Editorial: Names won't hurt you, but lack of cash will

23rd January 2015 at 00:00

Shakespeare had a pretty good turn of phrase when it came to insults - "You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat's-tongue, you bull's-pizzle". However, Daily Mail sketch writer Quentin Letts could give him a good run for his money, having this week described education secretary Nicky Morgan as "a foggy honker" with "eyes bulging like a couple of gobstoppers" in his take on a Commons exchange with her shadow Tristram Hunt.

It's been prime-time viewing for the art of the insult. "Classist gimp" and "prejudiced wazzock" were just a couple of the zingers fired at shadow culture minister Chris Bryant by Harrow-educated singer James Blunt.

He made his comments after Bryant (who was privately educated himself) bemoaned the fact that the arts were dominated by those from privileged backgrounds, such as Blunt and his private school colleagues Golden Globe winner Eddie Redmayne and Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch.

It's a complaint that rings out as regularly as the school bell: less well-off students, it is said, are being kept out of drama school by their posh, privately educated colleagues. Affluent students at independent schools, resplendent with state-of-the art theatres, are encouraged to be creative and tread the boards. Meanwhile, their counterparts at poorly resourced state schools are so busy being drilled in the basics that artistic and cultural pursuits are squeezed out, with no time left to foster any talent for the performing arts.

The facts, however, do not support this. Theatre is popular with all young people - 16- to 19-year-olds are more likely to attend than any other age group, according to a survey by bookings firm Ticketmaster. The source of their enthusiasm is that all schools, both state and independent, do a great job of stuffing their pupils' memory banks with cultural capital and encouraging them to appreciate and participate in the arts.

Schools are all too aware of the importance of art and culture in the lives and education of young people, as is so eloquently articulated by Sir Ken Robinson. The block comes later, when they go into the big wide world and find that the average London theatre ticket costs over pound;40, a large chunk of a young person's salary.

There is no dearth of state-educated students progressing to drama school either. Statistics recently released to The Stage magazine suggest that state-educated pupils regularly make up around 80 per cent of the intake on many of the UK's most prestigious courses, including 71 per cent at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Again the barriers are erected later, once young people graduate. Aspiring performers need to be available to attend auditions and castings, so they have to take low-paid, temporary jobs. Students from affluent families have a larger financial cushion to make this process more comfortable, while those from working-class backgrounds cannot afford to work for next to nothing while they wait for their big break.

The reason our stages and screens are dominated by those from privileged backgrounds is not about education, it's about money. It might not buy you love, but it can buy you a luvvie. And anyone who says otherwise is a bull's-pizzle.



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