Monthly Archives: January 2014

HIT OR MYTH? Pop has got 60 times more posh since 1990


60% of chart acts in 2010 attended public school, compared to 1% in 1990.

Over the last couple of years, you may have heard this ‘fact’ mentioned. It is still regularly repeated every time anyone wishes to make a point about a supposed shift in social background of our pop stars. Jarvis Cocker typified a commonly held view on the subject in an interview with The Guardian published on October 16, 2011. “It has changed now,” he said of the music scene. “The big rock bands now are from slightly monied or privileged backgrounds.”

“He’s right about that,” agreed the author of the piece, Decca Aitkenhead. “In 1990 just 2% of artists in the UK top 10 had been to public school. In October 2010 it was 60%”

A few weeks later, the gap had widened further. In The Guardian on November 5, 2011, Emine Saner mentioned “That extraordinary statistic last year – 60% of the people in the charts had been to public school, whereas in 1990 it was 1%.”

So can this really be true? A 6000 per cent increase in privately educated chart-toppers over a 20 year period?

In short: No.

Its total nonsense. And here’s why:

This story originally began spreading far and wide after a Sunday Times article on 5 December 2010 was seized on by The Daily Mail the following day. “A survey in The Word magazine has calculated that at least 60 per cent of chart pop and rock acts are now former public school pupils,” The Mail reported, “compared with just 1 per cent 20 years ago.”

The Word ‘survey’ was actually published a few weeks earlier in the December 2010 issue of the always entertaining music monthly. The author was the highly readable Independent On Sunday rock critic Simon Price, who wrote:

“The perception that poshoes are colonising the charts isn’t an illusion. It’s demonstrable fact. The official UK Top 40 of the week ending 20 October 1990 contained 21 British acts. Of these, 16.5 went to their local state school as children.”

He then says ‘it’s safe to assume’ that another four whose origins he couldn’t pin down, did too. Only half of one act in that week’s charts – Pet Shop Boys’ Chris Lowe – attended public school, he claims.

By contrast, he points out: “Of 17 British acts in the corresponding week’s chart in 2010, two attended top private schools (Taio Cruz and Eliza Doolittle) and three went to fee-paying stage schools (Brit School alumni Adele and Katy B, and Italia Conti pupil Pixie Lott) A further two were grouped with mixed educational backgrounds: The Saturdays (two stage school, one Surbiton high) and The Wanted (at least one of whom attended Sylvia Young theatre school).”

To be fair to Mr. Price, he didn’t calculate or mention the ‘60%’ figure. And he is probably fully aware that it is a distortion of the actual facts he found.


The newspaper stories based that figure on the fact that only seven out of 17 ‘acts’, by Price’s reckoning, were ‘unassisted by privilege or patronage’. So 58.8% of those acts included one or more members (crucial detail, bear that in mind) who had some sort of paid education.

By the time this bombshell reached The Daily Mail, though, the figure had not only jumped slightly to ‘at least 60 per cent’, but they reported it as if it was over 60% of all the individuals that made up those chart acts.

In fact, the British acts in the October 2010 chart analysed by Price was actually made up of 30 individuals in total, nine of whom had public school or stage school educations, and 21 of whom didn’t. So in fact, the correct figure that should have been quoted from Price’s survey was 30%, not 60.

The newspaper stories then managed to come up with a figure for the 1990 chart of 1% from Price’s survey of one identified fee-paying individual out of 21 acts, some solo, some duo, some groups. More shonky maths, but that’s a minor quibble compared to some much more significant flaws in the ‘survey’, which reduce the much-vaunted 60% figure even more. Such as:

1) Price erroneously assumed The Brit School is fee-paying – it isn’t. Pupils are awarded scholarships to the government funded college (from age 16 – most will have been to a conventional school beforehand) on the basis of auditions, so you can hardly call it a private school. Since two of the acts Price cites – Katy B and Adele, won scholarships to the Brit school after comp educations elsewhere, that reduces the true figure from his survey to seven paid-educated people out of 30 in the chart from October 2010. If we take those two out, then, the true figure of privately educated individuals in his 2010 chart should have been… just 23%


However, you might argue that it doesn’t negate the wider point he makes – that there are way more people from privately-educated backgrounds in the charts now than 20 years ago. Unfortunately, that crumbles into dust when you compare two rather wider samples of hit-makers from 2010 and 1990.

