Posh: a vision of Britain that sells
May 8, 2016 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Britain has changed so quickly, the gains of 40 years of social progress undone in half a generation, that most of us are still struggling to compute it, but the evidence is right there in front of us, on our cinema and television screens. It’s not posh-bashing to say this is a problem.
Why Working-class Actors Are a Dying Breed, The Observer (8 May 2016).
posted by Sonny Jim (35 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Warning: for no reason whatsoever, the end of the article spoils the ending of the Night Manager series.
posted by Spacelegoman at 9:18 AM on May 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


Meh. When there's a glaring false dichotomy in the subhead, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the article.
Once we had gritty TV dramas such as Boys from the Blackstuff; now we have glossy thrillers with public school-educated stars.
There have always been both, and there still are.
“It’s not like the 1980s when all the exciting, big names were people like Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Pete Postlethwaite. Or When you think of all the fabulous actors of the moment, you think of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Dominic West, Benedict Cumberbatch. There’s Michael Fassbender. But he’s Irish and German so goes right by the whole class distinction.”
Idris. Fucking. Elba.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:21 AM on May 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


“Then, at the final workshop, they said to me, how are you going to pay for it if you do get in? And I said, ‘I can’t. There’s no way. I’m from a single-parent family, My mum works part-time. We’re skint.’”

That's the central point of the piece, for me. There are fewer working-class actors because they can't afford to go, whereas the posh kids can. Same thing is happening in the culinary industry, rich kids can afford to spend a few years staging around the world (working for free for experience & learning, it's a time-honoured apprenticeship-esque thing) that most of us can't. So poof, they're suddenly in charge. Looks like the same is happening with acting.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:25 AM on May 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


There definitely are some exceptions, but I think the general point holds.
There are fewer working-class actors because they can't afford to go, whereas the posh kids can.
And as the article points out, the problem isn't even acting school, because there are some scholarships. It's afterwards, when you have to live in London and there's no guarantee of steady work. That's a lot easier to do if your parents are subsidizing your rent. You can go to a lot more auditions if you don't really and truly need to keep your day job because that's the only thing paying the bills.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:29 AM on May 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


This is important because working class kids are increasingly left with only vocational paths.
It's no just the plethora of posh kids on the screen, it's all of the arts, science and politics where access is increasingly curtailed.
posted by fullerine at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2016 [37 favorites]


the problem isn't even acting school, because there are some scholarships.

RTFA. One of the huge major problems is acting school, because you can't get student loans. You're dependent on finding scholarships that may or may not exist, and if they exist, may or may not be awarded to you.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:35 AM on May 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I love Idris Elba with a fiery passion, but has he had an Oscar nod? he has all the talent of Hiddleston, Cumberbatch, and Redmayne, but does he/will he get those roles?

Even if so, 1 exception just proves the rule.
posted by allthinky at 9:38 AM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


RTFA.
I did! I read enough of it to get this this part:
Rada, in fairness, is doing its best to keep the traditions of the 60s alive, but it’s getting harder and harder. “We get defensive about diversity because actually 40% of our students come from family backgrounds with an income of less than £25,000 and 60% of our students are getting some kind of bursary from us,” says Kemp. Rada is lucky because its alumni are often rich and many of them want to give back and it’s able to help a significant number of its students. “But the real challenge for the actor starting out is how do you survive afterwards,” says Kemp. The rep [repertory theatre] system which provided full-time employment for actors has all but disappeared. “And how do you sustain a career with an expectation that you’ll live within reach of London because that’s where the industry is largely based? At that point the bank of mum and dad is incredibly useful.”
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:39 AM on May 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


RADA, no matter how much they might wish to be the only gatekeepers of British acting talent, aren't the only school.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:41 AM on May 8, 2016


Meh. When there's a glaring false dichotomy in the subhead, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the article.

Why would a decision made by a subeditor who almost certainly had nothing to do with an article's composition indicate anything?

Idris. Fucking. Elba.

