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The Guardian view on social mobility in the arts: an enduring scandal | Editorial

New research shows there was never a golden age of opportunity. All the more reason to start pulling down the barriers now

A National Theatre revival of Emlyn Williams’ autobiographical play The Corn is Green this year was a stirring reminder of a bright boy from a Welsh mining village who rose, thanks to an inspired teacher, to become one of the pre-eminent writers and actors of his generation. This paean to social mobility was first performed in 1938, in the decade before the introduction of grammar schools and the raising of the school leaving age to 15 – measures that were both intended to sweep many more from the sooty streets of manual labour to the emerald fields of a creative life.

The resonance of the play today is double-edged, firstly because there are no more deep coalmines in Wales, so the working class from which Williams came has been profoundly altered. Secondly because, as new research based on Office for National Statistics data reveals, the grass never was green in the creative industries for any but a few from disadvantaged backgrounds. This was the case even in the 1960s and 1970s, those rock’n’roll decades to which many now look back as a golden age.

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