What is the meaning behind the song ‘To Sir With Love’ by Lulu?

The economy of England when the story of TO SIR WITH LOVE is set is the same as in the USA today–too few jobs–and kids with a sense of confusion and wondering about their future in an economy they did not create. I am watching the film, TO SIR WITH LOVE, on the internet right now. It takes me back to my American childhood and looking at schools around the world–I see that the problems are often the same for those poor achieving students even today.–kAS, a global educator

Watch the movie by the same name and it will be OBVIOUS. 


Or just listen to the song! She is singing about her respect for a black teacher who taught her and her classmates the real meaning of love. It is much deeper than that. I agree, watch the movie.

Lulu is singing about their teacher, a black man, who “took them from crayons to perfume”, taught them right from wrong, and how do they repay him for all he has done for them. It was a reversal in the social chain where these kids were ghetto and he was educated. Listen to the song and watch the flick…both are great.


One of the sub-plots in the movie, To Sir With Love, is the “sexual tension” that exists between the teacher and one of his students. So the song also deals with the idea that the student could only “give” herself to him in a platonic sense. Lulu is singing on behalf of all the students who “grew up” under the teacher’s supervision, but could not express it any other way.

This is the title song to the 1967 movie of the same name. Lulu was in the film with Sidney Poitier – she got the gig after director James Clavell saw her open a show for The Beach Boys. At first she had just a small role in the movie, but Clavell was so impressed with her that he expanded her role and had her sing the theme. The film stars Poitier as a high school teacher who has a big impact on his unruly students. Lulu plays one of his students, and sings this song to him at the end of the film as the students show their appreciation for the teacher.

Lulu is a charismatic Scottish singer known for her moving rendition of this song. She was born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Laurie (one source cites “Lawrie” as the spelling). She also sang the title song for the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. From 1969 to 1973, Lulu was married to pop star Maurice Gibb. (thanks, Mike – Mountlake Terrace, WA, for above 2)

This was Billboard’s single of the year for 1967, having been #1 for five weeks in the USA. However in Lulu’s native UK it was only ever a B-side to her #11 hit “Let’s Pretend.”

Don Black wrote the lyrics to this and Mark London the music. Black revealed to the Sunday Times August 10, 2008: “It’s one of the very, very few songs that I’ve worked on where I’ve written the words first. Normally, I may give the composer a title or suggest a couple of lines, but I don’t like to write the whole lyric first. If you write the lyric first, you tend to ramble. You want the structure there to work against it.”

Lulu performed this song on The Ed Sullivan Show on October 22, 1967, which was the day after hit #1 in America.

The version used in the movie has three verses. For the single release, the third verse (“Those awkward years, have hurried by…”) was edited out.

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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8 Responses to What is the meaning behind the song ‘To Sir With Love’ by Lulu?

  1. eslkevin says:

    I remember when the movie came out; it was about May ’67 or so. I was in 4th grade, I believe. Loved the movie, bought the 45-rpm single. Had a General Electric stereo, I played the record til it wore-out. It was on Epic Records; had that yellow label with black lettering, and the Epic logo in an oval motif at the top
    – Harry III, Honolulu, HI

  2. eslkevin says:

    To Sir, With Love
    by E.R. Braithwaite
    4.04 of 5 stars avg. rating
    The all-time Classic schoolroom drama – as relevant as today’s headlines … He shamed them, wrestled with them, enlightened them, and – ultimately – learned to live them. Mr. Braithwaite, the new teacher, had first to fight the class bully. Then he taught defiant, hard-bitten delinquents to call him “Sir,” and to address the girls who had grown up beside them in the gutter as “Miss”. He taught them to wash their faces and to read Shakespeare. When he took all forty six to museums and to the opera, riots we predicted. But instead of a catastrophe, a miracle happened. A dedicated teacher had turned hate into love, teenage rebelliousness into self-respect, contempt into into consideration for others. A man’s own integrity – his concern and love for others – had won through. The modern classic about a dedicated teacher in a tough London school who slowly and painfully breaks down the barriers of racial prejudice. It is the story of a man’s own integrity winning through against the odds. “A book that the reader devours quickly, ponders slowly, and forgets not at all.” – The New York Times “Infinitely more rewarding than The Blackboard Jungle.” – John Barkham

    from: http://www.goodreads.com/mobile/book/description/895163

  3. Jc nichols says:

    I like this movie but love the song.i feel the song and to me she is speaking for whole class but more so for her because she learned she could love and be loved by a man for herself and not as something sexual that she had value as a person.this love and respect goes beyond race,gender,and age

    • Tootsie says:

      I cry every time I hear this song. It brings back beautiful memories of when I was a little girl & my father would tell me & my sister to sing this song for him. He loved every time we’d sing it 😪

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