Michael Fagan (born 8 August 1948) is a British man who
broke into Buckingham Palace and entered Queen Elizabeth II's bedroom in 1982.
The incident was one of the 20th century's worst royal security breaches.
Michael Fagan was born in Clerkenwell, London, on 8 August
1948, the son of Ivy and Michael Fagan, who was a steel erector and a
"champion safe-breaker." He had two younger sisters, Margaret and
Elizabeth. In 1955, he attended Compton Street School in Clerkenwell (now St.
Peter & St. Paul RC Primary School). In 1966, he left home at 18 to escape
from his father – who, Fagan says, was violent – and started working as a
painter and decorator. In 1972, he married Christine, with whom he had four
According to his own account, the 9 July 1982 incident was
Michael Fagan's second attempted intrusion on the palace; the first happening
about a month before. Fagan says he shinnied up the drainpipe, startling a
housemaid, who called security. When guards reached the scene, Fagan had
disappeared, leading them to believe the housemaid was mistaken. Fagan claims
he entered the palace through an unlocked window on the roof and spent the next
half-hour eating cheddar cheese and crackers and wandering around. He tripped
several alarms, but they were faulty. He claims to have viewed royal portraits
and rested for a while on the throne. He also spoke of entering the postroom,
where Diana, Princess of Wales, had hidden presents for her son, William, who
had only been born the previous month. Fagan said he drank half a bottle of
white wine before becoming tired and leaving.
At the time of the second incident, 9 July 1982, Michael
Fagan was 33 years old and an unemployed decorator whose wife had just left
him. At around 7:00 am on that day Fagan scaled Buckingham Palace's
14-foot-high (4.3 m) perimeter wall – topped with revolving spikes and barbed
wire – and climbed up a drainpipe before wandering into the Queen's bedroom
at about 7:15 am.
An alarm sensor had detected his prior movements inside the
palace, but police thought the alarm was faulty and silenced it. Fagan wandered
the palace corridors for several minutes before reaching the section where the
royal apartments were located. In an anteroom Fagan broke a glass ashtray,
cutting his hand. He was still carrying a fragment of the glass when he entered
the Queen's bedroom.
The Queen woke when he disturbed a curtain, and initial
reports said Fagan sat on the edge of her bed. However, in a 2012 interview, he
said she left the room immediately to seek security. She had phoned the palace
switchboard twice for police, but none had arrived. Fagan then asked for some
cigarettes, which were brought by a maid, who had been cleaning a neighbouring
room. The duty footman, Paul Whybrew, who had been walking the Queen's dogs,
then appeared, followed by two policemen on palace duty who removed Fagan. The
incident had happened as the armed police officer outside the royal bedroom
came off duty before his replacement arrived.
A subsequent police report was critical of the competence of
officers on duty, as well as a system of confused and divided command.
Since it was then a civil wrong rather than a criminal
offence, Fagan was not charged for trespassing in the Queen's bedroom. He was
charged with theft (of the wine), but the charges were dropped when he was
committed for psychiatric evaluation. In late July, Fagan's mother said,
"He thinks so much of the Queen. I can imagine him just wanting to simply
talk and say hello and discuss his problems." He spent the next six months
in a psychiatric hospital before being released on 21 January 1983.
It was not until 2007, when Buckingham Palace became a
"designated site" for the purposes of section 128 of the Serious
Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, that his offence became criminal.
Two years after entering Buckingham Palace, Fagan attacked a
policeman at a café in Fishguard, Wales, and was given a three-month suspended
jail sentence. In 1983, Fagan recorded a cover version of the Sex Pistols song
"God Save The Queen" with British punk band the Bollock Brothers. He
was found guilty of indecent exposure in 1987 after he was spotted running
around wearing no trousers on waste ground in Chingford, London. In 1997, he
was imprisoned for four years after he, his wife and their 20-year-old son were
charged with conspiring to supply heroin.
Fagan made an appearance in Channel 4's The Antics
Roadshow, an hour-long 2011 TV documentary directed by the British street
artist Banksy charting the history of people behaving oddly in public. The
palace intrusion was adapted in 2012 for an episode of Sky Arts' Playhouse
Presents series entitled Walking the Dogs, a one-off British comedy drama
starring Emma Thompson as the monarch.
Emma Thompson to star as Queen in Buckingham Palace break-in
Thompson is to play the Queen in a drama based on the 1982
Buckingham Palace break-in – although real-life intruder Michael Fagan claims
to be ‘appalled’ by plans to dramatise the event. Emma Thompson will play the
Queen in Walking The Dogs (Picture: PA)
30 years ago Fagan managed to sneak into the palace, making
his way into the Queen’s bedroom and chatting to her for ten minutes before
police finally arrived. He was initially charged with theft after drinking some
wine in the palace, but the charges were later dropped and he went on to be
detained in a psychiatric hospital. Now the event is to be dramatised for in a
made-for-TV film entitled Walking The Dogs, with Oscar-winner Emma Thompson set
to follow in the footsteps of Helen Mirren by taking on the role of Queen
Elizabeth II. Michael Fagan (played by Eddie Marsan) spent 10 minutes in the
Queen’s bedroom in 1982 (Picture: Sky/PA) Fagan will be played by Tyrannosaur’s
Eddie Marsan, while Being Human star Russell Tovey will play a footman who had
been walking the royal corgis instead of guarding the royal bedroom. In the
fictionalised account the three discuss a variety of topics before police
arrive to take away Fagan. The real-life Michael Fagan has blasted the
programme, saying his ‘moment of madness’ should not be dramatised. Michael
Fagan has blasted the drama (Picture: Sky/PA) The Daily Telegraph quotes him as
saying: ‘The Queen deserves respect and I’m sorry that all the focus over all
these years has been on the fact that I was in her bedroom. ‘I can’t believe
they’re now putting so much attention on it, particularly in her jubilee year.
‘It was just a moment of madness. For her to be dragged through the dirt by me
isn’t nice. And how can they make a drama? They don’t know what happened in
there.’ He also claimed he was ‘appalled’ that his description of the Queen’s
underwear was public and said he wanted to ‘protect’ the monarch by remaining
silent on what happened â despite discussing the incident
at length in an interview this week. Walking The Dogs, part of a series of
one-off comedies and dramas called Playhouse Presents, is set to be screened by
Sky Arts in the spring.
Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan 'given whisky by
Michael Fagan, the man who broke into Buckingham Palace, has
claimed that her staff gave him whisky after catching him in the Queen’s
bedroom, saying that he looked like ‘he needed a drink’.
Nick Britten By Nick Britten1:09PM GMT 19 Feb 2012
In the year the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, Fagan
has disclosed some the secrets of what happened the night of July 9th 1982,
revealing that he went barefoot after losing his shoes on the roof and talking
about the knee-length nightie she was wearing.
Revealing that he was “scareder” than he had ever been as he
came face to face with the Queen, pulling back the curtains surrounding her
bed, he said: “Then she speaks and it's like the finest glass you can imagine
breaking: 'Wawrt are you doing here?!'
"It was a double bed but a single room, definitely –
she was sleeping in there on her own. Her nightie was one of those Liberty
prints and it was down to her knees."
Claiming reports down the years that the Queen had a long
conversation with him to stall him while security was summoned were wrong,
Fagan said: “She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet
running across the floor.”
