Last week Julie Burchill wrote an article for The Spectator highlighting the problem of nepotism in the creative industries. Working in the media this is something I’m very familiar with. For those on screen, nepotism is blindingly obvious from Rafferty Law and Romeo Beckham to Lottie Moss, our catwalks are littered with famous offspring.
But I think the problem is deeper, I think it’s routed in our class system. These creative industry professionals don’t just want to work with people who share the same gene pool as them but people who look, talk and behave like them. If your young prodigy reminds you of yourself then there is less chance of conflicting ideologies, you’re the hero pathing the way for the next generation. Unfortunately this is likely to be the white, middle classes born to wealth. I believe the privilege of the upper classes are three fold and it all boils down to access. Access to education, access to wealth and access to culture.
During my first job with the BBC I noticed everyone seemed a bit posh. Don’t get me wrong they were friendly but I could tell they had had a different up bringing to me and I felt like I was in the minority. After a few days I confided in someone about this. I told her I felt a bit out of place and asked her if she thought it was weird that everyone seemed to have gone to Oxford or Cambridge. My assumption wasn’t purely paranoia. Independent day school students represent 7% of all students in the UK and are 55 times more likely to get an Oxbridge place. We often hear of the disproportionate amount of privately educated politicians but 70% of top news journalists are privately educated compared to 35% of MPs. This is not to make light of the unbalanced representation amongst MP’s but does go to show how big a problem this is within journalism.
I was once also offered four weeks of unpaid work experience with the BBC. Despite it being my dream to work for the BBC I simply couldn’t afford to go unpaid. This is at odds with what the BBC would have us believe:
“We know that many young people are keen to offer their services for nothing to prove that they’re capable and committed. That’s great but we won’t take advantage of that – apart from anything else, it discriminates against those people who can’t work for nothing and we’re keen to provide equal opportunities to everyone, regardless of personal circumstances” BBC Work Experience Interview letter
At that time I had to take out a loan just to continue living in London in order to follow the career path I wanted. I worked on a reception desk at an independent production company whilst working four pub shifts a week just to afford my rent. In a review meeting I was told it looked bad that I worked another job, and besides “can’t your parents just pay your rent for a year? That’s what my parents did when I started working in TV.” To have covered my rent for a year it would have cost my parents nearly £7,000 and now it would be worse with rents rising year on year. Having access to that sort of capital wasn’t an option for me. I was embarrassed and exhausted.
Finally and most importantly access to culture contributes hugely to the way we’re able to network and socialise. This isn’t to say that working class parents aren’t able to take their children to the opera, ballet or theatre but the ticket prices alienate those who earn less. Famously Daniel Radcliffe was first spotted for the part of Harry Potter whilst sitting in the theatre with his parents. Producer David Hayman and writer Steve Kloves were sitting in front of him. Most children would never have been in that situation. In interviews the Potter Producers have been very clear that they cast the parents as well as the children when looking for young talent. Where does that leave budding young actors who haven’t had the privilege of having a ‘castable’ family unit? Certainly not at the top of the annual rich list next to Radcliffe and co. 44% of our countries leading actors attended private schools, which is an incredibly revealing statistic when you think that they represent only 7% of our population.
None of these things exist in a vacuum, they are all linked. With the wealth divide widening year on year we need to accept and challenge our class system. Nepotism isn’t new and neither is class discrimination but the possibilities of the new creative industry are. The creative industry is broader than it’s ever been, all of us can raise our voices to showcase our talents and say what we think. After being criticised for not representing black and Asian talent the BBC’s Tony Hall will be investing £2 million into fast-tracking candidates. We need to keep applying pressure on the creative industry across the board to ensure that opportunities arise for people of all backgrounds.
This isn’t to say the people currently at the top aren’t good at their jobs or don’t deserve to be there but it’s all about access. Access to the untold stories and undiscovered talents of the underrepresented.