Thursday 17 February 2011
Julie Burchill: Young? Working-class? Unconnected? If you want an interesting job, forget it
How interesting that Jamie Oliver is in catering, as his parents were – like so many actors, and so many journalists, too!
A few weeks back I wrote of Helena Bonham Carter: "Back in the day, HBC used to complain that casting directors discriminated against her because she was pretty and posh. In an age when it seems as difficult for working-class kids to become actors as ... astronauts, I must say I loathe the sight of her even more now than I did then." Then Susie Rushton wrote in this newspaper earlier this week of HBC: "That she has been lucky is true: not lucky to have won the best roles, but to have been born into privilege and wealth, into a feather bed of security that most young people with ambitions to break into the unpredictable acting profession do not have."
Now the actress Maxine Peake has said in the Radio Times: "If you look at [male] actors, loads are working class, but look at women and there's only Samantha Morton really. All the others – Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Emily Blunt, Rebecca Hall – they're all brilliant, but there's no female working class. I remember feeling, at drama school, that if you were male and working class you were a bit of a poet, a working-class hero, but if you were female you were just a bit gobby and a bit brassy and common."
I have a gorgeous gay mate of working-class origin, who briefly quit making a fortune in the City to train as an actor but within months had given up and gone back as he found there to be far more boorish, posh, entitled types at his drama school than in the Square Mile. "For starters, the fees are now ridiculous, no working-class kid could ever afford to go to a drama school such as Rada or Lamda unless they won a scholarship. Government-funded grants are called DaDAs, the ultimate in patronising paternalism. The massive irony was at my school they were given to two kids, and one was the son of a millionaire. (He lied!) I'd say 90 per cent of the kids on my course had rich parents and were being supported while they studied. And whilst I made friends and some of them were sound, if you discriminate against at least half of the population, obviously the talent pool shrinks. I'm of the opinion that because only the children of the rich now can afford to indulge in artistic pursuits, whether it's acting, art, music or writing, that's the reason our cultural landscape is so bleak at the moment."
Never mind, here's Jamie Oliver to put everything right with just a spatula and an attitude to arm him against the monstrous regiments of proletarian parents who are more interested in forcing Chicken Chisellers down their kiddies' throats than raising them to "knock out seven 18-hour days in a row – you need to know what real fucking work is", as Oliver railed in the Observer this week to promote next month's "Dream School" project. "I've never experienced such a wet generation. I'm embarrassed to look at British kids. Meanwhile, I've got bulletproof, rock-solid Polish and Lithuanians who work hard!"
Yes, it's those rotten chavs again, refusing to work all the hours God sends for a few pennies – they'll be wanting toilet breaks next! Thank goodness that all that cheap, uncomplainingly overworked immigrant labour is close at hand, eh Jamie?
How interesting that Oliver is in catering, as his parents were – like so many actors, and so many journalists, too! In the old days it was the working classes who made sure there was a job for their son in the print or down the mine, but these days that privilege also belongs exclusively to the better off. With the better jobs, natch.
Personally, I think that there should be a ban on posh kids getting jobs which are both fun and well-paid, say for the next decade, just to make the situation a bit less hideously unfair than it is now. And also on anyone following the same profession as their best-paid parent did. Then all the over-educated, under-talented types currently nabbing these jobs because their parents were in the music/ acting/hacking racket could then go and get one of the "proper" jobs, like doctoring and teaching, that they often advocate that everyone else should be aiming for instead of being obsessed with fame.
The hypocrisy of which will be summed up best and forever by the pricelessly precious and preciously priceless Keira Knightley – daughter of an actor and a playwright, who asked for an agent at the age of three – telling the Radio Times in 2007: "It frightens me when kids go 'I want to be famous'. Why? Because you can get into a restaurant? 'I want to be rich and famous.' Go and work on the stock market!" You'll certainly meet a lot less ocean-going tools there than at the Baftas, as my friend could testify.
Let's have more criminal records checks, not fewer
The coalition's new Protection of Freedoms Bill (now THERE'S a Big Brothery handle – the nasty Big Brother as in 1984, not the nice Big Brother as in my favourite TV show) is planning to lift the requirement for around four million potential volunteers to submit to a Criminal Records Bureau check. Typically perverse, I seem to be the only person I know who reckons this is a bad idea.
I'm no saint, but in the course of my volunteer jobs over the past five years I've been police checked twice and absolutely loved the experience. The way people carry on, you'd think that consenting to one gave the narcs the right to knock down your door in the middle of the night and manhandle you into a Black Maria, thenceforth to be driven to a subterranean vault where you will be struck around the face, deprived of sleep and questioned incessantly by a brace of bad detectives by the light of a sinisterly swinging, naked lightbulb. In fact, you just tell them all the names you've had and where you've lived and a few months later, you get an official letter telling you how great you are. What's not to love?
I take mine everywhere, in lieu of more boring ID. OK, I flash it around a BIT too much. "Do you want to see my police check?" I asked absently-mindedly the other day. "No, love," said the dry cleaner. "Just your ticket..."
Wiki-sycophancy makes me sick
I see that Mel Gibson's erstwhile supporter, the novelist Andrew O'Hagan, is to ghost Julian Assange's autobiography. How very fitting that he wrote his last book in the voice of a poodle – good practice! O'Hagan does like those bad boys, doesn't he? You can just see him as a kiddie, standing on the sidelines in the playground, getting excited as the bully beats up the wimp.
When I was a youngster on a pop music paper, I came to the job aware that there were these females called groupies who would offer sexual favours to complete strangers so long as they were famous. But I was unprepared for the way many of the male journalists sucked up shamelessly to rock stars – and would probably have sucked them off, too, given half a chance.
When I regard O'Hagan's starstruck ways, it takes me right back.
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