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IN THE SPOTLIGHT

January 04, 1987|Howard Rosenberg

"GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS," Sunday, 8-9 p.m. (50)(24); 9-10 p.m. (28)(15)--"Mr. Chips" has become such an oft-used generic reference for all beloved schoolmasterly types that we sometimes forget its literary origin.

That may change with the airing of this (unpreviewed) three-part "Masterpiece Theatre" offering from Britain, the first "Mr. Chips" version made especially for TV. It was made by the British Broadcasting Corp. with co-funding from MGM.

"Goodbye, Mr. Chips" stars Roy Marsden (who also appears as Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh in those P. D. James stories on "Mystery!") as the hero of James Hilton's slender book about a character patterned after the author's schoolmaster father.

For such an enduring character, Chips has had little screen exposure. Robert Donat was screendom's first Chips, playing the shy, kindly schoolmaster in a 1939 MGM movie co-starring Greer Garson. Thirty years later, Peter O'Toole was Chips in a musical version of Hilton's much-loved 1934 story that he conceived during a bicycle ride and wrote in only four days.

In a sense, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" is more than just an affectionate remembrance of a bookish teacher. It also bids farewell to a period of relative innocence.

Marsden is required to age 56 years as Chips, who teaches his young charges the lessons of yesteryear only to see them march off to World War I and fight and die in battles far more barbaric than those he lectured about.

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