The British Upper Classes At Play
January 5, 2018 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Since 1709 Tatler Magazine has been sending dispatches from the front line of privilege. Every issue features the country homes of Britain’s elite, the worlds most expensive fashion & jewelry, the all important social scene, and of course horse racing. With a lineage longer than some of the families it reports on, Tatler not only observes the upper classes, it helps to preserve the rules they live by, and provides a knowing guide for those aspiring to join. We spent 6 months behind the scenes finding out what it takes to be posh in the 21st century. Episode 2 Episode 3
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (21 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
(is there a way to turn on captions/subs in the videos?)
posted by poffin boffin at 4:32 PM on January 5, 2018

While staying at in-laws over the holidays, I was perusing some old Doonesbury compilations. One of the plots was Zonker Harris aspiring (pretending?) to purchase a title to join ye olde English peerage. It involved the studying some detailed etiquette guides kinda like this. (Spoiler: He spent a lot of money to buy a gentry Title from some shady office in the Bronx, and then got to hobnob with the snobs at a decent seat at a royal wedding;)
posted by ovvl at 5:12 PM on January 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

As it turns out, I do have an upscale etiquette question. What wine pairs well with aristocrat flesh?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:05 PM on January 5, 2018 [15 favorites]

What wine pairs well with aristocrat flesh?

Moonshine or poteen.
posted by loquacious at 6:14 PM on January 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

and possibly this film
posted by mbo at 6:32 PM on January 5, 2018

@poffinboffin I tried all my usual tricks with no success. Annoying because it's from the BBC, so it was captioned at one point. I couldn’t even get the "auto caption" to work.
posted by Jesse the K at 6:45 PM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Jesus. Trailers for Whit Stillman flicks are getting lonnnnng.
posted by herrdoktor at 8:27 PM on January 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

Is it possible to get a copy of their subscriber list? I'm asking for some friends.
posted by Madame Defarge at 9:20 PM on January 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wondering if someone can shed some light on something for me. In episode 2, starting at 12:29 the narrator says this:

"The magazine's most popular supplement hits upon a real upper-class anxiety: Which private school to send your child to? The public school is one of the most ancient and important markers of class distinction."

Now, even as a gauche middle class North American I know that in the UK, "public school" means "expensive as fuck posh school". But why are the terms "public" and "private" being used interchangeably? Is this common?
posted by good in a vacuum at 10:19 PM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

But why are the terms "public" and "private" being used interchangeably? Is this common?

It is, especially outside the system, in large part because “public school” is increasingly confusing as a term even inside the U.K. But that quote isn’t necessarily using them interchangeably. “Public school” is more accurately used for a subset of fee-paying schools which are the really old and posh ones. So it could be saying “which private school to send your child to, because of COURSE you wouldn’t send them to a state school? Well, the first option is the very old very prestigious ones...”

To add to the confusion there are also some state schools which would be posh by most of the country’s standards (favoured by politicians who want to make a point of sending their children to state school but not, you know, state school), which often have the same kind of centuries-old history as the “public” schools but diverged somewhere in the past by not charging for entry. This can happen because sometimes schools can select pupils on various grounds such as academic ability or religious affiliation rather than just taking all the pupils in a given area. This is especially so in England where the schools admission and funding system is now so complicated I’ve given up on understanding it and I grew up there.
posted by Catseye at 12:10 AM on January 6, 2018 [10 favorites]

> why are the terms "public" and "private" being used interchangeably? Is this common?
It is certainly common. I can't bring myself to watch the video to see why it might be being done here.

A public school is one which is open to any member of the public (provided they can somehow afford the fees) but which is not part of the state system. Such a school has charitable status and is subject to various legislation controlling how it educates and various other aspects of its running. Cynical me thinks that the term "public" is mostly used to maintain charitable status, while fees, influence and other shenanigans allow such schools to manage their intake and do pretty much as they please. Public schools are generally a subset of private schools.

A private school is any non-state school including those which are almost entirely independent of the state and do not enjoy charitable status. These latter have the freedom to restrict entry by any criteria they see fit and run their curricula etc pretty much as they please, though obviously the pupils must ultimately pass the same independent exams as everyone else if they wish to easily meet the educational requirements of post-school society.

So public schools can also reasonably be called private schools but not necessarily vice versa. The terms are commonly used interchangeably though sometimes not correctly. Why that's happening here I don't know but in this context it sounds like sloppy writing/editing, having not seen the film.
posted by merlynkline at 12:14 AM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, on preview failure, what Catseye said.
posted by merlynkline at 12:15 AM on January 6, 2018

Public schools were actually a sign of the aristocracy slumming it. Prior to their rise in popularity, from Victorian times, the standard method of educating your children would be with governesses, tutors and nannies. Which is what was meant by a contrasting “private education”. If you come from a posh family then your grand or great grand parents were probably schooled this way - Queen Elizabeth for example.
posted by rongorongo at 2:39 AM on January 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

True. The great Victorian boom in public schools came from the need to produce a larger governing class for the empire. Hence the immense importance put on character formation and caste building, of the sort that the real aristocracy took for granted.

