'So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.' ― George Orwell

Month: May, 2013

The Long Distance Writer – Alan Sillitoe

Shortly after Alan Sillitoe had his first novel ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ published in 1958, he went to visit his father to show him a copy of the book. His father could neither read nor write, but when his son said, “Look Dad, my story has been made into a book”, Christopher Sillitoe paused for a moment before exclaiming: “Bloody hell! You’ll never have to work again!”

But work is what Sillitoe did ever since then: as the author of some 50 books, including poetry, plays and stories for small children. He had driven himself continuously in his writing for the last half-century, like his anti-hero Smith in ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’, who develops his skill and stamina with a daily regime of hard exercise and toil. The crucial difference was Sillitoe’s desire to always get over the finishing line; to always reach the goal in front of him.

He died in 2010 aged 82, but the Nottingham-born novelist maintained a heavy regime of writing for several hours a day, seven days-a-week up until his death.

“No Sabbath for me”, he used to say, as he strove to perfect his style of “clear, uncomplicated English”.

I met the author several years ago in Derry. Dressed in a tweed jacket and cream chinos, the slight, small-framed Sillitoe told me: “Between the 10 years I started writing and getting published in 1958, I had to learn a new method of communication. And it wasn’t until about half way through these years that I started reading a wonderful book by Thomas De Quincy – ‘The Confessions of an English Opium Eater’. And as I read I could see at last that good English was clear English. And that was a stage that I had to fight to get to – mixing up this clear English with the ordinary speak of the people, so I could see my way through to writing about the folk I had grown up with. It was as complicated and as simple as that.”

Alan Sillitoe

He grew up in a house that was devoid of books and left school at the age of 14 to work in the local Raleigh factory in Nottingham. However he did find some inspiration for his early literary ambitions close to home.
“When World War II began I had a couple of cousins who had been called up into the army and in about six weeks they deserted and came home. But they had to find a way to make a living and the thing that came easiest to them was to become burglars in the city of Nottingham. And when they visited, they would tell us details of what they did and I thought to myself ‘Some day I might write about them…’
“So I bought a large notebook and wrote down details of their appearances, where they lived and of course added in the times and addresses of the shops and offices they had been in. I thought this was an extremely good idea as a young writer, until one day I was at school and my mother found this book and was horrified at the explicit evidence she had discovered. When I came home she clipped me over the head and threw the book into the fire and said ‘what are you doing? You’ll get us all arrested!’”

With his early writing ambitions in check, Sillitoe went off to join the RAF in 1946 for three years as a wireless operator in British Malaya but during this time he was struck down with TB and laid up in hospital for close to 12 months. It was here that he began reading many of the great books in the world and decided to devote himself to writing, with the aid of his military pension.

“At first I thought this was a disastrous experience as it meant I would be kept in hospital for a very long time. But in a sense it worked out well because during that time I began to read seriously: the Bible in its entirety, all of Shakespeare, all the great novels from Russia, Ireland and America. And it was during that time that I decided to become a writer, I think to prevent me from going mad. Looking back now, it was extremely important I became familiar with all those great books, because to become a writer you need to know what has went before you.”

After his recovery he travelled and lived in France and Spain where he met his wife, the poet Ruth Fainlight, and where he also befriended Robert Graves (“A great piece of fortune as he would lend me many of his wonderful books”), who helped him find his own voice and subjects that he could write honestly about.

“The first novel I attempted was a mish-mash of all the things I had been reading at the time, Huxley, DH Lawrence, Dostoevsky and so on. It didn’t work, but being young I thought it was a work of genius. Fortunately, I gave him (Graves) one of my dud novels to read and he said that I knew how to tell a story, but why not write about the place that I grew up in: Nottingham? The advice clicked and I produced ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’.”

Sillitoe’s first two books, ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ [1958] and ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ [1959], remain his best-known works and most beloved by his readers. Both stories were made into seminal feature films soon after they were published, launching Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay in their long acting careers, and giving the author both popular and critical acclaim.

Tom Courtenay in ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’

Sillitoe was part of the generation in ‘50s literature labelled as the ‘Angry Young Men’, whom were said to have provided a voice for the working classes in mainstream culture – two ideas that he strongly rejected.

