Sidmouth school and parents defend headmaster after 50 Shades of Grey joke makes national headlines

St John's School headteacher Mike Burgess. Ref shs 7908-49-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

St John's School headteacher Mike Burgess. Ref shs 7908-49-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

Head’s light-hearted comments about sharp-suited character in erotic best-seller, made in newsletter, are taken at face value by one person, but parents stick up for teacher and praise his sense of humour.

St John’s School bosses have defended its headmaster after a joke he made about dressing up as a character from erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey on World Book Day made national headlines.

Mike Burgess light-heartedly wrote in a recent newsletter that he was disappointed no-one guessed which of his ‘literary heroes’ he chose for the fancy-dress festivities. He then signed off as Christian Grey, one of the main characters in the saucy best-seller.

In a statement issued this week, bosses at the private school in Convent Road expressed regret for any offence caused by Mr Burgess’s comments and said they were intended to be ‘humorous’.

And social media users - many of whom are parents of children at the school - have reacted to the story by backing the ‘great’ headmaster and praising his sense of humour.


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The sharp-suited character Christian Grey is the brilliant self-made billionaire protagonist - with a penchant for bondage - in the erotic romance Fifty Shades trilogy penned by British author EL James.

Mr Burgess, a former banker who took the top role at the school in 2015, wrote in a newsletter, published on its website and shared to Facebook and Twitter followers: “Some wonderful costumes to stimulate interest and initiate conversations about our favourite books and characters.

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“Disappointingly, no-one has managed to guess which literary hero of mine I chose to portray, despite the sharp suit and contemptuous attitude – perhaps no one noticed any difference.

“Happy weekend everyone, Christian Grey.”

The headmaster even joked that a colleague had ‘warned against’ the supposed costume.

One concerned person, who had taken the comments at face value, wrote to the Herald this week and said: “I do wonder if the world has gone mad.”

The national press was also contacted on the matter and duly reported on the comments.

St John’s School is part of International Education Systems. Its chairman, Andrew McEwen, said: “St John’s School has been made aware that an alleged complaint has been made to the media regarding an article recently published by the school.

“We would like to stress that no complaint, from any parents or otherwise, has been received by either the school itself or by any of its directors, and that is still the case at the time of releasing this statement.

“It is our understanding that the alleged complaint concerns an article from headmaster Mr Burgess.

“This featured a comment, which was intended to be humorous; we regret any offence that may have been taken which was clearly not the aim. Contrary to some reports, Mr Burgess did not dress as a character on World Book Day as he had a number of meetings with parents in school on that day.”

Users of the Herald’s Facebook page - many of them parents of children at St John’s - have leapt to the defence of Mr Burgess - praising his sense of homour.

“I love the humour at St John’s..both of my boys attend and I couldn’t praise the school and all of its staff higher,” said one mum.

“Love Mike’s newsletters, at least they get delivered in a relaxed, humorous and friendly manner, rather than detached and over formal!”

Another added: “Everyone knows he is a great headmaster with a brilliant sense of humour.”

One Facebook user described Mr Burgess as a ‘fantastic man’ with ‘nothing but good intentions’, adding: “This tongue in cheek has been taken far too seriously by small-minded very easily offended people and blown all out of proportion.”

“It was clearly a joke aimed at the parents- heaven forbid a headteacher can have a personality,” said another user.

“The world has indeed gone mad if someone really has complained about this. Get a grip people - there are much much worse things on our doorstep,” wrote another person.

“He is an excellent teacher and an asset to the school. I can’t believe someone was offended by the comment he made,” said another mum.

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