Then the bastards took our empire away ...
posted by alloneword at 3:32 AM on January 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Less confusing terms are "maintained schools"/"state schools" (funded by the government) and fee-charging "independent schools" (of which the "public schools" are a relatively old and expensive subset).

Charitable status is not restricted to public schools: this House of Commons briefing paper says that "The Government has stated that there are about 1,300 independent schools which are registered as charities" and "The 2017 Annual School Census by the Independent Schools Council found that 77% of their member schools had charitable status: a total of 998 schools" (note the ISC has several constituent associations, one of which is the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, whose members include the public schools).
posted by James Scott-Brown at 4:23 AM on January 6, 2018

> Public schools were actually a sign of the aristocracy slumming it.

I think the goal of sending kids to school rather than tutoring them at home, even among families that can afford anything, is to let the children grow up among the people they're going to be peers with for the rest of their lives. It's not just a way to ensure the kids are properly socialized, it's to ensure they can continue to secure their places in society by forming insider relationships -- if not friendships -- with their fellow heirs to fortunes.
posted by ardgedee at 4:53 AM on January 6, 2018

As a US based unschooling parent, I use the term "government school" to refer to the whole category of state sponsored educational institutions including magnet schools, charter schools, alternative programs, and standard, off the shelf, open to anyone who lives in a given geographic area in the US, "public schools." It seems like that would be a useful term of art for our UK cousins as well.
posted by mumblelard at 5:03 AM on January 6, 2018

Good grief. I can hardly watch this. Needs a trigger warning for British class anxiety.

According to Wikipedia, the term public school is:
...usually applied to describe the 215 independent and mainly boys' secondary schools belonging to the Headmasters' Conference. The name dates back to the time when schools founded for local children went 'public' and admitted children from further afield. It is also used to describe the some 230 girls' senior schools belonging to the Girls' Schools Association.
As it happens, my alma mater (usually politely described as "independent") is on the list, so please allow me to supply an inside track on the pernicious social politics these places perpetuate.

The idea that money is the one and only qualification needed is a myth. Most, if not all of these schools select on the basis of an entrance examination, and by virtue of their charitable status many provide means-tested scholarships and assisted places for pupils from poorer backgrounds. In reality this doesn't confer much social advantage on its recipients, because the distinction between "poor and smart" and "rich and stupid" is pretty much obvious the minute you walk through the door, and it follows everyone around throughout their school career and beyond.

At my school, the rule of thumb broke down to which side of London's North Circular you lived on - outside was quite literally the wrong side of the tracks - but piled on top of that were innumerable other signifiers of how much status everyone had. This was further complicated by the presence of pupils from international political families, as well as a significant number from various minority groups. This being London, ethnicity wasn't really an issue - what really mattered was the power of social connection. It's not what you know, it's who.

The extent to which this is all bound up with money is a bit of a red herring, which is why class is such a complicated business for Brits, even though the two are inextricably connected. What you see here is a subculture with boundaries policed by a set of arcane values, but there are other equivalent groups whose barriers to entry are applied just as stringently.

I ended my last high-school reunion ended watching a drunken reenactment of Monty Python's Four Yorkshireman sketch by a small cadre of depressed middle-aged women competing to see who'd been the poorest, the least privileged in this hothouse of an ivory tower. All had had a fantastic education, but those doors had remained firmly closed to any who didn't fit in or hadn't learned to play the game.

Many people come through this system united by an uncertainty of who we are and where we belong, and I've made it a bit of a hobby over the years to spot those lost children of the British middle classes who were raised so very close to power and can't quite come to terms with that fact. The ones who scare me are the ones who are certain enough never to doubt themselves, because accepting those rules enough to play by them takes a pretty callous mindset.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 5:47 AM on January 6, 2018 [20 favorites]

I saw the Tatler vids before and kept expecting this to come on:
posted by james33 at 6:24 AM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

A small point, but the current Tatler is in no sense a continuation of the magazine of 1709. That was a daily satirical essay, much given to pointing out the follies of fashionable London. There have been several subsequent magazines of the same name.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 9:27 AM on January 6, 2018

here in NZ a "public school" is that school down the road where you send your kids. A "private school" is one you pay for your kids to go to .... however a few decades ago there was a crisis of funding for private schools, many (in particular the catholic schools) were going to go under, the govt, realising it didn't have the resources to take all those kids into the public system at once created a sort of in between school that's partially publicly funded, and that must provide the state curriculum (and other stuff, like religious content must be done in extra time).

I think we still have a very few 'private' schools, financially they must be pretty iffy
posted by mbo at 4:26 PM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

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