That leaves sports — especially soccer — as the one arena whose stars are overwhelmingly working class. Sport provides a parallel elite, complete with an honorary king, David Beckham, who is handsome, regal and at ease standing alongside Prince William to lobby for British sports.
But in the parallel universe of sport, only a tiny minority of the most talented can even hope to make a living.
BACK TO SCHOOL
In most areas of British life, success comes down to going to the right — usually expensive — school.
A third of Britain's lawmakers, half its senior doctors and more than two-thirds of its High Court judges went to private schools, which educate just 7 percent of British children, according to statistics compiled by the British Parliament. Well more than a third of Oxbridge undergraduates still come from these private schools, although the figure for non-white students has gone up over two decades from 5 percent to 13 percent at Oxford and 16 percent at Cambridge.
Advocates of greater social mobility point to the education system as the key to loosening the grip of a wealthy elite. Some lament the demise of Britain's academically rigorous grammar schools, where pupils were selected by exam at age 11.
As engines of upward mobility, grammar schools worked. A list of Britain's Nobel Prize winners in science over the past 35 years includes the sons — no daughters — of mechanics, gas fitters and stonemasons as well as doctors and academics. Ten out of 18 British laureates since 1979 attended grammar school.
But the grammar schools were largely abolished in the 1970s because the system put most children on a lower-tier track that gave them little chance of attending university. Now middle-class parents with means move to areas with the best state schools, or send their kids to private schools, building what critics say is an educational fortress that starts at kindergarten. In the end, British society faces a fundamental problem: For talented poor people to succeed, some less talented rich people will have to fail.
"If you talk about having a more meritocratic society ... we would have to have much more downward mobility than we do," said sociologist John Goldthorpe.
And there's the rub.
Downward mobility: Who's going to campaign on that?
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless