pine-effect material that was fashionable at the time. The room was dominated by a huge desk and several smaller tables. He kept his canes in a drawer of one of these. He had several, I heard them rattling round when he put his hand in the drawer to find the one he wanted to use to beat me.
I watched as impassively as it was possible to be. He had thrashed me at our first meeting and I suspected that might only have been a “warm-up” and that any future caning would be somewhat harsher. The situation I found myself in was absurd. I was a twenty-two-year-old adult about to be caned for alleged poor performance at work. Where else in the world could such a thing happen?
I watched the professor choose a dense dark-yellow cane and swish it through the air. It made a terrific Whoosh! As it went. It was thicker than the cane he had used at my interview, but had the traditional crook handle. Prof. Price flexed the cane between his hands; he seemed to have forgotten my existence.
I could have refused to be beaten. I could have complained to the university authorities, but I knew I would not do either. Prof. Price would have known this too. Jobs such as mine in universities were as rare as hens’ teeth and I would certainly lose my post if I complained. Prof. Price had the power: I had none.
At last, after all the flexing and some more swishing, he instructed me to take hold of one of the armchairs he used for visitors and to swing it around. Its back now faced the centre of the room. I was required to wear smart suits at work and the professor instructed me to remove the jacket and place it on his desk.
“Bend over,” he tapped his cane on the back of the garish green chair. I took a deep breath, rubbed my palms together, and rather like a swimmer going into freezing water, I dived over. I was a little over five-eight in height and in those days I hardly weighed a thing. My waist was narrow, my stomach flat and you would hardly notice my buttocks under the cloth of my dark blue pinstriped trousers.
I felt my buttocks fill out the seat of my trousers as I stretched over the back of the chair. The professor would at least have something to aim at. I stared down at the seat cushion, even today, forty years later, I remember that the cushion was stained; probably by the bums of the sweaty students who sat in it for their tutorials.
More truthfully, I don’t remember the stain just from that one beating. During the next five years until I left the university I would regularly find myself in such a position.
Prof. Price had a routine when he beat me. After the flexing and the swishing and the “Bend over” instruction, he would order, “Head low, legs apart.” He would say this even on the occasions I had immediately presented myself in the required position.
Then, he would take hold of the tail of my shirt and pull it so that it was clear of the waistband of my trousers. Shirts in those days did not have long tails and there was no way it would afford me extra protection by covering my buttocks.
He was almost ready. But not quite. “I am going to beat you,” he would say (as if such wasn’t blindingly obvious). “It will hurt, it is supposed to. That is the point.”
I think that last sentence was meant to be humorous. Ironic, even. I can’t be sure, since at other times Prof. Price never revealed that he had the slightest sense of humour.
“Do not wriggle about too much and do not try to rise or in any other way obstruct me in my duty,” he continued. Then, after a pause for dramatic effect, he concluded, “Or you will receive extra strokes. Is that understood.”
The student showing the professor his backside was expected to reply with a resounding, “Yes, Sir!”
Prof. Price would then “saw” his cane across the middle of the bum and then whack it down with terrific force. At least, when he caned me it was always with maximum effort. It was like he was beating a carpet. The pain was intense. Every time he caned me. Apparently, some people say the more times a person is caned the easier it becomes to withstand the pain. I don’t know how many of those people were ever in Prof. Price’s study, but I’m here to tell you it isn’t true.
The first swipe caught me on the lower part of the buttock, just above the thigh. It felt like he had seared a red-hot poker across my arse. My whole body shuddered and my backside bounced up and down. I had absolutely no control. It was all a reflex to the intense pain that started at my bum and ran up and down my legs.
Prof. Price never hurried a beating. To me, it felt an age, but it was probably only fifteen or twenty seconds before the second cut scorched the top end of my globes. I shuddered some more and this time my mouth opened and closed, but I stifled the yelp my body wanted me to make.
Number three hit half way between the previous two. Prof. Price had an expert aim. I now had a red stripe about four inches wide across both cheeks. Tears prickled my eyes. I sniffed them back. I did not want to repeat the humiliation of my job interview when copious tears flooded down my face like a waterfall.
Number four landed on top of a previous cut. How could it not? The professor had already burned most of my bum. The agony was intense. My legs marched up and down like a soldier on sentry duty. My hips swayed from side to side. This time I couldn’t stop the “Aaarrrh!” escaping my throat.
The fifth hurt just as badly. My temples pulsated almost as much as my throbbing bum. My left foot wrapped around my right ankle and my buttocks rose and fell, humping the back of the chair. I didn’t yell this time, instead I convulsed under a series of dry hacking coughs.
The bastard had a plan for the sixth stroke. I saw it coming before I felt it. He moved the position of his cane so that it rested in a diagonal from the bottom left to the top right of my entire arse, then he lifted it away and brought it down with a magnificent crash so that it landed across five previous scars, igniting the agony in all of them. I screamed. I cannot deny it. I jumped up from the chair, but half way to my feet, some schoolboy instinct kicked in and I resumed my position. I didn’t want extra strokes. I was certain the professor would carry out his threat.
I lay, my arse on fire, sobbing into the seat cushion. My head ached and my throat was raw from yelling and coughing. The professor gave me a moment to try to calm myself and when it was clear I could not, he ordered me to, “Stand up.”
I crawled off the back of the chair and stumbled. I grabbed a nearby table to steady myself. In an upright position my buttocks pressed against my tightly-fitting underpants and I felt several welts had risen. Later, I would see some had bled. I needed to soak my pants with a wet face cloth to get them to unstick from the dried blood.
For now, in the professor’s study I was doubled up, gulping in lungs-full of air. The agony was easing quite quickly, but every square inch of my bum was sore. The pain would soon dissipate to a constant throbbing before becoming a warm glow. Within an hour, it would have gone for good, except for a strip on my lower buttock that would hurt whenever I sat down on a hard surface. It took several days for the cuts and bruises to go.
The professor dismissed me from the study and I hobbled to the dismal bed-sitting room that was my home then.
I obtained my Ph.D doctorate under Prof. Price’s supervision and then left Brocklehurst at the earliest opportunity to take a post in private industry. Prof. Price was killed in a car crash in 1982. None of his former students attended his memorial service.
Picture credit: The Hotspur
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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