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BBC3’s drama Boarders shows students pouring champagne over a homeless man and urinating on a classmate’s face – as creator insists it was based on real experiences


A new BBC Three drama set in a prestigious private school is gearing to shock viewers.

New show Boarders, which aired last night, follows the lives of five Black scholarship students from London who attend St Gilbert’s – portrayed as an ostentatious school filled with outdated traditions.

Jaheim, Leah, Omar, Femi and Toby are forced to endure microaggressions, stereotypes and bizarre initiation ceremonies typically associated with elite institutions as part of the school’s PR move to appear more progressive – after a group of pupils caused scandal when they filmed themselves pouring champagne over a sleeping homeless man.

And the first episode alone is filled with wild scenes, including a baffling initiation dubbed ‘the running of the balls’, rumours of a secret society worshipping a satirical cartoonist and swathes of people asking the main characters if they sell drugs.

The programme also doesn’t hold back on biting dialogue to exemplify how archaic and cliché St Gilbert’s is.

A new BBC Three drama set in a prestigious private school is gearing to shock viewers. Pictured: Pupils in the show readying for a naked running initiation ceremony

A new BBC Three drama set in a prestigious private school is gearing to shock viewers. Pictured: Pupils in the show readying for a naked running initiation ceremony

On the way to the school, charismatic class clown Toby, played by Sekou Diaby, jokingly declares: ‘You have not lived the full private school experience if you don’t came back with an STI and a coke habit.’

Elsewhere in the first few minutes of the show, antagonist and bully Rupert (Harry Gilby) – who was behind the horrific homeless man video – dismissively greets the group as ‘the scholarships’. 

The episode also sees the teens in conflict with the Head Master over a racist painting of the school’s founder, which he is unwilling to take down.

Another storyline sees obliviously ignorant students asking the school’s new Black pupils if they sell drugs, and asking for a ‘gram’ of ‘creps’ – which they mistake for narcotics, instead of being London slang for shoes.

Femi – played by Aruna Jalloh – is also encouraged to join the ‘Rah’scals’ and take part in an initiation ceremony that sees him and other boys running naked along the corridors. 

Elsewhere, talented artist Omar (Myles Kamwendo) rummages through rubbish in attempt to join a secret society dedicated to a satire cartoonist.

Jaheim, played by Josh Tedeku, is at one point also attacked by Rupert, as another student films the bully kick him and then urinate over his face.

In its review of the series, James Jackson, for The Times, wrote: ‘The Bullingdon Club has nothing on St Gilbert’s, a place that, when it’s not being abysmally toxic, is presented as just a bit ridiculous with its arcane traditions… and contrived ‘diversity days’.’

Elsewhere in the first few minutes of the show, antagonist and bully Rupert (Harry Gilby) - who was behind the horrific homeless man video (portrayed in the show) - dismissively greeting the group as 'the scholarships'

Elsewhere in the first few minutes of the show, antagonist and bully Rupert (Harry Gilby) – who was behind the horrific homeless man video (portrayed in the show) – dismissively greeting the group as ‘the scholarships’

Elsewhere talented artist Omar (Myles Kamwendo) rummages through rubbish in attempt to join a secret society dedicated to a satire cartoonist

Elsewhere talented artist Omar (Myles Kamwendo) rummages through rubbish in attempt to join a secret society dedicated to a satire cartoonist

Another storyline sees obliviously ignorant students asking the school's new Black pupils if they sell drugs, and asking for a 'gram' of 'creps' - which they mistake for narcotics, instead of being London slang for shoes

Another storyline sees obliviously ignorant students asking the school’s new Black pupils if they sell drugs, and asking for a ‘gram’ of ‘creps’ – which they mistake for narcotics, instead of being London slang for shoes

Jaheim, played by Josh Tedeku, is at one point also attacked by Rupert, as another student films the bully kick him and then urinate over his face

Jaheim, played by Josh Tedeku, is at one point also attacked by Rupert, as another student films the bully kick him and then urinate over his face

The programme also doesn't hold back on biting dialogue to exemplify how archaic and cliché St Gilbert's is

The programme also doesn’t hold back on biting dialogue to exemplify how archaic and cliché St Gilbert’s is

He also references other parts of the show – including a scene in episode two where, in order to go to a party instead of studying, Femi’s roommate encourages him to buy an essay online – written by ‘boffins on the other side of the globe who are trying to feed their families. Bless’.

The show’s writer, Daniel Lawrence Taylor – who is also behind the BAFTA-nominated Timewasters – told the BBC that his depiction of St Gilbert’s was inspired by conversations he had with friends who had attended private schools.

‘It was the kind of thing that you’d imagine – the kind of microaggressions and incidents – but the main one was code switching and learning how to survive in that environment,’ he told the outlet.

Jaheim, Leah, Omar, Femi and Toby are forced to endure microaggressions, stereotypes and bizarre initiation ceremonies typically associated with elite institutions. Pictured from left to right: Aruna Jalloh as Femi, Jodie Campbell as Leah, Myles Kamwendo as Omar and Sekou Diaby as Toby

Jaheim, Leah, Omar, Femi and Toby are forced to endure microaggressions, stereotypes and bizarre initiation ceremonies typically associated with elite institutions. Pictured from left to right: Aruna Jalloh as Femi, Jodie Campbell as Leah, Myles Kamwendo as Omar and Sekou Diaby as Toby

Daniel - who also plays Gus, the teenagers' mentor - said they 'never shy away' from difficult moments in the show. Omar and Toby pictured in class

Daniel – who also plays Gus, the teenagers’ mentor – said they ‘never shy away’ from difficult moments in the show. Omar and Toby pictured in class

‘I think there’ll be a universal appeal to the show because we all have to code switch in some way, shape or form, to survive in life.’

He also revealed that the narrative of the series was in part shaped by his own time as a student at Royal Holloway, University of London, which was ‘predominantly white, predominantly middle class and it was like a proper culture shock’.

Daniel – who also plays Gus, the teenagers’ mentor – said they ‘never shy away’ from difficult moments in the show, especially depicting how places like St Gilbert’s can be as academically rewarding as they are challenging socially.

Daniel also revealed that the narrative of the series was in part shaped by his own time as a student at Royal Holloway, University of London. Femi pictured in his room

Daniel also revealed that the narrative of the series was in part shaped by his own time as a student at Royal Holloway, University of London. Femi pictured in his room

The show's writer, Daniel Lawrence Taylor - who is also behind the BAFTA-nominated Timewasters - told the BBC that his depiction of St Gilbert's was inspired by conversations he had with friends who had attended private schools. Pictured: Josh Tedeku as  Jaheim

The show’s writer, Daniel Lawrence Taylor – who is also behind the BAFTA-nominated Timewasters – told the BBC that his depiction of St Gilbert’s was inspired by conversations he had with friends who had attended private schools. Pictured: Josh Tedeku as  Jaheim

Jodie Campbell, who plays Leah – the only woman in the scholarship group – told the Radio Times that she feels it’s ‘an important watch’.

‘Showing the education system where institutionalised racism is really there, to depict that for people who haven’t experienced it in a way that’s not too ‘in your face’, it’s not like it’s preaching to you, it’s more palatable,’ she explained.

‘But it’s still being very serious about the issues.

‘I feel like Boarders is a piece of art that can make people aware so they can make these institutions change in the future, hopefully. Visibility is so important.’



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