“An inconclusive snapshot? Perhaps,” admits Price of his survey, sampled from one week in October and the corresponding one 20 years earlier.

But it’s not just inconclusive – it’s totally misleading.

To get a truer picture Let’s look at the 40 top selling singles from the whole of 1990 and the whole of 2010.

In this list we find that 36 different individuals from the UK and Ireland were involved in those hits. Eight of them had a paid education (four public school, four stage school).

Meanwhile, back in 1990, 43 individuals were involved in the top 40 best selling singles.

I could not identify the educational origins of all of them, but at least seven had a paid education, six at public school, one at stage school. And while that makes for a slightly lower percentage, bear in mind that 15 of those state-schoolers from 1990 were from two acts – UB40 and The Beautiful South.

And it’s not just that sample that offers up this picture. If we look at the artists making the upper reaches of the charts that year, we find way more than just Chris Lowe with public school backgrounds.

Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, Reigate Grammar School boy Quentin ‘Norman’ Cook of Beats International, his stage school bandmate Lindy Layton, along with drama school kid Sonia. James’s Tim Booth, New Order’s Stephen Morris, Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross, Del Amitri’s Justin Currie, Boarding School girl Sinead O’Connor, boarding school boy Youth (one half of Blue Pearl and schoolmate of The Orb’s Alex Paterson) Prep School graduate Timmy Mallett of Bombalurina, and that friend of Prince Andrew, Nellee Hooper of Soul II Soul. Oh, and guess who had the year’s best-selling album? Why, it was another stage school survivor – Mr Phil Collins.

And those were just the ones I could identify. It was impossible to trace the schooling of many of the lesser known hit artists, and the law of averages suggests a couple of them will probably have had the same backgrounds too.


So in fact, in 1990 there were an uncannily similar number of privately educated people in the charts than there were in 2010.

I’m sorry to disappoint class warriors everywhere who have used these lies, damned lies and statistics to back up claims that pop has lost its proletarian soul, but pop’s just as posh – or not posh, depending on the way you look at it – as it ever was.


This is an edited version of an entry in my 2012 book Mind The Bollocks. Available at all good… erm, actually, Amazon’s your best bet.


TO HULL AND BACK – the fall and rise of Hull, the UK’s new City of Culture (Mirror, Nov 2013)


Hull. Rhymes with dull. One vowel away from hell. These unfortunate linguistic properties have made this sizeable city in the North (turn right near the top of the M1 before L**ds, and keep going) the butt of media jokes since before newsprint was invented. In fact, they’ll probably title this piece ‘To Hull and Back’, as many thousands of previous stories involving the town have done before. It’s an open goal.

While there is undeniably something about travelling to Kingston-upon-Hull (to give it its full, only-ever-used-in-articles-like-this name) that can seem very trying, especially if you have to change trains at Doncaster to a laughably named ‘Sprinter’ service, there’s certainly nothing particularly Hellish about it these days. Admittedly, the ‘dull’ associations were, for a while, backed up by The Idler’s 2003 book Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK. It saw Hull named the clear winner, and while it was easy to dismiss that verdict as the work of sneery London poshoes, it was actually the result of an online poll. The people (or the people that read a sneery London website) had spoken.

But since then, the place has seen a sharp upturn in its public profile, a journey of redemption that has now culminated in Hull being elected the UK’s City of Culture for 2017. Why it’s four years hence I really don’t know, but best thank the lord for small mercies.