Is 43 years old and completed his professional training in the early 1990s, roughly a quarter of a century ago. John Boyega is a better counterexample, and one actually used in the article itself.
posted by howfar at 9:41 AM on May 8, 2016 [17 favorites]


Wow, that was depressing. Every time I read an article about Britain, I learn new things about how really brilliant many of the post-war reforms were, and then the article goes on to say "and we threw it all away so that some rich assholes could get even richer".
posted by Frowner at 9:45 AM on May 8, 2016 [63 favorites]


I also suspect people wouldn't jump to Idris Elba as a counterexample were it not for The Wire. I don't think there's any way to know how big a difference The Wire makes, but Idris Elba's career trajectory is not typical of a British actor, regardless of background.
posted by hoyland at 10:03 AM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The article is about British actors and British shows, mostly. Britain has class structure stronger than what we have in our country. Breaking Bad, The Wire, Sopranos, Sic Feet Under etc all have working class actors.
posted by Postroad at 10:27 AM on May 8, 2016


and unsurprisingly, plenty of British actors from those backgrounds are finding better opportunities on American tv.
posted by cendawanita at 10:50 AM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, that was depressing. Every time I read an article about Britain, I learn new things about how really brilliant many of the post-war reforms were, and then the article goes on to say "and we threw it all away so that some rich assholes could get even richer".

One of my fondest memories of living in England: I used to go to an indie dance party sometimes, and one night they played Hefner's "The Day That Thatcher Dies" and literally the entire room was dancing and singing along. Just picture a hundred British indie kids yell-singing the lines "We will laugh/the day that Thatcher dies/even though we know it's not right/we will dance and sing all night/ding dong, the witch is dead"

There's a lot of anger over there.
posted by Automocar at 11:18 AM on May 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


After the death of Thatcher, Glasgow residents staged a George Square Thatcher death party, in honour of the Mogwai song, George Square Thatcher Death Party.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:32 AM on May 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Does the article explain why this has changed? It seems like the posh have always had the advantage of being able to afford not to work while apprenticing.

In party down they are all caterers.
posted by macrael at 11:58 AM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Re: Thatcher, I'll do a jig come the blessed day, but her cadaver still walks interjecting "No! No! No!" in every EU referendum conversation at the very least.
posted by comealongpole at 11:59 AM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Does the article explain why this has changed? It seems like the posh have always had the advantage of being able to afford not to work while apprenticing.

From the outside it looks like a knock on effect the of general destruction of all the post-war reforms. For instance, until I think 1996 not only was college free but they actually gave you a living allowance. And it seems to me like there were a lot more weird little fellowships and post-graduate funds. And there was a lot of public housing for people at many income levels, which had both a stabilizing and moderate culturally equalizing effect, if only because people didn't have to worry about being homeless. And there were a lot more unions and good working class jobs, and there was a large, active public sector (NHS, etc) which provided a lot of good jobs at all class levels. And there were a lot of rules about hours and working conditions - you would not see all these zero hours contracts. If you read up on Britain in the sixties and seventies (which was before the revanchism really set in) it seems like even the situations where unions lost, the unions were much stronger than American unions and the losses were mitigated by labor law, social policy and the safety net.

I feel like as Americans we have difficulty even visualizing all the devices for mitigating inequality that existed in the UK between about 1950 and 1990. I am constantly surprised when I read old novels and there will be something like "and the social worker was only coming to visit this elderly lady to help her with paperwork and life stuff and have a cup of tea twice a week now as a result of Tory cuts, so she had to rely on the shopping service and her neighbors more" (Pat Barker, paraphrase of part of The Century's Daughter). And I'm like "what, there was a state service that actually sent a social worker around to help out a perfectly hale elderly lady". Or there will be "and the youth center got a new ping pong table; they were also organizing musical nights", or "and she got a post-graduate state scholarship to spend a year working on this obscure Elizabethan poet". I know that these did not all work as intended, and that they were often sabotaged by elites in the government, but to and American it's like reading "and every British citizen had their own winged unicorn for commuting, with its feed provided by the government" or something.

But in a way, I think, all that was built on sand. I have been reading David Kynaston's Austerity Britain and some related works which go into a lot of detail about how the post-war reforms came about, and there was always this push to limit and to means-test and to preserve class privileges, so even though inequality was attenuated it was not defeated. The Dark Tower was broken but its foundations were not removed, if you will.

