SOCIAL inequities mount this week, suggesting the need to get onto the high horse. Teachers’ pay doesn’t add up, home owners can’t afford to sell and the ugly face of nepotism again reminds how privilege and connection can promote advantage – and deny others opportunity.

The examples of nepotism may seem trite; the son has risen in the form of former Doctor Who Peter Davison’s teenager having landed a key role in Poldark. Meanwhile, Monday’s prime-time dramas, BBC1’s Rellik and ITV’s Liar were both written by Jack and Harry Williams, the sons of screenwriter Nigel Williams, whose mother and brother are both television producers.

Yet, the examples are reminders the world hasn’t changed much since the 15th century when nepotism was lexiconed, the Italian “nipote” referring to the illegitimate papal nephews who landed the plum jobs. Jobs for the boys - and the girls - still abound. American politics, which once produced the cash-rich, policy-poor Kennedys and the terrifying Bushes, now allows for Trumping, the blatant employment of a son-in-law as Innovations Director and a daughter as, well, no one actually knows what she does.

Loading article content

And British politics can’t claim to have moved on from Harold MacMilllan’s administration, when he was said to have employed 35 friends. Tony Blair’s name became synonymous with cronyism and the Queen no less (not a bad sponsor to have) once recommended her third cousin David Cameron for a job at Tory HQ. We can also hold our nose a little over the often unprepared Diane Abbott’s Shadow Cabinet inclusion, given her ex is running the show.

So who can deny nipote not to be a pernicious evil, a lurking lymphoma threatening the life blood of our society.

Or is it?

While staring at the ugly face of nepotism it looked back at me and laughed. It was laughing because it knew that I once took advantage of this pernicious evil to land my first job in journalism.

On leaving university in the early Eighties, jobs (particularly in the media) were harder to find that Thatcher’s conscience. Then one day, an exasperated mother threw out the hopeful question; “Can you not get someone to speak for you?” It was a naïve thought, I thought. Surely Scotland had moved on from the days when apprenticeships were secured when dads asked gaffers to take a chance on The Boy? Anyway, the closest I’d ever been to the heady world of newspapers was as a schoolboy helping my big cousin John deliver baskets of laundry to the Press Club in Glasgow.

But then a mad idea occurred; Uncle Chris, now Toronto’s answer to Vidal Sassoon, was well connected. Perhaps he could introduce me to one of his media pals? Flying on blind optimism, I took off to Toronto, met Chris whom I hadn’t seen since I was eleven, and amazingly, landed the first job.

So is nepotism wrong? Author Adam Bellow’s book In Praise of Nepotism declares the practice to be positive; family ties create a sense of trust, he says. In business, it’s a spur to achievement and links the generations. (NB: Bellow is the son of literary giant Saul Bellow.) Is the Uncle Chris experience any different from Rupert Murdoch giving James and Elizabeth a start? Or Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner appointing his 22 year-old son head of Rolllingstone.com?

Sure, our natural feeling is to reject nepotism. It’s as annoying as nits to learn Keira Knightley (daughter of playwright Sharman Macdonald) asked her parents if she could have an agent at the age of three - and actually got one at the age of six? And that Nicholas Cage dropped his Coppola surname to “fend for himself”, only to land his first big role thanks to Uncle Frank.

But sometimes following parents into their world makes total sense; skills are absorbed by osmosis. If Kate Hudson were infected by the talent of mum Goldie Hawn why not pursue a film career? What’s wrong when a talented Michael Douglas emerges? The Dimblebys are a revered institution, and the surprise is not that the Miliband brothers became politicians, given Uncle Ralph’s Marxist writer credentials, it would have been more a surprise had they not.

On a more local level, what was wrong with Jimmy Logan following his dad into the business, or one-time Comedy Unit boss Colin Gilbert gazing into the lens of possibility thanks to the outstanding career of producer dad Jimmy?

The daddy of British television nepotism of course is the Mammy, Mrs Brown. Brendan O’Carroll employs at least 25 close friends and relatives. And far from being apologetic, O’Carroll says he would cast his own mother, if it were possible to exhume her body.

But should nepotism be seen to be a pejorative (it’s not who you know, but whether or not your dad is a member of the Garrick)? Well, we wouldn’t have Brexit right now had it not been for the Queen’s little fancy. So the final thought is it’s utterly, utterly wrong.

Unless of course, desperation commands it, and your celebrity hairdresser uncle can make a few phone calls.