Sacha Baron Cohen and his brothers attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School (nicknamed Habs), a prestigious private school on the outskirts of London. Habs schoolmate and close collaborator Dan Mazer has described the school as “a factory of comedy. . . . It’s just cocky young Jews. And because we were too weak to fight each other, we compensated with verbal jousts.”
“I would say [Habs] was an exam factory and certainly it was quite cocky,” says one of the Cohen brothers. “There was a slightly rebellious [atmosphere]; it was a very regimented, high-pressure kind of place and some reacted against that—it made for comedy.”
In his novel New Boy, based on his experiences at the school in the 1980s, Sacha’s schoolmate William Sutcliffe writes that when the Christian trustees relocated the school to the prosperous greenbelt suburbs of northwest London, they were surprised to find themselves presiding over an “exam greenhouse for nouveau-riche, second-generation immigrants,” including Jews. As late as the 1950s, the novel recounts, the school had a Jewish quota, and Jewish students were excused from the religious half of the morning assembly: “[I]t is said that after the hymns and prayers, the headmaster would stand and intone the words ‘LET IN THE JEWS!’” whereupon the Jewish boys would file in for announcements.
From the movie Chariots of Fire: