Class and social media

I was talking to someone today about class in the UK and how powerful it still is (or isn’t) professionally. I am old enough to remember when it absolutely was an issue and I pretty much fled the country in 1992 because of it (and yes I am still a bit chippy with an estuarial accent and remain the proud product of a ‘bog standard‘ comprehensive school). But I guess I am older and more senior in the business now and so I probably don’t notice it like I used to. Is it still there in a big way? Does anyone feel that in this business they are held back by their accent, upbringing and education?

In the 80’s the industry was chock full of Sloane Ranger and Hooray Henry types, but I see it much less now. And has social media helped to level the playing field even more? I think it has. No-one can judge your accent on Twitter. And is this still just a peculiarly British fascination?

A lovely ad about class from the time when it still mattered in PR.

David Brain


  1. I guess I probably fall into the posh camp…even though i grew up on a council estate, it was a council estate in leafy surrey so we got tarred by the ‘posh’ brush…although i can effect a South East London accent quite effectively….as I have done on the occasions when I’ve been pushing consumer kit into the style magazines.

  2. I’ve never experienced it.

    When I came from the North East to London I had my preconceptions. However if my experience at Edelman is a reflection of the PR industry as a whole then I would say it’s very much a meritocracy without a hint of classism.

    But then again it’s probably not as I have heard of one particular London agency that has an unwritten rule of only accepting certain people.

    I actually think accents can be an advantage these days. And when someone from a regular background ‘makes it’ in any profession it’s much more commendable than when someone’s had it presented in front of them.

  3. Ben,

    interesting comment that we all still play with our identity and profile to fit the ocassion

  4. Thanks for resurfacing that classic sketch!

    I left the shores of Dear Old Blighty in 1995, and am intrigued as to whether (and if so, how) the role of class has changed in either accelerating or slowing career and professional progression.

    I went the comprehensive/polytechnic route, joining the ranks of the employed in 1983. I worked for a series of blue chip companies (including British Aerospace, CEGB, ICI, etc.) and remember being aware that while my IT career moved ahead quickly, there were still some fast path options that were closed to me, because I had the wrong accent (I’m a Derbyshire lad) and didn’t have the appropriate old school tie.

    Moving to the US in 1995, my career really took off (I’ve been CIO & CTO of a Fortune 50 company, and CEO of a smaller public company), and I made the mistake of thinking that the US was more of a meritocracy. What I’ve learned is that the US does have similar class distinctions (although maybe more muted than I remember from my UK days), but that as an outsider (who can’t easily be place in the heirarchy), I’m relatively immune to them, and I do get judged more on a merit basis.

  5. Robert,

    Very interesting comments. I found exactly the same thing when I was in the US too. Also when I was in Asia it was similar in that (as an expat there) it felt like you were ‘on’ society not ‘in’ it which also gave me a degree of neutrality that I did not have at home.

  6. Yes, it’s an often quoted misconception that the UK is the only class-obsessed society. France, Italy, US, Germany, India – it manifests everywhere; just in different forms, with different labels and origins.

  7. Begorrah and begob surrr….I’ll make haste to the lower
    field at once…one of the herd is giving birth.

    [Doffs cap. Tugs Forelock. Exeunts.]

  8. Ahhh seaniebee . . . . that’ll be 800 years of repression talking there will it?

  9. unfortunately, as a sloane ranger/hooray henry type who had the fortune of going to a well-known public school, i have never found that my accent propelled me forward.

    thankfully now that i have escaped the socialist republic of the UK and am now in canada, any accent is a definite competitive advantage.

  10. Interesting topic. Coming from a classless country like China and having spent a few years in Germany and Switzerland, I was really shocked to know that somebody lost his job in an investment bank simply because the guy did not come from a public school background. “The reason was he did not get alone with the rest of the team, although he did a damn good job!” my friend told me. When I worked for a recruitment consultancy in the City, my boss wasn’t happy about my accent – one day he started giving me a vocal lesson just like Professor Higgins. I did not want to play Eliza. Because I believe my audience would be far more interested in what I say rather than inspecting my pronunciation. But out of respect, I tried to mimic his pronunciation. I thought that was utterly unfair – how could he put up with half office Essex accent, but made such a fuss about mine?

    Even post codes or the places you live in London could be used as indicators to judge which camp you come from – I have been put up with snobbish comments about Lewisham dated back my university time.

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