“Culture is ordinary,” Williams wrote in a pioneering essay, and his own life was a case in point. He saw his transition from Black Mountains to Cambridge spires as in no sense untypical. Right to the end, he regarded the politically conscious rural community in which he was reared, with its neighbourliness and cooperative spirit, as far more of a genuine culture than the Cambridge in which he held a professorial chair and that he once acidly described as “one of the rudest places on earth”. Working-class Britain may not have produced its quota of Miltons and Jane Austens; but in Williams’s view it had given birth to a culture that was at least as valuable: the dearly won institutions of the labour, union and cooperative movements.
Since Williams’s death in 1988, culture, one might claim, has become more ordinary than ever. Not in the sense that Milton is sold in supermarkets, though Austen has been sprung from college libraries into film and television. In the teeth of the Jeremiahs, Williams never ceased to argue for the progressive potential of the media. But he believed that these vital modes of speaking to each other should be wrested back from the cynics who exploited them for private gain. His prescription for dealing with the Murdochs of this world was bracingly free of his usual circumspection: “These men must be run out.”