“I didn’t feel that way at all. I had no real class feelings, I had no idea what working class meant; I certainly wasn’t working class. When people talked about the generation of angry young men that appeared in British literature in the 1950s I certainly wasn’t one of them – I was living in Spain at the time. I wrote ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ in Mallorca. I was sitting under an orange tree and started writing in my notebook about a young man falling down the stairs in a pub after 15 pints and seven gins.

“I finished the story and sent it to a London magazine and I thought it was a reasonable effort. The story was rejected however, but you never waste anything, so I thought I would continue this adventure of a young man working as a labourer in a factory in my home town and the novel began to take shape.”

The book was subsequently given to an agent in London and sent out to publishers but came back several times, with one claiming that no matter how well it was written, the ordinary people would have no interest in it. Fortunately one final roll of the dice saw WH Allen publish the story. Writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg noted later on the importance of reading ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ for the first time: “(Here was) a writer who tried to tell the truth about a section of society that was, until he came along, largely ignored”.

Sillitoe may no longer be writing, but the voice he has left us will always run true.


Paul Cézanne

‘I decided against flowers. They wither on the instant. Fruits are more loyal. It is as if they were begging forgiveness for losing their colour. The idea is exuded from them together with their fragrance. They come to you laden with scents, tell you of the fields they have left behind, the rain that nourished them, the dawns they have seen.

Still Life with Apples [c. 1890]

‘When you translate the skin of a beautiful peach in opulent strokes, or the melancholoy of an old apple, you sense their mutual reflections, the same mild shadows of relinquishment, the same loving sun, the same reflections of dew…’

The State of the Pub

We Irish take great pride in our idea of what makes a good boozer and how we can spot a shabby one at a hundred paces, so that we never need darken its door. Our pub culture is the best in the world, without parallel for its warmth and conviviality, and draws on long tradition.

A fine hostelry is as close as one will come to glimpsing into the very soul of an Irish person.

But now, just like in the UK, pubs are closing their doors – at a rate of one every two days, more than 1,100 since 2005 – and the debate surrounding the malaise is on what more they can do to survive. Yet I’m inclined to put it another way – pubs, both in Ireland and the UK, must strip back to get punters in through the doors again. The main problem, as I see it, is that traditional pubs are now trying to be all things to all people. However, publicans should focus on what made them popular in the first place: traditional values and the offer of sanctuary; we need to rediscover the spirit that makes a night’s supping so enchanting.

(It should be said that these suggestions would not apply to many of the ‘entertainment jukebox’ hostelries that can be found around Ireland nowadays.)

So, remove the modern emphasis on all the things that one can get at home – and at a third of the price – and revert to traditional ideas that make drinkers want to leave the comfort of their sofa for the pub.

Abide by these principles:  No music.  I wish to hear the rolling wave of chatter and discourse around me while having a drink. It provides a reassuring tide of emotion that we can all be swept up in, pouring out our hearts and minds to one another, so that when we are washed back on to reality’s frothy shore at closing time, we feel refreshed and reinvigorated. So don’t drown this out with middle of the road music, or the inane chattering of some DJ. And if the pub is quiet, so be it. Leave the soft air in peace; let it hang over us “like the rainbow’s lovely form” and allow it to colour our thoughts and imagination.

Quietude is at a premium in the modern world. A pub should always have space for the sounds of a newspaper rustling; wood creaking; a soft cough in the corner; sheets of rain slapping at the window; ideally a fire crackling; the discreet, almost whispered conversation between two drinkers, as though they were stood at the back of Mass. Kingsley Amis put it succinctly: “we pay the piper, so we ought to be able to call the absence of tunes”.

Another suggestion would be to get rid of the ubiquitous sports or celebrity programmes on TV. The past decade has seen every pub rushing to offer wall-to-wall sports (establishments that don’t do this now probably make up one per cent), but go the other way to stand out from the crowd – turn the telly off. There will be the odd exception to this rule naturally (All-Ireland finals, big Rugby matches etc), but publicans should no longer allow the room to be controlled by the large, flashing eye in the corner: as Jack London once wrote, we drink “for the brain effect”; so leave us to our own devices.

“…there is society where none intrudes”

Recently, I went for a quiet pint and to read the newspaper one afternoon in one of Ireland’s ‘literary pubs’. To my disillusionment, incomprehension, and no little despair – as I had already ordered – I found the television showing an Andy Murray tennis match, on mute, taking place in some far off corner of the globe, while the barman then turned on the insipid droning of The Red Hot Chili Peppers on the stereo. I wondered whose benefit all this was for, as the scattering of punters paid no heed to either, such was their remarkable restraint. However the music and glare of the TV screen registered just enough on the senses to be a distraction, and ultimately became a nuisance. I drank my pint swiftly and hastened to another premises guaranteed to be peaceful: sometimes “there is society where none intrudes”.