There’s a very Yorkshire-ish stubborn independence about Hull’s most enduring cultural jewels that has been reflected in the very same culture that I hope the 2017 celebrations will recognise. I’m not talking about undeniably impressive attractions like world-class aquarium The Deep, the Maritime Museum or the celebrated Hull Truck Theatre.

I’m talking about nightlife that was there when I was a teenager and against all odds, is still there now. Such as The New Adelphi club on De Grey Street, a club the size of a small terraced house (because that’s what it used to be) that puts on new music every night of the week, and the fashion-proof goth nightclub Spiders, which for over 30 years has plied dirt cheap booze and anti-social music to weirdos, freaks and alarmingly young-looking people wearing too much eyeliner. I was once one of their number, and just as only Goths and cockroaches will probably survive a nuclear blast, I suspect Spiders will also still be standing, and still selling the Pangalactic Gargle Blaster cocktail.


Hull’s enduring commitment to the noble sport of Rugby League should also be noted. Such is the passion for the 13-man variety of egg-chasing in the city that when its two professional clubs, Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers, met at Wembley in the 1980 Challenge Cup Final, legend has it that someone hung a sign on the A63 (the road to Hull, since you ask) reading “Will the last person to leave the city please turn out the lights”. As the only city in England outside London to boast two top-flight rugby clubs and a Premier League football club, I think we can confidently call it a sporting mecca.

And since RL legend Clive Sullivan already has a main road named after him, can I suggest Hull City legend Dean Windass, now humbly turning out for a village club a few miles from the KC stadium, possibly have a boozer rebranded in his pitbull-like image?


I hope the City of Culture also honour Bob Carver’s legendary chip shop on Trinity House Lane, if only for its sign, which looks as if it hasn’t changed in 50 years.

And special nod should be made to The Land of Green Ginger, which isn’t a land, but a street, which claims to contain the World’s Smallest Window. Not sure what Norris McWhirter would have made of that claim, but good attitude anyway.


Again, you’ll notice that there’s a certain bloody-minded and slightly surreal independent quality to all these cultural assets. I mean, Spiders even refuses to play dance music, a good two decades since the last indie band got a remixer in. Mental, but strangely admirable.

The cultural products of the city have also inherited those traits. The City’s two most successful bands, The Housemartins and The Beautiful South who formed from their ashes, still lived in the city for years after more impressionable musicians would have fled to the big smoke, and did weird Northern socialist things like sharing their profits between them.

Even long-serving Hull Uni librarian and adopted son of the city Philip Larkin liked the sense of being removed from the rest of the country, as expressed in his supremely evocative poem ‘Here’.


The fierce individuality of the city is somehow reflected in its infrastructure. Like the cream-coloured phone boxes that people proudly use every bit as seldom as the red ones in the rest of the UK. Or the trains – if you’re lucky enough to get a direct one to Hull from London, you’ll be travelling on Hull trains. You don’t get Bristol trains, or Stoke-On-Trent trains, now do you?


Along with that individualism comes a certain flintiness in the attitude of some Hull people. If some less-loved parts of the UK have adopted the mantra ‘No-one likes us, we don’t care’, Hull’s attitude is more like “No-one cares about us, and we don’t like it”.

The place has been neglected, ignored, patronised, and much-maligned for many a long year. I mean, many of those condemning it in the Crap Towns book repeated the apocryphal claim that it smells of fish. Given that there have only been a handful of fishing boats docked in Hull since the early 1980s this seems scientifically impossible, but still the reputation persists.


And sometimes you suspect that the City’s out of sight, out of mind status has had more serious repercussions than a few bruised East Yorkshire egos. For instance, Hull suffered terribly during the summer floods of 2007, but presumably because it was a darn sight less picturesque than Tewkesbury, no-one outside Yorkshire noticed, and the help from central government was sluggish in comparison.(

This isn’t a new thing, either. As a major port, Hull was the worst-affected British city apart from London during the Blitz, with 95% of buildings affected. – but you wouldn’t know it, because the more central city of Coventry has since become synonymous for that particular catastrophe, and others’ suffering is largely forgotten.


