I've had a look at the questions for the Russell Brand A-level...

Is Dizzee Rascal consciously echoing Samuel Beckett’s aesthetic of nihilism, or is this A-level just meant to wind up parents? Discuss



Russell Brand and Dizzee Rascal join Shakespeare and Brontë as A-level English set texts” was the horrified headline in yesterday’s Daily Mirror. “Meet your new English teacher: Brand joins the new English syllabus,” was the Guardian’s ironic front-page splash above a photograph of the comedian festooned in chains and crucifixes. “Russell Brand’s view on drugs to become must-read in radical A-level overhaul,” was our more restrained take on the education bombshell dropped on Tuesday by the OCR exam board.

If ever there were a news item intended to wind up the ambitious middle-class parents of smart children, it’s surely the suggestion that, in order to score well at A-level, the young scholars must not only read the vapourings of a stand-up comedian and former junkie, as well as the uncertain quasi-political ramblings of a young rapper – they must also take them seriously.

I’m trying to picture the scene when the OCR exam people met their partners in this initiative, the English and Media Centre, to devise the syllabus for the new A-level. Their brief was to bring something fresh to the study of English language and literature, by giving pupils “a better opportunity to analyse a range of texts – whether spoken or written, literary and non-literary”. It’s just an add-on thing. Pupils won’t cease to study the Bard and the Brontës – they will just be given other modes of language and expression to study alongside them. But devising a programme of contemporary “spoken or … non-literary” texts gave the syllabus-makers a great chance to scare Middle England.

Can’t you hear them saying: “How about getting some hip-hop into the syllabus? Some Jay-Z lyrics? Or – tell you what – why not Dizzee Rascal spouting off to Paxo about Obama on Newsnight? That’ll drive parents mad. And – who’s a youth spokesman who annoys bourgeois sensibilities? I know – Russell Brand talking to the select committee about drugs! We can stretch the concept of “spoken texts” that far, can’t we? And lots of parents hate Twitter so … I know! The tweets of Caitlin Moran! As an A-level text! And lots of them hate bloggers – so let’s have the kids study a blogger. Who shall it be? How about that Secret Footballer guy, so we can pretend that footie chit chat is worth close academic attention…”

I’ve seen this before, when the devisers of a syllabus try to appeal to students by giving them things to study that their parents disapprove of. Among the “texts for study” on AQA language and literature courses, for instance, are the prison poems of the IRA activist Bobby Sands and the speeches of Malcolm X. And it seems only yesterday that GCSE-taking children of 14 were given Tony Harrison’s poem “V”, ablaze with the C-word, to study. 

Personally, I think the new A-level and its range of voices  will amuse a lot of 17 to 18-year-olds and show them how to express themselves with spirit, economy and wit (sample tweet from Ms Moran: “Increasingly angry that all I would have had to do to get engaged to George Clooney is to become a hot trilingual human rights lawyer”) before going back to Othello and studying the language of jealousy and remorse at a much higher level.    

A question nags at me, though. What will the essay questions for the A-level be like?

1) “I been keeping my eye on your movement/ I can’t see much room for improvement.” How does Dizzee Rascal’s ironic use of flattery and seduction in  “Dance Wiv Me” compare with Andrew Marvell’s wooing technique in “To His Coy Mistress”?

2) “You know what I mean. It is what it is. Politicians say what they say.” Is Dizzee Rascal’s discourse with Jeremy Paxman a conscious echo of Samuel Beckett’s aesthetic of nihilism – the saying of nothing that subverts the urge to articulate?

3) Is Russell Brand a clueless, dandified nincompoop masquerading as an insightful, rhetorically skilled political savant, or is it the other way round?

4) How would you, as a member of the Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, frame a question to Russell Brand that he couldn’t instantly take the piss  out of?

5) Does Caitlin Moran’s repeated tweeting of a photograph showing a young Bruce Springsteen in a state of erectile disarray count as a “spoken text”? Or is it more a leitmotif?

6) How closely do the vicious-yet- oddly-intimate exchanges of insulting tweets between Caitlin Moran and the novelist John Niven resemble the flyting rituals of fifth-century Old Norse  mythology?

Master of fiction’s latest oeuvre

Here’s a prospect for book lovers. Constance Briscoe, the well-known criminal lawyer, part-time judge and author of two misery memoirs, will “continue her literary career” while serving an 18-month sentence. According to her agent, she’s started a prison memoir. 

Is this the Constance Briscoe who lied to police in a witness statement about the Huhne/Pryce imbroglio, and who later forged an altered version of her statement? It sure is. In a strong field, this lady is the nation’s Top Liar. As they used to say in Bosnia, she lies like an eye-witness. Her tongue is so forked, she could twirl spaghetti round it. Would you trust a word of her prison memoir?

Will it tell us that, as she came through the gates, the inmates cried: “We all know you’re innocent, Connie, gawd bless you!” and showered her with long-stemmed roses? Can’t wait.

Twitter: @johnhenrywalsh

How to make a boycott bite

Several Hollywood A-listers are protesting, quite rightly, against the Sultan of Brunei’s embrace of hardline sharia. Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres are at the forefront of those unhappy with the spectacle of one of the worldliest men in creation bringing in a penal code that would have gays and lesbians stoned to death. They, and increasing numbers of starry figures, are boycotting the Beverly Hills Hotel and other hotels owned by the Sultan.

I’m intrigued, though, by the city council of Beverly Hills. They followed the mayor, Lili Bosse, in passing a resolution to condemn the sultanate – but wouldn’t follow her in refusing to attend any more functions at the hotel. This is how I suspect they may work it in future, along with some celebrities. They’ll go to the hotel but not to the Palm Court, not wanting to be seen, you know, publicly endorsing its owner.

At the bar they’ll have only one martini and won’t leave a tip. In the restaurant, they’ll ignore the lobster carpaccio, boycott the 29-day-aged Hereford fore-rib of beef, and have only the vegetarian option. And they’ll order the Napa Valley Pinot Noir, but only by the glass. Hah! That’ll teach the Sultan he can’t push the radicals at Beverly Hills city council around. No sirree.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Read Next

August catch-up: Waiting on the telephone, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home