There are plenty of successful politicians, academics, lawyers and others in Britain today under the age of fifty, who went to state schools. What one suspects, however, is that most of them came from successful professional backgrounds and that, since the introduction of comprehensive education, the number of working-class children entering the medical profession, or becoming engineers, or journalists, has gone down. Whether that is the fault of parents who pay to have their children privately educated, or of unsuccessful egalitarian educational theory, or of politicians, or all three, James Brooke-Smith does not tell us.
A glance at Brooke-Smith’s bibliography reveals just how widely he has read in the vast literature of the public school – not least the thousands of boys’ school stories that were set in it. If Gilded Youth has a weakness, it’s the fact that its author seems to imagine that all private schools are the same. But relativism affects the public school system as much as any other part of our national life. William Golding, a product of Marlborough grammar school, might have resented the posh boys of Marlborough school, but his near-contemporary and old Marlburian John Betjeman was made just as uncomfortable by the Old Etonians he met at Oxford.