So when the economy changed in the mid/late seventies, powerful forces were able to seize their moment. Just rotten, shitty people - if you look up any of the British aristocracy, you almost always find really horrible, racist things. (A friend of a friend dated a peer's daughter for a while - she was in her rebellious parlor socialist phase - and those people are all terrible.)

IMO, though, I think the war and the reforms actually opened up the way for non-aristocrat conservatives from the working class, some of whom look quite liberal by contemporary American standards. Like, if we could elect Zombie Edward Heath to the US presidency, I would shout for joy, even though he was quite right wing by the standards of his time. I get the sense that even the Tories had to move a bit left in the fifties/sixties, and then there were a bunch of new, extra-nasty people who had risen in the ranks by the early eighties.
posted by Frowner at 12:38 PM on May 8, 2016 [30 favorites]


But that's always been true. Drama school was never state subsidized even when university education was, and a drama degree wasn't considered actual training, it was considered theoretical.

I spent a good part of my early 20s trying to save £13,000 to pay drama school fees so I would have the money by the time I auditioned. Of course I never got anywhere close to that, so I never auditioned. My friends literally laughed in my face about it - the friend with the mother who had paid his way through training, whose parents paid his and his wife's mortgage, whose wife had the day job that brought home the bacon. I don't look back on those friends with any fondness, if I'm honest.

And you could just forget about getting an agent if you weren't a "trained" actor, and if you hadn't been to drama school you weren't trained. The end.

I would tend to say people have more opportunities these days - soon after that, there was a trend that if you'd been to Oxbridge and done a lot of plays plus a related degree, that was considered equivalent to training by some agents. But it sure wasn't the case 25 years ago.

And nowadays there's YouTube, and... well, YouTube... basically though there are a number of ways of demonstrating your ability that don't rely on The Establishment. Not that I'm suggesting too many people get Discovered that way, but at least if you're an actor you're not restricted to acting in your closet and absolutely never being seen by anyone else in the entire world. (And a belated light bulb goes on over my head... all I need is a good camera and a lighting rig and... hmmm why did I never think in terms of this applying to me)

Also, 25 years ago, there was virtually no acknowledgement of the need to earn a living while looking for work as an actor. This is the number one skill that performers need that isn't taught - but back then, it wasn't even acknowledged! It was all "if you can see yourself doing anything else, you don't belong in this profession!" and "you'll do whatever it takes to succeed, if you're a REAL actor!!!" Okay, but what specifically is this whatever that it takes to succeed? I knew people who juggled temp work for 3 days a week, which was steady but meant they couldn't take or look for work for 3 days out of 7. Other actors were pretty accepting of the need to steal in order to eat, and do midnight flits in order to avoid paying the rent, while living on the dole. If you have a history of gainful employment (like I did) it's not particularly easy to just "go on the dole" as was usually suggested to me, because you don't get unemployment benefits if you quit, so what they were really urging me to do was quit my job and live with no income for a period of time and then try to live on the much lower amount of income support, which would probably be cut off pretty soon in the absence of any good explanation for why someone as employable as me couldn't find work!

(not to mention that income support for a week wouldn't have covered more than 1 audition's worth of travel, but I digress)

Now, we have people like John Corbett talking openly about running a house painting business in between jobs, and Denise Gough talking frankly about worrying about paying the rent, being unemployed for a year before she got her latest role, and considering alternative careers that might actually make a living, such as... childcare.

All the fucking bullshit I used to hear about "you have to do whatever it takes to succeed!" was probably just bluster to cover up the reality that most actors were being supported by family money, I think. It's an improvement that people are at last acknowledging that money is something that's needed in order to live.
posted by tel3path at 1:30 PM on May 8, 2016 [14 favorites]


For instance, until I think 1996 not only was college free but they actually gave you a living allowance.

It was free, but the living allowance went directly to paying rent, and you had to find the money to pay the rest of the rent and meet the rest of your living expenses.

