This interview features JGB on the subject of the English class system, from "Scotland on Sunday", 7 January 1996, interview by Gillian Ferguson:
Passions: JG Ballard
I've reached the age when you don't take anything too seriously anymore, but one thing that still irritates me, and has done ever since I arrived in England in 1946, is the English class system. Looking back over the last 50 years, a large number of the ills that beset England, and Scotland indirectly, can be put down to the existence of this rigid class system. It was a very big shock to me because I'd been brought up in an English community in Shanghai in China which I suppose, looking back, was a middle-class professional community of the kind you'd find in Riyadh or Mexico City among the British ex-pats today; and I was brought up on Boys' Own annuals and the William books which all presented an image of a middle-class England.
Now and then in a story one got some odd figure like a gardener or comical farmer as a sort of token appearance of this great invisible class, the English Working Class, but when I came to England I actually met them for the first time and realised that far from being a tiny minority, in England three quarters of the people were working class - most of England did not resemble South Kensington or Tunbridge Wells!
I realised that there were really at least two nations with almost no connection between them, and that the class system is an instrument of political control, a means by which the large majority of working class people are kept down and whose wish to better themselves in a drastic way is firmly suppressed. So many of the energies and talents of working class people are still not allowed to express themselves, and the professions are virtually closed to them simply because they aren't given enough in the way of education and opportunity.
The English middle-classes are trapped too as they find themselves sitting at one end of the lifeboat around the captain who holds the tiller in one hand and a large revolver in the other, but at the other end of the lifeboat are the shivering third class passengers who are not sure whether the captain knows where he's sailing the lifeboat but daren't move forwards.
The most obvious sign of the class system is accent which in England determines exactly who you are - not true of Scotland or America or France. And, of course, at the pyramid of the class system sits the monarchy which should be abolished instantly, as should the House of Lords. It is absolutely absurd that there are more hereditary MPs [sic] than there are elected - ridiculous, grotesque! I'd also like to see public schools eliminated as they are a huge engine of class difference. Until the people of this country, whether poor, rich, unintelligent or well educated, all send their children to the same schools, there is no hope that those schools will be improved.
The class system is probably something to do with the fact that this is an island which hasn't been invaded for roughly 1,000 years, and there hasn't been a revolution for 350 years, and we have had comparatively little immigration. And it was we who went out to form the British Empire, leaving England intact, so we've remained a kind of monoculture. That is why the symbolism of the Channel Tunnel, a drain, is all wrong. The English are trapped by their past, sadly, and I don't think this will ever become a dramatic and energetic country until we get some visionary prepared to build a large bridge across - or preferably, fill the Channel in!
A User's Guide To The Millennium, essays and reviews by J G Ballard, is published tomorrow by HarperCollins at £18