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What We Can Learn About Posh People from the New Tatler TV Show

My advance preview of the BBC's new fly-on-the-wall doc burst my eyeballs.

af Helen Nianias
17 november 2014, 12:40pm

A Vanity Fair shoot for a debutants' ball. (Image ​via Wikimedia Commons)

The staff of Tatler's UK office have had a BBC2 camera crew following them around, fly-on-the-wall-style, for six months. If you're not familiar with Tatler, the magazine has ​previously been described by VICE as "utterly insane", "Facebook for the elites" and "the NME for people whose horses studied at the Sorbonne". It also has a teenage iteration that puts on ​parties like this and occasionally ​gets in trouble for telling posh schoolgirls to flirt with their friends' dads.

Inside Tatler, the BBC's show, is a window into a world most of us will never know or experience. But it's also a world that's changing. Aristocratic fortunes are declining. Wealthy people come from all walks of life now. The fortunes of the glossy magazine industry are poised precariously. But even so, Tatler remains the bible for the blow-dried otherworld of Chelsea townhouse living. It's still – even if its readership isn't what it once was – catering to a devoted audience so specific, it's basically a zine.

I watched an advance preview of the show to see what its main messages are.

POSH PEOPLE ARE NUTS
Deeply, profoundly mad. And not in that deeply overrated "British Eccentric" Uncle Monty way, either. There are so many different flavours of insanity on show in the series that you might want to hire a NOS gun to complement the journey. Editor Kate Reardon, a former society gal who gamely gets involved in whatever the month's Big Topic is – whether it's debating whether or not whippets really are the new pugs or genuinely goosebump-ing over a paper doll of Kate Middleton – is deeply committed to the Tatler universe, even if it doesn't make much sense to anyone outside it. In parts, Inside Tatler genuinely feels like a benign acid trip.

BEING POSH IS EVEN POSHER THAN YOU THINK IT IS
Sorry, but if you're the son of a doctor or even "a bit foreign" you're not really part of the gang. Introducing Tatler's permanently bemused commissioning editor ​Matthew Bell who, by the layperson, might be mistaken for the poshest man alive; a kind of smart-shirted, scruffy-haired real doll operated by Richard Curtis. But in the show, Bell explains that his parents are professionals and that he's "half foreign", so, in fact, he isn't really posh at all. Yes, that's right: Even having a loaded family, going to boarding school, dressing up as a man from a Gainsborough painting for a fancy dress party and working for Tatler doesn't guarantee you a place on the upper-class guestlist.

THERE IS, APPARENTLY, A CLASSY WAY TO DO UPSKIRT SHOTS
The trick is employing debutants' delight ​Hugo BurnandTatler's official snapper, mellifluous of voice and lustrous of hair. Nobody else in the world could bellow: "Oh yes, come on, LOVE IT, skirt blowing up, Marilyn Monroe moment" to a woman at a society event without immediately being wrestled to the ground by armed police. Burnand took ​the official Royal Wedding pictures and has been described by the Daily Mail as "Charles and Camilla's favourite society photographer". Born in Cannes, Burnand says, "as one person put it, I've been gazing at stars ever since", and Jesus Christ, you have never seen a man enjoy his job – even if much of it involves being mobbed by sour, Krug-breathed posh ladies desperate to have their picture taken at whatever envelope opening event they've made themselves up for that night – like he does.

PEARS MUST BE EATEN WITH SPOONS
Bite? What, with your teeth? No, you prole; that's not what teeth are for! Better dispense with those kinds of thoughts if you ever hope of getting a job at Tatler. All staff are given a copy of Debrett's Etiquette and Modern Manners. This indispensable guide includes instructions on how to properly air-kiss (no saliva), eat a pear (with a spoon) and "do" caviar (from the fatty pad in between the thumb and forefinger on your left hand, alright?). How embarrassing to think, you've been eating caviar so gauchely all these years.

