James Blunt, the self-deprecating musician who may or may not have stopped World War III, has written an open letter to Chris Bryant calling him a ‘classist gimp’ after the politician named him among the list of unacceptably posh people who dominate the arts.
The (privately-educated) Labour MP complained that the arts were too full of Blunt and his ‘ilk’, which the singer criticised as narrow-minded and self-defeating.
Before commenting, I should add here that my parents sent me to a state secondary school, but only so I could win ‘prolier-than-thou’ contests on the internet when I’m older.
Blunt has a point. Firstly the idea of ‘access’, the idea that theatres are dominated by well-educated, middle-class people because it’s too expensive for everyone else; even when it’s the same well-educated, middle-class people who take up theatre tickets when they’re put up for £10.
Football matches seem to cost about £3,000 a game these days but whenever I go most of the people seem to have working-class accents, or they’re private schoolboys putting on mockney accents in order to avoid getting beaten up, and in tune with the spirit of the age.
Pretty much every art form that gets taken up by the upper-middle class becomes taken over by them in the end; it’s not just rock music but even dance music too. One of the reasons is that the arts don’t pay – an artist makes on average 40 per cent less than his parents – so it always has and always will be dominated by those with independent incomes. For those that don’t, from the earliest days they’ve had to seek patrons, whether it be aristocrats, kings or the Church; of course when the Church supported artists most art tended to sing the glories of the Church, which is partly why Labour politicians want the state to subsidise artists today.
But to blame private schools for producing great actors and musicians is just perverse.
Of course there are ways in which people from state education could compete, and it’s one he doesn’t address. As Christ Bryant asked: ‘Where are the Albert Finneys and the Glenda Jacksons?’
The answer is that they both went to grammar schools, as did Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine, Alan Bennett, Harold Pinter, Steven Berkoff and many others before the Labour party put an end to most of them.