Wednesday 17 June 2015

Essential Snobbery 101: Poshness tests and being British

Equally unequal
The underlying issues of Britishness and class reared its head and you will note that I did not qualify that head with ugly, in a number of situations that I read of this week.
First, it was the news that social mobility is still a myth, that much as we have striven for a more equal society, with the equality of opportunity pushed by a form of egalitarian meritocracy, people still fall short by reason of progeny and background.
A ceiling for many
There is apparently a “poshness test” that prevents qualified people from other backgrounds from accessing top jobs in Great Britain. You still need to have attended certain schools, gone to certain universities, speak a certain way and have parents who did not have to buy their own furniture; a point once made by Alan Clark about Michael Heseltine, to be eligible for consideration for certain jobs.
The fact is you cannot eliminate the elements of class from British society, it appears in so many ways just as some confuse the issues that separate the men from the boys on the matters of taste, expression and bearing.
Irksome privilege and opportunity
In a number of book reviews, I found myself laughing as a read this week’s edition of The Week in the Review of reviews: Books section.
In Peter Conrad’s review of Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories, he had to get his personal animus out of the way first, because Jeremy Hutchinson, the Baron Hutchinson of Lullington, QC is ridiculously well connected.
One could see why, son of a King’s Counsel, his mother a Strachey, his first wife was Peggy Ashcroft, his nephew, Jacob Rothschild, his inherited advantages were topped up by windfalls according to the reviewer as he bought his first house in Hampstead off the proceeds of a Monet bequeathed to him by an elderly friend. He attended Stowe and the Oxford, majored in PPE, he just oozed privilege and one could understand the typically British animus to this.
A different Britishness
He made a legal career of cocking a snook at the establishment defending lovable rogues, that included Christine Keeler of the Profumo affair and art thief Kempton Bunton whilst also challenging the hypocrisy championed in the Lady Chatterley trial and Mary Whitehouse’s morality activism, this book must be a joy to read.
Which led to the review of Michael Bloch’s Closet Queens, which is a basic study of how the establishment tolerated and sometimes accepted homosexuality at the top of British society. Notable was the case of Ian Harvey who was discovered in the bushes of St James’s Park with a guardsman in November 1958, thereby losing his political office.
It is reported that when Winston Churchill heard of the scandal he quipped, “On the coldest night of the year? It makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it?” Stephen Fry narrates that story here.
Poshly enunciate
To end the book reviews, we have Brian Sewell, the art critic of whom it is said his accent is posher than the Queen, who whilst recuperating from an operation wrote his first children’s book, The White Umbrella, at the age of 83.
According to Sewell, he avers, “I never came out... but I have slowly emerged.” He also prefers to be identified as queer rather than gay, it only shows how times have changed. Yet, going back to the poshness tests, and the last paragraph of that article, It is 2015 and this is how Britain still works. Social mobility? All it takes is the “wrong” accent to put the working class back in their place.
It makes you say with a sense of wryness, “It makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it?

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