He claimed moments later, an unarmed footman arrived at the
door. He said: “The footman came and said, 'Cor, f****** hell mate, you look
like you need a drink'. His name was [Paul] Whybrew, which is a funny name for
someone offering you a drink, innit? He took me to the Queen's pantry, across
the landing, where I presume she cooks her baked beans and toast and whatever –
and takes a bottle of Famous Grouse from the shelf and pours me a glass of
In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, Fagan said
he had lost his shoes on the roof of the Palace, but they were eventually
returned. "I got my sandals
returned to me two years later by the security guard. 'These are
Michael's sandals, we found them on the roof,' they said."
Fagan’s antics remain one of the most embarrassing breaches
of royal security. Before entering the Queen’s room, he wandered around the
palace unhindered, via King George V's multimillion-pound stamp collection,
triggering the alarm twice. Police turned it off, assuming the warnings were
errors. The resulting scandal prompted the then Home Secretary, Willie
Whitelaw, to offer his resignation to the Queen, which she refused.
It wasn’t the first time Fagan had broken into the Palace. A
month earlier, he climbed in through the window of a maid's bedroom, but by the
time security arrived, he was lost in the maze of corridors.
He said; “I found rooms saying 'Diana's room', 'Charles's
room'; they all had names on them. But I couldn't find a door which said 'WC'.
All I found were some bins with 'corgi food' written on them. I was breaking my
neck to go to the toilet. What do I do? Pee on the carpet? So I had to pee on
the corgi food. I got into Charles's room and took the wine off the shelf and
drunk it. It was cheap Californian.
"I was loving it... It was like Goldilocks and the
Three Bears; I tried one throne and was like 'this one's too soft'. I was
having a laugh to myself because there was one right next to it, so I tried
Fagan was later charged over stealing the wine but charges
were dropped and he was sent to a mental health institution.
The first look at the hugely anticipated third season of The
Crown has arrived – showing Olivia Colman (plus her corgi sidekicks) poised to
succeed Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II.
The third series of the royal smash hit will land on 17
November, Netflix has confirmed, with Oscar winner Colman taking the throne as
the entire cast is given a reboot. Tobias Menzes will replace Matt Smith as
Prince Philip, Helena Bonham Carter will become the new Princess Margaret, Game
of Thrones star Charles Dance will play Lord Mountbatten and The Durrells’ Josh
O’Connor will join the show as Prince Charles.
Created by Peter Morgan, The Crown has been a ratings smash
since its release in 2016, and is one of the streaming giant’s most popular and
most lavish shows. The first season cost a rumoured £100m to make.
The third and fourth series, in which Colman will star
before a more modern queen takes a bow, will cover the early 60s to early 80s.
It is likely to take in the birth of Prince Edward, Prince Charles’ university
life and later coronation as the Prince of Wales, the death of Winston
Churchill, Princess Margaret’s affair with British baronet and landscape
gardener Roddy Llewellyn, and the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969.
Netflix has also confirmed that Call the Midwife star
Emerald Fennell, who took over from Phoebe Waller-Bridge to write Killing Eve
2, will be introduced as Camilla Shand (now known as Camilla Parker-Bowles) –
Prince Charles’ future wife. “I absolutely
love Camilla,” Fennell has said of landing the part, “and am very grateful that
my teenage years have well prepared me for playing a chain-smoking serial
snogger with a pudding bowl hair cut.”
Sex Education and X Files star Gillian Anderson has been
signed up to play Margaret Thatcher in the fourth series, expected to land late
in 2020, and newcomer Emma Corrin will play Princess Diana.
short guide to a remarkable institution
2 May 2012
“This is an excellent short guide to a remarkable
institution. The authors write from extensive inside knowledge and experience,
and cleverly use an anecdotal approach to give life to what could otherwise
have been a dry history. As a range of characters both famous and infamous
passes before our eyes we get a sense of Eton's colourful and sometimes murky
past, and accounts of contemporary school life give us an insight into the
machinery that keeps this ancient institution on top of its game. Entertaining,
informative and highly readable.”
writes a celebrated column for The Sunday Telegraph. His books include
Sissinghurst, God’s Secretaries, When God Spoke English, Wetland, Life in the
Somerset Levels, Perch Hill, Restoration, and the acclaimed Gentry. He is
winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the British Topography Prize and lives
on a farm in Sussex.
The Importance of Being Eton
by Nick Fraser
“The uniform is Dickensian, the sports arcane, the fees
astronomical. But Eton College still stitches itself into the fabric of our
national life like no other school - the breeding ground for princes and prime
ministers, where the arriviste meets the aristocrat. What is it about Eton? For
many, it is a symbol of all that is wrong with Britain: an obstacle to
modernity and a powerful force for privilege, elitism, and snobbery. For
others, it represents a beacon of tradition and excellence in an otherwise monochrome
world. But whether you love, loathe, fear or ridicule it, no one can ignore a
school, which has such an impact on those who go there - and those who don't.
Award-winning film maker Nick Fraser draws on his own experiences as an
"OE", as well as those of teachers and fellow pupils - famous and
infamous - to evaluate the phenomenon that is Eton.”
You can take the boy out of Eton ...
Bastion of wealth and privilege, or academic hothouse? With
David Cameron poised to lead the Tories, fellow old boy Nick Fraser asks what
Eton means now
Wed 23 Nov 2005 02.13 GMT First published on Wed 23 Nov 2005
Can an Etonian
become prime minister? I suspect that only weeks ago most journalists wouldn't
have known how to answer this question. "Maybe, maybe not," they
might have muttered. "But perhaps only in a Michael Dobbs novel, or in a
BBC rewrite of a Trollope plot by Andrew Davies." David Cameron has
a tastefully tattooed wife, and makes speeches without notes. We can't be sure
about his views, but he has supplied a resolution to a conundrum that has
lingered over British politics since the day in 1964, when the still young
Harold Wilson consigned the antiquated "grouse moor" figure of Sir
Alec Douglas-Home to the dustbin of history. And the answer is surely:
Cameron has achieved this transformation in political
attitudes by cannily deflecting discussion of his education with the bland,
unexceptionable remarks that have become his trademark ("It's not where
you come from that matters, it's where you are going," he said in his
unscripted Blackpool speech, to rapturous blue-rinse applause). He may even
have been helped in his efforts by the ruse of apparently unwisely discussing
his attitude to drugs - ECSTASY BOY NOT ETON BOY, etc. But his success does
signal a long overdue shift in attitudes. Either it means that the old,
reflexive antipathy towards Eton is dying. Or, at the very least, it could be
delivering the message that Etonians are becoming more adept at
circumnavigating the treacherous reefs of class war.
I wish to know what it means to be Eton. For the past two
years, I've been going to Eton, attending classes, talking to teachers and
Etonians. I should of course state here that I was educated there. But this
isn't some perverse exercise in nostalgia undertaken in middle age. I would
like to find out how it is that a single-sex school, founded in 1440, with only
1,290 pupils, a bizarre, quasi-Hassidic dress code and fees of £23,000 a year
has come to be identified (depending on whom one is talking to) both with
conspicuous excellence and with the maintenance of grotesque privilege.
Except among foreigners, in whose company they still seem
like gods sent to walk on earth, Etonians appear arrogant pricks, raving snobs,
closet homosexuals, members of a corrupt Masonic order, or, at the very least,
as Alan Bennett puts it, "exotic creatures" beyond the immediate
comprehension of lesser mortals educated at state school. The old distinction
between Eton and so-called "minor"' public schools, it must be noted,
still appears to exist. "Etonians tend to rub along with anyone they meet
- because they can afford not to feel superior," says Tatler editor
Geordie Greig. "But minor public schoolboys do tend to suffer from a
'wannabe factor' in relation to Eton."
