There have been some snivelling and querulous complaints in the media recently about the preponderance of posh boys (and girls) in the performing arts. The resentment of the odious levellers cannot stomach the prominence of public school pupils. Benedict Cumberpatch has been particularly in the frame, and has spoken of moving to the States, where class prejudice is less of a factor. Just to lighten up this piece, I tried to find an image of Benedict with an attractive co-star, but oddly, Google Images did not oblige.
But it is absurd to think that hard-headed casting directors are selecting film and TV stars on the basis of their school, university and regiment, as bankers supposedly did in the Swinging Sixties. There is far too much hanging on the decision — careers, reputations, and a great deal of money. No. They choose the candidate they believe will appeal to the public and deliver the ratings.
If that means that a disproportionate number of privately educated candidates are getting the parts, we should be asking how we improve state schools to deliver the same qualities and benefits — not carping at posh boys (and girls) in the media.
Similar comments apply in sport — but more so. We’ve heard complaints that too many of our Olympic athletes came from a public school background. Here the case is even more clear-cut than the casting question. Athletes are selected on plain, objective criteria — they get to the Olympics because they run faster, jump higher, throw farther than their peers. Again, if we find that there’s a preponderance of public school alumni, we should ask where state schools are failing. Is it the time available for sports, the facilities, the teaching, the resistance to competition and élitism, the “all must have prizes” culture?
We in Britain need to spend less time attacking excellence, and more time striving to achieve it.
But of course it may be that different rules apply in the field of politics. It certainly seems that the air of entitlement and easy self-confidence imparted by public school, the natural facade of leadership, may help the public school boy to achieve eminence. But also — whisper it quietly, especially in Downing Street — could it be that this very self-confidence makes it more difficult for people like Cameron and Osborne, catapulted to the highest levels of government early in their careers, to see where they’re going wrong — or even to conceive of the idea that they might go wrong?
Certainly our Prime Minister and Chancellor seem rather to vindicate that idea.
(For the avoidance of doubt: I went to a Grammar School).