Too Poor for Posh School? Channel 4 A League of Their Own, Sky 1
THERE are two types of parent in this country. Some are so ambitious they are determined to send their children to elite private schools where the choice of headwear alternates solely between top hat and boater. Others aren't. The main problem facing the former is that their dream is unlikely to come true if they don't have hundreds of thousands of pounds at their disposal. Elitism, after all, is an expensive business.
But, as seen in the Cutting Edge documentary Too Poor for Posh School? the legendary all-boys boarding school Harrow holds an annual entrance competition for families who can't afford the fees. Funded by former Harrovian and multi-millionaire businessman Peter Beckwith (father of socialite Tamara), it involves a day of intensive tests and interviews, after which two boys from a shortlist of 11 are offered a complete scholarship worth almost 200,000.
Allowed access to this scholarly boot camp for the first time, Cutting Edge focused on three pre-teen hopefuls from various ethnic minorities as they competed for a life-changing prize. Most memorable was Krishan, an astonishingly precocious child with an IQ of 141 and the plummy insouciance of a ten-year-old Brian Sewell (although Sewell, as we know, was born aged 72).
I'd be the last person to criticise someone, especially a child, for being too intelligent, but there is something quite creepy about hearing such eloquence, such brisk assuredness, from one so young. Whereas his competitors tried to impress in their smart- casual Sunday best, Krishan attended the interview in a suit and tie and chatted with his adult inquisitors as though they were equals. It was no surprise when he eventually won his scholarship. He'll probably be headmaster within six months.
TV has taken us into the upper echelons of the British education system on several previous outings, so, although this particular process had never been filmed before, it felt like familiar territory. Only last month, Cutting Edge pried its way into an elite boarding school for young kids and asked essentially the same questions. Are their parents placing too much pressure on them? Will a private education change them for better or worse? And will children from ordinary backgrounds manage to fit into such a privileged environment? Too Poor for Posh School? left these questions hanging (and we had to assume Beckwith was motivated by pure altruism), but one thing is for sure: a Harrow education guarantees a fast-track into the golden league.
As casually assured by the staff member tasked with informing families of their successful applications: "The future is sorted."
I approached A League of Their Own, a new sports quiz hosted by James Corden, much as Superman would approach a toilet hewn from Kryptonite. I have next to no interest in sport, Corden is an inescapable irritant and the concept of athletes jousting for giggles is dismal enough on A Question of Sport, let alone a wacky Sky 1 panel show. Sure enough, this is an awful, lacklustre, derivative programme full of blokey banter, laboured whimsy, and Corden, with his one joke ("I'm fat!"), acting, as ever, like a noisy class clown desperately straining for attention. Or, if you prefer, an over-excited sea lion clapping for his supper. He won't mind. He knows he's fat and how funny that is.