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Melvyn Bragg - Class & Culture
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Apple



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PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2012 11:41 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

chris-l wrote:
I haven't managed to watch any of these programmes, which is a pity, because I find myself fascinated the English class system. Much of my fascination springs from the huge potential for humour inherent in the whole thing, and it is this aspect that has been pretty much absent from the discussion so far. This may well be the fault of Melvyn Bragg: although I have huge respect for his work on TV and radio, he is not someone who ever comes across as having a highly developed sense of humour.

Both of the writers who have been quoted so far, John Betjeman and Nancy Mitford were great exponents of the comic genre. Nancy Mitford's essay on U and Non-U language (the U stands for 'Upperclass') was first published as an article in 'Encounter' in 1955 and then as a part of a book 'Noblesse Oblige' the following year. It looked at the differences in language usage between the upper and middle classes, with the uppers tending to stick to older terms, while the middles adopted newer vocabulary. For instance the former used 'lavatory' where the latter preferred 'toilet' - both terms are of course euphemistic, but one had been in use for rather longer. It was with some justice pointed out at the time that the other group that used much the same vocabulary as the upper classes was the working class who had not by and large had not thought that they needed to adopt modern polite usage but had stuck with the language of earlier generations. The concept of U and Non-U was put forward in a fairly tongue-in-cheek way, but it did capture the public imagination and newspapers were full of absurd examples and 'How U are you?' type quizzes.

I am not sure which was the only Betjeman poem put forward as an example of Betjeman's snobbishness. It sounds from the discussion as if it may have been 'Slough'. This does indeed open with the line 'Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!', but it is never an attack upon the people of Slough, only upon what Betjeman perceived as monstrously ugly development. The second line is 'It isn't fit for humans now', so what he is actually asking for is better housing and environment, not for the destruction of the sorts of people who might be supposed to live in Slough.

Another poem of Betjeman's which I think must have been inspired by Nancy Mitford's essay is 'How to Get on in Society', which pokes gentle fun at the sort of genteel language adopted by (some) people who aspire to what they see as a higher position in society - the Hyacinth Buckets of their day. So, the deperate housewife of the time complains 'You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes/ And I must have things daintily served' - serviettes was another of the linguistic markers identified by Mitford, the U word being napkins! This is affectionate teasing of rather pretentious individuals used to comic effect.

The class system has been used by many writers as a source of humour. Mr Pooter is funny because he tries so desperately to present himself as belonging higher up the social ladder than his circumstances permit. Much of the humour in the Jeeves and Wooster derives from the fact that the plebian Jeeves is intelligent, resourceful, cultured and possessed of much good taste and judgement. Wooster has none of these qualities, but instead he has money and connections.

I have never been able to take the whole thing at all seriously: I learned at an early age that, depending upon which facts I chose to emphasise, I could legitimately present myself as coming from anything between 'the labouring classes' and 'minor gentry'. Once I realised that, I ceased to worry about the whole business. 'My sort of people' are people who share my values and interests in life: I am far more interested in what people have become than in mere accidents of birth.
Thank you for your take on this, Chris I was actually quite interested in what you said, especially about that poem as it was only that first line which was quoted, that is come friendly bombs and fall on Slough and he then said when it was written and  jumped on it as being and I quote directly from the programme  
Quote:
...not only distainful but unthinking at a time when war beckoned and Spain had already been bombed..."
and from that it cut to him talking to the aristocrat where he basically said Betjeman was a snob and this guy said no and that there was sympathy in his work, but it was never enlightened upon as to what that sympathy was.

There was no indication that anything put forward was done tongue in cheek.  I have to say I agree with you there was no evidence of humour throughout the programmme apart from a slightly humourous self deprecating comment he made at the beginning of the first episode where he called himself a class mongrel and that people like him were in the house of lords now. I also agree about the amount of humour in the subject and not being able to take "the class system" too seriously when anyone talks about it my mind automatically goes to the Blackadder series especially Blackadder goes forth where you had Baldrick who had no idea why he was there, gradually going up the social ladder with Blackadder himself, then George and Capt Darling and finally General Melchett.

I particularly liked your comment
Quote:
I am far more interested in what people have become than in mere accidents of birth.
That was such a lovely thing to say and I just wish that there were more people out there who behave like that as unfortunately in my experience I have mainly met people who when confronted by people who are trying to better themselves or who dare to voice an opinion or raise points on issues act patronising, condescending and sneer at them.  But to be fair I also have to say I have also met a few of the good ones in my time.  Generally speaking (if its good enough for Melvyn Bragg to be general its good enough for me!! Wink ) in my experience, people who are well educated and can articulate their opinions well, automatically get listened to just because they are well educated and can articulate their opinions well, whereas someone who has not had the benefit of a good education and therefore cannot articulate themselves as well are dismissed but they can have equally valid opinions and points to make.

Finally, the links to the programmes are still valid Chris so I hope you get chance to grab a look at them before they disappear. I will hopefully get to watch the final part which I have sky+'d shortly!


