Early 1950s. A group of Air Force conscripts begin eight weeks of 'square-bashing' - basic military drill. Two of the conscripts develop a friendship, PIP THOMPSON - a young aristocrat, CHAS WINGATE - a working class boy.
The military hierarchy want PIP to become an officer. He rebelliously refuses. The officers patiently tolerate his rebellion thus defusing it and breaking his spirit.
When SMILER, one of the recruits, is badly treated by NCOs, the recruits rebel. PIP, who has just accepted to become an officer, urges the hierarchy to tolerate their rebelliousness as they had tolerated his and thus, similarly, defuse their anger.
The young recruits who began as a shambles end as an efficient, closely linked and acquiescent squad.
"It goes right through us, Thompson. Nothing you can do will change that. We listen but we do not hear, we befriend but do not touch you, we applaud but do not act - to tolerate is to ignore. What did you expect, praise from the boys? Devotion from your mates? Your mates are morons, Thompson, morons. At the slightest hint from us they will disown you. Or perhaps you wanted a court martial? Too expensive, boy. Jankers? That's for the yobs. You, we shall make an officer, as we promised. … You can't fight us from the outside. Relent, boy, at least we understand long sentences."
A gauntlet of a play has been flung down on the stage…Furious, compassionate and
Kenneth Tynan, The Observer
The first play of which the establishment need be afraid …
Harold Hobson, The Sunday Times