So that’s all the more reason why this long-overdue national attention is so welcome.

Of course, like most professional northerners who talk up the charms of places like this, I don’t actually live there any more, and haven’t for a quarter of a century. In fact, I never really did anyway – I’m from Beverley, a small town a full eight miles north often dismissed by prolier-than-thou Hullensians who have never been there as ‘posh’. But it was a second home then, and it always will be. But please, don’t anyone else start moving there – it’s already one of the few places you can still buy a house for a decent price.



The rest of the field were, almost literally, blown away. On Sunday afternoon, 18-year-old schoolgirl Olivia Prokopova won the World Crazy Golf Championships on a windswept Hastings seafront by the incredible margin of 21 shots. In doing so, she became the first female winner of this most prestigious of the UK’s miniature golf tournaments. And as the holder of the US Masters and US Open Minigolf titles, she can lay a fair claim to being the best in the world at the short-form game.

On one round she managed six holes-in-one out of 18, which is far from unusual for a player who first picked up a putter in her home town of Radovnik at three years old, and once came third in this tournament at the age of just eight years old.

So how has she held her own in a male-dominated sport when so many other women, for one reason or another, seem to have struggled?

Any game with ‘crazy’ in its name is bound to have an image problem when it comes to being respected in the super-serious sporting world at large. But the small community of minigolf (basically a specialist putting-only version of the game) enthusiasts in the UK and America are every bit as dedicated as their better-known, driver-wielding counterparts. None more so than Prokopova, who practises up to 12 hours a day, and took unofficial leave (known in the trade as ‘bunked off’) from high school for a week to travel across Europe last Monday for five days’ preparation on the Championship course.

“Maybe I shouldn’t take time off school,” she admits, “but this is the big one.”

In the wider golfing world, Minigolf is seen as a way of getting youngsters into the sport, even if Tiger Woods has been spotted trying his hand at the game before ( But it still attracts a keen, if mostly middle-aged and male, group of players. And while the old golfing maxim says “drive for show, putt for dough,” Woods and co could still learn a thing or two from their crazy cousins. Indeed, some top players boast that they would easily outplay the likes of Rory McIlroy if they challenged them on the kind of greens that feature a windmill or water fountain blocking your path to glory.

Some minigolfers pay forensic attention to detail, with up to 50 different temperature balls (carried in special thermally-controlled bags) of varying elasticity to help with rebounds and artificial hazards.

Not Prokopova, who puts her victory on Sunday down to a new ball introduced for all players in the tournament, which levelled the playing field. And while her opponents cursed the rapidly approaching St Jude’s storm, she shrugged off the conditions: “I enjoy it. I grew up playing in all sorts of weather – snow, wind, rain. So I’m used to it.”

Her perennially unruffled attitude has undoubtedly helped her as one of only nine women in the 78-strong field at this year’s event, and one of only three placed in the top 50. The fact that she won the women’s title along with her overall title, and there isn’t a men’s title, perhaps says something about the reduced expectations for the fairer sex.

Although you only find women regularly competing for top honours against men in sports such as Equestrian events and shooting, Prokopova seems blissfully unintimidated at going head-to-head with the boys.

“I don’t have any problems with that,” she says. “I get on well with other players, and they’re happy for me because they’ve known me since I was a kid.”

Top female US Minigolfer Astra Miglane-Stanwyck, who was US Open runner-up in 2001 – the closest any other woman has come to glory in this form of the sport – once said of playing men, “You have to have an attitude. You have to be psychologically stronger. You have to knock their confidence out.” Prokopova sees it more simply.

“There’s no reason why girls can’t do as well as men,” she says. “I practice every day for 15 years, so now I can.”