12 JANUARY 1991, Page 33


Sawlt of the earth

Martyn Harris

Class is largely an English creation. Even Marx who tried to turn it into the engine of history was really only talking about the English class system. In Wales where I grew up there was no class though there was plenty of snobbery. The world, according to my mother, was divided into people like herself, who were tidy people, and people who were common as muck.

Ray Gosling, who presents Class by Class (Channel 4, 8 p.m., Wednesday) would be common as muck, though he has the uncommon gift of winning the confi- dence of his betters. Perhaps it is because his raincoat is so shabby, his stoop so deferential and his accent so impossible that the nobs he interviews never know they are dropping their drawers in public.

Lady Marguerite Tangye, a marvellous Wodehousian name, tried her best to lead the stumbling Gosling through the maze. Did she know any working-class people? he wanted to know. 'The aristocracy has always got on well with the villagers,' said La Tangye, who is daughter of the ninth Earl of Darnley, but now lives in an Earls Court bedsit.

The best way to tell upper from lower classes, she explained, was by was what was and was not done. It was not done to talk about the upper classes, for instance, nor about money. It was not done to be in England in August or London at the weekend. It was done to say `sawlt' for salt, and 'clawth' for cloth.

But how did one know what was done? persisted Gosling. 'The way you learned what was done, was by what was done and what was not done,' said Tangye patiently and Gosling's eyes did cross rather at this point.

She would never thank me for it but I felt rather sorry for her, trapped in her faded snobberies, when she could have had a real life to lead. Her daughter, Lucinda Glyn, was not so obviously crippled, but still seemed stunned by her descent from Chobham Hall to divorce and a clerking job at Chelsea Harbour.

`How would I describe you?' said Gos- ling.

`You would have to give me a lead.'

`So if I called you middle-class?'

`That would be the ultimate insult.'

Poor Lucinda, to know no harsher in- sult. Was Lady Marguerite still upper- class? Gosling wanted to know at the end. `They can't take that away from me,' she said, and as the camera panned around her shabby, cluttered quarters you wondered who would want to.

Beverly Hills 90210 (LWT, 5.45 p.m., Saturday) confirmed that Americans don't have a class system. They have dozens of them, based variously upon wealth, herit- age, geography, accent, education and cellulite deposits — in which the opportu- nities for despising one's fellows are so immense that they cancel each other out, hence producing a wry kind of equality. The students at West Beverly High are keenly attuned to every nuance, from the marque of BMW you drive to school to the type of sushi in your lunch-box.

Brenda and Brandon are 16-year-old twins from Minneapolis, newcomers to Beverly Hills, who are so poor they only have one hatchback between them, and a wardrobe that is only a little larger than Robert Elms's. Never mind, for within a week they are invited to the poor little rich girl's wingding with 1,300 other pubescent swingers and a major rock band for a floor show. The series is a blatant incitement to wealth fantasy, but rather engaging for all that. It is vulgarity tuned to a pitch which could only be described as classy.