Tony Little, the current headmaster, was at Eton during the
60s, but he doesn't look or sound like an Old Etonian. With his Harry Potter
specs and genial, unassuming manner, he appears to epitomise the chummy
egalitarian style of contemporary Britain. Little was on Chinese television a
few weeks ago, speaking about the glories of an Eton education. He is fond of
talking, in an ironical way, about the old tradition of noblesse oblige. But he
also refers to Eton as a "four-letter word". His advice to Etonians
is that, like gays, they should decide when to come out. And Little is keen to
point out that the school isn't just a place for toffs. Eton does offer
scholarships to those who cannot afford the fees (around 25% of the boys
receive some sort of assistance) and it claims to accept a number of boys from
poor families. With competitive
entrance standards, Old Etonians can no longer find places for their offspring.
One master tells me that the "thickest 15%" no longer attend
the school. There is a plan to double the school's endowment, which currently
stands at £150m, thus allowing any boy to come to Eton, whatever his parents'
circumstances. I am not sure that this is an adequate response, though it is
hard to see what else Eton can do, short of internationalising itself and going
after corporate money.
Meanwhile, I suspect that it is Eton's relation to the royal
family that most arouses feelings of exasperated resentment. Last year the
question of whether Prince Harry had been helped to cheat in his art A-level
was aired during the proceedings of an employment tribunal. When Eton lost its
case against a young art teacher, and was censured, it was Roy Hattersley,
writing in this paper, who attacked Eton most bitterly. Hattersley didn't
suggest that Eton was a bad school. Instead, he wondered what would have
happened if a comprehensive school had found itself in a similar jam. His point
was that unfairness lay at the heart of places such as Eton, and it is hard to
Eton is a surprisingly small place, ungrand in the best
English way, especially if you compare it with the ugly blockhouse of Windsor
castle. Disregard the shambling outhouses and the green playing fields, and one
could be in an Oxford or Cambridge college. Most visitors glance at the
red-brick 16th-century yard, going either to the Chapel, with its banners and
exquisite stained-glass windows, or beyond, to the brick wall, at the foot of
which the likes of George Orwell and the philosopher AJ Ayer struggled for
advantage in the famously incomprehensible Wall Game.
Created for poor scholars, Eton flourished by establishing
bed-and-breakfasts for the sons of the wealthy. Generations of aristocrats gave
to Eton its distinctive, laidback culture of insouciance. Eton is a good
school, coming near the top in the annual tables of exam results; but it
remains, most of all, a grand place. Attempts have been made to change the
dress code, or introduce girls, but these have foundered. However, Eton is also
an institution with an unerring instinct for survival, trading off its
reputation even as it seeks to extend its influence. Among the generals and
civil servants, or the merely rich, one can find Eton spies (Guy Burgess); Eton
geniuses (George Orwell and Maynard Keynes); Eton roués (Alan Clark); Eton
bounders (Sir James Goldsmith); and Eton murderers (Lord Lucan). There have
been many simply nice or not-so-nice-but-ordinary Etonian chaps. Encouraged by
their elders, Etonians went out and got themselves killed for their country in
astounding numbers, as the school's many unbearably poignant war memorials
In the old days Eton didn't need or bother to sell itself;
but it has recently acquired brand status. "It is a luxury brand,"
Greig points out. "And luxury brands are wanted these days. You can go to
any city where English is spoken, and they will know about Eton."
Nowadays, Eton likes to lay stress on the entrepreneurs it produces (Johnnie
Boden), the athletes (Matthew Pinsent), actors (Damian Lewis), successful
cultural log-rollers (Jay Jopling) or green activists-lobbyists (Jonathan
Porritt). Provost Sir Eric Anderson was housemaster to Tony Blair at Fettes
("the Scottish Eton"), and an intimate of the late Queen Mother. And
yet this formidable establishment figure now talks, like any management
consultant, about the need to renew an old brand. "Don't forget that the
school is, above all, a modern place," he observes. "We do change,
even if we don't always change in an obvious way."
But the primary function of Eton over the centuries was to
produce a more or less educated ruling elite. Those interested in the real,
partly lost history of Eton and its relation to power in Britain should make
their way to Upper School. This is a long, beautifully proportioned
18th-century room with a dais on which names are carved, with crude benches
each side, and, above them, busts of 18th-century Etonian worthies, wearing
togas, such as Lord North and Charles James Fox. It is here, next door to the small
room in which headmasters punished recalcitrant Etonians by
"flogging" (the exquisitely painful application of a birch to the
bare bum) that school debates took place.
"Debating at Eton has always been important," the
writer Adam Nicolson observes. "You're never allowed to go off and be
dreamy. Everything has to be tested by means of confrontation."
"Etonians are good at politics," the writer Anthony Sampson (not an
Etonian) told me, shortly before his death. "I've never quite understood
why. And this applies to Etonians of any political beliefs." There have
been a number of Etonian prime ministers, among them William Ewart Gladstone,
and, in modern times, AJ Balfour, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec
Douglas-Home. More than half the members of AJ Balfour's 1902 cabinet were
Etonians, but there were nine in Macmillan's 1956 government and 11 in
How did these Etonians perform in government? In 1956, Eden
took Britain into a catastrophic Middle East war, lying about the reasons for
the conflict, and suffering a nervous breakdown that led to his resignation.
Before the 1963 Profumo sex scandals, and his own prostate trouble, Macmillan
presided over the spoliation of the countryside and the creation of abominable
public housing, regaling Britons with such empty slogans as "You've Never
Had it So Good". In his hands, too, the old "special
relationship" with America came to mean agreeing with everything America
wanted - a posture that ensured Britain's rebuff at the hands of De Gaulle when
Britain wished to enter Europe. Poor at economics and public speaking,
Douglas-Home used matchsticks in a vain effort to explain how he proposed to
deal with Britain's economic ills. He is remembered chiefly for having made the
career of satirists such as Bernard Levin.
In the early 60s, Etonians appeared to be everywhere in
Britain - in City boardrooms, presiding over the National Theatre, as bishops
or generals. Queen magazine ran a piece about the establishment by the
journalist Henry Fairlie, with an illustration taken from an old Eton house
photo in which all the boys' and masters' heads were superimposed images of
contemporary Etonians. "The Macmillan era represented a never to be
repeated moment," explains ex-Tory MP and writer Jonathan Aitken. "There
was a joke to the effect that a sign was hung on the school gates - 'Cabinet
Makers to Her Majesty the Queen'." With the fashion for egalitarianism,
things began to change. "In those days it wasn't apparent what we were
for," an Oxford professor educated at Eton explained to me. "And we
suffered from the inheritance of so much privilege. We were instant dinosaurs,
and, of course, no one would feel sorry for us."
Neither Ted Heath (cabinet-maker's son) nor Margaret
Thatcher (grocer's daughter) displayed any conspicuous love for Eton. There
were Etonians in Thatcher's first cabinet, but it appears that she didn't feel
easy in their presence. In 1983, she sacked four of the most prominent Tory
Etonians, prompting Macmillan's snobbish (and anti-semitic) mot about there
being more Old Estonians than Old Etonians in the cabinet. There are still, to
be sure, Etonians in the Tory party; but what Alan Clark called
"government by means of the Old Etonian cabal", appears distinctly
passé nowadays. When the mandarin Etonian Douglas Hurd ran unsuccessfully
against the trapeze artist's son John Major, he was obliged, somewhat against
his wishes, to stress the relatively modest circumstances in which he had been
raised. "I was brought up on a
farm," he said irascibly. "This is inverted snobbery. I
thought I was running for leader of the Tory party, not some demented Marxist
As shadow chancellor, Oliver Letwin was frequently barracked
in the House of Commons, with cries of "You're an Old Etonian". Not
so long ago, prodded on the matter by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News, he admitted
that it was a disadvantage, if one wished to be leader of the Tories, to have
gone to Eton. ("It's not important," he said, though it wasn't clear
if this applied to the fact that Etonians couldn't any more get to the top, or
was simply an attempt to evade Snow's irritating question.) Etonians wishing to
get ahead in public life become parodies of themselves if they wish to survive.
So we have Boris Johnson, MP and editor of the Spectator, adopting the role of
buffoon in a way that would have seemed bizarre to Etonian forebears.
"Etonians aren't that political at present," says
Fredrick Mocatta, who left Eton this year. "We tried to start a
Conservative Club, and the school authorities gave us permission. But there was
a total lack of interest in politics, Conservative or otherwise. Present-day
Etonians are the same as the rest of the wristband generation - they vote in
Big Brother. Give them the choice of debating the issues of the day and playing
football, and you'll find that apathy and disinterest reign."
A contingent of 10 Etonians did march behind an Eton banner
in the demonstration against the Iraq war, with school approval. But the school
wouldn't allow its boys to protest against the ban on hunting, and a debate on
the future of the monarchy was cancelled two years ago, because of the adverse
publicity it might bring. Among the many Eton societies only the one named
after Orwell has a record of airing dissident voices, and its meetings are
often poorly attended.
Richard Pratt, a housemaster at Eton, and a Lib-Dem
councillor, says that being Tory is still "the school's default
mode". But he, too, believes Etonians are changing. Few boys admit to
voting Labour, but a handful did canvas for the Lib Dems in the last election.
"You do still encounter a quota of fat-bottomed Tories," he says.
"On the other hand, I've never met an Etonian in my time here who actually
said that he wanted to be a cabinet minister. Of course, Etonians are
political, in the sense that they want to be rich and influential. But that
means something different now. It's just not cool to be overtly political.
Don't you think that politics now seem boring to many intelligent people?"
Significantly, Cameron wasn't active, or even much
interested in, politics, either at Eton or, later, at Oxford. Like the young
Tony Blair he appears enough of an outsider to seem fresh. In a contemporary
British context (especially for a Tory party grown desperate in exile, grown
old and regarding the jowly Cameron, perhaps a bit misleadingly, as the
incarnation of Tory Youth), he doesn't appear to be a political hack. For the
moment he can appeal outside politics, and across old class lines, to our sense
of disgruntlement. As anyone in political life must do these days, Cameron
looks and sounds like an anti-politician.
I recently spoke to a Toryish columnist who praised the
rightwing tone of Cameron's formulations; but any Etonian will know that this
is an illusion. Etonians are the ultimate pragmatists, totally free of
ideology. Other than the imperatives of getting - and gaining - power, no
conspicuous motives inspire them. In power, they mostly behave as other
politicians, which is to say that they make compromises, cut deals and often
end up telling half-truths, all the while talking of public service. It's not
clear that Etonian politicians really believe in much except themselves - and
this is one reason why Thatcher disposed of them so easily.
I wonder how the ultimate Cameron triumph, if it occurs,
will play among Etonians. As Aitken explains, "oiling" is a readily
practised school activity, indulged in if one wants to be elected to any of the
self-selecting societies by means of which Eton governs itself. The Eton word
"mob" (v.t.) means something like "to dismiss someone noisily,
by taking the piss out of them". On the other hand, Floreat Etona is the
school motto, and Etonians are expected to flourish. In their own blase way,
they may simply come to believe that the school is once again receiving its
· Nick Fraser is the author of The Importance of Being Eton,
published on June 4 2006 by Short Books.
The Eton wall game is a game which bears some resemblance to
rugby union that originated at and is still played at Eton College. It is
played on a strip of ground 5 metres wide and 110 metres long ("The
Furrow") next to a slightly curved brick wall ("The Wall")
erected in 1717.
The traditional and most important match of the year is
played on St Andrew's Day, as the Collegers (King's Scholars) take on the
Oppidans (the rest of the school). Although College has only 70 boys to pick
from, compared to the 1250 or so Oppidans, the Collegers have one distinct
advantage: access to the field on which the Wall Game is played is controlled
by a Colleger. Despite this, it is usual for them to allow the Oppidans to use
it whenever they wish.
The wall game being played in the late 19th or early 20th
century. At right is The Wall, the dark strip of ground running alongside it is
At the annual St Andrew's Day match, the Oppidans climb over
the wall, after throwing their caps over in defiance of the Scholars, while the
Collegers march down from the far end of College Field, arm-in-arm, towards the
near end, where they meet the Oppidans.
The Wall Game is also played on Ascension Day, immediately
after a 6 a.m. service on the roof of College Chapel. Various scratch matches
are also played throughout the Michaelmas and Lent halves (terms), where boys
from different year groups, as well as masters, take part.
The aim of the game is to move the ball towards the
opponents' end of the playing area. In those last few yards of the field is an
area called the "calx". In this area a player can earn a
"shy" (worth one point) by lifting the ball against the wall with his
foot. A teammate then touches the ball with his hand and shouts "Got
it!" These two plays must happen within the calx. After this, if the
umpire says "Given", the scoring team can attempt a goal (worth a
further nine points) by throwing the ball at a designated target (a garden door
at one end of the field and a tree at the other end). A player can also score a
kicked goal, worth five points, if he kicks the ball out and it hits a goal
during the normal course of play.
The main game consists of the two sets of players forming a
rugby-style scrummage (called a "Bully") in which neither team may
"furk" the ball, which is to hook it backwards (except in Calx, where
a different type of Bully called a Calx Bully occurs). The Bully is formed next
to the Wall and crabs slowly along the Wall until the ball emerges. Many
players, particularly those whose position is actually against the Wall, lose
the skin off their elbows, hips and knees. Because of this, players usually
wear long sleeves. Players within the Bully shove and push each other, mostly
with their bodies but also by placing their fists against the faces of the
opposition and attempting to lever them backwards and away from the Wall.
Actual punching is not permitted, and grabbing an opponent's shirt
("holding") is also not allowed.
When in Calx, a different type of Bully called a Calx Bully
occurs. The fastest way to make ground is by kicking the ball upfield and out
of play whenever it comes sideways out of the Bully – unlike most types of
football, play is restarted opposite where the ball stops after it had gone
out, or was touched after it had gone out.
Consequently, the most common tactic revolves around the
formation of a 'phalanx'. This consists of a tunnel (coming out from the wall,
diagonally forward from the position of the ball) of players from one team who
are crouching on hands and feet next to each other. Once the team in possession
of the ball has formed a successful phalanx, it attempts to pass the ball down the
'tunnel' using the knees of the players forming it, to a player standing at the
end of the phalanx, known as Lines, whose job it is to kick the ball upfield.
The team not in possession is constantly attempting to disrupt this, and win
the ball back.
The game lasts up to an hour, with two halves of 30 minutes
each. Many games end 0-0. Scoring goals (ten points) is very rare; they occur
about once every 10 years and there have been no goals scored in the St
Andrew's Day game since 1909. There was a goal scored in a recent scratch match
(a less formal warm-up match for the St Andrew's Day game) in May 2016 by a
College player. However, shies (worth 1 point) are scored more frequently.
In the 2015 St Andrew's Day match, the outcome was a 0-0
draw. This marked the 106th consecutive St Andrew's Day match in which no goals
were scored by either team. There was, however, a near controversy in the
latter stages of the match. College was in Calx and shouted "Got it"
to claim that they had scored a shy. Even though even an Oppidan player told
the umpire that it was a clear shy and that it could be seen from where he was,
the umpire claimed he could not see the ball off the ground and did not give
In the 2016 game, the 250th St. Andrew's Day match, College
triumphed 1-0 against the Oppidans. This was the 107th consecutive St Andrew's
Day match in which no goals were scored by either team; however, College scored
The Wall Game is organized entirely by boys, particularly by
the Keepers (captains) of College Wall, Oppidan Wall and Mixed Wall. Famous
past players of the Wall game include Boris Johnson, who was Keeper of the
College Wall, George Orwell and Harold Macmillan. The First
World War flying ace Arthur Rhys Davids also played, representing College with
Ralph Dominic Gamble in 1915.
Members of the College Wall also annually commemorate the
great Wall Game player Logie Leggatt, making a toast at each year's Christmas
Sock Supper with the words in piam memoriam L.C.L (towards the pious memory of
L.C.L). Despite its renown outside the school, only a very small number of the
250 or so boys in each year group ever take part in the sport, unlike the
lesser-known but much more widely played Eton Field Game.
The Eton Wall Game has been played twice by all-female
Boris Johnson is the 20th prime minister to come out of Eton
College. The school represents a system in which the elite stay among
themselves and fail to see the problems of others. And it is becoming a serious
problem for the country.
At the very front of the Eton Museum, there is a wall of
fame set up on a mint-green background. Princes William and Harry are there, as
is James Bond author Ian Fleming, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the actor
Damian Lewis and Hugh "Dr. House" Laurie. There are also decorated
soldiers, Olympics athletes, journalists and adventurers. And, of course,
politicians. David Cameron is there, as is Jacob Rees-Mogg and, on the
top-right, a young, blonde man grinning broadly into the camera: Boris Johnson,
who is described there as the former mayor of London and ex-foreign minister.
Eton College, it seems, hasn't completely caught up with the
The school is extremely proud of its "Old
Etonians." The exhibit proudly notes that graduates of the school
"can be found involved in almost every national movement, in every event
and on every side."
That, some would say, is the problem.
In the United Kingdom, a lot of people are once again
talking and writing about Eton. They aren't, of course, talking about the
Berkshire village by that name, which is essentially just a long street
decorated with Union Jacks located just west of London, around the corner from
They mean the complex that lies at the end of this road: a
huge, castle-like clutch of red brick buildings largely closed off to the
public. It is almost two square kilometers in size and sits between the Thames
and the Jubilee Rivers. Eton College, the empire's almost mythical elite
academy, the place where the wealthy classes send their children, one of the
most famous and oldest boarding schools in the world. It is also the place that
has "produced," as Eton itself says, 20 prime ministers.
The most recent Old Etonian to take the helm is Boris
Johnson. He inherited his most important -- perhaps only -- task from another
Old Etonian, David Cameron, who unnecessarily paved the way for the Brexit
referendum in 2016. If you include former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was
educated in an elite Scottish school called Fettes College, the UK's fate for
over the past 20 years has largely been determined by the graduates of elite
Is that merely a
Once one begins reporting on private schools and starts
speaking to their former students, one quickly comes into contact with an
exclusive world of archaic rules and unconscionable wealth. This world only
exists in Britain. There, only success counts, no matter how it is attained.
The system has brought forth an astounding number of statesmen, military
heroes, Nobel laureates, gold-medal winners and Oscar recipients. But it has
also helped promote, deepen and cement inequality. It is a system that "underpins
almost all that is wrong with British society," as Boris Johnson's own
sister, Rachel, has said. She is among the many who believe that the private
school system should be broken up.
An Archaic System
There is nothing to indicate that her brother agrees. Boris
Johnson has appointed numerous private school-educated politicians to his
cabinet, with almost two-thirds of his ministers belonging to the 7 percent of
the population whose worldview was formed in a private institution.
As such, his government doesn't represent "modern Great
Britain," as Johnson has claimed, but an archaic system that teaches those
who belong to it that they are destined for the kind of greatness that others
cannot reach. It is a system that teaches the preservation and exercise of
power, but it also one in which the shrewd and cunning, but not necessarily the
best, rise to the top. In its eagerness to produce a ruling elite, the system
has also done lasting damage to the psyches of many of the children who have
passed through it. And many view the boys' school of Eton College as perhaps
the most representative example of this system.
It is a Friday in late July and around 25 tourists from
around the world have gathered in the "Upper School." It is a
classroom -- or, rather, an 18th century refectory, the walls of which are
covered in names carved into the dark wood by former pupils. It has room for up
to 70 students, and when they gather here, they aren't far from power.
Looking down at them from above are busts of numerous men
who once transformed England into a global power. Lord North is there, the
British prime minister who fought in vain to hold onto Britain's North American
colonies, as is the former Lord High Chancellor and judge Earl Camden and the
first Duke of Ellington, who defeated Napoleon. All of them were educated here,
molded for a life in power.
A dark brown door leads from the Upper School to the
headmaster's chambers. For much of the school's existence, there were
essentially only two reasons for a student to enter these chambers. Either he
had violated one of Eton's rules and had to be punished with a birch rod. Or he
belonged to the elite of the elite and received the honor of extra lessons. The
names of these particularly brilliant pupils are carved into the wooden walls
for eternity. For the year of 1981, there is an entry for A. B. Johnson,
roughly at the same height as the busts of the heroes of British history.
"He was undoubtedly a very bright boy," says the tour leader, as
Chinese tourists takes pictures of the name.
There is almost nobody on whom the teenager Boris Johnson
didn't leave a lasting impression. He was known in Eton as "Yeti," as
his former schoolmate James Wood recently wrote in the London Review of Books.
"The bigfoot stoop, the bumbling confidence, the skimmed-milk pallor, the
berserk hair, the alarming air of imminent self-harm, which gave the impression
that he had been freshly released from a protective institution: All was
already in place."
Johnson was a "King's Scholar" and from the very
beginning he was among the most academically gifted at Eton. The bulky blonde
quickly made a name for himself in rugby and Eton's own "Wall Game,"
a sport largely incomprehensible to outsiders that centers around doing all you
can to hold onto a ball once you have possession of it. Johnson's path to
leadership position was charted when entered the boarding school at the age of
13. In the five years that followed, the Eton system took care of the rest.
"There was always a real sense that we were kind of the
elite in every way: socially, intellectually, educationally and
financially," says Adam Nicolson at his country home in Sussex. The
61-year-old is co-author of "About Eton," a book about the
institution, and the grandson of poet Vita Sackville-West. He attended the
boarding school in the 1970s, just before Johnson made his appearance, and is
ambivalent about his time at the school. He says Eton was akin to a small
city-state, made up of students from different houses that compete with each
other. Nicolson describes it as a
strictly hierarchical "mimic-republic" that sees itself as a "a
school for government."
"You have to
understand how to build your constituency, how to network, how to charm people
so you can build your world and become significant within your world." Charm,
he emphasizes, was always the most effective means to that end, helping to free
oneself from every dicey situation.
One time, when he was 15, Nicolson relates, he was found
drunk by his house master. He was taken aside and told: "Listen, Adam. It
doesn't matter if you get drunk, just don't get caught. This is Eton. The
spotlight is on you."
Fear and humiliation, Nicolson says, were important elements
of the Eton system at the time, and remain so today. Poorly written papers are
still torn up by teachers in front of the entire class, and at the end of each
school year, everyone can see who was best in class and who was worst. The
school is home to "horrible bullying," Nicolson says. When he was a
student, the less-brilliant ones were referred to as "dockers."
The notorious practice of "fagging," which saw
older students taking younger ones as a kind of slave, no longer exists in
quite the same way. But there is still a caste system that is manifested in a
number of different ways, including in the uniforms that have remained largely
unchanged since the end of the 19th century -- a black three-piece suit that
makes the streets of Eton sometimes look like the town is hosting an
The best athletes, the best poets, the best thinkers are
allowed to augment their outfits with ties or bowties, for example. And the crème
de la crème have silver buttons in their vests. Boris Johnson was allowed to
wear one of the latter early on in his Eton career. While other boarding
schools have abandoned their uniforms, Eton has held on to the tradition.
The boarding school, says Adam Nicolson, "taught me how
to learn," but also "to be frightened of failure." He paid a high price for those lessons, he
says. "I've spent years trying to re-cultivate those parts of
myself which the Etonian system would ignore or suppress." Nevertheless,
the author, who has written two dozen books and won numerous awards, says he
would still go to Eton if he had it to do over again. He also sent his own
offspring to the school.
In doing so, Nicolson finds himself in good company. For
centuries, the British upper classes have seen it as self-evident that they
would send their children and grandchildren to Eton or another elite private
school, usually at the age of 13. A spot in such a school doesn't just
guarantee a top-quality education in luxurious surroundings -- with a golf
course, horse stables, a recording studio, a theater and a facility for
shooting clay pigeons.
It also offers its students an influential network of
friends and acquaintances they can rely on for the rest of their lives -- a
network that dominates every relevant area of British society. Indeed, just
like in feudal times, the alumni of the most important elite boarding schools
-- in addition to Eton, the list includes Charterhouse, Harrow, Merchant
Taylors', Rugby, St. Paul's, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester -- inherit
money, status and influence.
But it comes at a
price. Since 1980, private school tuition has tripled on average, with
some schools passing the 40,000-pound barrier in 2017. In places like Eton, the
cost of the school uniform, trips and many other extras are not included.
As such, these schools have turned their original purpose on
its head. Winchester College, the first school of this kind, was founded in
1382 by William of Wykeham, the deeply pious son of a farmer. It was intended
to educate 70 children from poor families, enabling them to climb out of
poverty. King Henry VI had the same idea when he founded Eton College in the
shadow of Windsor Castle in 1440. Because these boarding schools were the only
ones open to any child in the empire, they were called "public
Their excellent reputations, though, attracted more and more
rich families, who sent their children to the schools and, in return, paid fees
that were initially voluntary. It didn't take long for the schools, originally
set up to emulate Wykeham's brainchild, to succumb to the temptations of money.
In response to the repeated criticism of the system, headmasters came up with
the creative argument that the students were poor, and that "just their
parents are rich." While they continued to be called "public schools,"
nothing could be further from the truth.
In response to growing public pressure, many of the around
2,500 "public" schools in Britain have, in recent years, increased
the number of students able to attend thanks to bursaries, discounts or even full
scholarships. Some institutions have even sought to mitigate their elite
reputations by having their young charges perform some sort of community
service outside of the school walls. But the majority of those who go to such
boarding schools still come from wealthy families. In Eton, there are 73
children from "poor" families compared to 1,200 wealthy or extremely
wealthy students. The latter often don't hide their disdain for those without
Education Budget Shortfalls
In the 2017-2018 school year, the school took in 51 million
pounds in tuition, with an additional couple million coming in for extras such
as school trips and music lessons. Eton College also owns 400 buildings, most
of them listed due to their historical importance, a significant endowment and
securities in addition to 175,000 artworks and valuable antiques.
This list of assets makes it even more astonishing that Eton
College, like most similar boarding schools, enjoys significant tax breaks and
that the state doesn't impose any tax at all on the tuition fees it takes in.
This is partly because they are classified as charities due to their
"cooperation" with other nearby schools, allowing them tax benefits
in the billions. That cooperation, though, frequently only exists on paper. As
a result, private schools continue to flourish while state-run schools often
can't even afford the basics due to recent cuts to the education budget. A
march on Westminster is scheduled for September to call attention to the
Even Michael Gove, a former education minister who is
currently charged with making preparations for a no-deal Brexit as a member of
Johnson's government, once expressed astonishment over the unfairness. In a
2017 op-ed for the Times, he wrote that state-supported private schools had
facilities reminiscent of five-star hotels. Tuition at all of the schools, he
wrote, was over 30,000 pounds, which is more than the annual salaries earned by
most Britons. "To my continuing surprise, we still consider the education
of the children of plutocrats and oligarchs to be a charitable activity."
Gove isn't the first to make that observation. Several
efforts were made to reform the system in recent years, but all failed -- more
sooner than later -- in part because those who profit from the status quo are
grotesquely overrepresented in key government positions. Whereas just one in 15
people in Britain was educated in a private school, the educational charity
Sutton Trust has found that 65 percent of all judges, 59 percent of state secretaries
and 29 percent of lawmakers were educated at an elite school. And because
almost half of all newspaper columnists likewise got their start in the system,
criticism in the media tends to be limited. In all areas, women are severely
The most recent attempt to eliminate the education system's
shocking inequality was undertaken by former Prime Minister Theresa May, who
attended a state-run school. Only 30 percent of her cabinet was made up of
private school graduates, the lowest share in seen decades. In 2017, the
Conservative Party manifesto read: "The greatest injustice in Britain
today is that your life is still largely determined not by your efforts and
talents, but by where you come from, who your parents are and what schools you
attend. This is wrong."
The election that followed, however, ended in disaster for
May, and from that point on, she was completely consumed by an intra-party
battle over Brexit. Hardly a word more was said about education reform.
As a result, 21st century Britain has seen the perpetuation
of a system that has almost nothing to do with educational equity and equal
opportunity. In search of higher profits, many of the elite schools have opened
up branches in China, Singapore, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, offering
the children of the elite the best education possible. Meanwhile, the mantra of
social mobility in Britain has remained as hollow as ever. Indeed, independent
studies have found that the boundaries between the very top and the very bottom
are becoming increasingly impermeable.
"A child today has less chance of breaking through the
class and career barrier than their grandparents born in the 1950s,"
writes Robert Verkaik in his book "Posh Boys." "The subtle
networks of the privately schooled help to create a system of self-perpetuating
advantage and social immobility." Verkaik has dubbed the situation
It is thus hardly surprising that anger against "the
elite" has intensified. This rage contributed to the result of the Brexit
referendum three years ago -- a decision to leave the European Union that
caught David Cameron, the political classes, British business leaders, much of
the media and even Brexit frontman Boris Johnson unprepared.