And I'm reiterating my point about drama school never having been state subsidized even when university education was.

Also, there most certainly were zero hours contracts back then - well, 25 years ago - because I was employed on those exact terms in a number of jobs. There was much less regulation of working hours. There was no minimum wage legislation until well after I entered the workforce, either. When I told one of my posh friends what I'd earned that week, they just dismissed it with "that's illegal, tel3path" because they'd never heard of anyone being paid that little, I guess. But it wasn't illegal - there was no minimum wage legislation then, and plenty of my independent adult colleagues had to live on that amount week after week for their entire lives.
posted by tel3path at 1:41 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Does the article explain why this has changed?

Scroll through the comments below the article, there are quite a few with observations and personal experiences that are well worth a read. Here’s a selection:
– Hello, the difference between now and thirty or forty years ago is quite a simple one really: acting was not considered a suitable profession for the upper middle classes a generation ago -principally there was not the money there is now in stage and TV particularly for a man from Eton considering embarking on a career in acting to support a family (and a certain lifestyle).
The same goes for most of the media, especially journalism: a generation ago around 5 or 6% of journalists were from the upper middle class backgrounds (again, lack of prestige and money meant this was not a profession considered suitable) now it's around 40% and climbing.
As for publishing it's always been over run with posh very clever young women living in London who simply would not be able to manage without parental help (I'm an author so I work with a lot of them).
– There is a piece by James Bloodworth called 'The Myth of Meritocracy: Why Working-Class Kids Still Get Working Class Jobs'.
One of the big factors is the increasing trend of companies using unpaid interns, and with many of these companies in large cities where it is impossible to live or work without some sort of wage, only the middle and upper classes can afford to take on these internships. You only have to look at the Guardian.
Ironically, the Huffington Post wanted him to write an article on the problem - but then wanted him to do it for free!
– The problem, as the piece alludes to, is not just paying for the training it is surviving afterwards. Our son graduated with a degree in Musical Theatre in 2015. In that area of the business you HAVE to be based in London. For the past year he has been sharing a tiny bedsit with his girlfriend paying rent of over £1,000 per month between them. So you try and survive on temporary work, much of it on minimum wage, while you make yourself available at the drop of the hat for auditions for which you obviously do not get paid for and need a sympathetic employer to allow you time off at short notice. [...] In July there will be hundreds of starry eyed graduates descending on London hoping for that big break. For most it will never come and without the bank of Mum and Dad to support them it is nearly impossible.
– The best working class bands, comedians, and actors were allowed the opportunity to emerge while on the dole. The safety net of a basic income allowed people the time to find out what they wanted to do in life and explore some options. It was the equivalent of the middle class gap year or having parents that could afford to fund you for a while in your late teens.
– Part of what has changed is the benefits system. It used to be possible for people to get away with a certain amount of ducking and diving. They'd be skint week in week out; often actually, literally penniless for 4 or 5 days in every fortnight; they might be couch-surfing, or squatting or staying in ratty boxrooms in flats with no heat, working occasionally for cash-in-hand, but folk could just about survive on the fringes and this allowed aspiring actors, writers and musicians to practice their arts. Nowadays that's next to impossible.
– Working class as a concept is difficult to reframe today, even though it exists, if not more so.
It means today:
Minimum wage and tax credit top ups
benefits and Jobcentre plus work trials
Contractless work
The absence of union
mortgage and property ownership
Stay at home adult children
migrant seasonal workers
a degree of shame and stigma
return to Victorian attitudes
An upcoming generation saddled by incomprehensible levels of debt.

Yesterday it meant:
The most celebrated icon of the left
Strong ubiquitous unions
council housing
nationalized industries
state pensions
free healthcare (true free healthcare)
free education (true free education)
subsidized fares
A glut of jobs
commonwealth work migrants
Progressive socialist values
An upcoming generation who would never have had it so good.
(There are also commenters mentioning the media’s own responsibilities in giving a disproportionate spotlight to the "posh stars" like Hiddleston or Cumberbatch, and how that’s the type of actor who will tend to have a bigger appeal outside of the UK too, but I guess that’s a chicken and egg question.)
posted by bitteschoen at 1:55 PM on May 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


And there was a lot of public housing for people at many income levels, which had both a stabilizing and moderate culturally equalizing effect, if only because people didn't have to worry about being homeless.

