Emma Cowing: Olympics lay bare our class hypocrisy
THERE has been an awful lot of breathy discussion about whether or not the Olympics have “changed Britain”. I suppose in some ways they have. I, for one, will rest easier at night knowing the ins and outs of the intricate scoring system that constitutes the women’s modern pentathlon, while a significant proportion of us are going to need therapy for the mental scarring caused by seeing Boris Johnson dancing along to the Spice Girls like an over-excited walrus.
But have two weeks of athletic prowess, book-ended by a couple of big parties, Mr Bean on the piano and Eric Idle in a spacesuit really changed the fabric of our society? I’m not so sure. Neither is Benedict Cumberbatch, the clean-cut upper class thespian best known for his role in the BBC series Sherlock. In an interview last week he accused Britain of being a nation of “posh bashers” and threatened to move to the United States to escape it.
“All the posh bashing that goes on. I wasn’t born into land or titles, or new money, or an oil rig,” the 36-year-old said, before adding that he was often “castigated as a moaning, rich, public school b*****d, complaining about only getting posh roles. It’s just so predictable, so domestic and so dumb. It makes me think I want to go to America.”
One’s first reaction would be to say that if you are planning on sailing through public life with a name like Benedict Cumberbatch then you shouldn’t be too surprised if people start treating you like somebody with a name like Benedict Cumberbatch. I may be wrong of course, perhaps the Cumberbatches of Possil and Dumbiedykes will be in touch to say that their surname has long been popular in the mining communities of East Lothian. But I’m going to take a leap of faith here and say that Cumberbatch is usually the sort of moniker you come across in a private members’ club, not a snooker club.
Cumberbatch went to Harrow, where annual fees are £30,930 – £186 less than the average annual salary for a British male. After school, he shunned Oxbridge for Manchester University, where he studied drama, and said he chose the university because he wanted to get away from the rarefied and privileged world he was brought up in. Sadly, it’s followed him around like a bad smell and, according to him, he has been shoe-horned into “posh” roles simply because he is posh. The poor darling. How on earth has he coped?
But while such bleating may not elicit enormous sympathy from those of us whose names do not sound like we are about to inherit half of Northumbria, Cumberbatch is right that “posh bashing” does go on in this country. Much was made during the Olympics of the fact that more than half of the British medallists had been privately educated. Heather Stanning, for example, who along with rowing partner Helen Glover became the first gold medallist of the Games, was educated at Gordonstoun, one of Scotland’s most exclusive schools and the alma mater of Prince Charles.
As more and more privately-educated men and women received medals, an almost sneering undercurrent erupted that suggested that had they gone to state schools, they might never have got as far as they had done. It was the sort of grubby, distasteful sniping that we do very well in Britain and that, much like that bit in the Olympic opening ceremony when Michael Fish popped up to deliver his infamous “there won’t be a hurricane” weather report, is utterly alien to everyone else in the world except the British.
Even in this new and supposedly democratic age, Britain is still drawn upon class lines. We still judge people on accents and education, and pigeon-hole them as a result. As a Glaswegian with what is often determined to be a “posh accent” (my mother disputes this, saying instead that I have a “good Scottish accent”), I have lost count of the number of times I have had to say “no, I’m not English”, the assumption being that someone with my accent couldn’t possibly be from Glasgow (I was educated there and have lived there since I was a teenager).
We are all guilty of pigeon-holing, but in today’s Britain, when we stereotype because of class we show ourselves up as lazy, old-fashioned and out of touch.
The Olympics has done Britain a world of good. But our society has an awful long way to go before we can claim to be truly classless.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North