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The new Archbishop of Canterbury is a better class of Etonian

Archbishop-designate Justin Welby isn’t an Old Etonian in the David Cameron tradition

By on Friday, 16 November 2012

The new Archbishop of Canterbury was reduced to tears by Leviticus

The new Archbishop of Canterbury was reduced to tears by Leviticus

At an uncongenial hour, I find myself on Radio 4’s excellent Sunday programme, telling Ed Stourton that I can’t imagine that Justin Welby has ever thrown a bread roll in a restaurant in his life. Others were discussing the new Archbishop of Canterbury’s churchmanship, but there isn’t a serious issue that I’m not prepared to overlook when I’m at the BBC – just call me George “Entwistle” Pitcher.

What I was really trying to say is that Archbishop-elect Welby isn’t an Old Etonian in the Boris Johnson and David Cameron tradition. He’s about as far from the Bullingdon Club of Boorish Hoorays as it’s possible to be. Well, as far as Cambridge is from Oxford, anyway.

But it made me wonder, in the early hours of Sunday on national radio, if I was indulging in a gratuitous and offensive stereotype of Etonians.

Is it possible to be “Etonist”? We’re all at it – those of us who weren’t at Eton, that is. An Anglican bishop friend told me last week, for instance, that Etonians have a full range of views right across the political spectrum, “all the way from Cameron to Johnson”. Such biting satire, of course, assumes that all Old Etonians are bun-throwing Tories, which may go some way to explaining the collective groan in some quarters that yet another “establishment” position has been filled by an old boy from the same elitist educational institution. It’s just a case of the old school dog collar.

Another view, which I find increasingly attractive, is that that’s all nonsense. Welby broadly supports the Occupy protest camp that pitched outside St Paul’s Cathedral (Johnson cried: “In the name of God and Mammon, go!”) opposes gay marriage (Cameron passionately supports it) and is unequivocally critical of bankers (who sponsor the Conservative Party). Somehow I can’t see Welby being the Prime Minister’s fag.

So it may well be that Etonism is an under-policed area of discrimination. It certainly is when it comes to sexuality. I haven’t heard Cameron’s support for gay marriage ascribed to this, but Eton, along with less famous English public schools, is assumed by a significant tranche of the day school population practically to have invented homosexuality.

In this respect, Etonism was apparent in the final episode of the latest series of Downton Abbey, when Lord Grantham remarked casually: “If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I’d be hoarse within a month.”

I shall be writing to the BBC to complain about this flagrant discrimination. Yes, I know Downton Abbey is an ITV production, but everything is the BBC’s fault in broadcasting at the moment.


I am mightily relieved that Bishop Welby is capable of corpsing – that is, collapsing in uncontrollable giggles. Rowan Williams has a wonderful sense of humour and is a great mimic, but seldom laughs properly – at least in front of his staff.

I gather from my friend John Bingham at the Daily Telegraph that Welby has the head of a small rodent carved into the handle of his crozier, a leaving gift from Liverpool Cathedral. This commemorates the occasion he was reading a Bible lesson in the Good News version from Leviticus, with its tedious litany of animals which ancient Judeans mustn’t eat. One category that was right out apparently was “rock badgers”. Poor Dean (as he was) Welby lost it at this point completely, shaking as tears rolled down his cheeks.

But I have an inquiry. Didn’t the Rock Badgers support Jethro Tull in the 1970s? I must ask the band’s front man, Ian Anderson, when he plays his annual Christmas benefit gig for the Church of England next month, this time at Newcastle Cathedral. Not far from Durham, which Bishop Rock-Badger has just passed through.

I took a cheap shot at the BBC at the top of this column. But actually it’s only the latest cherished British institution – again, part of the “establishment” (I use quote marks because it doesn’t exist anymore) – to have been exposed as morally bankrupt. Since 2008, we’ve had the shaming of Parliament with the MPs’ expenses scandal, the exposure of the City as a bunch of street hucksters and the Murdoch press has brought British journalism into disrepute with phone-hacking.

The Royal family has patched things up lately, but became something of a soap opera in the 1980s. And now the BBC has squandered all the moral grandeur of Lord Reith.

The Church, of course, has also been brought low by the greatest betrayals of public trust. But I do wonder whether the Christian faith is where we can find renewal in our public life. You can talk about corporate ethics and regulation all you like, but in the end our institutions need to re-locate a source of integrity that’s sustainable. Loving your neighbour as yourself may be a good place to start. And, yes, I include our churches in that too.


At the time of writing, I’m preparing for a public interview at a local pub called the Beehive. The poster proclaims: “Not a Word of Truth – Journalists and Christianity!” Apparently, it’s a sell-out, which might give you an idea of what’s considered “celebrity” in this part of East Sussex. I shall try
to make the point above about our faith, but I fear

I might just be clamped in the stocks and pelted. People feel like that at the moment about journalism. It used to be quite cool to say you were a journalist. These days, I’m looked at like I’m morally compromised. Perhaps I should lie and say I own a lap-dancing club.

It wasn’t ever thus. I remember an editor telling me, when we decided to settle a libel action and I objected that the offending story was completely true: “Listen, George. There’s your truth. There’s my truth. And there’s the truth.” That’s theologically quite profound. But, then again, he might have just been making the point that truth isn’t an absolute, it’s malleable. Well, he probably went to Eton.

George Pitcher is an Anglican priest, freelance journalist and writer

  • nytor

    In a Catholic newspaper it is possible to have a commentator whose byline describes them as “an Anglican priest”. Disgraceful. Hasn’t the editor read Apostolicae Curae?

