Features

My Brighton’s gone all Brideshead

It’s a brave person who dares take on the drunken Mileses and Gileses and Violets running amok in the new student ghettoes

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

My adopted hometown of Brighton and Hove has always had a somewhat well-to-do image, it’s fair to say. Though we have pockets of poverty, I was surprised by the size of the houses and gardens — room for a pony! — when I started going to house parties on the notorious Whitehawk estate. The old Cockney phrase ‘You think your aunt’s come up from Brighton!’ to denote a person who is free and easy with their money pays tribute to this agreeable state of affairs.

But although B&H may appear affluent, it hasn’t really been posh since the Prince Regent pushed off. There’s always been something disreputable and no better than it should be about the money washing about here, coming as it does from every ne’er-do-well from theatricals to gangsters — as the late longtime resident Keith Waterhouse put it, ‘Brighton looks as though it is a town helping the police with their enquiries.’ Even our most famous peer — Lord Olivier of Brighton — was a bisexual actor married to an insane nymphomaniac; hardly the stuff of Debrett’s.

My husband has lived in Brighton since he was a tot, and says that it was always a pretty mixed place, class-wise. Until a few years back, that is, when the voices of the young people in pubs and clubs just got posher and posher. These are generally students from Sussex University — one of several institutions of higher and further education in a relatively small place — which, from being a hotbed of revolution in earlier times, has now become very ‘social’.

And they’re the most irritating type of young toff — the kind who think they’re carefree hippies, but are even more entitled and unapologetic about their privilege than their parents. I call them the Shrieking Violets, as they often have Victorian parlourmaid names: Violet, Lily, Daisy.

Because of all the college and university education going on here, buy-to-let is having a real moment in Brighton, with landlords cramming as many students as they can into houses built for one family — not just around the universities and centre but right up into the suburbs of the city. I’ve had many friends who’ve suffered from student neighbours over the past few years — the usual eardrum-busting music and knock-down rows from 9 (p.m.) till 5 (a.m.) — but never as nastily as what kicked off in my best friend’s street last month.


My friend, who is disabled, bought a three-bedroomed house in a fairly rundown but respectable neighbourhood in 2009 with money that her mother left her, having lived in council houses for most of her adult life. She, her shy young daughter and her severely disabled son were delighted to have a bit of space at last, with even a small concrete yard at the back. At first there were only a few student houses in the street, but within a couple of years the families on either side of them moved out due to the rubbish and the noise — these houses were then snapped up by beady-eyed buy-to-let landlords who promptly set about turning three–bedroom family homes into six-bedroom student hovels, and the dastardly domino effect of scholar-squalor just kept on going.

By the time the unpleasantness took place, around a quarter of the unfortunate houses in the street played host to almost 100 students. There had already been a few weary years of the usual yahoo-ing in the early hours of the morning and repeated protests from the non-student residents that they had to get up for work in a few hours — but the Violets kept on shrieking, to the extent that families with young children were taking the extreme step of booking into hotels when big bashes were imminent. Then the male counterparts — the Gileses and Mileses — starting urinating over non-student cars and doorsteps, targeting those who had the temerity to complain. The message was clear — this is our territory now.

In the early hours of a weekday morning in December, my friend went into her backyard and shouted over the fence at her Shrieking Violet neighbours and their incontinent swains — celebrating a 21st birthday so noisily that items were literally falling from the shelves in her house — to keep the racket down. They chucked garden furniture, beer cans and bottles over the fence at her — and then the real nastiness began.

On their front doorstep, posh drunken students taunted my friend and her daughter with lovely bon mots such as ‘What are you qualified for — working at Morrisons?’ ‘What will you amount to, you lower-class slag?’ ‘This is a student street now — move out if you don’t like the noise!’

When a young father from a nearby house came out to remonstrate with them, a gang of the male students surrounded him, headbutted him and punched him in the face.

The one good thing to come from this vile incident was that due to the police involvement in the assault, Sussex University have warned the students in this particular street not to have any more parties, so my friend and her family are experiencing the wonder of unbroken sleep for the first time in years.

I know that the Shrieking Violets are not any more typical of students than Charlie Gilmour, who famously swung from the Cenotaph while off his chump on drugs, calling himself an anarchist while having recently swanked ‘I’ve always loved good-quality clothing. My parents said that if I got into Cambridge they would buy me a Savile Row suit.’

