Getting in touch with my inner snob

IT IS always something of a surprise when the Britain's smoothest man pops up on TV, as if he were still at the centre of national life. Didn't he use to be Cecil Parkinson? Something rather big in the Eighties, a spot of bother with an affair? What on earth is he up to these days?

Yet his most recent appearance, striding self-consciously down a street in Bournemouth last week, offering a few drawled comments to journalists, proved that not only has Cecil survived while the Normans and Johns of yesteryear have faded like a bad memory, but he is utterly unchanged: the slicked-back hair, now a distinguished silvery grey, the effortfully plummy vocal tones, the trim hacking-jacket, too immaculate to be entirely convincing, the general air of a suburban type with hot squirearchical yearnings.

Snobbish? Of course. It's not Parkinson who shocks, but the reaction that he provokes. Here we are, in classless Britain, having outgrown the tiresome prejudices of the past, and yet, confronted by the innocent smarmy pretentiousness of a politician who simply wants to be a natural- born twiller in the Carrington/ Hurd/Clark mode, I find myself unable to concentrate on the man's finer qualities. I'm hobbled with class-consciousness.

Having always assumed that I was above such things, being as essentially classless as Paddy Ashdown or Peter Mandelson, I feel deeply ashamed. No doubt I should consider checking into a detox clinic for the elimination of inappropriate social attitudes, get in touch with my inner snob. Do I find it funny that Jeffrey Archer greets his guests with the words: "Have a glass of Krug champagne?" Yes, I do. Am I amused by the story of Enoch Powell earnestly following hounds, and having to be put back in the saddle at the tiniest obstacle? I'm afraid so. What about the picture of Evelyn Waugh, posing, pop-eyed and affronted, in what he presumably believed to be a lordly manner, wearing a hideous, loud check suit? Or the famous shot of AN Wilson in a self-consciously fogeyish wing-collar, riding a bike? Sorry. I just can't help it.

It's not class that interests me, but the attempt to escape from it. For good or ill, a person's wish to disguise or play down background is an unavoidable indicator of personality. Listen, for example, to Prince Charles and to Prince Edward, and you will quickly realise that, while one has elected to talk with the clenched inarticulacy of his forebears, the other, with precisely the same background, talks, well, normally. It is a decision that casts light on their respective characters.

Surely it is odd that social class still makes us uneasy. From Wilson to Thatcher to Blair, the political process has, quite rightly, broken down barriers, but now the very subject seems to have become taboo.

Several reviewers of Jeremy Paxman's new book, The English, have taken him to task for not tackling the issue, while at the same time paying lip-service to the new orthodoxy. "Class is the English pox," a pious Godfrey Smith wrote in The Sunday Times.

Class-phobia is most evident in contemporary fiction. When the best-selling writer Nicholas Evans last week told a reporter that the reason why The Horse Whisperer was located in America was that it "would have been class- dominated if I had set it in Britain", he joined an exclusive club. The two other most successful middle-class British writers of his generation, Louis de Bernieres and Sebastian Faulks, have similarly preferred to write about abroad or the past, and have given the same reason in interviews. Each needed to escape the oppression of class in British society.

Clearly, to judge by the success of their novels, it worked; readers, too, prefer stories set elsewhere. Other authors, from Pat Barker to Rose Tremain, have similarly achieved their greatest critical and commercial successes with historical fiction, where social attitudes are safely behind the glass display case of the past. Even Martin Amis casts his eyes longingly across the Atlantic and, in his fiction, seems happiest when he takes his characters abroad, preferably to America.

This nervousness is evident elsewhere: in the BBC's new obsession with regional presenters, which neatly sidesteps the problem of accent, and in the fondness of film and TV producers for costume dramas.

Yet a consciousness of the peculiar, ever-changing social make-up of Britain can enhance work. Amis proved it recently with State of England, by far the best short story from his new collection. Class discomfort, agony even, is central of the best and truest situation comedies, from Fawlty Towers to Rab C Nesbitt, just as it is an essential part of such drama series as Our Friends from the North. The fact is, class still pays a part in our lives; maybe it's time we learnt to live with it.



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss