Private Viewing: Time to forget the public row and focus on the argument

Singer-songwriter James Blunt who has been in on-going dispute with Labour MP Chris Bryant about an

Singer-songwriter James Blunt who has been in on-going dispute with Labour MP Chris Bryant about an inference that rich kids get an easier route to the top in the arts. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) - Credit: AP

Do you need to have rich parents to be artistic? No, says arts editor Andrew Clarke, but it may help when things get tough

Actor Eddie Redmayne at The Golden Globes. Labour MP Chris Bryant wants more working class actors to

Actor Eddie Redmayne at The Golden Globes. Labour MP Chris Bryant wants more working class actors to have the same creative opportunities as public schoolboys like Redmayne. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP) - Credit: PA

The talk this week has been all about singer James Blunt’s increasingly acrimonious tiff with Labour’s shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant following a comment by Bryant about the arts being populated by posh kids with rich parents who can afford to subsidise their offspring’s faltering early steps.

In a series of open letters published online the pair have fired off numerous responses to one another in an effort to clarify their views but as the debate has become increasing bad-tempered the fight itself has become the issue rather than the important points that were originally raised.

The central question that needs to be answered, which has been lost in the squabble, is whether in 2015 you need to be posh to be creative?

The announcement of the Oscar nominations last Thursday was the spark that lit the blue touch-paper. Bryant noted that both British best actor nominees, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne, were products of elite public schools – Cumberbatch went to Harrow while Redmayne went to Eton. Bryant then mentioned James Blunt and inferred that as another posh boy he also had an easier entry into the world of the arts.

What Bryant was doing was trying to highlight the fact that with fees for further education on the rise and with most arts and theatre courses based in London where living expenses are substantially higher, where are the next batch of working class arts professionals going to come from?

How are the next Albert Finneys, Trevor Nunns or Imelda Stauntons going to afford to live as they learn their trade? It’s certainly a question worth asking. But, James Blunt’s understandably peeved response has taken our attention away from the question. Blunt, not unreasonably, points out that his career choice was not looked on favourably by his parents and no-one helped him become a best-selling singer-songwriter. It was the same hard graft that got him to the top that would propel any East End comprehensive schoolboy to success.

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In an open letter to Bryant, Blunt writes: “Every step of the way, my background has been against me succeeding in the music business. I bought my first guitar with money I saved from holiday jobs (sandwich packing!). No-one at school had ANY knowledge or contacts in the music business, and I was expected to become a soldier or a lawyer or perhaps a stockbroker. So alien was it, that people laughed at the idea of me going into the music business, and certainly no-one was of any use. And when I have managed to break through, I was still scoffed at for being too posh for the industry.”

The sad reality of this spat is that both sides of the argument have elements of truth to them. Being posh doesn’t make you an Oscar-winning actor or a best-selling author but going to a private school may give you a broader education and more opportunity to explore your creative potential than at a state school.

Looking at the adverts in the New Wolsey’s panto programme, all the local private schools were trumpeting their arts facilities and creative opportunities because they know that creativity is important. The arts help you to express yourself, speak confidently in public, help you to think tangentially, come at a problem from a different perspective – skills which are equally helpful in business.

Sadly, state schools are being forced into a world where only maths, English and science count, meaning that we are in danger of producing a generation of literate functionaries who are taught to suppress their creative instincts.

One of the reasons that British culture dominated world arts in the 1960s – Britain was a global trendsetter in music, film, art, television and theatre – was because it was harnessing the creative talent of everyone. Richard Burton was attending drama school alongside James Fox. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were able to compete on equal footing with the public school-educated Pink Floyd and Genesis.

We need to recreate those opportunities today. We need to empower the people, from all backgrounds, who will be able to outdo the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony and take British artist talent round the world. We need to remove the need for wealthy parents as a prerequisite for artistic success.

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