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Personal Translations, Lounge

Olivia Plender suggested the film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Tony Richardson, 99  min, 1962

A commentary by Olivia Plender

Written in 1937, The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell is a detailed journalistic account of living and working conditions in the industrial north of England, ridden with unemployment as a result of the depression. In the book Orwell raises a discussion of the social inequality produced by the class system, using himself as a case study. He says, “I was born into what you might describe as the lower upper middle class… The essential thing about the English class system is that it’s not entirely explicable in terms of money… Probably there are countries where you can predict a man’s opinion from his income but it’s never quite safe to do so in England; you have always got to take his traditions into consideration as well”.

Following Orwell’s logic, within each strata of the English class system (lower, middle and upper) there exist nine sub sections. This would make twenty-seven classes, each with it’s own codes of behaviour, cultural tastes and vocabulary. Being without money but having plenty of cultural capital, the peculiar lot of the lower upper middle class is “to cling to your gentility because it’s the only thing you have” and assert ‘good taste’ in food and wine or music, literature and art at every opportunity.

Since Orwell’s time, some of the more visible signs of these class distinctions have been eroded, with the advent of mass media and the changes to British society that resulted from the creation of a welfare state, along with mass immigration in the post-war period. But the peculiar persistence of the monarchy reflects how in 21st century England tradition none-the-less remains. Even today a strict social hierarchy is enacted in many public institutions, including parliament and the judiciary, through complex rituals, the wearing of outmoded costume and use of esoteric vocabulary - thereby rendering the state incomprehensible to the majority of the people.

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