'JUDGING SOMEONE'S CLASS IS AS MUCH AN ART AS IT IS A SCIENCE; Why We'll Always Look Up to Some and Down on Others Some Believe There Is No Longer a Class System, Some Are Trying to Re-Define Social Groups, but Jason Beattie Knows That the British Are Class Addicts

By Beattie, Jason | The Birmingham Post (England), July 31, 1999 | Go to article overview

'JUDGING SOMEONE'S CLASS IS AS MUCH AN ART AS IT IS A SCIENCE; Why We'll Always Look Up to Some and Down on Others Some Believe There Is No Longer a Class System, Some Are Trying to Re-Define Social Groups, but Jason Beattie Knows That the British Are Class Addicts


Beattie, Jason, The Birmingham Post (England)


Whatever Tony Blair might say, we are not and never will be "all middle class now." Whether you like it or not, our desire to classify people has not been swept away by politicians and educationalists determined to create a classless society.

We may aspire to be like the Americans or the Australians who we perceive to be free from such divisions (but don't be fooled, these countries are as stratified as anywhere else) but we cannot stop ourselves from categorising people by their social status.

Some people may find this embarrassing and there are many who shy away from their own class such as Nigel Kennedy with his pseudo-Cockney speak or the writer Erin Pizzey who was quoted in The Birmingham Post as saying: "I have always thought calling yourself middle class was a form of mental illness".

Many people are uncomfortable with being pigeon-holed but that does not obscure the fact that the class system still exists.

Bert Prescott disowned his son, who happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister, not because he is responsible for our disastrous transport system, nor because he persuaded the Labour rank and file to ditch Clause Four, but because little Johnny has been a traitor to his class.

The octogenarian Bert - there's a name which reeks of tap houses and tenements - is fuming because John, a particularly classless appellation since you ask, has said he is now middle class.

And well he might be. The Minister for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the second biggest nob in the Government after Tony (another name which crosses social barriers), educated at Ruskin College, Oxford, the owner of two Jaguars and a nice(ish) house near Hull has all the trappings of a successful middle class man.

If you sat next to him and his wife Pauline in a Beefeater or Angus Steak House you would immediately pigeon-hole him as a product of middle England, that is until he opened his mouth or picked up his fork.

Then you might begin to wonder is he nouveau middle class or lower middle class? Or perhaps he is working class made good?

You soon deduce, using that unwritten code for defining such matters to which we all instinctively refer when we first meet someone, that he is not of the traditional middle class breed to which he aspires.

In recent years it has become more difficult to assess people as upper, middle or working class, the three traditional tiers which were so eloquently articulated in the famous John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett sketch on The Frost Report.

As John Prescott unwittingly demonstrated there are areas, such as when the lower middle classes meet the middle classes, where the groups are less easy to define.

To impose some order out of this chaos sociologists came up with a socio-economic grading system (SEG) which classified people as A, B, C1, C2, D and E (see opposite page).

Beloved of market researchers it categorises people depending on the occupation of the head of the household.

As include attorneys, historians, members of parliament, lieutenant generals and conductors and editors (national newspapers); Bs: cartoonists, chefs, comedians, priests, gynaecologists and editors (local newspapers); C1s: chorus girls, jugglers, driving instructors, teachers and nurses; C2s: cobblers, bombardiers, dockers and postmen. …

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'JUDGING SOMEONE'S CLASS IS AS MUCH AN ART AS IT IS A SCIENCE; Why We'll Always Look Up to Some and Down on Others Some Believe There Is No Longer a Class System, Some Are Trying to Re-Define Social Groups, but Jason Beattie Knows That the British Are Class Addicts
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