Most people won’t have heard of Selina Todd. The only reason I had was because some years ago the BBC invited me to appear alongside her on one of those slots that used to be for intellectual discussion. ‘Would you be interested in coming on Radio 3 at about 10.30 p.m. to discuss class?’ I was asked. ‘Absolutely not,’ I replied, the subject being the only national obsession I would leave the country to escape. ‘That’s precisely why we want you,’ began the producer. And so eventually I ruined a perfectly good dinner and headed to the BBC where I met the aforementioned Todd. She turned out to be an Oxford professor whose area of study is the working class and whose specialism is resentment.
If there is often a temptation towards camaraderie in these late-night conversations, it was a temptation that Todd resisted easily. During my on-air introduction the interviewer decided to mention my schooling. I spied a potential problem. When the explosion came it was of its type: one of those gaseous side eruptions in which Etonians figured prominently. If memory serves, I politely responded that I had obviously been rather better brought up than my fellow guest and so would not reply in kind. Straight away I knew two things: that I had acquired a new enemy and that I had ruined the programme. After all, it’s not what you’re meant to do. When the BBC prepares a cockfight, you are meant to play your part, collect your fifty quid and ask to be invited back once the bruise has subsided. If you fold your arms and say you’re not playing, the BBC doesn’t have a show. I later learned that this edition of the programme had been used at BBC training days as an example of editorial failure, which made me rather proud.