Upon leaving, I felt a sympathetic understanding that this ‘entertainment’ may have been for the benefit of the staff, who perhaps were bored with slow trade, but that still doesn’t make it right.

A few other points: one, draught stout is much too cold nowadays – perhaps as a soft soap to lager drinkers to switch from beer – and consequently it has lost its complex thickness. Storing stout in the cold cellar along with lager simply does not work.

Secondly, many pubs are too brightly lit – can we have soft lighting please (with the exception of reading spots) so the drinker can see that long hour before dusk, when the light decomposes, and the anger goes out of the day.

And finally, can there be anything worse than to be sat at the bar and to smell a cooked dinner? If we are to have some form of soakage, let it be nothing more complex than a toasted sandwich.

We all have our own ideas as to what makes a great pub. If England is still a nation of shopkeepers, Ireland must be a nation of publicans. And if they are to serve the nation, then publicans should find out what their punters want, and more importantly, don’t. Something as simple as a suggestion box at the bar might work. We could write our ideas on the back of our receipts. The more receipts you have, the more you care about the place, naturally.

Garry Winogrand [1928-1984]

Kennedy Airport 1968

Kennedy Airport 1968

A Working Hypothesis

Having read Sarah Bakewell’s excellent biography of the French philosopher Montaigne: ‘How To Live’, I wondered how we, as a somewhat frazzled nation, could do with considering his stoic advice: ‘We should have a wife, children, goods, and above all health, if we can; but we must not bind ourselves to them so strongly that our happiness depends on them.

‘We must reserve a back shop all our own, entirely free, in which to establish our real liberty and our principal retreat and solitude. Here we must talk and laugh as if without wife, without children, without possessions, so that when the time comes to lose them, it will be nothing new for us to do without them.’

Irish people are facing up to loss on many levels right now and we are uncertain, quite naturally, what the right response should be. Now might be a good time for us to ‘build a little room behind the shop’, just for ourselves, to help get us through this difficult period.

Here, we could find the time and necessary solitude to not only re-evaluate what is important to us, but to also flip the negativities of the downturn to our benefit.  Montaigne was not saying that we should withdraw from society or the family unit as such, but he talked about the need to protect oneself against the pain that would come if a person lost everything – and how having such a retreat could help someone find their ‘real liberty’ if this happened.

Desk-bound blues

Most of us are doing less now but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. The Celtic Tiger made us all want to be seen as being busy, to reflect to society how well we were doing and for our feelings of self-worth.  Many of us worked long hours and allowed work to eat into our own time after leaving the office: in other words, we sacrificed our liberty. We celebrated being part of the largest self-regulation system mankind has invented thus far: capitalism. Workaholics are revered in the business world, despite the condition being an addiction, and we all felt the need to be the same.

However, having more time now may be good for us and our employers could reap the benefits of a reduced working week too.  Those of us who have held on to our jobs are in many cases adapting to four or three-day weeks, with the hope of riding out the storm. But these changes should not always be considered in a negative light; with a little creative thinking, they could prove advantageous.

Firstly, it would allow us to reclaim our weekends. The most frequent complaint of the modern worker is they do not have enough time to themselves. Technology was supposed to make our lives easier but instead it has added new constraints on the one commodity we cannot buy back or find enough of: time.

A recent survey of 4,000 workers in the UK found that the majority, on average, don’t unwind until 12.38am on Saturday night and are thinking about work again by 3.55pm on Sunday afternoon. Over half of the workers were also “too tired” to enjoy the weekend anyway. In that case, having a three or four-day working week means that we get time to unwind and return to work properly recharged for the new week ahead.

Understandably, many workers may worry that a reduction in hours will see a dramatic drop in income and there is no getting around that. Yet the reduction may not be as severe as most people think when we factor in record-high fuel prices, tolls/travel costs, lunches, coffees etc and the hefty childcare fees most working people are forced to pay these days.  Instead, what we gain is something we cannot put a price on: more time with our children and partners, more time doing things we enjoy and most importantly, more time for ourselves.

