I made my first visit to London when I was 18 to go to polytechnic. I thought the majority of students had their heads up their own arses. I was the only northerner on the course. I laughed with them as they joked about bingo halls, mushy peas and made clumsy attempts to mimic my accent. I countered by telling them we weren't as cultural up north because we couldn't get BBC2; hadn't they noticed in the opening titles of Coronation Street how none of those TV antennae carried aerials for BBC2? They believed me.
At 19 I was on the dole, kicked out of polytechnic and looking for a job. I ended up on a Granada TV discussion show as one of 100 unemployed youths. I was outspoken, as left wing as you could get. Out of the blue, I was offered my own show on BBC Radio Derby. From 1982 to 1990 radio was my bread and butter. In 1985 and 1986 I won two national Sony Radio Awards in the best specialist music category. I was writing for a local paper and managing a reggae band. At the time my accent was deemed too strong for national radio. All my experience in the media since 1982 has been that it's a closed shop run by ex-public school people from the Home Counties. They think differently from me, come from backgrounds with more money than me, have more confidence than me, but in the main have less passion, honesty and conviction than me.
TV was the biggest shock of all. Series one of The Word on Channel 4 - a programme for Britain's youth made by all ex-public school producers. I was the Scally from Manchester supposed to appeal to the C2s and downwards. The producers treated me as if I was stupid. The press in interviews with me just made it up. Roland White in the Times last year paraphrased an imaginary interview. Terry Christian meets John Major, spicing it up with "Er well like fuck me John I mean you're the fucking prime minister of Britain right". In six years of live TV I've never used a swear word on a TV show, so I challenged him. His response: Well it's the sort of thing you'd say. Why?
I've earned a fair amount of money in recent years, but it doesn't buy respect. Middle-class journalists like to stereotype you, yet describe you as cheeky if you stereotype them. Newspapers described me as offensive, inarticulate, cerebrally challenged, a moron. I can't feel ashamed of my background or what I grew up believing, and the evidence for middle- class snobbery exists all around us. If being working class becomes fashionable, everyone accuses you of putting it on. Professional northerner, oh, you really do talk like that in real life. The working classes who make it but don't want others to share the credit for their success are doubly damned. And then someone, usually upper or middle class, says there is no class system. I thank you, Prince Edward, for this insight. I've been so blind all these years. So to you, your royal highness I'll raise a glass of Perrier and ask you not to talk out of your derriere."Reuse content