From the indomitable rise of ITV’s ‘Downton Abbey’, to the BBC’s ‘Inside Tatler’, to the sideshow success of ‘Gogglebox’’s Steph and Dom; Britain has become obsessed with posh people.
In an era equally preoccupied with social inequality, it seems somewhat outrageous that the schedules are so rammed with the rural spawn of ‘Made in Chelsea’. The comic duo of ‘Almost Royal’, the obs doc series ‘Life is Toff’, the bizarre entertainment format ‘You Can’t Get the Staff’. Even the big screen’s following suit (excuse me) with the controversial ‘Riot Club’. What is it about all that tweed, all that bubbly and all those Labradors that grips your average sofa-bound Joe?
Yah yah, I hear the commentators say, it must be all about ahhspiration post-recession, our growing interest in wealth and privilege and our nostalgiahh for a glittering Gatsbyesque past which still proudly refuses to accept extinction in small pockets of Royal Britanniahh. Observe all those chandeliers being dusted round the country, the twee rows of post-shoot wellington boots, the velvet jackets on those smug, eligible young bachelors and dream of what could have been if the cells that comprise your body had been but a small part of the venison steak that fed Lady Fontenbury De Whatsit Ramsbotham in the twenty-fourth week of her pregnancy. How different your life might’ve been.
But hang on a minute old chaps, you’re not saying people actually aspire to the red-veined cheeks, the plummy accent, the bumblingness, the isolation and the absence of grip-on-reality that plagues the majority of these human beings?
Look beyond the ancestors’ portraits on the walls and you’ll find an insecure, threadbare microcosm far from Tatler’s glossy front page. Indeed, far from showcasing the finery of the last of our aristocratic families, I’d argue that the vast majority of the latest posh-programmes are nothing more than toff-bashing documentaries highlighting the ludicrous nature of a privileged class clinging onto their status in a world which is increasingly rendering them redundant.
In this way, the upper classes have become our entertainment. And perhaps a little tragically, one might assume it’s their latest way of diversifying their income-streams for their crumbling family estates. And if Labour get in with their mansion tax, that’ll be the last you see of the Hunter de Roqueforts, the Warburton-Smythes and the Pompdalilly-Yahmouths. One might speculate that perhaps the latest onslaught of posh-focused programming is television’s last opportunity to capture the dregs of a dying aristocratic breed.
(But I say, Steph and Dom do make for bloody excellent television.)