I look up to him…
The latest series of The Crown is there for the viewing. Or should I say The Crine? Listening to Erin Doherty, the actress who plays Princess Anne in the third and fourth season, we can all hoot with laughter at her cut glass vowels. It is hard to know who wins in the perfect diction stakes, Anne or Princess Margaret, played by Helena Bonham-Carter. We normal folk smile at their turn of phrase, observe their hunting, parlour games and teatime rituals and then return to our daily pursuits, where ordinary people have to work to get food on the table.
When I was at university I became friends with C, a quiet unassuming person, who used to talk about going home to a place that had the same name as her surname. I marvelled at the coincidence and thought no more about it. Until C invited me down for the weekend. At that point she must have realised that some preparation was required. I learned that the family home was in fact a castle, her father was Lord C, and in fact the entire operation was now a National Trust property.
The weekend was another world. We dined formally with food brought to us at our places by staff. Lord C never called me by my first name; I was ‘Miss xx’. It wasn’t Downton, but still worlds away from the house in West London where I grew up. When C got married a few years later, there was an official Master of Ceremonies who announced each of the guests at the reception. I seemed to be one of a small minority who did not have a title. I forgot to mention that wedding itself took place on the estate; C was married in the church carrying her family name.
That was a generation ago, and Lord C is dead. His son is also Lord C, but no longer sits in the House of Lords as he is one of 650 hereditary peers who had their entitlement to sit in the House of Lords removed by the House of Lords Act 1999. Phew.
That was a rather long preamble to help contextualise the fact that if you study British Politics at Cambridge, as part of the course you will examine issues of gender and race, but not class. I learned this from a young woman who just graduated in Politics from Cambridge this year. I beg to know how on earth you can understand the political system of this country without analysing where class fits in. It is apparently a recent curricular alteration, which prompts the obvious question: what do they think has changed?
This latest series of The Crown features Margaret Thatcher and a hilarious reconstruction of her and Denis’s first visit to Balmoral as a guest of the Queen. The visit is not a success, and much of this clearly is due to Mrs T’s background as a grocer’s daughter who simply has no experience of an upper-class country house weekend, let alone one hosted by royalty. The contrast with the rendering of Lady Diana Spencer’s weekend stay at Balmoral exposes the stark difference between those to the manor born and the rest of the population.
I would still have to agree with George Orwell that Britain is ‘the most class-ridden society under the sun.’ Our society is one where privilege buys or attracts further privilege. Just look at what is going on right now in government. I would suggest that the professors at Cambridge rethink their strategy.