The upper classes have been putting in a spirited media campaign recently to prove they are not obsolete relics of a bygone era but actually rather fun and more like us than you might think. I’m not buying it. Perhaps the threat of a Dickensian dressing down and possible deposition by Essex’s mincing answer to Che Guevara has put the willies up them. Or perhaps they are worried about the unrest all this cutting of children’s heart services and disability benefits might cause and are putting in pre-emptory defence of their status and usefulness. They have found a way to demonstrate what they have in common with the rest of Britain: their love of a party. It started with Prince Harry and his mischievous hell-raising which seemed to endear him to the public and now all the poshos have got in on it, seeing debauchery as the way into the everyman’s heart. If there’s one thing that unites Brits across class it’s drinking right?
We see this in BBC Three fly-on-the-cornice documentary Life is Toff where the Fulford family are constantly smoking, swearing, chucking things at eachother and generally being “fun”. The patriarch, Francis Fulford has plummy vowels but the petulant heart of a spoilt toddler. He invited the cameras into his home yet throws a wobbly if they film him doing something he doesn’t want them to. A man in his sixties throwing a tantrum is a strange thing indeed. It made me realise that there is something childlike (childish?) about the upper classes, maybe because – for the oldest son at least – their life is mapped out from the day they are born which absolves them of choice and therefore responsilibility. There is also the fact that historically they have depended on other people for their needs, although that has changed as the voiceover of Posh People: Inside Tatler lamented “they can barely afford their own staff anymore.” That brings me to the show that started on Monday on BBC Two, another glimpse behind the faded gilt curtain that is half deferential, half sniggering. Let’s face it, the upper classes are sitting ducks for derision – operating in a bizarre, arcane world that bears no resemblance to the one the rest of us live in.
The latest cliché reeled out is that aristos are not actually that rich anymore and their crumbling stately piles are more burdens than bonus. Hmmm. Maybe, but there’s still a big difference from being lumbered with a stately home and with a life on the breadline.
Tatler is very pleased with itself that it is becoming more inclusive and with the times. They kept referring to their world as a “theme park” and were at pains to show that they were the most fun, ker-azy people ever, yet I was left unconvinced. A world with such rigid protocol is surely oppressive, so many rules. And the inclusive thing, you need only look at ex-Tory politician David Mellor’s snobbish rant at a taxi driver this week to know what they really think of us plebs. One ageing aristo told a charming anecdote about his grandfather pushing a waiter through a plate glass window and saying that he would never get away with it now, ending with a hearty chuckle as though such behaviour was endearing and not despicable.
Tatler runs articles that are set up to seem tongue in cheek, about new money versus old money and the like, but it’s not ironic, underneath it’s totally serious social categorising. They are not publishing them to make their readers laugh but reinforce and reassure their perceived place in the world. Middle class newspapers do the same thing, “you know you’re middle class when…”. At first glance they seem to be a jolly, gentle mick take of themselves and their readers, but they are not. They are congratulating themselves and their readers on being above the quagmire of the working class. Like apes grooming each other, these pieces maintain and reinforce the hierarchy.
Posh people are not like the rest of us, they have an inherent sense of entitlement that it is simply impossible for any amount of money to buy. They may buy their own myth of being rather charming sorts but make no mistake, they despise us, they’ve just got better at hiding it.