JENNI MURRAY: I was wrong to say I'm working class … when I'm not!

JENNI MURRAY: I admit I was wrong to say I’m working class … when I’m not!

  • Research shows some middle-class professionals downplay their class privilege
  • Jenni Murray described herself as working class when she joined the BBC
  • British columnist from Barnsley, reflects on her elevation to being middle class 

There was a slight sense of guilt as I read the headline ‘Affluent actors cast themselves as working-class heroes,’ earlier this week. Sociologists at the London School of Economics conducted 175 interviews with actors, TV professionals, architects and accountants and found a significant number of those who had a middle-class background claimed to be working class.

There is, according to the research, ‘a symbolic market for downplaying class privilege in these professions,’ and a pressure ‘to ward off suspicions of hereditary privilege.’ So, why the guilt?

I’m afraid I’ve always described myself as working class, feeling really proud of my father’s assertion when I joined the BBC that I had ‘come a long way’.

Jenni Murray (pictured) from Barnsley, who described herself as working class when she joined the BBC, reflected on her elevation to being middle class

I believed I had. My grandfathers on both sides had worked at the pit in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

My paternal grandfather was a miner who died in his early 50s as a result of the miner’s lung disease, silicosis, caused by constant inhalation of dust underground.

My maternal grandfather was a slight cut above, working as a winder on the surface of the mine, winding men up and down to their work.

My father left school at the age of 14, got a job in a local TV repair shop, and he and my mother began married life with my maternal grandparents. Then, when I was three, they got a council house.

It was my mother who orchestrated the changes that brought us to what I must agree was the middle class.

Jenni (pictured) said those who are middle-class and successful shouldn’t forget the parents who worked so hard to get them there

There’s nothing so powerful as a pushy woman to force a man to, as my father put it, ‘pull himself up by his bootstraps’.

He went to night school, qualified as an electrical engineer, bought a house and made sure there was enough money for me to have elocution lessons, learn to ride and be beautifully dressed.

By the age of four I was a competent reader and desperate for school. The family pooled their resources to send me to the fee-paying convent school. It was the only institution that would take such a young child. I flourished.

Education was central to my parents’ plans for me. When I passed the 11-plus, I fulfilled their dream of their daughter becoming a grammar-school girl.

I have no doubt my elevation to the middle class, with an accent that was far from broad Barnsley, helped open the doors to the BBC. Regional accents were unheard of among broadcasters in the early 1970s.

Among the interviewees in the research were women, now working in the acting profession, with similar backgrounds to mine, who claimed they were working class. The study adds: ‘By framing their life as an upward struggle against the odds, they misrepresent themselves as more worthy and more deserving.’

So, there we are. No more pretending. I and so many others are middle class and successful, but we must never forget the parents who worked so hard to get us there and I’ll try never to describe my mother as ‘pushy’ again.

Ambitious, determined and proud is what she was, and I thank her for it. 

Jenni said Mrs Trump’s farewell speech is a clear case of failure to put your money where your mouth is. Pictured: Melania and Donald Trump 

  • I can’t say I approve of the planned drama, This Sceptred Isle, about Boris Johnson’s first year in office. I have no problems with the dramatisation of his handling of Brexit and the pandemic, but why drag in Carrie, Wilfred, his ex-wife and children and his 11-year-old daughter by former mistress, Helen Macintyre?

After watching The Crown, which portrayed the lives of people who are still very much alive, I think it’s wrong to parade children who have no choice in the matter to a TV audience of millions.

Good riddance at last to this graceless pair

Donald Trump has left the White House, and in the most ill-mannered way possible. There was no civilised hand-over of power to Joe Biden as tradition dictates.

His wife, Melania, refused to show her successor as First Lady, Jill Biden, around her new home. Mrs Trump had claimed in her farewell speech to the nation that Americans should ‘use every opportunity to show consideration for another person.’ A clear case of failure to put your money where your mouth is.

The Donald disregarded another tradition: that no executions should be carried out during the transition between Presidents. Thirteen people were executed in the last six months of his presidency. That, Mr Trump, was taking ‘You’re fired’ to the most cruel and evil degree possible.

Punk icon’s mum who made me cry on the radio

Only once in my career at Radio 4 was I reduced to tears. I was talking to Deborah Spungen, mother of Nancy, the murdered girlfriend of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious. No doubt Nauseating Nancy, as she was dubbed, will feature in Danny Boyle’s drama series about the band.

Deborah wrote a book about her uncontrollable daughter, and told me of the brain damage she felt Nancy had suffered as a result of oxygen deprivation at birth.

Why, I asked Deborah, had she constantly given in to her demands for money which she knew would be spent on drugs. ‘Because,’ she said, ‘she was my child and I loved her.’

And we both wept.

I hope damaged Nancy gets fair treatment in Boyle’s story.

The Duchess of York has been published by Mills & Boon

It’s sexist to snigger at Fergie 

Every week my mother and I would go to the library in Barnsley to borrow books. Grandma and Grandpa had a regular order — it had to be six cowboy books for him and six romances for her.

They read all the time, and Grandma endured with equanimity the constant teasing about her ‘his hot breath on her neck’ taste in reading material.

Now we learn the Duchess of York has graduated from children’s books and been published by Mills & Boon. Good luck to her. I am no longer snooty about the romance novel. They sell like hot cakes and help the publishing industry make enough money to pay for serious, less popular works. And let’s not be sexist about it. Just because a woman enjoys a love story doesn’t mean she doesn’t also have a Hilary Mantel on the go.

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