Cutting Edge: Too Poor For Posh School
In a perfect world, I like a television documentary to offer some insight, to make me think and to show me something I don’t already know. In real life, I’d happily take any two of those options.
The current series of Cutting Edge has been a mixed bag. Starting with the excellent ‘Eight Boys and Wanting a Girl’, a fascinating and controversial film offering genuine insight into the condition of gender disappointment it continued with ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, a good, if one dimensional film about travellers. At this point the series seemed on course to deliver excellent viewing figures as well as interesting TV, however the plot was well and truly lost with the dreadful ‘Too Poor For Posh School’, a toadying paen to public school life that achieved nothing, other than to patronise its contributors and manipulate its audience.
The premise of the film was that we would follow the progress of a selection of students competing for entry to Harrow Public School via the ‘Peter Beckwith Scholarship’, an arrangement that has the benefit for the school of guaranteeing that at least two of the yearly intake are blessed with talent or intelligence. The assumption, accepted without question by the programme makers that the recipients would somehow be made for life, seemed questionable. No doubt there are advantages to an education in the company of the moneyed middle classes, but statistically at least there will be a proportion of these children who will turn out to be as feckless and wasted as their equivalents in state funded education.
The director was given excellent access; to the boys, to the teachers and headmaster and emerged with a film that unquestioningly accepted the view that a public school education is best and that Harrow is the best of the best – both highly controversial statements given that only 1 in 7 Harrovians graduate to Oxford or Cambridge and that the most challenging obstacle to entry is the school fee – in the region of £30,000 p.a.
Beckwith himself seemed like a decent chap, although his assertion that the beneficiaries of his generosity would sally forth to do good in the world was naive at best. Any lingering impression of humility was dispelled when we were shown an extraordinary ritual, held yearly, where the ‘Beckwith Boys’ past and present gather to tell their benefactor how their lives have been changed for the better – a ghastly event straight out of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
The manipulation? We are told at the beginning of the programme that there are only two places on offer – we follow the efforts of four children and see two successful candidates before cutting to a scene showing the third, Tumi, receiving what we assume to be bad news…except there are really three places and Tumi is successful. Trite and manipulative. What would have been more interesting would have been to find out why one of the successful candidates chose not to accept the scholarship, in favour of a similar award from Eton.
Finally, a minor point – why does the same piece of incidental music crop up in all the programmes in the current series? Is it intended, like the dreadful mock tabloid titles, to be a signature? If so, it fails. Like this particular programme, it is an irritant.