Lord Digby Jones and Cultural Capital

Good Lord, a Pygmalion of a row has exploded across social media and beyond, Lord Digby Jones, as he calls himself, set up a little culture war all by himself, with Alex Scott the ex-footballer and now commentator for the BBC:

She responded:

The Good Lord took umbrage at that:

Ah, the elocution word. Elocution and Deportment used to be on the curriculum of certain schools, designed to knock out the last vestiges of slovenly speech and a slouch, these classes prepared young people for a life of social advancement, a move up the class ladder towards that place where the Digby Joneses reside. Courses in the English Manner and other ‘finishing schools‘ still exist for those that wish to pay for the privilege, though schools still try to shape children into ‘acceptable’ behaviours, or ‘soft-skills’ as they are now known.

And what are ‘soft skills’? Well, if there’s this geezer in power and you wants a job off him you ‘ave to speak and act in a way that ‘e reckons is more like ‘im. The world has to rotate around these people who look down at the hoi-poloi not understanding why anyone would be in the slightest bit different to them. And as they are in a position to grant various accolades upon the great unwashed they can demand you don’t drop a g at the end of a word.

But, my word, English as she is spoke, has been garbled on sports commentary for years, particularly noticeably in football. I’m not sure if Digby Jones has been a stalwart at standing up for standards before, but I’m sure Match of the Day must send him apoplectic.

This is all about ‘cultural capital’, can you dress, speak and know things like the ‘toffs’ do? If you do, they will accept you into their inner sanctums and tolerate you because you have made the effort. Boris Johnson, who can’t dress or comb his hair, or, indeed, put up an umbrella properly, gets in but Alex Scott, it seems, has to pronounce a G as in ING not in’.

All this puts schools in an invidious position. Should schools say to their pupils, ‘never allow judgements on your class, accent, or appearance to hold you back’ or insist on classier ‘standards’ of elocution from their charges? Support children to be proud of themselves or embarrassed about their background, where they came from and what they know?

Elocution and deportment classes remain in schools, now called ‘soft skills’ and ‘cultural capital’ to take them away from the classist My Fair Lady approach of yesteryear, the underlying message is that schools probably, unwittingly, find themselves on the side of Digby Jones more than that of Alex Scott and that is an awkward, but understandable, place to be.

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