The truth is that the British public laps up this sort of stuff, whether it's inherited monarchy or acting dynastiesby Caspar Salmon / January 29, 2020 / Leave a comment
On Thursday of last week, a man from a rich and well-connected family went on Question Time and suggested that racism is not really a problem in the United Kingdom. Then, on Sunday, another man from a rich and well-connected family went on television to make a statement about his reasons for abandoning his royal responsibilities. Barely acknowledged in the media brouhaha around both stories is the enduring question of nepotism in Britain—of which both men are shining emblems.
Laurence Fox was born forty-one years ago into a rich family, the Foxes: his father is James Fox, the veteran actor from such films as Performance, The Servant and A Passage To India. His grandfather was Robin Fox, a successful film agent connected by birth to the Terry family of actors, whose mother was a member of the Beerbohm troupe. His great-great grandfather was a Victorian industrialist, Samson Fox, inventor of the boiler flue. When Samson Fox died in 1903, the town of Harrogate was sent a telegram of condolence by the great-great-great-grandfather of Prince Harry. Laurence Fox was educated, if that’s the word, at Harrow and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Educated at Eton and another Royal Academy (Sandhurst), Prince Harry, at 35, has presumably moved in similar social circles to Fox. Like Fox, upon graduating he quickly found employment in the family business. But the whole media farrago from which Laurence Fox is now materially benefiting was created when Prince Harry apparently decided—like a mafioso trying to go straight in a Martin Scorsese movie—to quit working for the family. But—unless I’ve been looking in the wrong place—there does not appear to have been much discussion of the issue in British media, perhaps because it doesn’t have the wherewithal to cover it, being so notoriously devoid of nepotism.
Nepotism is a tricky issue to circumscribe, and harder even to regulate against. In film and TV last year, the issue of dynastic actors fully runs against the sort of social progress that we need to see in the entertainment industry. Lately, film has become overrun with highly privileged Etonians, who are able to vacuum up roles in the sort of period dramas Britain delightedly churns out, at the expense of work with roles for women and minorities. This means that a great many of our public figures are beneficiaries of privilege—money begetting money, class begetting status. There is no reason, no reason at all for somebody like Fox to be a figure in the public eye—and but for the existence of the inherited monarchy, there would not have been a topic there for him to have been holding forth about.
A dismaying aspect of this year’s royal farrago is how close we seemed to get to working out that monarchy was a fundamentally bankrupt institution, before the queen—like a head of Cosa Nostra in a film by Martin Scorsese—managed to get the family back on track. What the royal family actually does in return for the money they receive from us (over 15 of them share out a paltry number of lunches and openings in any given week, with Princess Anne doing the most by far) is laughable. And since Prince Harry decided he would prefer not to, the whole institution has been laid bare for the sham that it is. Did none of them realise before this that they could… just… not?
The truth, though, is that the British public laps up this sort of stuff—in our entertainment as in our monarchy (which is, really, mostly entertainment at this stage, except—which is what seems to have become the issue—it involves the lives of real people). Audiences loved to see Henry and Jane Fonda together in On Golden Pond, Ryan and Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon; Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton-Byrne inThe Souvenir. The added effect of biography on a story gives us a personal connection to the material. The royal family exercises a similar hold by showing us “the spirit of Diana” in Prince Harry’s, it has to said, fairly cosmetic rebellion. The practice of nepotism is bound up with emotions and nostalgia. It’s hard to wean ourselves from this—and genuinely hard to detach ourselves from this endemic culture, which exists in workplaces everywhere, from minor levels to more serious infractions.
The key to the problem will be diversifying our media and the stories we tell—only then can we start to clean out the Augean stable of inherited status that flourishes in British society, which is so detrimental to us all. As for the monarchy, maybe a few more nudges in the years to come will cause the house of cards to wobble.