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Apple



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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 10:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well I have watched the last part of the series tonight, and I have to say, this one was more political in its views, how various governments had caused shifts in the balance of class. How Margaret Thatcher totally decimated industry and destroyed entire towns and cities, and wiped many industries which had played a huge part in peoples lives out completely and as Alan Bleasdale said gave out the message that certain areas of society just did not matter.

I was interested to see Boys from the Blackstuff was commented on, considering that was the only thing we "studied" at school (in the loosest sense of the word!) he also spoke to the writer of Trainspotting, as the emergence of the "underclass" was touched on quite a bit in this episode.

There was quite a heavy comment on comedy and its part in the culture of society as a whole, and how the "underclass" are portayed in plays, comedy etc as a grotesque stereotype, eg Vicky Pollard in Little Britain and Shameless, rather than in the ways of the past with working class characters with the likes of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.  The term chav was explored and as well as the literal term of someone who lives on a council estate, a hoody or unmarried mum etc who the term is attached to certain celebrities ie. Katie Price who have worked their way up but don't have the "taste" and "classyness" of people who are born with money. He spoke as though its almost like the working class has disapeared now, there is the so called "underclass" then you jump to the now totally huge middle class which encompasses most of society and then the rich and celebrities in the new "superclass" which has taken over from the traditional upper class of the past.

It also explored the effect multi racial Britain had on culture with the emergence of two tone in the early 80's with the Specials, and rap music.

I felt it was still general in part but had a different feel again to it, the first one was historical and fact based, the second was very general and mainly Melvyn Braggs opinion, but this was as I said at the start more politically based.

Here is a link to watch the 3rd and final episode:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/epis...g_on_Class_and_Culture_Episode_3/


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Green Jay



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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 12:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[quote="TheRejectAmidHair:28933"]
Apple wrote:

I, for instance, know next to nothing about horticulture. That does not prevent me from having opinions on how best to grow different types of flowers, but I see no reason why my opinions on this matter should carry much weight, or, indeed, any weight at all. And neither do I see any reason to insist that all programmes on gardening should be aimed at people like me, rather to those who already have some knowledge on the matter.


I've just found this discussion, and missed the programmes, all but a bit of the last one... However, just to add my tuppen'orth re programming and take up Himadri's example. I am in fact very interested in horticulture,  Very Happy and  a year or two back Gardener's World, a longstanding and possibly the only mainstream channel programme on gardening around, was criticised for dumbing down by much of its audience. It went back to basics in a big way, aiming all the information at entry level, in very short bites (all in a 30 minute show anyway). It dropped the more interesting strands, from plant families to visits to iconic gardens, or treated them so superficially it was frustratingly meaningless. Now, it became clear that there is an audience in this country which has lots of horticultural experience and knowledge, and although we all like to encourage newbies to gardening and pass on our love of flowers etc, the tone and content of this show had in fact patronised and bored a lot of its regular viewers.  So then in respsonse they got rid of that particular rather simplistic presenter and went back to a more mixed level of content. I'm trying not to labour the point, but it does show that for programming to be inclusive it must allow for viewers with little or no knowledge and those with much more.

So much telly is extremely undemanding, with a formula which repeats the basic facts after every ad break - as if you can't remember anything for more than 12 minutes, or that it prefers to welcome viewers who've just tuned in more than risk irritating those who stuck with it. So I welcome something more challenging to the brain, even if some of it goes over my head. For example, I love many science programmes even though that is definitely not part of my formal education or my leisure reading.

There was a good, thought-provoking series on The Grammar School recently. It featured well known and unknown people for whom the grammar school had made a big difference in their life chances - once the schools opened up to any child who passed the 11+. There were some unlikely-looking successes. It was touching to see that a number of these people felt very emotional  at some point in describing their experience - the letter arriving, or the fact that the school inspired them to move on to the next phase of education which led to...whatever. I think what they were inwardly expressing was that without that single first chance, their lives would have been so different in every way. And so would other people's, as these folk often went on to make a difference to others in their own careers. Many said that their own parents had been denied similar chances, often leaving school at 14 for very basic jobs, and the parents were ecstatic and proud to see their children getting better opportunities.  What is heart-breaking is that before such social changes, working and lower class people were seen as having nothing to contribute in the way of intelligence and innovation, and so much human potential was squandered. In fact it would have been intolerably shocking to think that a labourer might have made an excellent surgeon, or a "shop girl" be capable of running a major business. Schools may not be great at the moment but at least we accept that, for example, a young black girl from Tower Hamlets could make a perfectly good lawyer.


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Apple



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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was just going to say Himadri wrote that not me, and I was just wondering why it says I wrote it.

I would also like to point out that I wasn't saying the programme should be dummed down, I think that point was actually assumed after Himadri and Evie posted, by their comments about the watcher having certain levels of intellegence and not all tv is meant for everyone etc, the point I was making which everyone (with the exception of Sandra) seems to have missed is that middle episode was bloody one sided, with general sweeping statements with no counter balance or evidence to back up the claims, which for a programme on at a fairly peak viewing time I felt should have been more rounded and he should at least have backed up those claims he made.  The other two programmes were much more fact based. Although I will say not everyone who lives on a council/housing association estate are like the fictional characters Vicky Pollard or Frank Gallagher!