+1 for the joys of public housing, but people most certainly did have to worry about being homeless. Public housing was nearly impossible to qualify for, for example, so my family spent more than 60% of its income on rent while living in a damp 1-bedroom apartment in which I had to share a bed with my mother (the bed was broken and the mattress was supported by an old door laid on top of the bed frame).

And again, when I told my posh friend that I'd shared a room with my mother, she was shocked, because she had of course never heard of such a thing.

"And your father, presumably."

"No, he worked shifts, and also he snores really loudly, so he's always needed a separate room but we only had one bedroom so he had to sleep in the living room and -"

And my posh friend screamed out, right in the middle of a crowded restaurant, "WHAT?!? YOUR PARENTS DON'T SLEEP TOGETHER?!?"

Because of course, all this had to be a result of some belief of ours, because as far as my posh "it's just an ordinary five-bedroom house in North London, my parents certainly aren't *rich* by any means" friend was concerned, there was her house and there was council housing, and there was no in between. The idea of someone being badly or inadequately housed because they couldn't afford better? Inconceivable to her. And, in fact, inconceivable to a lot of people - if there were any other families in our situation, I sure didn't hear about it, except I did make one friend in a similar situation so I clearly *wasn't* the only one.

In some ways I feel like I had an advantage over my classmates because I actually started my working life *knowing* that money was needed in order to live, even if nobody else wanted to admit it. I'm not saying they were wrong, but it was kind of gobsmacking to me to hear people saying they "didn't want" a high paying job, as if high paying jobs were just there for the taking and you could also choose to leave it if you had higher ideals. I was also aghast at certain friends who rushed to buy houses and then found themselves in negative equity, as if the prior housing crisis hadn't been enough to warn them. The whole current situation with out-of-control housing costs was something I saw coming from 50 miles away, and I just never could understand why nobody else could see it. But they'd just never learned, I guess.

I must say I was saddened but not surprised to read an article in a national newspaper by a name I recognized as one of said classmates, shocked that they'd had their first child but were still living in a one bedroom - and all they'd done was choose not to prioritize money! I could've warned them about that, I guess, but they wouldn't have had the ears to hear me. I think people figured I was just being neurotic and dramatic - which in fact I was, so you see the problem. Unfortunately for them, I was also right.
posted by tel3path at 1:57 PM on May 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


shocked that they'd had their first child but were still living in a one bedroom - and all they'd done was choose not to prioritize money!

Yeah, but in 1996 you'd had to have had a crystal ball to know what was going to happen to house prices in the UK. Rent was... higher than it had been for previous generations, but that it would continue to rise in this manner, including rises of five percent a year, for several years running, was literally unfuckingthinkable. You could have seen it coming and still have been eaten alive by it (many have, many will continue to be) so no special biscuit for you. Sorry.

Where it particularly hits, in the arts, is that where there was once a multitude of views, telling stories about different things in different ways, there's now a narrowing of horizons. The actors telling the stories are just one part of it - one of the most visible, and easiest to see.
posted by The River Ivel at 2:38 PM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but in 1996 you'd had to have had a crystal ball to know what was going to happen to house prices in the UK.

Not really? You only had to live through being not-rich and having to live in a one-bedroom, and then watching your friends buy a one-bedroom starter home and go into negative equity and stay in that starter home for years after having their first child, to know that it was possible to end up stuck in inadequate housing unless you actively tried to avoid it.

And that was the thin end of the wedge, sure. But you didn't need to know that it *would get* worse to know that paying for housing *was already* hard.
posted by tel3path at 2:47 PM on May 8, 2016


My whole point wasn't to whinge about my family circumstances, tl;dr, but that I could have been a canary in the mine for my more privileged friends. But because the prevailing worldview was and is Posh, they couldn't understand that experiences like mine were a) even real, because narratives like mine didn't and don't influence mainstream discourse in any way or b) anything that could happen to them.

