News, Culture & Society

Actors union calls for bias against working-class actors to be made illegal  

Actors union Equity calls for bias against working-class actors to be made illegal in the same way as race and sex discrimination in order to close the ‘privilege gap’

  •  The actors’ union has called for class-bias to be made as illegal as discrimination
  •  Claims have been made poorer actors are left disadvantaged and out of work
  •  The move comes from wealth actors, some of whom are now world famous

The actors’ union has called for bias against working-class performers to be made illegal in the same way as race or sex discrimination in order to close the ‘privilege gap’.

Equity claims actors from poorer backgrounds are now at an unfair disadvantage and kept out the industry by the rising cost of training and the prevalence of unpaid internships.

The move comes as actors from wealthy backgrounds, many of whom were educated at top public schools, are among the world’s biggest stars.

Tom Hardy:The 42-year-old, who grew up in the leafy London suburb of East Sheen, boarded at Surrey private school Reed’s, which costs almost £33,000 a year, but was expelled at 16 for stealing

Poshos v Plebs: Tom Hardy’s private school cost £30,000 a year whereas Surrane Jones left high school to pursue acting

Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch is an Old Harrovian, while Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, The Night Manager’s Tom Hiddleston and Damian Lewis (Homeland) are all Old Etonians.

Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Oscar winner Olivia Colman, who is about to play The Queen in the new series of The Crown, also went to fee-paying schools.

The situation is a far cry from the success of working-class actors during the 1960s and 1970s, when Michael Caine and Sean Connery were among the highest-paid screen stars.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge: The Fleabag star, 34 – the granddaughter of Sir John Edward Longueville Clerke – went to St Augustine’s Priory, a £16,398-a-year private Catholic girls’ school in West London

Tom Hiddleston:  admiral – went to Eton, where he was made a house captain. He won a First in Classics at Pembroke College, Cambridge

Poshos: Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge went to private school and Tom Hiddleston holds a first in classics at Pembroke College, Cambridge

Michelle Dockery: The Essex girl, 37, grew up in Romford. She went to Chadwell Heath Foundation School before studying drama and cultivating a cut-glass accent as Lady Mary in TV hit Downton Abbey

John Boyega: The Star Wars star, 27, grew up on a council estate in Peckham, South-East London. He was one of the last people to see Damilola Taylor alive before he was killed in 2000

Plebs: Dockery  grew up in Romford, before attending a foundation school, Boyega grew up on a council estate in Peckham, south-east London

However, Downton Abbey viewers may be surprised to learn that Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, grew up in Romford, East London, and has an estuary accent.

Earlier this month, Equity submitted a motion to the TUC’s annual conference, claiming that ‘inequality and class privilege remained entrenched’ in the UK. It cited ‘low pay, no pay and the precariousness of work’ as all contributing to the problem faced by ‘working-class performers and creative practitioners’ and backed plans for employers to be required to reveal their ‘class pay gap’.

The motion added: ‘Congress supports plans by the TUC for a major new initiative on class and calls on the General Council to campaign for measures that will help close the privilege gap including calling on the UK Government to introduce a legal requirement on public bodies aimed at reducing socio-economic advantage.’

Cara Delevingne: The supermodel, 27, grew up in Belgravia and went to Hampshire boarding school Bedales. Her godmother is Dame Joan Collins and friends include Princess Eugenie

Olivia Colman: Descended from British colonialists in India, Colman, 45, grew up in Norfolk and was sent to board at Gresham’s, where fees are £36,300 a year. She also studied at Cambridge

Poshos: Cara Delevingne grew up in Belgravia as Olivia Colman grew up descended from colonialists in India

Vicky McClure: The 36-year-old grew up in Nottingham on a council estate. She won a place at a theatre academy but could not afford the fees, so worked in retail until her breakthrough

Gary Oldman: The Oscar-winner, 61, grew up in South London. He is the son of an ex-Navy sailor who abandoned the family when Gary was seven. He left school at 16 to work in a sports shop

Plebs: Vicky McClure couldn’t afford the fees for theatre academy, Gary Oldman was the son of an ex-Navy sailor

Equity official David John, who submitted the motion which passed unanimously, said: ‘Theatre is often accused of being too middle-class, and at times it is.

‘The industry would only improve and reflect society more authentically if there were more working-class writers, directors, performers and stage management.’

Earlier this month TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady called for an end to class discrimination. ‘If you’re from a working-class family the odds are still stacked against you,’ she said. ‘Everyone knows that getting that dream job is too often a case of who you know, not what you know. It’s high time we banned discrimination against working-class people.’



Comments are closed.