Nick Duffell isn't surprised. "Elite boarding schools
consistently turn out people who appear much more competent than they actually
are," says the 70-year-old psychotherapist. It is an overcast Wednesday in
London and Duffell is on the way to the House of Commons to take part in a
forum on the abolishment of private schools. But he takes a bit of time to talk
about his favorite issue over a cappuccino, an issue that has been working on
for the last 25 years: "boarding school survivors." He is one
Duffell points out that the system, which takes children
away from their parents for several months at a time, is largely unique to
Britain. He explains that it has also left lasting damage on many of his
clients. At its core, Duffell says, the system is about "getting rid of
the parents, putting children in houses together, keeping them away from sexual
contacts, putting them through a program of learning, sports and other things
so that they have no leisure time whatsoever. And you get a recognizable product,
which is very poor at emotions and has a built-in sense of entitlement."
Products of the system, he says, tend to be self-confident, eloquent and
charismatic, but often lack the ability to deal with their own feelings and
those of others.
A Simpsons Character
British boarding school students, Duffell says, have to
leave their homes and families prematurely to struggle for survival in an
environment of competition and harassment. Frequently, he says, their inner
child is locked away and they quickly become "pseudo adults." That is
why many of them seem so "boyish." Essentially, he says, Britain is
being run by children in adult bodies for whom politics is little more than a
fascinating game. The title of one of Duffell's books is "Wounded Leaders."
It is a tempting hypothesis, and looking at the country's
political alpha males, one does in fact find a certain predilection for
infantilism: Boris Johnson and his mussed hair; Jacob Rees-Mogg, who remains
fond of taking pictures with his nanny; David Cameron, who turned tail and
disappeared after his brutal Brexit defeat in 2016; and Nigel Farage, another
elite school product, who seems like a Simpsons character come-to-life.
Nick Duffell was harshly criticized in parts of the British
establishment for his thesis when he first presented it several years ago.
These days, though, many others speak of the "boarding school
syndrome." There have been shocking reports of psychological abuse,
draconian punishments and sexual misconduct. A couple of years ago, a group of
psychologists, doctors and academics joined forces to call on private elite
schools to at least stop accepting really young children, saying that it was
damaging to their psyche and the expression of an antiquated class system. The
call was heard -- and then immediately disregarded.
Yet there is one thing that should be completely
uncontroversial: The British boarding school system is not in a position to
provide its charges with a realistic image of the conditions in which the vast
majority of the population live their lives. The years in educational luxury
are instead much more likely to further deepen the chasm between the
self-proclaimed elite and the rest. There are, of course, counterexamples, such
as the postwar British prime minister Clement Atlee, who is considered the
father of the social welfare system, or the current Tory lawmaker Rory Stewart,
whose modest, even-keeled manner is essentially the opposite of Boris Johnson.
For many other leading politicians, Robert Verkaik is on the
money when he writes: "Pupils leave school with inflated egos, unshakeable
faith in their own abilities and a craving for success. But this system for the
self-selection of our leaders ... may be damaging to a nation that is trying to
come to terms with a more modest place in world affairs."
Self-Confidence Above Expertise
Even some Conservatives are becoming increasingly uneasy
with the fact that their party is losing its connection to reality. In 2012,
following years of brutal austerity, Conservative lawmaker Nadine Dorries
described Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who was also
educated in a private school, as "two posh, arrogant boys ... who don't
know the price of milk, ... who show no remorse, no contrition and no passion
to want to understand the lives of others -- and that is their real
Dorries could have been referring to Johnson, who was mayor
of London at the time and who was recently unable to identify the minimum wage
in Britain. He instead presented a plan to lower taxes on the richest 10
percent. Even the center-right magazine Economist wrote that "Britain is
governed by a self-involved clique that rewards group membership above
competition and self-confidence above expertise."
It is precisely this wealthy and extremely well-networked
clique that will have to bring Brexit to fruition in the coming months. Because
of the advantages they enjoy, they will likely be unafraid of a "no
deal" departure from the EU, because they almost certainly will not have
to pay the price for it. The members of this clique know that they will get
away scot-free. They always have.
People often talk about the English language as if it is a
thing to keep pretty – a petticoat that might be sullied by the spread of
glottal stops, text-speak or slang. The latest to weigh in is the writer and
critic Jonathan Meades, in a column mourning the decline of received
pronunciation (RP). Meades argues that the accent – also known as the Queen’s
English or BBC English – should be regarded as “a sort of glue, a force for
uniting the country” and “celebrated as a tool of social mobility”.
The term RP has murky origins, but it is regarded as the
accent of those with power, influence, money and a fine education – and was
adopted as a standard by the BBC in 1922. Today, it is used by 2% of the
The idea that an accent should facilitate or hinder a
person’s success is, of course, distasteful, but entirely true: the powerful
elite will recoil from those who sound different from them; those who sound
different feel out of place and unwelcome.
My own accent is slightly confusing. People are frequently
surprised to learn that I come from Lancashire and went to my local
comprehensive – save for the flat vowels of, say, “bath” and “laugh”, I don’t
have much northernness. Often, people assume that I deliberately modified my
accent when I went to Oxford, joined the Guardian or started presenting for the
BBC, but these people were never party to my school years, where I was teased
mercilessly for sounding “posh” and like a “snob”.
The truth is a little plainer: my mum was the esteemed
winner of the elocution prize at her school in Wigan in the 1960s and when my
brother and I were growing up she continually corrected our speech, spurred, I
imagine, by the fear that unless we spoke “properly” we wouldn’t go anywhere.
The world has changed since then, and it’s a world I like
better. The voices we hear on the radio and TV and in positions of power are
slowly shifting and this gladdens me. I would be lying if I said that the RP
tinges of my accent have not helped me move through the world, but also I know
that my shades of Lancastrian have helped, too – at times, each has given me
something to push against; at others, it is my support.
Perhaps these days we are seeing not so much a decline in RP
as a growing accent fluidity. True social mobility should allow us to move in
all directions; to know and welcome all people, to speak and listen to
everyone. Surely that, Mr Meades, should be our glue; our force for uniting the
Received Pronunciation (RP), commonly called BBC English in
North America and Standard British pronunciation or Southern British
pronunciation by North American scholars, is an accent of Standard English in
the United Kingdom and is defined in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as
"the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England",
although it can be heard from native speakers throughout England and Wales.
Peter Trudgill estimated in 1974 that 3 per cent of people in Britain were RP
speakers, but this rough estimate has been questioned by the phonetician J.
Windsor Lewis. Clive Upton notes higher estimates of 5% (Romaine, 2000) and 10%
(Wells, 1982) but refers to all these as "guestimates" that are not
based on robust research.
colloquially called "(the) King's English", RP enjoys high social
prestige in Britain, being thought of as the accent of those with power,
money, and influence, though it may be perceived negatively by some as being
associated with undeserved privilege. Since the 1960s, a greater permissiveness
toward regional English varieties has taken hold in education.
The study of RP
is concerned exclusively with pronunciation, whereas Standard English, the
Queen's English, Oxford English, and BBC English are also concerned with
matters such as grammar, vocabulary, and style.
The introduction of the term Received Pronunciation is
usually credited to Daniel Jones. In the first edition of the English
Pronouncing Dictionary (1917), he named the accent "Public School Pronunciation",
but for the second edition in 1926, he wrote, "In what follows I call it
Received Pronunciation, for want of a better term." However, the term had
actually been used much earlier by P. S. Du Ponceau in 1818. A similar term,
received standard, was coined by Henry C. K. Wyld in 1927. The early
phonetician Alexander John Ellis used both terms interchangeably but with a
much broader definition than Daniel Jones, having said "there is no such
thing as a uniform eduction pron. of English, and rp. and rs. is a variable
quantity differing from individual to individual, although all its varieties
are 'received', understood and mainly unnoticed".
