He networks, She networks, They are networking. The verb ‘to network’ is an American import newly adopted by our language rather like drive-in supermarkets, consciousness-raising and bubblegum. It’s a convenient blanket term for using who you know to take you where you want to be. Tim Heald’s Networks is a comprehensive study in how the English do exactly this under the guise of something completely different. Though appearing to be consciously ‘networking’ is about as de rigeur as wearing the wrong school tie, the English have never been averse to dropping a word in the appropriate ear, an act Mr Heald accurately sums up:
depending on your point of view and whether you are on the inside or not it is either a grossly unfair form of cheating the system or a sensible and legitimate way of getting ahead.
According to this book just about everybody you come into contact with is part of an exploitable network. First there is ‘the family’. He gives us the Guinnesses, the Rothschilds, the Pakenhams and, among others, the Windsors. Hugo Vickers spotted George VI’s game book as a vital key to the royal network, noting that Earl Spencer, the father of the Princess of Wales, was a member of George VI’s shooting party when he potted his thousandth grouse. There are legal families, clerical families, military families all of whom use the existing network to propagate the next generation, on the grounds that when it really matters you are best off with blood you can trust.
The old boy network, described by Neil Kinnock as ‘tribal security’, is perhaps the most obvious, based on the public school and, more importantly, Oxbridge. It’s a world of chaps, clubs and claret which permeates most English institutions. You know where you are with an Old Etonian, Wykehamist, Balliol man