Tom Shakespeare

“Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
Twelfth Night

I pressed the play button to cue the famous scene from the film noir classic To Have And To Have Not. That’s the one where sultry Lauren Bacall asks moody Humphrey Bogart: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow”. I had thought for people who wanted to learn how to flirt it was a good place to start. But the audience at the Finnish National Gallery looked on in silence. I suggested that they pair up and try it out for themselves. I had expected a murmur of husky enquiries, but instead I got a crescendo of whistles. Something had obviously been lost in translation.

Had it not been for my most embarrassing inheritance, I would never have given the flirting workshop in Finland. I had been invited to Helsinki to give a lecture about disability and film, but then my hosts had proposed that I also give a workshop on flirting as well. Reluctant to turn down an intriguing challenge, I constructed a ninety minute session which relied heavily on extracts from classic Hollywood films.

A sea of expectant faces looked up at me, as I discussed the art of small talk, the importance of body language and the difference between suggestion and innuendo. The Finns may have one of the best education and health systems in the world, but they would not be ranked high in any league-table of romantic lovers. As one local woman explained to me, a Finnish husband will tell his wife he loves her once a year, “but he means it”. For much of the rest of the time, in my admittedly limited experience, he will be drunk. I fear that my crash course in flirting did little to change Finnish culture.

Although this unusual episode bears out my children’s belief that my job description should read “talks bollocks for money”, there is an entirely rational explanation. My Finnish hosts had read my entry in Who’s Who, the one which lists “flirting” among my other more conventional interests such as gardening, cooking and cinema.

The joke had seemed highly amusing at the time I was filling out the form. After all, I never wanted an entry in Who’s Who in the first place. It felt rather silly, so I thought that the best response was to be facetious myself, to demonstrate that I did not take it seriously. When she spotted it, my step-grandmother was not happy. Buffy rang up to harangue my unfortunate mother for an hour about the way I was letting down the family and disrespecting Geoffrey’s memory. Although given that my grandfather was highly irreverent and loved to play silly pranks, I suspect that he would have seen the funny side.

The immediate cause of my inappropriate entry in Who’s Who was the untimely death of my father. With his demise, the family curse, as I like to think of I, had passed down another generation to me, the eldest son. But the problem all started with my grandfather, which is why his widow got so indignant.

I explained earlier that Geoffrey Shakespeare was Liberal member of parliament for Norwich between 1929 and 1945. Before that, he had worked for Lloyd George. My father knew Lloyd George. Well, to be honest, he only met him once, on a family visit to Churt. It was my great grandfather who was Lloyd George’s friend, and consequently my grandfather who became his secretary and protégé in the 1920s. Later, Geoffrey served as a junior minister in the National Governments of the 1930s: he was involved in slum clearances, as parliamentary secretary to the Admiralty, and led the overseas evacuation of Britain’s children. In 1942, he lost his government job in a reshuffle. These days, he might have got a knighthood. But at that time, minor politicians often retired with a baronetcy. As a consequence, after their death their eldest son, purely by virtue of having an eminent father, got to be called Sir as well. Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare, Bt was followed by Sir William Shakespeare, Bt.

And on the title goes, to undeserving generation after undeserving generation. It’s not like an OBE that you can turn down. It’s yours, even if you don’t want it. Lord Stansgate had to ask for an Act of Parliament to revert to Anthony Wedgwood Benn (he had been a prefect at my father’s prep school, rather officious apparently). My grandfather was very proud of his handle and William was proud to be his son. But it confused people when my father inherited the title. They thought he must have been knighted, and got tangled up about whether they should call him Dr Sir William, or Sir Dr William. He enjoyed the feeling of distinction.

The title was one of the things on my father’s mind when he was waiting for the heart operation from which he never recovered. In our few minutes alone together in his hospital room, he was particularly concerned that I might refuse the baronetcy. It had been important to him, and he knew it was important to my brother, and he made me promise not to turn it down. How could I refuse a man on his death bed? In any case, unless I tried to petition parliament, I had no means of avoiding it. So, since 1996, I have been in the unfortunate position of being an egalitarian – a republican no less – with a skeleton in my cupboard. The title is never something I readily admit to.

I have no objection to earned distinction. When I first got my PhD, I changed my cheque book to show that I’d been doctored and I still use the title, when the circumstances seem appropriate. If I’d ever been listed in Who’s Who in my own right, I would have been quietly rather delighted. But to enter that volume solely as a result of accident of birth seems at best quaint and at worst divisive and outdated: Sir Tom Shakespeare, who had a title thrust upon him, embarrassed and ashamed of an inheritance that is a burden, not a privilege.

