Here is a letter I wrote to Chris Bryant, the MP caught in his underpants posing on Gaydar.
Dear Mr Bryant,
I write as a former Director and as the Guardian to a young boy who is currently at school in Harrow, the school that was once attended by the singer James Blunt. I also write as a teacher who has a wide experience of education and who still regularly visits local state schools to give unpaid lectures about A level and University options. I believe whole-heartedly in a meritocracy.
Dear Chris Bryant MP,
You classist gimp. I happened to go to a boarding school. No one helped me at boarding school to get into the music business. I bought my first guitar with money I saved from holiday jobs (sandwich packing!). I was taught the only four chords I know by a friend. No one at school had ANY knowledge or contacts in the music business, and I was expected to become a soldier or a lawyer or perhaps a stockbroker. So alien was it, that people laughed at the idea of me going into the music business, and certainly no one was of any use.
In the army, again, people thought it was a mad idea. None of them knew anyone in the business either.
And when I left the army, going against everyone’s advice, EVERYONE I met in the British music industry told me there was no way it would work for me because I was too posh. One record company even asked if I could speak in a different accent. (I told them I could try Russian).
Every step of the way, my background has been AGAINST me succeeding in the music business. And when I have managed to break through, I was STILL scoffed at for being too posh for the industry.
And then you come along, looking for votes, telling working class people that posh people like me don’t deserve it, and that we must redress the balance. But it is your populist, envy-based, vote-hunting ideas which make our country crap, far more than me and my shit songs, and my plummy accent.
I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk”, you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”. Perhaps what you’ve failed to realise is that the only head-start my school gave me in the music business, where the VAST majority of people are NOT from boarding school, is to tell me that I should aim high. Perhaps it protected me from your kind of narrow-minded, self-defeating, lead-us-to-a-dead-end, remove-the-‘G’-from-‘GB’ thinking, which is to look at others’ success and say, “it’s not fair.”
James Cucking Funt
This is Chris Bryant’s reply:
Stop being so blooming precious. I’m not knocking your success. I even contributed to it by buying one of your albums. I’m not knocking Eddie Redmayne, either. He was the best Richard II I have ever seen.
If you’d read the whole of my interview, you’d have seen that I make the point that the people who subsidise the arts the most are artists themselves. Of course that includes you. But it is a statement of the blindingly obvious that that is far tougher if you come from a poor family where you have to hand over your holiday earnings to help pay the family bills.
I’m delighted you’ve done well for yourself. But it is really tough forging a career in the arts if you can’t afford the enormous fees for drama school, if you don’t know anybody who can give you a leg up, if your parents can’t subsidise you for a few years whilst you make your name and if you can’t afford to take on an unpaid internship.
You see the thing is I want everyone to take part in the arts. I don’t want any no-go areas for young people from less privileged backgrounds. And I’m convinced that we won’t be Great Britain if we waste great British talent in the arts. You seem to think talent will always out. My fear is that someone like Stanley Baxter, the son of a disabled miner in the Rhondda, who rose to be one of Britain’s greatest film actors (Zulu), would have found it even harder to make it today.
That’s why we need more diversity at every level in the arts – in education, in training, on-screen, on stage and backstage – and we need to break down all the barriers to taking part so that every talent gets a chance.
Stanley Baxter’s career was in part due to his teacher Glynne Morse, though his success was more to the friendship with Emlyn Williams, a friendship also shared by Richard Burton. In the end, the role of good teachers is paramount: it is not the contacts these teachers provide, but the inspiration, encouragement and the basic skills they impart.
The Telegraph kindly printed a letter I sent to them: 21st Jan 2015:
SIR – Mr Bryant asks where the next Albert Finney and Glenda Jackson are to come from.
Perhaps rather than playing the class card and bemoaning the success of a public school-educated pop singer, he should reflect on his own party’s chaotic education policy and consider the fact that both of the actors he refers to came from a more meritocratic age, and both attended grammar schools.