Public school or state

I was thinking about my workmates the other day and wondering how many of them went to public school, how many went to state school and what difference it makes, if any.

For those of you who are wondering, I went to a public school called Westminster. It’s right in the middle of London, so we weren’t hidden away in the depths of the countryside, drinking vomit out of each other’s bumholes. Its location made it easy to enjoy culture and booze in quite large quantities, which was nice. I don’t know if there was any great connection to advertising, but Frank Lowe went there (I only found that out in the last few years) and when I was there his partner’s son (Leon Howard-Spinks) was in the year above. Then I went to Watford and I remember at least four ex-public school pupils out of twentysomething people in my year, a much higher rate than the 7% average for the whole country.

I then went to work at AMV and in the first couple of years another two people from my year joined planning and account management (one was Hugo Feiler, now MD at Grey), then another two girls from the year below. That’s a freakishly high average of people from one school to end up at one company (150 people leave Westminster every year), but AMV did have a fair few ex-public schoolers, some of them utter cocks. Was there a policy to hire them (mainly in account management) or was it just a case of like for like, with people at the top having been public school and hiring those people they most identified with (I don’t think David Abbott or Peter Mead went to public school; not sure about Adrian Vickers)? There might also have been a hangover of many clients being public school and the agency wanting to hire people who could identity with them, play golf with them and chat about soggy biscuit etc.

So… lots of ex-public school people in the industry, almost certainly higher than the country’s average, and that means a lower proportion of people who went to state school. So does it make a difference?

That’s a much harder question to answer (partly because I don’t know who exactly did and didn’t go to public school). Certainly, there are lots of very successful advertising people who went to state school (Dave Trott, my old boss Mike Cozens, Tony Davidson, to name but three), but has the over-population of richer, more privileged people changed the perspective the industry has on the people we’re supposed to be speaking to? Or has that education led to greater gains in certain areas?

Advertising is often accused of being out of touch with the people it supposedly talks to. The reason for that accusation is often laid at the door of our greater salaries and London lives, but I’d have thought there’s a case to be made for the greater number of ex-public school pupils adding to that distance. What is life like for a housewife in Warrington on £200 a week? For many people in this industry that’s a question that is only answered by watching an episode of Supernanny or My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (and obviously that answer is both wrong and without substance).

Of course, many ex-public school pupils have created some quite brilliant ads (hello, Jeremy Craigen), and maybe their golfing presence in account management has smoothed the path of several D&AD winners, and maybe our different perspective on life has added some unexpected ways into advertising problems. So maybe the pros and the cons cancel each other out.

Or maybe not. What do you think? Are you from public school or state school, and what difference do you think it has made?