Friends in other countries think it’s all rather funny. You Brits are so hung up on class and status, they say. Norway abolished hereditary titles in 1814, as part of the campaign for independence from Denmark. Aristocrats could keep their titles until they died, and after that they were forgotten, so that by 1842 every Norwegian – apart from the royal family – was a citizen equal in status. The French abolished their aristocracy in 1790, and guillotined most of the titleholders just to make doubly sure. However, Napoleon promptly established more than 2000 new titles, presumably with a view to keeping his followers happy. Titles were restored in 1852, and have continued ever since. As Proust shows, the French aristocracy were in their pomp in the early years of the twentieth century.

In 1919, the Weimar republic abolished the nobility as a separate class, making all German citizens equal before the law. Seeing that German titles include such oddities as margrave, landgrave, burgrave and altgrave I felt a twinge of regret at such republicanism before discovering that it is still legal and acceptable for German aristocrats to use their title as part of their surname, with the Almanach de Gotha the equivalent of the British Debretts Peerage and Baronetage (my maternal grandfather, Douglas Raffel, whose ancestors originated from Hamburg, used sometimes to claim, implausibly that they had started out von Raffels). Such showing off is not permitted in neighbouring Austria, nor in most of the Balkans, Greece, Poland, Switzerland or former constituent states of the Soviet Union. The nobility has been also been abolished in the Czech republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy and Portugal, although titles may still be being used.

To me, having a baronetcy seems entirely pointless, more a cause of humiliation than celebration. I’m proud to say that I have never once in my life used the title. On the rare occasions that I receive a letter addressed to Sir Thomas, I cringe and hope that the postman thinks it’s some kind of joke. I do my very best to ensure that nobody gets to know about it. Revealing the guilty secret when I performed my one man show and in this book feels like a kind of confession, a coming out as “privileged”. The only people who think it’s significant being Sir are people whose approval I would not seek out. I have had to explain to several friends that sadly it doesn’t mean you can sit in the House of Lords. But then birth doesn’t help anyone get there anymore, and rightly so in my opinion. I’d like to see the monarchy abolished into the bargain.

If you have a title in front of your name, people automatically assume you must be rich. It conjures up images of the aristocracy, or at least landed gentry, with some sprawling estate and a tumbledown mansion. Not so. My great grandfather and his father before him, were Baptist ministers, and had neither land nor wealth. My grandfather ended up supporting his father financially in later life. Geoffrey did make a good marriage, to the widowed Aimee whose husband had been general manager for a shipping magnate. But most of the fortune went to Aimee’s older children. My father inherited some money when Aimee died prematurely in 1950, enough to enable him to return to Cambridge to train as a doctor. But there was no family treasure to pass down to my brother and me. Although I am formally Sir Thomas Shakespeare of Lakenham, the place was only somewhere pleasant in my grandfather’s constituency: he never owned any part of it, and by now it’s an undistinguished suburb of Norwich..

Inheritance, of course, has always been a matter of wealth and influence and status, not just genes. It’s also often to do with what jobs people do. My grandfather was descended from a long line of Baptist ministers, but became a politician. He was not noted for his religiosity, nor his morality, come to that. His step son Nigel was so influenced by Geoffrey that he in turn became an MP, albeit Conservative not Liberal. He even met his second wife in the House of Commons: Patricia Ford, who had inherited the seat of her famous Ulster Unionist father, Walter Smiles. Later, Nigel’s son Mark also became an MP, Labour this time. If you count another Tory MP, who married Patricia’s daughter, and add in Shirley Williams, a distant cousin, our family includes Parliamentarians from most of the political parties, and has been represented in the House of Commons since 1929. You could say that politics is in the blood.

While my brother James became an Anglican vicar and so followed in the footsteps of all those Baptist ministers, from an early age it was expected that I would follow precedent and become a politician. But I bucked the trend, agreeing with Groucho Marx that any party which would have me as its representative would not be one I’d want to represent. But I haven’t entirely escaped the family tradition. I’ve been active in disability campaigns, regional affairs and cultural politics, partly because I have the gift of the gab. I find it easy to talk to an audience in the attempt to convert them to my way of seeing – not so different from a politician or priest. Sometimes I wonder whether my confidence and verbal dexterity are the same skills that my ancestors devoted to other missions, and if so, whether a genetic aptitude has influenced my own choice of occupation.

