An American expat in Britain learns about the Old Boys Network (and works it to her advantage)

Posted on February 23, 2009 by peacefulyorkshire

yahooavatar15Its not really spoken about, but its definitely there lurking among Britain’s social and business circles–The Old Boys Network. And there is not a lot on the subject to “research” … Wikipedia has an entry on it, but I think that it lacks real understanding about what it really is.  Here is how I see the definition:

You are an English male born into a white upper-middle class (or higher) family, both parents of which are considered part of the existing Old Boys through breeding. Then, you leave home, aged 4, to go to school at a posh public boarding school with a very expensive fee (around £20-25k a year). Then you make your way to an elite university with more than the academic entry requirements because you have the right background. Your friends are all of the same situation as you.  When you graduate from all your schooling, you become part of the Old Boys Network. This affiliation is like a club that puts you “ahead” of others in jobs, social status, etc. It not only limited to England. But I am writing about it as an American woman because its part of my life in Britain!

I teach harp at one of Yorkshire’s most elite colleges. It is a world of class ranking and old traditions I don’t understand well, because I am an outsider looking in. I have observed the Old Boys Networking in action with the annoying parents I deal with, the snooty events that are part of the college. Heck! I have even used it for my own advantage as in I’ve said :

“Oh you know so and so at (Old Boys School)! I am a teacher in the Old Boys School, could we make a deal on this house I want to rent… etc..” I tell you what, its one benefit of working in that type of elitist environment, because it really works!

I went straight to the source for you and interviewed a 30-year-old man about the situation to give you a clearer image of how it affects those of us that are not in the Old Boys game ie: me and the rest of the world.

Tell us about yourself.

What is this for again? When are we going to get coffee? Do only American women read your blog? um. I am a 30-year-old Male, British University Lecturer, single. I teach GPS. Can you write that I also own my own flat in Edinburgh because I can settle down in 5 years – who knows if I will still have a house or job though in this economy.

Are you an Old Boy?

No. I went to the wrong school. I was born in the wrong place and was born to the wrong people to be considered an Old Boy.

Do you like Old Boys when you meet them?

Um. In small doses they can be fine, however I spent most of my life resenting age-old barriers that were put in my way.

How do you know if a person is an Old Boy?

The first signs are his non-localised accent, (which he is encouraged to leave around age 4). Second, his varied and deep education, particularly to subjects that are off the national curriculum: Latin, choral singing and so on. From there, a quick couple of questions about where he is from and what he does generally confirms suspicions. Look out for the phrase “He’s one of us!” Whenever you hear it,  it tends to mean there is an Old Boy lurking about.

Have you felt a barrier in your career because you are not a member of the Old Boys Network?

Particularly when dealing with blue chip and large cooperate organisations.

Anything else you would like to add?

The important thing to know about the Old Boys Network is that it isn’t to do with money. More to do with breeding. For example. Wayne Rooney earns more then any of those Old Boys out there–but he will never become one of them. Despite the fact he owns more money and houses and so forth. These days I’ve comes to terms with the Old Boys network. It is there and its an important part of its history. It wouldn’t be the same country without them. I have found my own way to circumnavigate it as have many other successful business men. The real key is to make it work for you, not against you.

What about females, where do they fit in in all this?

Females are encouraged to marry off one of the Old Boys, although these days it might be changing I don’t know.

Right. Maybe that will clear up some of the confusion for anyone who is curious about the Old Boys Network, thanks!

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  2. peacefulyorkshire April 21, 2009 at 9:19 am

    HI JP,
    I am glad that you can relate!!
    As an educator I have experienced a privileged kid (but not so bright at music) at a public school get unfair treatment to pass his GCSE’s–His teacher bragged that she had rigged his GCSE submission so he would get a higher mark in her class. I was shocked and disgusted. I guarantee that would not happen in a state school nor would it be tolerated (umm or talked about freely at least?).

    “Kids that go to public schools are not getting a better education” I was told by another public school colleague, he said “No amount of public school will turn a dumb kid smart, here they are at least getting savoir faire, and that is what will help them become successful in life”. I am starting to get it– but not that I agree with all that hoopla of savoir faire. In my family it was just called manners! The Old Boy’s network makes me sick in general….

  3. JP April 18, 2009 at 10:03 am

    The class divide sort of shocked me, even though I knew it existed before moving to England. I met an ‘Old Boy’ that was given a trainee placement in a Magic Circle firm before he even started the GDL course after Uni. Sure he went to the ‘right’ schools up till that point, but his grades were average or below. He didn’t even bother with work or pay attention in class. Then you have this normal, simple, but brilliant boy from Hull with excellent grades that had to settle for a crap firm because he didn’t belong to the ‘right’ people. I’ve talked about the classism several times with people and they denied it was a big deal. One said that Americans are more racist than Brits are classist. I don’t think I can agree with that.

    As for the marrying bit, I knew a girl that would join the boating club wherever she lived so she could meet the Old Boys. She tried to get me to join her, but I just laughed it off and said no thanks. Ha, her date at one event was just hilarious. I asked him what he does and he replied that he’s ‘a man of leisure.’ Gotta love how they pronounce leisure too. He then used the ‘horses for courses’ phrase and stated he didn’t need to pursue a higher education. I would like to point out that his teeth were just gawd awful.

  4. Pingback: Descaling your tea kettle as a feisty American in the UK: you are doing it, right? « She’s not from Yorkshire…

  5. pacificyorkshirebird February 24, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I have met one or two who won’t admit they are an old boy (or offspring) – but somehow you can just always tell. I liked your interviewees use of “He’s one of us!” – I’m sure I have heard that when men are generally discussing profession/ alma mater etc…

    Have you noticed the mini boy’s club that forms when two men discover they support the same football team?

  6. notfromaroundhere February 23, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Absolutely BRILLIANT! In my career I encounter a large number of these Old Boys as well, would love to compare notes some time!

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