But it is ironic that the terrorising of ordinary people in their own homes — which should be the safest space of all — has come to fruition at the same time as cry-bullies on campuses across the land are acting like tinpot tyrants towards anyone who dares to dis-agree with them.

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Show comments
  • davidshort10

    Why is this published in the Spectator?

    • polidorisghost

      Why not?
      Burchill is a refreshing change
      You can go to the New Statesman if you want to read right-on liberals strutting their virtue.

      • Adam Baker

        There is a story in here somewhere but it’s lost in some kind of daily mail rant about posh kids. Brightons students are wide & varied studying everything from medicine to fashion, some are posh, some are not, but antisocial behaviour is not the result of entitlement by some posh kids

        • polidorisghost

          I take it that you are, or were, a posh kid.
          I don’t know what a daily mail rant is I’m afraid.

        • edithgrove

          I think the story is that they are posh louts, rather than muslims or EDL supporters.

        • Rosie Poppy Dahlia

          Oh well put – I agree Mr Baker – also HMOs are always considered to be for students, but now any rental property with more than 2 people sharing is officially an HMO (under planning article 4). Its is a shame for us 21 – 35 year old sharers who work in Brighton and
          now can’t find anywhere to live because locals block any new HMOs from
          coming to existence because of their ‘reputation’ from a few unfortunate
          incidents.
          There is a very large intake of students this year which means two things:-1. less accommodation available, so we have to consider commuting from other nearby places to get to work…and more traffic. 2. rents have been raised astronomically (for students and professional sharers). I guess the higher the rent the more exclusive the uni – so soon only Brideshead Revisited types and rich foreign students will afford Brighton. We average workers (‘professionals’ we’re now called!) will suffer the most.

    • King Kibbutz

      Because it highlights a widespread problem and is very well written.

      • davidshort10

        No, it is not well written and does not highlight a widespread problem. It is simply a personal complaint on behalf of a friend and has no place in a magazine that some people pay a lot of money for. I myself do not any longer buy the print version because of the presence of Andrew Brillo Pad Neill in the managing director’s chair. Before his arrival, I had been a subscriber for 25 years. Burchill is a former contributor to the vulgarised Sunday Times when Brillo was in charge thanks to his willingness to do the Wapping thing.

        • King Kibbutz

          Each to his own.

      • Rosie Poppy Dahlia

        It isn’t as widespread as you’d think considering the amount of students in Brighton 12% of the population (12,500 in Sussex Uni and over 20,000 in Brighton Uni out of 273,000). The tone of the article suggests that 32,500 people should be lumped into one category – ‘students’. I feel sorry for any others on the street who are likely to receive the wrath of the neighours if a track by Marvin Gaye is played out of a window. Locals should be glad that they live in a place attractive to students, and accept that as there isn’t much new land for student accommodation, students will continue to be live in houses in typical streets. A lot of students stay on to settle in Brighton and develop the philosophy ‘live and let live, if you can’t beat them join them, ignore the ignorant few and don’t tar all students with the same brush’. People who haven’t been to uni are generally resentful of students in any town or city. It is the prejudice that maintains the ‘us’ and ‘them’ feeling that breaks down chances for good relations to develop only signalling intolerance, and so perpetuating rudeness and bad behaviour and mutual lack of respect.

        • King Kibbutz

          No, the ‘tone of the argument’ does not suggest that. The actual words of the article refer specifically to the very real problem – philosophy aside – caused by some students.

          ‘Marvin Gaye played out of a window’ sounds lovely.

    • KingEric

      Why do you read the Spectator? All you ever do is moan. If you dislike it so much, don’t bother reading it anymore, it’s obviously not for you.

      • davidshort10

        You are wrong. I like reading people such as Rod Liddle, Charles Moore, Rory Sutherland, Toby Young and my friend Aidan Hartley. I gave up subscribing to it after 25 years when Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neill was appointed as managing director. He has vulgarised it but not as comprehensively as he vulgarised the Sunday Times. I will return to a paid subscription when he has either been fired or dies.

  • boiledcabbage

    You need some vintage Tannoys hooked up to some Quad 303s – one per speaker – then play Wagner all night, every night, before exams. Your ‘student street’ might change somewhat. You might also cultivate friendships within the Biker community.

    • gerronwithit

      Nah, you need a Naim Statement amplifier with some Focal Grande speakers. It’ll spit out about 800 watts per channel but the negative aspect is that it’ll cost you 300 grand. Maybe better to just buy the street.

  • sfin

    Better Brideshead than Bangladesh.

