The U and Non-U debate about social class distinctions that raged (if that’s the correct word) in the 1950s has resurfaced in the TLS. This appears in its N.B. column that is written by J. C. (believed to be James Campbell). It began with the March 20 column (“Blue Plaque blues”) in which the columnist mentions his purchase of the 1969 book entitled What Are U ? during one of his bookish perambulations. He describes this as the “little-known follow up (‘sequel’ is hideously non-U) to Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige which contains her ‘Inquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy.'” That was published in 1955. The follow-up is edited by Professsor Alan S. C. Ross, who wrote the essay that started Mitford on her campaign. J. C. runs some of the examples from the 1969 book against today’s useage and concludes:
It requires only a short time spent with What Are U? to make every step treacherous. Do we say ‘paid’ £3 for it on our perambulation, or ‘were charged’ £3? Where would Ross stand on ‘stumped up’ ? It should be a useful–we just stopped ourselves saying U-seful: puns are non-U–investment.
Does he have any qualms, one wonders, about the useage of “perambulation”?
In last week’s TLS, J.C. writes about a copy of the original book edited by Mitford and found on a subsequent perambulation, forking over (if he’ll excuse the expression) another £3. This is described as a “survivor from the aristocracy of Penguin production, fifty years old, sturdy and companionable.” A copy of the cover with a drawing by Osbert Lancaster accompanies the article. In that regard, J.C. notes that, in this earlier iteration, Mitford has “roped in Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman, with Osbert Lancaster illustrating (the couple here are seen reading Noblesse Oblige).” See link. Waugh’s contribution is reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews.
Perhaps we can look forward to yet another column when J.C. finds a copy of the 1978 book edited by Richard Buckle, entitled U and Non-U Revisited and published by Debrett’s. This contains a symposium in which Professor Ross appears as well as articles by, inter alia, Christopher Sykes (who also wrote an essay for the 1955 original) and Diana Mitford (apparently as stand-in for her sister Nancy). Are there yet others to be found ?
These articles are not available without a subscription. The cover illustrations, however, are linked above. Thanks to reader Peggy Troupin for calling these to our attention.