Benedict Cumberbatch has taken a ribbing this week for an interview in the Radio Times in which he bemoaned "posh-bashing". The thespian, who attended Harrow on a scholarship, opined: "I wasn't born into land or titles." Nevertheless, he lamented that he has been "castigated as a moaning, rich, public-school bastard, complaining about only getting posh roles".
I can empathise with Cumberbatch. Despite being the epitome of middle middle class (doctor's daughter, grammar-school girl, boho provincial upbringing), being mistaken for a posho has been a lifetime affliction. Maybe it's because I went to Oxford, maybe because I refuse to cultivate a mockney accent, maybe because my friends are all called Tarquin de'ath von Bunface-Toffo, I can somehow (inadvertently) pass and am routinely lambasted for it.
As in Cumberbatch's case, the matter has also been raised professionally as the reason why I might not be appropriate for certain posts – largely by norf Lunnon public schoolboys giving it large with glottal stops. Meanwhile, true nobs recognise me for the scumbag I am. "Betts," one once benevolently inquired. "Why aren't you more chippy?"
Well, perhaps because I would be no more anti-toff than I would be knee-jerkedly anti any other class. Anti-poshism is the chink in our collective PC armour. Happily, we are no longer permitted to discriminate against gender, sexuality, race, religion, disability and the like, but it is still deemed acceptable – obligatory even – to toff-bash. Those who blanche at ridiculing Essex girls and Gypsy weddings are happy laying into the la-di-da.
Obviously, the reason why toff-toppling has been viewed as fair game is that the posh boasted a perch from which to be toppled. Many still do, as statistics bear out. This is one of our society's great projects.
My own alma mater bends over backwards to accommodate the less privileged. However, when I was involved in Oxford's state/women/non-white encouraging ventures, the moment one aspect of the numbers improved (say, a rise in female students), so another anomaly would spring into being (more women would equal more of the privately educated). Moreover, the focus on school origins obscures the fact that some impoverished youngsters are privately schooled. In 2009/10, 935 students issued from households with incomes below £16,190 (the threshold for free school meals), almost a third of whom had been privately educated.
Michael Gove may sit in the swankiest of cabinets but was, like these students, a scholarship boy. Whether one agrees with Gove's advocacy of academies as a means of rectifying independent school domination is open to debate. Still, while David Cameron, George Osborne and co undoubtedly issue from privilege, at least they show a commitment to public service rather than sitting back and counting their swag. And we did elect the blighters.
As in all matters of class, the issues are intricate. Poshness is, by its very nature, relative, and toff-bashing is frequently the preserve of people who have led extremely comfortable lives, with middle-class parents who propel them up the property ladder.
Besides, we Brits love a spot of class voyeurism, not least when in economic straits – witness the success of the crashingly cartoonish or, according to Cumberbatch, "fucking atrocious", Downton Abbey.
Only in Britain – or, India, where a combination of post-imperial and existing prejudices enmesh class with caste. Pale, yet dark, plummy Brummie that I am, I pass for the poshest of the lot in Inja. As Cumberbatch jets off, as threatened, to "classless" America, so I may head to Delhi and lord it up.
How is this even real.