Me, privilege and the Dimbleby Dynasty

Me, privilege and the Dimbleby Dynasty

Posted By Mike McGeary

American investor Anthony Pompliano recently upset the sensitive world of the Twitterati with his list of habits of the most successful people he’s met.

It read like a nine-point synopsis of every self-help or management motivational book you’ve never read.

Of all the hundreds of sarcastic responses the Tweet elicited, my favourite came from Alex Peysakhovich (@alex_peys), who replaced the list with…

The most successful people I’ve met: 

  1. Are born rich. It’s really easy that way.

He’s got a point. After all, that single accident of birth is far more likely to shape your future prospects than reading constantly, working out daily, having a laser focus and every other one of “Pomp’s” checklist put together.

Here’s an example from my own life. When I was in my early 20s I was lucky enough to land a week’s work experience on the Richmond and Twickenham Times during my one-year NCTJ Pre-Entry Certificate in Newspaper Journalism at Darlington College of Technology.

I took a train to London and on my first day, the paper’s owner, broadcasting legend David Dimbleby, popped in to see how that week’s edition was coming along.

While he was there, he mentioned that, coincidentally, his son was also on work experience that week, but instead of spending it with a weekly local paper he would be working as part of the team that put together the Daily Telegraph’s esteemed Peterborough diary column (where another Old Etonian, George Osborne, got his break in journalism). Nice gig.

While my primary school, secondary school and sixth form college in working class areas of Middlesbrough have all since closed, Henry attended Eton and was slightly better connected than me, being a member of the country’s pre-eminent broadcasting dynasty.

Mr Dimbleby told us that young Henry would very much appreciate being fed any amusing snippets of news we came across that might be of use to the column – and suggested we would be paid a tip-off fee if they were used.

To my surprise, considering I didn’t yet have my media law qualification, the newspaper sent me on my own to Richmond Magistrates Court and told me to pick up as many court stories as I could.

The very first case I saw concerned a director of electronics giant GEC, who had been caught driving his luxury car at 60 miles per hour in a 30 zone.

Before giving the sentence, the presiding magistrate took a look at the form containing details of the defendant’s earnings.

“Is this figure per month or per year?” he enquired as he peered incredulously over his spectacles. It was, the director replied somewhat sheepishly, with the issue of fat cats being very much on the media agenda of the day, the former.

The exchange seemed to fit the Peterborough bill and I passed it on to Henry as requested and was delighted to see it printed in the following morning’s paper. No by-line, of course, and I never did see that tip-off fee either, but a “thank you” would have been nice.

Henry’s career and mine continued on diverging planes. I spent a decade with my local newspaper on Teesside, the Evening Gazette. I worked in most departments and took pride in reporting on events in the community where I grew up. My own expectations played a part in me never advancing my career by applying to a national paper. I suppose I subconsciously thought I’d already reached my level.

After that I spent 14 years in Middlesbrough Football Club’s media department and I’m now a freelance ghostwriter of autobiographies and PR consultant.

Henry worked with a firm of management consultants before he and his colleague John Vincent left to set up restaurant chain Leon. They have since been awarded MBEs for their work helping to improve the quality of school dinners – presumably that included adding Eton Mess to the menu.

Leon, I understand, is all about offering a better class of fast food. It hasn’t made it as far north as Middlesbrough, however. When I enter my postcode on their website branch checker, it responds helpfully – and presumably in received pronunciation – that my location “is not anywhere we know. But how about you visit us in our Carnaby Street restaurant?”

His father did venture north at least once. I know this because attended an edition of Question Time he chaired at Teesside University in 2010. It seemed odd to me that not one of the panel had any apparent link to the region.

Two of the seven were from Essex and five – including the chair and the two journalists – were privately educated, despite the recording taking place in a borough that has no private schools at all. That’s 71% of them, roughly ten times the percentage of the population who attend private schools. What are the chances of that? Don’t ask me, I failed my O level Maths.

I hope I don’t sound bitter. I’ve enjoyed every moment of my career so far and I’m grateful to the Dimblebys for that week back in 1990. Henry may well have been a far brighter spark than I ever was – although that expensive education will have helped there.

But there’s no doubt that the considerable advantages of privilege, be they family connections or money, start early in this country.

David has announced his intention to step down after 25 years at the Question Time helm and his son from his second marriage, Fred, is already making a pitch to follow in his father’s footsteps one day. Or perhaps inherit his Uncle Jonathan’s chair at the programme’s Radio 4 counterpart, Any Questions.

In 2016 the press covered a school Brexit debate Fred chaired, with the adversaries including his elder brother’s Eton contemporary Jacob Rees-Mogg and journalist and former Tory MP Matthew Parris. I’m not sure we’d have attracted those two along to my old comprehensive.

Fred has been offered a place at Keble College, Oxford, to read History and is apparently keen to pursue a career in journalism. I’m sure he’ll get all the work experience he needs on his way up the ladder and expect to see him on my TV screen before too long.

But if he wants to broaden his life experience as well as his work experience, I’d highly recommend that he does what I did and travel to the other end of the country to spend a week at a regional newspaper up in the North East. If he’s interested, I’ll even put in a good word for him.