by Paul Embery
Monday, 26
October 2020
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Will there ever be another Frank Bough?

The BBC presenter's success would be near impossible today
by Paul Embery
Frank Bough presenting Grandstand. Credit: BBC

If Frank Bough had been born half a century later, we almost certainly would never have heard of him. The former TV presenter, whose death at the age of 87 was announced at the weekend, lived the early part of his life in a two-up, two-down terraced house in a working-class area of Stoke-on-Trent, the son of an upholsterer. After winning a scholarship to Oxford, where he read history, Bough completed his national service before forging a career at the BBC.

In an era when a seemingly ready supply of distinguished presenters hailing from genuinely working-class backgrounds trundled off the production line at the Beeb, Bough’s path to the top wasn’t especially unusual. His fellow Grandstand hosts David Coleman and Des Lynam (both of Irish immigrant stock) followed a similar trajectory, as did a number of big-name BBC newsreaders of the time, among them Richard Baker (son of a Willesden plasterer), Angela Rippon (grew up in a Plymouth council house) and John Humphrys (raised in a poor district of Cardiff).

It would be wrong to say there was no ceiling at the BBC in those days — a ceiling has always existed — but there were at least hatches through which budding working-class journalists and presenters could find their way to the apex of the corporation. Look around the BBC today, however, and you will see that these hatches have been all but shut off.

Working-class voices are occasionally given airtime on the BBC, but — let’s be brutally honest about this — they often belong to individuals with certain identity characteristics that just happen to serve a purpose in helping the corporation demonstrate its commitment to ‘diversity’. The idea of a working-class kid living in a small terraced home in Stoke getting to Oxford and then enjoying a glittering career at the Beeb entirely of his or her own efforts is, in today’s world, almost inconceivable.

The BBC must take its share of responsibility for this state of affairs. What Andrew Marr once described as its ‘cultural liberal bias’ has meant the elevation of identity politics over anything else, including any strategy to provide openings for the least privileged in terms of class and wealth.

Wider society must also take the blame for the decline in social mobility since the days when the likes of Bough and co. were able to reach the top of the ladder.

A point of note is that every name listed above was the product of a state grammar school. It’s a question that few of my colleagues on the Left ever wish to entertain, but could it be that in dismantling a system that offered at least some kids from working-class backgrounds a chance to break through the ceiling, we inadvertently helped to embed the very class prejudice we were seeking to overcome? We need to start talking about it.

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Bill Eaton
Bill Eaton
1 year ago

Sadly there is little prospect of very many of your “colleagues on the Left” even talking about this, let alone actually doing something about it. First, many on the left believe that the working class are racist, xenophobic and too stupid to be able to determine what is and is not in their own self interest, so there is little sympathy or empathy. Secondly, the system today is designed to keep people down, keep them dependent on the state and keep them under control, so giving people a helping hand upwards runs counter to those aims. I began with “sadly” but, in fact, it is more than sad it is a tragedy.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Eaton

As shown by the current C-19 Panic, and this mask wearing farrago.

Jonathan Marshall
Jonathan Marshall
1 year ago

could it be that in dismantling a system that offered at least some kids from working-class backgrounds a chance to break through the ceiling, we inadvertently helped to embed the very class prejudice we were seeking to overcome?
100% right it could. The deliberate destruction of the grammar schools was one of the most appalling acts of the Labour Party – the party, remember, whose original aim was to promote the interests of the working class.
The grammar school system made it possible for my father, the son of a railway engine driver, to make full use of his intellect, gain a degree (in the days when degrees actually counted for something) and make a career for himself as an analytical scientist. Today, such a leap would be very much more difficult for some, and nigh-on impossible for many.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

The dogma of the left requires that if everybody can’t have a first-class education, nobody should.

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
1 year ago

Mixed feelings. My father, the son of a painter and decorator, also went to grammar school and qualified as a teacher. He believed in the selective system but, unusually, preferred to teach in secondary moderns as he wanted to prove that selection worked for everyone, not just the bright kids like him and me (I’m also the product of a grammar school education which served me well). And in my view and the views of several of his former pupils he succeeded. But as to comprehensives, it’s not the principle which is at fault – selective education failed at least as many young people – but its implementation based on a false understanding of what equality means. To equate that kind of simplistic thinking as ‘socialism’ only shows how little those ciritics know about the diverse (both good and bad) traditions that make up socialist thinking.

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
1 year ago

It is a fundamental truth about progressive policies that however well intentioned (giving them a possibly undeserved benefit of the doubt), they are doomed to produce the opposite of what they propose. They are based on an unrealistic, pollyanna worldview of how people respond to circumstance. Grammar schools are but one aspect of centuries of evidence.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Mitchell

Things will always become progressively worse under progressive policies.

Richard Hazell
Richard Hazell
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Mitchell

The last thing the Marxist Left want is a well-educated, aspirational working class with rewarding, well-rewarded employment. People like that do not support revolutions.

L Paw
L Paw
1 year ago

Sadly the UK has suffered the disaster that is the socialist comprehensive education system for over 50 years. The few remaining Grammar schools are hugely oversubscribed as they offer a superior education. Parents who have no access to Grammars either pay for independent education or take their chances with the local comp.
Even dumbed down exams and wide use of continuous assessment cannot hide the weak education delivered by most comps. Unfortunately no Govt will take on the teaching unions and progressive opinion that refuses to consider an alternative that champions excellence and encourages every child to achieve their personal best.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  L Paw

Yes. Unless or until the state education system is fixed across the West, but most crucially in the US and the UK, a slow collapse is inevitable. This can only be achieved by taking education out of the hands of the Marxist teaching unions.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Immediately!

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
1 year ago
Reply to  L Paw

Most Schools propaganda machines ..”Climate Science” etc which breaks 1996 Education Act,as opposing Arguments that Solar Flares,Sun ,Volcanic activity affect Climate are dismissed in Mainstream media..

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

A very good piece. But some of us have been talking about the disaster of abolishing grammar schools for many years. Shirley Williams has a lot to answer for.

John Lawton
John Lawton
1 year ago

I’m not sure we are seeing a slow collapse, it seems scarily fast at the moment.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
1 year ago

If you failed the 11+ exam as I did you still had two opportunities to gain entry to a grammar school as a late developer. I took the 13+ but failed again. Two months later I had a life changing experience of God which gave me huge motivation to study which I certainly did not have before.
I was very fortunate in my secondary modern school and had great encouragement in getting enough O levels to enter the Grammar School 6th. Form, and from there on to university.
If you had the desire and some ability the old and best system we’ve had would accommodate you.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
1 year ago

13+ was abolished over 60 years ago..No one mentions ”Intermediate” Schools Leicester had three, abolished by Mid 1960s,;mine was abolished in my first year…my own education was largely ”night School” and Part time day Courses..Anthony Crosland,Labour MP educated at Oxford, wanted ”Every Bloody grammar school abolished”.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

Crosland as you say was the worst culprit. A hypocrite par excellence!

No Englishman since perhaps Herbert Asquith, has done such damage to this country.

His name should live on in infamy.

Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

I was offered the +13 in the early 70’s and even with my secondary school education, I know that’s less than 60 years ago.

stuarttallack
stuarttallack
1 year ago

It is worth remembering that within a grammar school, pupils were streamed. Lower streams did not always get a fair crack of the whip. Those with the fondest memories of their grammar schools are likely to be those in the highest streams.

Perhaps somebody with current knowledge will confirm that the cohort heading for exams now will have experienced no assessed coursework contributing to a grade. Neither teachers nor pupils were responsible for grade inflation. When the old CSE exams were current, coursework was an important part of the final grade; why should it not have been? In the exam board syllabus that I taught, ten pieces of work on literature were required. In theory, a Grade One was equivalent to a GCE Grade C. My impression at the time was that the equivalence was somewhere about half way down Grade Two. Within each school, provisional grades were moderated, then the same happened on a larger scale within a group of many local secondary schools. It was then moderated again by paid examiners. The moderation of both coursework and exam papers was rigorous at every stage.

Since that time, teachers have been excluded from the process, coursework has diminished and then disappeared, grade inflation has become a problem and exam boards have approved teaching books to ‘explain’ which questions are likely to be asked and which answers are likely to attract marks. Some of the books are ineptly written and even incorrect. All of this discourages teachers from engaging pupils as they once did and it allow pupils to gain grades by regurgitating material sometimes without understanding it.

Perhaps lecturers in such subjects as English and History could tell us what they think of the raw material they are given in the first year of a course ending in a degree. Are their students coming into courses with their critical faculties intact and developing? Or do lecturers have to do spade work for the students’ first year.

Regarding ‘lefty’ teachers, I do not recall the political leanings of staff being different from the variety of opinions held by my friends, my parents, colleagues from work before I became a teacher, the man on the Clapham omnibus…. and so on. Nor do I recall local government running education badly. I observe schools locally now that I have retired from teaching and it appears from exam results and other bases of comparison that academies are doing neither better nor worse than local authority maintained schools. Would a return to grammar schools and comps really be an improvement? Are our current problems really a consequence of the demise of grammar schools?

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
1 year ago

Perhaps the more immediate fact that few of your colleagues on the Left wish to entertain is the catastrophic impact on working class boys’ education of allowing the left to be colonised by radical feminist activists such as Jessica Phillips and Harriet Harmen. Under a radicalised feminist education system, white working class boys position at the bottom of education league tables is now cemented in place, 35,000 fewer boys than girls go to university, and we are forced to endure the spectacle on Commons TV of feminist MPs rocking with laughter, banging their heads on tables, and covering their mouth to suppress snorts of derision (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/wat… when asked for “permission” to discuss the problem of boys’ collapsing education attainment.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
1 year ago

Bough was like An ”Uncle” however like David icke and Gary lineker he had some strange habits..but article is spot on..

martin_evison
martin_evison
1 year ago

Nice article, thanks. My dad went to school with ‘Frankie’ (Oswestry Boy’s High School). Agree the end of 11+ and grammars has screwed social mobility.