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The Harpole Report


Carr's third novel is based on his experiences as a school teacher in Southampton and Birmingham, and then as Headmaster of a Primary School in Kettering. Carr described it as an evangelical tract that got away and said that it was written on the back of envelopes in trains and B&B bedrooms while travelling the country selling his maps and small books (Carr, 1983).

The novel was read on BBC Radio 4 in 1981 by Martin Jarvis; it was abridged by Neville Teller to be read by Alistair McGowan on BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime in January 1996; and it was serialised in Radio 4's 15 Minute Drama in 2012 in five episodes with Shaun Dingwall as George Harpole and Hattie Morahan as Emma Foxberrow, directed by Bruce Young.

On a price list that Carr sent to a friend in about 1987 Carr noted that the book had been 'bought for a film by BBC TV'. No film of the book was ever produced.

The novel was not reissued by the Quince Tree Press in Carr's life time, so that edition is not included here. It can now be bought from The Quince Tree Press.


(Last updated 9/9/2021)



●  First edition, first impression


Publisher: Secker & Warburg, London

Date of publication: May, 1972

ISBN: 0436 08610 7

Size: 222 x 143 mm

Pagination: 8 pp prelims, 164 pp, 4 blank pages

Binding: Plain purple cloth cover; title, author and publisher in gold on spine, each between three gold horizontal bands

Dust jacket design: Mike Dempsey

Price: £1.75 net

Copies sold: 2,297 (Rogers, 2003, p 216)

Royalities: £826 (Rogers, 2003, p 216)


Front fold-in: George Harpole unexpectedly becomes temporary headmaster of Tampling St. Nicholas Church of England Primary School. He is a conventional young man and everything seems set fair for a conventionally succesful career. But Fate, the very personable Emaa Foxberrow M.A. (Cantab.) and his own last ditch integrity seduce him from his well charted progress to educational preferment and his highly respectable ambition to become a pillar of local society. He is nudged and pushed from disaster to disaster and to a final sickening defeat. Yet - with his career in ruins - Emma Foxberrow declares triumphantly, The Old Harpole is dead and a New Man is risen up! His adventures are recorded in extracts from his private journal, from official reports, memoranda passing between the staff, letters from parents,

Photo of book

Front panel and spine of dust jacket


letters to the newspaper, local councillor, union officials, medical officers of health and members of parliament, letters to and from the local education authority. And from these rise into the light an assortment of memorable characters lurking in the English educational undergrowth. It is a comedy but there is a darker overtone of truth in it that should make everyone involved in education sit up and take uneasy notice.

Rear fold-in: J.L. Carr was educated at village schools in the North and West Ridings of Yorkshire, Castleford Secondary School and Dudley Training College for Teachers. At present he is the publisher of a series of historical-architectural maps of the English counties. His two previous novels were A Day in Summer and A Season in Sinji described by the Spectator reviewer as the best cricket story he had ever read.

Notes: Carr offered the novel to Alan Ross, the publisher of A Season in Sinji, who turned it down. It was accepted by Secker & Warburg, who paid Carr £367, according to an article in the Sunday Telegraph magazine in November 1980. Of the 3,000 copies printed, 940 remained unsold, which Carr bought for 12p a copy, or 8p, depending on which source you take. The title was then chosen in October 1976 by Frank Muir on the radio programme, Desert Island Discs as the book that he would take to his desert island, so Carr was able to sell the remainders at their full cover price. This may also explain why signed copies are relatively common. Carr also inscribed copies given to his friends.

Inscriptions by Carr seen in copies of his book:

I began teaching when I was 18 as a ‘supernumeray’ (sic). (There were then supernumaries, supplementaries, uncertificateds, pupil-teachers and certificateds and graduates). Then I had a two year course at Dudley where none of our tutors had taught in the sort of schools they were training us for. For two years I taught history and was a games master in a Hampshire secondary school, then joined the B’ham supply staff until an appointment in a school for what were brutally called sub-normal children. In 1938 I went to S. Dakota on a years’ exchange and taught 8th and 9th grades in a prairie high school. The war began when I reached Baghdad on my way home westwards and, after six years as a tradesman photographer and a squadron intelligence officer, I began again in B’ham. Then, after I had taught in twenty-four schools, I settled in as head of a new, splendidly built and situated infant & junior school on the edge of Kettering and stayed there fifteen years so as to establish myself and what we were trying to do in a local community. I am telling you this only to explain that, although I do not know much about text-book education, I know a lot about schools and what goes on in them. And this novel was written as a cautionary tale for teachers – a sort of evangelical tract. Well it started off with this noble theme in mind but . . . well it became and odd sort of love story. J.L. Carr, 1988


This was meant to be a serious report on English education by someone who'd laboured, man and boy (I began aged 18) in its vineyard. But because it didn't speak with measured tone and slow, not many readers took it seriously. Yet, if you bother to take stock, it covers just about most things, the bigger issues, the irritating details. I have written this to make this book more valuable in 2081. Jim


There is more in this than the radio series. Frankly, the original idea was evangelical - a sort of text book for teachers written by a teacher (for a change) but it got away from me: I became too interested in some of the people in it. And then there was Emma Foxberrow - she was an awful disruption! One last detail - in the early part of the story there is an on-going business of a moveable spanner. Every bit of that is true. It befell me in B'ham.