  • Muggydog

    I’m pretty certain Laurence Olivier was heterosexual. A small quibble

    • edithgrove

      Maybe so, but his boyfriend (Danny Kaye) was gay

  • Julie A.

    Brighton is a dump admittedly.

    But Julie B. I wager has made most of this nonsense up.

  • Frank

    Hardly Brideshead Revisited – have you actually read the book?

  • porpoiseless

    Julie Birchill has been a paradigm of good behaviour all her life – I think not! Its a sign of old age that you are writing this Julie. Yes I live in Brighton next door to two houses of six students, and no I don’t think its anti-social for them to have a party, because we make the most of it when it comes round to our turn for a knees up. Most of our hardly grown up themselves yet friends have enjoyed turning up for some good music and drinks and don’t leave till dawn. The problem that your highlighting seems mainly to be that the class of student is too uppercrust, rude and ignorant. Some good working class students wouldn’t do this ehh?

    • King Kibbutz

      That’s great for you and great for your partying next-door neighbours. Double the sleepless nights for any other neighbours who have to rise early to go out and earn a living.

      • porpoiseless

        Oh believe me I do get up and earn a living (and I have kids – no chance of lie ins). Just fed up of the selfish middle-classed attitude arising of those who were probably students at one point doing much the same. If these attitudes take hold soon it’ll be curtian twitching, neighbourhood watch, pubs closing down because of complaints, bring on the criminal justice bill and police state Brighton – ehh? Don’t forget Brighton is built up historically on being a place where people come who want to have a good time – the Brighton I know and love where creativity and late night debauchery go hand in hand. There’s lots of peace and quiet and tv watching boredom in most of the rest of the country and its stifling. I am glad that we (and the young people ie students), have a place to live and socialise and have fun – something to be cherished in our stuffy, work-orientated, money obsessed country.

        • King Kibbutz

          Wow, what a right-on party animal you are!

          As if no-one outside of Brighton ever went out for a good time. Get over yourself.
          The practical point is that people have to live in close proximity and a little consideration is needed.

          • porpoiseless

            Right on Mr. King K. I’m guessing you live in Hanover and are one of the people that have taken the H.C.Notice Board over with your ever wingeing complaints about whatever is getting on your t*ts be it rubbish, students or parking.

            On the practical side – the students probably aren’t reading this! Also, if there are a few parties, its occasionally going to go pear shaped – so what do you do – ban them all? Only allow anything to happen in licensed venues? Stick to tea parties? Or just winge?

          • King Kibbutz

            Keep on guessing cupcake.

  • Fenman

    Despite a degree of hypocrisy from erstwhile raver ,Burchill, the key point is that the student population is out of control and over indulged by authorities,as the whole safe space rubbish illustrates. Uni’s need to get a grip, before they totally lose control and become a laughing stock, like Oriel.

    • post_x_it

      How is this hypocrisy?
      It’s perfectly possible to go raving in a suitable venue, then return home quietly without causing any disturbance to your residential neighbours.

      • Fenman

        I hardly think even burchills best friend wd recognise your description of her in her hay day.

        • post_x_it

          I’m not describing her. I’m only pointing out that there is no inherent contradiction between being a raver and respecting your neighbours.

  • Kasperlos

    Thanks, Julie. Interesting yet disconcerting observations from ground zero. The Etonian posh boys of pre-Great War Britain are gone. Some would hail this. After reading this account I’m not sure about that. What innocent hi-jinx and mischief they wrought – but in the original – in comparison to phony youth you described. To paraphrase Winnie: Never have so many had so much money and have so few manners. Money doesn’t buy true class. Never has. The in-your-face thuggery and arrogance of the posh boys and girls only portends the further downward spiral of British society. We only need to wonder just how low is low on the scale of uncouth. And to think this species are the future of Britain. What future is the question. Think I’ll pop out the Mark Wahlberg Planet of the Apes DVD.

  • e2toe4

    The whole *university* thing has become a bit of a money-making scam , starting with university’s desperate for fees to keep up in the league tables and keep the gravy train flowing. Then are the buy to let landlords who like students basically because of fewer worries about end of tenancy problems–these people are going to move on– who cram people into new age slums–they have wi-fi, but also kitchens in the one living room..bins in the hall… and condensation growing mould in every room.

    And for the students (not all of course..but many) the university experience is a couple of lectures while getting a dead-end job with many nights a party night.

