Before I start, caveats and declarations of interest: firstly, I am very proud of my working class roots. However, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that hitting a keyboard is the sort of job which allows me to still claim I remain a part of the social class to which I was born.
My bus driver mum and takeaway owning dad make sure I remain grounded (my dad genuinely still makes me deliver curries for him if I visit his takeaway) but I’m not going to be one of those people who claim working class credentials from the suburbs. Not that I live in the suburbs, but champagne socialists are only just above hipsters on the chart of annoying people.
The other interest I have to declare is that it is theatre which has allowed me to enjoy a job that isn’t the manual work my background would suggest I was destined for. The fact that I am the theatre correspondent for a newspaper I grew up loving can be traced back to a moment when I was a child and went to the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford and saw an adaptation of CS Lewis’ Prince Caspian and the Sea. I fell in love with theatre and the magic of it, irrevocably, at that precise moment.
So I know, incontrovertibly and at first hand, the power of the arts to change lives. Which is why the noise being made, loudly, by members of the acting profession about the lack of opportunity for working class people, is music to my ears. David Morrissey this week followed Judi Dench into the fray to claim that only the privileged few can these days consider acting as a viable profession. Morrissey said: “We’re creating an intern culture – it’s happening in journalism and politics as well – and we have to be very careful because the fight is not going to be there for people from more disadvantaged backgrounds.”
I could at this point wring my hands and say all the things that any right-minded person would say. It is terrible that the professions of acting, journalism and politics are being placed further out of the reach of individuals who don’t have wealth behind them. I could say that we really need to take a look at ourselves and find a way to help people whose backgrounds are similar to mine to enter the system. It’s good for society, it’s good for art. It’s good for all of us.
But that’s such an obvious thing to write. Only the misguided or malicious would argue otherwise. Instead the argument should be made that we need to demand a change. And I do mean literally demand it.
For too long the establishment has been allowed to make empty promises. They promised to break the glass ceiling for women in the workplace. They promised to not discriminate on the basis of colour. They promised not to shut the doors on the working classes. They’ve broken their promises, all of them. It’s time for the privileged few to be forced to level the playing field.