I did have an encouraging experience recently - I attended a seminar which made it clear that the majority of artists rely on other streams of income because there isn't enough paid work in the region to support even one artist full-time. It seems like this is now something that is talked about, when previously you were supposed to shut up and say your affirmations or whatthefuckever. The prevailing worldview is still Posh, but it seems like there's a tiny bit less lying about the reality of making a living at anything arty farty.
posted by tel3path at 2:57 PM on May 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


No, no, the whinging is very illuminating! The only British friends I've talked in detail about housing, etc, with are fifteen or twenty years older than me (and it sounds as though we're ~the same age) and what they describe in re housing must have been more pre-Thatcherian, plus with the squeaking by on the dole while being in bands, etc.

I had no idea at all about the minimum wage.
posted by Frowner at 3:19 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Essentially things progressively got a lot harder after 1989, when the Housing Act 1988 deregulated rents on all new private tenancy agreements, and vastly reduced the security of most such agreements. However, council housing stock was already being appallingly depleted by Right to Buy (spit) which came in with the Housing Act 1980. Councils were prevented by central government from investing the proceeds of housing sales in construction, and housing basically entered its state of perpetually worsening crisis by the end of the 1980s.

However, things are markedly worse now - particularly in London, where the housing bubble has reached insane proportions. Things were already bad for quite a lot of people by 1990, but poor quality, overpriced and unstable housing has now become the absolute norm for people on the median income, where in 1990 it was one significant experience among many. This government is doing everything it can to make things worse.
posted by howfar at 3:35 PM on May 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is a great and illuminating (and depressing) article; ignore the few commenters going down the sad, predictable route of dismissing it because they can think of someone the article didn't mention or their personal experiences don't fit the timeline. Here's a sample to tempt you into reading the whole thing:
And it’s not just acting, he says. “Young people are being asked to work for very little money and so it’s becoming a de facto middle-class profession. We’re not looking after them in our industry and I’d say that’s true of your profession too.”

It’s a good point. But it’s striking in journalism how this affects content – local London stories being treated as topics of national interest, Port Talbot being viewed as somewhere just outside Mars, an awful lot of quinoa – so it seems improbable that it doesn’t in TV and film too. Or as Edward Kemp, the artistic director of Rada, who describes himself as having “the classic British director training of an English degree from Oxford University”, says: “I think the fact that our gatekeepers, of whom I’m one, all look rather like me and have my background, must have an impact. I can’t see how it can’t.”

. . .

Kemp’s conclusion, like Frank Cottrell Boyce’s and Nina Gold’s, is that it isn’t about acting. It’s about money. It’s about what we’ve done to our education system. “I would love it to be the world that Julie Walters came from, where it was free, but I would love that for everything in higher education,” he says. “It’s not just drama schools. It’s an issue about how we pay for higher education.”
Note: Brits pronounce the name Davies the same as Davis; hence the hilarious "It was like Miles Davies picking up a trumpet."
posted by languagehat at 6:01 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


ignore the few commenters going down the sad, predictable route of dismissing it because they can think of someone the article didn't mention or their personal experiences don't fit the timeline

But this is exactly my point!!! When it was happening to me it was My Personal Experience That Didn't Fit The Timeline, now it's happening to the middle classes as well it's finally real AND finally worth writing an article in The Guardian about!
posted by tel3path at 7:19 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, I thought you were pooh-poohing the article—sorry about that!
posted by languagehat at 8:26 AM on May 9, 2016


Poor quality, overpriced rental housing is a great way for class privilege to perpetuate, because even when you can afford the rent, you can either go through a family friend who's got a buy-to-let flat that you can stay in, and have reasonable security and responsively maintained property, or, if you don't happen to have any friend-of-friend network, you're stuck with letting agencies, who are solely about separating tenants from their money and encouraging their landlords to have frequent turnover so they can get all those juicy signing and checkout fees.

