Am I posh? Is David Dimbleby? Are you?
Am I posh?
Is David Dimbleby?
Yesterday, on the BBC Today programme on the radio, I heard David Dimbleby bridle when John Humphrys suggested to the veteran broadcaster, now 80, that he was ‘posh’.
‘There is a typical sneer in that question,’ harrumphed Dimbleby. ‘I am not posh,’ he asserted.
Well, is he or isn’t he?
The question intrigues me only because I’m frequently being told that I’m ‘posh’ – and, rather like Dimbleby, I don’t think I am. I am certainly not posh by the standards of my parents’ generation or of Dimbleby’s parents’ generation - but the world has changed in the past sixty or seventy years. When David Dimbleby and I were young, we’d have thought ourselves essentially ‘middle class’ and not in the least bit posh.
When we were young, posh people were aristocrats, members of the landed gentry, folk with family trees of note and distinction . . . that didn’t include us.
But it’s different now.
To help you decide whether I’m ‘posh’ – whether Dimbleby is posh – whether you’re posh, here are the 7 questions you have to answer.
1. Did you have a nanny? I don’t mean an au pair, or someone who helped with a bit of child care and baby-sitting: I mean a nanny, preferably one who wore a proper uniform.
2. Did you go to a private school? Posh boys went to Eton. (Posh boys with a touch of the wide-boy went to Harrow.) Posh girls went to Benenden or Cheltenham Ladies’ College.
3. Did you go to one of ‘the universities’? That means either Oxford or Cambridge. (Well done wanting to bring Durham, Edinburgh and Trinity College, Dublin, into the equation – but don’t bother.)
4. When you left school, did you ‘come out’? (This is nothing to do with being gay: it was something that happened to girls and involved a lot of parties, fab frocks, champagne, and, until 1958, being presented at court. The girls who ‘came out’ were called ‘debutantes’. The boys who escorted them to parties were called ‘debs’ delights’ – however ghastly and spotty they were.)
5. Did either of your parents do all of the above?
6. Do you know other properly posh people and are they the people you spend much of your private time with? That means people who are deeply into country pursuits (huntin’, shootin’, fishin’), who have staff (and regard their staff as friends), who are members of the old aristocracy or the royal family?
7. Do you have a ‘posh’ accent?
If you answer Yes to each of those seven questions, by today’s standards I reckon you’re posh.
I can answer ‘Yes’ to a couple of those questions. I can answer ‘Yes but’ to a few more. But I can’t give an unequivocal ‘Yes’ to all of them (nor can David Dimbleby), so I’m not ‘posh’. I’m middle class.
I think people think I’m ‘posh’ because I have a ‘posh’ accent. In fact, I sound much less fruity and plummy than I used to do. (So does The Queen, incidentally.) I sound very like my father, and English middle class professional people of his generation (he was born in 1910) sounded like he sounded and I sound now.
Yes, when I was very small, I did have a uniformed nanny, but only for a couple of years. (There’s a funny story about my nanny, but that’s for another day.) I did go to private schools. (My public school was a place called Bedales; David Dimbleby went to Charterhouse.) I did go to one of ‘the universities’. (At Oxford, I was at New College. Dimbleby was at Christ Church, undoubtedly a posher college.) My sisters went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College, but they didn’t ‘come out’. I was briefly a ‘debs’ delight’, but I wasn’t any good at it and not properly on the circuit. My father went to a public school, too, and to Oxford. His father was a lawyer. My mother went to a private school in India and to London University. Her father was in the Indian Army. Her mother was a missionary. I do know properly posh people, but not a vast number of them and not many of them that well.
You see, I’m not posh. I’m English middle-class. That, I reckon, is what David Dimbleby is, too. Because his father (broadcaster Richard Dimbleby) was a household name and the ‘voice’ of events like the Coronation and Winston Churchill’s funeral, and because David Dimbleby has been a senior BBC figure for so many years, he is certainly part of the ‘establishment’ – but that doesn’t make him posh.
Interestingly, being posh has nothing much to with money. Anyone can have money. My great-great-grandfather was an American self-made multi-millionaire. He wasn’t posh. Far from it. His eldest son came to Britain to run the English end of the family business: he had a huge estate (80,000 acres with wonderful pheasant shooting) but he wasn’t posh. He knew posh people, but they knew his money came from trade.
And the job you do doesn’t make you posh either. I’ve known a posh plumber and a posh railway engine driver. My great-great-grandfather had sixteen children and all the family money had disappeared well before the Second World War. My father was a lawyer – like being a doctor or an accountant or any other profession, in those days that counted as a ‘middle class’ occupation.
I’m working class, of course, in that I have worked all my life. (My middle class parents spent more money than they had sending their children to private boarding schools: they always lived in rented flats: by the time I got to university I had to help pay my own university fees by working.) I’m middle class by up-bringing – like David Dimbleby. And I’m ‘posh’ because of the plummy voice I’ve inherited from my dad.
I now realise I’ve got the best of all worlds. I’m a posh working middle-class old man - and that’s fine by me.