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TV review: How the Middle Classes Ruined Britain, and Revolutions: Ideas that changed the world

02 August 2019


Geoff Norcott (left) in How the Middle Classes Ruined Britain

Geoff Norcott (left) in How the Middle Classes Ruined Britain

HOW the Middle Classes Ruined Britain (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) set out as a corrosive indictment of class hypocrisy, avidly watched in vicarages up and down the country as an exercise in that most predominant Anglican activity: masochism.

Because, of course, it is commonplace understanding in the Church of England that the reason our pews are not bursting with the poorest and worst-educated members of our communities is our insidious middle-class predominance and promulgation of middle-class attitudes; and most of us recognise that we, ourselves, are irredeemably middle-class, and, try as we might, can do no other than promulgate middle-class values. So here was a splendid opportunity to beat ourselves up, to be presented with our own failure, and, generally, feel even worse.

The presenter Geoff Northcott is that rarest of beasts: a stand-up comedian who is unashamedly right-wing. For him, the Brexit vote was a splendid revolt, a rare moment of true expression by the majority of British people finding their voice and giving the bourgeoisie a bloody nose.

His main target was the hypocrisy of the liberal Left: those of us who espouse every cause of social equality, but make sure that we have already got the most agreeable slice of the cake ourselves. One section close to home was his excoriation of church-school admissions policy: how the system is ruthlessly manipulated and exploited by the well-organised and well-heeled.

It is a serious accusation not without foundation; but, like pretty well everything he said, it was not followed up hard enough. Instead of rigour, we got a rant, and that is easy enough to dismiss. He saw how much he was biting the hand that fed him: surely the BBC would censor his programme, refuse to broadcast his attack on its very core beliefs? Of course it didn’t, fully aware that the best way to neutralise an attack is to embrace it.

The final feeling was frustration: here he was, launching a bitter assault, and his enemies refused to fight back. Even worse, just like the posh girls he tried to chat up at a dating event, he was welcomed and treated with interest and acceptance. Could anything be more irritating? Bloody middle-class wins again.

Professor Jim Al-Khalili launched his new series Revolutions: Ideas that changed the world (BBC4, Tuesdays) with an account of the aeroplane. A bit more rigour was needed here, too. Human flight is less an idea than a dream, and what he was really talking about was the development of flying machines.

I would have liked some explanation why we cannot actually fly, and how various technologies such as wingsuits and microlights have got us closer and closer to the sensation of flying, while the modern jetliner works as hard as possible to hide that fact that we are hurtling through the air at 30,000 feet.

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