Fifty years ago working class accents were all the rage.
But the kitchen sink explosion of the 1960s, which gave opportunities to actors such as Salford’s Albert Finney and Hull’s Tom Courtenay, looks like it has been consigned to the past.
A new report claims there is a “class-shaped hole” around the debate into diversity in the performing arts, with just 16% of actors coming from a working class background.
Now Labour’s Acting Up inquiry, led by MPs including Batley and Spen’s Tracy Brabin, says it’s time to bring the curtain down on middle class dominance in the arts.
The report called for change around drama schools, which it found are too expensive to apply to and instances of racism and snobbishness inside them are too common. In addition unlike universities where interviews are free, audition fees at drama schools can be up to £100.
It said the widespread culture of low and no pay in the performing arts is also said to hold back all but the most well-off talent. The review urged the government to look at illegal pay practices in the performing arts and ensure that the minimum wage is paid to those entitled to it.
Tracy Brabin said: “The systematic eradication of arts education in schools, sky-high drama school audition fees, chronic low pay and a lack of diversity behind the scenes are all contributing to a diversity crisis on our stages and screens.”
She added: “Cracking this crisis is political; we can’t just leave the industry to drive change. Things like poverty pay are the Government’s business and we need them to step into the void.
“Our performing arts should represent our whole nation, not just a privileged section of it.”
Among those adding his voice to the debate was Barrie Rutter, founder of Halifax-based Northern Broadsides.
The 71-year-old actor-manager said diversity was one of the building blocks of his company when it was formed in 1992.
“My company was based on diversity of sound and employment, and I have tried to carry that through over 25 years. For Hull City of Culture I cast an actor with phocomelia to play Richard III.
“We always wanted to accommodate socio-economic deprivation. I know things have changed but we have always maintained that working-class attitude that the arts is for everyone.
“The recent request for a modest uplift in funding for Northern Broadsides included the desire to pay actors and crew more whilst maintaining the large casts, which is one of our main calling cards. This was refused with no appeal. Hey-ho!”