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This review is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

WETHERFIELD TO WOOSTER TERRY EAGLETON, The Gatekeeper: A Memoir (Penguin) £9.99

A long time ago - before ecstasy and debt became the essential syllabus of higher education - some students were paid to go to university. Even ordinary kids from Salford could go. And Wetherfield. Forty-odd years back, the first episodes of Coronation Street featured a young Ken Barlow, varsity scarf and all, at home from university. His dad - first seen mending a puncture in the parlour, and a man who liked to sup tea with his meals 'to help me food down' - warned Ken against meeting his new girlfriend at the posh hotel across town - 'not when yer mother's a cleaner there!'

And just when Coronation Street was launched, the same story was told in more academic terms - though a common language kept breaking through - in Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy (a title that still raises the essential issue). Soon after, novels and plays and poems featured a common protagonist. Raymond Williams's Border Country took its hero across the lines that separated working-class Wales from a Cambridge career, a young Dennis Potter urged TV viewers to vote for Nigel Barton, Tony Harrison's early work contrasted a dry and demanding official culture, there for those who aspired, with the relaxed collective common life of the street.

For those of a certain age and education, this is the old, old story: England, dysfunctional, poisoned to its roots by class castes and snobbery, still keeps alive the oldest urban myth, the dog-eared ...


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