Saturday 24 February 2018

Television review: When they're building up and tearing England down

* Glastonbury (BBC2)
* Born on the Same Day (Channel 4)
* Wimbledon (BBC)

Great Britain's Marcus Willis celebrates during his match against Switzerland's Roger Federer. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Reuters
Great Britain's Marcus Willis celebrates during his match against Switzerland's Roger Federer. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Reuters
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

They've got everything at Glastonbury, or nearly everything. It struck me in recent times that there was something they didn't have, except I couldn't quite put a name on it.

They build what is essentially a city in the middle of the countryside, a city that exists only for a few days each year, a city with most of the bad things about cities taken out, full of apparently free spirits who are still functioning within quite a rigid social structure ­­­­­­- ­there is really nothing on earth quite like a rock festival for imposing a kind of feudal system in which everyone is ranked according to their importance in the grand scheme, permitted to move in certain areas but not in others.

You could call it "soft" feudalism. But even in such a well-run society, there is something missing and eventually it came to me ­­­­­­- the difference between this city and most other cities in Britain, is that this one is almost entirely middle class.

At least it starts with the middle class, and moves ­upwards through the more esoteric ranks of the bohemian aristocracy until eventually it arrives at people like Gwynyth Paltrow and the lads in Coldplay.

There are hardly any representatives of that other class which exists in Britain, the one that hardly even has a name any more, the one that used to be called the working class until that just didn't seem right any more, and then became known as the underclass, which is obviously offensive but not entirely inaccurate ­­­­­­- and anyway the higher classes allow themselves to offend any members of this other class who may be listening, in the knowledge that in truth they are probably not listening at all.

This Other Class ­­­­­­- I think that's probably the best we can do, in terms of definition. In recent weeks they have finally been discovered somewhere out there in the wastelands of England, presumed to be in favour of leaving the EU. Now the smart people of London are wondering either how this terrible energy can be stopped, or how it can be exploited.

By a weird and poignant coincidence, last week there was also a piece on the Royle Family actor Ricky ­Tomlinson, in Born on the Same Day, a series which profiles three individuals who have the same birthday, and their journeys through life.

In the case of Tomlinson, there was a warning from history with the revelation ­­­­­­- it was news to me anyway ­­­­­­- that he was once a member of the National Front. He felt as a member of the "working class" as it then was, that his enemies were the immigrants coming in taking the jobs and the houses of white people.

It was only when he was sent to jail for picketing a building site, a move which he believes was politically motivated as a warning to others such as the miners, that Tomlinson finally got a true sense of how it all works.

The prison governor gave him a copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, and when he got out of there, Tomlinson knew who his real enemy was, and it wasn't some unfortunate immigrant who was even poorer than himself.

No doubt there are many men like Tomlinson in England today, members of This Other Class, and we ask ourselves, who the hell is going to give them a copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists?

The dumbed-down state of old England was evident in the BBC's coverage of Wimbledon, another great festival of the middle classes which this year brought us "a great story" of Marcus Willis, an English lad who somehow made it to the second round to play Roger Federer.

They spent half of a wet day enthusing about this "great story", though it wasn't even much of a story at all, because everyone knew how it would end, the English lad being slaughtered but still in good humour.

And he was "a nice young man with a lovely smile", yet he seemed to epitomise his people in other ways too ­­­­­­- he didn't really belong there, he was leaving the arena beaten.

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