  • David Sheard

    The point is you have ether been to Eton or have not. Having been to Eton marks you as being of the right class. It is not coincidence that even though less than 5% of the population go to public school, 70% of High Court Judges did. They didn’t get their posts because the education was better, but because of who they knew. The Church is just the same.

  • nytor

    Some people get scholarships to Eton, and in your second sentence you conflate “public schools” with Eton. Not all public schools resemble Eton. Most are far poorer and the pupil base is nowhere near as privileged (in general). I went to a public school but Eton it was not, in any sense.

  • Mark

     Britain suffers from the residual arrogance of not realizing the Empire
    crumbled over 100 years ago. The UK economy is now smaller than Brazil’s
    in GDP. Oxford , Cambridge, Eton, Trinity and others live on past reputation rather than quality and substance of education. None of these schools have produced any great thinkers in the last 80 years. The solution is to stop giving these schools the delusional license to pretend to be superior; if Welby is a true scholar its despite Eton not because of it.

  • teigitur

    Reasonable post. But what, exactly, do you find “excellent” about the BBc’s “Sunday” programme Mr Pitcher?

  • nytor

    You think Oxford and Cambridge live on reputation alone? Then why are these universities consistently ranked amongst the best in the world for their research? You have a chip and I suggest you remove it.

  • MCarroll

    I think the interesting point here is not that the ABC went to Eton, but that he was a parishioner of HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton). 

    This is the most successful Anglican Church in England. Ironically it is often referred to as a ‘cult’ because of telling its younger members that they should not have sex before marriage, and other solid Christian teachings.Having been taught by one of the more rigorous Anglicans (Nicky Gumbel) it will be interesting to see if some of this ‘more rigorous Gospel teaching’ plays any part in the new Archbishops pastoral life or whether he will just become a bureaucratic pawn.

  • Pregis

    Is the word Etocracy or Etonocracy?

  • Guest

    as we recall, John Henry Newman hoped that the Oratory Schools would be ‘like Eton,without the wickedness’ That’s a less evil Eton (for anyone whose moral compass was confused by the programme ‘Wicked’.)

  • Robin L

    What on earth are you talking about? Archbishop Welby supports women bishops, so he’s not
    consistent on Christian tradition, and women priests and bishops are not a ‘development’, in
    John Henry Newman’s sense (Newman (JH): The Development of Christian Doctrine)of Christian doctrine or practice. In fact they are a corruption of Christian tradition.

  • Mark

     Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have receive huge funds that are applied into well recognized research too; however they also have produced nothing but shallow, liberal, and mediocre thinkers for over half a century now (both Bush and Obama were Harvard fellows). As an American, I have no problem critiquing our education system as well as yours and the only chip seems to be in your rude and irrational ad hominum.

  • Guest

     That should be ‘ad hominem’ as you’d know if you had attended Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale or Princeton

  • Mary

     Yes you caught his typo, but I’m sure Ivy Leaguers like yourself would end their sentences with a period.

  • Parasum

     “Is it possible to be “Etonist”? We’re all at it – those of us who weren’t at Eton, that is.”

    ## Some of us don’t feel the need to be “at it”.

  • Parasum

    Words to which “-[o]cracy” is added should always be registered in full. As the word is “Eton”, and is meant to mean “*kratos* exercised by members of Eton”, “Etonocracy” is the correct form.

  • Don Camillo

     Apostolicae Curae made specific criticisms of the Ordinal of Edward VI, and the intentions of its original users. The Cof E today uses a form that meets all Leo XIII’s criticisms, and now derives its Orders from an Old Catholic line the validity of which has not been called into question. Please do not simply parrot “Apostolicae Curae” without bothering to read what it actually says.

  • Alan

    Would you object to a Protestant paper referring to the Pope as “Mr. Ratzinger”? 

  • nytor

    I know very well what it says, thank you very much, and have read it many times. I am also aware of the Anglican claims to valid ordination via the “Dutch Touch”. This does not resolve the matter, however, as it is virtually impossible to disentangle who may and who may not be descended from someone who has been so touched, and there is also the issue of whether that is enough anyway as the intention was not clearly to consecrate Catholic bishops in communion with the Church. The “Dutch Touch” therefore by no means resolves the matter as you claim and it is far safer (and the Church’s position) to continue to regard Anglican orders as invalid and to re-ordain absolutely any who convert. 

  • Alan

    But how can we be sure that all of the Catholic bishops throughout the centuries had the right “intent” when they ordained?  The words they said may not have corresponded with what they actually thought, for all we know.  This is the weakness of the “defect of intent” argument of AC, as I see it. 

  • Deodatus

    ‘A better class of Etonian’ – an oxymoron? Hopefully the new Anglican Archbishop will rise above class to be able thus to reach all levels of condition in his Ministry.

  • Don Camillo

     Anglicanorum coetibus allows former Anglican bishops to use episcopal insignia (mitre, crozier etc) simply in virtue of their former position, even though they now have no jurisdiction or special status within the Ordinariate. I suspect this means that the Holy Father privately regards them as being bishops de facto.

  • rightactions

    How can we be sure?  Because their other teachings and ecclesial practices were in accord with the mind of the Church.

    In contrast, this is not true of the Anglican communion’s functionaries.

    Try again.

  • nytor

    I can’t imagine for a moment that it implies anything of the sort. It is merely a courtesy intended to ease their path to conversion. After all, there are plenty of people (such as abbots) who can wear pontificalia without being bishops.

  • candylin

    i cannot understand why people are disscussing  women bishops in the c of e .the rubicon was crossed long ago when women priests took their place at the alter. holy orders has three seperate levels,deacon priest bishop,each with a distinct charism and role in the church the people of god.i would like to see honesty clothe with charity  in any discussions regarding christian unity in the future .by all means let us pray  for christian unity but let us acknowledge  the elephant in the room.

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