Sitting in parliament certainly seem to run in families – like the three generations of political Benns, or the two children of David Lloyd George who followed him into the Commons. Often wives follow husbands, or daughters fathers – like Alexandra Mussolini in Italy, or Aung San Suu Kyi following in the path of father Aung San, who was murdered in 1947 before he could become Prime Minister of Burma. But none of this probably has anything to do with genetics. Family members become infected with the political virus, just as my uncle Nigel Fisher emulated his step-father Geoffrey Shakespeare and followed him into Parliament. Sometimes, of course, as with the Gandhi or Kennedy dynasties, relatives also inherit the party machine and contacts – like those Bushes and Clintons.

Acting and broadcasting seem other obvious roles where children follow their parents. That must be mainly down to influence and opportunity, not genes, but perhaps there’s also some hardwired tendency to relish the limelight. Overall, approximately 10% of men take up the same job as their fathers, with 30% staying in the same occupational group. Direct occupational inheritance is strongest in medicine and agriculture. Lecturing medical students, if you ask who had a mother or father who was a doctor, a sea of hands will rise. I was keen to be a doctor myself, despite my father’s discouragement. As a child, I spent long hours deciphering his university lecture notes and reading books of anatomy. Presumably as a result of all that swotting, I got great results in biology examinations, but sadly never proved equally adept at physics, chemistry or maths.

So far, so innocuous. As long as people whose parents aren’t doctors (or MPs or broadcasters) can enter those professions, then it’s hard to complain if film critic begets film critic, or talk show host begets talk show host. But where inheritance – or nepotism – enshrines dominance and inequality, there’s more to worry about. We might imagine that Britain is becoming a gentler, better and more prosperous place. John Major, who had risen from obscurity himself, once promised us a classless society. Yet the research evidence proves that we have actually become a more unequal society since 1974. In that year, the richest 10% of households received three times the income of the poorest 10%. By 2001, the gap had become a fourfold differential. The poorest had become richer in real terms – by 30% – but they had lagged further behind the richest. In 2001, the top 1% of the population owned 21% of the total marketable wealth, while the bottom 50% made do with just 7% of the total wealth.

Anthony Giddens, who taught me sociology at Cambridge, has argued that class is becoming less important in the way people understand themselves [i]. But a recent ICM survey for The Guardian suggests that 89% of people feel that class matters. 55% of the poorest social group feel that class, not ability, dictates the way they are viewed. Nor is this changing: 90% of 18-24 year olds said that people are still judged by their class.

This is unsurprising, given the evidence of increasing inequality. For example, economic changes have squeezed people out of the labour market, leading to increased social exclusion of former manual workers, disabled people and others who have experienced several generations of unemployment. There may be many more “lovely” jobs for graduates in the financial, media or service sectors, but there are many more “lousy” jobs with low pay, status and conditions. Margaret Thatcher, who pronounced that people should not expect society to help them but should rely on their own efforts, presided over a social transformation which vastly increased inequality in Britain.

Not only is society less egalitarian, but it has also become harder for people to escape their origins. The media might make much of the two thousand or so millionaires who have benefited from the National Lottery since 1994, often from humble backgrounds, but the majority of people still stay in the situation in which they are born. A 2005 survey by the London School of Economics found that Britain has one of the worst records for social mobility in the western world. Whereas the Nordic countries and Canada have the most “intergenerational elasticity” – which is how social scientists describe the possibility of children having different social outcomes to their parents – Britain is nearly as bad as the United States. But unlike the United States, Britain is even becoming less mobile: a cohort of people born in 1970 turned out to have less social mobility than a cohort born in 1958. In the ICM poll quoted above, 77% of people born to working class parents saw themselves as working class too.

A key factor in promoting social mobility is education. But although in principle everyone can access learning, in practice wealth determines the extent to which children benefit from educational opportunities. Middle class children go to better schools, and their parents are more involved in their learning. While more children from poorer backgrounds are now staying on at school after 16, it is the middle classes who are disproportionately benefiting from the expansion of Higher Education. The former increased their graduation rates by 3% between 1981 and the late 1990s, while the richest 20% of families increased their graduation rates by 26%.

Britain is a society obsessed with class and highly adept at mapping the differences between people’s social position. The moment a Briton opens his or her mouth, they will be categorised. The historian Raphael Samuel points out that in Britain, aristocratic origins are so valued that the English middle classes have always preferred to think that they have come down in the world than that they could be upstarts who succeeded in life. [ii]  In our sitcoms, we love to laugh at aspirational social climbers or scoff at low achievers.

