Hooray For That Much-Maligned Class of Brit, The White Working Class Bloke

Channel 4

Work-shy, racist, crass, scheming, sexist, alcoholic, foul-mouthed, tattooed scum – the white British working classes have never been more reviled by the chattering classes than they are today.

And the very worst examples of this reviled sub-species of humanity are men. Feared, pitied and mocked in equal measure, they’re usually portrayed as the losers in life’s lottery… which is ironic as they buy most Lotto tickets for a quick route out to the easy street in which their most vocal critics live.

To plunder the dictum of the gender studies brigade, they’re the “privileged” class it’s safe to hate, and if you dare to defend them, well, you’re just as loathsome as them.

If you believe these sneering Guardianistas, you’ll find Mr Working Class Scum squandering away their cash – variously conned or scrounged – in “the boozer,” a fearful place where they deal drugs, conspire against immigrants and ogle Page 3, before going home to beat the wife, drink cider and watch Adolf Hitler documentaries.

But what do these verminous ne’er-do-wells really talk about inside the darkened boozers they choose to make their second homes? What unimaginable, misogynistic, xenophobic plots do they hatch?

Is it: “Oi oi! Look at the tits on that! Who’s up for torching a mosque, lads? Send ‘em all home in a banana boat! Millwall! Millwall!”

Or – perish the thought – are the once-great (but always unwashed!) British working classes actually capable of compassion, humanity, warmth and love?

We find out some of the answers in a fascinating TV show, The Secret Life Of The Pub, screened tonight on Channel 4 at 10pm.

For over 70 hours, 25 CCTV cameras dotted around The Lord Nelson pub on the Isle of Dogs, East London, recorded every nugget of what the rowdy, male locals waxed lyrical about.

In a sentence, the TV pitch might have been, “it’s Big Brother in a boozer.” And the revelations have stunned the critics: for, joyously, in the show the men don’t talk about football and breasts, but erectile dysfunction, cancer, kidney failure, birth, death, love and loneliness.

Of course, the Guardian hates it, myopically comparing it to Men Behaving Badly. Granted, there is smut, but then did we expect holy communion from these men after Channel 4 plied them with enough free booze to fell a horse?

The Telegraph said its “swingometer of manure was deep into the brown” as its writer claimed that working-class men are only capable of talking about “football, fighting and phwoaring!”

Both dismissed the entire concept on grounds that the subjects knew they were being filmed (it’s illegal to film Brits secretly for broadcast; we’re not living in Stasi Germany yet).

Perhaps, on that, they had a point. So, unlike every other journalist who wrote about it this week, I got off my arse and went to the Lord Nelson yesterday to meet a couple of the locals who star in the show – and the landlady – to find out if it was “scripted reality” as its critics suggest, or for real. I wanted to give these working-class men a chance.

In every sense under the shadow of a gleaming, omnipresent Canary Wharf, The Lord Nelson is a dying breed: one of only six boozers left on the island, decimated by the decline of the docks and the steady, yet seemingly inexorable, ingress of a non-drinking Muslim community that threatens to eclipse the locals and their history.

In that context, the Nelson is a worthy vignette of modern, working-class Britain. It represents something of a valiant last stand for the ordinary man: against tech-driven, “new” money and a new, immigrant Muslim community they tolerate but don’t really understand.

Change has come hard and thick and fast for the locals at the Nelson, many of whose fathers were dockers. You’d have every reason to forgive them for being bitter.

Only they’re not. I sank a few pints with two of the show’s main protagonists, mates of 35 years Mark ‘Cudge’ Cullinan and Danny “Doddsy” Dodd, and their watchful landlady and self-confessed “agony aunt” Kim Arrowsmith.

Says Cudge, 57, an electrician and cab driver: “In this day and age, it’s a necessity to go to the pub and get it all off your chest. We sit down and talk about our problems and it flows. It keeps you sane.

“Men have a caring and emotional side, too. Maybe people expected us all to be football hooligans or gangsters and wide boys. But it’s not like that. We’re like family. We love each other. Men speak very differently when women aren’t there – they are much less guarded.”

Doddsy, 53, an unemployed maintenance worker, adds: “Men used to go to a pub to escape their problems, while women went to confront them. But that’s changing.

“A lot of marriages break up these days, so men go to the pub to pour your heart out to your mates. There are very few places where men can be men.

“My health’s been bad. I need two new hips and I’ve got a tumour on my pelvis. I come in the pub for company. I swear by that. It’s not about the drink. It’s cheaper to drink at home, but that’s not my thing. You can come here and share your problems, and life seems more bearable.”

Landlady Kim, 57, says working-class men have “cleaned up their act” – and because of this insists British women have never had it better.

“Back in the day, the men were always out boozing and the women were at home with the kids,” she says. “Men expected their tea on the table – and all hell broke loose if it wasn’t. Women put up with all sorts. There was a lot of wife beating then, it was terrible. People were always rowing and fighting.

“Years ago, men had a lot more affairs. Women don’t put up with it now. Wives were always calling through on the pub phone all day and night. One wife drove his fella’s car into a wall to teach him a lesson.

“But men have cleaned up their act. They’re loads better these days. Pubs are an essential part of communities. Men need their banter. If a man goes to work all day, he deserves a drink. Pubs are vital for men. They need to escape.

“Men are much more open about their feelings now. I’m like their agony aunt. They can’t speak at home, and it’s easier to talk to me.”

This impassioned defence of working-class men by a woman – that they’ve never behaved better at a time when they’ve never been more criticised – calls the bluff of the liberal media, the Everyday Sexism Project and masculinity’s most outspoken feminist critics.

We need more voices like Doddsy, Cudge and Kim. The disposable heroes of the working classes built this country, died for King, Queen and country in its wars and rebuilt it afterwards. Yet their grandchildren are reviled.

I watched the show again and found myself howling with laughter at an estate agent’s story of his bungled attempts to self-fellate, then weeping along with a guy who tearfully tells his old Uni mates of seeing his dad die.

This group of guys promise to be there for each other, no matter what. Being men, they go from a dewy-eyed “I love you” to an affectionately defensive “fuck you!” in a heartbeat.

But the truth is, 35 pubs a week are closing in Britain. Men need to talk more than ever, with suicide the number one killer of the under 45s. We need more safe spaces for men – and men feel safe in pubs, with other male company. In that sense, The Secret Life Of Pubs shows us how important pubs are to male mental health.

The men in The Secret Life Of Pubs are real and they are glorious. They majestically show us how the working classes are capable of compassion, warmth, brotherly love and beauty. The haters will hate, but these working-class blokes make me feel proud to be British – and glad to be alive.


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