Christopher Biggins. (Image ​via Wikimedia Commons)

CHRISTOPHER BIGGINS IS A LEGIT VIP GUEST AND JILLY COOPER IS STILL A LEGEND
Polo has to be one of the most curious stalwarts of upper-class culture. But horses aside, the real action is to be found backstage at the Cartier Cup, sponsored by the French jeweller (which, as we learn from some careful wording in the show, is "popular with foreigners"). You cannot begin to fathom the panic the events team must have been in, freaking out that the VIP tent was going to be empty, when they decided to stick Biggins on the guestlist. At the same event is the UK's favourite jodhpur-ripping smut-peddler, Jilly Cooper, who is still alive enough to tell us that there's "too much posh-bashing" flying around at the moment.

TATLER MIGHT BE THE MOST PUNK OFFICE IN BRITAIN
Cooper is right, of course. Being posh is wildly unpopular these days. How counterculture is it, then, to go into the office each day and dedicate your every waking work hour to celebrating Sloane Rangers? They even had an office miniature dachshund called Alan, for fuck's sake, until the poor sod​ was accidentally decapitated in the revolving door of Vogue House. With Tatler's relatively small circulation (just over ​160,000 per month), you could almost liken it to the punk zines of the 70s; something made for an esoteric readership with absurdly specific reference points that are relevant only to them. Things like the ​"Tatler list" are so relentlessly, progressively niche, that in a way you have to admire their zeal.

PRIVATE SCHOOL KIDS ARE DROWNING IN HORMONES
In the show, the girls who attend the Tatler Teen Ball at the Hurlingham Club – all gangly limbs, bad posture and massive hair – quivered with excitement at being introduced to a BOY. Yes: a real-life manchild with acne and, almost certainly, a mobile forcefield of Lynx Java. I know this feeling all too well, which is rooted in a world of itchy grey kilts and endless double-Latin with only the window cleaner to gawp at. See, I went to a similarly silly all-girls school in the heart of Sloane Ranger territory and, in posh-girl prison, boys are the most exciting thing you can imagine. They are an indecipherable, near-invisible promise most of the time, which is why Inside Tatler is full of footage of teenage girls really really going for it with boys they've just met and why one teenage boy – and probable future cabinet minister – says: "Yah, I got lucky" at a ball.

With Tatler's relatively small circulation, you could almost liken it to the punk zines of the 70s – made for an esoteric readership with absurdly specific reference points relevant only to them

NO, POSH PEOPLE REALLY ARE FUCKING NUTS
Tatler's is a world of dukes in moth-eaten jumpers who live in graffiti-covered crumbling castles. It's Chelsea-bound women in skintight J-Brand leather trousers who defy age and own singing stuffed antler heads. It's people gesturing around their country piles, saying, "We were here in 1163," with (genuinely) no idea of how that might sound. It's side-saddle riding competitions that have women yelling: "Yaaahhhh! WOOOOOO! YAAAAAAH!" and bellowing to one another about needing A BLOODY MASSIVE DRINK afterwards.

Tatler caters to a world so alien, yet so familiar. We all have our ideas about what "posh" means, but, by watching this documentary, you get an insight into just how deep the rabbit warren of these horse-y, rah-ing, champagne-soaked truths go.

YOU ONLY NEED ONE THING TO GATECRASH A PARTY
A champagne glass. Keep it in your pocket and whip it out once you're outside the venue, and people will assume you were already a guest. That is, apparently, it.

RUSSIANS ARE THE NEXT GENERATION OF UPPER-CLASS BRITISH LUNATICS
The whole three-part show is geared towards the idea that poshness is having to adapt and change. Mags like Tatler can't survive much longer if the upper-class is just landed gentry. Which is why part three of Inside Tatler looks at Russian Tatler. Society-spotting over here may still be absurd, but we need to keep an eye on the Russians because they're even more excessive and status-obsessed. Posh Brits may be a dying breed – for better or worse – but Eastern aristocracy is coming for the crown.

The first episode of Posh People: Inside Tatler airs on BBC2, Monday November 24th

​@helennianias

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