Spud, the hilarious, spot-on reflection of 90s boarding school lifeWatch full movie now
Movie critic and boarding school survivor Stephen Aspeling tells us why the Spud trilogy captures the fun and agony of 90s school life.
Spud is the beloved chronicle of John “Spud” Milton, played by Troye Sivan, a teenage boy trying to fit in as a student at a prestigious private boarding school. Loosely based on the experiences of John van de Ruit, the Spud trilogy is a delightful romp and coming-of-age tale about a teenager’s growing pains in high school. 2010’s Spud, 2013’s Spud 2: The Madness Continues and Spud 3: Learning to Fly from 2014 now streaming on Showmax.
A semi-biographical comedy-drama, here are six ways it accurately reflects boarding school life in the 90s.
Spud features recurring roles for John Cleese as “The Guv” and Jason Cope as “Sparerib”. As much as we hate to admit it, boarding school wouldn’t be as much fun without having teachers to admire or ridicule. Quirks, walks, sayings, teaching styles, disciplinary stances, hygiene… as campus celebrities, they’re constantly under the microscope.
Having been a student and schoolmaster in real life, there’s plenty of nostalgia for Cleese who goes full carpe diem as Mr Edly, better known as “The Guv”. A lovable spirit guide and adoptive father figure, he becomes Spud’s fireside mentor and silent champion.
Cope is a great example of a “prison warden” schoolmaster in Mr Wilson. Prone to losing his temper, constantly surveilling students and generally irritated to be on the school campus at all, Sparerib’s the perfect target for roving gangs of school menaces.
Gecko, Rambo, Rain Man, Mad Dog or Spud … at boarding school, your nickname chooses you. Teachers get nicknames so students can openly talk behind their backs. Teetering on the tightrope of respect, these nicknames can immortalise worthy teachers or cast them in eternal detention. Developed from your surname, a heroic act, a foolhardy blunder, a physical attribute, an off-colour remark or a personal taste – someone can get one or even a hundred nicknames (we counted)!
Often replacing your real name, except during roll call, they can become intertwined with your identity. In a more callous time of unmodulated body shaming, young Spud’s moniker was determined by a physical attribute. While at first utterly humiliating, withstanding the insults and teasing can eventually turn a nickname into a badge of honour and validation among your peers.
Awkward teen romance
Always subject to time constraints, boarding school romance lives for the weekends and holidays as Spud discovers with Mermaid. From flowery dot-the-i-with-hearts love letters to cringefest school socials, the game of lockdown love can be heaven or hell, depending on who you ask or what finds its way to the ripe and flourishing grapevine.
Boarding schools make it easier for you to visit your sweetheart. The campus is your world, where you can roam freely and live independent of your all-too embarrassing parents. The school rules mean you have boundaries and serious travel restrictions, having to sign out and wear a straw basher to restock your tuck box or toiletries in town. However, in between visits to the dining hall and prep bells there exists a time to woo… under strict supervision, of course.
The Crazy 8 gang quickly discover there’s a gaping spectrum of privilege and ranking from being a junior to becoming a senior. Boarding school is a microcosm where paying your dues earns you respect and even resilience. Juniors are often tasked with menial jobs such as managing laundry and making beds or delivering milk or biscuits. It’s a rite of passage designed to put you in your place with the lofty promise that you too will receive the same privilege one day.
The respect-your-seniors hierarchy is layered, determining where you can or can’t walk and whether you get jam and peanut butter or toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches. Beyond these politics, there’s even an invisible turf war between day scholars and boarders, especially when one side has a clear majority. Being a “day bug” means you have visitor privileges but aren’t on the inside as much as a permanent resident.
John Milton undergoes a traumatic initiation, which serves to underscore the hard knock life and dramatic side of Spud. It’s an act that closely aligns the trilogy with the untold hardships of boarding school life, where peer pressure and old school lore collide. While not openly tolerated, these “Lord of the Flies” type rituals often continue in the name of outdated tradition.
Joining high school, a boarding house, moving up the ranks in sports teams or school grades, initiations range from the boisterous hijinx of a night swim to the painful humiliation of a shoe polish scrubbing. Love or hate them, secret societies, rites of passage or acts of survival to create oneness within the group persist. Fun to challenging initiations are an infrequent yet very real part of a boarding school community.
Pranks & shenanigans
From torch-lit bunking and pile ons to boosting Sparerib’s car into the quad, you can expect non-stop fun and games as a boarder. All of these Spud moments happen at your typical boarding school, sometimes at the risk of detention or expulsion. Teenagers come up with all sorts of crazy, creative and daring ways to pass the time or become immortal.
While typical rebellion involves smoking behind the scoreboard or breaking out of the hostel at night to go streaking, every scenario calls for new hysterical ways to be naughty. Turning on cold taps while people shower, flipping beds at midnight, playing dorm room cricket or relocating a boarder’s entire cubicle to the middle of the rugby field – there’s never a dull moment!