According to Fowler's Modern English Usage (1965), the
correct term is "'the Received Pronunciation'. The word 'received' conveys
its original meaning of 'accepted' or 'approved', as in 'received
RP is often believed to be based on the accents of southern
England, but it actually has most in common with the Early Modern English dialects
of the East Midlands. This was the most populated and most
prosperous area of England during the 14th and 15th centuries. By the end of
the 15th century, "Standard English" was established in the City of
have used the term "RP" while expressing reservations about its
suitability. The Cambridge-published English Pronouncing Dictionary (aimed at
those learning English as a foreign language) uses the phrase "BBC
Pronunciation" on the basis that the name "Received
Pronunciation" is "archaic" and that BBC news presenters no
longer suggest high social class and privilege to their listeners. Other
writers have also used the name "BBC Pronunciation".
The phonetician Jack Windsor Lewis frequently criticises the
name "Received Pronunciation" in his blog: he has called it
"invidious", a "ridiculously archaic, parochial and
question-begging term"and noted that American scholars find the term
"quite curious". He used the term "General British" (to
parallel "General American") in his 1970s publication of A Concise
Pronouncing Dictionary of American and British English and in subsequent
publications. Beverley Collins and Inger Mees use the term "Non-Regional
Pronunciation" for what is often otherwise called RP, and reserve the term
"Received Pronunciation" for the "upper-class speech of the
twentieth century". Received Pronunciation has sometimes been called
"Oxford English", as it used to be the accent of most members of the
University of Oxford. The Handbook of the International
Phonetic Association uses the name "Standard Southern British". Page
Standard Southern British (where 'Standard' should not be
taken as implying a value judgment of 'correctness') is the modern equivalent
of what has been called 'Received Pronunciation' ('RP'). It is an accent of the
south east of England which operates as a prestige norm there and (to varying
degrees) in other parts of the British Isles and beyond.
In her book Kipling's English History (1974) Marghanita
Laski refers to this accent as "gentry". "What the Producer and
I tried to do was to have each poem spoken in the dialect that was, so far as
we could tell, ringing in Kipling's ears when he wrote it. Sometimes the
dialect is most appropriately, Gentry. More often, it isn't."
Faced with the difficulty of defining RP, some researchers
have tried to distinguish between different sub-varieties:
Gimson (1980) proposed Conservative, General, and Advanced;
Conservative RP referred to a traditional accent associated with older speakers
with certain social backgrounds; General RP was considered neutral regarding
age, occupation or lifestyle of the speaker; and Advanced RP referred to speech
of a younger generation of speakers. Later editions (e.g., Gimson 2008) use the
terms General, Refined and Regional.
Wells (1982) refers to "mainstream RP" and
"U-RP"; he suggests that Gimson's categories of Conservative and
Advanced RP referred to the U-RP of the old and young respectively. However,
Wells stated, "It is difficult to separate stereotype from reality"
with U-RP. Writing on his blog in February 2013, Wells wrote, "If only a
very small percentage of English people speak RP, as Trudgill et al claim, then
the percentage speaking U-RP is vanishingly small" and "If I were
redoing it today, I think I'd drop all mention of 'U-RP'".
Upton distinguishes between RP (which he equates with
Wells's "mainstream RP"), Traditional RP (after Ramsaran 1990), and
an even older version which he identifies with Cruttenden's "Refined
An article on the website of the British Library refers to
Conservative, Mainstream and Contemporary RP.
Teachers often promote the modern RP accent to non-native
speakers learning British English. Non-RP Britons abroad may modify their
pronunciation to something closer to Received Pronunciation to allow better
understanding by people unfamiliar with the diversity of British accents. They
may also modify their vocabulary and grammar to approach those of Standard
English for the same reason. RP serves as the standard for English in most
books on general phonology and phonetics, and most dictionaries published in
the United Kingdom use RP in their pronunciation schemes.
Most English dictionaries published in Britain (including
the Oxford English Dictionary) now give phonetically transcribed RP
pronunciations for all words. Pronunciation dictionaries represent a special
class of dictionary giving a wide range of possible pronunciations; British
pronunciation dictionaries are all based on RP, though not necessarily using
that name. Daniel Jones transcribed RP pronunciations of a large number of
words and names in the English Pronouncing Dictionary.Cambridge University
Press continues to publish this title, as of 2011 edited by Peter Roach, the
accent having been renamed "BBC Pronunciation". Two other
pronunciation dictionaries are in common use: the Longman Pronunciation
Dictionary, compiled by John C. Wells (using the name "Received
Pronunciation"), and the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current
English, compiled by Clive Upton. This represents an accent named BR
("British English") - based on RP, but claimed to be representative
of a wider group of speakers. An earlier pronunciation dictionary by J. Windsor
Lewis gives both British and American pronunciations, using the terms General
British (GB) for the former and General American (GA) for the latter.
Traditionally, Received Pronunciation was the "everyday
speech in the families of Southern English persons whose men-folk [had] been
educated at the great public boarding-schools" and which conveyed no
information about that speaker's region of origin before attending the school.
It is the business of educated people to speak so that
no-one may be able to tell in what county their childhood was passed.
— A. Burrell, Recitation. A Handbook for Teachers in Public
Elementary School, 1891
In the 19th century, some British prime ministers still
spoke with some regional features, such as William Ewart Gladstone. From the
1970s onwards, attitudes towards Received Pronunciation have been changing
slowly. The BBC's use of Yorkshire-born Wilfred Pickles during the Second World
War (to distinguish BBC broadcasts from German propaganda) is an earlier
example of the use of non-RP accents, but even then Pickles modified his speech
towards RP when reading the news.
Although admired in some circles, RP is disliked in others.
It is common in parts of Britain to regard it as a south-eastern English accent
rather than a non-regional one and as a symbol of the south-east's political
power in Britain. A 2007 survey found that residents of Scotland and Northern
Ireland tend to dislike RP. It is shunned by some with left-wing political
views, who may be proud of having an accent more typical of the working
Stephens Brothers was founded in 1919 by Arthur Stephens who
also invented self supporting socks. These won the affection of the then Prince
of Wales who granted Stephens his royal warrant as Hosier in 1934. From then
on, there has been no looking back.
Owned by the Austin Reed Group of UK and licensed to SKNL in
India, this prestigious brand is a quality lifestyle statement for men and
women. The Brand is retailed by Brandhouse Retails Ltd (BHRL) – the retail
gateway of SKNL in India, through exclusive brand outlets across 6 cities.
Established in 1900, more than a century later Austin Reed
has grown and evolved into one of the leading tailors of men’s and women’s
formal and casual wear on the British high street.
Located on London’s iconic Regent Street, the flagship store
complements Austin Reed’s status as a modern British brand, while retaining its
much-loved heritage. The Regent Street store boasts three floors of premium,
classic yet stylish collections for that timeless, understated smart look. From
smart business wear or relaxed casual wear to expert tailoring, you will find
everything you need at Austin Reed, Regent Street. We also offer our bespoke
made-to-measure tailoring service and formal hirewear for any occasion.
Address Station Road Thirsk North Yorkshire YO7 1QH United