Sociologists resort to concepts such as social capital and cultural capital to explain why some people flourish and others flounder. Social capital refers to the networks and connections which parents pass on to their children. For example, I went to the same school and university as my father. I’d like to think I got to Cambridge on merit, but it helped that I went to an elite private school, thanks to my father’s willingness and ability to pay the fees. The old boy network may have withered since his day, but the right accent and educational background still open many doors. Conversely, working class people may have strong networks, but they are usually more localised and less extensive than middle class equivalents. While traditional working class cultures may be supportive and warm, they can also limit opportunity. For example, children from poorer homes may know no one who has been to university, whereas my son, for example, is the fourth generation of my family to attend Cambridge. Peer pressure may operate to restrict opportunity, not to provide role models and self-help.

Cultural capital refers to the knowledge that middle class people have about how to operate and get ahead, in other words confidence and familiarity with the cultural experiences which confer status. A lack of cultural capital means that people from less privileged homes come up against intangible barriers – what to wear, which cutlery to use, how to behave at the opera – which can be disadvantaging. Moreover, people generally marry others like themselves, which means privileged people marrying other privileged people and having children who, by and large, continue to be privileged (a process which biologists call associative mating). All of this suggests that your family is a powerful factor in determining your life chances. Fathers pass on approximately 50% of their earning advantage onto sons (Croak 2006). Even before school, parenting and the domestic environment shapes experience and aspiration.

There are other explanations. Nutritionists point out that if people eat a restricted diet, they will lack the trace elements and vitamins which contribute to healthy brain development, and may end up with lower cognitive ability. Some commentators, like Peter Saunders (2002) have claimed that a lack of social mobility is what should be expected in a meritocracy. The better class of people will inevitably have more able children, both because of genetic and environmental factors, who will therefore have better outcomes. But if we lived in a true meritocracy, then clever kids from working class backgrounds would rise in the hierarchy, and stupid kids from middle class homes would fall. And this generally does not happen, or at least not as it should. Middle class families and networks are very good at looking after their own, hoarding opportunities, and closing ranks against others trying to climb up the ladder.

These days, it is rare to find mainstream academics explaining social inequality in biological terms, but once it was commonly accepted. For example, Francis Galton, who coined the term eugenics, was convinced that “ability is not distributed at haphazard, but …affects certain families”. His own family – the extended network of Darwins and Wedgewoods and Galtons – epitomised his claim. Galton and his followers in the hugely popular eugenics movement often concluded that if ability was concentrated in the privileged classes, then democracy was consequently a dangerous and regressive development. As Galton argued, “the statesman’s type of ability is largely transmitted or inherited.” In America, the pioneer geneticist Charles Davenport postulated that thalassaphilia, or love of the sea, was an inherited biological trait explaining why naval officers tended to run in families. More sinister were those Social Darwinists who based their philosophy on Herbert Spencer’s concept “survival of the fittest”, seeing the development of the welfare state and other forms of social insurance as inevitably leading to a decline in the quality of the population.

Many countries – including America, Canada, France, Austria, Switzerland, all the Nordic countries and of course Germany – turned eugenic theory into action by mandating the sterilization of those whom they considered inferior. These included supposedly “feeble minded” people, women who were labelled promiscuous, and sometimes members of ethnic minorities. The intention was to prevent the lower classes becoming a drain on society.

While eugenics was discredited after the Nazi abuses were uncovered, biological explanations never went away. Controversies about the supposed inferiority of women to men, or black people to white people, show that both lay people and some scientists still persist in thinking that inequalities can be explained with reference to genetics. While contemporary behavioural geneticists have claimed that on average half of the variation in intelligence is attributable to genetic factors, and the same goes for other aspects of talent and personality, it is dangerous to conclude that the poorer outcomes of working class people – or people from minority ethnic groups – are attributable to their inferior biological endowment. The evidence shows that variations within groups are greater than variations between groups.

Moreover, some psychological research has shown that the heritability of intelligence varies by class. For people in higher socio-economic groups, there is a strong genetic element in their IQ, accounting for more than 70% of the variation. But for people in poorer situations, genetics accounts for only 10%, with environmental influences being four times as powerful as they are in the wealthiest homes [iii]. In other words, the lack of success of people at the bottom of society is not to do with any innate limitations, but because of the disadvantage and social exclusion which they experience. Conversely, because most people from the top social groups enjoy access to educational advantages which enable them to develop to their full potential, the remaining differences between individuals from privileged backgrounds are largely genetic.