This set out to be a text book for teachers & anyone interested in the English education system. But I'm afraid Miss Foxberrow took over early on & dissolved things. However, much of this is true, unbelievable as it may seem.


It was meant to be an evangelical tract but it escaped.




●  Second edition, 1st impression?


Publisher: Quartet Books, London

Date of publication: 24/9/1973

ISBN: 070431052X

Size: 180 x 110 mm

Pagination: 8 pp prelims, 168 pp

Binding: printed card wrappers

Cover design: no credit (I should think not)

Price: UK 40 p, Canada $1.50, Australia & New Zealand $1.40

Printed by: Hunt Barnard Printing Ltd, Aylesbury


Notes: I suspect that JLC was rather upset with the cover of this edition and may have asked for it to be withdrawn. This may explain why it is so rare and the reason for the second impression, below. I was very suprised to come across a copy of this presumed first impression for sale on eBay from a seller in California, a book I have never seen for sale in the UK. How on earth did it get there? Did the publishers simply ship copies to Canada to be sold where they would not be seen, and reprinted it with a different cover for the UK market? Or is this a proof version that was rejected? Although both editions have the quote from Teacher's World, which I suspect that Carr liked, the blurb is different. This is probably the rarest impression of all Carr's novels. My copy is now stored in a hand-made slipcase; thanks Chris!

Photo of book

Front cover


George Harpole is a conscientious young man, a budding pillar of society who looks forward to a term as temporary headmaster of his primary school. But when he realizes he has a school of infant delinquents staffed by hide-bound eccentrics, adminstered by bureaucratic busybodies and interfered with by self-seeking councillors, he loses his patience, his conventialism and, ultimately, his job.

Egged on by the daunting, delectable Miss Emma Foxberrow, M.A. (Cantab), the new supply teacher, Harpole tackles his problems with uncharacteristic radicalism, to the horror of the L.E.A., the parents and his colleagues, and with chaotic, hilarious results.


Teachers' World - The astonishing thing about The Harpole Report is that after you have put it down you realise that although your ribs ache, it's really a serious report on primary education in Britain.

New Statesman - Grotesquely farcical

Times Literary Supplement - Absolutely splendid




●  Second edition, 2nd impression


Publisher: Quartet Books, London

Date of publication: 1973

ISBN: 070431052X

Size: 180 x 110 mm

Pagination: 8 pp prelims, 168 pp

Binding: printed card wrappers

Cover design: no credit

Price: UK 40 p, Canada $1.50, Australia & New Zealand $1.40

Printed by: Hunt Barnard Printing Ltd, Aylesbury


Notes: This impression is more common than the first, but is still very hard to find. It has the same year of publication as the first impression of the second edition. The only difference is the cover, which is much less sensational, and the blurb on the cover has been rewritten too, perhaps with some editorial influence from JLC?

George Harpole is an unassuming young man, but has reserves of strength which rapidly become apparent when he is given temporary command of a mixed primary school for one chaotic term. Harpole the Headmaster, from having the highly respectable ambition of becoming a Pillar of Society, gradually, in the face of sickening bureaucratic obstacles and entrenched reaction from among the educational heirarchy, takes a more and more miltant stand at the wicket. Much to his own surprise, he introduces reforms, dispenses with archaic tradition, and does battle with the aghast L.E.A.

Photo of book

Front cover




Until finally, when his career is in ruins, the very personable Miss Emma Foxberrow, M.A. (Cantab), can declare triumphantly, 'The Old Harpole is dead and a New Man is risen up! You have advanced back to your Glorious State of Original Sin!'

Harpole's progress is charted through letters, memoranda, diaries and reports which reveals a memorable assortment of characters lurking in the English educational undergrowth, from a rival headmaster whose wife has run off with a hefty sxth-former to the amazing family Widmerpool, bane of every school in town.


Daily Telegraph

A very funny book




●  Third edition, first impression


Date of publication: 1984

Publisher: Penguin Books

Reprinted: 1984 (twice), 1985

ISBN: 0-14-006920-8

Size: 181 x 113 mm

Pagination: 8 pp prelims, pp 164, 4 pp ads

Binding: wrappers

Cover illustration: Paul Cox

Printed by: Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd, Bungay, Suffolk

Price: U.K. £1.95, Australia $4.95, New Zealand $7.95, Canada $4.95


Notes: Carr wrote inside a copy of this book:

This novel was planned as an evangelical tract for teachers but Emma Foxberrow spoiled this noble intent & I suppose it became an odd sort of love story.

Photo of book

Front cover



More information about later impressions and foreign language editions can be found on the Wikipedia page for this novel (which I update).