The Sloane Ranger Handbook by Ann Barr, Peter York - review by Kathy O'Shaughnessy

Kathy O'Shaughnessy


The Sloane Ranger Handbook



The Sloane Ranger Handbook, yawn, has been a rairly fun topic of conversation this Christmas. But it has been jolly yawnful. I can testify to this, having thumbed my way through endless cuttings that have a mesmerising quality of sameness about them. The reviewers are rairly nervous about looking a teeny bit chippy (chip on shoulder, etc). Ergo, for God’s sake, let’s not treat this subject seriously! Lest we be thought just a little bit Sloane Ranger manqué(e), we must guffaw appropriately, and in the right key. Hence the spate of headings:





By and large these reviewers were ver ver boring. They catalogue some of the book’s social observations and then as if having signed a collective agreement follow a unanimous principle of No Comment, except for ‘super Christmas gift’ etc. This is a particularly dull (and curious) thing to do. Peter York has scanned the Sloane horizons with an expert eye, and of course the book is filled with witty observations. But the same SR do’s and don’t’s and how’s crop up with soporific regularity in the majority of commentaries. Breezy and jocular, they avoid the pitfall of earnestness and impart some shining gem of Sloane info instead. Metaphorically speaking, each reviewer gives Peter York (and occasionally MS Barr) a friendly pat on the shoulder while chuckling appreciatively. The Sloane Ranger Handbook corners its readers and reviewers into facetiousness, and outmanoeuvres criticism. If you don’t laugh you run the risk of looking like a dreadful bore.

Time Out, for instance, is characteristically anaemic. Despite its agitprop listings any pretensions to ‘alternative’ status look decidedly flimsy as it gaily retails some more Sloane Ranger jinkettes. (‘AbsolOOtely’ agrees the liberal minded anoraked Time Out reporter, nodding earnestly.) Paul Johnson in The Listener reveals fascinating facts about his bygone batchelor existence in Cadogan Place but does say one thing of interest in his overlong article, that the SR is not a new phenomenon, that the social attributes

are as old as Harold Macmillan, as safe as Claridges . . .

He’s right of course, but the Handbook is still new – the attributes now packaged to make a best-selling manifesto. Class divisiveness goes into business, as it were. As one of the unusual reviewers, Paul Tickell, says in The Face

For the first time in over twenty-five years conservatism and reaction can be said to be stylish. And mass marketable . . .

Or as Jonathan Raban says in the Sunday Times, with slightly less ceremony

Dribbling snobbery has never sold so well as it is selling now.

Paul Tickell and Mr Raban aren’t too bothered about the SR chortle turning against them, and Mr Raban valiantly risks the label ‘chippy’ as he describes his own thermographic invitation (not the genuine engraved article, malheureusement). Both these fearlessly investigative journalists, well, relatively speaking, question the political implications of this book and its success. Tickell concludes, a teeny bit surprisingly perhaps, that Peter York is really a sociological Robin Hood in Harpers & Queen disguise;

Well, at least the Handbook calls the Sloane’s bluff and reminds this elitist tribe that style, in however oblique and distorted a way, is a continuation of class politics by other means. Clothes, even elegant ones, can be bellicose . . .

Tickell isn’t alone in thinking this. Many reviewers think that although the handbook is jolly funny it’s directed against the Sloane Ranger, while in the opposite camp lurk people like Raban, who think it’s designed to make

Caroline simply hoot over her cocoa.

As everyone knows, in October 1975 (that epoch-making month!) Peter York in Harpers & Queen coined the august phrase that we’ve never been allowed to forget. I’m not sure that this particular breed of satire – purveyed most successfully within H&Q confines, whose readership constitutes the so-called ‘object’ of satire-is really satire at all. Reaching for my dictionary I find

What distinguishes satire from comedy is its lack of tolerance for folly or human imperfection . . .

One must admit that the celebrated handbook is deeply tolerant, and that affectionate mockery is a phenomenon distinct from satire. And in fact the mockery incorporated within the handbook insulates it perfectly from genuine satire or criticism from without. This handbook is a slightly complicated thing really, and Private Eye have their own inimitable way of handling it. The Neasden Rangers is their parodic answer and it pinpoints something interesting. Naturally the Neasdies shop at Milletts, Tesco, like Yorkie bars, meet in launderettes, blah blah, need I go on. The same thing, with a different section of the populace. While the Sloane Rangers adore the handbook (it’s selling frightfully well in non-bookshops like Justin de Blank), I would hazard that those who do shop at Tesco and Milletts wouldn’t be so keen on their equivalent, as it might not seem funny at all. Perhaps there is more to this handbook, forgive the pun, than meets the eye.

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