Monday, 2 September 2013

Tories at play: further notes from the field

Part II: Individual sports

Lawn Tennis

If rugby is war, and cricket is social life, then tennis is reproduction. As John Betjemen saw in 'A Subaltern’s Love Song' the main function of tennis was as a dating agency for middle England. The tennis club, or the tennis party, was a way of letting young men and women meet each other in a respectable environment. Having a large, well mown lawn suitable for a tennis party was an excellent display of social status. Plus. English people are naturally slightly shy, and have always needed a helping hand in this area. In tennis two (or four in doubles) people play against each other. This allows them to display athleticism (i.e good bone structure and the like) to one another, and the competitive element adds frisson. A perfect game for Surrey smoothies. Tennis has always appeared more progressive in gender terms, due to the relatively high status of the women's game. However, this merely confirms the sexual dynamics of tennis, and reveals mixed doubles to be its real heart.

All this explains why the English have been so bad at professional tennis: to do really well at it would be To Miss The Point. The only great English tennis player was Fred Perry, who came from a very different background to most members of the All England Club (his father was a former cotton spinner and national secretary of the Co-Operative Party). Shunned by those who ran the game, he left for Hollywood in the late '30s where he had an affair with Marlene Dietritch. 

Field Sports [hunting, shooting, fishing]

The main point of field sports to demonstrate what a huge amount of land you own, as all field sports need large 'special areas' in the countryside. Or in the case of hunting, your social influence that allows you to charge through other peoples land with impunity. Even if you aren't a land owner, being good at these activities allows you to flatter yourself that you are at least a hanger-on. Participants are usually invited down [or up] for the weekend, you can't just turn up and play. It is, as Withnail said, "Free for those can afford it". The right kit is essential too: hunting pinks, horses, gun dogs, rods, plus fours etc. Its also very expensive. Purdey won't even tell you how much a bespoke 12 bore would set you back. And, of course, this sets up a demand for budget alternatives that reinforce social distinction: pitch-and-put, .22 shooting etc.


Johnathan Meades has already done golf for us, so I'll leave it there.


  1. As you gentlemen already know, at some point, somewhere, I need to write my epic post about how football was specfically invented to bamboozle the working class (it's a chance-based pseudo-sport, like bingo or the National Lottery).

    In the meantime, has there ever been a woman in history less attractive than Kate Moss?

  2. Vaguely paedo overtones to earlier Moss stuff around the heroin-waif era, probably standard (look at Lily Cole now for instance). An article I read compared her against Linda Evangelista who seems to have been marketed more as an adult.

    But then everyone knows the fashion industry is well creepy.

  3. Probably what I've got against Moss is - if the fashion industry doesn't fuck you up, there must be something seriously wrong with you.

  4. Sigh .. I knew this in-depth analysis of sport was aimed at the wrong audience. You've actually turned this into a thread about the fashion industry.

  5. We're setting you up for a post about the Beckhams....

  6. As it happens I have a libellous anecdote about David Beckham. Probably save that for IRL however.