Monday, October 01, 2007

Public school man 'too common' for Today

The Telegraph has given it a slightly different slant, but that's the essence of it.

For the true toffs, of course, Brentwood – alma matter of Peter Allen, the presenter in questions – is rather infra dig. By contrast, the BBC's Today programme is unquestionably a top school type of show: so unshakably sure of its own merits and worth that it scarcely notices the ruthlessness and self-fulfilling arrogance that it employs to stay at the top.

You may be aware of one of the more popular lurid myths about the top (and top-ish) public schools: the existence of a clandestine daisy chain club (or some similar name) in which, at some time after lights out, the boys all reach out to the bed next to them, grab hold of their neigbour's bits and start to stimulate each other until they reach the climax. Anyhow, Today has always seemed a bit like that to me: a cliqueish circle jerk.

I say the daisy chain stuff is a myth, because I am not aware of it ever happening in real life, although there used to be a tacit toleration for some similar practices. To quote one Harrow housemaster, "I don't mind mutual masturbation, but I draw the line at buggery." Anyway, I try and remain equally unaware of the Today programme happening, partly because I try and avoid being awake during the hours at which it's broadcast (unless I'm just getting to bed), but also because I draw the line at John Humphrys if I do find myself conscious at that time.

I think far too many people take it's "this is the show that important people listen to, so therefore listen to his and feel important" shitck seriously and let it, and it alone, decide what is important and right. Certainly, given its particular and limited listenership, it shouldn't be allowed to dictate the media agenda to the extent it does.

One could continue the BBC Radio Four as metaphor for what's wrong with the British middle classes thing indefinitely – for all the self-regarding arrogance of Today, there's also, in various measures, tweeness, insularity, whimsy, reverence for idiotic institutions (the day you start listening to The Archers is the day your life has lost all worth) and so much boring smugness dotted around the schedules. Worse, all these things seem to have a particular, finely calibrated place within a definite hierarchy that outsiders struggle to grasp.

But too much of this class gradation stuff can drive you mad, so I think I'll stop there. Instead, let's return to Brentwood School as an illustration of why much of this status malarkey is over-rated. While the place may be expensive and have a certain public school cachet, really, it's not terribly good: an Eton for Britain's chavocracy (alumni include such classy characters as Jodie Marsh, Frank Lampard, Noel Edmonds and Keith Allen). Even more depressingly, an awareness of the school's third rateness has been known to induce a pathetic status anxiety and neurotic self-importance in some of its more snobbish former pupils to the extent that it renders them insufferable in real life.

Not that other public schools don't produce their own horrors, and I'm not just thinking of my own dear school chums here. As one former teacher in a Kentish public school has observed:

[A] young offender was far more polite towards her than many of those she taught whose parent’s pay between four and eight thousand pounds a term for the privilege of their offspring behaving like ignorant, spoiled brats. I am not in the least bit surprised.

Me neither. The solution, don't get obsessed with all the self-mythologising. Public schools don't represent some sort of gold standard, nor does the Today programme. And its presenters, no more than public school boys, really have no particular reason to swank. It's most un-gentlemanly behaviour, after all.

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Blogger Quink said...

Brentwood has no cachet at all. By its friends shall you judge it. Reduced to hanging out with Aldenham and Chigwell, ffs.

Yes, the Archers is dreadful. And I'd also like to blow Woman's Hour out of the water. But the station has produced a lot of very fine comedy (and some dross), particularly shows aired in the 6.30-7pm slot.

Diamond Geezer, for one, couldn't do without Radio 4 listeners. I wonder how many of your own readers fall into the same category?

8:43 am  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Goodness me. How strange to read one's words over here...

But yes, I decry the decline of the true gentleman - and lady. Good manners have feck all to do with where you went to school and swaggering privilege is about as ugly as it gets.


12:43 pm  

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