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Evie
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 8:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think we missed that point - I didn't, anyway - I replied to it, saying I didn't have a problem with it being his own point of view, and that I was happy to go and think about it all for myself, and look up things I didn't know.  I still think good television -and it may be peak time but it was BBC4 and for an adult audience - should raise questions at least as much as answer them, and polemic from someone informed and passionate is a stimulating way of presenting material for me.

The point about assuming a certain level of knowledge - or at least being able to assume that if people don't know what something is referring to they will accept the argument as a personal one and think about it for themselves - was meant to be in answer to your point.  I watch science programmes where things often go over my head, but I don't expect the presenter to explain them all to me - I watch on the understanding that I will be able to follow some arguments or processes and not others.

It's the difference between teaching school children and university students - at school there is a greater emphasis on making sure pupils are given the information they need (though always with the proviso that they need to think for themselves too), at university that sort of spoon-feeding goes out of the window and students are expected to do their own research if something doesn't make sense to them.  Some television programmes are presenting information on the basis that the viewer might know nothing or very little; others assume a certain level of knowledge - there needs to be both, otherwise, as I think Himadri said, we never get beyond the basic facts in the time available, and we need analysis, and motivation to do our own analysis, not just facts.  Well, some of us do, anyway - too much TV aims at a low level of knowledge, it's frustrating for those of us who want a bit more depth.


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Apple



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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 10:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evie wrote:
I don't think we missed that point - I didn't, anyway - I replied to it, saying I didn't have a problem with it being his own point of view, and that I was happy to go and think about it all for myself, and look up things I didn't know.  I still think good television -and it may be peak time but it was BBC4 and for an adult audience - should raise questions at least as much as answer them, and polemic from someone informed and passionate is a stimulating way of presenting material for me.

The point about assuming a certain level of knowledge - or at least being able to assume that if people don't know what something is referring to they will accept the argument as a personal one and think about it for themselves - was meant to be in answer to your point.  I watch science programmes where things often go over my head, but I don't expect the presenter to explain them all to me - I watch on the understanding that I will be able to follow some arguments or processes and not others.

It's the difference between teaching school children and university students - at school there is a greater emphasis on making sure pupils are given the information they need (though always with the proviso that they need to think for themselves too), at university that sort of spoon-feeding goes out of the window and students are expected to do their own research if something doesn't make sense to them.  Some television programmes are presenting information on the basis that the viewer might know nothing or very little; others assume a certain level of knowledge - there needs to be both, otherwise, as I think Himadri said, we never get beyond the basic facts in the time available, and we need analysis, and motivation to do our own analysis, not just facts.  Well, some of us do, anyway - too much TV aims at a low level of knowledge, it's frustrating for those of us who want a bit more depth.
I never said I had a problem with it being his opinion either, in fact I have continually said throughout that I have thoroughly enjoyed the series and found informative and it has provoked me to find out more on certain points raised but as Sandra (I think it was) said if someone is going to allowed 3 hours of airtime to voice his own opinion, then they should also allow some of that time to others to offer a differing point of view, or at the very least when offering evidence to back these claims up make sure they are substantial not just a token gesture, as with the point in question which I keep banging on about, one line of a poem which was taken out of context. I originally wasn't having a go about that either if you recall I said for all I know he could be a snob but I thought it a bit of a generalisation to say that using one line of a poem as your basis for it. That was just my opinion on it, but as Himadri pointed out the value of such opinions is questionable, considering I had little knowledge at that point of the man. But considering what others have since said and the research I have since done I don't think it was too out of place a comment to make, whether or not you agree with it is of course up to you. The other two programmes, were as I say more rounded and offered a more balanced view, based on concrete facts, not flimsy out of context evidence.

Oh and by the way - It was actually broadcast on BBC2, and it was quite widely publicised and promoted on all the main BBC channels, but I am not going to argue that point with you.


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Evie
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think we just have a difference of opinion - you asked for discussion and I joined in.  We all understood what you were saying, but some of us interpreted the programme and the issues you refer to differently.  I don't agree that it was 'flimsy, out-of-context evidence' - that's fundamentally why we are disagreeing - but disagreeing is fine, as far as I am concerned.


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Apple



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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 4:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evie wrote:
Quote:
...but disagreeing is fine, as far as I am concerned
Well at least we agree on something!  Smile


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Evie
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 5:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cool


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Green Jay



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PostPosted: Fri Mar 23, 2012 5:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Apple wrote:
I was just going to say Himadri wrote that not me, and I was just wondering why it says I wrote it.



Sorry, Apple, I know it was Himadri, and i didn't even look at how the quote box had displayed until I saw your comment. There is one ref at the top to Himadri in one type-face, then "Apple wrote" in bold and I have no idea about why that came out - again , apologies, but I must have cut out too much text when quoting the post. I was really replying to Himadri and trying to be jokey about my different tastes.



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