Posh-bashing: Enough to make you want to leave the Bullingdon Club

Benedict Cumberbatch should realise that being sneered at for being posh just isn't that bad.

The actor Benedict Cumberbatch is considering leaving the UK on account of “all the posh-bashing that goes on“. Sick and tired of being “castigated as a moaning, rich, public-school bastard”, he might just up and leave. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen. My partner and I have had him on “the list” for years, all thanks to a particularly saucy scene in To The Ends of The Earth. Visits to the SS Great Britain in Bristol haven’t been the same since and for that we have Benedict to thank.

Like Cumberbatch, I too have been a victim of posh-bashing. Unlike him, this was not because I attended a posh school. Au contraire, I attended a normal state school, but was bashed on account of being the type of person who needlessly throws around phrases such as “au contraire” (I also have a ridiculously long name, a barrister dad and degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. I might have a northern accent, but I know where I stand on the poshometer, and it’s a million miles away from Coronation Street). So Benedict Cumberbatch, I know where you’re coming from (well, not literally, since I didn’t go to Harrow. But generally, I mean). Posh-bashing is mean, and it’s clearly wrong. But is it really that big a deal?

When I mentioned the posh-bashing to my partner – an Old Sennockian, no less – he was less than sympathetic. “Ooh, I wouldn’t mind a bit of the old posh-bashing with Benedict,” he winked, trying (unsuccessfully) to create a cheeky innuendo. See? That’s just the kind of attitude the poshos are up against, and it’s from their own kind (self-hating poshos are the worst). Me, I feel for Benedict, but mainly due to his total inability to get a bit of perspective. Being sneered at for being posh just isn’t all that bad. We all get sneered at for being either too posh or too common (at Oxford even I found myself in situations where, relatively speaking, I was a veritable Hilda Ogden). It’s just not that important.

Of course, the ideal position to be in is that of a very rich person from a very poor background. That way you get all the kudos of being self-made and having suffered and none of the shit that actually comes with being poor. Of course, you won’t be able to pass this unique status on to your children. Send them to whatever school you like and they’ll still be posh kids now. All the same, it’s better than them being poor.

According to Brendan O’Neill in the Telegraph, “posh-bashing has replaced prole-bashing as the nastiest strain in British politics”. It really hasn’t, though. All the “media handwringing over the Oxford Bullingdon Club” isn’t happening because it’s fun. It isn’t fun. It’s depressing that our country is in the hands of people who have so little idea of what middle-class muddling, let alone real deprivation, actually is. Despairing over David Cameron’s cossetted background isn’t the same as salivating over the apparent uselessness of chavs. Neither is it the same as being a bit mean to Benedict Cumberbatch. I’d defend Cumberbatch’s right to be left in peace way before Cameron’s, but still – even the sexiest Sherlock Holmes needs to get a grip.

In 1983 I had a full-on scrap with a classmate who accused me of being posh. Looking back, it was brilliant – everyone standing around after school in a huge circle, clapping and chanting “scrap! scrap!” – but at the time it was terrible. It got broken up by a teacher, just when I was about to win (whatever that would have involved), leaving my nemesis to insist that she was the victor. What with her being the cool, non-posh one, everyone went along with this (but it wasn’t true. Au contraire, I was way harder). Anyhow, a decade later I got my revenge. I had a place at Oxford and my dad was defending my nemesis for ABH. She was working as a hairdresser and, putting our differences aside, I went to her for my “going to university” haircut. She told me my dad was doing a good job and a small part of me couldn’t help thinking “Hah! Posh girl won in the end”. But it was a rubbish thought and, quite rightly, it made me feel crap. Posh people always win in the end. The bashing makes no difference at all.

This post first appeared here on glosswatch.com. Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

Benedict Cumberbatch. Posh and over-sensitive? Photograph: Getty Images

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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Over a Martini with my mother, I decide I'd rather not talk Brexit

A drink with her reduces me to a nine-year-old boy recounting his cricketing triumphs.

To the Royal Academy with my mother. As well as being a very competent (ex-professional, on Broadway) singer, she is a talented artist, and has a good critical eye, albeit one more tolerant of the brighter shades of the spectrum than mine. I love the RA’s summer exhibition: it offers one the chance to be effortlessly superior about three times a minute.

“Goddammit,” she says, in her finest New York accent, after standing in front of a particularly wretched daub. The tone is one of some vexation: not quite locking-yourself-out-of-the-house vexed, but remembering-you’ve-left-your-wallet-behind-a-hundred-yards-from-the-house vexed. This helps us sort out at least one of the problems she has been facing since widowhood: she is going to get cracking with the painting again, and I am going to supply the titles.

I am not sure I have the satirical chops or shamelessness to come up with anything as dreadful as Dancing With the Dead in My Dreams (artwork number 688, something that would have shown a disturbing kind of promise if executed by an eight-year-old), or The End From: One Day This Glass Will Break (number 521; not too bad, actually), but we work out that if she does reasonably OK prints and charges £500 a pop for each plus £1,000 for the original – this being at the lower end of the price scale – then she’ll be able to come out well up on the deal. (The other solution to her loneliness: get a cat, and perhaps we are nudged in this direction by an amusing video installation of a cat drinking milk from a saucer which attracts an indulgent, medium-sized crowd.)

We wonder where to go for lunch. As a sizeable quantity of the art there seems to hark back to the 1960s in general, and the style of the film Yellow Submarine in particular, I suggest Langan’s Brasserie, which neither of us has been to for years. We order our customary Martinis. Well, she does, while I go through a silly monologue that runs: “I don’t think I’ll have a Martini, I have to write my column this afternoon, oh sod it, I’ll have a Martini.”

“So,” she says as they arrive, “how has life been treating you?”

Good question. How, indeed, has life been treating me? Most oddly, I have to say. These are strange times we live in, a bit strange even for me, and if we wake up on 24 June to find ourselves no longer in Europe and with Nigel Farage’s toadlike mug gurning at us from every newspaper in the land, then I’m off to Scotland, or the US, or at least strongly thinking about it. Not even Hunter S Thompson’s mantra – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – will be enough to arm myself with, I fear.

The heart has been taking something of a pummelling, as close readers of this column may have gathered, but there is nothing like finding out that the person you fear you might be losing it to is probably going to vote Brexit to clear up that potential mess in a hurry. The heart may be stupid, but there are some things that will shake even that organ from its reverie. However, operating on a need-to-know basis, I feel my mother can do without this information, and I find myself talking about the cricket match I played on Sunday, the first half of which was spent standing watching our team get clouted out of the park, in rain not quite strong enough to take us off the field, but certainly strong enough to make us wet.

“Show me the way to go home,” I sang quietly to myself, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” etc. The second half of it, though, was spent first watching an astonishing, even by our standards, batting collapse, then going in at number seven . . . and making the top score for our team. OK, that score was 12, but still, it was the top score for our team, dammit.

The inner glow and sense of bien-être that this imparted on Sunday persists three days later as I write. And as I tell my mother the story – she has now lived long enough in this country, and absorbed enough of the game by osmosis, to know that 17 for five is a pretty piss-poor score – I realise I might as well be nine years old, and telling her of my successes on the pitch. Only, when I was nine, I had no such successes under my belt.

With age comes fearlessness: I don’t worry about the hard ball coming at me. Why should I? I’ve got a bloody bat, gloves, pads, the lot. The only things that scare me now are, as usual, dying alone, that jackanapes Farage, and bad art. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain