Time for the Angry Young Women?
Perhaps there are few grounds for an actress to bemoan discrimination on the basis of social class – after all, how good can an actress be if she can't act away from her roots? But then again, why should she? Can she be working-class and not consigned to being forever typecast in roles in Coronation Street or EastEnders? Perhaps, instead, she could play to its advantages and take a role in something like Shameless, the uber-successful working-class Manchester-based drama by Paul Abbott. Well this one did. The actress lamenting the lot of those with accents is Maxine Peake and, I have to say, I'm with her.
Take a look at any of the leading ladies and they are all clipped-toned. Keira Knightley seems to be their leader.
However, what Peake has highlighted is nothing new. The 'c' word – class – for the duration of New Labour's reign, was consigned to the dustbin, although Harriet Harman did try to bring classism into a white paper, the existence of which is now anyone's guess. Yet the one good thing since this coalition has taken office is that class is now getting its long overdue airing. After all, it never stopped being one of the main ways in which we can measure discrimination. But when we look at it from a gendered perspective the inequality of opportunity is compounded.
Not so long ago pop veteran Pete Waterman cried that pop had become far too posh. Think Chris Martin and James Blunt and he has a point. But not much of one when we consider that there are plenty more working-class pop stars than there are actresses. In fact, it used to be de rigeur, particularly for male rockers and poppers, to be your regular working-class hero – Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, the Beatles... and there's the rub - it is more acceptable for a man to be working-class and still get ahead, than it is for a woman. Maxine Peake said as much when she said if you have a working-class man he's seen as a bit poetic. Women, on the other hand, are seen as gobby and brassy, something that characterised Peake's character in Shameless. Where are the actresses at the top with accents? Nowhere, of course. They are told if they want to get ahead, they'll have to tone down and act posh, like a lady, as Peake was whilst she studied at RADA.
Politics is where it's all at, of course. This government of posh, privileged public school boys make it an ideal time for the emergence of a cultural movement of angry young women. The working-class man raised his head above the cultural parapet in the aftermath of the Second World War. Playwrights and novelists like Pinter, Osborne, (whose class creds are rather questionable anyway) Sillitoe and Braine were christened the Angry Young Men by a media keen to lump together the upstarts. These men were led to believe they'd never had it so good – equality of opportunity, if not outcome, was theirs for the taking – swiftly and sharply lampooned by Osborne in Look Back in Anger.
They did have a female working-class contemporary in Salford born Shelagh Delaney, her of A Taste of Honey. The film version starred the haunted-eyed Rita Tushingham. Come to think of it, it's a role that would be perfect for Peake... If not that, then, perhaps the Angry Young Women movement is the way to go. She has certainly got receptive ears in the BBC. Danny Cohen, the newly ensconsed Controller of BBC 1, has already said there's far too much middle-class programming... if that isn't an invite for less classist programming, I don't know what is.
Time for the Angry Young Women?