Charles Ryder’s Coat-Tails

In last week end’s print edition of the Financial Times insert How to Spend It, a short story by Chloe Fox appears.  This is entitled “A Struggling Actor” and that’s what it’s about.  Luke is the title figure, and he has been losing out to a rival named Orlando (“Oz”) ever Luke graduated from RADA.  As he reviews the sad downward trajectory of his career, he recalls several incidents where he has lost out to Oz:

Ever since “Oz” had appeared on the heath shirtless, covered in flouro paint, Luke had been chasing his coat-tails. The same tails he’d worn at Eton (naturally) and to play Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited and Charles Stringham in Dance to the Music of Time

The character of Stringham in Anthony Powell’s novel does attend Eton (referred to in the novel only as “the school”) but Charles Ryder’s schooling was at a more humble establishment. In the fragment “Charles Ryder’s School Days”, written in 1945 and published posthumously, Waugh wrote of a school called Spierpoint located on the downs with a view of the sea. It is a 19th century foundation and has a large but unfiinished Gothic Revival chapel. All these features allude to Lancing, Waugh’s own school, and not Eton. Whether the boys at Spierpoint (or Lancing) wore tail coats seems doubtful.

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