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Colin Smith, an 18-year-old from the Lancashire slums, is an aimless rebel. After robbing a bakery, he is sent to a Borstal reformatory, where he shows only contempt for the authorities, particularly the institution's governor, who stresses physical activity as a means of rehabilitating youth. One day Colin unintentionally distinguishes himself as an outstanding long distance runner, and the governor decides to train him for a forthcoming match against a prominent public school. During the lonely practice runs, Colin recalls the details of his early life: his poorly-paid laborer father who died of cancer, his ill-tempered mother who squandered her husband's insurance money on a television set and a lover, his few moments of happiness with his girl friend Audrey, and the bakery robbery. On the day of the race, Colin easily outdistances the other runners. As he approaches the finish line, however, he suddenly stops in front of the grandstand. Without revealing a sign of emotion, he waits for the other runners, and in a mock display of chivalry, he bows and gestures for them to pass. Smiling contemptuously at the stunned governor, Colin understands that he will pay dearly for his little victory; he also knows that he has refused to yield to an authority for which he has no respect.