It’s not just networks and knowledge that help people progress, it’s also the inheritance of money. Despite the myth of rags to riches, most people continue in the social niche into which they were born. Andrew Carnegie, once the wealthiest man in the world, gave away 90% of his money before his death, but many people try to pass on any riches they accumulate to their children. According to the Inland Revenue statistics of 1989-9, 43% of people who died left an estate, the average value of which was £108,000. A study carried out for the Rowntree foundation found that 46% of adults have inherited something, mainly from parents: one in twenty adults have inherited 50,000 or more. Given the ingenuity of tax avoidance strategies, and the common practice of grandparents paying their grandchildrens’ school fees, the true figure of inter-generational transfer is undoubtedly much higher.

The same study asked people about how they felt about leaving something for the children. Most people liked the idea in principle, but two thirds said they preferred to enjoy life and not worry about passing on an inheritance, particularly those in their fifties. Only a quarter of respondents said they would be careful with their money in order to leave money or property to their children. Less than half had made a will. However, among minority ethnic groups, the idea of passing on advantages to children is stronger: two thirds of British Asians and half of African-Caribbean British people were intent on leaving something for their children. Moreover, it is more common now for parents to pass on the inheritance before they die, perhaps to enable their children to buy their first home.

While people may not have thought much about it, the notion of inheritance has powerful symbolic force. Edmund Burke, one of the intellectual godfathers of British Conservatism, wrote:

“The power of perpetuating our property in families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself.” [iv]

The urge to do well by your children and ensure their security is a form of nurturing which may be rooted in biological instincts. If humans, like other animals, are motivated by the desire to spread their genes, then it would make sense to promote the well being of your children, and consequently your grandchildren. Whether because of cultural symbolism or evolutionary imperative, there appears to be a huge public opposition to inheritance tax. Few people are enthusiastic about the idea of the state preventing people passing on their wealth to their children. For example, I noticed a few years ago that a petition to abolition of inheritance tax was the most popular petition on Downing Street website, with 127, 724 signatures. The fear of death duties has been exacerbated because the threshold for paying inheritance tax has not kept pace with the huge inflation in the value of homes. Consequently it was a shrewd and highly popular move when Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne promised in 2007 to raise the threshold to £1m. But while most of us instinctively resent death duties, few people know how it works in practice. In the Rowntree study, only 6% respondents knew that that only 6% of estates pay inheritance tax.

The urge to protect and benefit your own kin is challenged by another important human motivation, the instinctual commitment to fairness. This is relevant for two reasons. First, people tend to believe that hard work should be rewarded, and that people should not be disadvantaged for reasons beyond their control. When talent withers through lack of opportunity, or where city fat cats – or Premier League footballers – are remunerated at a level which seems unjustifiable, even obscene, then most people feel something has gone wrong with society. Extremes of wealth and poverty undermine social cohesion and foster resentment. There is evidence that persistent inequality contributes to disaffection and social exclusion, which fuels social problems such as alienation and crime and poor health. The famous Whitehall Studies, which followed the trajectories of 18,000 civil servants, showed that lower status employees were much more likely to die prematurely than those in higher grades.

There may be a social consensus that it is right to compensate for inequality and ensure that talent and hard work are rewarded. But perhaps it is also relevant to question the notion of talent itself. People with talent need to be recognised, cherished and supported in order to achieve their potential. They also need to apply themselves and do the necessary hard work to excel. But there’s more to success than social context and individual effort. Research suggests that intellectual ability, artistic talent or sporting prowess are at least partly innate, influenced by a complex constellation of genes.

In other words, chance plays a major part in individual success. If someone has a good brain, or amazing hand-eye coordination, or perfect pitch, then it’s largely down to their DNA. If those talents get nurtured, then it’s often because the individual is lucky enough to be born into a supportive family, or to attend the right school. The American philosopher John Rawls argued that our talents and skills are the largely the outcome of our genetic inheritance and early upbringing, factors over which we have no control and which are largely a matter of luck. In other words, not only do we not deserve to benefit from these natural advantages, but others who are less lucky do not deserve to suffer as a result of their misfortune. As Immanuel Kant argued, morality must be independent of luck. If we are not responsible for something, we cannot be morally responsible for it.