So life's vastly less precarious if you have the privileged class background.
posted by ambrosen at 8:38 AM on May 9, 2016


If Idris Elba had stayed in Britain, instead of going to look for work in the States, you would have never heard of him. Chiwetel Ejiofor the same. You might possibly have heard of Marianne Jean-Baptiste, but she'd probably have given up acting for lack of parts/recognition by now.

I'm not eliding class with race here - I personally am aware of these actors because of their race, but the issue of having the resources to continue affects them because of their class.
posted by glasseyes at 12:18 PM on May 9, 2016


Does the article explain why this has changed?

I'm fuzzy about precise details, but in the 70s (and 80s?) a young person could claim benefits including housing benefit on their own behalf from the age of 16. Thatcher changed it to 18. I knew a lot of creative people up to about the late 90s, surviving on unemployment benefit while making work. It was actually harder for men than for women with children, because child benefit + other benefits would keep a household going without the maternal single-parent head of family being pressured to find work until the youngest child was 16. 18 if they were in full time education. Most of those women I knew have very good careers now, so it was a pretty good investment by the state in future taxpayers.

I mean, I've heard this said about Oasis, that their formation and development was funded by the dole. Again, I think the tax man's quids up on that one. As per wikipedia they started getting famous in the 90s - funny because it feels as if the days of comprehensive social security are much farther away than that. I mean, as the article says, it's not just acting, it's just that actors are very visible. It's any profession where the costs of training are steep, or where you might not be earning enough to keep yourself until you're established, or you might have periods of insecurity.

cendawanita: and unsurprisingly, plenty of British actors from those backgrounds are finding better opportunities on American tv.
Indeed.
posted by glasseyes at 1:00 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


The article mentions David Morrissey, who had also lamented the situation of "working-class talent being priced out of acting", and it made me curious to check the background of his other British colleagues on set on TWD, not that there’s many of them but it’s prominent ones for sure, and hmm, interestingly, both Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James are also from a non-posh if not outright working class background like him.

Even more interesting of course, Game of Thrones - where the working class is most gloriously represented, surprise surprise, among the not-so-young generations:

Charles Dance - 69 (who like Morrissey also spoke out about the situation)

Sean Bean - 57 (who pointed more at “American interest in a very rosy view of upper-class Britain” –“No disrespect to the actors involved, of course. But, there are other stories. This Is England was great – and you remember Gary Oldman doing The Firm? Magnificent. Jimmy McGovern… But it’s a make-believe view of England that our friends across the pond seem to prefer.”)

Rory McCann - 46

(Peter Dinklage is American?! I’d no idea! well that rules him out here but for the record, non-posh, or whatever the American equivalent is)

AidanGillen - 48
(Irish but moved and worked in the UK - moved to London at 18 and started acting in threatre while "just about getting by with a few odd jobs and a bit of dole" , can you imagine that today?! impossible!)

Liam Cunningham - 54
(also Irish but working in UK - very decidedly not posh - Dublin Northside, "dropped out of secondary school at 15 and pursued a career as an electrician")

The posh actors (or at least, more privileged middle-class, not working class) on GoT are... well, basically most of the under-35 and younger ones. And of course the royal prize goes to... really, it sounds like a joke:

Harington's uncle is Sir Nicholas John Harington, 14th Baronet, and his paternal great-grandfather was Sir Richard Harington, 12th Baronet. Through his paternal grandmother, Lavender Cecilia Denny, Harington's eight times great-grandfather was Charles II of England. Also, through his father, Harington descends from politician Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, the bacon merchant T. A. Denny, clergyman Baptist Wriothesley Noel, merchant and politician Peter Baillie, peer William Legge, 4th Earl of Dartmouth and MP Sir William Molesworth, 6th Baronet.

Of course none of the different stories and backgrounds detracts one bit from individual talents and achievements on or off screen, and the younger stars on GoT include very young ones who started as kids, while in school, so of course they’d tend to be from more privileged backgrounds. You can’t easily end up in the biggest tv production while you’re still busy dropping out of school at 15 to become an electrician, or living on the dole while doing some theatre... Those would emerge later anyway.

Still, it’s interesting, that even with a quick look at the cast of a single huge tv production, beyond those individual differences it does seem possible to spot that general trend across generations.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:39 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


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