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England Remains a Country Schizophrenically Obsessed With Class

by Adebayo Adeniran about a month ago in politics

Despite the outrage over Digby Jones's comments, class snobbery is a huge part of daily life in Britain.

Image via unsplash by 777 S

It was George Bernard Shaw who said that it is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without another Englishman despising him. Certainly, that was the backdrop to the comments which came from the erstwhile governor of the Confederation of British Industry - Digby Jones - a few weeks ago.

Jones came under fire for his tweets about Alex Scott's inability to properly pronounce her words during the recently concluded Olympics. His comments were a throw back to a time and place, when the air waves were ruled by clipped upper class tones a la Richard Dimbleby and there wasn't a pleb in sight with any ideas above his or her station.

screenshot from my laptop

For those who don't know too much about the English class system, I have taken the liberty of attaching the most iconic comedy sketch by Britain's most formidable comedic talents.

In this short memorable video, John Cleese, best known for Fawlty towers, explains why he turns up his nose at Ronnie Barker, who is middle class, who by extension, looks down on Ronnie Corbett for being working class.

Image via YouTube

As hilarious as the comedy sketch was, being from the lower end of the spectrum was no joke, at all. If you were working class in the 18th and 19th centuries, you were condemned to a life of poor education, poor health and above all else, a life of servitude. Spare a thought for those who were made to work in factories, from the ages of 13 or young adolescent girls who had to work as prostitutes, in the 1800s.

Social mobility didn't really become a thing until the education act of 1944 was passed, which enabled a generation of working class people, of whom Digby Jones was one, to attend grammar schools and to aspire to a life fundamentally different from their parents and grandparents.

For the likes of Alex Scott - a black working class girl from East London - with limited education, life after football could mean retraining to become a teaching assistant at a local primary school, at best. And at worst? signing on to receive unemployment benefits.

But these days, things are a bit different; working class and regional accents are de rigeur at the national broadcaster, with Huw Edwards, a Welshman, with his distinctive tomes, being a prime example.

And to those who like order, who seek to preserve the power and prestige, with which they came up, watching Alex Scott mispronounce basic English words such as fencing, rowing, etc, will have filled them with much dismay and serve yet as another example of the "left wing agenda" at the BBC.

Despite Alex Scott's rhetoric to the contrary about being fiercely proud of her working class origins, Digby Jones's comments would have got under her skin, greatly undermining her confidence.

Why?

Because England remains a profoundly elitist country, a place where, the top jobs in law, politics and banking are filled by those who were privately educated and not by those who went to state schools or have regional accents.

England's rigid class system was why Margaret Thatcher had an incredibly difficult time, in her early days as leader of the Conservative party, when great work was undertaken on expunging her midlands accent, modulating her voice, with the late Gordon Rees, in order not to sound so shrill, when speaking to the wider country.

It was exactly why Roger Moore lost his South London accent, after he went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

And why John Major, Prime Minister, from 1990–1997, was often the subject of mockery, not due to his accent, but due to the fact that he grew up in modest circumstances in Brixton, left school with minimal education (3 O'levels).

Will the English Class system ever be destroyed?

In my lifetime, it's a bit hard to say. I say this because for as long as the monarchy is in place, the rigid class system will continue to exist.

But modifications to the rigidity of the system has allowed profoundly exceptional people to lead extraordinary lives. The late Sean Connery left school at thirteen and yet went on to became an academy award winning actor. Maurice Micklewhite, whom the world knows as Sir Michael Caine was able to make the most of his talents in becoming a Hollywood leading man.

It was also because of subtle changes to the system that you had vast numbers of white working class kids being the first in generations to attend university.

But given the current state of affairs with Brexit, the strength of the union has never been more vulnerable, thus making it possible for revolutionary changes to happen in British society. With revolutionary change, there's no telling how things could unfold.

But until the day when these seismic events occur, England remains a place schitzophrenically obsessed with class and for millions of people, it is the glass ceiling, with which they must grapple to make any headway in life.

Thanks very much for reading.

politics

Adebayo Adeniran

A lifelong bibliophile, who seeks to unleash his energy on a number of subjects

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