British Social Class


Institution Affiliation:

British social class

In times before the Second World War, the society was dived intothree simple social classes, which were the Upper, Middle andWorking. The fundamental instrument for classification of the societyinto these classes was wealth. However, after the Second World War,there was a new wave of civilization that eroded these simpleclassifications, paving way into several other classifications whichdefine the British social class in contemporary times. Some of theinstruments for classification of the society into these new forms ofsocial class include language, behavior, and ways of dressing,education, lifestyle and social sophistication, amongst many others.Kate Fox, in her book, agrees that social class in present timeBritain is inter-woven into virtually all aspects of British life(Fox, 2004, p.4). This paper looks at the differences between thethree social classes as they exist in Britain today by using selectedmodern elements of classification.

Thethree social classes

One of the distinguishing differences in the British social classesis the mode of communication, highlighted by the differences in styleof language amongst the three classes. This is what Fox describes as‘grammar’ of English behavior (Fox, 2004, p.4). She further saysthat it is not usual for one to talk about the English conversationwithout talking about class. One of the defining elements of languageamongst the three classes is the use of vowels and consonants. Peoplefrom the three classes have their preferences for the types ofletters they use in pronunciation. According to Fox, the people atthe top of the social scale prefer to speak in a way that they deem‘correct’, while they perceive those from the lower classes to bespeaking in a way that is ‘incorrect’ (Fox, 2004, p.30). Thisincorrect mode of communication, as perceived by the top class aboutthe lower class, is unclear and unintelligible. At the same time,when it comes to creating conversation in phones through ShortMessage Sending (SMS), the upper class prefer to use the words intheir correct form, while the lower classes prefer to shorten wordsby omitting some letters or replacing them with ones which they feelare more fun. For instance, while texting the word ‘something,’the people from the upper class would write it just as it appears inthe dictionary, while those from lower language class would write itas ‘smthing’. Perhaps one of the most applicableexplanation for this behavior is the differences in levels ofeducation.

The differences in social classes by language is well demonstrated inthe film Yes Minister. In the film, Sir Humprey Appleby, is apermanent secretary and a political leader, who is instrumental inthe political rising of some important figures in the series (Lynn &ampJay, 1980). Appleby is considered to be a highly sophisticatedgentleman, belonging to the upper class. One of the distinguishingcharacters of Mr. Appleby is his mastery of English, and is normallyloquacious and verbose in his communication. To add to this, hisknowledge of Latin and Greek help him be a distinguished upper classpolitical figure. The directors of the series are said to have takentime to develop the character by making his dialogues cultured andlengthy. Equally, in the film Steptoe and Son, language is anelement that is used to differentiate the classes. Characters fromthe perceived lower class were often engaged in rather abusive orexplicit language, while those from the upper classes chose theirwords with decency while creating conversations. For instance,Harold, one of the main characters, explicitly says “..can wellbleedin’ stay up..” while making reference to a baby grand (Owen,1972). Similarly, in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, aman perceived to be of the lower class shouts”…because he isn’tcovered in shit..”, (Gillian &amp Jones, 1975). The choiceof words, which raises the issue of public moral, clearly puts him inthe lower class. This is a good demonstration that the upper class ofthe British society is differentiated from the lower class by use oflanguage and communication styles.

Another differentiating element that Fox speaks about is the emergingtalk rules, especially regarding mobile phones (Fox, 2004, p.34).Technology boomed soon after the Second World War, as nations focusedon rebuilding and investors pumped monies to support science andtechnology innovations. The result was a revolutionized means ofcommunication, through technology, which defined class differences.The way that people use this technology can be used to classify theminto the social classes. For instance, people of the upper classeswould not talk about banal business or domestic matters over thephone in a public place. On the other hand, people from the lowerclasses often shout over the phone, and their general phone etiquetteis not pleasing, well, at least to the people of the perceived upperclass. At the same time, while communicating in public, which isoften the case with using mobile technology, the tone and accent usedcan be used to differentiate the classes. A point to note however isthat not all wealthy people are classified as upper class, mainlybecause of their tone. For instance, in the film Four Weddings anda Funeral, one wealthy character uses the words “oh fuck,fuck fuck…fuck” (Newell, 1994). This automatically classifieshim as a third class citizens in terms of social etiquette.

The issue of good or bad, and comfort with life, is another majorelement in classifying social class. Contemporary issues such asdivorce and diet shape people’s success in life and level ofhappiness in the English society, as demonstrated in The FullMonty (Cattaneo, 1997). Similarly, Fox says that people’sculture can highly influence their conduct in the society, henceplace them in a certain social class (Fox, 2004, p.5). In the Britishsociety, things such a violent conduct in pubs, aggression, crime andother forms of deviance are indicative of lower class people. Thismeans that even people from wealthy backgrounds can be perceived tobe of a lower social class, if they indulge in such behavior. Forinstance, in the film The Lavender Hill Mob, a working classbanker, Henry Holland, is perceived to be of a low social class, dueto his dishonest behavior and criminal activity indulgence (Crichton,1951). At the same time, the film Made in Dagenham, unemploymentmakes even the most trusted people behave in uncouth manner (Cole,2010). Most of the men in the film are either villains or criminals,whose ways of trickery and crime leads them to being classified aslow class people.


The paper has demonstrated that the modern social classes are nolonger defined by differences in wealth, as it was before the SecondWorld War. In the modern British society, a number of elements areused to determine one’s social class. Such include an individualchoice of words in communication, morals, public behavior andrelationship with other people. As demonstrated in the videos andfilms, people of the upper classes are characteristically organizedand sophisticated, while those in the lower classes are ratheruncouth and careless about their preferences. Ultimately, the presentand future of social classes is set to be more complicated, as itshifts away from simplistic classification systems to moresophisticated code-based approach.


Cattaneo, P. (1997). The Full Monty. UK: M&ampM Productions.

Cole, N. (2010). Made in Dagenham. UK: Paramount Pictures.

Crichton, C. (1951). The Lavender Hill mob. UK: T.E.B.

Fox, K. (2004). Watching the English: The hidden rules of Englishbehavior. London, UK: Hodder &amp Stoughton.

Gillian, T. &amp Jone, T. (1975). Monty Python and the HolyGrail. UK: BBC.

Lynn, J. &amp Jay, A. (1980). Yes Minister [Motion Picture].UK: BBC.

Newell, M. (1994). Four Weddings and a Funeral. UK: GramercyPictures.

Owen, C. (1972). Steptoe and Son. UK: BBC.