These arguments suggest that a good society will be one in which people can flourish, regardless of their talents. Neither the natural lottery – of talent – nor the social lottery – of class – should mean that people lose out. Competition and reward for hard work are important incentives to ensure that individuals are motivated to aspire and succeed. However, there should be limits on the extent to which an individual can benefit or suffer. Life may inevitably be a game of snakes and ladders, but if some people are racing ahead and others falling behind, through no fault of their own, the outcome is disharmony and suffering.

Disability adds an important dimension to these thoughts about inequality and inheritance. This is because disability is strongly associated with poverty. Disabled people often face additional costs arising from their impairments. In families with disabled children, it is common for one parent to have to give up work to care for the disabled child. But for a family to have a decent standard of living in contemporary Britain, both parents need to work. The benefits and tax credits available for families with disabled children do not sufficiently compensate for this problem, and therefore disabled children and their siblings often grow up in poverty.

On average, disabled adults are half as likely to be working as non-disabled adults. This is for a constellation of reasons. Some of these are to do with individual limitations in the type of work disabled people can do, or their productivity. But others arise from the inaccessibility of workplaces and the ignorance or active prejudice of employers, or the lack of suitable jobs. At least a million disabled people are able to work and would like to work, but cannot find suitable employment. Available benefits do not compensate non-working disabled people, who are consequently considerable worse off than the rest of society. Under New Labour, disabled adults have actually fallen further behind non-disabled people, in comparative terms.

When my team at Newcastle University did research with people who had restricted growth, we found that they did not experience unemployment to the same extent as other disabled people. Our respondents got good qualifications at school, and were nearly as likely to find jobs as non-disabled people. However, we found that the jobs they did were not high status or well paid. This was often because others underestimated their ability or potential. For example, people who aspired to become farmers or doctors or nurses or teachers were discouraged from those careers. Instead, they were encouraged to be come nursing assistants, or nursery nurses, or classroom assistants, or channelled into office work. Restricted growth people were less than half as likely to be in managerial or professional roles, and twice as likely to be in routine or lower supervisory occupations. Although they were good workers, they were not put forward for extra training or given chances for promotion. As a result, they had lower incomes than non-disabled people. The same seems likely to be the case for other groups of disabled workers.

Despite the improvements in the social role of disabled people in recent decades, the evidence shows that disabled people are still substantially disadvantaged. They are half as likely to work, they are more likely to retire early from work, and they are concentrated in poorly paid roles. On top of this, they may have extra costs arising from disability. None of this is the fault of disabled people themselves. These problems are caused either by having an impairment or by living in a society which discriminates against people with impairment.

My father’s experience shows that the story can be different. He worked successfully in a high status and well paid role as a medical practitioner throughout his working life. He did have to retire early due to ill-health, but he was able to ensure the prosperity of his family and invest in his children’s education to give them, in turn, a good start in life. He did not suffer social exclusion. He had strong social networks, based around the men he had known at school and university. He would meet up with his friends at Henley Regatta, at the Lords Test Match, and at school and college reunions. He was widely admired and respected in his profession, and was able to apply his talents to the service of his society.

A major reason for William Shakespeare’s success, aside from his personal qualities, was his class. Because he first attended Radley College, an exclusive public school and then Clare College, Cambridge, he became accepted in society. He had the right voice, wore the appropriate clothes, and was comfortable negotiating circles of power and influence. For this reason, people did not judge him differently because of his restricted growth, which therefore formed no obstacle to his advancement.

My father was an ordinary person, kind and decent and hardworking rather than exceptional. He was neither charismatic nor highly intellectual, but he was an upper middle class man, and this fact trumped any disadvantages that his stature may have caused. In a similar way, middle class people from minority ethnic groups succeed, despite the disadvantage which makes it so hard for Black British people from lower socio-economic groups to prosper. Having the right accent, the right networks, the right CV, ensures that the doors of opportunity are opened. Whereas many other restricted growth people have found life to be a struggle, my father and in turn myself have been inoculated against failure by our inherited advantages of birth.

Footnotes, resources and further reading

[i] A.Giddens (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity, Polity, Cambridge.

[ii] Raphael Samuel (1990) The Myths We Live By, Routledge, London.

[iii] Eric Turkheimer et al (2003) Socioeconomic status modifies heritability of IQ in young children, Psychological Science, vol 14, no 6, Nov 2003, pp 623-628

[iv] Edmund Burke (1910) Reflections on the French Revolution and Other Essays, EP Dutton, New York, p.45