Thursday, September 23, 2021

My hero / Richard Hoggart by DJ Taylor

'We all need to remember that in the last resort there is no such person as "the common man"'…
Richard Hoggart. Photograph: David Newell Smith for the Observer

My hero: 

Richard Hoggart by DJ Taylor

Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy was a trail-blazing study of mid-century working-class life and I admired him without reservation

Obituaries / Richard Hoggart

Richard Hoggart / The uses of decency

Friday 18 April 2014


first read The Uses of Literacy, Richard Hoggart's trail-blazing 1957 study of mid-century working-class life and the factors conspiring to undermine it, in the mid 1980s: a time when the whole concept of working-class solidarity was being brought sharply into question. Not that Hoggart, who died last week at the age of 95, ever believed that the people whose lives he explored with such intense and penetrating sympathy were truly homogeneous. "We all need to remember, every day and more and more," he insisted, "that in the last resort there is no such person as 'the common man.'" If he was interested in communality – the shared assumption, the collective outlook that separates the tenant of a council flat from the owner of a three-bedroom semi – then he was also keen on individuation, and The Uses' particular hero, while never blatantly advertising the fact, is Hoggart himself.

Written in the mid 1950s, while its author held down a lecturing job in the University of Hull's adult education department, Hoggart's masterpiece belongs to a distinctive period in British cultural history: the era of Penguin specials, the BBC's Third Programme and the Festival of Britain, a landscape in which it was assumed that, if a new Jerusalem was going to be founded, then its architects would be drawn from the upwardly mobile class of postwar intellectuals in which Hoggart himself reposed. If some of George Orwell's early forays into the world of boys' weeklies and English murders are the template for what became known as "cultural studies", then it was Hoggart, together with Raymond Williams and EP Thompson, who refined and extended the design.

Inevitably, there was bad news as well as good, and if nothing else, Hoggart's early work is an exposure of some of the deceits practised on "ordinary people" in the name of progress. Like Alan Sillitoe, albeit in a very different way and with very different aims, he was responsible for wheeling into view an entire world, not to mention a world view, that had hitherto existed more or less beyond literature. I admired him without reservation and am desolate to find him gone.


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