In 1950 one critic described the Giles Family as a group of archetypally “working class characters”, and there was much evidence to support this. Headed by two working-class matriarchs, Mother and Grandma, four generations were packed into a single house, with the lack of privacy often associated with large working-class families. Yet in other respects, as the novelist Colin MacInnes observed in 1960, they seemed to be middle class. “The Giles family, even by the new-working-class standards of the 1950’s, is very well off indeed”, he wrote: “Not only do they have all the home comforts and luxuries one might anticipate...but a car with caravan, a yacht, and holidays (all twelve of them!) abroad as well.”
This pointed to one of the great paradoxes of the Giles Family, for although Giles continued to draw the Family with many working class characteristics, its material circumstances were increasingly middle class. Father soon swapped his belt and braces for a jumper and slacks, and moved into a suburban house which needed at least five bedrooms, even if, as Giles suggested, the children all slept in one bed. In 1953 Father was shown driving a Jaguar XJ120 sports car, and from 1955 the Family were regular visitors to the London Boat Show, sponsored by the Daily Express. MacInnes puzzled over this, arguing that, although Giles gave no hint of Father’s occupation, he had to be middle class, perhaps “the owner of a biggish business (garage? contracting? haulage?)”.
Critics tied themselves in knots over this paradox. It could be argued that it arose from the economics of Fleet Street newspapers. Father could not have a specific occupation because he and his family represented all classes of Daily Express readers; the Family lived together as a single social unit because that embodied the traditional family values of the Daily Express; and they aspired to a lifestyle beyond their means to please the paper’s consumer advertisers. Whatever Giles’ politics, this put his Family at the heart of the Thatcherite dream, and, as Nicholas Lezard wrote in 1994, “one wonders whether the aspirational, acquisitive working class was as much his creation as Mrs Thatcher’s.”
However, the art critic William Feaver offered a more appealing solution to the paradox. As he explained, Giles was himself Father, just as he was every other character in the Family, and the answer to the puzzle of his income was simply “that, in an inscrutable way, he lives off the proceeds of the cartoons.” When Giles was asked about the Family finances, he gave a similar answer. “That is something you don’t ask”, he explained: “But I suppose the fact is that I was lucky always to have enough money not to worry about it, and so it never occurred to me that the Family should have those kinds of problems either.”
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