    In the way holidays used to be a chance to go away and *let your hair down* but for a large minority are an excuse to get stuck into the beer, shots and recreational drugs before getting in the taxi to the airport—so university is for many a big long booze club with a bit of studying here and there.

    Our city centres at night are a joke..and the university experience is becoming a similar one in which the point of the thing is lost in what should be the incidentals.

    The Freshers weeks are a disgrace… one the one hand poor dears warbling on about safe spaces and OMG topics…on the other basically mega-brewery sponsored 24 hour boozathons with university consent in which some of the young people are getting through up to ten times any safe limit of alcohol units on any given night.

    It isn’t about preventing anyone ever having any fun…it’s about consideration for other people, the basic starting point in any functioning society. This has been decreasing in ours for decades so I suppose it makes sense to now teach it at universities these days.

  • Badger

    What tosh. Brighton exists exculsively for the protection of people who currently style themselves as hipsters, so not the working classes.
    Whitehawk and Mouslecombe are on the outskirts geographically, culturally and economically.
    You can try to convince yourself that the bohemian, left-wing redoubt you inhabit is not posh but I’m not buying it, I can’t afford it anyway. Gone are the days when Brighton was as I used to call it a ‘dog on a string’ town.

    • Todd Unctious

      I was in Brighton last November. In one evening I counted 22 crusties slumped in doorways and 10 of them indeed had dogs on string. Impossible to park usually indicates very pricey. The typical gritty student terrace with Four bedrooms and a kitchen in the cellar will cost £425 k. Or is rented for £1750 a month.

      • Badger

        22 all with dogs on a string? Maybe in the early nineties. I’m not convinced about last November. The prices are eye-watering though.

        • sussexoracle

          Bollocks, Got bitten in North Street only last week by one of two uncontrolled yapping dogs on strings. Their owner scuttled off leaving me bleeding, pausing only to stammer that I ‘must have startled him’. That WAS eye- watering.

          I had to have an injection and am presently on antibiotics.

          From the station in Queens Street to the length of Western Road and the sea front, practically the entire town centre is occupied by drunks,addicts and rough sleepers blocking doorways and begging for change.

          Students are the least of the problems,

          • Badger

            I think you are exaggerating. Especially the ‘dogs on strings’ part.
            There are many drunks, drug addicts etc in Brighton, but that does not mean the place is not largely gentrified, which was my point.
            I’ve not seen a single dog on a string for many a year.

          • davidshort10

            They broke the string and are running free.

        • Todd Unctious

          No. Ten out 22.I make that 45%. Try the car park behind the Old Ship Hotel and the shop doorways around there. You’ll find at least a dozen rough sleepers every night. Dozens of junkies too.

          • Badger

            Interesting statistic. I only wish we had a broad set of official statistics on dog and string ownership amongst the homeless.

  • Innit Bruv

    An issue of crucial importance to all of us: the behaviour of students in Brighton.
    Why is this stuff published?
    Ps: do I detect a whiff of class resentment?

    • davidshort10

      Burchill did not go to university and she was born working-class. As a result, she has never been accepted. She was a big name for a while and was glamorous. That has changed. She comes across as something of a bitter harridan now and it’s not surprising. She didn’t have to get fat.

  • David Prentice

    Befriend the local imam – there’ll be plenty there, don’t worry – who could arrange for some, ahem, diversity to visit the locale to help the Millies, the Pennies and the Izzies…celebrate.

    • MathLordPrime

      i agree, all these student people are despicable — how dare they be so outlandishly white.

      a few meaty slabs of diversity is what we all need, praise Allah

  • hobspawn

    You fought for this.

  • Margot5000

    This is happening everywhere (see Exeter) but not just where there is a large student pop. – also where buy-to-let has taken off. In Exeter there has been a huge amount of building of student accommodation the owners of which will presumably not let such situations arise. With luck this would leave the greedy private landlords looking for tenants. Where renting is the norm in other countries then agencies run property portfolios and keep them up to standard. Unlike here where most private landlords just take the money and run leaving the owner occupiers next to their cash machine tenants to suffer – like the case Julie writes of.

  • Sarony

    Brideshead? More like chav city.

  • mumble

    I learn that it has been determined that the best way of dealing with computer hackers is for their mum to give them a right good bollocking, regardless of age.

    It is surely worth trying to identify the offenders, get hold of their parents and ask them “Do you know your son is pissing on peoples’ doorsteps and head-butting anyone who gets in the way?”

    The posher the family, the greater likelihood of a satisfactory outcome, one dares hope.

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