When writing about middle class people who are in the news, a UK journalist would never consider prefixing that they lived on a Barratt’s, or a Wimpey Estate, yet when it comes to the working class they have returned to putting the prefix ‘council estate,’ when describing where some working class people live. The implication being that it is a bad thing to grow up or live on a Council estate, this is not me being over sensitive, there really is no other conclusion one can draw from the use of these words. That this has once again become common practice having died out in the 1960s-70s; and such prejudicial copy manages to get by the papers sub-editors, can only be because they are either all ignorant of what it is like to live on an average council estate. [little different from on an owner occupier estate] Or the writer is displaying subjective middle class prejudices against working class people that are so prevalent throughout the newsroom, that no one in it sees how insulting the use of this prefix is. As none of them understand what life is like living on a Council estate, instead they have a media created cartoon image in their minds as to how many working class people live.
We should not be that surprised at this, as a recent article by one of the UKs leading journalists Peter Wilby pointed out that the UKs daily newspapers have become a bastion of middle class privilege, and journalism has become more socially exclusive than at any time since World War Two. With only three percent of journalists coming from what can loosely be termed the unskilled working classes. In a 2003 survey 96% of journalist were middle class and White, which as Wilby points out is a damming statistic as most daily papers are published in London, a metropolis which is one of the most multi ethnic cities on earth.
The educational charity The Sutton Trust looked at the country’s leading 100 journalists and found that over half attended Public Schools and 45% went to Oxford or Cambridge University. The end result of these exclusive, class based employment practices within the media is having an extremely detrimental effect, for the exclusion of people from a working class background is prevalent throughout the industry, whether it be newspaper, TV or radio.
Thus working class regional accents are excluded from the airwaves, true there are the odd exceptions but they are mainly people within the upper age bracket who came into the profession in the 1960s and 70s. Once these people retire they are not being replaced by people from a similar background, there slots are filled by the middle classes offspring. From gardening programs to cookery, drama, soaps, comedy and news, the front of camera is middle class home counties to the core, as are the accents. About the only place you can be guaranteed to find people from working class backgrounds is sports coverage, especially football, where the pundits having played the game still come from the working classes.
As I said in a previous article, British Television has gone back to the days of “gor blimy gov, thank you very kindly.” When working class people are portrayed on our screens, they are increasingly being played by middle class actors as either stupid chavs, layabouts, criminals, incompetent half wits or victims of their own class, in much the same way as black people used to be portrayed. There are a number of programs that epitomize the wretchedness and class prejudice that is so prevalent in the media today. Al Murray’s Happy Hour stands out as the worst of many, yet actors musicians and journalists line up to appear on this infantile program, oblivious that by doing so they are party to insulting a large section of the community they live amongst.
The ‘Landlord’ in the ‘Happy Hour’ is portrayed as a crude working class bigot and is played by middle class actor and ‘comedian’ Alastair “Al” Murray, the son of Lt.-Col. Ingram Bernard Hay Murray and his wife Juliet Anne Thackeray Ritchie, through whom he is a great-great-great-great-grandson of William Makepeace Thackeray, his grandfather was UK diplomat Sir Ralph Murray. Al Murray attended Bedford Public School and is a graduate of Oxford University. Yet on screen he masquerades as a half witted sexist lout who speaks with an estuary English accent, the likes of which has never been heard any where between Dagenham and Southend. What makes me puke is comics and actors like Murray when out of character portray themselves as ‘right on’ people who show respect to all, yet in their work they seem to believe they have a right to insult ordinary decent people for no better reason than these people are working classes.
The type of middle class comedy actors that Murray represents, look down their noses at Jim Davidson and his ilk for their racist and sexist jokes, but they fail to see that they are following in his tradition by attacking individuals who have little means to hit back. I look forward to the day when instead of laughing along and shuffling their feet young workers will put the pub landlord firmly on his arse.