Winston Churchill talked about a ‘four-day week and then three days of fun’. Employers will counter this by saying that if we all had reduced working weeks then production would suffer and many services would come to a standstill. But this is simply not true.

Last year the New Economic Foundation came to the conclusion that a 21-hour working week would increase workers’ productivity and reduce power consumption, which would see large financial savings made by employers, plus added kudos for environmental concern. This type of working week would also create more jobs – as effectively there would be two jobs where now there is only one – which would cut unemployment figures and consequently reduce the social welfare bill. Another knock-on effect would see a fairer distribution of wealth and as a result more money would flow evenly into the economy to provide growth: an increased number of people having disposable income means they will spend more readily in the knowledge of being in employment.

We should be looking for a fairer balance between time spent in the office and at home – that is what will make us more contented and in turn more productive. Think of the times you’ve had to solve a work problem and the solutions come when you are away from the desk: in the shower, driving, washing dishes, or sitting in the park.  Sometimes I wonder if employers, having read the quote from the writer Henry Miller, are fearful of giving workers too much time to themselves. Miller once said: ‘I think if I had two or three quiet days of just sheer thinking I’d upset everything… I ought to go to the office one day and blow out my boss’s brains.’ Surely we can work out a better solution.


  • Article first appeared in the Irish Times

Just Wanderin’ – the spirit of the Flaneur

Henry Foster


After watching it again recently, the way in which Stephen Cluxton sauntered up field to kick the winning point for Dublin in the All-Ireland final in 2011 made me wonder if he spends his days away from Croke Park as a dedicated flaneur.

The term means a “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer” (coming from the French verb flâner, “to stroll”) and the way the goalkeeper, who is known as a steely, dedicated, yet modest character, somewhat nonchalantly approached what was the decisive kick of the game perhaps helped him forget, momentarily at least, the huge pressure resting on his shoulders.

It is a moment in time that will stay frozen in Dublin supporter’s minds. By strolling almost the length of the pitch in such a casual fashion – many Kerry supporters were angered that it took Cluxton almost a minute to reach the placed-ball in added time – it seemed to allow him absorb the tumult around him, then detach himself from it and focus entirely on the kick. Being a “stroller” possibly gave the Dublin goalkeeper the time to take the moment in, process it and make the logical step in kicking the ball over the bar. If he had rushed up the field with the adrenalin pumping and a crescendo of noise building in his ears, would he have been so clinical? (It’s worth noting Cluxton dashed back to his goal a lot quicker than he did coming forward for the kick).

A goalkeeper is in a natural position to appreciate the mindset of a flaneur: he can be idle for large parts of the match in which to behold all before him, with a panoramic view of the pitch, players, fans and stadium. When the action is at the other end of the field, he has the relative tranquillity with which to appreciate everything around him as he patrols the square. It might be the sweet smell of the summer grass underfoot or the optimistic chatter of supporters behind the net, full of hope for the season ahead.

What you “experience” is the key difference in a flaneur and an ordinary walker. Charles Baudelaire was an early practitioner of the idea of a person walking a city in order to experience it; he believed it would help us understand urban phenomena, isolation and modernity, while Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay Why I Walk puts forth the argument of enlightenment starting from your feet up, and a “complete philosophical way of living and thinking” by becoming a flaneur.

Baudelaire felt the flaneur had a dual role: to be part of the city yet detached enough from it to fully appreciate it. Living in Paris, he wanted artists to become the “botanists” of the sidewalk in order to understand the role of the individual in the massed, industrialised populace. (In an attempt to really slow things down, some Parisian bohemians went as far as walking a tortoise on a lead along the busy footpaths).

Dublin is a delight for a fully-fledged flaneur. It is compact, mainly flat and with enough green space and pedestrianization to allow you to saunter round at your leisure and admire everything from architecture to nature, or the people and their soft patter.

For example, in a short route strolling from south of the city, one can take in the natural beauty of the swans along the canal, and then cut down Harcourt Street and through the verdant foliage of the Iveagh Gardens to bring you out at the splendour of the National Concert Hall. And then around the corner is the heartbeat of Dublin city: St Stephen’s Green Park, banked on every side by resplendent Georgian buildings. The benefit of the many exit gates from the Green mean that the flaneur always has something to look at, or discover anew, when they leave the park (this style of urban planning is a signature in the work of architect Jon Jerde for instance, who designed his Horton Plaza and Universal City Walk projects based on the idea of providing surprises, distractions and sequences of events for the pedestrian).

