Chatterers: they are, are you?

Once sneered at, the Chattering Classes are now an official marketing sub-group. Graham Ball on how to spot the dinner set to belong to
Click to follow
They are mentioned nearly always in a light, ironical tone, almost as a group to be looked down on: but not quite. For these days, to be a member of the Chattering Classes implies power and influence as well as the ability to discourse over dinner.

Something remarkable has happened: what started as the derisory tag for those members of the liberal intelligentsia who raged impotently against Margaret Thatcher and all her works - all they could do was chatter - has become the self-deprecatory label for what advertisers see as a very desirable target group.

Say it again: Chattering Classes. Merely a cute sociological coinage, you think, like Sierra Man, or Worcester Woman, unfounded in reality? Don't you believe it. There are marketeers even now counting the CCs, noting down their measurements and fitting them up for ads.

So who are they? And might you be one of them? And if not, how do you become one?

The Chattering Classes are now an officially recognised sub-group of the much larger AB1 professional and management class, but set apart by their lifestyle, attitudes and values.

According to the advertising industry's research, they form a micro-market representing 1.9 per cent of the population. They tend to be in highly paid service jobs associated with the media, arts, politics or education.

The core group is aged 25 to 44, although there are some in their fifties. (When they grow old most Chatterers enter another sub-group known to advertisers as "ageing professionals".)

They are first and foremostwell-educated. "Most couples who are members of the Chattering Class will have a degree," said Clare de Burca of the advertising agency BMP Optimum. But it's more precise than that.

The majority live in London in the high-density inner suburbs, in a band that extends clockwise from Clapham in the south, through Richmond, Chiswick, Notting Hill in the west, up to Hampstead, Highgate, Islington and finally Muswell Hill and Crouch End in the north.

Their houses are always period, usually Victorian or Edwardian. As individuals they tend to be highly articulate but sceptical; they display a positive response to other cultures, multi-cultural environments, ethnic restaurants and foreign travel; they are trend-spotters and avid readers of newspapers and magazines; most of all, they are opinion formers who direct the nation's cultural and political agendas.

According to advertisers, Jeremy Paxman, combative Newsnight presenter, is an archetypal Chattering Class member.

"Do they think that? How depressing," he said. "Of course I do know a number of people who fall into that stereotype but I cannot include myself as I do not live in London. But to talk of this group as a new establishment is misleading because there are simply too many them."

Disclaiming membership of the group seems to be a common trait - indeed, perhaps a key characteristic - of its members.

It is to be found with the broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby and his wife, the writer Bel Mooney, who some might see as archetypal chatterers. "The term is one of those catch-all phrases that can mean any one of a dozen things," said Mr Dimbleby."To assume that all the people covered by the term share a unity of view on any one subject seems to be a nonsense. In terms of setting an agenda for the arts, the people who influence the arts are traditionally people who are interested in the arts and they are by definition a minority."

But the broadcaster and critic Tony Parsons is less troubled by the term. "The Chattering Classes is often used as a derogatory term to describe people who live in London, work in the media and have two or three brain cells to rub together," he said. "In which case, just as in the climax to the film Spartacus, I am happy to stand up and say, I am a member of the Chattering Class."

The CCs can be further defined by what they are not, and this is evident from another advertisers' target group - their sociographic first cousins, the Corporate Careerists.

This lot have a similar age and education profile but live out of town. Representing 2.4 per cent of the population, they prefer modern detached houses in the outer suburbs. Cars are a priority and are company supplied, and eating out tends to be British.

The chatterers are culturally bolder. "They are interested in specialist foods and wines. They do not see cars as status symbols, and will often take a lower-paid job if it has greater vocational satisfaction or scope for influencing policy," said Clare de Burca.

"They tend to have children later in their life, and hold their equity in expensive houses rather than stocks and shares.

"They tend to have a greater influence than their size dictates."

Now, of course, more than ever. If there is one group whose hour has come with Tony Blair's government, the Chattering Classes are it. You might be one of them. And if lightly, casually and ironically you deny it, you almost certainly are.

Paternity riddle over a label that stuck

WHO coined the phrase "Chattering Classes"? Brewer's Phrase and Fable, the definitive guide to modern English usage, awards the honours for popularising the term to the Independent on Sunday columnist Alan Watkins.

"I popularised the phrase in a political column I was writing for the Observer," Mr Watkins said yesterday. "But I first heard the words put together in a conversation I was having with my friend and colleague Frank Johnson." Mr Johnson, now editor of the Spectator, was a parliamentary sketch writer at the time.

"It may be that he was actually the first into print with the term in one of his pieces for the Daily Telegraph, I believe, but neither he nor I can remember, and no trace of any cutting can be found to settle the matter. I used it to describe metropolitan people, living in north London on the whole, who were broadly in the media and who were anti-Thatcher. I think I first used the words in print in 1980 or 1981."

According to Brewer's, the expression Chattering Classes "conjures up images of groups of pseudo-intellectuals having voluble, and perhaps superficial, discussions on subjects about which they have imperfect knowledge and no control".