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Home > Politics

Stand up Nigel Barton, 2010

Whatever your views on top-up fees, it’s hard not to be a bit sceptical about the government’s plans to get 50 per cent of 18-30-year-olds into university by 2010.

11 February 2004

Supporters of ‘increased access’ to higher education are often Labour MPs who were the first in their family to go to university. But you can’t help but wonder if they’d be as proud of this achievement if higher education had come to mean media studies, `management’ degrees of all flavours and IT courses.

The play Stand Up Nigel Barton, by itchy-skinned playwright Dennis Potter is probably the greatest working-class-lad-gets-on-with-inevitable-family-tensions story. Penned in the 1960s, Stand Up… sees the bright young Nigel escape his intellectually oppressive mining community background and `go up’ to Oxford university, where he fits in rather well and shags a judge’s daughter. As you do.

Among the many themes of the play is Nigel’s love-hate relationship with his working-class background, with posho Oxford providing a stark contrast to the grimly limited aspirations of the pit town, personified by Nigel’s proud-but-downtrodden miner father.

However, Stand Up Nigel Barton would be difficult to write today, not least because in 2004 university has rather lost its theatrical value as a symbol of escape from the limitations of working class life. And by 2010, Stand Up Nigel Barton would probably read something like this:


Act 1, Scene 1. The kitchen of a back-to-back in t’grim North.

Nigel: Father! I’ve won a much-sought-after place on the Sport Science and the Psychology of Mass Communications course at the University of Didcot Parkway!

Father: Eeh, lad! That modest achievement is unlikely to cause a rift between us!

Nigel: At last I’ll be among people who share my high-brow interests – catering management, IT troubleshooting and gender roles in Eastenders!

Father: Aye, lad. You’ll be mixing with people who the likes of us meet all the time: the children of call centre workers, policemen and Gregg’s Bakery staff.

Nigel: Speaking of which, I’ve met a girl from within the class divide. She’s called Emma and her father works for a small car rental firm.

Father: Don’t let it go to your head, lad. Any road up, can you bugger off now? I’ve got to finish my MA on Changing Paradigms of Same-Sex Relationships in Popular Television: From Durkheim to Dawson’s Creek.

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