Go slow

The hustle of Grafton Street is best avoided for the true flaneur. Instead it’s best to ease down my favourite street in Dublin: linear, picturesque Dawson Street and perhaps stop off in Hodges & Figgis bookshop, with its unique curved shop front, created by the hand of an ingenious carpenter. Then skim over the hallowed cobblestones of that bastion of learning in Trinity College and slice through Temple Bar, which during the daytime is in its pleasant guise of Dr Jekyll, not the Mr Hyde it can be after dark. One can stop for coffee in the little cafes on Cow’s Lane and suitably refreshed, look into the National Photographic Archive on Meeting House Square, for the streetwalker with a camera attached is also a flaneur.

Susan Sontag in her 1977 essay, On Photography, describes how, since hand-held units appeared in the early 20th century, the camera has become the tool of the flaneur: “The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitring, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flaneur finds the world ‘picturesque’.”

Snap. And then one can loop up around Christ Church, back down past City Hall on Dame Street and into Dublin Castle, perhaps finishing on a high note by settling on the roof garden of the Chester Beatty library with a good book. Alternatively, a committed flaneur may build up a thirst after their rambles, therefore that other great Dublin institution – the fine hostelry – can be availed of quite readily if one needs a change of oil.

If you decide to adapt the principles of a flaneur, then there is plenty to discover in Dublin. The above is just a small segment of the city; there are many other directions you can take. And who knows, some day you may see young Cluxton, the All-Ireland winning hero, strolling on a similar journey:  “experiencing”, and yet trying to get away from it all the same.

* Recommended reading: Edmund White’s ‘The Flâneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris’ (2001)

A Faded Glance of Fleet Street

A recent lazy weekend off was filled with my first-time reading of Michael Frayn’s bittersweet journalism romp ‘Towards the End of the Morning’ – and a combination of belly-shaking laughter and nostalgic, almost mournful sighing duly ensued.

Written in 1967, the book, although fiction, came from the pen of someone who worked for both the Guardian and Observer newspapers, so you can be sure substantial chunks of the story were experienced first or second hand by Frayn, with only the names being changed to protect the not-so-innocent.  It has a surreal workaday heart at the centre of it all, describing the golden age of Fleet Street, where entropy abounds and Frayn’s writing is as mirthful and easy to read as anything from the playful jottings of Wodehouse.

The book rings with truisms that will probably always be part of a journalist’s Sisyphus-like existence: “I toil all the hours God made at this job and somehow I feel I never quite get on top of it. It’s like trying to fill a bottomless bucket. You just about get next week’s stuff straightened out – and already it’s gone, it’s used, it’s forgotten and the week after is on top of you.”  Or the book’s main protagonist, John Dyson, experiencing one of those days when the headline will just not come, albeit for good reason in this case: “(He) sat hyper tensely clenching and unclenching his fingers, trying to think of a headline with no more than ten characters for a piece about the dangers of the exaggeratedly indifferentist liturgical tendencies inherent in ecumenicalism.”

Frayn’s work, including earlier novel ‘Tin Men’, deserves to sit along side Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Scoop’ for biting humour and describing (tongue placed firmly in cheek, or not) that least noble of trades: journalism.

Reading the book forty-five years after it was written has also given it the unlikely guise of a social-historical document – for the only thing that dates the work is that it’s of a time, and industry, that sadly no longer exists.

You will find plenty of journalistic time capsules in Frayn’s amuse-bouche that are probably as scarce in a modern newspaper as (say) an under-worked hack, empathetic accountant, or big-hearted manager: for example, there is Dyson perpetually complaining of feeling too sleepy in the afternoon to get any work done – while each day promising vainly to cut out the beers over the two-hour lunches. Why did He create so few hours in a day in which to edit the nature notes and crosswords, bawls our ink-stained, paper-swamped anti-hero.

Then we have Dyson’s colleague, the old-timer Eddy Moulton, who collates the “In Years Gone By” column with the kind of vigour that could almost equate to somnambulism, except he doesn’t move around that much. Elsewhere, over at the ‘coalface’ of the picture desk, there is the coarse chief Reg Mounce, who, after being given his written notice by the editor “to make other arrangements”, walks defiantly around the office asking which smart bastard is behind the gag. “For no one in this newspaper gets the sack. This isn’t the Express you know!” fumes Mounce.  His anger is partly fuelled by no one seeming to know what the people-shy editor looks like (imagine that form of restraint in today’s endless tirade of media talking-shops). Meanwhile, the book’s summation of journalist’s expenses is best left for you to discover – if you haven’t done so already – and allow yourself a bittersweet chuckle eating your pre-packed lunchtime sandwich, while chained to the desk.

It is doubtful if Frayn would recognise much from ‘Towards the End of the Morning’ in modern media, even if we strip away the book’s parodic veneer; the DNA, if not the culture, has changed significantly and it is unlikely that any newspaper would have such a melange of misfits as those so wickedly sketched by the author.

One theory for this is that the media has now become a genuine career choice for the aspirational classes whom before would have only considered respectable subjects such as medicine, law, and banking etc upon leaving university. Now, they also look towards the trade (or ‘profession’ as they like to call it) of journalism. Not long after I started out in newspapers, one storied writer proudly explained the lay of the land to me: “journalism was always the last refuge for the scoundrel. No more. We are being forced out by the conscientious.” The scowl with which he told me this could have turned the milk in my coffee.

Another reporter I spoke to recently postulated “too many pen pushers, bean counters and clock watchers have made the business of journalism safe, boring and cosy.” (His phrasing made me think of Wodehouse’s creation: Psmith, and his rallying call for a quality press. After taking over the editorial reins of gentle lifestyle journal ‘Cosy Moments’, the wacky eponymous hero makes a radical change to the editorial line and begins a social justice publishing campaign. Inevitably those dark forces with vested interests start to lean on Psmith, upon which he spunkily declares: “Cosy Moments cannot be muzzled!”)

Reuters newsroom on Fleet Street

Reuters newsroom on Fleet Street

“Nowadays,” continued my erstwhile companion, “a reporter’s job is a glorified office job; stuck at their desks, which are scattered with boxes of herbal tea, their five-a-day fruits and ready meals, while they source their stories through Facebook and Twitter.”

The antithesis to this and someone you could have found in ‘Towards the End of the Morning’ was journalist and bon vivant Noel Botham (the legendary French House pub in Soho, which he part-owned, was his office); Botham was described by John Dale in a ‘Press Gazette’ interview before his death in November as symbolising “free range against the battery farms of Canary Wharf and other media plantations” (The old hack used to soften up his interviewees with lashings of champagne). Another example of the ‘old-school’ is the late Derek Jameson, who became a renowned editor of several national newspapers after working his way up as a copy boy from the East End of London.

Jameson frequently lamented the idea that the media was becoming elitist and how someone from his background wouldn’t stand a chance nowadays. The Sutton Trust, which was established in the UK to promote social mobility and to highlight educational inequality, carried this argument further. It noted in its most recent report on the educational background of journalists that more than half (54%) of the country’s leading news journalists were educated in private schools, which account for 7% of the UK’s entire school population. Meanwhile, a separate survey of journalists and editors suggested that the latest new recruits to the national news media are even more likely to come from privileged backgrounds than those from previous generations because of low pay and insecurity at junior levels; high costs of living in media centres such as London; the increasing costs of postgraduate courses; and a bias towards those with family or personal connections within the industry.

The high number of (mainly unpaid) internships currently being offered by media outlets – which, depressingly, in many cases are jobs dressed in poor clothing – also means that only those from advantaged backgrounds can take up these positions, while others are squeezed out.

The age of ‘celebrity’ has not helped journalism’s cause in the last decade either: whether you are a beleaguered, everyday hack peering into that shallow, cheap, infantile puppet show and trying to generate ‘stories’; or you’ve been handed your own column on the basis that your face is either pretty enough or your opinions sufficiently ugly. Frayn’s book was somewhat prescient in this regard – his main character Dyson harbours a long desire to break out of his station in the back office of the paper and become known by featuring on TV programmes dealing with such glamorous issues as race relations, or drainage in Africa. He soon realises better and intuitively goes back to his, if not noble, then at least habitable calling. For there is a common misperception, especially by those standing outside the fishbowl looking in, that working in the media is somehow glamorous; perhaps that was true during the gilded age of Fleet Street and it may also be true of the elite band referenced in the Sutton Trust report. But the media is no different to our society, sadly: the top five per cent bask in the spoils, while the rest have to pick up the toils of the trade, editing the equivalent of Dyson’s “The Country Day By Day” column. Someone has to do it, however banal it may seem.

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